The Silver Year: Chapter 5

Chapter​​ 5

Tears Are For Mothers

 

CHRISTMAS DAY 1997

 

“I want you to know you ruined a perfectly good marriage,” Walter’s stepmother said from the side of his bed. “I want you to know it’s​​ all​​ your fault.​​ Although​​ he​​ didn’t know it at the time, these​​ bedside words​​ would be​​ her​​ last​​ to him.​​ Four years later she would be dead.​​ 

His stepmother​​ had​​ never wanted children, and especially not from her husband’s extramarital one-night stand​​ during a business trip to L.A. But she​​ persevered through the first ten years of​​ Walter’s​​ life on a heavy prescription of spirits and cruelty until they could no longer assuage her hatred for him.​​ Now, less than two months away from his eleventh birthday, his parents were divorcing, and she’d awoken him in the middle of a chilly​​ Christmas​​ night to say her​​ final​​ goodbye.​​ 

As her rum-rotted breath bore down on​​ him​​ along with the full weight of her body pressed​​ into​​ his chest, he wanted to cry, but instead he​​ chomped​​ into his​​ lips​​ until the insides began to bleed.​​ He didn’t want​​ her to see​​ him crying. Tears are for mothers.

 

Walter’s​​ stepmother had been threatening his father with​​ divorce for as long as​​ Walter​​ could remember. In the last year, however,​​ her threats had escalated​​ upon​​ Walter’s​​ joining of the Mormon church​​ ten months earlier.​​ 

In the beginning,​​ she not so much hated​​ the​​ church,​​ just the person who introduced​​ him​​ to it, his maternal grandmother, the only relative he had contact with on his birth mother’s side.​​ But once his father began showing an interest​​ in the church​​ also,​​ and as a consequence​​ was considering​​ quitting​​ drinking,​​ his stepmother’s​​ alcoholic logic​​ stepped in and she began​​ believing the church​​ and Walter to be​​ of​​ Satan.​​ In fact, she began referring to​​ him​​ only​​ as Satan.​​ 

While​​ Walter​​ was used to her never calling him by​​ his​​ name in private, this new name disturbed his father so much,​​ he​​ decided to​​ quit the church and became​​ even​​ more committed to​​ his​​ drinking.​​ His​​ wife’s​​ happiness and respect for​​ that​​ happiness always​​ came​​ first and foremost​​ as​​ she had to​​ live with​​ a constant​​ reminder of his​​ infidelity:​​ Walter. And when alcoholic logic is empowered by guilt, even fatherly logic doesn’t stand a chance. ​​ 

Normally​​ Walter​​ was with his grandmother on​​ Christmas,​​ but​​ this year she was across the country in her home state of Pennsylvania burying her​​ sister​​ who had died a week earlier.​​ While​​ he​​ was allowed to visit​​ his​​ grandmother​​ during Christmas and summer,​​ back​​ at home,​​ he was forbidden to speak about​​ her​​ or make any mention of his time with her because it upset his stepmother too much. Also, while his father​​ let​​ Walter​​ visit his grandmother against his stepmother‘s wishes,​​ he​​ too​​ preferred not to acknowledge​​ or hear about​​ his grandmother’s​​ existence.​​ 

So​​ that morning,​​ when Walter asked where​​ his​​ grandmother’s Christmas present​​ was​​ that she sent to his Arizona home, his stepmother took away all his Christmas presents as a punishment for making mention of his grandmother in her presence. But after his father​​ found the present in the trash,​​ he not only gave it to Walter, but gave back all his​​ presents.​​ To​​ his stepmother, this​​ betrayal​​ by her husband​​ was unforgivable.​​ 

His parents then went​​ into their​​ closed-door​​ “adult room”, which was essentially an at-home saloon, and spent the rest of​​ the​​ day fighting and drinking, leaving Walter to fend for himself on Christmas, with the exception of a parakeet his parents kept in the living room. They didn’t bother to ever let the bird out of its cage or give it a name, but Walter had given the bird a name.

“Look what I got from Grandma Wally,”​​ he said holding​​ three​​ cassette​​ tapes​​ to the bird’s cage, “new Metallica!”

Every​​ year​​ Walter​​ sent his grandmother a​​ list of​​ songs for his Christmas mixtapes,​​ and every year she’d take a trip to her local library to find the CDs to make​​ them.​​ The last two years, however, his mixtapes​​ were​​ nothing but Metallica.​​ Although his grandmother wasn’t fond of the sound, the lyrics were scant of swearing, so she figured Metallica was doing little damage to his psyche.

 

Back in Walter’s bedroom,​​ his​​ father at last came in​​ and​​ dragged​​ the​​ slurring and slobbering nightmare away​​ from​​ Walter’s​​ bedside,​​ but​​ her rum and cigarette scented​​ phantom​​ lingered​​ long​​ after​​ the​​ door slammed and​​ his parents​​ verbal throttling moved​​ back​​ to​​ their “adult room”.​​ 

Ten minutes later,​​ Walter​​ heard car keys, then the front door slam. That slam would be the last​​ he​​ would​​ hear of his stepmother. All her belongings would be moved out​​ two​​ weeks​​ later while he was at school.​​ 

So overcome​​ all at once​​ with joy,​​ anger,​​ fear, and guilt,​​ Walter​​ didn’t know​​ which​​ to express.​​ This happened a lot.​​ His feelings would​​ get so dammed up,​​ they’d​​ explode in bursts of either untamed energy or sapping incapacity.​​ So​​ he​​ did what he always did​​ when he felt like this;​​ he prayed​​ to God​​ to​​ kill him because it was a sin to do it himself.​​ 

After praying, he then closed his eyes and plugged his ears, trying to disconnect​​ himself​​ from his body. He wanted to feel what he imagined death to be: a carefree nothing. He always hoped the nothing would remain, but yet again, after he opened his eyes and uncovered his ears, it never did. God always left him hopelessly alive.

