A Boy at Heart
“What stays with you most from that day?” she asked sitting on the sofa across from him, pen circling her open notebook.
“It wasn’t seeing him dead,” Walter said. “In fact, he looked quite peaceful.” Her pen began scratching at the pace of his speech across the page. “He even had this smile on his face . . . It was when they put him in a body bag. That faceless bundle of flesh and bone will haunt me forever. It’s amazing the guilt you suddenly feel for being alive when face-to-face with someone who no longer has that privilege.”
“That’s a strange thing to say. Why would you feel guilt?”
“I wasn’t always the nicest to Brian.”
“You two didn’t get along?”
“Why was that?”
“I suppose egos got in the way. We just didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things.”
“When was the last time you saw him alive?”
“Um…” Walter’s fingers unthinkingly began to fidget in an effort to fight his natural urge to always tell the truth even when he didn’t have to, “...on the bus.”
“The bus he died on?”
“What were your last moments like with him?”
Walter’s heart began racing and his stomach tightened. “I... I... I...” He stalled. “Do I have to tell you?”
Her bucktooth grin flashed beneath her bulging, chipmunk-like cheeks, making her button nose crinkle adorably between her doting, big, brown eyes. Maybe it was the disarming English accent, but somehow she’d become his closest counselor and was pulling things out of him that had long been sewn up, when only an hour earlier, she’d been nothing but a stranger—well not exactly. Francis Jones was Rolling Stone’s foremost reporter, and there was a reason why.
“You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to,” Francis said. “This is your story. Not Quinn Quark’s, Cirkus’s, or anyone else’s. Remember, you reached out to me, and no one knows about this interview but us. It’s just us . . . But, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask. A lot of people want to know what happened that night.”
“And so would I, but I was pretty gone that night myself . . . Um… you mind?” Walter said eyeing a bottle of Jameson and an ice bucket filled with mixers on the coffee table.
“Go ahead, that’s why it’s there.” She flashed him another grin. He poured himself a drink, then leaned back in his armchair.
The tranquil glow of Francis’s living room fireplace was dangerously homey, a feeling he hadn’t felt in some time. Although the label had given him some money to get by, it was nowhere near enough to get him out of Grandma’s, which was becoming more of a prison than a home lately. Day and night, growing multitudes of paparazzi and other bounty hunters of fame stalked the front door, so Walter had to stay holed up inside, unless of course he found the strength to endure their legally-protected harassing.
Cirkus’s announcement of the live show and record had made Walter’s fame (aka Quinn Quark) balloon even greater, thanks in large part to Lola’s shrewd peddling. Unbeknownst to him, his emotional soundcheck performance of “See The Sky About To Rain” had been filmed and recorded, and with no single or music video to use for promotion, Lola instead pushed the video—one tight shot of Walter’s genital-swelling face rolling through the emotions of the song until climaxing in a money shot of tears.
Being that it was recorded on the day of Quinn Quark’s infamous last performance, the video circulated quickly and soon became a viral hit among rock and indie circles. Cirkus was quick to respond, releasing the cover as a single, and soon the punk-leaning label had their first top-ten U.S. hit once the video and Walter’s face made it into the general public’s circles and genitals. The swelling was all anyone could talk about. And although the song was labeled rock n’ roll and Quinn Quark a rock star, it was not, and he was not. America didn’t actually still like rock n’ roll, but rock stars were like cowboys to Americans, mythologized clichés they loved to resurrect over and over again.
Walter set down his drink and cleared his throat. “While it does feel good to finally talk about Squids’s death,” he said, “I’m not sure this is the right venue. I’m sorry. I hope you understand.”
“Of course,” Francis said, however, there was a pinch of exasperation on her face. “How about something easy then? What’s your favorite color?”
“Gamma ray.” He smirked.
“Sorry, bad physics joke. I guess gray, but that might change with my mood.”
“Least favorite holiday?”
“Christmas? Who doesn’t like Christmas?”
“How about the non-Christian world? But my reasons are different. Let’s just move on.”
“Okay...” Francis said turning a page in her notebook . . . How’s rehearsal going? How’s it been working with Jason Newsted?”
