It was one of those balmy Miami nights when the heat had subsided and the air was heavy with the scent of night-blooming jasmine, a night like many others we spent reclining on the lounge chairs on our upper deck, listening to the whisper of palm trees. We talked lazily about nothing much, comfortable in our coupledom as darkness settled around us.
Did you see that?
The question was a duet, for we both did see that, but what we saw was…what?
It was over in a moment: A flock of bright… somethings, flying in swift formation just over our heads, then disappearing over our neighbor’s roof and into the trees. If we hadn’t had each other as a witness (Did you see that?), I might have thought I was hallucinating. But we both saw the same thing: golden, fleeting, maybe oval, maybe round, ephemeral objects that flew so quickly past us there was no time to react, leaving in their wake just a question: What was that?
How many were there? Even that we couldn’t answer. At least a dozen, maybe twice that. The shock of their sudden silent flight, so close we could almost touch them, disabled our perception, leaving not a memory but an after-image, a phantom imprint on our inner vision.
And that vision stays with me still, one of those unsolved mysteries thrown at you to ponder over the years, rising to the surface of consciousness as a puzzle not to be solved, but more as a source of wonder. This particular instance surfaces at odd moments for me, perhaps because it was one of those moments in a now-dead marriage that somehow brought us together in our shared mystification, and it reminds me that once upon a time we were happy.
It was soon after we realized that our happiness was in the past and we split to go our separate ways that another hallucinatory moment occurred to throw me once again into the realm of wonder. This time, though, I was by myself, with no one to ask, Did you hear that?
What I was hearing very late at night–one of the first nights I spent alone in the bedroom I once shared with my husband–was music. Loud music. But not just any music. It was what we had considered, in our sappy, lovelorn, courting days, our song. Its lyrics seemed sourly ironic now, with divorce on the near horizon: “When I fall in love, it will be forever.”
The music woke me up. At first, I thought I was dreaming. And then I realized it was all too real, soaring through the night air and into my open window. I went out on the deck—the same deck from which we had watched the mysterious glowing objects fly overhead—to determine the source of this taunting music that jolted me out of a restless sleep. None of my neighbors, apparently, were having a 3 a.m. party. The music came from nowhere and everywhere, loud and clear, as if it descended from the heavens and aimed at my house.
When that song was over, another began, then another, and another, like a random playlist that went from sad love songs to “La Cucaracha” to the Rolling Stones and everything in-between until it went full circle and began again. “When I fall in love…” The lyrics floated once more over the trees, and that’s when I dialed the police.
After a number of burglaries in our community, the homeowners association had voted to hire an off-duty police officer to patrol the streets. We were given the number, which I never had occasion to call until now. Although it seemed trivial, I needed, not so much protection from the annoyance of loud music at 3 a.m., but assurance that I wasn’t going nuts. I needed someone who would answer the question, “Did you hear that?” with “Yes.”
The policewoman who came to my door appeared happy to have something to do at this hour, particularly something that didn’t involve mayhem of some kind. Short but sturdy in her blue uniform, her hat perched atop a humidity-frazzled nest of hair, she was a welcome sight in the middle of the night.
“Is there a problem, M’am?” she asked. The “M’am” was oddly reassuring, as if it signaled that she didn’t think I was some complaining old crank. Not wanting to lead her down a path to what may have seemed la-la-land if I mentioned that the musical repertoire included what used to be “our song,” I simply asked if she heard the music, to which she answered “yes,” to my great relief. We stood silent and motionless for a long moment, listening as the lyrics ribboned around us. She agreed that was hard to tell where it came from. Some errant trade wind must have captured the music, then carried it through the winding streets of my neighborhood, until somehow it landed in my bedroom.
“Let’s track it down,” she said, clearly up for an adventure to brighten a boring night, and so I climbed into her patrol car in my bathrobe to ferret out the musical culprit. We drove slowly through the sleeping streets where the music played cat and mouse with us, fading out and disappearing on some streets, blaring out on others. Yet there seemed to be no source for it, other than it sounded as if it were blasted from loudspeakers. At one point, it grew even louder until we pulled up to the ornate iron gate of an estate. Set back among trees on a vast piece of property was the house, barely visible in the darkness through a jungle of tropical landscaping. There were no lights on in the house, but the backyard was illuminated as if a party were going on.
The policewoman repeatedly pressed the intercom button outside the gate. No one answered. Undaunted, we crept around the periphery of the grounds, an odd pair of sleuths: one in uniform, the other in a pink terry bathrobe and furry, now soggy, slippers. We followed the vine-tangled fence until we found a spot where we could peer into the yard. No one was there, but music was blasting from high speakers placed in various locations on the property.
“Do you know who lives here?” she asked me. No, I didn’t. But, like other hidden estates in Coconut Grove, there were rumors about its inhabitants. This particular manor supposedly was owned by Europeans who only lived in Miami part of the year, leaving its maintenance to caretakers. Perhaps these caretakers liked music. At 3 a.m.
There was nothing we could do. She drove me home and suggested that I leave a note at the estate asking that they refrain from playing music late at night. I thanked her for discovering the source of the serenade, for confirming that I wasn’t just hearing things. I almost confessed that what sent me over the edge, what made me call her in the first place, was hearing what once was our song. Instead, I blurted, “I’m alone now. I didn’t know what to do.” What I was most grateful for was her understanding.
As she drove away, her patrol car a white ghost that disappeared in the predawn mist, I felt strangely let down. In a way, I had almost hoped that the music would remain a mystery. Unlike the magical moment of mystical flight, where anything seemed possible, the mundane reality of music from loudspeakers had erased the possibility of wonder.
I wanted that wonder back again, the time of illusion when the flash of flying objects overhead could be shared as a common dream, before disenchantment set in and life became a series of disappointments. When I fell in love, I truly believed it would be forever.
Back in my house again, I went up to the deck and listened for a while, sprawled out on the lounge chair, looking up at stars that faded like twinkle lights from the Dollar Store as the sun began to rise. The music finally ended, replaced by the wake-up calls of birds, one to the other. Still, I waited.
Hoping that the golden fleet of mysterious somethings would return.