Andre Irving was pissed off about going to the Adams Ave Street Fair. Bethanny tricked him by saying they were only having espresso at Lestat’s Coffee shop to talk. He wanted to discuss their off–again–on–again–now off again relationship. He was trying to turn it back on. Bethanny wasn’t trying to hear him on it. Once they turned the corner of 30th and Adams into a maze of police vehicles blocking the main street from oncoming traffic, Andre knew he had been duped. They had to park five blocks away and walk.
“I’m sorry I lied to you, but you have to hear this singer. She is phenomenal. She used to sing back–up for Zapp Mama and Angelique Kudjo.”
Andre maneuvered himself among San Diego’s uptown denizens of hipsters, skater punks, and street vendors.
“So why is she singing with a garage band, coming from such lofty heights and all?”
“I told you, she took time off to study under Susan Aszodi in the music department. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of Chocolate Tye. You haven’t been a good composer–in–residence if you haven’t talked to Susan about her yet.”
“What does she sing again?”
“Soprano. She has perfect pitch and can hit six octaves.”
“There’s the stage, c’mon.”
Bethanny grabbed Andre’s arm and dragged him through the throng of people and hustled him towards a mid–sized stage set up on the cross street of Lestat’s. An R&B band with numerous members was crowded on the stage: a horn section, drums, bass, two rhythm guitars, two keyboard players, a violinist and three back–up singers. They were serious.
“There she is,” Bethanny yelled.
A light–skinned black woman the same amber color as Andre crisscrossed the stage in dark leggings and a sparkly halter top, rapping about bringing down the system and some other crap Andre could care less about. The band was tight, but Andre wasn’t feeling the rapper who began singing.
“She’s just average,” Andre said.
“Not her, her,” Bethanny said, sweeping her ash blonde hair into a bun with one hand and pointing with the other. Andre looked again.
“Give it up for Chocolate Tye, y’all!” the female rapper hyped.
A dark–skinned force of nature stepped center stage, her mic held like a weapon in front of full lips painted a shimmery blue. Close–cropped hair dyed sunset red with a matching flame–colored corset and purple mini–skirt, the singer called Chocolate Tye ripped into the set. She led the band into a rousing Sly & the Family Stone mash–up with some hard–hitting original music, and then she erupted into a classical number where her voice soared above the crowd and then dove into the audience, holding them all hostage with aural pleasure.
“You like that?” Chocolate Tye asked the audience, and Andre found himself responding enthusiastically with the crowd. She was slaying her set.
“Goddammit, she’s good,” he said.
“I told you…oh yes! This is it! This is the song I wanted you to hear.” Bethanny gripped Andre’s arm, her mouth pressed close to his ear. “She’s from Mali, just like your father, and this song is a Dogon lullaby that she has freaked. You’ll love it!”
Andre moved closer to the stage so that he was directly in the center gazing up at Chocolate Tye. This girl could sing about a bag of Doritos and he would listen.
Inadvertently he found himself looking up her skirt, watching small rivulets of sweat course down her thighs and legs, then drip off her nose bleed red high heels. Her face shined and for a moment their eyes locked when she glanced down. Although he was half–black himself, Andre had never found black women that attractive, especially the darker ones. He liked to think he was a liberal fuck–around–the–rainbow type of guy, but the reality was, he fucked everything that wasn’t the dark meat on the chicken. So he found it absurd and thrilling that he was getting a slight hard–on by looking at her skin, those hips, and an ass so fat he could see it from the front.
Bethanny stood next to him, running her fingers through his thick and cultivated out–of–control ‘fro. He nudged her hand away. He wanted to focus on the music.
Chocolate Tye pulled out a two–inch metal tube and stuck it between her lips. She started making noises with her throat that flowed through the tube like breathy flute sounds. The tones shifted and the sounds turned into yelps. She played with the tonality in her throat for a minute, creating polyphonic rhythms and then removed the tube. She sang soft words and Andre felt the hair on his arms stand at attention. He recognized it as the language of his father who spoke Jam Sai. For a moment Andre thought of his father and the way his father’s soft tenor voice used to sound like magic when he spoke or sang in Jam Sai or even French.