“Rehearsals are going great actually. It just feels great to be playing with a band again. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. It’s like not having sex. And Jason, oh man, it’s like a whole new sex now that we have a bassist who can actually play—um, fuck. I didn’t mean to say that. I’m sorry.”
“You’re fine.” Francis stopped scribing, surrendering her pen to the air as if she were a captured soldier surrendering a sword. “I can leave it out—I can leave anything out. Remember, this is a magazine interview, not a live interview, so you can relax if you slip up now and then.”
That was nice to hear, Walter thought. He didn’t have to be perfect. He wasn’t onstage with thousands of eyes stalking him, just two big brown ones like glossy eyes of a beloved Teddy bear. Her face quelled something in him like cutesy cartoon forest animals can do.
“Thanks,” he said. “What I meant was, everyone in the band has nothing but the upmost respect for him, and it’s inspiring to be playing with someone of his caliber.”
“So is there a possibility we might see this lineup perform again after the Greek?”
“No. Let’s make that perfectly clear. N-O. There will be no Perfect Crime or Quinn Quark after this show.”
“But what about your unreleased album, Love Songs in a Minor Crash?”
“I never finished it. And the songs I had, they weren’t right for Perfect Crime.”
“But right for a solo project perhaps?”
“Yes, actually. Something completely new for me though.”
“Really?” Francis said repositioning herself, pen ready to transcribe again. “What kind of sound is this new project?”
“Silence.” Francis’s eyes hung on Walter for further explanation, but he just smiled.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I’m not understanding.”
“It’s a novel. I’m writing a novel.”
“A novel?” She looked to be reshuffling notes in her head. “Why?”
“I suppose I like the privacy of it. With a novel, my physical image doesn’t have to be packaged alongside my art. I also don’t have to relive the emotions of my art night after night on tour for years on end.”
“That’s surprising to hear from someone who seemingly enjoyed the stage very much at one point. Did Squids’s death spur this change?”
“Partially, but not fully.”
“Is the novel related to his death?”
“No, and again, I don’t want to talk about his death.”
“Then what’s it about?”
“Uh… well, death, life, love, existence—all the typical stuff,” Walter fibbed. So far his novel was about nothing, because beside his lacquered piece of shit he’d torn to bits, he’d written nothing.
“Care to expound a little more?” Francis’s pen rapped frustratedly against her notebook.
“I guess you could also say it’s a revue of sorts, featuring all the women who have shaped me, good and bad.”
“Can you tell me about them? Your love life is something of a mystery to most people.”
“There’s a reason, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“All right.” Francis’s pen rapped harder. “Are you currently seeing anyone?”
“I just said I don’t want to talk about my love life. But if the teeny boppers must know, yes I’m single, but nowhere near ready to mingle, and especially not with them.”
“So those rumors of numerous love affairs on the road aren’t true?”
“What? That I enjoyed a few nights with a select handful of of-age and fully consenting women? Yes, I enjoyed myself a little. Anyone would’ve have after what I went through.”
“What did you go through?”
“No. We’re not going there either.”
Francis’s button nose crinkled sharply and her lips pursed into a taut circle. She then slapped her pen onto the coffee table and threw her notebook to the side.
“Okay Mister Huxley,” she said, “well, where do you want to go, because I’m not having much luck driving?”
“Anywhere, just not my past.”
“Fine...” she said picking up her pen and notebook again, “...let’s talk about the future. This novel you’re working on, when can we expect it?”
“Sometime,” Walter said, “but you won’t know because I’m releasing it under a penname.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the book can’t make it on the back of my music career. I couldn’t take myself seriously as a writer if it did. That’s why people can’t know I wrote it.”
“So will anyone ever know the author’s true identity?”
“God, I hope not. All I want is to disappear into obscurity after this farewell show.”
Francis sighed sympathetically as her demeanor shifted gears. “That’s a shame you want to disappear from the world,” she said, “because the world really seems to like you Walter. A lot of great things are being said. Some have even called you genius.”
“Genius? I’m a rock musician, that’s all. If what I have is genius, then genius is much more an exercise than a gift.”
