Welcome to yet another sneak preview of  Issue No. 4, LOST & BOUND: featuring a wonderful short story by Olga Zilberbourg, written in response to our headphones prompt.

4. Headphones

Considering the chaotic life Jeanne led as a jazz singer, a show every goddamn night, Syd drinking bourbon with anyone who praised his keyboard skills, then at dawn cajoling him back to their home, and what a home it was—a China town walk-up, seventh floor studio with a bathroom sink that also made do as a kitchen sink—after she broke up with Syd, a stream of men huffed and puffed up those stairs and held their sides from pain and collapsed on the sofa, sweating—considering all of that, and also that she managed to actually have a career, recording CDs, touring summers, taking an occasional week of downtime when she visited her mother in Syracuse, New York—taking it all into account, Jeanne’s track record of keeping things together was remarkable.

One summer day, as she was returning from a gig in California, three losses came all at once. She lost the baby—she thought of it as a baby, even though in the ninth week of pregnancy it was technically still only an embryo. At the JFK airport, when she was almost home, somebody swiped the ukulele that she’d started using in her act after Syd left. Also, her thumb ring had disappeared. The ring simply vanished from her finger midflight. She was sitting on the airplane, listening to her iPod, trying to find solace in music between trips to the bathroom, and suddenly she noticed that her ring was gone. It had been a plain silver band, a trinket Syd picked up for her on the Atlantic City boardwalk once—literally picked it up from the ground and put on her finger.

Unafraid of the pitying glances of the other passengers, Jeanne scoured the isle, looked between the cushions, swept candy wrappers and foam headphone covers from under the seat. “Goddammit,” she muttered to herself, “Goddamn Syd.” A new cramp shot tears out of her eyes, and Jeanne collapsed to her elbows. A flight attendant came by with a cloying, patronizing look on her face, and helped Jeanne up and into her chair. “Next time, if you’re not feeling well, it’s best to delay your flight,” she said.

Later, the doctor would explain to Jeanne that there was nothing she could’ve done to prevent the miscarriage. Most likely, her body eliminated the pregnancy because there was something wrong with the embryo. The wrong number of chromosomes, a genetic defect. The cells were dividing and multiplying, and then they weren’t. On the plane, Jeanne bled heavily, and the cramps made her bite her lip and fist her hands, but still she was unable to hold back the tears. She hadn’t decided whether or not to tell Syd about the pregnancy, and now there was nothing to tell. Syd had been hanging around her for over a decade, boozing every night and forcing her to be the responsible one and turning her into a witch. Jeanne decided there was a chance she’d swallowed the ring—she’d been in the habit of sucking on it at tense moments. Crouched in the tiny airplane bathroom, she looked for the ring in her stool, but couldn’t see much in the water murky with blood clots.

When the plane landed in JFK, and she de-boarded, a new wave of cramps and bleeding sent her to the bathroom again. Her body felt torn up inside, and when she felt the thing passing, she couldn’t be sure whether it was the ring or the baby. She wiped and pulled up her pants, then went to wash her hands in the sink. That’s when she noticed that somebody had taken her ukulele. She had dropped it off, together with her purse, on the counter near the hand towel dispenser. Her purse was still there, where she’d left it, but the black ukulele case had vanished, gone, and with it, the only thing Jeanne had bought for herself since Syd left. It was him she wanted back—the way he’d been when they first met, in Atlantic City, when after their gig, he took her down to the beach and threw handfuls of sand at the stars and told her he loved her.

Jeanne stood for a while over the sink, staring at her hands—when she looked in the mirror she could see four of them—they were large hands with calloused, strong fingers and bulging red knuckles, and a little dent where her thumb ring had been. She washed her face, picked up her purse and went out into the steamy, sweltering New York afternoon to find a cab.


OLGA ZILBERBOURG is a fiction writer based in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in Santa Monica Review, Alligator Juniper, Cafe Irreal, elimae, and more.