Queen of the Night

By Thom Mahoney

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She lived in the third floor apartment of a very tall and narrow brownstone at the south end of the District. A spindly tree of indeterminable age sprawled skyward and cast a dark and cool shadow across the building, its branches and leaves reflected in her window, looking so much cooler than the summer night sky it was mirroring.

A long and wide cement staircase tumbled down from double white doors, curving for the last five steps that widened as they reached the sidewalk. A cast iron railing provided guidance and comfort and a feeling of security.

He had been out for a walk that first July evening, clearing his head from something he’d been trying to write, failing miserably, the sickness of the silence digging deeper into him than ever before. The sun had set, the day’s humidity still hung in the air, and he heard her voice long before he could locate her.

He slowed as he approached her building, looking up through the branches of the tree, aware of how suspicious he must appear, his head tipped back, his eyes searching the windows of the apartment building. And when he located her open window, the source of the magic, he backed against the wall created by the tumbling staircase and listened in the darkness of the shade-tree and the stillness of the night.

And when she was finished with the aria, he stood there a long time, hoping, waiting, eager for more. But there was no more.

So he returned the following night, and the night after that, and all of the nights for the remainder of the summer and into the fall, tucked with his back against the staircase wall, as she sang spirituals and show tunes, pop and jazz and scat, waiting for her to sing once again the aria he first heard. But she sang one tune each night, and no more.

He wanted to meet her. During his days, he devised plans to be standing at the base of those stairs to greet her, to introduce himself, to learn her name, to explain how she had cured him, saved him, the magic regality of her voice, of her.

Even as the cold rains of winter chased closed all the windows of every building on her street and all those around the District, he stood with his back against the wall created by the tumbling concrete staircase until he, too, was chased away.

And when the New Year and the wet spring had passed, finally, he returned to find her window closed, and he stood with his back to the stairway wall and listened as the night gave way to thumping stereos and roaring motorcycles and lonely cats crying in the alley.

– Thom Mahoney