After God failed him, Walter​​ then​​ turned to the only​​ other​​ option​​ he had left:​​ Metallica. He reached into his nightstand for a Walkman preloaded with a mixtape for sleeping,​​ pressed play,​​ and faded into the loud hiss of the worn-out tape and reels while pretending a gun barrel was down his throat repeatedly blasting his​​ brains against the headboard. Nothing could calm his mind​​ like fantasizing death and Metallica. If he wanted to die, it was “Fade To Black”. If he wanted his parents to die, it was “Dyer’s Eve”. If he wanted the​​ whole​​ world to die it was “Blacken”, “Fight Fire With Fire”, or the many others he could choose from. Tonight he wanted to purge himself of it all.

 

On his eleventh birthday, however,​​ God​​ answered Walter’s​​ prayers.​​ God​​ didn’t​​ kill​​ Walter, but granted​​ him something a lot better​​ for coping with his emotions​​ than​​ just​​ Metallica: a guitar,​​ a​​ birthday​​ gift from the​​ one​​ constant source of love in his life:​​ his maternal grandmother.​​ And by​​ his twelfth birthday,​​ she had sole​​ custody​​ over him thanks to his father’s fist​​ hospitalizing​​ Walter​​ after he dumped​​ out​​ three of his father’s newly-purchased rum bottles. That fist would be the last​​ Walter would​​ know of his father.

 

AUGUST​​ 2011

 

“Is my band here yet?” Walter asked over the microphone. The question bounced and repeated off the rising rock walls of the amphitheater, then jumped up the steep ascents of empty benches. “Woah​​ . . . woah—woah—woah…” he said in​​ amazement. “That was cool . . .​​ cool—cool—cool…

He began​​ warming up​​ his​​ Wurlitzer​​ in front of him with a few caressing chords. The rock cathedral sang back, wrapping his body in​​ an icy​​ bliss, amplified by the​​ Molly​​ still​​ in his system. It felt so good it produced​​ a hard-on.​​ Lola​​ had been doing her best to find​​ him​​ distractions, and on a major U.S. tour for one of the biggest rock groups of the nineties, distractions were aplenty,​​ including​​ plenty of​​ girls and​​ plenty of drugs.​​ 

“Walter . . . Walter...​​ the sound guy said​​ over the monitor.

“Yes?”​​ he​​ finally replied.

“You can stop playing now, we’ve got it dialed in.”

Walter had been repeatedly​​ drilling​​ a deep E chord into the amphitheater to see if he could get himself to cum.

“Oh sorry Joe,” he said,​​ just having fun. It​​ just​​ sounds​​ and​​ feels​​ so good.

“I know, Red Rocks, pretty​​ spectacular, huh?​​ I sometimes forget​​ working here.​​ Well, until the rest of the band​​ gets​​ here, your part of soundcheck is over. You’re using the Wurlitzer on how many songs again?”

“Just​​ the​​ new​​ one. I might use it on a couple others, but I was hoping to run through them with the band during soundcheck . . . Lola, any word?” Lola was above on one of the very upper benches. She threw back an invisible beer bottle, a familiar gesture between them now that the band was hungover again. Their one o’clock soundchecks were becoming increasingly​​ more​​ difficult to make.

“They should be here in about twenty minutes,”​​ Lola​​ shouted down. “So sorry Joe.

“It’s all right,” he said over the house PA. “There’s an hour weather delay​​ tonight​​ anyhow. Those clouds in the distance are supposed to bring some lightning.​​ Might still be a little rain when you guys get onstage, but​​ supposedly it’s​​ going​​ to pass by eight-thirty​​ or so.​​ Anyway​​ Walter,​​ you’re free to go​​ for​​ now.”

“Uh, hey Joe.​​ You mind if I run through a full song on the Wurlitzer first?” Walter​​ wasn’t ready​​ to stand​​ yet.

“Sure, take her for a spin.”

Walter​​ took a moment​​ to compose himself while listening to​​ the​​ chirping birds and​​ coiling​​ wind roiling in the echoes of the amphitheater.​​ It​​ was already beginning to smell of wet earth.​​ Amber​​ always​​ said she​​ found​​ something calming in​​ the anticipation of​​ a storm,​​ and why​​ “See The Sky About to Rain” by Neil Young​​ was​​ her​​ favorite song.​​ 

Walter​​ played​​ her​​ favorite​​ song, and by​​ the end he​​ no longer had​​ his​​ boner, just​​ a​​ face​​ full​​ of tears.

