The Silver Year: Chapter 9

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Chapter​​ 9

There​​ is​​ Always a Silver Lining

 

“Hi​​ Karen,” Walter​​ said.

“You weren’t kidding when you said bright orange hat,”​​ the mother of his dead ex-girlfriend​​ said as she​​ sat​​ across from him. “I wouldn’t have​​ recognized you otherwise.”​​ She​​ tucked​​ her eyes​​ under the brim​​ of his hat​​ to meet his.​​ She smiled.​​ “Hi​​ Axl.”

He​​ smiled​​ back​​ fretfully​​ at​​ the​​ steel blue​​ irises​​ he’d exchanged so many​​ wonderful​​ discourses​​ with.​​ They and she​​ still had the​​ same sultry​​ vitality he​​ remembered,​​ however,​​ the​​ prominent gray streak in her​​ jet black curls​​ was​​ a tad more striking.

“A milkshake?”​​ Karen said. “Aren’t​​ you​​ lactose intolerant?”

“Yes,​​ and​​ my stomach hates me,”​​ Walter​​ said​​ grimacing. “But damn,​​ does it taste good though.​​ I haven’t had a milkshake since I was, well, a fat kid​​ who wasn’t lactose intolerant.​​ I just saw it on the menu and made an impulse​​ buy.​​ But no going back now.” He took a dramatic gulp.

“You’re going to regret that​​ . . .​​ And​​ now​​ you’ve got milkshake​​ all over​​ your beard. Here...”​​ She reached to his cheek to​​ clean​​ it away, but stopped short. Her hand hung on the air;​​ their eyes hung on each other’s.​​ Time​​ paused, and traveled​​ briefly​​ to the last time they touched.​​ Walter could taste the​​ smooth​​ skin of her neck and breasts in his mouth, hear her warm moan in his ear, and feel the tight clench of her hand around his penis and the satisfying flush of her shuddering center over his own.

He​​ picked up a napkin and wiped​​ his​​ face, hand and eyes​​ then​​ fell away​​ and he was back in the present.​​ 

Karen​​ cleared​​ her throat and​​ gave an uneasy smile, her eyes​​ beginning to roam the diner for an exit. There it was:​​ fear.​​ The confident wind that carried​​ her​​ in​​ was fading​​ fast​​ now that there wasn’t any​​ small talk​​ left​​ to pick at.​​ They​​ couldn’t ask how they​​ were doing. They already knew.​​ It​​ was shit times for them both.

“Listen...”​​ Walter​​ said, “I want you to know I never intended for our​​ ‘affair’​​ to become national headlines.​​ During the interview a lot came up about my past​​ and I had been drinking and it accidently slipped.​​ I never would’ve intentionally put your career in​​ harm.​​ I​​ feel horrible. I’m​​ so​​ sorry​​ Karen.​​ You didn’t deserve to be brought into this."​​ 

“Yes I did,”​​ she​​ said​​ adamantly,​​ “more than you know.​​ And past​​ the​​ embarrassment​​ and some harassment from nobody that matters,​​ only​​ headlines​​ in science journals can​​ affect my career, not tabloids.”

“But hardly anyone reads science journals, and this shouldn’t be how the rest of the world comes to know Doctor Karen Evans. It​​ should be your​​ legacy; all the lives​​ you’ve​​ saved.”

“Please don’t​​ say that right now.​​ I’m sure you’ll understand​​ after I tell you the truth.​​ That’s why I called to meet you today, not the magazine article.”

“The​​ truth?”

Karen took a long sigh.​​ “I lied to you,” she said. “I lied​​ to​​ you, and​​ I lied to a lot of​​ other​​ people, but I feel the worst about​​ you.”

“You lied to me about what?”​​ 

She​​ attempted​​ to​​ answer, but​​ every time​​ her​​ mouth opened, no words came out.

“Um…” she finally​​ muttered, “what I’m about to tell you isn’t going to be easy to hear.​​ It’s why I​​ didn’t tell you in the first​​ place; I wanted to protect you. But now that everything is out​​ in​​ the​​ open,​​ the truth is​​ inevitably going to come out,​​ and I don’t want you to​​ hear it​​ from someone else…”

Walter’s heart​​ began​​ punching​​ his​​ sternum​​ and pulling​​ at​​ his lungs​​ while​​ she​​ took a few​​ more​​ moments to compose herself,​​ but it didn’t seem to be​​ helping.​​ Her​​ eyes began watering​​ while​​ her​​ mouth​​ continued to​​ fight​​ her tongue.

...Amber​​ didn’t die from a seizure,”​​ she​​ managed​​ to​​ blurt out, “she hung​​ herself with a belt​​ on​​ a pull-up rack that​​ was​​ on​​ her bathroom door.​​ That’s how I found her the morning​​ I called you.

Walter had had so many doses of traumatic news​​ lately,​​ his mind was on high alert to preserve itself. He​​ had​​ heard​​ her​​ clearly,​​ but before he could process it,​​ he​​ got​​ hung​​ up​​ on​​ her saying​​ hung​​ instead of​​ hanged.​​ 

I know​​ hanged is the​​ correct​​ past tense of hang​​ in this case,​​ but it sounds so silly.​​ I don’t think anyone actually​​ says that. Why don’t they just make hung the past tense whether​​ it’s​​ a person or picture? Is it because a human​​ being​​ deserves special treatment? What if you were to hang an animal? Would it​​ still be​​ hanged or hung? The English language is so unnecessarily complex and inefficient. But​​ French​​ is​​ even worse

“Walter?”​​ Karen said.​​ He blinked several times, then​​ stared​​ emptily​​ at her. “Did you hear me?”​​ she asked.

“Yes. Amber huuung—haaanged . . . hung-hanged, hung-hanged…” he repeated several times then​​ stopped​​ abruptly.​​ Karen​​ then​​ watched helplessly as the realization slowly​​ congealed on​​ his face.​​ “Was​​ it because​​ I broke up with her?”​​ he​​ asked.​​ 

Karen bit her lips and closed her eyes. When they reopened, tears came falling out​​ again.​​ “Um, no,” she said. “She… she... I’m sorry.” Karen​​ paused to wipe her eyes. “She​​ saw​​ us​​ in the car​​ and​​ thought​​ we’d been having an​​ affair all along.”

Walter’s​​ head​​ went​​ into his palms. “No-no-no…​​ Please no!” he pled. Tears began leaking through his hand’s creases. “How do you know​​ for​​ certain?”

“Her suicide note.”

The flows between his fingers continued to grow, then​​ became​​ audible​​ enough​​ to catch the ears of the​​ surrounding tables.​​ “I shouldn’t have​​ told you here,” Karen said noticing​​ their staring. “What was I thinking?​​ I’m so sorry.​​ I just wanted to meet you somewhere I knew you were comfortable,​​ and I know how much you love this diner and pier—”

Walter​​ stood unexpectedly​​ grabbing​​ his gut.

“What’s wrong?”​​ she​​ asked.

“Milkshake was a​​ really​​ bad choice,”​​ he​​ cried as he​​ went running.

Having to climb a flight of stairs, by the time​​ he​​ reached​​ a​​ stall and pulled down his​​ drawers,​​ evacuation had already​​ begun​​ not only​​ on the​​ inside​​ of​​ them, but since he had decided to wear shorts,​​ also​​ down his legs. But​​ neither​​ humiliation​​ or his twisting​​ intestines could​​ shake off​​ the uncompromising​​ compunction​​ of now knowing​​ he was undoubtably responsible​​ for Amber’s​​ death.​​ With​​ no one​​ else​​ in the bathroom,​​ and​​ only​​ the acrid stench of his own shit to comfort him,​​ his tears wailed​​ at full​​ volume,​​ jarring​​ loose​​ snot and slobber from his face like a melting waxwork.

 

After​​ Karen returned​​ with​​ a new pair of​​ sweatpants​​ for​​ Walter​​ from the pier’s​​ giftshop,​​ they made haste for her car​​ in the parking garage.​​ 

“How you doing?”​​ she​​ asked​​ him​​ once inside the sealed and leather-swathed silence of her​​ crossover SUV.​​ 

​​ “I don’t know,” he said, a​​ dull​​ ringing​​ still​​ swinging in his head from aftershocks of the revelation.​​ “How you fairing?”​​ 

“I was doing okay, but telling you was, well,​​ it​​ was​​ like digging up a body I​​ already​​ buried. But,​​ I should’ve told you the truth to begin with.”

