The second guitar comes in on the downbeat

This was my first published piece of fiction, back in March of 2018. The Ginger Collect’s archives have since disappeared from the internet, so I wanted to re-share this for posterity. I think my writing has progressed a lot in the years since writing it, but I’ll always have a soft spot for this tiny story and the journal that published it. Hope you enjoy!


The second guitar comes in on the downbeat, by Rachel Abbey McCafferty

First published by The Ginger Collect

The drums pounded in Miranda’s chest; the bass reverberated in her throat. She swayed lightly to and fro, staring rapt at the lead singer, mouthing the words written on her inner thigh. 

She had flirted and elbowed her way to the front of the crowd during the opener and stayed rooted to her spot near the barriers the whole night. She knew every song but one, something off the band’s soon-to-be-released EP.

It was catchy, and she had faith she’d know it soon. She had recorded it, illegal, sure, but she’d buy the EP when it came out. She thought the guys would have made an exception for their biggest fan anyway. Before she drove home, exhausted and covered in a thin sheen of sweat, Miranda labeled the recording and added it to her playlist, immediately turning it on. She listened to it three times on the way home, and once more as she sat in the driveway, until she was satisfied she knew all the words. Then she went inside and fell asleep, her ears buzzing. 

When she woke up, sore and headached, she heard the song still. She heard it as she made a cup of coffee, as she made the second one, as she showered, got dressed and headed to school. 

The song played while she was in class, math and English. It played when she went to work at the coffee shop. It played when she got dinner with her friends. It played when she was making out with her boyfriend. It played when she laid in bed at night and when she opened her eyes in the morning and she suspected it played while she slept.

She wondered if she would soon go mad. 

She heard it on loop for five days straight, over and over and over and over. Sometimes she made it all the way through before the song restarted itself but more often, the hook played no fewer than seven times in a row.

Miranda tried to listen to it all the way through to shake it free, and then she listened to her whole playlist forward and back. She listened to a country album of her Dad’s and a rap album her best friend had sent her and a pop album recommended by her sister but still the song played in the background. 

Miranda tried to break the song loose, shaking her head left to right and up and down. But it turned out she was shaking it to the beat and simply lodged it in further.

She ran the water from the shower head directly into her left ear and then into her right and stood in the shower while the water ran down her cheeks and dripped onto the floor. The song stayed put.

Desperate, she carefully poked a pair of tweezers into her right ear. It scratched a bit but she persisted. Soon, she could feel the song wiggling on the other end. Miranda pulled ever so slowly, the song growing louder and more frantic as she worked it free. Finally, it let go with a pop and went silent.

Miranda threw it into the trash, satisfied. She wiped a drip of bright red blood from her cheek and queued up the next song on her playlist.


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