Maria Caponi

Chad and Sabrina Dissonant Song

M. Caponi 2014



Maria Caponi was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and moved in her late twenties to Los Angeles where she lives and plays.  She has a PhD in physics and works part time as an aerospace technical consultant but spends a large part of her waking hours making up stories. She has recently completed the UCLA certificate of fiction writing with distinction and is currently working on the novel “The Street of Sighs, an environmental thriller.  She is honored to contribute The Magic Scar and Chad and Sabrina Dissonant Song to The Acentos Review.

Chad sits on his porch atop of the garage, rocks his chair, listens to the neighborhood music and waits. His face to the setting sun, he smells barbeque and roses. It is close to 5pm. He isn’t sure why or for what he waits. There were the jogging steps that started a week ago, something in their rhythm and the pace caught his attention. Something that broke the monotony of his afternoon routine and now distracts him from completing the song he’s been working for so long.   He had guessed from the speed and the length of the stride that it was a woman. He imagined a slender woman with long legs and large, perhaps narrow feet, but couldn't understand why he was attracted to the sound or the reason for the strange pattern in her gait.  So now he anticipates but doesn't acknowledge his expectation.

The long and short caws of the crows high up in the palm tree compete with the shouts and shrieks of young children playing ball on the street.  Chad hears the distinct screech from Martin’s brakes as he goes down the hill on his bike and after a while the tap tap of the jerky wheel in little Troy’s tricycle as he tries to catch up with his older brother. Chad shifts his attention to the sound of the ball bouncing against the wall across the street and then to the claws scratching the terrace handrail and the soft running paws.  He smiles, the cat has chased the squirrel away. His back against a frayed pillow and his feet firmly planted on the warm concrete Chad rocks the worn wooden recliner and gives two pats to the armrest. “Here kitty cat” he says. He feels the thump on his lap and softly touches the hairs of sleek fur, listens to the contented purr and waits. A car goes by, it seems to have a metal can hanging from the fender that hits and drags on the pavement at each sped bump.  Chad smirks and guesses that Mary who lives down the block is already back from work.

They start softly and soon are louder, the sound of sneakers hitting on asphalt. It is the woman. He recognizes the pattern of the step, the precision of the thud as each foot hits the street.  There is something familiar but distinct in the tune they make with the ground. The beat of the thumps, the tap of a drum, a mayor chord, he can almost make up the song. He realizes he wants to listen to the details, to get closer.  He hears the expected rhythm, the array of sounds and he jumps from his chair, touches the wood handrail and then slides carefully his hand until it reaches the corner and then turns. He walks four steps and feels the incline in the banister with his hand. He slowly raises and then lowers the right foot until he touches the well-known worn first step and then lifts more confidently the left one. Slowly he makes his way down the five treads and then walks, barely caressing the fence to the side gate. He would have liked to be faster. He can no longer hear the steps and turns back to his house. Another day he tells himself.

The next day, he waits for the steps on the downstairs stoop.  This is not his preferred spot. From his terrace he believes that he can see for miles with his ears, he can listen for the echoes as the waves bounce from house to house, street to grass, fence to chair and make a special music that lets him understand the world. At ground level he is a bit lost, he only understands the piece of land around his house, his street block, may be the park. But he is curious. Soon the discrete sounds of steps emerge, he practices a smile and closes his eyes behind his dark glasses.

 “Hi, there” he says, not too loud when the woman goes by.

            Chad imagines a whisper, he smells jasmine, he thinks she wears Cabochard. He doesn’t hear a response, only a slight change in the thump thump rhythm of the shoes after they pass his front door.

And so, for almost ten days in a row he becomes a fixture at the front of his own house, his stoop his balcony, the street his stage. Every day he thinks the whisper is louder, the smell quieter. A new beat is added to the jog, as the steps get closer and then subtracted as they pass the spot where he is now standing, his muscles taut, his ears aware of each and every small sound. In his mind, he is a cat, ready to pounce. He changes his greeting to be part of the rhythm. “Hey, hi there. Your jog has a nice beat,” he says.  There is silence in the street as his voice raises and propagates, each word louder.

