by Matt Goldberg
It was the song after the actual song. The one tacked on to the end. It followed a triptych of Beatles tunes, the last ones they’d ever sing together before long careers and untimely deaths. “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End.” And then one more.
The one that taunted us.
“What’s that song?” Sal asked. “The short, sweet one by The Beatles?”
We were in our living room, both of us a bit stoned. Sal sat by the window in our red chair, which we called the Book Nook. Mostly, though, we stared at our phones in that chair, and it wasn’t much of a nook, just a corner of the room.
“They’ve got so many,” I said. I was reclining on the couch, a new one we’d bought after our pet fancy rats—may they rest in peace—chewed through the cushions of the old one.
“We’ve got to find it,” she said. “It’s bugging me.”
That meant I was supposed to start searching through dozens of Beatles tracks on my Spotify Premium. It took a while of skipping ahead to the ends of songs, until Sal suddenly gasped and remembered it was on Abbey Road. Then we found it. “Her Majesty.”
We played it. Only twenty-five seconds long.
“What a pretty little thing,” Sal said. “Seems a weird way to end an album, though.”
“I love that one line,” I said.
“Wait, which one?”
“The belly full of wine part,” Sal said. “I like thinking about you with wine sloshing around in your belly working up the courage to talk to me.”
“So you’re the queen in this scenario?”
“Off with your head!” she declared, and we laughed and laughed, because even though it wasn’t all that funny, we were, as I said, a bit high and we loved each other and that combo was enough to make anything hysterical.
Later on, weeks later, or maybe months, I did something stupid. I knocked over the plant that Sal’s grandpa had given her as a housewarming gift before he passed. It was a beautiful, green plant with oval leaves that Sal carefully nurtured, as if it contained her grandpa’s spirit. They were close. Or at least as close as two people from vastly different generations can be. I was hauling my bicycle through the house because, in our part of Philly, you couldn’t leave a bicycle locked to the front stoop railing. I knew that from experience.
Anyway, I was being careless and in a bad mood because of something I’d read in the news. I didn’t look where my handlebars were. They bumped the pot, which toppled to the floor, spilling soil everywhere. The plant was left sprawled out, its roots bared to the world. In the confusion of the moment, I dropped the bicycle too, and it fell right on the plant, squashing it. Sal ran over, aghast. We tried saving the plant. I feebly scooped soil back into the cracked, overturned pot, while Sal cradled the naked plant in her arms.
I was afraid to look at her. “I’m so stupid,” I muttered at the ground.
Sal didn’t speak for a while. She got up from the floor and retrieved some scissors. She took the wrecked plant over to the kitchen, cut off a leaf, and placed the cutting into a mason jar filled with water. I drifted over to where she stood next to the sink.
“Do you hate me now?” I asked.
Her eyes blinked away unshed tears. “Belly full of wine,” she said. It didn’t quite make sense that she’d say those lyrics to me in that moment, but I felt I understood, somehow, what she meant. Things would be okay. Between us. The lyrics were shorthand for forgiveness.
Later on from that, a year and a half maybe, Sal was cutting my hair because, around that time, we still couldn’t go to any barbershops due to the virus. My hair by then had gotten egregiously long and we decided that a buzz cut would have to do. We’d converted some old curtains into a makeshift cape and set up in our tiny backyard patio.
The problem was Sal had to use my cheapo beard trimmer instead of a professional hair clipper. During the haircut, the plastic guard over the steel blade snapped off.
I knew something had gone wrong after a giant tuft of hair fell into my lap.
“Oh, crap,” Sal said, after a pause. “I may have screwed up here.”
I felt what was left of the hairs on my head. It was like a riverbed carved into a canyon. “Fuck it,” I said. “Shave it all off.”
“Belly full of wine.”
Afterwards, she poured us both a glass of pinot noir and the lyrics took on an additional, literal layer.
Years after that, after my dad died, after we sold our house in Philly and lived abroad, Sal got pregnant. She had an appointment, and I was supposed to head to the hospital after work to wait with her, but I’d arrived later than we’d talked about because I hadn’t accounted for traffic. When I got in, Sal was already on an exam table, sweaty and obviously uncomfortable.
“I feel like an animal,” she groaned. “What have you done to me?”
I leaned over to kiss her sweat-soaked forehead. It was like taking little sips of the sea. “I’m sorry,” I said, simply because I couldn’t understand what she was going through.
Sal let out a light, pained laugh.
I placed my ear to her swollen belly. I wasn’t sure what I should’ve been hearing, but I kept listening.
Image by KoolShooters via Pexels