Women around Andre began swaying, doing their corny goddess dances that he used to mock Bethanny for. He saw that they were really mimicking Chocolate Tye’s swaying hips. The song then became non–language, just sweet vocal inflections that her soprano voice enveloped with deepening emotion. No one in that audience had any idea what Chocolate Tye was saying. It didn’t matter. They were caught up in the rapture of her gift.
Andre glanced down when he felt moisture on his wrist. The lullaby had moved him to tears. He had been crying and didn’t even realize it. Many people were weepy–eyed in the audience when Andre scanned the other faces as he quickly wiped his cheeks. When he looked at the stage, Chocolate Tye was gone.
“You have to talk to her,” Bethanny said. She was pink in the face from sobbing. “You must convince her to sing Three Voices, Andre. I think she’s the only person who can pull it off for you.”
Andre wasn’t listening. He was searching for Chocolate Tye.
He found her posted up on the side wall outside of Lestat’s, smoking a joint and talking to other musicians. Several people approached her, praising her performance, and she was thankful, telling them to check out her website and Twitter handle. Andre waited through four people fawning over her and taking pictures before he was able to get in a word.
“Hi, I’m Andre Irving, I’m teaching over at UCSD,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Oh, the composer, Bethanny Allen’s friend, right? She told me about you. I’m Tye Amma.” She shook his hand. They were the same height, which made her six feet easy. Andre wasn’t used to women looking him eye to eye. She was wearing flat sandals after her performance, so there was no cheating on her part. But her eyes made him feel so much shorter than her. She was called Chocolate Tye because of her rich skin color, but her eyes were a shade of subtle brown which made them seem to glow.
“Is Bethanny here?”
“She’s getting coffee inside.”
“She told me she was bringing you. I hear you’re a bit of a recluse. Brilliant composer, but not a people person. Self–centered, self–absorbed, borderline megalomaniac—”
“She told you all that?”
“And a little bit more. You supposedly have this masterpiece that you composed seven years ago that no one can sing, and you’ve been on a quest to find the perfect voice to bring your creation to life, and…” she blew marijuana smoke in his face, “you like to get high.”
She handed him her spliff. He puffed on it. Passed it back. She took a long drag, stepped closer to him, and pressed her lips to his. He opened his lips slightly. She blew the smoke in. Stayed close to him.
“What did you think of my performance?” she asked.
“Amazing enough to do Three Voices?”
“Good. Call me when you’re ready to lay it down.”
Tye crossed the street before he became aware that she was leaving him.
“Wait! I don’t have your number,” he called after her.
“Bethanny has it,” she yelled without looking back.
He watched her stroll through the dwindling crowd and link arms with the drummer in her band. They walked towards another bandstand that featured a banjo player. Bethanny brought him a coffee and he didn’t notice she was next to him until she tapped his shoulder with the cup.
Tracking Tye with his eyes, Andre made a note to re–think his black female discriminatory practices. He could still taste her weed in his mouth.
Andre met Tye inside a theater in the Conrad Prebys Music Center. He brought a laptop and small speakers perched on a piano. He had a song book with heavily notated music sheets on a stand. He played a segment of Three Voices for her. Tye was attentive, listening with her eyes closed. The song had no words. No musical accompaniment. Just repetitive vocal sounds.
“There will be two speakers on stage with two separate pre–recorded tracks of you singing. You will sing along with those two other tracks. The song will last an hour and fifteen minutes non–stop,” he said. Tye smiled.
“I have to have stamina,” she said, looking over the song book. “Damn, Andre, if I sing this part, I wouldn’t breathe for about…seven minutes! No wonder you can’t find a singer to do this. They die before they get to the end!”
“That’s the fun part, as the singer you have to find where and when to breathe without sacrificing the rhythm—”
“What if my mouth gets dry? Can I swallow my own spit?”
“You better note it on the music sheet when to do it.”
“I like a challenge. Who is singing this version?”
“Bethanny. She’s only singing ten minutes of it. She couldn’t sing it all the way through the way it’s intended to be sung. I broke it into segments just to get the vocals down on tape. My mother told me that my father wrote this for me on my tenth birthday.”