He laughs at himself and how does he look to his neighbors. He shakes his head, as if he wasn’t already a mustard spot in the middle of the cream cheese.  It's probably all in your mind he tells himself; she is just a passerby. But he hopes. His heart thumps in his chest, his stomach tightens and he bends forward to capture a response.  He hears “Ohm, Ohm” and then “hum” as if she were chanting a mantra in step with her jog.  A practice to remove pain, a low voiced counterpoint to his ache.  

Chad stands still until he hears no more.  He slowly turns and slides his right foot to find the edge that marks the first step back to the tiled path and the small garden by his front door when he hears other footsteps.  These seem to attach themselves to the concrete before they move forward, they are viscous, they belong to Mary. For a moment he thinks he can manage a fast retreat but gives up. 

“Are you looking for inspiration on your front porch?” she says

Chad is not surprised she finally showed up. Mary is the self-appointed neighborhood watcher.  Her snarky tone annoys him, but he changes his frown to a smile and replies.

“Just figuring out a drum line from the many steps that go by. I think I have it now”. 

 He starts back; he doesn’t want to hear from Mary a description of the stranger that keeps rhythm with his hope. He wants to keep it magic rather than tainted by Mary’s stark reality.  He feels guilty; Mary is the one who brings him soup when he is sick. She is the one who knocks his door when nobody else does.

The tenth day it drizzles and he questions if the jogger will run under the rain, if her cadence and her pattern will change. A black plastic cape on his shoulders and a wide rimmed black hat on his head, he goes out anyway.  The sidewalk is slick as he walks to the curb holding his cane underneath the cape and then stands at attention, one arm up in salutation at the first quiver of the familiar beat. He enjoys the drama; he has become a character in his own play.

 “Hey, hi there passerby. Say your mantra or return,” he intonates and grins to the she that owns the passing steps. He feels the drips from the edge of his hat on the back of his neck.

“Behold, the guardian of the gates,” she says and he listens, startled as she goes by. Her voice is a bass, the low E of a guitar. The steps have not really stopped, but have slowed down. The squish and the splash of the sneakers on the wet pavement, light drops of rain hitting cloth, polyester, grass, wood and concrete and a parting gasp create tension, a dissonant interval that have now become part of their song.

            He grips his cane and follows the sound. “Stop, stop slow down the beat,” he calls again, a bit louder this time and feels the vibration bounce back from her body, jasmine, wet cotton, a rustle of plastic and roundness in the wave. His cane doesn't touch the ground; he now carries it as a flag lifting his cape. He uses his ears and body as a tuned sonar for almost a block. The neighborhood seems to vibrate with a murmur of voices, the awe chorus he reflects, as he passes each house.

            “Wait, wait, I can join my beat to yours,” he says.  He walks faster, he jogs, he dares himself and he runs. The steps stay in place and he hears the different bang bang of the drums. An intake of air and the pluck in the bass;

 “You can’t see, but you can run, you can run in the rain” she says. Her voice modulates amazement but not surprise.  The steps re-start with a thump thump.

            Chad follows, step by step, the sound that bounces back. He concentrates on each note, his cane moving up and down, front and back. He knows he's distracted even if he knows the way and doesn’t want to fall.  He makes an effort to slow down his feet, avoid the known puddles by counting steps.

There is a shift in the air, a smell of jasmine that tells him she is there.  “I like the sound of your sneakers, ” he says. He thinks this is lame, why can’t he say something wittier, charm her out first?

“I have seen you at that gate for several days, a shade of angst on your face.  I felt sorry for you. I thought you waited for a special friend who never came.”

“I waited for a dream, a special dream and you went by,” he says, and “this is better,” to himself.

He wheezes as he runs. He has sandals on his feet, jeans, a long sleeved t-shirt, the plastic cape against the rain and the wide brim-dripping hat. He realizes that he didn't expect the dream to become a reality. He wonders if she’s wet.

