Jen Grow

The Metronome

The wife drank beer every night while her husband played his saxophone. He stood in the kitchen near an uncurtained window, pale and thin in his underwear, and blew his sax toward the refrigerator as if he were playing to a packed crowd, the crowd of condiments inside the door. He had no passion but he could read sheet music, which he kept pinned to the freezer with magnets. He began each song a thousand times a night, determined to make it all the way through. False starts of “Moonglow,” “I Got it Bad,” or “Begin the Beguine.” The wife tried to hum along but couldn’t follow any song to the end. She suspected the thing missing from his music was consistency, a steady beat.

“Happy Birthday,” she said one evening and handed him a metronome.

“Thank you,” he said and wound the key. He sat the metronome on the table near the window while the two of them stood side by side and watched the dainty arm rock back and forth. At first it was charming like a wind-up toy, but progressively, night after night, it became a wagging finger, unforgiving as it kept count of every wrong note.

The wife sat at the kitchen table while he played, her beer on a coaster, while she flipped through catalogues looking for curtains on sale. It bothered her that their windows were bare, that others could peer in, make up stories about them. But she hadn’t found what she wanted at the right price, or the right color, or the right style. What she wished for she couldn’t explain.

Sometimes the wife stared at the peeling wallpaper expecting something more to happen, waiting for the music to sound good. Even if her husband played a song all the way through, it would not have been enough. Eventually, she stopped listening to his music and gave up looking for curtains. She started watching television. The blue haze of the T.V. bounced on the walls of another room where she sat just out of sight.

© Jen Grow

Jen Grow is the author of My Life as a Mermaid, winner of the 2012 Dzanc Books Competition. Her work has appeared in  The Writer’s Chronicle, Other Voices, the Sun Magazine, and many others. She has received a Rubys Award from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance and two Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council. Her website is at

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