He had made her a mixtape early on in their courtship. Put all his best stuff on it. John Prine In Spite of Ourselves. Stan Ridgway Knife and Fork. David Johansen Frenchette. The Magnetic Fields Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits. Ak-Momo Only the Stars.
That last song he had first played for her on his Walkman after they smoked a bowl in the backyard looking up at the night sky. Isn’t that romantic? Only the stars watching us fuck? he’d asked.
More like creepy, she’d said. Like thousands of perverted old ghosts looking at us. Well let’s give them a show. And she’d jumped up, laughing, and pulled off her top to reveal no bra, only breasts, small and white and perfect in the dusk. Are you watching us now, she shouted to the sky. Look, I’m flashing the stars, she’d said, turning toward him. Now it’s your turn. You moon the moon. She grabbed him by the belt buckle and started to unfasten it and tug off his jeans.
He’d been too embarrassed. Too worried that someone would see them. And it was only their second date. She told him he needed to grow a pair. That she didn’t know what she was doing with such a kid. But then she laughed and smoked some more and went back to his bedroom with him anyway.
He’d signed off with his name at the end of the cassette. Love, Cliff. She’d laughed over that too. Love, Cliff. It’s a tape for chrissakes, not a letter, she’d said. She sent it back in the mail after she moved out. He didn’t know if she had pulled the loop of tape out intentionally or if it had been an accident. He liked to think it had gotten jostled in the mailman’s bag.
He pulled the rest of it free himself, tugging the magnetic strip out and out, an endless ribbon of his shame and love. He buried it in the backyard with one of her old T-shirts that smelled like bonfires and whiskey. Their dogs circled the spot as if they could still smell her, as if they could hear the songs playing in some register unknown to human ears.
He almost never took the antlers out of the shed. He’d bought them off eBay for $950 after Margot had watched The Deer Hunter and begged him to decorate the TV room like a hunting lodge. But by the time the antlers arrived she’d moved on to her next fad and didn’t even want them in the house.
He knew antlers helped the males attract mates but he’d also read on Wikipedia that for moose they may act as large hearing aids. They were heavy but he imagined them picking up some faint signal from beneath the grass and reassembling the broken particles of sound back into whole songs, electromagnetic pulses that would travel across state lines and reach Margot in her new home next to her new lover.
The dogs’ tails wagged as they sniffed, noses to the ground. He lifted the antlers higher and could almost hear the music.