She opened the door to the screened-in porch and started to enter, but stopped abruptly in the doorway.
“Oh, wow,” she muttered.
“Hey, girlie!” came a familiar voice. “Isn’t this unreal?”
Her friend, Michaela, was seated on an old couch placed askance at one end of the room. On the windowsill behind it, music was emitting from an old cassette player. The room was otherwise empty.
As she gazed past the porch into the living room, she could see that it too was empty. The stark, freshly-painted white walls contrasted with the rich dark floorboards.
“This is unbelievable. It’s like being in a totally different house!” she told Michaela.
“You’re here! Hello there!” Holly exclaimed exuberantly, hugging her tightly as she emerged from the back of the house. “Isn’t it something? I can’t believe it, either.”
“It’s overwhelming,” she agreed, continuing through the living room into the dining room. “I never knew the house had such great floors. The wood is beautiful!”
“It was always hidden under that ugly carpet,” Holly explained. “Come on. I’ll give you the rest of the tour.”
In the kitchen, some of the cupboard doors stood open, revealing their barren shelves. The nook where the refrigerator had been was empty and the long expanses of tiled counter tops fully revealed. Except for a bucket in the sink from which a long mop handle protruded and a bottle of liquid floor cleaner, the room was also barren.
“Is it weird going into your room?” she inquired of Holly.
“Totally,” Holly said raising her hands for emphasis. “Come see for yourself.”
The two women walked into the small bedroom into which light was streaming from the two uncovered windows.
“Oh, my god,” she whispered, standing completely still in the middle of the floor. For several long moments, she remained there, gazing around the empty room, deep in thought. Finally, she turned to Holly. “I’m standing where your bed used to be.”
“Yes, you are. Most of the time the headboard was against this well,” Holly said, gesturing. “Sometimes I pushed it over to that side of the room,” she continued, pointing toward the opposite wall. “But I really liked it over here better because of the way the morning light came in through that window.”
She walked over to the window and peered into the backyard. It was overgrown with weeds, the empty pond just a hole in the middle of the neglected lawn.
“How many hours did we spend in this room, talking about everyone and everything?” she mused aloud.
“Who knows,” Holly replied, putting her arm around her friend as the two women stood silently looking out the window. “I’d be happy to do the math if somebody would give me back just a fraction of those hours.”
“Me, too,” she agreed. “We planned our futures here.”
“Well, we thought we did,” Holly corrected her. “But I don’t think either of our lives today bear any resemblance to the lives we planned for ourselves in this room. We could never have imagined how things would turn out, of course. Especially when it came to your love life!” Holly teased, giving her friend’s shoulder a little squeeze as she walked over to the empty closet and closed the door.
“I can’t believe it. This room just isn’t right without Elvis,” she teased.
Holly laughed. “I know. Look, you can still make out the outlines of my posters on the walls. The painters haven’t gotten to this room yet.” Almost in a whisper, she added, “I kept the posters. Especially the Elvis one. That was your favorite, as I recall.”
She rolled her eyes in mock disgust. “That thing was ugly 30 years ago! Please don’t tell me you’re going to hang it in the bedroom of your condo,” she teased.
“Ah, no,” Holly declared. “Patrick puts up with a lot, but that would be too much even for him.” The two women looked at each other and burst out giggling. “Elvis is going home with me, but just for sentimental value. He’s in one of the boxes that will probably end up in storage.”
“I’m relieved,” she teased, bumping her elbow against her good friend’s arm. “Please keep it in that box. I never want to see it again.”
“I thought about giving you my fuzzy purple bedspread,” Holly chided.
“No way!” she squealed. “You did not keep that horrible thing!”
“Nope. I didn’t,” Holly chuckled. “I just wanted to see your reaction.”
“Oh, thank god,” she responded. “I was getting seriously worried. They’ve concluded that time travel is an abstract concept. Great for fantasizing, but not logistically possible. Got that? There are some aspects of our lives that we definitely should not revisit. Your Elvis collection and hideous purple bedspread are on the list of things better forgotten. For me, at least.”
“Got it, Doc,” Holly declared with mock seriousness. “Speaking of time travel,” Holly began as she turned back to the hallway, “come check out what else I found when we were cleaning out the house.”
As she followed her friend, she yelled out, “Hey, Michaela, you still there?”
“You bet, sista,” Michaela belted back. “Get in here and listen to this tape.” Just then the music grew louder.
As she neared the living room, she stopped to listen. “What is that hideous caterwauling?” she asked the other women.
