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The Song of the Siren

By Mica Le Fox

Copyright 2018 Mica Le Fox

Published by Mica Le Fox at Smashwords

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Chapter one

The sound of a voice reached her ears. A female voice singing an as yet unrecognisable song bounced off the walls of the passageway, the echoey acoustics lending a haunting air of mystery and charm. At this distance it made her think of mermaids and wrecked ships.

Ava Kaplan reached the underpass that traversed the busy street and spat its users out in front of a large square, surrounded on three sides by high rise offices. She was heading for the building facing the street at the back of the square, her place of work.

Ava was considered quite a 'whizz kid' in her industry. As Managing Director of her own scientific publishing company, quoted on Nasdaq, she had had meteoric success, not only in terms of the quality and size of the growth of her business, but also for her ethos and working practices, especially in the area of employee relationship building, where she was recognised as a leader in new thinking.

She had set the business up following the break-up of her marriage to Harvey, her father funding the start-up with a sizeable chunk of capital and ongoing bankrolling. Ava had never underestimated the significance of his input, even though he had enjoyed considerable financial success himself in business and was easily able to afford to fund his daughter's enterprise. The true value of his contribution lay in his faith and loyalty to Ava despite the events surrounding her divorce.

An old Chicago Jewish family, the Kaplans were thought of as liberals rather than traditionals and Ava was encouraged to fulfil her potential from an early age, achieving highly in her education, culminating in a first-class degree from Columbia University, where she met Harvey. They were married with the blessing of her family despite their reservations about his suitability as a good match and enjoyed a year of wedded bliss, a second year of settling in and a third year during which it gradually dawned on her that Harvey's good looks and easy charm would not be enough for life ever after. Her affair during that year with a work colleague was destined to become public, and inevitably her husband's knowledge, and although Harvey would have forgiven her adultery to keep her, Ava left him and divorce ensued.

She turned the corner in the underpass and approached the source of the music and as she walked, she began to recognise the melody 'As Tears Go By' by the Rolling Stones. Such a simple melody, but even at this distance Ava thought it beautifully sung, the tone clear and perfectly on pitch. As she approached the girl standing with her back to the wall playing guitar, she quickly glanced at her, a slight figure, possibly only twenty or so.

It was something she rarely did with buskers, especially nowadays when the public were regularly warned of the nefarious intentions of spurious street musicians, but Ava retrieved a note from her purse and taking two steps off her course, she half knelt and dropped the note into the open guitar case on the floor in front of the girl. As she stood up again their eyes met and the girl smiled at her, paused singing and mouthed the words 'thank you' while continuing to finger pick through the chords to maintain the momentum of the song.

It was the strangest thing, but at first impression in the two or three seconds they looked at each other, Ava thought she bore a distinct resemblance to Marianne Faithfull, who recorded the song in the 1960s. The singer’s photograph on the battered album sleeve was so familiar to Ava and she could picture it now, lying on the floor of the lounge at home, the record played many times as part of her parents' vinyl collection - and the busker's shoulder length straw coloured hair with a fringe cut low over dark blue eyes that seemed to tilt sadly downwards on the outsides, instantly reminded her of the cover picture she knew so well. Ava found herself charmed by the coincidental marrying of singer to song across the ages in between.

She returned the smile briefly and turned to walk on to work.

"Good morning Ava." Shona smiled up at her as she made her way to her desk. Shona had been her PA since she began the business eight years ago and was the person she had almost no secrets from. In her darkest moments she envisaged the damage to her working and private life that someone in Shona's position could do, but her discretion and professionalism had become far too valuable to contemplate any change of practice, even if she really wanted it. She didn't of course and Ava's renowned judgement when it came to people would have been shattered if Shona ever betrayed her trust.

Later that day she sat in a meeting with her sales and digital teams, the agenda as ever on advances in the way publications could be brought to market on the internet. Ava was no slouch when it came to the digital age. Without needing to understand the inner depths of internet coding, she was fully aware of the possibilities and how to facilitate them. This was, nowadays, a key element of publishing success and Eva wisely gave it her full attention. But today she found herself sitting back in her chair at the large meeting table, her eyes rendering the cityscape into soft focus through the floor to ceiling glass wall and her mind drifting.