“Why didn’t you?”​​ 

“I couldn’t.​​ I couldn’t tell anyone the truth, not​​ right after it happen. I​​ couldn’t accept I was responsible for my own daughter’s death.​​ Of course​​ though,​​ as distant as most of them were​​ to her,​​ family members​​ eventually​​ found​​ out, and then I had to face it all over again, just as I am with you.”

“Did they​​ know​​ it was because of us?”

Karen’s​​ jaw clenched.​​ “No,” she said. “Everyone presumed it was​​ the breakup with you​​ and I​​ just​​ went with it.​​ It wasn’t until the​​ Rolling Stone​​ article​​ that​​ they​​ figured​​ out the real reason . . . God,​​ I’m​​ such​​ a horrible person.​​ I​​ killed my daughter and let someone​​ who I supposedly care deeply for​​ take​​ the blame.​​ See,​​ I deserve this—all of this.​​ Not you.​​ A mother isn’t supposed to do what I did to my daughter.​​ Even before​​ that night,​​ I crossed lines​​ with you​​ I​​ never should,​​ like texting​​ you​​ and sending you pictures every day like a smitten high school girl. I made it possible for​​ what happened that night in your​​ car​​ to​​ happen.​​ 

“We both did​​ Karen.​​ I acted in ways that were inappropriate too, and I had inappropriate feelings for you, I just didn’t recognize​​ them as such​​ until, well,​​ it was too late. I’ve never been good at recognizing love.”

“So it was love?”

“I mean, I didn’t mean to say that . . . Yes. I don’t know what else to call it.​​ I’m sorry.”

She​​ smiled.​​ “I​​ only asked because​​ I’ve​​ never​​ been good at recognizing​​ love myself.​​ I’ve been a stranger to it practically my​​ whole​​ life unless you count my work.​​ But​​ also, you​​ did say​​ it​​ in​​ the interview.”

“Oh yeah. It’s hard to keep track of everything I confessed to when I can hardly remember confessing them. But again,​​ I’m sorry.”

“Walter, stop apologizing​​ for love, especially since I loved​​ you too​​ and still love you.​​ You’re​​ the only person who’s ever made me feel like I’m not alone​​ inside my head,​​ and​​ I’ve​​ missed you terribly​​ for that.​​ And​​ although our​​ love can never​​ again​​ express itself the way it​​ did​​ our last night together—never,​​ it’s still very much there.​​ I​​ suppose I​​ just love you​​ now​​ the way I​​ was​​ supposed to​​ love you​​ when you were just my daughter’s boyfriend.”

“You mean like a​​ son?”

“Oh God​​ no. Actually, never mind. Love is tricky to pin down being as malleable as it is, so let’s just not try to define it in our case.”

They both laughed. Then both looked ashamed.

“It doesn’t feel right​​ to​​ laugh at a time like this, does it?” Walter said.

“No it sure doesn’t, but it still helps,” Karen replied. “Also, there​​ is one sliver of a silver lining. It’s also why I called to meet you​​ tonight.”​​ She​​ took a gray document wallet from her purse and handed it to him.​​ “Here,”​​ she said.

Contiki,”​​ he​​ read​​ the​​ logo​​ on​​ it​​ out loud.​​ He​​ then​​ unzipped​​ the wallet​​ and​​ found a number of​​ pamphlets and​​ tickets​​ inside.​​ Contiki: Vacations for 18-35s,” he read​​ one of the​​ letterheads. “What​​ is all this?”

“Amber’s belated​​ birthday present,” she said.​​ “everything you need for a two-week trip​​ for two​​ through eight​​ European​​ countries:​​ airfare,​​ travel,​​ lodging,​​ even​​ some of the food,​​ it’s all taken care of. And​​ for what’s not,​​ there’s​​ also​​ a personal cheque from me for a thousand dollars​​ in there.​​ Amber​​ bought​​ the trip​​ a few weeks before she died. Since it​​ was​​ so​​ far​​ in​​ advance, she got​​ a considerable discount, however,​​ she wasn’t planning on giving it to you until your​​ twenty-fifth​​ birthday.”

Walter shook his head as he continued to shuffle through the wallet’s contents in disbelief.

“This is​​ what​​ she​​ was talking about​​ when​​ we broke up,” he said.​​ “She said she had something planned for my birthday,​​ something that​​ might​​ inspire​​ her​​ to​​ write again.”

“Yes,” Karen said, “that’s why she chose this​​ specific tour. It travels through​​ many​​ cities of​​ some of​​ her favorite​​ writers:​​ London, Amsterdam, Munich, Venice, Paris, along with tramping through the Rhine Valley, Tyrol Austria, and the Swiss Alps.​​ She even made a list of burial sites and memorials​​ she wanted to see.​​ When this came in the mail for her last week, I had no clue what it was, so I​​ finally forced myself to​​ read through her journals and found out.​​ Although this is a birthday present for you, she admitted it was just as much a literary pilgrimage for herself.​​ And while​​ she​​ wanted it to​​ be​​ just​​ the two of you, Contiki was all she could afford.”

“What do you mean?”

“Contiki​​ is​​ a bus​​ tour.​​ Basically a big pub crawl from what I’ve read online.​​ You’ll be joined by​​ about fifty​​ mostly​​ college-aged​​ kids who​​ are mostly​​ there​​ to party.​​ Amber, however, was determined to make it something more cultured.​​ That’s why she put​​ the list​​ together.”​​ 

“Wow, this is a lot to take in. Also I can’t help but wonder if she’d​​ really​​ still want​​ me​​ to have it. I don’t even know if I want it.​​ It’s really her trip, not mine.”

“No,​​ it’s​​ all​​ yours​​ now. Read for yourself.”​​ Karen again reached into her purse and pulled out a plastic police evidence bag. Inside was a folded pink paper.​​ “Her suicide note,”​​ Karen​​ said.​​ “It’s harder to get​​ back from the police​​ than you think.​​ At the time,​​ I didn’t know what she​​ was talking about, but it’s​​ obvious​​ now. Here…”​​ She​​ took out​​ the note and gave it to​​ him.

Walter​​ stared at​​ the pink paper square in his palm.​​ His​​ hands shook as he unfolded it​​ and saw what was distinctively her handwriting in​​ naval​​ blue ink. Even​​ under duress, she took the time to make sure​​ her​​ strokes were immaculately straight.

 

This is everyone’s and no one’s fault. This is a series of unfortunate missteps within a complex​​ maze, and instead of killing myself trying to get out, I​​ decided​​ just​​ to​​ face the​​ music. I’m sorry for the pain this​​ will cause, but​​ you don’t​​ know​​ my longing for a​​ quiet​​ mind. Although​​ this​​ may seem impulsive,​​ this was​​ a deep sleep I’ve been missing​​ and​​ could no longer ignore.​​ 

 

It’s​​ not​​ like my life had any meaning anyhow, and what value does a life have without meaning? So don’t cry over it. I am not my mother. I am not Walter. The world won’t miss me, because​​ I’ve contributed nothing to it.​​ That’s why they deserve each other, and​​ I deserve​​ this.​​ You’ll make​​ Walter​​ so much​​ happier​​ than I ever could​​ anyway​​ Karen.​​ You​​ could​​ always​​ sing and keep up with him on a stage, while​​ I can’t even whistle and​​ suffer from stage​​ fright.​​ You​​ could always satisfy him intellectually, while I could only​​ smile​​ in a silent but​​ livid​​ envy at​​ how​​ you could get his face to light up in a way I never could.​​ I don’t know​​ why​​ it took seeing you together in the car tonight to​​ finally​​ realize​​ this.​​ However,​​ I’m sure you both already realized this some time ago.​​ I’m guessing​​ during​​ one​​ of your many late-night​​ “discussions”​​ alone​​ after movie night, after I went to bed.

 

As​​ far as my effects, my journals, they are yours​​ Karen.​​ You’ll​​ never​​ know​​ the​​ true​​ depth​​ of​​ how​​ much you’ve hurt me​​ without​​ reading​​ them; how​​ inadequate I’ve felt my whole life being​​ your​​ daughter, living in your​​ shadow​​ which​​ I​​ could never escape​​ or live up to,​​ now not even in my love life.​​ But​​ I also hope​​ they​​ preserve the​​ few​​ rare​​ moments​​ in which​​ I was just your happy daughter, because​​ I​​ would​​ rather be remembered that way.​​ 

 

The only​​ other effect of importance​​ is​​ your​​ birthday present​​ Walter.​​ Maybe​​ it can serve​​ some​​ purpose in your life that it so desperately sought to find in mine, just visit Proust for me if​​ you​​ decide to take it.​​ But, it’s not like I’ll ever know now anyway.​​ 

 

Sorry again,​​ 

 

Amber

 

“Why?” Walter said after reading it. “This should’ve never happened.​​ She​​ killed herself over a​​ misunderstanding.​​ We just let our emotions get the best of us​​ once​​ in​​ a​​ very​​ vulnerable moment, realized it was wrong and stopped.”

