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, 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​​ and as a consequence​​ was considering​​ quitting​​ drinking,​​ his stepmother’s​​ alcoholic logic​​ stepped in and she began​​ believing​​ and telling him​​ the church​​ was​​ of​​ Satan.

Disturbed by this, his father​​ 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​​ as​​ she​​ was burdened with the​​ constant​​ sorrow​​ of his​​ infidelity:​​ Walter.​​ And when alcoholic logic is empowered by guilt, even fatherly logic doesn’t stand a chance. ​​ 

Normally​​ on Christmas​​ Walter​​ was with his grandmother,​​ 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.

That​​ morning,​​ however, when​​ Walter​​ couldn’t find the present he knew his grandmother had sent to his Arizona home, he asked​​ his​​ father where it was in​​ front of his stepmother,​​ and that​​ mention​​ was all​​ it​​ took.​​ As punishment, she​​ threw​​ all​​ of Walter’s Christmas​​ presents​​ away, which were only a few. But after his father​​ found​​ his grandmother’s​​ present in the​​ outside​​ trash​​ can,​​ his father​​ not only gave it to Walter, but​​ also​​ gave back all his​​ other​​ presents.​​ To​​ his stepmother, this​​ betrayal​​ by her husband​​ was unforgivable.​​ 

They​​ then​​ spent the rest of Christmas in their shuttered​​ “adult room”, which was essentially an at-home saloon,​​ fighting and drinking, leaving Walter to fend for himself 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​​ he​​ had given​​ it​​ a name.

“Wally, look what I got from Grandma,”​​ 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 little damage​​ was being done.

 

Back in Walter’s bedroom,​​ his​​ father at last came in​​ and​​ dragged​​ the​​ slurring and slobbering nightmare away​​ from​​ his​​ 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,​​ he​​ heard car keys, then the front door slam. That slam would be the last​​ Walter​​ would​​ hear of his stepmother. All her belongings would be moved out​​ two​​ weeks​​ later while he was at school.

As he stared up at the ceiling, still processing, he became so overcome​​ all at once​​ with joy,​​ guilt,​​ anger,​​ and​​ fear, he​​ 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.​​ But this burden of feelings​​ was crushing him from the inside in.​​ ​​ ​​ 

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​​ Walter’s​​ eleventh birthday, however,​​ God​​ did answer​​ his​​ prayers.​​ He​​ didn’t​​ kill​​ Walter, but​​ potentially saved his life by​​ granting​​ him something a​​ lot better​​ for coping with​​ his​​ emotions​​ than​​ just​​ Metallica: a guitar,​​ a​​ birthday​​ gift from​​ the​​ one​​ persistent​​ source of love​​ in his life:​​ his grandmother.

Six months later,​​ she​​ was​​ then​​ granted full 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​​ then​​ 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​​ replied.

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

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

“Oh sorry Joe,”​​ Walter​​ 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,”​​ Joe​​ 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”​​ 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​​ for soundcheck​​ 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 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​​ itself:​​ heroin.​​ After shows recently, Walter often saw​​ his​​ head nodding and eyes rolling a bit too much to​​ just​​ be​​ 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​​ to him.​​ The stage was his​​ oasis from​​ the​​ ceaseless, internal​​ whispers​​ of​​ blame​​ harassing​​ him offstage.​​ Onstage​​ they no longer reached​​ him because he was​​ no longer in​​ Walter’s head, he​​ was in​​ Quinn Quark’s. And​​ everybody​​ loved Quinn.​​ Quinn was​​ faultless.​​ He only brought music and joy to people,​​ not death and destruction.​​ 

The tour and Cirkus’s intensive PR work​​ had done​​ wonders for​​ Perfect Crime—or more specifically Quinn Quark.​​ Most if not all the press’s attention was​​ shed​​ on​​ their​​ charismatic and attractive front man, and it was deepening an already widening rift between Walter and his band. His band somehow felt he was to blame, but​​ he felt​​ they​​ had no one to blame but themselves.​​ He was the one putting​​ all​​ 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​​ yet,” 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.​​ Each​​ octave​​ is then​​ assigned​​ to​​ a variety of​​ note​​ shapes​​ I use​​ instead​​ of​​ just​​ ovals.​​ Really, it’s very​​ simple.”

His bandmates​​ looked at him​​ vacantly.​​ 

Walter​​ exhaled.​​ “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’?” Walter said. “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​​ if​​ 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​​ read​​ about half​​ an​​ hour after soundcheck.​​ Mischief hour was what she and Walter called the typically two​​ to three​​ hour span between soundcheck and doors​​ when​​ the venues were left relatively empty​​ for​​ their exploiting.

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

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

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

“No,” she said smiling, “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 let’s not​​ dawdle.”​​ She took​​ his​​ hand and began walking.​​ 

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

While​​ Lola always went on her bands’ first tours to​​ build​​ a close and personal relationship upfront,​​ 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​​ heavy​​ hours​​ offstage, and​​ under pressure, comfort can​​ easily ignite into sex​​ if the chemistry is right.​​ Luckily for them,​​ however,​​ there was a safety net from falling in love;​​ Lola was much more lesbian than bi.​​ Although indifferent to her sex partners,​​ mechanically,​​ she​​ could only fall in love with another​​ woman, which​​ for the moment​​ was​​ ideal​​ for​​ Walter. He​​ wanted nothing to do with love​​ after Amber,​​ but​​ everything to do with sex. He​​ was​​ finding​​ it​​ to be the​​ only way​​ he​​ could silence his inner voices​​ other than being onstage.​​ And other than being onstage,​​ Lola​​ was​​ the best​​ silencer​​ he had ever had.​​ 

“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​​ him​​ a​​ permanent​​ marker​​ from her purse.