“I see . . . Excuse me,” she said setting down her notebook and pen again and removing her Stanford University sweater. Walter’s eyes couldn’t help but say hello to the cupfuls of breast now peeking out over her red tank top. He was trying his best to not sexualize his interviewer, but nature isn’t always honorable amongst cutesy forest animals.
“The fireplace,” she said, “it’s kind of making things warm.”
“Well, April isn’t the most ideal fireplace weather.”
“I know...” she said, aware of his eyes as she bent over to pick up a thick binder from the floor, “…but I just love fireside chats. It always brings out the best conversations.” She opened the binder across her lap. “I hope you don’t mind if we revisit your past again briefly,” she said while thumbing through its many plastic-sheathed pages, “but I spoke to a few of your professors at UCLA, and while yes, some in the music press have called you genius, I actually heard the designation much more often from them in regards to your work in physics.”
“Physics? I was a C-average physics student.”
“Yes, but only in your junior and senior years. Before that you were the most promising physics student the department had seen in some time, so much so you were given a full-ride scholarship—unprecedented for an incoming freshman. That’s why although many of your professors describe you as genius, they also deride you as being…” She began reading from the binder: “...‘arrogant’ . . . ‘lazy’ . . . ‘immature’ . . . ‘ungrateful’, and my personal favorite, ‘disproportioned in blood flow between his brain and penis.’”
“That last one was from Schechter, wasn’t it?” Walter asked.
“Yes. He actually had the most to say about you. He even showed me your papers, and while he admitted there was a lot wrong with them, he seemed to think…” She read from her notes again: “…‘They’re the type of creative genius of someone who could revolutionize physics.’”
“So, what does Schechter know? He was a great teacher, but a failed theorist himself. A whole life wasted chasing dead-end theories. I’m sorry, but I didn’t want to end up like him. He’s gone so crazy now he’s trying to convince naive journalists who haven’t the slightest clue about theoretical physics what’s going to revolutionize it. Probably because they’re the only ones who will take him seriously now.”
“You don’t have to be condescending,” Francis said.
“Condescending? Okay, what’s the uncertainty principle?” Walter asked. She shrugged. “See, naïve journalist who doesn’t know shit about physics. Not condescending, just the truth.”
“But still, you don’t have to be a...” She tried to come up with a polite rebuttal, but went blank.
“What?” Walter continued his charge. “An asshole? Is that what you want to call me? Go ahead, but you’re the real asshole here. This entire interview you’ve been trying to trap me because you thought by putting together some extensive book report on my life you’d know it better than me. And by the way, just because I’m famous now, that doesn’t mean you have an all-access pass to riffle through my past—”
“Actually it does,” she interrupted. “Maybe I don’t know ‘shit about physics’, but I do know shit about media law.”
“Well, whatever. I’m done here.” He stood from his chair and walked toward the door. “If you think you’re going to prod any more information out of me you’re nuts.”
“Seriously?” she said. “You asked me for this interview. I thought you wanted to introduce the ‘real you’ to the world? How am I supposed to do that when you won’t tell me anything about you?”
“Well apparently you already know everything about me. What else do you need to know?”
“How about why someone so gifted continually wastes his talents? Songwriter, physicist, and now you tell me writer, you’re so much more than Quinn Quark the one-hit rock star and I just want the world to know. Isn’t that what you want too, for people to know the real you?”
Walter stood silent, contemplating for a moment.
“No actually,” he said. “I’m sorry, this was a mistake.” He opened her front door.
“Walter stop,” she begged. “Why?”
“Because the real me is not who you think he is. Wanna know the truth? I have no novel, not a single page, so cross off writer.” He slashed an invisible pen over the air. “And some crackpot ideas I had while smoking too much pot in college doesn’t classify me as a physicist either; in fact, it’s just an insult to the field. So we’ll cross off that one too. Hm… what else? Oh yeah, songwriter. I guess I’ll give you that, but not for much longer. As of next month I’m officially resigned of that title too. So there it is, an over-hyped, title-less nobody who can’t commit himself to anyone or anything; just a big fucking face for people to talk about, that’s all. You know, sometimes I wish nature hadn’t made me so brilliant if that’s what I really am. It’d sure make things a lot easier. I envy the average man; the person who can float through life blissfully ignorant of the world, because fuck the world!”