 

When​​ the rest of the​​ band finally arrived they were a number of things, but mostly drunk. Whether​​ this​​ was from the night before or that morning was hard to tell.​​ The tour was​​ nearing its end, and​​ at​​ this​​ point,​​ Seano, Squids, and Jimmy had fallen into all-day-all-night partying schedules​​ where they were​​ always drinking off ever-approaching hangovers.​​ When​​ this stopped working, they​​ began​​ adding​​ progressively harder drugs, and although Walter wasn’t certain,​​ he had suspicions​​ at least Squids​​ was​​ dancing with the musician’s devil​​ himself:​​ heroin.​​ After shows recently, Walter often saw​​ his​​ head nodding and eyes rolling a bit too much to​​ be​​ just drunkenness​​ or​​ fatigue. He’d​​ also​​ suddenly​​ taken to wearing​​ only​​ long sleeves​​ in​​ the dead of summer. ​​ 

While​​ Walter​​ was obviously​​ enjoying himself​​ too,​​ drug use​​ rarely​​ went outside​​ of weed​​ for him. The​​ Molly the night before was his first​​ ever, and while he​​ thoroughly enjoyed and was still enjoying it,​​ no drug​​ was​​ greater than the stage.​​ The stage was his​​ oasis from​​ the​​ internal whispers​​ of guilt​​ ceaselessly harassing​​ him offstage.​​ Onstage​​ they no longer reached​​ him because he wasn’t Walter, he was​​ Quinn Quark, and everyone​​ loved Quinn. He only brought music and joy to people,​​ not death and destruction.​​ 

The tour and Cirkus’s intensive PR work​​ had done​​ wonders for the band—or more specifically Quinn Quark.​​ Most if not all the press’s attention was on the​​ band’s​​ charismatic and attractive front man.​​ But​​ as​​ Walter​​ saw it,​​ his band​​ had no one to blame but themselves.​​ He was the one putting the work in while they were​​ acting​​ like all the work was done​​ and partying was their new career, even though they had yet to record​​ their​​ debut album.

“So did anyone practice the new song?” Walter asked​​ his band, again at the helm of​​ the Wurlitzer.​​ 

“I don’t​​ know​​ how we could’ve when you haven’t even showed us how to play it,” Squids said.

“But I gave you all a demo and sheet music.”

“None of us know how to read sheet music, let alone your wacky version of it​​ Walter.”

“But that’s why I created​​ it.​​ It’s​​ easier to understand​​ than​​ traditional​​ notation​​ because it​​ doesn’t require​​ clefts, accidentals,​​ or​​ having to count leger lines​​ since​​ my six-line stave can accommodate​​ all twelve tones in an octave,​​ with​​ each octave​​ assigned​​ to​​ a variety of​​ note​​ shapes​​ instead​​ of​​ just​​ ovals.​​ It’s really simple​​ if you​​ just tried.”

His bandmates​​ looked at him blankly.​​ 

Walter sighed.​​ “Well, regardless,” he said, “you should​​ at least​​ know how​​ to​​ learn by ear. For God’s sake, you’re professional musicians now.”

“Get off your​​ fucking​​ high horse,” Squids said.​​ “ I think you’ve forgotten we’re​​ a rock n’ roll band, not the L.A.​​ Phil.​​ Besides,​​ this new song, well, I just don’t think it sounds like us.”

“What do you mean ‘us’? When have you ever made a contribution to​​ the sound of ‘us’​​ Squids?”

“Hm, maybe by being the one who started​​ this​​ fucking band.”

“You started a tribute band. This is not a tribute band anymore.”

“Yeah, so what?​​ Does that mean I’m not allowed​​ to​​ have a say in the songs anymore?​​ And I say this song​​ isn’t​​ us, and​​ everyone​​ thinks so​​ but you Walter.”​​ 

“Oh really?”​​ Walter turned to​​ his guitarist and drummer. They looked around timidly, waiting for the other to answer. “Seano?” Walter asked directly.

“Uh… I mean the song​​ is​​ good man,”​​ Seano​​ said,​​ scratching his mop of curly black hair while keeping his eyes to the ground. “But ya know, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, just keep it going.​​ We’re​​ supposed to be​​ a​​ rock n’ roll​​ band, and this​​ song​​ and the piano​​ is...​​ well,​​ we’re​​ not sure​​ it’s rock n’ roll.”

“Jimmy?” Walter asked his drummer.

“Yeah, I just don’t like​​ the song,” he​​ said. “And to be honest, I don’t know how I’d even play to​​ it.”

“Sorry to interrupt,” Joe the sound guy said from their monitors, “but we’ve got to wrap this soundcheck up in ten minutes.

“Fuck!​​ . . .​​ fuck!—fuck!—fuck!...” Walter yelled into the heavens. “Fine.​​ I’ll just play​​ it as a solo piece​​ tonight.”

 

Mischief hour:​​ front of house mixing board, ten​​ minutes,​​ Lola’s text said​​ about a half hour after soundcheck. Mischief hour was what she and Walter called the typically two​​ to three​​ hour span between soundcheck and doors. It was when the venues were left relatively empty and open to their exploiting.

“Where to this time?” Walter​​ asked once at the mixing board.​​ Lola had​​ been scouting during soundcheck.

“It’s a secret,” she said playfully,​​ “but it’s not far. We’ll need​​ to​​ hurry​​ though, the sound​​ crew​​ just went to eat lunch​​ backstage.”

“Yeah, I just passed them in the​​ backstage​​ tunnel . . .​​ Wait, we’re not doing it​​ here​​ in the sound booth?”

“No​​ . . . ​​ We’re doing it in​​ the tunnel.”

“The tunnel?​​ No​​ . . . But​​ yes.​​ It’s so​​ risky​​ though.​​ All the staff​​ uses the​​ tunnel.

