When I was growing up my whole family was involved in music. We were in the church choir, and school and college glee clubs, and regional amateur productions of Broadway musicals like The Music Man. In junior high school I sang in three Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, including a stint as Little Buttercup in HMS Pinafore. For many years after that, while I was raising a family, I got involved with music when I could, but various factors eventually intervened and it’s been about thirty years since I participated in the local Hampshire Choral Society. I haven’t even sung along alone in my car for several years, and when I tried a few days ago I discovered that my vocal range, never anything to be proud of, had shrunk considerably. Maybe I'd better try exercising it.
Of all the things once important in my life that I’ve drifted away from, music is what I most miss. Or maybe nostalgia is hitting me hard because I’m trying to choose two hymns (to be sung by everyone there) for my father’s memorial service, soon to be held at the church I grew up in. I don’t remember what I chose for my mother’s funeral six years ago, but I did remember her favorite aria from Handel’s Messiah, so we had a trained soloist sing that, and her song brought me the closest to tears I got that whole day, or even month.
With all that amateur musical background, I don’t know why I’ve integrated music so rarely into my writing. I wrote recently here about using the titles of WWII songs in my long-ago story “To Remember You By,” but that’s about it. I’ve been scanning the files of stories in my computer, and almost giving up, until suddenly one piece leapt right out at me as though executing a triple axel and spewing ice chips at me on the landing. Of course! “The Outside Edge,” my Olympic skating story!
You can’t have figure skating competitions without music. The choices of music are best when they fit the skater’s program perfectly, and in the case of my protagonist, a lesbian who’s fed up with acting feminine on the ice (and is having a very steamy affair off the ice with a gorgeously feminine pairs skater), the various musical choices tell the whole story of her public “coming out” on ice.
First, Jude watches her lover Suli’s performance :
Suli and Tim skated third, to music from Bizet’s Carmen. Somebody always skates to Carmen, but no one ever played the part better than Suli. The dramatic theme of love and betrayal was a perfect setting for her, and today the passionate beat of the “Habanera” was a perfect match for my jealous mood.
Watching Tim with Suli on the ice always drove me crazy. When his hand slid from the small of her back to her hip I wanted to lunge and chew it off at the wrist
Then there’s Jude’s own long program after a mediocre short program had made medaling almost impossible:
So I skated the long program I’d rehearsed so many times. Inside, though, I was doing it my way at last, and not much caring if it showed.
I skated to a medley from the Broadway show Cats. My black unitard with white down the front and at the cuffs was supposed to suggest a “tuxedo” cat with white paws. The music swept from mood to mood, poignance to nostalgia to swagger, but no matter what character a song was meant to suggest, in my mind and gut I was never, for a moment, anybody’s sweet pussy. I was every inch a Tom. Tomcat prowling urban roofs and alleys; tomboy tumbling the dairymaid in the hay; top-hatted Tom in the back streets of Victorian London pinching the housemaids’ cheeks, fore and aft.
Suli had been right about storing up tension and then letting it spill out. Like fantasy during sex, imagination sharpened my performance. Each move was linked to its own notes of the music, practiced often enough to be automatic, but tonight my footwork was more precise, my spins faster, my jumps higher and landings smoother. I had two quad jumps planned, something none of my rivals would attempt, and for the first time I went into each of them with utter confidence.
The audience, subdued at first, was with me before the end, clapping, stomping, whistling. I rode their cheers, pumped with adrenaline as though we were all racing toward some simultaneous climax, and in the last minute I turned a planned double- flip, double-toe-loop into a triple-triple, holding my landing on a back outer edge as steadily as though my legs were fresh and rested.
The crowd’s roar surged as the music ended.
So Jude wins the bronze medal after all. Then, the next day, comes the exhibition skate with all the medalists.
Judging from the buzz among my fans, they may have been placing bets. Anybody who’d predicted the close-cropped hair with just enough forelock to push casually back, and the unseen binding beneath my plain white T-shirt, would have won. The tight bluejeans looked genuinely worn and faded, and from any distance the fact that the fabric could stretch enough for acrobatic movement wasn’t obvious.
It was my turn at last. Off came the sweats and hoodie. I took to the ice, rocketing from shadows into brightness, then stopped so abruptly that ice chips erupted around the toes of my skates. There were squeals, and confused murmurs; I was aware of Suli, still in costume from her own performance, watching from the front row.
Then my music took hold.
Six bars of introduction, a sequence of strides and glides—and I was Elvis, “Lookin’ for Trouble,” leaping high in a spread eagle, landing, then twisting into a triple-flip, double-toe-loop. My body felt strong. And free. And true.
Then I was “All Shook Up,” laying a trail of intricate footwork the whole length of the rink, tossing in enough cocky body-work to raise an uproar. Elvis Stojko or Philippe Candeloro couldn’t have projected more studly appeal. When my hips swiveled—with no trace of a feminine sway—my fans went wild.
They subsided as the music slowed to a different beat, slower, menacing. “Mack the Knife” was back in town: challenge, swagger, jumps that ate up altitude, skate blades slicing the ice in sure, rock-steady landings. Then, in a final change of mood, came the aching, soaring passion of “Unchained Melody.” I let heartbreak show through, loneliness, sorrow, desperate longing.
In my fantasy a slender, long-haired figure skated in the shadows just beyond my vision, mirroring my moves with equal passion and unsurpassable grace. Through the haunting strains of music I heard the indrawn breaths of a thousand spectators, and then a vast communal sigh. I was drawing them into my world...making them see what I imagined... I jumped, pushing off with all my new strength, spun a triple out into an almost effortless quad, landed—and saw what they had actually seen.
Suli glided toward me, arms outstretched, eyes wide and bright with challenge. I stopped so suddenly I would have fallen if my hands hadn’t reached out reflexively to grasp hers. She moved backward, pulling me toward her, and then we were skating together as we had so often in our private predawn practice sessions. The music caught us, melded us into a pair. Suli moved away, rotated into an exquisite layback spin, slowed, stretched out her hand, and my hand was there to grasp hers and pull her into a close embrace. Her raised knee pressed up between my legs with a force she would never have exerted on Tim. I wasn’t packing, but my clit lurched with such intensity that I imagined it bursting through my jeans.
Then we moved apart again, aching for the lost warmth, circling, now closer, now farther...the music would end so soon... Suli flashed a quick look of warning, mouthed silently, “Get ready!” and launched herself toward me.
Hands on my shoulders, she pushed off, leapt upward, and hung there for a moment while I gripped her hips and pressed my mouth into her belly. Then she wrapped her legs around my waist and arched back. We spun slowly, yearningly, no bed, this time, to take the weight of our hunger. And then, as the last few bars of music swelled around us, Suli slid sensuously down my body until she knelt in a pool of scarlet silk at my feet. She looked up into my eyes, and finally, gracefully and deliberately, bowed her head and rested it firmly against my crotch as the last notes faded away.
So I guess I still had music on my mind when I wrote that story, about ten years ago, and it still sends a cascade of shivers over me when I read it. i haven't done much with music lately, though. I’ll have to see what I can do about that. Besides choosing a couple of hymns.