“So your mother is white?”
“Ukraine and Jewish mix,” he said.
“What part of the song did you write? I see your name here under the credits.”
Andre flipped the music sheets to the back. He pointed to a starred note on the side of one page.
“According to Moms, Dad finished the song, and then threw away the entire ending for some reason. He was a perfectionist. Typical artist, huh?”
“Songs change. Writers get new ideas, they tweak things,” she said. Andre shook his head.
“No, this was different. My mother said the song was completed. My father said so himself. He actually recorded a version of himself singing it, and then he erased that. He was supposed to present it at an experimental music concert in L.A., but then he left us.”
“Moms went to pick him up at the Burbank airport, and he wasn’t on the flight. Never showed up for the concert. Never heard from him again. There were rumors he ran off with a woman, and some speculation that his visa expired, but…” Andre shrugged.
Tye glanced down at the sheet music. Andre tapped his finger on the last page.
“It took me a long time to write an ending that I think kinda works. I used the incomplete original recording of my father, but I used Bethanny’s voice to imagine how it would finish. I re–named it Three Voices.”
“What did your father call it?”
“I like Three Voices better,” she said.
She touched his hand. A slight shiver went up his arm. She smelled like cloves and cinnamon.
“Shall we get started?” she asked. They were so close together. He could feel her warmth.
They worked together three times a week, five hours each time. Andre was impressed with Tye’s vocal abilities, but her discipline was lacking. She felt three hours was enough time for practicing. She complained when he became demanding, sometimes yelled at him when he refused to allow her to change a note that she believed sounded better. He was bullish towards her when he explained that Three Voices had to be performed exactly as it was presented on the music sheet. This was not improvisation. No jazz scatting, no hip–hop free–style cypher, none of the vocal gymnastics she was used to doing on stage. No matter how strange and experimental it sounded, this was serious music. She had to submit to the precision of the work.
During rehearsal breaks, Tye would impress Andre and the sound engineer with various vocal riffs. She was born in Mali, but raised in Los Angeles among various musical styles. She once imitated one of her favorite singers, Yma Sumac, by making bird sounds and low guttural moans from one of Sumac’s famous songs, Five Bottles Mambo. Another time she took two microphones and sang with one mic pressed against her throat, and the other near her mouth and blew them away with the music she could make beatboxing, and harmonizing with her mouth closed, sounding like a Tuva folk singer doing overtone throat singing. She could separate the harmonics into two or three distinct pitches.
In those moments, Andre found her playful, sexy, giving into any sound that pleased her, not embarrassed to try things that didn’t work and sounded dreadful. She was musically free. But when Andre cracked the whip, and they delved back into Three Voices, she lost that flair. In order to move through the song with any chance of finishing it from start to finish, she had to shelve the diva in herself. Any extra oomph she put into Andre’s song only tripped her up. She would lose the tempo, forget to swallow, forget to breathe, expend needed energy to keep her lungs full and her diaphragm open.
By the third week of rehearsal, the differences in their work styles eroded into a passive aggressive boycott on her part.
Tye complained of headaches and rehearsals ended early. She was irritable when she missed a note, her mouth dry, and her eyes blazing from too much weed consumption. They had recorded a complete second track and were set to practice the entire song when she called in complaining of dehydration. She took off for a week.
He sent Bethanny over to check on her, and eventually Tye returned, but she was sullen. Andre found himself more concerned when she stopped joking with him or singing whatever she wanted during breaks.
“What’s going on?” he asked her after a grueling and unproductive session in the theater.
“Nothing. Just tired.”
“I’ve seen you tired, Tye. This is different. Talk to me.” He sat in one of the orange theater seats facing the mic. Tye stood before him, hair dyed platinum, wearing ratty jeans and an even rattier T–shirt. She started crying. It startled him. He’d seen singers cry out of frustration before or after he’d ripped into them, but Tye was…Tye. Always taut and together. He stood and walked over to her.
“Hey, Tye.” He embraced her and she melted into his arms. He felt solid with her, like they were meant to be fused this way. He wiped away her tears and held her face.
“Snot doesn’t look good on you, girl. Doesn’t match your hair color this week.” She laughed and he smiled.