“I’m sure it didn’t look that way from her vantage point,”​​ Karen said.

“I know,​​ I know,​​ but why does life have to​​ be​​ so goddamn unfair?”

“Because​​ enlightenment only comes​​ through suffering.​​ It’s a Buddhist belief, and the only way I’ve been able to find​​ any​​ solace through this all.​​ Maybe we didn’t mean for it to happen, but we fucked up big time Walter and there’s a price to pay—or put another way, a lesson to be learned.​​ Suffering​​ is inevitable, change is inevitable,​​ death is inevitable,​​ and​​ only by​​ learning to​​ accept​​ these truths​​ can we​​ free ourselves of them and learn the true nature of reality.”

“Well, obviously much easier said than done.​​ I’m not​​ even​​ sure I want to know the true​​ nature of​​ reality when reality is already so cruel.”

Walter​​ broke into tears again.​​ Karen reached her arms out​​ for him, but​​ he​​ refused.​​ “I’m sure I don’t have to remind​​ you​​ of what happened last time we embraced in a car,”​​ he said.

“This isn’t last time,” she replied,​​ “and it will never be again.​​ And you were right when I called you that morning Amber died and said I was the only person who could understand. We are the only​​ two​​ people who can understand,​​ and we need each other. This burden is too heavy for one person, and you’ve​​ been​​ shouldering​​ it​​ alone for too long now​​ Walter. So please, let me take some weight off​​ you.” She offered her arms again.

After some reluctance, he relented​​ his weight into them. Nothing but relief was aroused​​ this time,​​ and​​ he​​ nursed​​ it for as long as he could.​​ 

“So…” Karen said after holding​​ him​​ for nearly five minutes, “…are you​​ taking​​ the trip?”

“I don’t know,” Walter said.​​ “It​​ doesn’t seem in line with suffering​​ to me.”

“Being​​ crammed​​ on​​ a bus with a bunch of partying college kids​​ you’ll probably have nothing in common with while having to be inevitably reminded of your dead ex-girlfriend​​ the entire trip? I don’t know, sounds like you might find some suffering to me. But regardless,​​ it’s not more suffering you’re​​ seeking; suffering is the path.​​ It’s​​ the silver lining of suffering, and there is always a silver lining.”

And maybe silver years are for silver linings,​​ Walter​​ thought to himself.

“Do I have to decide right now?” he asked.

“No. You have two weeks​​ before​​ the trip leaves.”

“Good, because​​ I’ll​​ probably​​ need it​​ all​​ to​​ process my path.​​ I don’t want to have to take it again.” He looked down at Amber’s suicide note still sitting​​ on his lap. “You mind if I keep this?” he asked picking it up.

“Take it.​​ My​​ time​​ with it​​ has run its course anyway. Now​​ it’s​​ your weight to carry.”​​ 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 8

Chapter​​ 8

Fuck Today

 

5-19-2012

 

QUINN QUARK IS DEAD.​​ He didn’t even get the dignity of dying onstage—or at least not the​​ stage​​ I wanted him to die on, the stage​​ he’s​​ supposed to be​​ on​​ at this very moment​​ playing to a sold out crowd. But instead,​​ the shell of a​​ man he left behind,​​ now​​ known as “Quinn Quack”​​ to the media,​​ is eating alone at a Ruby’s Diner, waiting for someone he’s really not looking forward to seeing.

I had actually become quite fond of playing Quinn Quark one last time. I wanted to give him the​​ goodbye​​ he deserved.​​ I wanted to drown him in his silly boyhood fantasy​​ forever​​ so I could be free​​ of him​​ to​​ finally​​ find​​ me,​​ Walter Huxley.​​ That’s the person I truly want to be. But oh well. It’s not like​​ Quinn​​ didn’t have a good run​​ before dying at Red Rocks, then being shortly resurrected to die​​ again​​ on the pitchforks of the press. Make a boyhood rock n’ roll fantasy come true​​ then destroy it: check. It’s time to move on and keep checking along—or at least that’s what​​ the therapist inside my head​​ keeps​​ telling me, one of the​​ many​​ new​​ unnamed​​ identities​​ emerging​​ in my head in my search for Walter Huxley.​​ 

My therapist​​ also​​ suggested​​ beginning​​ this journal, but I’m not exactly sure why. My​​ life isn’t​​ fun to​​ document​​ right now.​​ I​​ had to​​ put on shorts today. I know,​​ fucking weird, right? I haven’t worn​​ them​​ in probably ten years. I feel so awkward—almost naked. Okay really,​​ it’s just my cankles that feel naked, but still, I just don’t feel like me. However,​​ that’s the point.​​ I don’t want to be me right now.​​ I mean,​​ I do​​ want to be me, as in Walter Huxley, but the world still recognizes me as Quinn Quark, so I have to do as much as I can to not look like him. I’m sorry if I’m confusing you—whoever you are. I’m very confused myself.​​ 

Anyway, me—whoever I am, can’t go out in public. Not just because I’m still constantly recognized, but now​​ also​​ constantly harassed​​ thanks to Francis’s article.​​ As you may be putting together,​​ she​​ cut and pasted the context of our​​ conversation​​ to her creative liking, painting me in the​​ worst light possible—a “drug-riddled, sex-addicted, megalomaniac”​​ were​​ her words​​ to be exact. But I was drunk and high the entire interview,​​ compared myself to God,​​ admitted to cheating on my ex-girlfriend with her mother,​​ and grabbed​​ my interviewer’s breast, so​​ maybe I am, however,​​ I​​ never claimed to​​ be​​ perfect. In fact, I​​ beat myself up every day​​ for not being​​ so.​​ But​​ I’ve​​ come​​ to realize​​ through this,​​ how can any artist​​ ever​​ be perfect? Creativity isn’t​​ born of perfection, but​​ buffed​​ of​​ our​​ flaws.​​ Every artist is a polished​​ turd,​​ and​​ so are most humans.​​ 

But​​ according to Lola,​​ now that I’m​​ a​​ “celebrity”,​​ I’ve lost my right to be​​ human, turd, or artist,​​ and must suffer for showing myself as such,​​ especially since I didn’t consult her before taking​​ my first major​​ interview​​ and​​ for​​ lying​​ about​​ not finishing​​ the album​​ (she​​ really wants me to suffer for that).​​ This is why​​ many​​ celebrities have​​ “teams”​​ behind them—some the size of small economies—who​​ preserve their pedigreed image for when it has to compete against other pedigreed images at award shows and such.  ​​​​ 

Anyway,​​ I guess there’s a lot I shouldn’t have said and one thing I should’ve:​​ “off the record”. Yes, that cliché detective drama phrase could have saved me from the three ring circus my life has now become. Apparently—as I’ve been repeatedly told by​​ Lola, if that’s not stated during an interview, everything you say is on the table​​ and it’s at the reporter’s discretion to publish it or not, and believe me, you don’t want the fate of your reputation to be in the hands of a reporter.​​ 

So​​ you—again whoever you are,​​ might​​ be asking​​ then,​​ how​​ is​​ this famous polished turd​​ able to be​​ out​​ so cavalierly​​ in public, wallowing​​ his​​ misery into a cookies and cream milkshake at some neo-classical American​​ diner without being​​ bothered? Well,​​ that’s where the shorts come​​ in. I​​ also buzzed my hair,​​ grew my beard​​ out​​ even thicker,​​ and traded my bellbottoms in for hipster shorts,​​ mandals, and​​ a bright orange fedora,​​ which is actually my late grandfather’s hunting hat, but who knew hunting hats came in bright orange fedoras?

So far my dorky dad getup seems to be​​ my best yet. Not once was I recognized as I took my old​​ Huntington​​ stroll from Tenth and Orange to the end of the pier where the diner is.​​ I’ve​​ actually​​ been having​​ a lot of​​ fun​​ playing​​ dress​​ up​​ in public​​ lately.​​ Sometimes it works, other times,​​ not.​​ I​​ once​​ thought dressing up as a woman would be a good idea (not my idea, one of the​​ new​​ nutcases in my head). Within the first hour of going out,​​ someone snapped a picture,​​ and by the time I returned home, there I was looking like a street hooker with a penis on every major celebrity tabloid website, and that’s how I became​​ “Quinn Quack”​​ to the press.