It is the evening of the day.' The words floated across her mind, like hazy altocumulus clouds in an azure sky. She hadn't been able to lose the song all day, the busker's high, clear singing voice carrying the melody into her thoughts - closely followed by an image of the girl, blue eyes smiling thanks at her.

'I sit and watch the children play,'

'Ava... are you with us?' Jeff, her sales manager brought her reluctantly back to the meeting.


Jeff smiled. It was unusual for his boss to be caught napping. Ava Kaplan was by no means the loudest or most expressive person in the industry, but people who mistook this for inattention or lack of command did so at their peril as she was likely to come back with a string of observations that questioned their own grasp of the subject.

"I was asking what do you think of Rosita's stage two development outline?" Jeff sat back and waited for her to pour out the host of ifs, buts, whys and wherefores that smartly distilled the concepts into a more refined thought stream. But this time Ava looked up at the plasma screen full of algorithmic diagrams and her mind was blank.

“It’s, uhm, Outline 3 we’re on,” Jeff said tentatively, now thinking this might actually be too much information.

Ava blinked and thought, Outline 3? There was a 1 and 2?

"Oh! Umm... yeah, Jeff, Rosie, I'm so sorry, I'm not really with it today. I have a headache and probably need some air. Listen, can we continue this later, maybe?"

Chapter two

At the same point, dropping down into the underpass, she picked up the tendrils of the singing voice again. Ava found herself quickening her pace as she left the concourse, anticipating with pleasure that the sound would reach her ears as it did yesterday.

Before she could make out the words, she knew almost for certain what the song was today, fragments of the melody and chord structure planting enough information in her head for identification. Then as she reached the long straight, she could discern the lyrics perfectly, that beautiful vocal intonation echoing down the passageway.

"A time to build up, a time to break down. A time to dance, a time to mourn."

Ava drew near and the busker turned her head to watch her approach and, clearly recognising her from the day before, smiled with her eyes while continuing to sing. Ava took a five dollar note from her purse and dropped it into the guitar case.

"I love the songs," Ava said while turning to go.

The girl stopped singing for a moment and said, "thank you so much, I'm glad you like them." The publisher smiled and walked on followed by the melody of Pete Seger's 'Turn, Turn, Turn', gradually receding until it faded out as she reached the square.

At lunchtime Ava found herself walking back along the underpass having bought coffee from the stall on the square, unconsciously hoping to hear the busker's haunting voice. But the concrete walkway was silent and empty and she chided herself for being naive... obviously she wouldn't be here, she needs the rush hour crowds to make it worthwhile. Anyway, she thought, what are you doing here? Are you completely crazy? Did you learn nothing before?

Ava was tall and slim with almost black hair - just the first one or two grey hairs making their unwelcome appearance. She had striking clear blue eyes in a delicately beautiful face still imbued with the power to turn heads, although she almost never flirted or exploited her looks, being possessed of an inherent, probably irrational fear of people using them to undermine her intelligence and position in the industry. That wasn't to say she wasn't generous in spirit towards people. She readily gave her time and energy to assist and nurture her employees and was rewarded by a remarkably committed, talented and stable workforce. The same thing applied to her friends, the closest not large in number, but certainly longstanding, coveting her loyalty, understated humour and empathetic nature.

She had been with Marcus for two years now. Meeting at a conference in San Francisco, she was immediately impressed with his confident, yet unpretentious manner and after spending an evening reception almost exclusively with him, Ava realised how much she enjoyed the company of someone who could match her intellect, knowledge of the industry and a smart forward-thinking approach to business. Oh! and he was quite nice looking as well.

They had become lovers that same evening and the next morning in his hotel room, Ava was filled with the afterglow of the sheer properness of holding someone without guilt or fear. It was a powerful feeling, almost as powerful as the sensation of a chemically volatile intimacy with someone perhaps less appropriate.

