Music Box

Marilee Dahlman

Music Box is the honourable mention for Room’s 2021 Short Forms Contest, as judged by Michelle Good. You can find the full list of winners, and what judge Michelle Good had to say about each winning piece, here.


Music Box

I’ll begin this song with the click of the grandfather clock when I got locked inside, when the chimes numbed my eardrums and healed my spine, when my presence disturbed the clock’s mechanics and each hour its chimes churned slower, and I explained this to the doctor to the tune of beeping instruments and he hummed that hallucinations were a rare but documented effect of the prescription, and so I tapered, that lasted a few beats, but with friends like mine, you don’t have to taper, not totally, and when the creative director asked, don’t you want to stay in the company, and I said yes, I was a dancer, I’d always been a ballet dancer, ever since I’d peered inside a music box and knew I wanted to twirl to tinny music, even when the lid was shut, even when the pink satin turned black in the dark, and I twisted around again and heard a tired refrain when Nicholas said I can’t do this, and he was pitching wedding invitations into the recycling but not his ring, and I said we’ve done it before, everything, don’t you remember our hearts thumping to drumbeats under a savannah storm, don’t you remember when I played a flute you made from a reed, don’t you remember us moaning chants deep inside a moss-covered cloister, don’t you remember wearing powdered wigs and rosewater and spying each other across the opera house balcony, don’t you remember laughing in a chorus behind the kicking girls, don’t you remember singing to God while working a sun-scorched field, singing to fallen soldiers, singing with sequined superstars, singing of our own home sun-star as we sped to a new world with amethyst clouds? And someone’s turned us over again, for a beat there’s rasping and itchy quiet as I stand in a city church chock-full of lilacs and I wait for you and hear bells and a harp, maybe I was winding up, maybe I was winding down, but for that one measure we were in harmony.


Marilee lives in Washington, DC, where she writes fiction first thing in the morning and works as a lawyer for the rest of the day. Her other stories have appeared in Apparition Lit, The Bitter Oleander, Cleaver, Metaphorosis, Molotov Cocktail, Mystery Weekly, Orca Lit and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter @marilee_dahlman.

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