The front door struck its frame like a thunderbolt.
Walter tried to walk to his car, but delirium cuffed him to the curb in front of Francis’s house. As he sat, his head tilted to the night sky in search of answers as it so often did.
“She’s right,” he said. “Why? . . . Why-why-why-why? Why do you always throw away everything good for something uncertain Walter, or whoever the fuck you are today? Physics for rock stardom, rock stardom for writing, Amber for her mother—what’s next and when will it stop?”
A cycle then began to formulate. Every time something became too comfortable, he abandoned it for something new and more challenging. He couldn’t stand to be comfortable, to be stable—to be bored.
“But then who am I?” he asked. “What am I? Can I still be or should I be asking these questions at twenty-five? I can’t keep going around like this, flirting with everything life has to offer. I have to stick to something, stick to someone. I have to be an adult . . . But I like new things. I like to dream. I like change. I like being single. Why does it have to stop? Why does life have to revolve around one resolute identity?”
The dilemma of being twenty-five. Walter had grown into a man, but was still very much a boy at heart.
“Who are you talking to?” Francis asked from her doorway. Walter stirred to his feet in surprise.
“Um… myself,” he replied.
“You realize that’s kind of crazy, right?”
“Guilty as charged.”
She shook her head. “So what’s your deal?” she asked. “Does it really drive you that crazy that people recognize you sometimes; that you impact their lives?”
“Just because people recognize me doesn’t mean I affect their lives. I recognize Kim Kardashian, but if she never existed I think my world would be no different.”
“But you don’t represent the world Walter. Kim Kardashian may have no impact on you, but she sure does on the rest of the world—and that’s important. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a journalist, it’s that you can’t be so consumed in your own world that you forget about the actual one. Kim Kardashian, as unfortunate as it may sound to you, is the real world.
“Since I’ve already tanked my interview,” Francis continued, “I’m just going to be brutally honest with you now: you really need to buck the fuck up and stop being such a whiny bitch. There’s a lot worse curses that could be placed on you than being intelligent, multi-talented, good-looking, and famous. Also, becoming a writer isn’t going to free you of fame. If your intention is to have an impact on people, whether it be through a song, a story, or even a theory, you’re also going to have to deal with them—deal with being famous. People don’t connect with ideas insomuch as they connect with other people. Now, should I call the cops and tell them some madman is talking to himself in my front lawn, or do you want to come back in?”
Back in the living room, Walter snatched up his discarded drink from the coffee table and began sipping at it.
“I can’t help but notice your drink is just ice,” Francis said. He pulled the glass to his eyes and realized she was right. “Do you want some more whiskey, or something else?” she asked.
“You know, I could go for a beer if you have one,” he replied.
“Of course. I’ll be right back.”
As he watched her leave the room, the long, naked legs and nice behind beneath her thin pajama bottoms began circling his imagination.
No Walter. Be a good boy. Use your fucking brain. His tongue tossed around an ice cube to ease his drooling libido. Maybe his old professor Alan Schechter was right; maybe he did have deficient blood flow to operate his penis and brain at the same time. He often found his sex drive a maddening disruption, leeching his brain’s ability to think about anything else until satisfied.
Walter noticed Francis’s binder, left temptingly abandoned on the couch. What else does she have on me? he wondered as he went to capture it.
Clearly Francis must’ve been anal about organization; every page was carefully tabbed and alphabetically arranged into sections about his life. Never had he imagined it with so much order. He opened to his time at UCLA and something caught his eye he hadn’t seen in well over three years; something that had once been as important to him as children.
“I hope you don’t mind, but all I have are some locally brewed IPAs,” she said, passively looking over two beers.
“Strange, because according to this file . . . on preferred intoxicants, under alcohol, under beer, you have listed Left Coast Trestles IPA. Oh, what a coincidence, that’s exactly the beer you have in your hands.”
Her chipmunkish cheeks turned red. “Oh my god!” she said and snatched the binder from his lap.
