“And the Record Stops Spinning” by Kyla Giffin

Her first Friday night at the college, and she was spending it in her dorm. Aldine had brought along her record player and her ever-expanding collection of records. She’d been expecting to spend her weekend nights like this, but somehow was disappointed that that was in fact how things had turned out. Her roommate, Hemera, with the tail of a small tattoo protruding under her bangs above her piercing black eyes, and the annoying habit of crossing and uncrossing her arms continuously while having a conversation, was at her brother’s ex-girlfriend’s birthday party. Apparently, Gillian, the ex-girlfriend, cheating on Hemera’s brother with their uncle did not affect Hemera’s opinion of her whatsoever. Gillian was known to slip acid cubes into the drinks of young, doe-eyed college students drawn to her like mosquitoes to blood, while she and her worshippers posted soon-to-be-viral videos online of the poor kids getting high. Anyone who got involved with Gillian knew what they were in for, including Hemera’s uncle, who had overdosed on one of Gillian’s many supplies of drugs and was in rehab.

Aldine pushed her rolling chair away from her desk where she had just opened and turned on her record player, whisking herself to the other side of the room where the bookshelves were stacked from floor to ceiling with records in and out of cases, pouring off the shelves like sap out of a tree. Without looking, she grabbed one from the bottom of the pile on the top shelf, causing an avalanche of vinyls as she threw her itchy wool-covered arms above her head. Loose records slipped and slid, rolling and crashing down her back to the floor. All the scratches on the records that she would notice while picking them up were echoing in her ears. Records in sleeves that couldn’t tumble off the shelves fell on their sides with a clump. Aldine, her arms still over her head, sighed, drew her knees up to her chin and spun around to see a sea of vinyls cascading across the floor around her. She stuck out her foot to use the bookshelf as a threshold and stopped spinning. With a grunt, Aldine bent over and picked up a random record from the ground, then walked over to the record player and put it on. With a small bristling sound, a guitar started playing and Green Day began singing, “I sit alone in my bedroom, staring at the walls…” With a rhythmic bounce in her step, Aldine walked back over to where all the records had spilled over and started gathering them up again, singing along at the same time.

“I sit outside and watch the sunrise, lookout as far as I can. I can’t see her, but in the distance…” As Aldine belted out the lyrics to “2000 Light Years Away,” someone pounded on the wall from one of the dorms flanking hers.

“Keep it down over there, will you?” a voice shouted. “Some of us don’t need to hear you screeching like a dying cat!” Whoever was in that dorm began cackling in response. Aldine picked herself up from the floor, skipped over and turned the music up louder, and began singing again at the top of her lungs. The girls in the other dorm stopped laughing as Aldine smirked and went back to picking up the records.

She remembered the first time she had heard Green Day. Her boyfriend had serenaded Aldine as a way of asking her to junior prom. But they instantly became her favorite artist when she heard Roger’s sweet voice sing “At the Library,” the song she also made out with his best friend to at senior prom.

Aldine thought back to that regretful night as Green Day sang about “…the cracked streets and the broken homes…” She had been dating Roger since eighth grade when he walked behind the DJ’s platform at senior prom to find his best friend, Gerald’s, lips on hers. As he broke Gerald’s jaw, Aldine screamed at Roger to stop, to which he had whisked around and stared at her with a broken gaze, as if he didn’t know who she was anymore. Then he had dropped a bruised, unconscious Gerald with a clatter, like dropping a marionette, and rushed out of the auditorium and into the streets.

“Rog, come back!” Their voices sounded in Aldine’s head as she restacked the vinyls.

“How could you, Aldi? How could you?”

“Please, Roger, come back, please!”

“Leave me be!”

“I can explain! Rog, please–”

“Just stop…”

“Rog, look out!”

He had stumbled into the road without looking, just as a car had come speeding his way. Aldine had seen it coming, and called out to him, but it had been too late. It mowed him down mercilessly.

She remembered bits and pieces after that: her screaming and sobbing, the blood splattered on the road, the car peeling out, her holding his tattered, limp body, closing his eyes with shaking fingers. Aldine had called out for help into the dead night, and it seemed like forever before the principal came running from the auditorium, followed by gasping, crying and shouting students. Then she had just stopped crying. Everything looked like a blur and sounded like a hum, like the feeling when the needle of a record player reaches the middle, where there is no song–dead air.

A noise brought Aldine back from reliving her greatest hell. She stood for a second with the last vinyl in her hand and heard it again: Bum bum bum, a knock at the door. She put the record back on the shelf with a sniff. It wasn’t until that moment that she became aware of the fact that she was crying. Rubbing the tears from her eyes, Aldine dragged herself to the door.

“Hemera’s probably back from her acid trip,” Aldine thought to herself. Blundering over the clothes on the floor, she grabbed the handle, turned the lock, and opened.
“Hemera, did you forget your key aga–” she said, expecting to see her roommate’s sluggish, pale face. Instead, it was a young man. Hemera’s brother.

Before Aldine could stop what she was saying and ask what he was doing there, there was a tiny click, and it felt as if the inner walls of her gut had been hit with a hammer. The force made her fall backwards, on top of the clothes she had tripped over. Looking down at her stomach where the pain was coming from, she saw red start to spread over her shirt, like an ice cube melting, if the ice cube was in fact blood. She could see the sweatpants beneath her begin to redden under the small of her back. Scared and unsure of what was happening, Aldine’s eyes darted up to the face of Hemera’s brother. His eyes were wide, the blood draining from his face as fast as it was draining from Aldine. Then she saw the gun in his hand.

“Da-Daniel,” she stuttered. “What did you d-do?”

Daniel just stood there, and Aldine watched his blank stare, and saw her own self in his pupils. Her scrawny torso becoming drenched, her too-large legs seeming to weigh her down. The tousled mess of auburn hair that all but hid her pale brown eyes. And in that reflection of her, something was off. And she realized that her eyes were no longer lit up with joy like they once were. Nothing else had changed about her, except she lacked the sparkle, the fire, that once almost consumed her.

Daniel’s mouth opened and closed, but no words came out. Finally, he muttered, so quietly Aldine had to strain to here, “I thought you were…that you were Hemera…that traitorous…”

And just as fast as it had happened, Daniel slipped out of the doorway, and Aldine could hear his footsteps stomping, running, back down the hall.

Aldine lay there, gasping, as her whole shirt and the clothes beneath her became soaked in her blood. But she didn’t move. And she didn’t scream. She was exhausted. Not just from being shot just then, but from her whole life. And she almost felt relieved.

Aldine exhaled, and used the last of her strength to drape one of the dry clothes lying around her over the wound, so that whoever found her would not be too traumatized. She closed her eyes and listened as Green Day finished singing “Dominated Love Slave.” In her head, she saw Roger, his face as he asked her to junior prom, his face as she betrayed him, his face as the timeline of his life ended in the middle of a cold, dark street, his physical killer never to be brought to justice, but the one who had killed him inside and broken his heart being his only comfort. Then, suddenly, there came that familiar mesmerizing hum signaling the end of the record. The end of a spinning cycle. The end of life.

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