“I know, but​​ most​​ of​​ the staff just went to lunch, so we’ve got at least a half hour where it will​​ most likely​​ be​​ without traffic,​​ but​​ we​​ shouldn’t dawdle.”

“Don’t worry,” Walter said.​​ “I shouldn’t be long today. Soundcheck​​ got​​ me pretty primed.”

Lola always went on her bands’ first tours to​​ build​​ a close and personal relationship upfront,​​ but​​ with​​ Walter,​​ it’d grown to​​ a​​ new​​ degree​​ at a dizzying speed. Neither​​ of them saw it coming,​​ but​​ in the past month and a half​​ she’d seen him through some​​ immensely heavy​​ hours​​ offstage, and​​ under pressure, comfort can​​ easily ignite into sex​​ if the chemistry is right, and it was explosive.​​ But​​ despite this,​​ there was​​ a​​ safety net​​ from​​ them​​ falling in love:​​ Lola​​ was​​ much​​ more lesbian than bi.​​ Although​​ indifferent to sex​​ partners, mechanically, she could only fall in love with a woman, and while Walter was by no means pure-beef masculine, he was​​ clearly​​ not without a penis.

“Whose signature do you want to​​ do it by?” Walter asked once they reached the​​ gray-brick​​ tunnel, lined​​ in​​ white light and​​ thick​​ vines of​​ electrical conduit​​ and wire.​​ It had become tradition for every artist​​ who​​ played Red Rocks to sign this​​ tunnel.​​ Its​​ walls, floors, and ceiling​​ were​​ soiled​​ in legendary names. It had also become a tradition​​ for Lola and Walter to “christen” each new venue​​ with his semen before the show for good luck.

“How about your​​ signature?” Lola said​​ and​​ presented​​ a marker​​ from her purse.

“Can’t​​ it​​ wait until after?​​ I wanted to write something memorable​​ and it’s a little hard to think right now.”

“Nope, now. I want to look at it while​​ we do it.”

“Fine,” he said taking the pen and finding a mostly blank space​​ on the wall. “How’s​​ this​​ sound?​​ For a good time, call​​ Lola at​​ 213-413—”​​ she​​ punched his side.

“Just write your name​​ for now.”

“But which one, Quinn or Walter?”

“I don’t know, you decide.”

“Well, its Quinn playing here, so I guess him . . .​​ All right,​​ I got it,” he said and began writing. “There:​​ Red Rox,​​ A​​ little​​ part of me will​​ stay 4ever​​ w/u.​​ ♡​​ Quinn Quark.”

Perfect,” Lola said and kissed him.​​ Now let’s get to it.

“You bring the condoms?”​​ Walter asked.

“Of course, but make sure you take it off before you shoot​​ this time. Remember it only works if the venue gets the full load. You need to show it who’s​​ bitch.”

“I refuse to believe​​ Merriweather​​ was a result of me letting off into​​ the condom instead of​​ onto​​ the​​ floor.​​ It was just the first time the place was as full for us as it was for Jester, and it’s the biggest venue on the tour.​​ I wasn’t prepared for that many people​​ and​​ just​​ freaked out a little.”

“A little?​​ Your band had to play​​ an entire​​ song​​ without you because you​​ forgot​​ the words.​​ You sure​​ you​​ want​​ to​​ risk Red Rocks?”

“All right, you made your point.​​ But​​ I don’t know why we started this​​ honestly disgusting and disrespectful​​ tradition in the first place.”​​ 

“Because we’re​​ both​​ very naughty and​​ have an​​ appetite​​ for​​ public​​ sex, remember?” she said, tickling his chin. “Not my fault​​ it’s​​ now​​ become more serious.​​ Now come on.​​ Show me how rock hard Red Rocks makes you.”

She positioned​​ herself against the wall and​​ lifted​​ her​​ cotton skirt, revealing​​ a​​ tattooed trellis of spider webs​​ weaving in and​​ out of her​​ buttocks.​​ Underwear wasn’t allowed for​​ mischief​​ hour, so Walter unbuttoned and soon they were plugging​​ away. Two minutes​​ later,​​ however,​​ somewhere down the tunnel​​ heavy​​ boots​​ began​​ to knock.

“Someone’s coming,” Walter said.

“Then you better soon also,”​​ Lola replied.

He​​ tightened his hands around her small waist, lifting her​​ feet slightly​​ from the floor,​​ and​​ frantically​​ but quietly​​ worked​​ her behind.

“I’m almost there…” he​​ whispered,​​ disengaging​​ and pulling​​ off the condom to finish the job. “I’m almost there.​​ I’m almost—fuck!”​​ He​​ pulled​​ up his pants and turned​​ away just​​ as a​​ security guard appeared from a bend in the tunnel.

“Hey check it out, Cher,” Walter said pointing​​ at​​ the​​ wall while Lola pretended to be interested.

“Oh, it’s just you,” the security guard said​​ recognizing Walter. “Thought somebody might’ve snuck in here that wasn’t supposed to. You sign your name yet?”

“Yep, doing it right now,” Walter said concealing his crotch against the wall.

“You’re joining quite an elite​​ club, you know?​​ Everybody​​ wants to​​ play Red Rocks.”

“You got that right.”

“Break a leg tonight.”​​ The security guard saluted him​​ and retreated back down the tunnel.

“Shit,​​ that was close,” Lola said.

“Yeah, a little too close,” Walter said, then​​ showed her​​ the inside of his​​ sullied pants.