“This fucking song is getting on my nerves,” she said.
“I told you it wouldn’t be easy.”
“I thought I could find my way into this bitch, but now…it feels like I’m trying to climb up a mountain with roller skates on.”
“Let’s quit for the night,” he said. She nodded. He didn’t want to let her go, so he held her a little longer. Pressed her head onto his shoulder and rocked her.
“When we finish this thing, I’m going to compose a song just for you. Something light and easy—”
“And with words, for God’s sake,” she whispered. She sounded better. She pushed away from his arms and sauntered over to one of the theater seats. He sat next to her. She leaned in towards him.
“I spoke to Bethanny. I know why she could never finish Three Voices,” she said.
Andre drew in a deep breath and let it out slow. Tye watched his face with intense scrutiny. When Andre didn’t respond, her eyes narrowed.
“She told me she developed throat polyps after training with you. She never had throat problems ever until she started singing Three Voices. Even after throat surgery, she wasn’t able to sing professionally again—”
“That had nothing to do with the song, Tye. Many singers develop throat nodules when they overuse their voice.”
Tye reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out her cell phone. She opened up an App page and Andre winced when he saw the picture of the woman on the screen.
“What about her? I remember this woman, Andre. I always wondered what happened to her.”
Andre took the cell phone from Tye’s hand. He stared at the picture and the text from a news article from three years prior. The woman, Nelia Cardoso, was a Brazilian singer from Pernambuco who had shot to stardom performing dance club hits, but had been classically trained in Portugal and New York. The article described her bout with throat cancer which ultimately led to having her vocal cords removed. She had been under Andre’s tutelage to bring Three Voices to life in Manhattan prior to developing cancer.
“First Bethanny, and then Nelia. How many others before them, Andre?”
“Coincidences, that’s all.”
“No. There were others. Bethanny mentioned two. I’m sure there’s more. I know how obsessed you are with this thing. Bethanny was smart enough to quit and break up with you.”
Andre placed the phone on Tye’s lap and walked over to the piano and sat on a bench. Tye stuck the phone in her back pocket. Andre started playing a few bars on the piano.
“Your father destroyed his recording for a reason. He probably knew something was wrong with it. Maybe when he sang it himself it damaged him. Maybe that’s why he went away.”
“Listen to how you sound. It’s a difficult piece, I know. It strains the throat, but if I had the right singer for it—”
“Has the thought ever crossed your selfish mind that something could happen to me?”
Tye left her seat and walked to Andre. She rested her hands on the side of the piano and watched him.
“Well, has it?”
“You have gone the furthest than anyone else I’ve had—”
“But do you fucking care if anything happens to me? That’s my question to you,” she said. Sullen, he didn’t say anything for a few minutes and continued playing the keys until she started gathering her things.
“I care,” he said in a near whisper.
“No,” she said. The firmness in her voice made him look up at her face. She tilted back her head, parted her lips and sang the last section of “O Mio Babbino Caro” without breaking a sweat.
“Take me home, it’s late,” she said.
When he dropped her off at her apartment, he handed her a flash drive with her complete tracks so she could practice at home if she wanted. On the drive over he waited for her to tell him that she was going to quit too, but she remained silent the whole way until she stepped out of his BMW. She thanked him for the ride, and for a second, he thought she would ask him to come in. He wanted to. She waved and walked away from his car.
That night, Andre stayed with Bethanny. They were not officially together again, but it was hard for him to be around Tye all day and go home alone. And Bethanny had started to act more protective of Tye. Sometimes Andre asked Bethanny to do vocal exercises with Tye to free him up to work on other things. She would do it, but he would see Bethanny and Tye fall into their easy banter, and sometimes they whispered together when they were all in the theater listening to playbacks. He knew then that their whispering was really Bethanny talking about her experiences with the song. A sisterly warning perhaps.
Tye didn’t answer her cell phone for two days after she asked about Nelia Cardoso. On the morning of the third day, Andre called Bethanny and asked her to call Tye for him. By the afternoon all Andre saw was a short text message from Tye that read “Call U Soon.” When the day turned into night, Andre drove to her apartment.