            “What are you wearing?” he says.

“A poncho.”

“Plastic,” he says.  He hears the beat change, her pace slower to meet his need.

“Is it bright?” he asks.

“Transparent. Are you a writer?” she asks

“What is your name?”

“Sabrina,” she says.

“I’m Chad. I write stories in my head and make them music with my hands. I dream of life as I want it to be.”

“Am I part of your dream?”

“You are now my song. The song of Sabrina.” Oh, this is so cheesy, he tells himself but enjoys it anyway.

Chad walks fast by her side and imagines Sabrina. He thinks he can hear how she looks. The regular breathing after the jog and the fast stride, she is young.  The easy acceptance of the unusual or strange; she has an artistic spirit, a soul mate to his own. He concentrates on the reflections; her body is lean and round. At the sound of hair swishing back and forth he thinks ponytail and glimpses a light shadow moving in step with the swish. He decides that she is blonde and white. He wonders if he has it right, if this is real or if he has started to hallucinate again.  No, the nightmares and the bad trips were too long ago and have not been back for a while.

He clutches the cane handle and feels the worn leather to reassure himself.  He remembers when he was twelve and could still see; really see the colors and the shapes and then when they became just shadows or bright whites. Fifteen years later his ears form pictures from his memories. His fingers paint them with sounds.

“Good afternoon Choi.  It’s a bit wet for a jog” he hears as they pass by Mary’s house, he nods and he keeps his step.

“I thought your name was Chad,” says Sabrina

“I changed it. Some people don’t like that I changed it.”

“ I also wanted to be someone else.” She says it so low he can barely hear. 

“My parents were Korean, I was born here. ” says Chad

“You didn’t want to be Asian? You know that you look the part.”

“I want to be me, but most people don’t like who I am”

The drizzle is almost done, he hears a few drops from the trees, and they slow down to a fast walk as they turn the corner into the park.  He anticipates the small puddles between the grass. At this pace, Chad carries his white cane as a sword, anticipating what is in front.  The sound of her sluggish steps tells him what is underneath.  He has walked many times thorough this park and almost always, alone.

After a while Sabrina stops.

“This is as far as we go together. It was nice meeting you Chad-Choi,” she says.

            A formal good bye. The voice is higher, it has changed to the open string B. Chad doesn’t want to push his luck, but he would like to stay longer.   He wants to touch her so he can see her with his hands, but doesn’t dare.

            “Will you go up the stairs, walk down to the beach?” He points to the staircase that goes up and from where, he knows, she could see and walk to the ocean.

            “The steps are worn and slippery, I turn here, ” she says.

“Will I listen to your beat again?” he wants to ask but instead he nods. He thinks he hears a whispered “next time” with a question mark at the end and smells the jasmine as she jogs away. The steps fade and he knows she reached the end of the park and turned the corner to the right.  Alone, he walks slowly the way they came, turns left and goes uphill the three blocks back to his house. His cane points down as he sweeps it from side to side and he listens as it taps against the ground before each foot moves in.  He sings a simple tune and hears polyphony of voices, a complex counterpoint between drum and bass.  When he gets home to the big empty house that echoes each and all of his sounds, he sits at the piano and composes Sabrina’s song.  A song of fear and hope, Chad doesn’t know if he can or will wait at the stoop tomorrow afternoon.

The picture of bricks and violence comes uninvited as Chad’s fingers move and the music rises and takes shape. The black kids and the riots.  He pounds a G cord and hums hoping to blank the next set of images.  A piece of glass inserted in his right eye, the infection that followed and the long stay in the hospital.  His parents and the lawsuits that seemed more important than himself.  He tries a thumping tune, pushes the loud pedal but can’t abate their hate and rage from his memory. When they won, his parents moved to the big house by the beach. They expected the quiet to heal, it didn't.  His parents divorced and they are now dead.  In the end, he was left to fend for himself. He stops the composition on a low chord. It is not finished yet.