Her infidelity while married to Harvey, now passing into the mists of time, was with a woman. She had worked with Tanya for two years and had felt attraction to her colleague, but had done everything she could to suppress her feelings, despite Tanya's continuing flirtation with her.

However, as her marriage began to falter, she found herself turning to her, first as a friend and confidante - and eventually, inevitably, as a lover. For Ava, it was a voyage of self-discovery and although they both knew quite quickly that they would not stay together, their lovemaking revealed the kind of passion that Ava had not experienced before and was in fact a death knell for her marriage to Harvey.

Yet in many ways she still loved Harvey and was glad to retain him as a friend. His gallows humour always made her laugh and, weirdly, he in turn became her confidante as her relationship with Tanya developed and made waves within her family and at work.

They stayed in touch, even though Marcus and Harvey, polar opposites in personality, did not exactly see eye to eye and her boyfriend thought Harvey an irresponsible user, accepting financial support from Ava as her business became ever more lucrative, thus consolidating his reputation as a no hoper. Ava, however, was neither resentful or disparaging of this and her relationship with her ex-husband remained good.

Ava considered Marcus to be an ideal partner. He was independent, enjoying his own high achievement in a different area of publishing, but at the same time supportive of her career, sensitively - and wisely - allowing her space. He had a beautiful apartment in Lincoln Park, but frequently stayed over at Ava's apartment near the waterfront. When they spent time together, they generally agreed over what to do, what to eat and where to go. He was, by nature, a fundamentally serious person, pursuing his career with a determination that impressed... and sometimes daunted Ava. Occasionally, though, she could not prevent an unwanted feeling from slithering into her mind that for all Harvey's butterfly nature, he was, in fact, much more fun than Marcus.

Chapter three

Ava had given her another five dollars as she sang. It was her Friday commute into work and she had once again followed the trail of the haunting sound of the girl's voice through the underpass and was slightly taken aback when the singer had stopped completely as she knelt, saying, "you are so kind and generous. I think you're single-handedly keeping me going."

Ava looked up at her and thought, you are so young. Her eyes were wide with a mixture of appeal and doubt and Ava had to resist an urge to put her arms around her. "Oh! well, it's OK... you're very welcome." She stood and was turning to leave, but hesitated and said, "in any case, you make my journey to work a little more bearable - you sing and play beautifully."

The girl's face broke into a smile. "Thank you."

"Well," said Ava. "I have to go. Maybe see you next week..."

"Oh! wait, I forgot." The girl knelt and pulled a piece of paper from a pocket in her guitar case. "Can I give you this." She handed her a small home printed flyer, on which was a name, Van Simmonds, 'The Navigator Bar' and a time. It also carried a photograph of the girl playing a guitar. "It's really short notice and everything so you probably won't be able to come."

"You're playing tonight?"

"Umm, yeah. I sort of wangled a gig, but I'll probably be playing to two people and a dog getting drunk at the bar." She considered for a moment. "Well, the dog wouldn't be getting drunk, obviously."

Ava was amused. "I can't promise anything."

"No, of course not."

"But I'll ask my boyfriend and if he's OK with it, we'll try to get there."

"That'd be so amazing."

Ava smiled at her, taking in her elfin beauty and acknowledged for the first time a pulse of attraction. She had been here before, understanding the danger signals but able to do nothing to quell the rise of her feelings.

"OK, so maybe see you later, then. If we come, we'll be next to the dog that’s not getting drunk."

That evening Marcus was leaning against the island unit in the kitchen of Ava's apartment. "...I simply gave him some very interesting stats on which universities were researching nano-tech and he shut right up. You know, I think I might just get my budget after all."

"Well, good for you." Ava put a plate on the breakfast bar.

"That looks great." Marcus went to a drawer in the island and collected some forks. "Do you want some more wine?"

"Oh! no, I'm good." Ava sat down with her own plate. "Umm, what were we doing after?"

