Cold Case by Betsy Housten

for S. (1952-1977)

“And I… will write my story for my better self.”
– Elizabeth Barrett Browning

My girl – my better self – I’m so sorry. You deserved
a different ending, one befitting the performer we were,
smitten with allegro and adagio and each speed in between.
Remember how we’d press our fingers to the major keys,
then hit the minors and rise up off the bench, just a little,
how we couldn’t resist? Crescendos got us, every time.

We always swooned for a buildup. I’m sorry I didn’t know
to run from him, the man police never found. Had I time
to do it over, I’d avoid the music building, decide practice
could wait, this year’s graduate recital not nearly as crucial
as the topography of our throat. The way he wound that
piano cord around it – thin delicate tendons that gave us

speech, laughter, pulling breath in and out of our lungs
like pumping the pedal ¬– then took a fist to our face and
bound each arm behind our breakable torso before killing
the stage lights, I should have seen it coming. Better self,
I am here to offer you the coda we never got: mild autumn
midnight, swinging our bicycle toward the glowing lines

of any other parking lot, bright reflective slashes ushering
us into some aspirating future, one where we get to keep
our voice and turn 26, sheet music unscored by blood.
We’re safe now. You’ve no need to menace Kendall Hall,
drag our ghost-bones to the ivories, terrify new hopefuls.
Our hair’s clean; it’s not the only way they’ll identify us.

Betsy Housten is a Pushcart-nominated queer writer and massage therapist. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cold Creek Review, Terse Journal, Cotton Xenomorph, Vagabond City, Bone & Ink Press, Burning House Press, Longleaf Review, Memoir Mixtapes and elsewhere. She lives in New Orleans, where she is pursuing her MFA in

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