He walked up four flights of stairs and saw Tye’s drummer/boyfriend Slim Charles smoking a cigar on a hallway balcony with another man. Loud music reverberated behind a closed door from the apartment closest to the balcony.
“What it do?” Slim said, extending a hand to Andre.
“Hunting Tye down,” said Andre.
Slim chuckled. The other man smiled and blew cigar smoke out towards the street.
“She here, bruh, but be careful,” Slim said, scratching his bearded chin, “nothin’ but blunts and booty in there.”
“Dangerous,” the second man quipped. He took a sip from a plastic red cup. The man raised the cup towards Andre. “Blunts ‘n booty for real, son.”
Slim laughed, “Good luck.”
Andre gave the men a puzzled stare, then turned to open Tye’s front door. Heavy bass rattled the door knob as he twisted it. The door opened easily and Andre stepped into a sparsely furnished living room filled with about eight women. They were drinking, smoking, laughing, and watching Tye and another woman toke thick joints while bending over barstools shaking their behinds in loose rayon short–shorts. The air in the room was enveloped in a hazy beige cloud of kush. High grade by the smell of it. The woman competing with Tye in the shake–fest dropped into a Chinese split and Andre gave a silent prayer to her mother for the beauty of its execution. Each of her round cheeks bounced in time to the music, a mix of go–go beats and Andre guessed New Orleans bounce.
The music grew more frenetic and Tye left the barstool and stood over the woman on the floor, her backside facing Andre too, and she lowered herself so that her gyrating rump was barely touching the fatness already on the floor. Tye stuck her blunt in her mouth, laid her hands on her knees, and just when Andre thought he couldn’t take much more syncopated ass–shaking, Slim and his male companion stepped into the room.
“Ah shit,” Slim said, “she about to put it on Melody.”
The music switched into a calculated trap beat, and as if on cue, Tye lifted both of her arms above her head, and looked over her left shoulder. She blew smoke from between her teeth. She saw Andre and moved her body slower. All the women screamed, and some fanned Tye’s backside with paper plates pretending to cool her off.
Tye moved away from Melody and helped her up. Slim walked over and removed the joint from Tye’s mouth, playfully slapping her backside before grabbing a beer from the bar table. Tye turned down the volume of the music and pulled Andre into a corner of the room near an open window.
“Needed another break, I see,” he said.
“Yeah, a little one,” she said.
“You could call and tell me that instead of leaving me hanging for two days.”
Someone turned the music back up. Andre moved closer to hear Tye speak.
“Something’s going on with me…with the song,” she said.
Laughter in the room distracted Andre. Slim was trying to dance for the ladies and they were booing him. Tye grabbed Andre’s hand and pulled him into her tiny kitchen.
“Slim caught me singing the song in my sleep,” she said, coughing a bit.
“It’s not the same song. It sounds like it because it’s wordless, but I had him record me. It’s different…”
“Tye, it’s like sleep–talking, a waking dream state. Things get jumbled when you’re dreaming.”
“Wait here,” she said. She left the kitchen and he watched her walk across from the kitchen and step down into her open bedroom door which had a sunken floor. She returned with a digital recorder in her hand.
“Listen,” she said.
They both heard Slim fumbling with the recorder, probably trying to move it towards her mouth in the dark. They listened to her voice and she was right. Although the cadence was similar to Three Voices, the sounds coming from her sleep state were indeed different. Slim walked into the kitchen.
“She got you listening to her snoring?” he teased. Slim pulled Tye next to him, bent his muscular frame down to kiss her neck. Andre felt crowded in the kitchen, and a bit annoyed that Slim was easing into their conversation. It agitated Andre even more to see the man rubbing on Tye’s hip in front of him.
“Oscar and me about to jet. Don’t have your neighbors calling the cops on you,” Slim said. He kissed her cheek. “See ya, Maestro,” he said, nodding at Andre.
Tye stopped the recorder. Andre rewound it, and listened again.
“I like how it sounds,” he said.
“Hmmm,” she mumbled. Her right hand lifted to her mouth suddenly, and she coughed several times. A small spurt of reddened saliva dribbled on her chin at the last spasm. She grabbed a paper towel from the roll above her sink and wiped up blood from her fingers and lips. Andre reached for her arm. She threw the paper towel away and ran water from the kitchen faucet into a coffee mug. She gulped down the water and looked at him with weary eyes.