Holly and Michaela looked at each other for an instant before breaking into hysterical fits of giggling.
“What’s so funny?” she inquired, watching Michaela rolling back on the couch, laughing heartily and grabbing her stomach.
“Girlfriend, that’s you!” Michaela whooped.
“It is not,” she protested. “Shut up! That is not me! That woman is a terrible singer.” As she strained to hear the words the woman was singing, she gradually realized that it was not a woman’s voice at all, but, rather, that of a young girl.
“Jeez, she sounds like she’s about twelve years old. Like Olivia Newton-John before puberty.” Holly and Michaela continued sniggering. The girl was strumming a guitar and her singing was interspersed with sporadic conversation and laughter.
She recognized Holly’s youthful voice over the sound of singular applause. “And that, ladies and gentleman, was the one-day-to-be-famous Miss Karla . . . Karla . . . hey, what’s your stage name going to be?”
“Oh, I haven’t decided yet,” came her own teen-aged voice from the tape. “Isn’t your agent supposed to help you decide that? I need an agent. Do you know how to be an agent?”
“Me?” Holly responded. “Yeah, I can do that for you. Do they have agent school? I’ll enroll and learn all about how to be your agent. Then I’ll pick a name for you.” Then the girls dissolved into uncontrollable giggling and chortling. “I think your stage name should be Crystal. I love that name. Crystal . . . Mulberry! Yeah. That’s it. You’re Crystal Mulberry!”
“That’s ridiculous!” she argued. “I’m not going to go through my adult life as ‘Crystal Mulberry.’ I’m getting a new agent.”
“Fine,” Holly snorted. “Then sing a song for your new agent. Make your audition tape. The recoder is running.”
“All right,” her voice echoed back to her from the past. “I will do just that.”
As guitar chords wafted from the tape, she recognized the sequence, but could not bring to mind the name of the song. Then she heard herself speaking again as the chords continued.
“I wrote this song, you know,” she explained. “For him.”
“You did?” the young Holly shrieked. “You didn’t tell me that you wrote him a song! Is this the world premiere?”
“Yeah, something like that,” she replied dismissively. “I doubt that anybody but you will ever hear it, though. I’m sure as heck never going to sing it for him.”
“Ah, that’s so sad,” Holly commiserated. “Well, sing it for me and we’ll preserve it for posterity on this tape.”
She continued standing perfectly still in the living room, listening, as Holly and Michaela sat together on the couch. The tune seemed vaguely familiar, but she had absolutely no recollection of the lyrics. It was as though she was hearing them for the very first time.
“I wrote this?” she inquired of Holly. “Are you sure? I don’t remember any of this!”
Holly and Michael looked at each other and shrugged. “Senior moment?” Michaela asked.
“Could be,” Holly responded. “We’re old enough to start having them, aren’t we?”
“You guys are,” Michaela declared, tucking her long legs under her on the couch as easily as she had when she was a teenager. She watched Holly studying her. “What?”
“If I tried that, you two would have to pry my legs back out from underneath me in order to get me off the couch,” Holly lamented.
She remained motionless in the living room, straining to recall the day upon which she wrote the song she heard emanating from the tape recorder. But she could not. The memory was gone and she felt as though she were listening to a stranger.
“Holly, what year did you record this?” she asked.
“Are you sure you want to know?” Holly replied, one eyebrow raised slyly.
“No. Never mind,” she said, finally moving to the couch where she perched on its arm.
“We were seventeen,” Holly said flatly. “Seventeen years old. I’m wearing underwear that’s more than seventeen years old.”
She and Michaela both glared at her. “T.M.I., o.k.?” Michaela scolded.
“I found the tape in the closet in my bedroom. Michaela and I were listening to it while we were waiting for you to get here,” Holly explained. “So, Crystal Mulberry, in light of the discovery of this rather — ahem — ancient treasure, I have a serious question for you. Are you ready for it?”
“Since when has that ever stopped you?” Michaela interjected.
“I want to know what happened to your music,” Holly pressed. “Your songwriting. Your musical career that you were planning for yourself in this house, in my bedroom, when we were seventeen. When was the last time you even played your guitar?” Holly rambled on, as she reached up to the windowsill and pushed the cassette player’s “off” button. The room was suddenly silent.