He thinks of Sabrina and her rhythm and if he will hear her again, if there will be a next time.


--- ----



Latonya Johnson works as a teacher, she teaches special kids to read. She uses music, a drum, percussion instruments and melodies to help them understand the sounds.  She uses the drum and the songs to mask her sorrow.  Her voice is low and soothing and she can get the most difficult kids to pay attention just by slowly saying their names, singing their names. She doesn’t have the high-pitched voice of a teacher.  Her voice is her gift. Sometimes she thinks it is her only gift.

She is popular and well liked, but neither the hugs from her sweet students nor the praise and cheer from her friends could cure her. Her daughter is dead, her husband gone, her son far away. She felt despair and misery and used food as company.  She ate the pain of each family departure. She ballooned with grief.   One day she felt that the door to her class was too narrow for her frame and the cane seat of her chair surrender under her large behind.  She reached for one of the Dorito’s bags on her desk. She bought them by the dozen to use as cheap ‘maracas’ for all the kids that couldn’t play an instrument, but ended up eating most of them.  Micaela, an eight year old with Dawn syndrome enclosed her hand with both of hers.

“Those are my maracas Ms Johnson,” she said.

Latonya looked up, but she didn’t see Micaela. Instead, her eyes fixed on one of the pictures hanging from the wall; it showed a beautiful large black whale jumping out of a blue ocean. She considered how nice it would feel to be buoyant.

During the lunch break, she walked to Denny’s across the street. She no longer ate at the lunchroom with the other teachers. Over her double milk shake, oversized burger and double side of french-fries, she meditated. On her way out, she looked at herself in a mirror and made a strange decision. She ordered a custom made extra-extra large royal blue jogging outfit and bought a pair of size 11 and 1/2 white and orange running shoes. She cut her curly black hair short and tied a silk, light green scarf around her head to hold her sweat.  The scarf belonged to her daughter and smelled like her, of jasmine. It was her favorite perfume.  

She didn’t know any better and told her best friend Ida her plan.  She was going to walk off her grief.  The first day she wore the outfit and started out in the afternoon, the whole block came out to see her off.  “You go Girl!” said Ida. “You go Girl,” repeated twenty voices lined up along her street.  She wanted to hide her big black shiny body.  She would have liked to start with more anonymity, in the secrecy of the night, but didn’t have the strength. She made an effort to dismiss the stir of her neighborhood.  Their good intentions were contrived, but their compassion was company.

Latonya walked fast the first few steps and then wobbled for a couple of blocks until she had to stop for lack of air. By the third day the novelty wore off and she came out with Ida but without the entourage. She walked four blocks. After three months, her walk had become faster, the distances longer, the pain softer and she started to hear the beat of her feet.  Ida no longer bothered to come out to see her off.  This time, she didn’t tell anybody when she had to get a smaller suit. Then, after another couple of months she went and bought new shoes, this time, white and green and a size 10. Her feet had lost one inch of fat.  She kept the scarf.  

Ida saw her coming back.

“Where you been, girl? Half of you is missing”

“Here and there” Latonya said.

“Don’t go too far or you will get lost in white man’s land,” Ida said.

Latonya said no, she couldn’t forget the feeling many years ago when they had been caught in the anger. The stores were in flames, the windows broken and Ida and her lifted bags of rice and packs of beer to take home from the Korean store, thrown rocks to the white trespassers.  For a long time after that she felt guilty and unwelcome beyond the demarcation line and didn’t move beyond, outside of her own. She felt bolder now.