"Nothing particularly," replied Marcus. "Maybe we could watch a movie."

"How about going to this?" Ava handed him the flyer. He held it in one hand and looked at it while forking omelette with the other hand.

"Van Simmonds?"

"Yes. She's very good."

Marcus dropped the flyer onto the surface. "Well, it doesn't look like it's gonna be Sheryl Crow, does it."

"She's just starting out, but she's got a beautiful voice and she needs a break. I thought we could finish up and go see her play - it's only fifteen minutes away."

"Do you know her?"

"Oh! not really. Just a bit."

"O-K. Where did you meet?"

Ava had been vaguely dreading this question. "Oh! she's a street musician." She treated it lightly, as if it were an everyday occurrence to meet and make friends with strangers making music on a street corner.

Marcus looked quickly at her. "A busker?"

"Yeah, but she is really too good to be busking."

Marcus was sceptical, saying something sarcastic about spending a pleasant Friday night watching a homeless person attempt to play guitar. Ava decided not to confront Marcus’s flippant judgementalism, which in the event paid off as he agreed to go, albeit somewhat reluctantly and half an hour later they made their way to the bar near the dockside.

They were late for the start time and as they approached the door Ava heard the familiar voice seeping out. Inside there were, perhaps, twenty people, mostly looking like students, plus a few older regulars at the bar and Ava remembered with a slight smile the singer's fear about playing to drunks and dogs at the bar.

They bought drinks and found a spot to watch. There was no stage and the girl was stationed at the end of the room, with just enough space for her to stand with her guitar plugged into a small amplifier behind her and sing into a microphone. She was playing something Ava didn't recognise, but her voice and guitar sound filled the room and clearly captured the small audience, even the regulars at the bar. In between songs, she spotted Ava, smiled and waved as people clapped and cheered enthusiastically.

Finishing Tears for Fears’ ‘Shout’, she announced a fifteen-minute break. Putting her guitar on its stand, she came over to Ava and Marcus.

"I'm so glad you could come." Again, that warm smile, her dark blue eyes shining. Perhaps she was good at connecting with people, maybe even as a way of getting on, but Ava recognised an unforced warmness in her and felt that when she smiled, it was for her alone. However, her next, more grounded thought was... you need to rein it in Ava.

"So, you're Van." Ava nodded at the leaflet on the bar.

"Yes. Vanessa... Simmonds."

Ava introduced herself and Marcus.

"Was it awful?" Van asked, making a moue face.

Ava smiled and shook her head. "Uh-uh, it was beautiful." She glanced at her boyfriend. "Wasn't it, Marcus."

She was restrained in her compliments, slightly ill at ease and not wanting to seem to fawn. Ava had confessed her affair with Tanya to Marcus as their relationship became more serious and her wardrobe began to house his shirts, mostly over a night or two, sometimes longer. Ava had observed his reaction to this revelation, which Marcus accepted with metropolitan matter-of-factness, expressing that everyone had both sides of the coin in their psyche and some people just needed to explore their sexuality. But oddly, despite a straight marriage behind her as well, she found herself most uneasy at Marcus thinking she found another woman attractive.

Van told them she was at The University of Chicago studying music and most of the rest of the audience were indeed fellow students. Her final year was about to start and she was busking and gigging to help pay her way.

"If I wait on tables or stuff like that it can only be for cash because I'm here on a student visa."

"Are you Australian?" Marcus had guessed she was foreign.

"No, English. The thing is, working in bars or stores is tricky to fit in with university - and I can sometimes earn more by singing anyway."

At the end of the second half of her set, Van asked them to stay and have drinks with her and her friends, but Ava politely declined, a little conscious of the age gap, and soon after they left. Van seemed genuinely sorry to see them go and walked them to the door, thanking them for coming. They shook hands.

"Maybe I'll play for you on your commute, then." Van smiled.

And she did, Ava following the trailing strands of her voice along the walkway every morning for the next week, the anticipation of the music - and then greeting her at her pitch - adding a frisson of excitement and pleasure to her walk to work.