“What? Am I not allowed to read this very comprehensive examination of my own life? I feel completely invaded, but oddly impressed. You’re like a female Nardwuar.”
She chuckled. “No,” she said, “but thank you for the comparison. Your favorite drinks were easy; they’re on your tour rider. The other stuff… well, a good journalist never reveals all her sources. Truthfully, I don’t normally do this much homework, but once I started digging, it was hard to stop. There really is so much more to you than people know.”
“And I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Here we go again.” She rolled her eyes. “Listen, you’re not my prisoner. You’re free to leave, however, if you’re going to stay, you need to start answering some questions, okay? I understand this...” she held up the binder, “...is kind of creepy. But there’s a reason why I get the stories no one else can: no one else works harder than me.”
Although the salvo was made, there was a controlled crazy around her Walter’s own crazy couldn’t help but be drawn into play with.
“Good,” she said, taking his silence as acceptance. She then pulled open one of the coffee table drawers beneath him, revealing a water pipe. “Oops. Forgot that was in there.”
Sure you did... his penis-constricted mind managed to eke out. ...Run away.
Francis closed the drawer and opened another. “Ah, there it is,” she said, and took out a bottle opener. “Cheers...” she gave him a bottle then held hers to his. They tapped, then both took big swigs. Walter’s attention then went back to her binder.
“I noticed you have copies of my ‘crackpot ideas’ from college in there,” he said.
“Yes. Actually, I was hoping you could explain your theories a little? Just for the sake of my own curiosity.” She smiled widely, her buckteeth biting into her bottom lip like fangs into Walter’s heart.
“Well first off,” he said, “please don’t call them theories. The word theory deserves more sanctity than that. They’re more like . . . arts and crafts time, but with physics. Mind if I see them?”
She removed only the necessary pages and handed them to him. As he sorted through, he laughed softly like someone reminiscing over an old photo album.
“Okay,” Francis said, “well, can you explain some of your ‘arts and crafts’ then? Uh… Fibonacci Manipulations of Calabi-Yau Manifolds…” she struggled to read from her notes, “…sounds like a good place to start.”
“Sure,” Walter said. “Unlike my personal life, I could talk about physics all night. You should take a deep breath to clear your head though. I’ll try my best to keep a tether, but I can’t promise you won’t let go.”
“Where are you planning on taking me Mister Huxley?” she said, her fangs biting in again. She then took an exaggerated breath. “Okay, I’m ready.”
“So the first thing every aspiring physicist learns,” Walter began, “is the big unsolved question of their day. Sort of a goal to reach if you really think you’re the next Einstein. The big unsolved problem facing physicists today is bringing Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which explains how big things like planets, stars, and galaxies operate, together with quantum mechanics, which tells us how things smaller than an atom operate. Separately, these mechanisms work great for calculating their constituents and have been proven beyond a doubt, yet when you bring them together—which we know has to happen when matter is compressed inside a blackhole, the calculations make no sense. A theory that would solve this has thus been dubbed, ‘a theory of everything’. Are you still following Francis?”
She was fluidly jotting away with her eyes focused to the paper. “Yep, still listening,” she said. “The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics don’t play nicely together—got it.”
“Well, this paper is a guess to that problem. All my papers are essentially guesses to that problem. This particular one, however, is rooted in string theory, and according to it, our universe is made up of ten to eleven dimensions, however, we only experience four of them. Think about the way in which you give someone your location. You tell them you’re on the corner of Main and Broadway on the second floor of such-and-such building. These coordinates represent the three spatial dimensions: left and right, forward and back, and up and down. Of course you also give a time in which you’ll be at this three dimensional location, and that is dimension number four. My second paper, however, Reconsiderations of The Time Dimension, questions if time can really constitute as a full dimension because it only flows one direction—forward, and my third paper, Application of Uncertainty Principle to Spacetime, expands on this by saying there is no such thing as time because wave-particle duality we find in quantum mechanics can also be found in the characteristics of spacetime being that space is all location and time is all momentum yet they still make up the same entity—” Walter stopped, noticing her confusion. “Sorry, I’m getting a little sidetracked.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s cute how worked up you get about this.”