“Take this home and listen to it all the way through,” she said.
“Your throat?” he asked.
“Just sore. I think you can use some of the recording to help make a cleaner ending,” she said. He stared at her neck and her lips. A sore throat was always the beginning of problems in the past. Then came the blood.
Next were the lumps of traitorous polyps or inflamed cysts. And finally the singers left him, physically damaged by the work. But maybe this time…
“Let me know if you can use any of it,” she said.
He took the recorder from her hand.
“Will you be at practice on time?” he asked.
“Sure. Of course.”
He left her place with plans to reschedule the performance two weeks earlier than planned. Before her voice gave out.
Tye struggled to put forth effort, even with the changes he incorporated from the digital recording. She had a hard time sustaining her concentration on the final sections of the song. The energy just wasn’t there. When they reached a place where they agreed she was ready, they stopped rehearsals. She wanted to spend her pre–show free time with Slim Charles before he left for Europe to drum for a new band.
Enjoying his respite from the intensity of Three Voices, Andre slept with Bethanny. His sex with her was comfortable, easy, and familiar. She was sharp angular muscles, taut thighs, perky breasts, and an eager mouth. All the right weaponry that had hooked him from the beginning. An image of Tye drifted into his mind as he made love to Bethanny. Tye was…damn, Tye was curvy round thickness, tits that flowed over, and a derriere that bounced, bounced, bounced. He came so hard that he called out Tye’s name.
Bethanny didn’t say a word. Andre rolled off of her, uncomfortable as hell. The silence was voluminous between them. When his cell phone rang he sprang up to answer it, turning his back to Bethanny.
“Tye? What’s wrong?” He left the bedroom. Bethanny jumped out of bed and slammed the door behind him.
“It’s doing something to me, changing me. I feel myself changing.”
He couldn’t let her slip away from him. They were so close.
“Can you just tell me exactly what the problem is? We can fix it.” He hoped he really could.
“I know why your father erased it.”
“You think you’re singing the song, but the song is singing you.”
She hung up.
Andre ran back into the cold bedroom, put on his clothes under Bethanny’s heated gaze, and left.
It took awhile for Tye to open her front door. For a moment he was afraid she had done something drastic, like swallowed pills or smoked herself into a coma. But the door opened and she was in front of him in an oversized Steelers football jersey and sweatpants. Fine worry–lines creased her forehead. Lines that had never been there when he first met her.
“Thank God, you scared me,” he said while walking in. He took a seat on her couch. She sat next to him. Lit a joint.
“Maybe you should stop smoking so much. It’s making you paranoid. Talk to me.” He took the joint from her and smoked it himself.
“I know I was supposed to be resting, but I played one track and started singing the opening to it. I had it down, and then it was weird. I thought I was having a stroke. My face got numb and my hands had pressure on them. Swear to God, I felt like someone was squeezing me from the bottom like a tube of toothpaste.”
He could see trembling in her hands.
“I thought maybe I was having a panic attack. I suffer from anxiety from time to time, that’s why I smoke weed, so I can stay off meds. I’ve had bad reactions to some prescriptions before. But I’m not on anything. It’s the song. The song is alive…”
“Don’t talk crazy. Too much smoking is the problem,” he said.
“The moment I stopped singing, the pain stopped.”
“Try singing it again.”
Andre sat back on the couch. He closed his eyes. Let his head fall back into the sofa.
“People are coming to this show Friday. Publicity has gone out. I already taped the public radio spot for it. I can’t cancel the performance. I won’t be able to book the theater again until months from now.”
She threw a small couch pillow at him. It hit him square in the face.
“You bitch ass! The song hurt me!”
“It’s stress. Bad weed. Exhaustion.”
“No, it’s not! Look at my forehead. Look at this.” She knelt in front of him. He looked at her. In the center of her forehead was a small lump. The size of a pencil eraser. It looked like a large pimple. He touched it and she flinched. It felt like it was filled with tiny granules of sand.
“How long have you had that?”
