Burned House.jpg

UNFATEFUL (2020)

"Unfateful" was written to accompany Brendan Stephens' original story HAUNTED. The music comments on the "Boyfriend" narrative and his psychological experiences following a traumatic event. The shock of the event leaves him with a recurring dream. Although he tries to believe the dream is meaningless, it leads to his eventual collapse and return to the site of trauma. In the end, his search for answers leaves him with nothing.

Quintet (flt, alt sax, b. cl, pn, perc)

Commissioned by AURA Contemporary Ensemble

 
 

Boyfriend:

After my girlfriend died in that fire, I kept having the same dream.
And look, I'm not the kind of guy who believes in dreams. If you came up to me and said, “You’ll never
believe the dream that I had last night,” and then launched into some sort of tale, there isn’t enough sex
or violence that will hold my attention. They’re just your subconscious during REM sleep and nothing
more. Who cares?
But the dream that I’ve been having is so vivid and mundane. It’s just me plugging in my phone in an
outlet in their basement. That’s it.
Yeah, I was there that night watching stupid cooking shows in that basement that night. My phone was
dying, and I had a backup charger in my bag --a cheap Chinese knockoff that ran hot. If I left it plugged in
for over a few hours I’d have to use an oven mitt to unplug it. I swear I once smelled the plastic and
smoke when I forgot to unplug it overnight.
You all understand the implication, right?
Now here’s the thing—yes, I was in that basement, and yes, I had to charge my phone, but I swear I used
hers. I always did. I swear I only used that cheap knockoff when I was absolutely desperate, and only
then just until I got out of the red zone. If I was already going upstairs to get my junk charger from the
bag I left in her room, I would’ve just taken hers.
And look, I’m not trying to be flippant. I’m still in shock from the news. Grief life feels empty. I can
already feel my life measured out as my innocent time before that fire, and whatever life there is
afterwards. But I’m just saying that if someone had asked me that day if I had plugged in that cheap
charger and left it running all night, I would’ve pledged my life—hell the life of every single person I’ve
ever cared about—on the fact that it didn’t happen. I couldn’t even picture it. I saw myself going
upstairs, unplugging her charger, bringing it downstairs, plugging it in, watching some stuff we weren’t
even interested in, seeing her eyes droop heavy, and leaving her sleeping on that basement couch
without even remembering my bag.
Yet, then I kept having that dream. Yeah, it means nothing. But I’m just saying that I’ve seen this play out
over and over again—pulling my knockoff charger from my bag and taking it down to the basement. I

keep seeing it. I see it until it starts to seem at least a little plausible. See it some more, and I’d say fifty-
fifty. By now, I’m all but certain that that must’ve been what happened. The reality before was just my

subconscious trying to give me distance from what I’d done. If your subconscious can conjure up all that
dream nonsense in your sleep, then when you’re awake it’s got to tell you muted lies, right? Who is to
say what the truth is?
So I stopped sleeping just to avoid the dream. I’ve been gaining weight, and my hair started even falling
out. And just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, a friend said that he was going over there one
last time with my girlfriend’s sister. They thought I might want to pay my respects.
And of course I did, but what I really needed to see was if there was any way I could find out what
happened. So when I got there, I broke off from the two of them and tried to make my ways into the
basement. Except the ceiling had crushed and left it blocked.
I pulled at charred wood, inch by inch digging deeper until my hands were splintered and caked with
sludgy ash. I knew I’d never make it to that basement, and if I did, that if the charger was there that it
had melted beyond any evidence. But there wasn’t any alternative. All I could do was keep digging and
brace myself for a lifetime of nightmares.

Playing Piano