​​ Since then, Quinn Quack has​​ hardly been able to leave​​ his​​ house. Night and day the paparazzi stake out to get a shot of me. The celebrity gossip magazines have quite the price on my head right now,​​ and I’m making everyone money but myself.​​ Yep,​​ despite being outrageously famous, I’m still broke,​​ kinda​​ unemployed,​​ and living with Grandma.

So what​​ happened? Who’s responsible for this? Who burned the show, Quinn Quark,​​ and Perfect Crime to the ground?​​ Oh yeah me. But​​ of course it never would’ve been possible without Francis and an​​ unlikely coalition of​​ Christian​​ and feminist​​ activist groups and some serious fucking irony. I mean really, my life writes better stories than I can. The god in charge of me must be really getting his kicks​​ and laughing his ass off​​ right now.

So​​ yeah, the article came​​ out with everything I said in it—or at least everything that fit into the frame of “drug-riddled, sex-addicted, megalomaniac”,​​ and of course my​​ most​​ outrageous quotes​​ were​​ the​​ enlarged​​ ones you so often see in magazine​​ articles​​ that appeal to people who don’t read. Things like:

 

“Yes, getting high with God would be fun.​​ But I insist I am not him.”

 

“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.’”

 

FJ: So Amber cheated on her fiancé with you, then left him for you, then you cheated on her with her mother?

WH:​​ Well, I had broken up with Amber​​ an hour and a half before, but basically.

​​ 

And Francis’s flattering recollection of how the night summed up:

 

​​ Mister Huxley​​ got so high and drunk that he​​ vomited​​ on​​ my couch, then​​ cried like a baby until I cleaned it up.​​ He then showed his appreciation​​ after​​ by grabbing my breast.

 

Needless to say, it​​ didn’t take long before​​ the article began making ripples, first with the​​ conservative​​ press who took my​​ blasphemous—but obviously flippant—statement about God​​ to paint me​​ as​​ a​​ corrupting influence on today’s youth,​​ a “Marilyn Manson without makeup”.​​ But rock stars being controversial with​​ conservatives is nothing new, and actually sometimes a good look.​​ 

However,​​ once​​ the liberals jumped​​ in, that’s when​​ ripples became​​ rogue​​ waves, thanks to the fury of​​ several feminist activists​​ who​​ began​​ pigeonholing​​ me as “a throwback to the hedonistic type of rock stars​​ who should’ve been left in the​​ nineteen-eighties.”​​ These​​ sentiments​​ then​​ grew​​ through the silver screen network of liberals​​ until reaching​​ “Kimye”, who​​ finally toppled​​ Quinn Quark​​ and the show’s boat over​​ forever.

For those of you who haven’t heard, “Kimye” is the latest and greatest pedigreed power couple, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and​​ in the same statement announcing their relationship,​​ Kanye​​ also denounced me for​​ “dissing”​​ his new girlfriend when I said my life would be no different if she never existed, and​​ apparently Kim​​ agrees​​ because Kimye is of​​ one​​ mind​​ now, especially​​ since​​ the​​ teams​​ behind​​ them​​ have​​ now​​ joined powers​​ and​​ decided to make me the launch​​ point of some redemption/reinvention campaign​​ for them both, which coincides with​​ Kimye’s​​ new “natural-looking” line of makeup, called NewNude.

 

#Turninganewleaf for #genderequality and to say rock stars like QQ have no place in civilized society. The #NewNude is here! <3 #Kimye

 

Celebrity feminists​​ soon​​ poured in with support and profits for Kimye​​ and shame for me.​​ Then​​ with popular opinion on their side,​​ the​​ conservative​​ ranks cranked up​​ again and​​ Christian church leaders​​ began​​ spreading​​ a boycott of the​​ concert’s primary​​ sponsor, Devil’s Juz Energy Drink, because the company’s parent company is actually owned by a Christian family. The liberals​​ then​​ hitched onto this​​ for their own motives,​​ and Devil’s​​ Juz quickly gave in, followed by the rest of the​​ sponsors, and finally, because of the bad press and massive decline in support, the show was canceled​​ and​​ heralded as a rare and great triumph of bipartisanship.

Now you may be saying (again who the fuck am I talking to?), come on Walter, stand up for yourself and tell everyone the truth.​​ Tell everyone that evil​​ little​​ chipmunk lured you with flattery​​ and mouth-fed you drugs in order to wring every intimate secret out of you.​​ Tell them you’re not the person Francis made you out to be; tell them you’re actually​​ someone​​ who​​ champions​​ women’s equality. Have they forgotten your foray​​ in​​ trying to​​ be a woman?

First off, what’s the point? Once popular culture has made a verdict on you, it’s hard to change and rarely worth trying. Once you’re ousted by the cool kids—Rolling Stone being a very influential one—there’s no coming back.​​ And although I’ve never had goals of nineteen-eighties rock star hedonism, maybe the cool kids are right in me being a relic of the past​​ who has no place in Today’s society.​​ I don’t like Today’s music, Today’s fashion,​​ Today’s perversion with celebrity culture.​​ Today just wants a face, a big fucking face to talk about and laugh at. Today says: “Fuck the music! We just want to look at you like a goddamn monkey in a cage. We don’t give a shit what your music sounds like, just keep rolling around in your own shit and picking at the other monkeys’ asses so we can laugh and point our fingers at you and live our pathetic lives vicariously through you because deep down inside we want to be just like you—a wild fucking animal!”​​ So yeah,​​ Fuck Today.

Also though, I am​​ kind of getting what I wanted as Francis so lovingly reminded me in a typed letter left discreetly in my​​ grandma’s​​ mailbox:​​ 

 

Dear​​ Walter,​​ 

 

I’m writing​​ to​​ you because I care about you. Not once have I felt the need to explain my journalistic actions, but you at least deserve that. In hindsight,​​ I may have gone too far, but I’m really only giving you what you wanted. You said you didn’t want to be Quinn Quark anymore and I’m making that happen.

 

I won’t lie and say that my motivations weren’t primarily selfish. I’m trying to be​​ a​​ great journalist,​​ maybe a Pulitzer winner someday,​​ and getting the story​​ everyone wants but nobody has is my life’s ambition. Sure, the way I got it from you was a​​ little​​ unscrupulous,​​ and I did take advantage of your ignorance of media law, but in my line of work sometimes you have to weigh ethics,​​ and unfortunately you lost.

 

However, if you still wanted your promising music career I maybe would’ve given a second thought to publishing a story so damaging. But since you don’t, I had to sacrifice you for the greater​​ cause:​​ myself. You want out and I want up. Why should I try to promote somebody in a career they don’t want if I can benefit so​​ much from taking it away? If I​​ as a​​ representative of​​ Rolling Stone​​ lavished​​ over​​ you like everyone else, it would’ve solidified you as a bona fide rock star—exactly​​ what​​ you don’t want, and my article wouldn’t have been nearly talked about as much as it is now. I’m sure​​ you see my logic.​​ 

 

I’m sorry you’re having to go through all this. I never intended for it to go this far, but don’t worry. It will all be over before you know it.​​ Eventually​​ “Quinn Quack”​​ fever will fizzle out. The public can only take prolonged doses of crazy celebrities for so long. After that,​​ you’ll join the ranks of Lindsay Lohan,​​ Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson,​​ and others in the Hollywood Hall of​​ the Insane,​​ and​​ you can​​ just fade into obscurity like​​ you always wanted.

 

I know you probably hate me,​​ and that’s something I accepted long before I published the article, but I want you to know I am rooting for you in whatever you decide to​​ do​​ with your life. There’s a lot of greatness in that head of yours.​​ 

 

Love,​​ 

You know who

 

While her​​ line of reasoning—using me as a stepping stool just because​​ I happened to be on the floor—is a little heartless,​​ after writing all this down,​​ I’m starting to​​ see Francis​​ may​​ be right (and maybe that therapist inside my head actually knows what he’s talking about).​​ Sure things suck right now, but it’s kind of a funny suck when I think about it,​​ something I’ll hopefully laugh about later​​ when Quinn​​ Quark​​ is long forgotten.​​ I never would’ve imagined​​ a year ago I’d be slandered in Rolling Stone and be​​ enemy​​ number one​​ of​​ Christians, feminists,​​ and Kardashians alike.​​ 

I should also mention not everyone gave into the smear campaign against me; people who can see the deeper foolishness to this all,​​ and who actually read more than enlarged​​ quotes​​ and tweets.​​ Unfortunately​​ though,​​ without the support of the media or​​ a​​ high-profile backer, their voices are lost, but they’re there.