The day that she crossed, still walking, the line that separates black and white, something fell away from her constricted chest and she tried her first run.  Afterwards, she starts to call herself Sabrina and runs; she runs every afternoon, she runs for herself and from her demons.  Every day.  As she runs she thinks of her daughter who left and her husband who left her, and her son who also left.  Her daughter died of a bad operation. A lap band to become thin that snapped, didn't quite work as advertised. Latonya/Sabrina feels the shame and guilt come up because she couldn’t change her daughter’s mind. She makes a low sound and repeats it many times to distract her brain. Her husband was a cliché, he hit middle age and fell in love with all the young women that crossed his step. When the daughter died, he found the excuse to leave.  She found the excuse to let him go. The son got a job abroad; he couldn't deal with so much sadness. He writes every week; to appease his conscience.

After eighteen months Sabrina is surprised that she can run many miles without changing the beat of her steps. Each day she goes further and she chants as she runs. A low chant that gives cadence to her steps, that removes part of her sorrow, that patches her heartbreak, that takes away her guilt and makes her fearless.  She now runs all the way to the other side, past the white folks houses next to the park before she gets back. She still doesn’t dare to go up the stairs where she could see the ocean and all the way down the hill that leads to the Strand.  She still thinks of the beach and the ocean as alien land.

The day she runs through Chad's street, almost by mistake, she is no longer fat, she no longer feels large. She wears her dead daughter’s green scarf hanging from her head as in a ponytail, a light, sad and rhythmic swish to her jog. She wears black shorts and a white top; her shoes are black sneakers, size 9 and a half.  She feels tall and beautiful, but still uncertain when she crosses each boundary line. She is vulnerable to the questioning eyes and unfriendly salutations as she nears the park.

She misses a step when she hears a shout and sees a light skinned tall boy standing near the entryway of the large gray house with the red tiled roof.  May be it isn’t her he’s calling, may be it’s someone else behind her and she doesn’t dare check.  “Don’t you look in their eyes. Don’t trust them,” she hears Ida’s voice in her head.  She hesitates, but doesn’t change her new running route.  He is there, in the same spot each time she goes by.  She invents that he is the keeper of her gates, her guardian, a forlorn figure that calls to her and helps her conquer her fears.

After a few days, the sight of the lonely boy gives her comfort and she runs slower by his house. Now she can hear a tune or a song of greeting coming out of his mouth when he sees her. She chants her mantra back. She doesn’t want to stop or make friends. She feels many evil eyes on her back as she goes on with her run.

The day it drizzles, she doubts if to go that far. She is surprised to find herself wondering if her ‘guardian’ will be waiting for her.  When she sees him at his usual spot, standing guard, she thinks he looks like a lost black knight.  She can’t resist a smile to his pleading request and offers, in return, a funny reply.  And then, she looks up and notices his dark glasses and the white cane by his side.  Inside her stomach, she feels butterflies and then she runs.  She hears him scream and slows down. 

She wonders not if, but when she will start to run a different route to the park, but she waits for him to catch up.  There is comfort and some kind of peace in his blindness as she slows her jog and then walks to avoid the mud puddles.  When he offers to go up the stairs and mentions the beach, she shivers and a thread of sweat runs on her neck. She finds an excuse to turn back, then she mumbles to herself all the way home.  When she opens her door, she grinds her teeth and grimaces at her face in the entrance mirror.



Chad and Sabrina

It’s three days since last time, since the drizzle and the puddles.  Three days during which Chad remembers in awe, rehearses and finally retreats in angst to hide inside his house lacking the courage to wait for a beat that may never come.  On the third day, however, he goads himself to get out, cane in hand and is surprised to smell a mix of mint and jasmine and find Sabrina jogging in place in front of his house.  “Sabrina?” he says, troubled, and hears her sigh.

“I’s hoping you would come out before your neighbors would chase me away. I was sick for three days, I couldn’t run; it must have been the rain.” Sabrina says but Chad hears, “I was afraid” and wonders why anybody would chase her away.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come out. Reality can shatter a dream, I tend to fantasize,” he says. 

“Well, I’m real my boy. Touch” She takes his hand and puts it on top of her muscled drummer arm.  An electric shock runs through Chad’s chest, the touch makes her visible in his mind and the purple color intensifies.  It reminds him of something he experienced but he’s unable to recall.