 

When Perfect Crime went onstage at Red Rocks, more than a little rain​​ was​​ coming down; it was hitting the stage so hard it was being sent back into the sky. However,​​ the​​ band,​​ the​​ poncho-covered​​ crowd, and certainly not Quinn​​ were dampened by it.​​ Even when his guitar​​ did​​ malfunction​​ from the water​​ during a solo, Quinn humorously​​ finished​​ it​​ by​​ singing​​ the solo​​ instead,​​ much to the audience’s​​ delight,​​ who had again filled the seats early.​​ 

Rounding​​ off​​ the end of​​ “Minerva​​ Dooms”,​​ Quinn​​ struck his guitar​​ just to hear it swallowed​​ by​​ the roaring​​ mass in front of him. Walter remembered when he​​ got​​ his first guitar​​ and​​ striking it​​ in​​ the same​​ fashion​​ in front of​​ his bedroom​​ mirror, imagining a scene​​ very similar​​ to his​​ now reality. It was surreal​​ to think he’d actually done it.​​ The dream created that day in an​​ eleven-year-old boy’s head was now​​ a​​ living and breathing​​ existence.​​ Quinn​​ then​​ struck the final​​ chord,​​ and​​ the song​​ concluded.​​ 

“Perhaps we should bring the rain to​​ every​​ show,” Quinn said​​ with his now famous dimpled grin​​ to the​​ still cheering​​ crowd​​ as​​ it sparkled​​ in​​ camera flashes and sizzled with whistles. “I think I can safely say this is the best show of the tour, but what else would you expect from Red Rocks, rain or​​ shine?​​ Can we get some lights on the crowd? . . . Ah, there you are.​​ Nice to finally see the beautiful faces behind this hideous noise.”​​ He​​ smiled​​ boyishly​​ and​​ waved​​ to them.

“From the bottom of our hearts, thank​​ you​​ so much,”​​ Quinn​​ continued as he​​ took​​ the​​ wireless​​ mic from​​ the​​ stand and​​ began​​ walking toward the Wurlitzer. “Not only for bearing with the rain and the delay, but also​​ for​​ coming out early to see a band​​ that was virtually nobody six months ago. I can’t tell you what it means to have this type of a response on your first tour, and Red Rocks,​​ you’ve been the best!”​​ 

Another wave of​​ static noise​​ fell​​ upon​​ Quinn​​ as he sat at the​​ electric​​ piano. He then began playing a snippet of “November Rain” in his best Axl except​​ his​​ version was “Colorado Rain”, which​​ got​​ the crowd laughing again.

“Most of you probably don’t know​​ this,” he said,​​ “but Perfect Crime started as​​ a​​ Guns​​ N’ Roses tribute band and ‘November Rain’ was​​ the​​ first​​ song I learned on piano. Recently, I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration in the piano, including this new song I want to debut here tonight if that’s​​ okay​​ with you?”

Again​​ they​​ showered him with approval as his bandmates left the stage​​ while​​ a​​ crisp beam of​​ white​​ light was​​ tightened around​​ Quinn and the Wurlitzer.

It’s called​​ Bowie’s Nocturne,” he said,​​ and it’s​​ going to​​ be on​​ our​​ debut​​ album we’ll be recording in the fall called​​ Love Songs in A Minor Crash.​​ You,​​ Red Rocks, are​​ the first to know​​ or hear​​ any of this.

Quinn waited​​ again​​ until the roar calmed, then began playing​​ Walter’s​​ eight-and-a-half-minute epic inspired by​​ Bowie, but also​​ the many new influences running through​​ his​​ ears:​​ Radiohead, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Chopin, and Liszt were just a few.​​ It​​ began with a Chopin-influenced prelude,​​ then​​ came​​ the first verse:

 

Our faces like two reflecting mirrors

Drawing together to see someone else

But only we know what we see

Infinite repeating realities

I am breathing my last breath of life

Death emerges dressed in a cobweb of lies…

 

The song then continued through several suites of unrepeating musical vignettes strung together to create what​​ Walter​​ grandiosely believed to be a​​ new​​ “Bohemian Rhapsody”​​ and a new “Paranoid Android”,​​ but​​ Quinn never made it that far.​​ Halfway​​ through​​ the first verse, Walter​​ realized​​ people​​ were​​ leaving for the​​ restrooms. Quinn​​ was​​ at first undisturbed by this, but as Walter​​ became increasingly aware of the thinning and disinterested crowd, Quinn increasingly struggled to hold the song and himself together until both cracked​​ and collapsed​​ around​​ Walter, leaving​​ his​​ formless and​​ fragile​​ ego​​ to fry under the spotlight.​​ As it​​ congealed​​ before the crowd, Quinn’s​​ mouth went silent​​ and his​​ hands froze over the keys.​​ The​​ crowd​​ then began whispering and hissing,​​ frying​​ his ego​​ even further until​​ it​​ was so far​​ shriveled within​​ itself,​​ Walter​​ was again that ten-year-old boy who wanted nothing more than to​​ die.

Somewhere above,​​ a saber of light​​ then​​ pierced the sky,​​ the fissure clapping so loud it shook Walter and the amphitheater from its disorientation, but then plunged them into​​ total​​ darkness. A moment later the lights came back on.​​ 

“Walter!​​ . . .​​ Walter!​​ . . . Walter!” Lola’s​​ screaming​​ swelled into his ears​​ from the side​​ of the​​ stage. “Get off the stage!​​ We were just struck by lightning.”