Also I still​​ apparently​​ have “Quarkians”​​ out there. After​​ the concert tanked,​​ Cirkus​​ wanted​​ the rights to​​ our​​ EPs​​ so they could remaster and re-release them together​​ in lieu​​ of​​ the album we owed,​​ and​​ I​​ just​​ conceded.​​ I’m just glad they’re not suing​​ me when they really should be.​​ But​​ it’s looking like​​ pre-orders alone​​ will​​ be​​ enough to pay back​​ what the band​​ owes​​ to the label,​​ so​​ at least​​ my hands are clean of that.​​ 

Shit,​​ she’s here;​​ the person I’m not looking forward to seeing;​​ the person who’s probably suffered​​ as much if not more​​ than​​ me​​ because of Francis’s article. All​​ right Walter, hold it together, just hold it together.​​ 

The Silver Year: Chapter 7

Chapter​​ 7

A Boy at Heart

 

APRIL​​ 2012

 

“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?”

“Hardly ever.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

“What?”

“Sorry,​​ bad physics joke. I guess gray, but that might change with my mood.”

“Favorite holiday?”

“Halloween.”

“Least favorite holiday?”

“Christmas.”

“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.”

“Past lovers?”

“Some.”

“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.

“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.

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 6

Chapter​​ 6

Who is Walter Huxley?

 

VALENTINE’S DAY/ WALTER’S BIRTHDAY 2012

 

Walter turned​​ from Orange​​ onto​​ Main Street​​ and into the Huntington Beach Street Fair,​​ which​​ filled​​ Main Street with​​ a colorfully noisy​​ mass of people​​ instead of vehicles​​ every Tuesday​​ night. The street’s squirmy,​​ people-colored​​ center​​ tentacled​​ across PCH and​​ onto​​ the pier,​​ spilling​​ a third of a mile into the​​ blushing​​ blue​​ ocean​​ view and orange cream sky.

Flanking​​ and serving​​ the​​ people-colored​​ center​​ was a farmers market and​​ two long​​ lines​​ of​​ canopies​​ selling​​ commodities​​ and​​ skills​​ of​​ every​​ kind:​​ food,​​ art, clothes,​​ soaps, flowers, animal, mechanical, and inflatable​​ rides,​​ portable and live music,​​ massages, psychic readings,​​ professional and homeless​​ street performances. The street fair​​ was also​​ the only​​ event​​ downtown​​ bums and​​ locals​​ came out​​ in as many​​ numbers​​ as​​ tourists. It was​​ a​​ smorgasbord​​ of socialization a lonely person could get high from, and​​ Walter​​ was going to miss getting high a lot.​​ Grandma didn’t allow weed or booze.​​ 

Regardless, Walter​​ didn’t have the budget for them.​​ The label’s advance​​ was​​ at​​ an end, and​​ although they allowed​​ him​​ to stay in the house,​​ they​​ stopped paying rent two months earlier.​​ Now with​​ less than​​ two​​ hundred dollars​​ to his name​​ and soon to be living with Grandma again,​​ Walter​​ felt no shame​​ doubling​​ up on free samples​​ of food​​ as he moved through​​ the​​ street fair.​​ 

By​​ PCH, he​​ was​​ full enough.​​ Crossing the road, he​​ entered​​ Huntington Beach Pier,​​ Walter’s​​ favorite part of his walk​​ and home to his​​ “spot”.

The​​ pier​​ was the largest in Orange County​​ and​​ buoyed​​ a full-size Ruby’s Diner at the end.​​ With surfers​​ crisscrossing​​ its pillars on​​ near-constant swells, the pier was​​ Surf City’s centerpiece​​ and​​ attracted​​ travelers from​​ all over​​ the world. This​​ daily​​ washing of faces mixed with​​ the​​ fixed​​ tides of​​ cute​​ Ruby’s waitresses was why​​ Walter​​ never tired of walking​​ the pier.​​ Instead of going out into the world, the pier brought the world to him.

Reaching​​ the pier’s​​ spear-shaped​​ end,​​ he​​ was​​ happy to​​ find​​ his​​ “spot”, the most seaward-facing tip,​​ vacant.​​ Wedging into it,​​ he​​ imagined​​ himself on​​ a ship​​ bow​​ heading​​ out to sea​​ as waves bowled in beneath. He stayed​​ imagining​​ until the last splinters of​​ the​​ sun​​ were​​ pulled​​ into​​ the horizon.​​ He then turned to people watch.​​ 

As​​ his​​ foci​​ rounded the end of the pier, almost all were​​ nuzzling​​ couples,​​ still​​ drunk on​​ the​​ bleeding​​ idealism​​ Valentine’s Day​​ and sunsets​​ bestow​​ on lovers.

Loneliness is such a bitch,​​ Walter​​ ruminated,​​ but it’s the bitch I love.

​​ It was an apt calculation of his creative muse. Without loneliness, creatively, he was​​ dead. Loneliness was​​ his​​ admission inside his head, a reality as real to him as the one outside of it. But​​ as of late,​​ his only pure repository of​​ loneliness was​​ his home.​​ It was why he’d​​ hardly left​​ it​​ the past two months.​​ Outside,​​ he​​ was​​ always​​ vulnerable to​​ some stranger cauterizing his​​ solitude, but​​ isolation​​ was​​ costing​​ him his sanity, the very thing solitude was supposed to​​ save. How any artist survived being famous was beyond him, yet​​ his whole life this was all he worked for and wanted.​​ ​​ 

​​ Although​​ Walter​​ killed Quinn Quark—arguably​​ after he killed​​ two other people—two months earlier,​​ Quinn​​ was becoming more famous​​ in death​​ than ever.​​ His​​ sharp rise and fall was the stuff of urban legends, and it only fed more​​ interest​​ about the man behind​​ him. It also didn’t help Cirkus wouldn’t confirm any details about​​ Perfect Crime’s​​ breakup, hoping the threat of a lawsuit would change Walter’s mind.

Once​​ the​​ day committed to night, Walter turned back to the ocean.​​ His ship was now​​ sailing​​ the cosmos. Black sky​​ sat upon​​ black sea,​​ creating​​ an​​ artifice​​ of​​ twinkling​​ space​​ to​​ wander​​ and​​ wonder​​ about. Lady Stardust—his pet name for the night sky—was the only remedy for a mind​​ as​​ awash in death as his;​​ she transcended​​ it.​​ While​​ nothing​​ compared​​ to her,​​ the same laws that governed​​ her​​ governed​​ him, and the same matter that made​​ her​​ made​​ him, and knowing​​ this​​ calmed him​​ for the same reason prayer calms.​​ ​​ 

“Happy birthday Quarky!” a voice roped him back to Earth. He didn’t need to turn to know who it was. There was only one person​​ on Earth​​ who called him Quarky:​​ Lola.​​ 

 

“I thought I’d find you in your spot,”​​ Lola​​ said, snuggling into his side.​​ “For someone who supposedly hates​​ routine, you sure are predictable at times.”​​ In the faint glow from the Ruby’s Diner​​ behind them, Walter noticed some new leopard spots painted into​​ the buzzed sides of her​​ bright, pink,​​ swordfish-like​​ mohawk.

“Everyone needs​​ the support of​​ some​​ familiarity​​ in life,”​​ he said, his face​​ not happy or unhappy to see her.​​ Their meetings​​ were always​​ double-edged now.

“Well,​​ most people find that with family and friends,” she said,​​ “not walks and thinking spots.”

“I like my solitude.​​ It’s important​​ to my creative process.”

“Oh really? I never knew. So glad we got you that beach house. Does this mean we’re finally getting that album you promised back in December​​ then?”

He ignored​​ her​​ and​​ craned​​ his head​​ back​​ up​​ at​​ Lady Stardust.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s your birthday, and if you don’t want to talk about it today, that’s​​ okay​​ . . .​​ But​​ still...” she pulled his​​ chin and​​ eyes back to​​ Earth,​​ “…I would like to know what’s going on?​​ You​​ haven’t returned​​ any​​ calls or texts​​ in​​ the last​​ week, and I haven’t​​ actually​​ seen you​​ in​​ well​​ over a month.​​ Look at this beard you’ve grown.”​​ She​​ stroked​​ the sides​​ of his face.​​ “I know today is your last day with the house—sorry, not my fault it happened to land on your birthday, so​​ I​​ just had to make sure you’re at least​​ living.”