“Who wouldn’t? We’re poking at the mind of God here! . . . Let’s back up. So string theory, ten to eleven dimensions, but we only experience four. So where are the other six—or seven if you want to count an M-theory technicality which my ‘guess’ does not? They, according to theory, are down at something called the Planck length, rolled up into unfathomably small, six-dimensional ‘knots’ called Calabi–Yau manifolds that hold the threads of reality together so to speak. To give you a reference point, imagine if an atom were the entire universe, this length would be the size of an average tree here on Earth. The shape of these ‘knots’, however, is unknown, but very important. Just the way the shape of a trumpet or tuba manipulates air into particular sound properties such as pitch and timbre, the shape of these knots manipulate vibrating, microscopic strings into particular particle properties such as charge and mass, which dictate gravity and the forces that attract, glue, and pull apart particles. Particles like quarks then coalesce into protons and neutrons, which interact with electrons to become atoms. Atoms interact with other atoms to become molecules; molecules interact with other molecules to become matter, until eventually, this beautifully complex symphony emerges we call reality. Incredible isn’t it?”
Some of Walter’s zeal seemingly soaked into Francis as her eyes had closed and her pen had stopped. Her body appeared seized in revelation.
Her lashes fluttered open. “Yes, it really is,” she said. “Maybe that’s why music connects with us at our core; we’re just part of some great masterpiece by some unknown composer.”
“Physics does have a lot in common with music,” Walter said. “It even has the same wave-particle like nature we find in quantum mechanics.”
Francis looked at him lustfully. “God,” she said, “you must be really fun to get high with.”
“Yes, getting high with God would be fun,” Walter joked. “But I insist I am not him.” He then finished off his first beer. “Mind if I have another?” he asked.
“Sure, one sec.” She stood to get another. “I’m serious though. If you want to, that bong in the drawer is all yours. Help yourself.”
Her teasing eyes remained on him until she left the room. As she returned, he looked at her cynically. He couldn’t shake the feeling he was being duped.
“Should we get high?” she asked.
“Maybe after the interview. I haven’t even told you my addition to string theory yet—I mean my meaningless guess.”
“Please continue,” she said and set the new beer in front of him.
“So are you familiar with a Fibonacci sequence?” he asked.
“Sounds familiar, but remind me.”
“In a Fibonacci sequence, you add the number with the number before it to get the next number. 1+1 equals 2, 2+1 equals 3, 3+2 equals 5, 5+3 equals 8 and so forth, until you have a sequence that looks like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55—you get the point. You find Fibonacci numbers and ratios all over nature, the most popular one being a logarithmic spiral based on the sequence called ‘the golden spiral’. You see this spiral in plants, galaxies, seashells, hurricanes, and even in the structure of DNA. However, this is not because the Fibonacci sequence is some magical cosmic code, but more so a logical arrangement that nature was bound to adopt because it’s efficient and practical, whether it be packing as many seeds as possible into a given space, arranging leaves in order to capture the most sunlight, or in my paper’s case, arranging six dimensions into a very small ‘knot’.
“All this paper explores is possible Calabi-Yau manifolds arranged according to the mathematical constant behind the golden spiral: the golden ratio. But my understanding of multiverse theory at the time was very limited, and it shows there may be an infinite number of possible ‘knots’. My fourth paper, Fibonacci Influenced Cosmic Inflation, does the same thing, but applies the golden ratio to the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang. But really, all these papers were just me having fun with the paintbrush of mathematics. I didn’t really know what I was doing, however, I was arrogant enough to call the year I wrote them, 2007, my annus mirabilis, or ‘miracle year’ after Einstein’s miracle year in 1905 because I thought they were going to change the world.”
Francis again looked awestruck, slowly shaking her head at him.
“What?” Walter said.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “You’ve just been the center of my world lately in preparation for this interview, and now to have you here in front of me, I guess you’re exceeding expectations—good and bad. I’ve interviewed everyone from rock stars to presidents, and I’ve never felt so… so star-struck I guess.”
“Francis...” he said, his cheeks looking suddenly sunburned, “I’m a lot more ordinary than you think.”