“Today. Right after I sang the opening of your song.” She took her joint back and smoked it down to nothing.
“Could you sing it for me? I have to see. If it hurts again, just stop.” She hesitated. Then moved to her desktop computer and played Three Voices. Her voices. She took a breath and joined in with the two tracks. There was a stutter in her voice. She sang for five minutes then stopped.
“Pain?” he asked.
“No. I just didn’t feel anything. This was the part where I started to feel the tingling in my face and hands.” She sat down next to him.
“What are you thinking?” he asked.
“I was all over this thing in the beginning. Who wouldn’t want to be the singer who sings the impossible? Things don’t feel right to me, and it’s not my throat. I’m scared to do it, and I’m scared not to do it. Does that make sense? Shit, I’m not making sense.”
Tye shook her head. Andre took her hand. Pulled her closer so that they sat hip to hip.
“Tye, you ever wonder how it is, that of all the singers in the world who could’ve crossed my path, there was only you? Someone who shares the same blood as me? We aren’t related but we have ties to the same obscure village. That is fate. We were meant to do this together. I promise you, if you can just push through this and do the song, you will be the most famous voice on the scene. No lie. Future singers will try to imitate your perfection. Your voice will be studied in music classes across the globe. Hell, I’ll be famous.”
He reached over and touched her forehead. The bump was less prominent. He lifted one of her fingers and helped her trace the spot.
“See? Almost gone. Just stress. A fear of failure. You will not fail. I won’t let you.”
He kissed her fingers, and then grew bold. Kissed her cheek. Then her neck. She accepted his affections, but stopped him when he tried to kiss her on the lips.
“That’s not us,” she said.
“Maybe I want to make it us,” he said.
“You may think you do, but not really.”
He pulled away from her. She held onto his hand.
“There’s more, Andre.”
Tye reached into the pocket of her sweatpants. Pulled out the digital recorder.
“I kept it on voice activated.”
She pushed play. This time, there was no noise of fumbling fingers. Andre stared at the steel gray recorder. All he heard was the sound of Tye’s steady breathing in her sleep. Her exhalations of air grew stronger, there was a whimpering sound on the recorder, like she was having a fitful sleep, and in that moment Andre wanted to turn it off, dreading the quivery noise of escalating whimpers and deepening inhalations. He found his fingers inching towards her hand to stop the machine, trying to keep the shaky flip flopping in his stomach from spreading to his legs. She said it before he heard it escaping from the tiny square speaker.
“That’s not my voice.”
He took the recorder from her hand and held it in front of his face. The dulcet sounds of Tye’s soprano was replaced with a raspy, heavy depth that was masculine in tone.
“I know it’s coming from my mouth, but that isn’t me. It can’t be. Not that deep.” He turned off the recorder for her.
She lit another joint and they shared it together until she fell asleep on the couch next to him. He didn’t want to go home and be alone. And he didn’t want to go back to Bethanny’s. He sat and watched Tye sleep, looking for signs of her lips moving, content to be in her space. He erased all the voice files on her recorder, and before he pocketed it, he saw that his own hands were trembling.
On the day of the performance, Andre was calm. Once he was in the theater and knew Tye was backstage getting ready, he made plans in his head to take the music to New York, and then overseas.
The theater held less than 200 seats, and tickets were hard to come by. Friends started calling for favors, and the guest list had to be rearranged several times to accommodate patrons of UCSD, some esteemed faculty, and of course an eager public. People who knew the back–story of Three Voices scrambled to hear it live and in one continuous performance. Andre was shocked to even see Nelia Cardoso in the audience, the scars from her throat surgery still prominent on her neck. The stakes were high. But Andre prayed that Tye would handle it.
A hesitant stage manager handed Andre a note slipped to her from Tye. She had a request. Andre read the note. Stared at the stage manager.
“Really? She wants to do that?”
“Yes she does.”
“Okay, run off some warning note for the programs then,” he said.
