Bye Bye Bertie

by Gavin Kayner

Hilda promised herself, if Bertie responded to one more of her comments by using it as prompt for a song, she would murder him.

He thought life a musical and bursting into melodies as natural as breathing.

Hilda saying, “It’s awfully windy today” provoked Bertie to belt out “They Call the Wind Maria.”

Hilda remarking that their son, William, called yesterday cued Bertie to vocalizing “MyBoy Bill.”

The older he got, the more Bertie barraged her with song lyrics from on and off Broadway.

And it was past time to make it stop.

“Bertie,” Hilda told him while fondling a newly purchased 25 caliber, Smith and Wesson revolver. “Turning our discussions into musical theater sound tracks has played itself out.

‘Memories’ is a fine ballad, but you’ll be dead and I’ll be washing a certain man right out of my hair if you infuse one more verse into our talks.”

“Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little” wanted warbling right at that moment, but Bertie saved himself from an early demise when he covered his mouth with both hands and nodded, okay. It strained himself to restrain himself so abruptly, but he swallowed hard and survived.

Hilda pocketed her pistol. Where it would be handy.

And so began Bertie’s attempt at rehabilitation, but going go cold turkey – a turn-of-phrase for which he couldn’t think of a tune—would prove difficult.

For, in truth, Hilda realized, once the possibility presented itself, she had wanted Bertie dead since he retired—payback for a paltry marriage and moping around the house humming off-key. And so thoroughly compelled and needing now only a spark to enflame her, she tested his resolve to speak and not croon at every opportunity. Set Bertie up with words and phrases meant to trip his wire and set him off. Words such as “cats”, “Camelot” and “phantom”.

Phrases such as “It’s a long-standing tradition” And “That’s an impossible dream” and “What an enchanted evening.”

Bertie’s jaw ached from the clenching, his tongue nearly bled from the biting—his mind so used to generating stored lyrics had its synapses fried in the struggle to refrain from bursting into “Climb every mountain!” Or any other secular psalm triggered by Hilda while she stroked her gun.

As her pressure intensified, Hilda watched Bertie with calculated delight. All the years of his lyrical abuse feeding her fiendish plot.

The third day of their jousting match, Bertie woke up wobbly—tremors wracked his thin body like a junkie in withdrawal. Oh, how he longed to perform a treasured stanza by Porter! Oh, how he yearned to spout a Sondheim clever bit of prosody! Still, that day and the next several, he resisted their siren songs and stayed alive.

Hilda marked his burgeoning breakdown with growing glee. Maybe she wouldn’t have to murder him after all. Maybe he’d simply crack apart and she’d sweep his pieces onto a dustpan as if broken bits of a Broadway Hits album. Good riddance.

Sensing victory, Hilda upped the ante—played CD’s of show-stoppers. Especially by Webber and Rice. And replayed the 25th Anniversary program of Les Misérables on their smart TV.

Bertie thought that poor sportsmanship and stuffed cotton into his ears and attempted to read War and Peace as an antidote.

End of the week, Bertie went into Zombie mode—unwilling to speak lest an infectious Gershwin concoction afflict his tongue. He rocked in place, but not rhythmically. Entirely bedeviled, Bertie sank deeper into despair.

Hilda knew he balanced precariously on the edge of a melody and played her ace-in-the-hole—played to Bertie’s weakest point—his favorite theatrical anthem. She said—loudly, on the way to a neighbor’s, “Well, I hope we won’t have to walk home in a storm.”

Bertie’s eyes bulged. His hair stood on end. His heart thumped madly. Sweat beaded his forehead. Clearly, the coup de grace had been struck. A blow from which he could not recover.

And unable to resist such seductive temptation, Bertie gave himself utterly to one last glorious impulse. He let it rip and out of his under-utilized vocal cords came a full-throated rendition of “When you walk through a storm, hold your high up high!”

And Hilda shot him dead.

Bio: Gavin Kayner’s plays, prose and poetry have won numerous awards and appeared in a variety of publications, including Passager Magazine, Ekphrastic Review, Quibble, Something Involving a Mailbox, and Smoky Blue Lit Journal

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