 

Although no one was harmed, the​​ show was cancelled.​​ With their night​​ now​​ available, the bands​​ went​​ to a​​ local​​ watering hole to drink​​ it​​ off,​​ but​​ no amount​​ was going to​​ satisfy​​ Walter.​​ He anchored himself to​​ a​​ back corner of the bar with plans to drink himself out of existence,​​ wishing, however, he had a gun to do it faster.

As​​ he sat​​ mutely,​​ fans from the show, girls, and press buzzed around​​ him like a swarm of gnats.​​ Despite showing little sign of life, they talked​​ to Walter’s​​ body​​ as if it was still inhabited, handing him​​ free drink after free drink.

“Hey​​ beautiful!​​ We’re going to need all those,” he heard one of the​​ male​​ gnats yell to the back of a nearby promotional girl hawking​​ shots​​ of Black Bat rum​​ on an illuminated,​​ neon green tray.​​ Black Bat was​​ the sponsor of the tour,​​ and on every stop​​ they​​ chose a local bar to​​ host an​​ afterparty​​ where fans could enjoy drink specials not only inside the bar, but—for the right price—after it closed on Black Bat’s​​ enormous,​​ promotional tour bus​​ they parked outside.​​ 

The​​ promotional​​ girl turned with a reflexive smile into Walter’s line of sight. She gasped.

“Sai?” Walter said in drunken disbelief. She tried to hide behind her tray, but it was​​ useless.​​ 

“Uh… Hey Walter,”​​ she said.

“What—why…” he glanced over her body confoundedly.​​ A mini skirt and bikini top was​​ a​​ stark​​ contrast to the loose blouses and​​ baggy​​ khakis​​ of​​ his​​ memory.

“Why am I working as a promo girl?”​​ she said.

“Well, yes, but also why are you in Colorado? Have you been with Black Bat the​​ entire tour?”

“Yes, and I almost went the​​ entire​​ tour without you​​ noticing​​ because normally​​ you​​ never come to these things.”

“But why​​ wouldn’t you tell me?”

“Because​​ I’m a​​ promo girl.​​ It’s incredibly​​ embarrassing, especially since the last time I saw you I was leaving for grad school.”​​ 

“Yeah,​​ at​​ NYU. That didn’t happen?”

“It did, and​​ I​​ graduated, but I didn’t get tenure after my postdoc, and haven’t been able to find another one or really anything in the scientific field that pays since.​​ My boyfriend​​ works in marketing for Black Bat,​​ though,​​ and​​ when​​ this​​ job​​ came up,​​ I decided to take it.​​ I’m​​ a little​​ disgusted with myself,​​ but​​ you can’t pay off​​ a​​ quarter million dollars​​ in​​ student loan debt​​ with dignity​​ alone, and I must say the money’s great​​ . . . Speaking of that, I’ll be back.”

Turning her smile back on, she went to the gnat who​​ had requested the shots. He​​ ogled her breasts and ass​​ while slipping a hundred dollar bill onto her emptying tray.​​ It saddened Walter because he saw​​ her​​ as so much more, even​​ though her​​ past with​​ him​​ was at its core a sexual one, but​​ it​​ was​​ the​​ core of his sexuality.​​ 

Sai and Walter​​ had​​ dated​​ casually​​ during his freshman year of college—or defined more crudely, they were fuck buddies.​​ More importantly,​​ however,​​ she was the woman who had seized his virginity and taught him everything from the basics of kissing to the advanced studies of exploratory intercourse.​​ She was four years older and just wrapping up her undergrad at UCLA​​ to be a neurobiologist​​ when she met a much more innocent and inexperienced Walter in a shared humanities course.​​ 

One day after​​ expressing​​ an interest in yoga​​ to her, she invited him to her place to practice, and over a few months’ time,​​ new yoga positions​​ turned into​​ new positions from the​​ Kama Sutra.​​ But sexuality wasn’t the only thing​​ she​​ enlightened him to. She also introduced​​ him​​ to one of his greatest​​ allies:​​ Mary Jane.​​ While music had helped him find a place for his insanity, marijuana helped him find the humor in it.

“Here,” Sai said handing Walter one of two shots left on her tray when she returned. “He bought one for​​ both of​​ us.”

“Sorry, but rum’s the one liquor I can’t​​ stand.​​ Furthermore,​​ I’ve already been well taken care of,” he said holding up a mostly full beer.​​ 

“Suit yourself​​ . . .​​ Cheers.” She tapped her shot to his beer, then threw it back.​​ 

“So your boyfriend” Walter said, “is he the​​ only​​ one?”

“Yes,” she said​​ smiling. “I left polyamory back​​ in college.​​ While it seemed practical​​ then, it’s a little trickier​​ in the real world—believe me I tried.”

“Wow, Sai​​ Patesh monogamous?​​ It’s hard to fathom,​​ especially​​ since​​ your​​ views​​ on​​ society’s​​ ‘mononormative narrowmindedness’​​ had such an impact on my philosophy of love for a time,​​ even after​​ you left.”

“And​​ how’d that work​​ out?”

“I don’t know. I never could find another girl​​ like you​​ after you, but so far​​ monogamy​​ has proven​​ to​​ be​​ the destructive force you​​ always​​ warned​​ me​​ of.”