“Well, I’m having trouble finding anything ordinary about you.” Her smile again sunk into his heart. “So what happened? You had your miracle year and then what, it all slipped away?”
“I suppose, but I never really wanted it in the first place. Physicist was always just plan B to rock star. That was always my dream, but in high school, my religion didn’t quite fit into the lifestyle of my dream since band gigs were always at places and with people the Mormon church didn’t find kosher, so I got more interested in physics instead. But by sophomore year in college, Mormonism was no longer making the rules, rock n’ roll was, and once I realized I’d never be a new Einstein, I lost interest in physics. It was really just me trying to prove my parents wrong anyhow.”
“What do you mean?”
“I… I just didn’t get much support from them growing up, my stepmother especially who always said I was worthless and stupid, so my solution was trying to become the next Einstein to prove her wrong, even though she was dead by the time I was fourteen.”
“Really?” Francis said, unable to mask her enthusiasm. “What did she die from?”
It suddenly occurred to Walter what was happening. They were supposed to enter his past briefly, but now they were in his childhood, a place he had not been since until recent events forced him to revisit again. When four people’s lives would most likely still exist if yours didn’t, you begin to wonder about the meaning of such patterns.
“Goddamn it,” he said shaking his head. “I need to shut up. Why am I telling you all this? Stanford’s journalism department must be proud. You really have a knack for pulling information out of people.”
“I was a psychology major. And to be honest, I’m not having to try very hard. Remember, I can leave anything out. I can be just an ear too.” She surrendered her pen again.
“She drank herself to death four years after my parents divorced,” Walter said.
“Why’d they divorce?” Francis asked.
“Numerous reasons, all involving me though. But the breaking point came when I joined the Mormon church when I was ten, which my stepmother thought was of Satan—or her alcoholism did once my father began showing a passing interest in the church. When my father was gone on business trips, she used to lock me in my room after removing the interior doorknob for days sometimes, refusing to feed me unless I renounced the church.”
“That’s horrible. Did your father know?”
“Yes, but he downplayed it since my stepmother did. Her word was always taken over mine because I was proof of his dishonesty, and anytime he questioned hers, I was always her leveraging point.
“Oops, I didn’t mean for that to slip out.”
“It’s okay. Remember, ‘slip ups’ are okay here.”
Walter finished his beer before answering: “I was the product of an extramarital one-night stand, but when my mother died giving birth to me, my father had no choice but to take me in.”
“Oh my. I’m so sorry.”
“Why does everyone say that?”
“Sorry . . . Where’s your father now?”
“Still in Arizona, but dead to me. After the divorce, he dove into the alcohol even further, and after I dumped out his new bottles of rum one night, he put me in the hospital with a concussion. Child services then gave custody to my maternal grandmother, who I still live with now . . . I’m sorry,” Walter said wiping his eyes. “I haven’t thought about these things for a long time, but ever since Squids’s death, I feel like they’ve been bubbling out of me.”
“Please, don’t be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s probably because you’ve repressed them for so long. What do you think it is about his death that’s triggering them?”
“It wasn’t just his death, it was my girlfriend’s too. I never told anyone in the press this, but she died right before the tour with Jester. They both died within three months of each other, and both were sort of my fault.” Walter’s tears became too much for wiping.
Francis took her notebook and pen sitting by her side and placed them on the coffee table. “Come here,” she patted the seat cushion next to her, then opened her arms to him. He couldn’t hold himself back from accepting the invitation, and continued crying into her clavicle.
“Shh…” she said patting his back. “It’s all right Walter, it’s all right.”
Once calmed, he brought his head up. “Thank you,” he told her. “Maybe we should pull out that bong now. It might make me feel better.”
“Want another?” Francis asked an hour or so later as she gently stroked Walter’s head resting atop her mons pubis.
“Yes please,” he cooed. She took a hit from the bong and shot-gunned it into his mouth like Amber used to do.
“So...” she said as her lips departed, “Squids stuck the needle in his arm and Amber died of a seizure, how is that your fault?”