Well...”​​ Walter said, his hands gesturing downward,​​ je pense,​​ donc je suis.​​ Thanks for checking​​ in, but I​​ was enjoying being alone, especially since that’s becoming less and less of a privilege lately. So please, just go.

“Quinn Quark!” A passerby shouted.​​ 

Fuck,” Walter​​ said​​ under his breath.​​ Lola’s​​ flamboyant​​ fin​​ must’ve attracted eyes that otherwise​​ would’ve​​ missed him.​​ 

It was an awkward intrusion as​​ a​​ teenage boy forced his way between them.​​ “Holy shit!​​ You’re Quinn Quark,” he said.​​ “I’m sorry to bother you, but​​ do you mind if I get a picture​​ with you? You’re like my idol​​ man.”​​ 

Walter​​ looked​​ cynically​​ at the fan.​​ Growing up,​​ he​​ never wanted to meet his idols, fearing he’d find them​​ too​​ human.

“Fine,”​​ Lola​​ said,​​ discreetly​​ wiping her eyes.​​ “I’ll go.”

But as soon as she did,​​ Walter regretted​​ telling her so.​​ His fame​​ was​​ much​​ easier to handle​​ with her​​ by his side.​​ ​​ 

“Please?” the fan asked again.​​ “It would mean so much.”

“Uh…​​ sure,” Walter said,​​ his eyes still on​​ Lola​​ as she moved swiftly down the pier. He​​ forced a smile​​ while​​ the fan’s girlfriend fumbled with her phone.

“Is the album​​ still coming out?—What’s it sound like?—Do you have a new bassist?—Perfect Crime’s gonna​​ stay together​​ right?—You gotta keep going—Your voice was one of a kind man…”​​ the fan​​ sawed on.​​ 

“I’m sorry,​​ I’ve got to go,”​​ Walter said.​​ He​​ didn’t want to be alone anymore. “Uh… thanks for the support,” he said and​​ chased after​​ Lola.

“Lola!”​​ he​​ shouted. She​​ glimpsed​​ back and​​ tried​​ to​​ continue, but​​ couldn’t.

What?” she stung​​ back. “You​​ obviously don’t want to see me.​​ I’m sorry I ever cared.”

“That’s not true​​ . . . Come on,​​ let’s walk and talk,”​​ he said​​ catching up​​ to her. “Look,​​ I am​​ glad to see you, but you know, it’s…”

“Complicated?​​ Complicated​​ because​​ your​​ former​​ fuck buddy​​ now represents your enemy?​​ Yeah, it hasn’t been easy for me either.”

“Quinn! Quinn!...” a​​ group​​ of teenage boys and girls accosted​​ Walter from the front.​​ His paranoia told him the other fan broadcasted his location​​ and​​ now​​ sharks​​ were swimming in from everywhere.​​ The commotion​​ drew​​ in​​ the rest of​​ the​​ pier’s​​ traffic, and soon everyone was​​ halted​​ around​​ Walter,​​ whether they knew​​ Quinn Quark​​ or not.​​ 

Walter​​ cowered​​ to​​ the​​ railing​​ as​​ the crowds​​ closed in​​ armed with cellphones.​​ FUCK OFF!” he​​ lashed​​ back.​​ “I’m not​​ fucking​​ Quinn Quark! I’m Walter Huxley—Walter​​ fucking​​ Huxley!”​​ Normally he could keep it together better than this, but​​ the inside of him was​​ so​​ fractured​​ and​​ the pieces so fine, it was getting​​ harder all the time.

Lola’s mouth​​ suspended. She had never seen him reject fans, especially​​ so​​ forcefully.​​ The crowd looked confoundedly at one another.

“Walter Huxley?” one of the teenage girls said. “What kind of weird name is that?”​​ Walter received this​​ opinion about his name​​ a lot.​​ Like him, it was a bit odd.​​ 

“No,​​ he’s​​ Quinn Quark,”​​ one of the teenage boys​​ said. “Look, he’s got the bellbottoms and everything. His hair’s​​ just​​ shorter,​​ and he’s got a beard​​ . . . Hey Quinn.​​ Is it true?​​ Did​​ you​​ go crazy and​​ kill Squids?”​​ Obviously this wasn’t a fan, but a heckler, something​​ Walter​​ had a growing number of.​​ 

Do you think if I killed Squids . . . Do you think if I killed​​ Squids​​ . . .” …I’d still be walking the streets?​​ was what​​ he was trying to say, but couldn’t, because in​​ exactitude​​ he​​ had​​ been​​ a pivotal​​ actor​​ in Squids’s​​ death.

Frozen by frustration,​​ he​​ fell into one of his​​ newly​​ infamous​​ “fit-o’-fucks”,​​ uncontrollable, arm-throwing,​​ fuck-laced freak-outs that began shortly after Squids’s​​ death.​​ This was the show everyone came to see​​ Walter​​ perform now.​​ A video of one he had two weeks earlier went viral, and since,​​ his number of tantrums and taunting teenagers had exploded exponentially.

“Ha-ha, there he goes!”​​ the instigating teenager​​ said.​​ Some people scolded the hooligan, but just as many​​ laughed​​ with him​​ and started filming with their phones.​​ 

It was the first​​ fit-o’-fuck​​ Lola had​​ witnessed in person.​​ Sure she’d seen much worse in private,​​ but​​ to​​ see him​​ boil​​ out of control​​ for​​ cheap​​ entertainment​​ was​​ a​​ heartbreaking​​ revelation​​ of​​ his​​ degraded state.

“What​​ the fuck’s​​ wrong with you?!” she yelled at​​ the​​ crowd,​​ shrouding Walter in her arms.​​ As she took him away, some genuine fans​​ tried to follow, still pleading for pictures,​​ but her ferocious​​ HE SAID​​ FUCK-OFF!”​​ kept​​ them​​ back.​​ 

“You okay?” she asked​​ Walter.

“Yeah—thanks,”​​ he​​ said,​​ still slightly prideful.​​ He​​ pulled up his sweater hood​​ and tightly pulled the draw strings.

“You know you can’t hide​​ behind a new haircut and beard,” she told him. “Your most recognizable attribute is your pants. You’ve got to lose the​​ bellbottoms.”

“Never.​​ The bellbottoms​​ have been​​ a part of me long before Quinn Quark was—since high school.​​ They’re​​ my homage to rock n’ roll’s classical heyday.”

Lola began laughing.​​ I know​​ Walter​​ and​​ Quinn far too​​ well​​ for you to​​ bullshit​​ me,” she said.​​ First, you gave rock n’ roll the middle finger by​​ quitting.​​ Second,​​ although Quinn Quark may have told every reporter that’s why he wore bellbottoms,​​ in truth,​​ Walter​​ is just​​ insecure​​ about his cankles.”​​ He’d forgotten he confessed that to her one night on tour after they had too much wine.

“Now, do you really want me to stay,” Lola said,​​ “or​​ do you just want to​​ continue​​ to​​ bullshit me?”

“Yes, please stay. I’m sorry.”

“I​​ forgive you,” she said, and pulled him closer,​​ “but only because​​ it’s your birthday. And oh yeah, here’s your birthday kiss,”​​ she said and lightly​​ kissed​​ his cheek. “Everyone​​ deserves at least a kiss on their birthday.”

With her​​ kiss​​ came​​ back many​​ warm memories​​ into Walter’s head​​ of that​​ brief but​​ happier past when he was standing on top of​​ the world​​ instead of​​ crushed​​ beneath it. But that’s right,​​ she was with his​​ enemy:​​ his​​ past, and​​ Walter just couldn’t get​​ past​​ his past.

“But​​ I’m sure​​ you’ve​​ got other things in​​ store​​ for my birthday,”​​ he said.

“Like what?​​ Lola said smirking. “Because if​​ you’re​​ thinking​​ birthday sex,​​ ha, but no.”​​ 

“No. I’m talking about the laundry list​​ of​​ items you’re hoping I will pay courtesy​​ to as soon as you no longer have to pay courtesy​​ to​​ my birthday. I know Lola Roxy​​ and Josepha Gutierrez​​ far​​ too​​ well by now to be bullshitted.”

She​​ cleared her throat. “I do,”​​ she​​ confessed,​​ “but it’s just one​​ item.​​ I’d say we could talk about it tomorrow on the phone, but​​ since​​ you​​ never​​ pick up, I have no option​​ but to disgrace your birthday​​ with it.​​ So you want it now or later?”