​​ “That’s​​ just​​ love. Monogamous or polyamorous,​​ it​​ always has the potential to destroy​​ when you’re with the wrong person or persons.​​ My​​ mistake​​ back then​​ was​​ believing I could mitigate this risk by investing it in​​ a diversified portfolio, but by doing so, I also mitigated its satisfaction. All those​​ ‘boyfriends’ I had in college—well, with​​ maybe​​ the exception of you,​​ they were superficial attachments. But​​ the scientist in me was determined​​ to​​ put​​ logic in a place it has no place being.”

“So​​ now​​ you’ve found​​ Mister Right?”

“Well, we’ve only been dating six months,​​ but​​ I have to say he’s​​ certainly​​ the best candidate—his name’s Dave by the way.​​ We’ve gotten pretty close on tour.”

“He’s on tour too?”

“Yeah. He’s outside on the Black Bat bus as we speak, but don’t say anything. Black Bat doesn’t know we’re dating,​​ and we’d both be fired if they did, even though​​ the tour has really been our first opportunity to spend more than a week together.​​ He was always gone​​ on business travel​​ before,​​ but now that’s no longer an issue. It’s​​ also why I took the job,​​ which,​​ if I’m going to be honest, isn’t as bad as I thought. It’s kind of fun waking up in a​​ new​​ place every morning, not knowing where or to whom the day is going to take you. I guess I can see the allure​​ in​​ being a touring musician. But​​ I have to ask,​​ what happened to physicist?”​​ ​​ 

“Physics​​ petered out for me​​ about​​ junior year.​​ I just couldn’t keep up,​​ mostly because the band​​ started​​ taking​​ off at that point.”

“But​​ you were​​ so​​ gifted. I mean, it’s great the world has your music,​​ but​​ science​​ could really use​​ a mind​​ like yours right now.”

“Well—and you’re just another example, it’s​​ far too often​​ gifted​​ minds​​ don’t​​ make it in science​​ anymore.​​ Instead, it’s​​ the ones who can manipulate the system the best;​​ those who can sensationalize shoddy studies for the sake of winning grant money and publishing papers. How much grant money you’ve won and how many papers you’ve published, that’s all that matters​​ now.​​ Peer review, replication, failure—all the things science​​ actually​​ needs—seems to be less and less of a priority, and​​ once I realized this,​​ I​​ just​​ chose​​ not​​ to​​ be​​ a part​​ of it.​​ I can’t tell you how many grad students I​​ saw​​ stab each other in the back over a name on a paper. And it’s sad, because science works best in collaboration, not for the ego.”​​ 

“True, but what about your theories?”

“Oh, those were a joke.​​ Just musings more than theories.”

“Well, I know I’m not​​ a​​ physicist, but I didn’t think they were a joke. Even if they weren’t right, I thought they were still beautiful. It’s a shame school had to ruin physics for you​​ . . .​​ Anyway,​​ time to get​​ back to work.​​ The​​ afterparty​​ on the​​ bus​​ begins​​ in about an hour.​​ I’ll be serving.​​ You should come. You can meet Dave too. He’s actually a big fan​​ of Perfect Crime.”

“Can I bring friends?”

“Sure, as long as they spend money and tip well. It’s supposed to be VIP only.”

 

An hour later,​​ in a​​ drunken​​ state​​ of​​ rented​​ bliss, Walter approached the bus​​ grinning​​ with a cohort of girls, two on each arm and one on his shoulders.​​ Sai, waiting outside​​ the bus,​​ shook her head​​ disapprovingly.

“I thought I told you to bring people with money,” she said,​​ “not a bunch of groupies.”

“They’re not groupies,” Walter said offloading​​ the​​ small girl​​ from his shoulders, “just very enthusiastic fans​​ . . .​​ I’ll be in in a moment ladies,” he said as​​ he ushered them​​ into the bus. “Ah look, here come my beloved bandmates.”​​ They staggered​​ toward the bus​​ with another half dozen girls in tow.

“I just wanna say I love you man,” Seano said as he swung​​ an​​ arm around Walter.​​ “Fuck what happened at the show tonight.​​ Thisiz​​ what itz all about,​​ fuckin’ chickz​​ and​​ fuckin’​​ beer.”​​ Seano​​ then​​ downed​​ the last of​​ a​​ beer bottle hed snuck out​​ of the bar​​ and​​ smashed​​ it on​​ the parking​​ lot​​ pavement.​​ Fuckin’ Black Bat?” he said​​ looking over the monstrous black and green bus.​​ Fuck that​​ puszy​​ shit!” He then produced a Jack Daniels bottle from inside of his leather jacket​​ and​​ took a​​ proud​​ swig.

“You can’t take that on,” Sai​​ told​​ him.

“Lookz like I just did,”​​ he said,​​ and​​ escaped​​ up the stairs into the bus. A​​ thud was heard​​ soon​​ after,​​ and​​ he​​ came rolling back out.​​ “What the fuck?!”​​ he​​ cried​​ from his back.​​ 

“The entrance has a low ceiling,”​​ she​​ said​​ as she picked up​​ the​​ Jack Daniels bottle​​ which​​ had loosened from his hands.​​ 

“Hey,​​ give​​ it​​ back,”​​ he said, but​​ Sai’s​​ piercing​​ green​​ eyes sent him away​​ empty-handed.​​ 

“When did you start hanging out with six-year-olds?”​​ she​​ asked​​ Walter​​ once everyone else​​ was​​ inside.​​ 

“Don’t all guys act like they’re six when they’re piss drunk?”​​ he said.