“Wanna know the truth?” Walter said, so gone he could no longer keep his eyes in place. “Wanna know what my last words to Squids were when I found him shooting up in that tour bus bathroom he later died in, right before he probably shot up the dose that killed him? ‘Shoot up until you’re dead for all I care, because once this tour’s over, you’re out of the band.’ And it seems he took that to heart. Then poor Amber, after she dedicated her life to helping Perfect Crime make it, I decided on the very day we signed our record contract to break up with her, which was also the same night she died.”
“And you think the break up caused her fatal seizure?”
“Almost certainly. Amber had absent seizures as a child, but they stopped at nine. But when she was caught cheating with me on a fiancé she was three months out from marrying, they returned. She also had one right after I broke up with her, which, I suppose in hindsight, was only a foreshock to the grand mal that killed her later. Even worse, you know what I was doing in the hours right before she died? I was lip-locking with her mother in my car while we both had our hands down each other’s pants.”
Francis’s eyes went wide and her pen fell to the floor which she had picked up again without Walter noticing. “Did you say her mother?” she asked.
A great surge of regret rose in Walter, but convinced Francis’s affection was not only benevolent but romantic, his head lacked the blood supply to stop his mouth from moving.
“Yes, I guess I did,” he answered.
“So wait. Amber cheated on her fiancé with you, then left him for you, then you cheated on her with her mother?”
“Well, I had broken up with Amber an hour and a half before, but basically. But it was only that one time. We were both emotional, and it just happened. And I know it sounds horrible, but I think the only reason I was dating Amber was because I was in love with her mother. I think some part of her mother was also unknowingly in love with me, but some loves are better off not mentioned and just forgotten.”
“But forgotten doesn’t mean non-existing . . . Are you still in love with her mother?”
Walter’s eyes began leaking again as he shook his head yes. “I miss her all the time, and I hate myself for it. It’s why I can’t release Love Songs in A Minor Crash. It’s not because I didn’t finish it, it’s because most of the songs ended up being about her.”
Francis looked down at him as he continued to cry, then at the large number of empty glasses and bottles around them, not all of them Walter’s.
“Um…” she said giving his head one final rub, “…it’s three a.m. If you’re okay, I think I’m going to go to bed now. You can sleep on my couch.”
He wasn’t okay and he didn’t want to sleep on her couch, yet “okay,” was all he said. She then stood and his head fell off her lap. She then got him a blanket and tossed it by his side.
“Do you need anything else?” she asked. He wanted to say “you”, but instead just shook his head sourly. “Okay. Goodnight.”
She then turned off the gas fireplace and lights, leaving Walter alone in obscurity. Obscurity, however, soon started to spin, and an imaginary centrifugal force pinned him to his back. He reached for the ice bucket still on the table, but his fingers were just out of reach. He then began to bleat loudly.
“Are you crying again?” he could hear Francis say in the dark. “What’s that smell?” She flicked a light switch and found her answer. “Oh my god, you’ve got to be shitting me.”
“I’m sorry,” Walter said, leaned over the side of the couch covered in puke.
“No, this is... this is partially my fault. But that doesn’t mean you’re not helping me clean up.”
Walter stood, holding up the bottom of his shirt to let the mess pool into it. She giggled faintly.
“Even covered in your own barf,” she said, “somehow you manage to still look pathetically cute . . . I guess it’s not that bad. Thankfully you got most of it on yourself. Go take a shower. I’ll take care of the rest.”
After a thorough shower and teeth brushing, in nothing but his underwear, Walter accepted his place back on the couch.
“Come on,” Francis said, “you can sleep in my bed with me.” He perked like a happy dog from the couch. “It smells like cleaner in here now and the couch is still wet. But no more crying or puking. I need my sleep.”
Entering her room, Francis looked over Walter’s mostly naked body, subtly stirred by it. She shook her head.
“Here, put on a damn shirt,” she said handing him one from her closet. They then settled under the covers, and surprisingly she accepted a kiss from him. Overly eager and still partially plastered, Walter then made a clumsy attempt for a breast, but she pushed his hand away.
“No Walter, it’s not happening,” she said. “Go to sleep.” She then turned away from him and he was left to sulk at her back.