When the house lights dimmed and then came up again, Tye sauntered onstage. She was naked. Barefoot and clean shaven from head to toe. Her body was decorated with red, black and white body paint. She had drawn crude designs on her breasts and belly. A map of some sort. There were polite gasps from some audience members. Although they had been slipped a warning note in the program about the nudity, seeing Tye under the bright lights, expectant and silent, was a lot to take in. But she was beautiful. And Andre felt an intense, self–obsessed love for her.
He sat in the front row. Bethanny sat behind him. Despite their messy relationship, he was glad she still wanted to see the performance for the sake of the art.
Tye lifted up her head, and parted her lips. Her voice enveloped the theater, and when her two other voices joined her, creating the triad of harmony, Andre knew they had succeeded. The richness of the three voices in the theater was astounding. Andre could feel people moving forward in their seats. As expected, the first fifteen minutes lulled the listeners into a meditative trance. Tye had the tempo under control. She seemed to be pushing her two other voices up higher. She radiated confidence, like this song had been written for her and only her. Andre tried to concentrate on her singing, but he was mesmerized by her face, so serious and mask–like. No emotion.
And then a strange thing happened.
Andre did not recognize the song anymore. It was his song, the one they spent weeks practicing in sections, and now that it was put together as one seamless tapestry, nearing its conclusion, the notes shifted into something new and… Jesus—
An undulating liquid sound wave floated from Tye’s mouth, like a mirage shimmering on a hot dry surface. It drifted up about thirty feet above her head. A second and third wave floated from the speakers, moved up and spread out, forming a triangle with the first.
The song, Andre, the song is alive…that’s what she told him the night he wanted to make love to her.
Tye kept singing, but the color from her skin faded, the melanin draining away from her flesh. The top of her scalp slowly unraveled, the strands of her flesh spinning upwards in spiraling tendrils…but she kept singing, a crescendo building in her voices. Building, building, while she was coming apart. Soon, the top of her forehead was unthreading, particles of her floating up into the triangular sound wave of ebon space that pulsed. Andre could see actual darkness bulging outward and then open like lips drawing liquid up through a straw. She was being siphoned up into a vortex of space that her voices ripped open.
You think you’re singing the song, but the song is singing you…
A new dimension seeped into the theater. The audience was paralyzed. The voices had them frozen. The beautiful and voiceless Nelia Cardosa stood up in the audience, her hand jammed near her mouth. Only Bethanny spoke.
“Andre, stop her, she has to stop singing! Make her stop!”
Andre stared at his beloved masterwork on stage. Tye’s eyes were missing, but she still sang, even as her neck and shoulders stretched and unbraided themselves. They flew away as particles of light. How could she sing with no head? There were still three voices racing to the end of the song.
Andre looked over at the two speakers that helped her triangulate and open a doorway. He leapt to his feet and ran to the plugs, yanking them out to stop the pre–recorded tracks. But even unplugged, the two voices kept going with the third. He turned to watch all that was left of her still winding away into the vortex. He lunged and grabbed her legs. Her hips were coming undone. He saw her fading, nearly clear like a gelatinous jellyfish: skin, then muscle, then bone. There was a force pulling her up. He held onto her, feeling his weight lifted. He looked up into the triangular void, and saw a face he remembered. Andre screamed.
Her legs vanished in his arms and her voices stopped. He fell to the floor. Panting and a bit delirious. He looked out at the theater seats. Under the bright lights he could only make out a few blank, unblinking faces still lost in a trance. And he heard Bethanny sobbing.
Some in the audience that night suggested that they experienced something akin to group hypnosis. No one could remember what they saw or heard. But they felt as if they had witnessed a miracle of some sort. Still, there were others who thought it was performance art, a calculated stunt to turn Three Voices into an urban legend.
Andre locked himself away in his La Jolla digs, refusing to see anyone, including Bethanny and a distraught Slim Charles. He knew what he had to do.
Clutching the music sheets with Tye’s careful song notations, he set up two speakers inside his livingroom and opened his bay front windows to look out at the Pacific Ocean. He undressed himself and stood nude before his computer. He pushed play on the two pre–recorded tracks he made of himself. He now knew that the song was a map that his father left for him.
When Andre’s two voices filled the room, he added the third voice. It was what his father meant for him to do. And hopefully Tye would be waiting for him there. Just like his father.
© 2015 Lisa Bolekaja