“Now.​​ Otherwise I’ll be wondering all night.”

“Fine,” she said, reaching​​ into​​ her​​ purse​​ and​​ pulling​​ out a manila​​ envelope.​​ “Here, you’ve​​ been served.”

“You’re suing me?!”

“I’m sorry, but you left the band and Cirkus no other choice.​​ It’s not like you didn’t see this coming​​ . . .​​ However, there’s​​ another option they’re​​ willing to entertain, and believe me,​​ it’s more than generous on their part.”

“What?”

“They want​​ a​​ farewell​​ show​​ to make a live record.”

Walter​​ laughed.​​ “No,” he said, smacking​​ the crosswalk button at PCH.​​ “No​​ way I’m going​​ back.​​ Quinn Quark is dead​​ for good.”

“That’s fine,” she said. “Because I don’t need him, I need you. I don’t give a shit​​ who you are onstage,​​ Quinn, Axl,​​ Ziggy​​ fucking​​ Stardust.​​ I’m just asking​​ Walter​​ for​​ one fucking show,​​ and maybe three-four rehearsals tops. Is​​ that really​​ something you can’t handle?​​ It’s not like Squids was your best friend. Think of​​ what​​ your bandmates​​ are going through.​​ And if not them, think of what​​ I’m​​ going through.​​ You realize how much​​ of​​ a slap in the face​​ this​​ is​​ to me, right?”

“Why?​​ Because​​ our​​ personal​​ relationship?​​ The way I remembered it, there​​ was a strict divide between​​ our personal and professional relationship.”

Lola closed her eyes and swallowed what looked to be a scream.

“Well...” she said​​ once she composed herself again,​​ “...I​​ guess I broke that rule from the beginning, because I​​ obviously let my personal relationship​​ with you—even before we started fucking—influence my professional one far too much​​ when I put that record deal together​​ for you.​​ Even when the label—along​​ with​​ your own band—pressured me to convince you to​​ rerecord​​ some​​ songs from​​ the​​ EPs, I​​ told them no, to trust you.​​ But​​ here we are,​​ seven months later,​​ after I​​ also​​ convinced the label to​​ let you​​ stay in​​ the​​ house​​ two months longer than they wanted,​​ and​​ you tell me​​ in a fucking text message​​ a week ago​​ that​​ you​​ not only​​ haven’t finished the record, you’re​​ quitting music​​ altogether. Then you have​​ the​​ audacity to just up and​​ ghost me​​ without any explanation. If you can’t see why that’s​​ slapping me in the face, how about​​ you come closer and I’ll put it another way?”​​ 

Walter​​ looked straight ahead​​ and gave no comment​​ as they crossed PCH​​ and rejoined the crowds of the street​​ fair.

I​​ trusted you,” Lola​​ continued, “fought​​ for you,​​ believed in you so​​ goddamn​​ much that​​ I​​ didn’t realize​​ just how​​ much I set myself up to be fucked over​​ by you.​​ But I never fathomed you​​ actually​​ would,​​ because of all things I thought you considered​​ me,​​ a friend would be one of them.​​ But no wonder you​​ complain about​​ having​​ so few​​ real​​ friends​​ Walter​​ if this is how you treat​​ them.”

He remained silent, but instead of looking forward, his head went down.

Lola stopped walking. “Are you really​​ just going to continue to ignore me and say nothing?”​​ she asked.

Walter shrugged. “What do you want me to say?”​​ he​​ replied.

Lola grunted and stomped​​ her black army boot into​​ the ground. “Fucking​​ asshole,” she said. “I​​ guess​​ I’ll just see you in court then.​​ You can ignore​​ me and​​ my phone calls, but you can’t ignore a lawsuit.​​ I won’t intrude on your birthday with yourself any longer​​ . . .​​ BYE!”​​ She​​ then​​ grafted herself into​​ the​​ passing​​ crowds and was gone.

Guilt rose​​ like an upper cut​​ as Walter watched her colorful fin swim away.

“Lola stop!”​​ he​​ cried, and again chased after her.

“Only if you agree​​ to do the show!” she​​ shouted back,​​ her fin still swimming.​​ 

“That’s not fair! Can’t we talk about it?”​​ 

“Oh now you want to talk.​​ It’s too late Walter.​​ There’s nothing else to talk about, unless you’re doing the show.”

“Fine, I’ll do​​ it,” he​​ ceded.​​ She stopped​​ and turned, unable to keep herself from smiling.​​ “But I want you to know,”​​ he​​ said​​ rejoining​​ her,​​ I’m​​ only doing it​​ for​​ you, not the​​ band, the label, or the​​ lawsuit.​​ You’re right. You have been​​ so much more​​ to me​​ than just a friend, and​​ you’re really my only friend​​ other than my grandma.​​ I’m​​ so​​ sorry.​​ I​​ love you​​ Lola.​​ And​​ you know not in an ‘I love you’ sort of way, but in a… well, I’m not sure​​ what kind of way, but I do.

She hung her arms​​ around him. “Yes,” she said, “our​​ kind of​​ love is​​ kind of​​ hard to pin down,​​ isn’t it?​​ But it’s there,​​ somewhere between​​ friends,​​ family,​​ fucking,​​ and​​ business​​ partners​​ . . .​​ I love you too​​ Walter.​​ But also,​​ thank you.​​ I know​​ this isn’t​​ easy​​ for you, believe me.​​ Also,​​ it’s a good thing you’re not doing the show because​​ of the lawsuit. That envelope is mostly blank paper. You can’t serve papers for a case you’re involved in.”

Walter sighed and shook his head.

“You’re turned on, aren’t you?” Lola said noticing some added bulk pressed against her​​ leg.​​ He​​ sighed again and​​ nodded.​​ “You’re a sick freak​​ Mister Huxley, but so am I.​​ I guess that’s why we’ve always​​ worked so well together.”​​ 

“Can you kiss me​​ again?” he asked.

She grinned, then leaned in, her lips hovering over his.​​ “Yes,” she said. “Everyone deserves​​ at least​​ a kiss on their birthday.”

 

Back at Walter’s place​​ on his living room floor,​​ cuddling​​ atop​​ his​​ crippled camping​​ cot​​ which had collapsed under the​​ heft​​ of​​ their​​ lovemaking,​​ he and​​ Lola​​ passed​​ a whiskey bottle​​ and kisses to each other while​​ Night Moves​​ rolled out​​ softly​​ from the radio.​​ He​​ had​​ missed this​​ dearly. Nothing was more healing to a man’s sanity than the soft hold of a woman who knew him well, even if she couldn’t hold him forever.​​ 

“So what are you doing with your life​​ if not music?”​​ Lola​​ asked​​ once the radio went to break.

“Do we really have to​​ talk about​​ this right now?” Walter​​ said.

“Sorry, I can’t get it off my mind.​​ Plus,​​ I​​ think I​​ deserve to know​​ why you’re abandoning the dream I worked so hard to help you​​ reach; the dream you also worked your entire life for.​​ I understand Squids’s death was tragic, especially​​ right​​ after Amber’s, but​​ still,​​ there​​ has to be something else.”

“I​​ just​​ realized rock star is not who I am, okay? Yes, it’s what I thought I wanted to be when I was eleven​​ and what everyone​​ has​​ expected of me​​ since—with​​ the​​ exception of a few college professors, but I didn’t realize being famous would be so...​​ so intrusive​​ on my art.​​ It’s great onstage, but I don’t​​ want​​ onstage following me offstage. I need offstage for​​ life and​​ art.”

“So what, back to physics then?​​ You always said if you weren’t a musician, you’d be a theoretical physicist.”

“No. I​​ want to be a writer.”

“Like a songwriter?”

“No,​​ like an author. I want to write a novel, however,​​ I have no clue​​ where to begin.”

“Then why are you doing it?​​ Because​​ of​​ Amber? Walter,​​ I understand the incredible guilt you feel, but throwing away your dream for hers isn’t going to make​​ your guilt​​ go away.”

“You’re right, and that’s not why​​ I’m doing it—well maybe a little​​ because she was the inspiration.​​ I just​​ realized I’m​​ as much a​​ logician​​ as I am an artist,​​ and I need​​ a medium​​ that can satisfy both, and the only​​ forum​​ that came to mind was​​ a​​ novel.”

