In Other Words, by Jessica Corcoran

Entrants in the 2023 Prescot Festival Short Story Competition were asked to pen up to 1,000 words inspired by the following quote, from Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s celebrated poem ‘Ode,’ which turns 150 this year: We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

We are pleased to announce that the winner is Jessica Corcoran. She receives a £100 prize for a bittersweet story whose compelling yet sensitive perspective on its subject moved the judges to tears. Its meaning dawns as subtly on the reader as on the central character, as she tries to make sense of herself and the world around her.

A drumming note slips into my dreams. Sombre yet hopeful; a warm, familiar feeling. Hazily, I wake from my sleep; blurred eyes cannot process where I am but my fortitude is steeling. I’m sat in a large comfy chair, a gentle garden breeze from the open doors is breathing. Confusion takes hold of me again; my head swarms, heart beats fast, chest heaving.

But I hear it once more. A sly, up-beat drum that slides into twinkly light notes. Although I cannot explain it, I understand that love and comfort is what this music emotes.

And then his rich, brilliant voice takes me away with his first word. Fly!

Instantly, I’m a fresh faced 20-year-old again, the future I have yet to live just a gleam in my eye. My arms wrapped lovingly around the Irish gentleman who I knew to be my one true love from our first meet. He whisks me around in a brisk quick step dance as the song engulfs us; a moment so beautiful and sweet. The words hold my hand vibrate through the air as he takes my hand in his for a delicate spin. And once I glide around in one glorious turn, with his charismatic smile, he draws me back in.

As quickly as I was transported back in time, I’m thrust into reality. My mind tries to play catch up, to understand this lapse, but there’s no moment to think as, again, I’m enticed by this infectious melody. This time, I know my Irish sweetheart is no longer here; he passed some time ago. But instead, I’m greeted by a woman with dark hair, blue eyes and freckles; a face I should know. For some reason her name and relation does not connect with me but regardless, her smile warms my heart. The music swells with a brassy tone; she reaches out her arms for me to hold and from my seat, I slowly depart.  

Methodically we step from side to side, trying our best with my fragility to keep pace. I’m no longer that sprightly young woman with poise and grace. I can feel the heaviness, the weight and pain I carry around in these old limbs. But inexplicably, this song ignites a joy and youthfulness within me, so all thoughts of bleakness and age quickly dims.

Without even realising, I’m singing along. I could not tell you what day, month or even year it is but you can bet your house that I know every single word to this song. I croakily sing the words fill my heart with song and in response, the woman’s smile shines like a thousand stars. I manage a half smile in return and from the endearing look in her eyes, I understand that this song is ours. I recall faded memories of me cradling a crying baby, this very tune playing lowly on record. I was singing along then too, lulling the babe to sleep as my soft steps made creaking noises on the floorboards.

My smile is genuine this time as, under my breath, I whisper the name I gave her. She must have been listening for, in a flash, she is hugging me tightly as all her emotions stir. The hug almost immediately returns to held hands, small dance steps and big grins. As the music swells once more, our arms lift and beneath I go for one slow, steady spin. When I return to face her this time, I see tears well in her eyes. Whether these are tears of delight or remorse, I do not know but I understand that my memory came to her as a surprise. Brass instruments and double bass crescendos greatly; Frank’s powerful voice repeating… In other words. And as soon as the song played, it was over and all to be heard was the chirping of the little songbirds. Returning me to my chair, she gently sits me down; her tears and smile now fading. I’m left to marinate in the notes that played before; within its honeyed lyrics, I am wading.

It’s only now that I truly realise, I am not who I used to be. A great piece of me is missing. I am unable to grasp true moments of life; wedding bells, babies born, sweethearts kissing. I doubt there is much I can do to abate this; to quote another of his songs, that’s life. But it sends a twinge of pain through my body knowing that my existence could be causing strife. I guess this won’t be worrying me for too long, this memory and many others will dissipate. A morose existence it may be but at the end of the day, this is my fate.

Through all of these trials and tribulations, to know one song can relight such experiences is very strange. They say music is powerful but I could not have imagined it would bring about this kind of change. And yet, its power can be fleeting and only remain for the 2 minutes and 27 seconds it plays. But to think, after decades have passed since first hearing this song, its melody, its pace and lyrics have somehow stayed.

I recline back in my chair, overwhelmed by the rush of experiences as another of his songs plays faintly. I’ll wait until that same song plays again so I can remember fondly the moments that were beautiful and quaintly.

But for now, I shall rest, in the hopes that my memory will return to me one day soon. Until that day… In other words…  Fly me to the moon!

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