“Can’t​​ it​​ wait until after?” he asked.​​ “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​​ marker​​ 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,”​​ she said.

“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,” she said taking one out of her purse. “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,” he said taking the condom. “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?” she said undoing his​​ belt.​​ “Your band had to play​​ an entire​​ song​​ without you because you​​ forgot​​ the words.​​ You sure​​ you​​ want​​ to​​ risk Red Rocks?”

He thought about it, then shook his head no. ​​ 

“Good,” she said as his pants hit the floor. She then took the condom out of his hand and put it on him. “Now come on...” she said​​ positioning herself​​ against the wall​​ and lifting​​ her cotton skirt, revealing a tattooed trellis of spider webs weaving in and out of her buttocks.​​ “Show me how rock hard Red Rocks makes you!”

They began​​ plugging​​ away, but two minutes​​ in,​​ heavy​​ boots​​ began​​ to knock​​ somewhere down the tunnel.​​ 

“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.”

“Well, 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.​​ 

“Maybe​​ we should bring the rain to​​ every​​ show,” Quinn said​​ after​​ to the​​ cheering​​ crowd​​ as​​ it sparkled​​ in​​ camera flashes and sizzled with whistles. “Can we get some lights on the crowd? . . . Ah, there you are,” he smiled and waved to them.​​ “Nice to finally see the beautiful faces behind this hideous noise.”

Quinn​​ then removed the​​ wireless mic from the stand and began walking toward​​ the​​ Wurlitzer.​​ “From the bottom of our hearts,” he continued, “thank​​ you​​ so much. 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​​ him, leaving​​ Walter’s​​ formless and​​ hapless​​ 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​​ and shriveling​​ Walter’s ego​​ even further until​​ he​​ was​​ again that ten-year-old boy, reduced to wanting​​ 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, then plunged them into​​ complete​​ darkness.

After what seemed to be an eternity,​​ the lights came back on.​​ 

“Walter​​ . . .​​ Walter​​ . . . Walterrrr!” 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​​ and press buzzed around​​ him like a swarm of gnats.​​ Despite showing little sign of life, they talked​​ to​​ his​​ 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?”​​ he​​ 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​​ to become a neurobiologist.”​​ 

“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 or really anything in the scientific field that pays since.​​ My boyfriend, however,​​ works​​ in marketing for Black Bat,​​ 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​​ is​​ 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.​​ But also,​​ she was the woman who had seized his virginity. And​​ being four years older and much more experienced than him, she​​ taught him everything from the basics of​​ kissing to the advanced studies of exploratory intercourse.​​ But sexuality wasn’t the only thing​​ she​​ enlightened him to. She also introduced​​ him​​ to one of his​​ most important​​ 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.​​ Plus, I’ve​​ already been​​ well​​ taken care of.”​​ He held​​ up​​ his​​ mostly full​​ beer​​ glass.​​ 

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

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

“Yes,”​​ Sai​​ said​​ smiling. “I left​​ that​​ polyamory​​ shit​​ 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.”

“And​​ how’d that work​​ out​​ for you?”

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

​​ “That’s​​ just​​ love,” Sai said​​ picking up the other shot, but then thinking twice about it. “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?”​​ Walter asked.​​ 

“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​​ with you?”

“Yeah. He’s outside on the Black Bat bus as we speak, but don’t say anything​​ to anyone. 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.​​ Also, along with getting to see him every day now,​​ the job​​ really​​ isn’t as​​ awful as I imagined. Yeah the​​ serving​​ drinks part sucks, but it’s​​ sort​​ 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.​​ However,​​ I have to ask,​​ what happened to physicist?”​​ ​​ 

“Physics​​ petered out for me​​ about​​ junior year,” Walter​​ replied. “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​​ your​​ mind​​ too.”

“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,” Sai said,​​ “but​​ still. It’s a shame school had to ruin physics for you. You really had a gift, a gift just as special as your gift in music in my opinion. But then again, your music has never been my cup of tea.”

She picked up her tray from the bar. “Anyway,” she​​ said,​​ “time to get​​ back to work.​​ The afterparty​​ on the​​ bus​​ begins​​ in an hour.​​ I’ll be serving.​​ You should come​​ aboard. You can meet Dave too. He’s actually a big fan​​ of Perfect Crime.”

“Can I bring friends?”​​ Walter asked.

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

“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​​ Walter. “First time I’ve seen you at one of these afterparties. It’s okay.​​ I’ll​​ just​​ take​​ Danielle to the hotel, if you don’t mind bartending for a little?​​ Not sure how Black Bat would feel about​​ it, 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.”

Not long​​ after, with​​ everyone​​ coming​​ aboard wanting to have a shot with Quinn Quark​​ the bartender, Walter​​ blacked​​ 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​​ Squids.​​ 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​​ his​​ 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​​ Walter’s​​ pupils​​ as​​ he​​ pried his​​ sticky eyelids​​ apart,​​ X’s​​ tracking​​ across his face from his rubber-molded pillow. A warm and horrid​​ breath​​ then​​ 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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