She let out a long, deep sigh. “Well, you already know the answer to that question. My brilliant career as ‘Crystal Mulberry’ never materialized because I never pursued it. Jeez, Hol, we were seventeen. I thought I was the next Janis Ian or Joni Mitchell or Karla Bonoff. Sadly, I wasn’t. Babe, I was just plain ol’ ‘Crystal Mulberry.’ Dreams are one thing, but I could never have made a living as ‘Crystal Mulberry.’ Good grief, nobody would have paid to hear that,” she said, gesturing toward the cassette player.
The three of them sat quietly for a few moments, each lost in her own thoughts.
“Well, I think she should have named you Crystal Holliday,” Michaela offered, finally breaking the silence.
“Why?” Holly asked.
“Because you could have turned out to be Doc Holliday,” Michaela snickered.
Now it was her turn, along with Holly, to glare at Michaela in exasperation.
“Come on, that was a good one, ya gotta admit,” Michaela held her hands up in front of her in her own defense.
“All right, on that note, Doc Holliday is going to ride out of town,” she said as she stood. “This has been a lovely trip down memory lane, but too much of this time travel could drive me to drink. Some things are better left in the past. Like my youthful foray into singing and songwriting.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I vote we close up the house and go downtown for a couple glasses of wine at that new restaurant everyone’s talking about,” Holly suggested.
“I’m in,” Michaela enthused, unfolding her legs and jumping off the couch.
“That’s so not fair,” Holly complained, watching her. “Anyway . . . you in?”
“No, I need to get going,” she begged off. “But this has been fun. Truly. I’m glad you invited me over to see the house one more time before the escrow closes and the new owners move in. We had a lot of good times here. I hope the new owners do, too.”
“All right then,” Holly said as she strode to the windowsill and ejected the cassette tape from the recorder. “But I want you to have this.” The tape’s label was yellowed and stained, but she recognized her friend’s handwriting. “The Soon-to-Be-Famous Crystal,” it read.
“Oh, swell,” she said, reluctantly accepting the gift. “Just what I need. Bad songs sung badly — for the ages. My own little time machine in a cassette.”
“Stop it,” Michaela chided, giving her a tight hug. “I think your songs are beautiful and you should have stuck with your musical pursuits, Doc.”
“It was great seeing you guys,” she called over her shoulder as she headed back down the front steps toward her car. “Keep those e-mails coming!”
She started her car quickly and began driving toward her house. At the first stop light, she reached into her bag and retrieved the cassette. Her car, just a couple of years old, had a cassette player built into the dashboard but she had never used it. “I finally get to see if this thing works,” she mumbled to herself. As she drove, she listened intently to the songs she had penned so many years ago, the words gradually coming back to her. When she pulled into her garage, she removed the tape, replaced it in her bag, and took it into the house with her.
She went directly to the guest room and threw open the closet doors. “I know it’s here somewhere,” she said to herself as she began rummaging in the back of the closet. After a few moments, she located it. Wiping the dust from the top of the hard black case, she carried it to the den and placed it on the floor before turning her attention to the bookshelf. “Let’s see . . . I’m sure I kept it,” she said softly, as she scanned the shelves. “Green . . . wasn’t it green?” she asked herself. “I could have sworn it was . . . ” Just then, her eyes fell upon it. It was indeed a green, three-ring binder filled to overflowing. Bits of odd-sized paper, some bearing notations in longhand, some displaying the faded but comfortingly familiar font of an electric typewriter, were shoved between the covers, bound together tentatively with a large rubber band. When she reached up and removed the binder from the shelf, the hardened rubber band promptly snapped and the contents spilled onto the floor.
“All I need now is my yellow bean bag chair,” she chuckled to herself as she plopped down on the floor and began studying the binder’s contents.
Then she turned her attention back to the case. The hinges were slightly rusty, but still worked after a couple of tries. As she opened the lid, her nostrils filled with the familiar scent of the padded lining mixed with the smell of the metal strings and liquid polish. She sat silently for a few moments, appreciating the beauty of the item that had once been her most highly prized possession.
Then she reached into the case and gently removed it, gripping the neck with one hand as the the fingertips of her other hand caressed the familiar leather of the strap bearing her initials.
“Not too bad, considering,” she said to herself as she checked the condition of each of the six strings, plucking them one at a time to determine just how badly out of the tune they were. “Not bad at all.”
She realized that she was smiling as she tentatively turned the knobs one by one with her left hand while repeatedly plucking each string with her right until she was satisfied that the tone emanating from each string matched that of the others.
Finally, she sat back, relaxed and placed the fingers of her left hand on the neck, forming a G major chord. Then she began strumming her guitar with her right hand as she hummed one of the tunes she had just listened to in her car on her way home.