“I don’t know. You never did.​​ You​​ didn’t even drink​​ when I first met you.”

“That’s because I was still coming off my bout​​ with​​ Mormonism.”​​ 

A​​ cringing shatter from inside​​ the bus​​ interrupted them.

“Shit, shouldn’t have left the six-year-olds unsupervised,”​​ Walter said.

“Well,​​ Dave and​​ the bartender​​ are—”

“Fuck​​ off​​ Dave,” a​​ lean​​ and well-endowed blonde dressed like Sai—presumably the bartender—shouted as she came out of the bus. “Ain’t no amount of money that can make me put up with that​​ kind of​​ shit.​​ No way.”

“Danielle, I’ll talk to them,” a man with a newsboy cap—presumably Dave—said from the bus’s door. “Please come back on the bus. The afterparty is about to start.”

“No.​​ I want them off.​​ That​​ short fucker​​ grabbed​​ my​​ tit.”​​ She​​ was​​ referring to Squids, who was just a few inches over five feet.​​ 

“But Danielle, it’s good promo to have them here. I promise, if anything else happens I’ll kick them off.”

“No.​​ If they’re​​ staying, take me back to the hotel.”

“Dave…” Sai said. “I can’t bartend and serve, and look at all the people coming over.”​​ 

“I can get by as bartender​​ for​​ a while,” Walter​​ offered.​​ “Or I can​​ also​​ tell them to​​ get off the bus. She’s right, no one should have to put up with that.”

“Hey Quinn Quark,” Dave​​ said noticing​​ him for​​ the​​ first time. “No, I’ll take​​ Danielle to the hotel. Not sure how Black Bat would feel about you bartending, but my hands are kind of tied, and it should only be for a little while.”

After Dave and​​ Danielle​​ left,​​ Walter​​ and​​ Sai​​ went inside the bus where​​ his bandmates were already making moves on the girls.

“What the fuck is wrong​​ with​​ your band?” Sai said.​​ “And these girls...​​ Hey, hello!​​ Attention​​ everyone.​​ Please​​ take​​ your​​ tongues out of each other’s mouths and either buy some drinks​​ or get​​ the fuck​​ out​​ . . . Damn it. Everyone’s lining up outside. I need a drink.”

“Here, take a shot with me,”​​ Walter said, taking his post behind the bar.

“But I thought you said you didn’t like rum.”

“At this point, I’m drunk enough it doesn’t matter. Besides, it’s not like this bar has anything else.”

With everyone​​ coming​​ aboard wanting to have a shot with Quinn Quark​​ the bartender, it didn’t take long for Walter to​​ black out.​​ 

 

Sometime later in the early morning,​​ he​​ awoke to find himself fastened to a sleeping Sai atop a couch in the back room of the bus. He wasn’t exactly sure how it happen, but​​ somehow she discovered​​ Dave slept with the bartender after taking her to the hotel and had apparently been sleeping with​​ them both​​ for almost the entirety of the​​ tour. The last thing​​ Walter​​ recalled​​ was Sai furiously downing shots, but he was unsurprised to find the evening​​ concluded with them in a copulative coma of comfort and revenge—although Walter failed to actually copulate due to performance issues.​​ ​​ 

He​​ disconnected from her and pulled himself up by​​ a​​ stripper pole next to them. He​​ then​​ wobbled to the bus’s bathroom, trying his best to hold back stomach contractions.​​ Opening​​ the​​ bathroom​​ door,​​ he found​​ Squids​​ sitting on the floor,​​ desperately smacking his arm for a vein.

“Fuck,”​​ he said trying to hide the contraband.​​ Walter looked​​ down​​ at him.

“I… I knew it,” he said sluggishly. “If​​ that’s​​ what you want to do,​​ then do it.​​ I’m not gonna stop you.”

“Really?”

“Really.​​ Shoot up until you’re dead​​ for all I care,​​ because once this tour’s over,​​ you’re out of the band.​​ I don’t give a shit if you started it.​​ It’s my band now​​ . . .​​ Now if you’ll​​ excuse me, I’m gonna go puke outside,” Walter said and shut the door.

As he made his way to the front of the bus,​​ in every​​ neon green​​ corner bodies were​​ snoring in the​​ sickly-sweet,​​ rum-laden​​ air.​​ Stepping​​ outside, he realized the bus was no longer​​ at the bar, but in some suburb.​​ He remembered someone saying something about a house party, but he couldn’t remember​​ a house party.​​ It didn’t matter anyway.​​ 

Back on the bus,​​ relieved of​​ his stomach’s contents​​ but dizzy and exhausted from​​ the​​ outing,​​ Walter​​ found the trip back to Sai too strenuous, so he​​ snuggled up​​ on​​ the mat behind the bar.

 

“Walter!” Seano shouted, shaking him forcefully while shivering like an epileptic himself. “Walter,​​ wake up​​ man!”

Morning light stung​​ his pupils​​ as​​ Walter​​ pried his​​ sticky eyelids​​ apart,​​ X’s​​ tracking​​ across his face from his rubber molded pillow. A warm and horrid​​ breath​​ sucked into his lungs and​​ he felt the​​ urge​​ to vomit again.

“Walter!​​ . . .​​ Walter!”​​ Seano continued.​​ ​​ 

“Stop yelling at me!” Walter​​ yelled​​ back.​​ “What? I’m up.”​​ 

“Squids is dead! Squids is fucking dead!”

Walter turned his head to the side and puked.​​ 

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