Towards the end of the week, they began to stop and chat. The weather had become colder as autumn progressed, the first blasts of the cold wind off the lake funnelling down the underpass, accompanied by downpours.

"Your hands must be frozen." Ava put her usual cash gift into the guitar case and looked at Van's pinched face under her woolly hat.

"Yes." Van sniffed, her nose red. "I've tried wearing fingerless gloves but they get in the way."

"You should go home soon." Ava felt protectiveness welling up inside her.

"I will, but I won't be able to play at all when it gets really cold and I'm trying to make the most of the time I've got left."

Van explained that when winter set in, informal buskers like her often stopped working because playing inside the stations or malls usually attracted the attention of security and only the licensed artists were allowed to stay. Pitches of any kind out of the cold were fought over and she wouldn't stand a chance.

"But I have got another gig on Friday at 'The Navigator'." It was the same bar as she'd played last week. "Can you come?"

Ava hesitated. It was putting her into a difficult position. She wanted to accept there and then, but she knew Marcus would be less than enthusiastic about spending a second Friday evening watching a busker play pop and folk songs in a bar. She was also beginning to feel a sense of vulnerability and was keenly aware that she did not want to arouse any suspicion in her boyfriend that she felt attraction to the street musician - even if it were true, and she had not quite admitted that to herself yet.

Van seemed to sense her hesitation. "Look, you don't have to worry if it's difficult. I would love you to be there, but I know you'll have other things to do... and you have Marcus to think about."

Did she know that Marcus was unenthusiastic? She seemed keen for her to be there, but was that just to make up audience numbers? Ava made up her mind.

"No, it’s OK, I'll come."

. . .

When Marcus phoned, she knew it was going to be a tricky conversation.

"So, I'll come over straight from work on Friday and we can decide what to do."

"I was thinking, Marcus..." She knew she sounded defensive and it irked her immensely, so she consciously firmed up her voice. "I'd like to go to Van's next gig at 'The Navigator'. You don't mind, do you?"

There was a short silence on the line. "I thought maybe we could see a movie. There's that Woody Allen on at the Century."

"We could see that in the week. I'd really quite like to go and support her – if that’s OK." Ava was consciously starting to exert some force into the conversation and waited to see the reaction it would have.

"Ava, we did our duty last week. We don't have to follow her round town." There was irritation in his voice.

"No, but I think she's good. I guess you think it's a chore, but I don't see it like that."

"So, what is it with this singer. It's not like it’s a a once in a lifetime Bob Dylan residence, is it. She's just a student doing covers in a bar to make some cash and frankly, it doesn't appeal to me... I can see it does to you, though."

Ava highly sensitive antennae could detect suspicion in Marcus's language. She decided to divert a head-on situation.

"Why don't you go to the movie and I'll go to the gig, then we'll meet up at my apartment after."

In the quiet that ensued she could almost feel the cogs turning in Marcus's head. He upped the ante. "Ava, why don't you go to the gig and we'll meet on another night."

Ava took the bait. "Yeah, that sounds like a good idea." She was irritated and slightly nervous that this had become an issue, but mostly she felt like she was off the hook and had Friday night free. Afterwards she thought about it and realised that she had been prepared to cause a rift with Marcus to see Van play and a feeling of uneasiness came over her, like being on a ship in a slight swell with the deck trying to squirm away from under her feet. It had the effect of making her feel slightly nauseous, but excited at the same time.

Chapter four

On Friday, Ava sat at the bar of 'The Navigator'. She'd come in unnoticed, ordered a drink and now watched Van with her friends before starting her set, laughing and talking. The singer was wearing a turquoise dress that clung to her figure and Ava could not help an unmistakeable wave of desire sweep over her. She silently cursed her own perfidious body. She is so young, Ava told herself. Yes, she is beautiful, but what am I doing here? What am I hoping for? Sex? A relationship? This is absurd. Isn't it?

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