“Your aura is magnificent, a deep purple,” he says and is surprised to hear her laugh.

“You’re a pretty yellow yourself,” she says.

He jogs slowly by her side the three blocks to the park stairs. Today the grass is dry, and Chad’s feet, encased in red running shoes make a crunching sound. They talk little but their steps are in rhythm and sometimes without thinking, he touches her hand.  At the bottom of the stairs he says; “you will see the ocean if we go up.”  He holds his breath and in the quiet that follows he hears a warble sing and a lost parrot fly, and then he feels the warm air of Sabrina’s exhale.  She takes his hand and bends it around her left arm.   

The wooden steps are uneven and worn and the air smells of magnolia, honeysuckle and dusty rot. He counts as he taps each tread with his cane and when he gets to 220 there is a roar in his head, the air is warmer and noisier, there are children playing in the street and he can feel Sabrina’s shaky arm and still body. “It’s an awesome blue, no, no it is an amazing deepslategrayblue,” she says.   

“It smells like fish, sand and sunscreen. The ocean always makes me feel small and lighthearted” he says. However, today he can’t distinguish the rhythmic beating of the waves against the shore, the wonderful repetition that always brings him peace. The sounds form a confusing dissonant ramble instead.  Chad becomes anxious and tugs at Sabrina who seems content to stay motionless at the top of the hill. 

The walk down to the beach is painfully slow.  Sabrina stops every few steps, sighs and then tells Chad that they better go back and Chad without a rhythmic pace to his walk loses his footing.

“We can’t go back until you have stepped on this sand. I can’t believe that you’ve never been here before,” he says and pulls Sabrina to move forward until they do reach the wide beach. It is late afternoon but the warm day attracted the volleyball players, the surfers, the runners and the walkers.  Chad can hear the commotion as he takes off his shoes and steps on the sand.  Once he hears the ocean music, he starts to relax.

“Let’s sit near the water,” he says.

 “It is so white,” Sabrina says and Chad thinks she means the sand and wonders about her anxiety.   When she gets up he sees her purple aura turn darker, hears again the roar in his head and grasps for air.  He wants to leave. Later, when it has been a long time and she hasn’t come back, he’s first relieved and then afraid she may have gone by herself, until he hears a clicking and whistling next to him.  Sabrina sits next to him and lets him feel the two small clamshells she has found and has been beating together. There is a small hole in one of them. He finds a sad sweetness in the dissonance and smiles and tells her he wants to start back. 

They say goodbye to each other at the park. Before she leaves, Sabrina puts a shell in his hand.

“Next time, I hope you understand,” she says very softly.

Chad waits and touches the grass with his cane, he groans and then turns the corner his head down, one hand holding his cane, the other closed at his side.  Mary stops him when he passes her house.

“Choi, wait, I need to talk to you. She is old, she is black,” she says. Chad hates it when she calls him Choi.

“Mary, who is old, what are you talking about?”

“Your girl friend. She’s not nice. She’s is at least twice your age and she’s taking you for a ride”

“Mary, I don’t have a girlfriend,” Chad says and tries to walk away.

“Chad, sorry, I saw you going to the park with this woman.  You were holding hands. I thought about what you went through. I thought that may be you didn’t know, that you should know”

Chad smiles and then he laughs.

“Mary, I don’t know what you can see, but I walk with a dream by my side.  I invented Sabrina, so she can only be what I need her to be,” he says and walks slowly back to his house. He holds his cane on his right hand while the back of his left feels the caress of another hand and the breeze brings him a waft of magnolia and oleander this time.

The house feels empty and big as Chad opens the door. The phone is ringing.


“Thank you for taking me to the beach, for holding my hand.”

“Who is this?” He says

“Sabrina, did you forget me already?”


“See you next time”

“Next time,” he repeats and touches with his fingers the ridges of the shell in his palm. It smells of jasmine and he knows it must be purple and white.


Read more from Maria Caponi in The Magic Scar

© The Acentos Review 2014