“I​​ don’t know. It doesn’t​​ make much sense to me​​ because I’ve never thought of you as a​​ ‘writer’—well, outside of​​ a​​ songwriter. I supposed there might be some crossover. Have you​​ written anything?”

“Just one page.”

“Want to read it to me?”

“I’m not sure. It’s really rough, and I probably won’t even​​ use it​​ for​​ my novel.​​ It’s just​​ an​​ exercise I found online for new writers that’s supposed to stimulate the creative process.​​ You’re supposed to introduce your writing as if it were​​ you, but obviously I’m still trying to figure out who that​​ ‘you’​​ is.”

“Just read it.”

Fine.” Walter got up and went to the kitchen and pulled a​​ gray​​ spiral notebook​​ out of one of the drawers. “It’s called,​​ Who is Walter Huxley?” he said​​ laying back down beside her. He took a​​ few deep​​ breaths​​ before beginning:

“I'm sometimes hard to understand because I unconsciously speak in metaphors. My train of thought​​ talks to me​​ with them and​​ often​​ has to wander​​ in the dirt​​ before it can bloom into meaning, but I promise it always will, there’s just a lot of dirt in my mind.​​ On the rare occasion​​ my​​ train​​ does derail itself from too​​ much momentum​​ or​​ dirt, I apologize for the casualties, but my train was never intended to carry passengers.

“Call me​​ arrogant, promiscuous,​​ sexist,​​ reckless,​​ irrational, contradicting, charlatanic, satanic, insecure, indecisive, self-loathing, self-loving, or just down right confusing, and​​ I’m sure​​ you’d​​ be absolutely​​ correct​​ because at one time or another I probably was. But in choosing an identity one must try on all​​ of​​ life’s​​ available​​ masks.​​ While​​ I try​​ to​​ wear a​​ mask​​ that is always me,​​ often​​ I​​ discover someone may have​​ worn me​​ better before me, and for the sake of sanity, it’s always welcomed to know I’m not alone​​ while looking in the mirror, and always free to break that mirror, for great philosophy lies in the brilliance of broken mirrors, not​​ in the​​ reflections of​​ them. But still, once you piece​​ mirrors​​ back together,​​ mask or not,​​ it’s still​​ only​​ you staring back.

“I am Walter Huxley,​​ and​​ I am​​ one​​ of​​ the loneliest people on​​ Earth; I​​ am​​ a writer.​​ But there’s something sacred in​​ a​​ writer’s loneliness: sanity, hence​​ why so many of us​​ writers​​ end up​​ sacrificing​​ our own for​​ our readers’ sake.”

Walter’s eyes came up from the​​ notebook. The look on​​ Lola’s face was not one of satisfaction or dislike, but confusion. His eyes fled back down.

“It’s horrible!” he cried.​​ “It’s nothing but a clusterfuck of nonsensical narcissism. That’s what you do when something sucks, inject it with ego​​ and​​ lacquer it over with pretentious,​​ meaningless​​ nonsense​​ so​​ nobody can look into​​ it​​ and see the piece of shit it truly is.”

“That’s not true,” Lola said. “Was it nonsensical and narcissistic? A​​ little. But it had moments of​​ great​​ promise​​ too.​​ Regardless, of course you’re going to feel​​ like a failure​​ in the beginning; success is nothing but the accumulation​​ of​​ failure.”

“I know, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been at the beginning​​ of​​ an​​ accumulation, and I just wonder if it’s too late, or if this​​ is​​ a big mistake, but no matter how hard I try​​ to go back, something​​ keeps​​ forcing writer on me.”

The waterworks began​​ at this point​​ and Walter’s voice strained somewhere between a whine and scream—a wheam.

“Two-thousand-twelve​​ just wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he wheamed. “This wasn’t how I imagined​​ my silver year going. This is supposed to be the prime of my life. But there’s nothing prime, silver or bright about the silver anniversary of my life, only​​ unending​​ darkness.​​ But​​ I guess I just like​​ being​​ miserable because every time I manage any sort of stability, I have an irresistible urge to​​ take the legs right out from beneath me.​​ Why​​ do I always do that?​​ Why-why-why-why…”​​ Walter took his injected and lacquered​​ piece of shit​​ from his notebook​​ and began tearing it in a puerile fit.​​ “Why-why-why-why…”

Lola waited until​​ his​​ fit subsided​​ before speaking.​​ “Because​​ maybe​​ silver years are for silver linings,” she said.​​ “But seriously,​​ you need to​​ stop beating yourself up​​ so much.​​ You’ve been​​ left alone inside your head for too long,​​ and like you said, you’re not very friendly to yourself.​​ I think this show will​​ serve as​​ a​​ healthy​​ distraction. Oh!​​ And​​ I​​ completely​​ forgot to tell you​​ because I didn’t think the​​ fake court papers​​ would​​ actually​​ work​​ and I was holding it in my back pocket, but​​ the​​ venue is the last stop of the tour we​​ never made it to.”

“You mean the​​ Berkeley​​ Greek?” The​​ Berkeley​​ Greek​​ was​​ Walter’s​​ favorite music venue.

“Yes sir.​​ And for bass, this studio guy named Jason​​ agreed​​ to​​ fill in, but you might​​ know him from​​ his previous band,​​ Metallica.”

“No!​​ No​​ fucking​​ way!​​ I’m going to be playing​​ with Jason Newstead at The Greek?”

“Yes—that is​​ if you don’t chicken out.”

Unable to contain his joy, Walter​​ stood​​ and began running around​​ the​​ small​​ house​​ with his family jewels​​ flapping​​ openly​​ about.

“Oh Quarky...” Lola said​​ her eyes​​ welling up​​ with tears and laughter​​ “...I can’t tell you how happy​​ this​​ makes me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.​​ 

The Silver Year: Chapter 4

perfect crime troubadour

Chapter​​ 4​​ 

Goodbye Forever

 

THE​​ TROUBADOUR, WEST HOLLYWOOD, TWO WEEKS LATER

 

“So here it is boys...” Lola’s​​ voice​​ boomed in the empty venue as she​​ smacked a stack of stapled papers,​​ “...Perfect Crime’s record deal—a copy for each of you.” She​​ threw​​ each one​​ like a​​ card​​ dealer​​ to​​ Walter and his bandmates​​ as they sat​​ on​​ the front lip​​ of​​ the​​ Troubadour’s stage, two hours before doors on their label showcase.​​ While​​ small in size​​ and sweet in face,​​ Lola​​ Roxy​​ was​​ a legendary, but​​ rebellious​​ rep​​ in the music industry,​​ but she was​​ the only​​ one​​ who came​​ ready with a contract before they even played—although Walter and she had been in discussions​​ well​​ before.​​ 

In the nineties,​​ Lola​​ was​​ the front woman of an infamous, all-girl, punk rock group named Malicious Creatures, who were notorious for onstage sex acts, drug use, and self-mutilation.​​ After everyone but herself self-destructed from​​ suicide or​​ drugs,​​ however,​​ she​​ turned to the business side of things,​​ where she​​ quickly made a name for herself and put Cirkus Records on the map.

“Take all the time you need​​ to read it,” she said​​ slowly​​ pacing in front of them,​​ her fuchsia​​ mohawk​​ finning her​​ tattoo-covered body​​ like​​ a​​ flamboyant​​ swordfish. “It’s​​ not long, and I believe Walter has already told you most of the details.​​ At Cirkus, we value​​ simplicity and transparency​​ unlike the big record labels​​ we​​ formed in response to—the​​ same ones​​ who will also be here tonight.​​ Yes, we can’t offer you​​ their​​ big label​​ signing bonuses,​​ but those bonuses will​​ most likely​​ lock you into​​ a contract as cross-collaterized as a company store​​ with​​ at least a three-album​​ commitment.​​ With us,​​ it’s one​​ album, and​​ you keep​​ your publishing, recording, and merchandising rights,​​ so​​ long as​​ you​​ deliver on​​ your​​ one​​ album.​​ After that,​​ you’re​​ free to​​ go.​​ However,​​ my track record speaks for itself,​​ so I doubt that will be the case.”

It was true.​​ Almost every act​​ Lola​​ signed​​ had​​ risen​​ to​​ some sort of​​ stardom.

“We’ll still give you modest bonuses to get by until the record’s out,”​​ she​​ continued, “but you’ll no means be living like rock stars—at least not yet.”

 “But you’re giving Walter a beach house,” Brian “Squids” Squibbs, the band’s bassist​​ said.

 “We’re not​​ giving​​ him a beach house, we’re renting him a small cottage near the ocean​​ to finish​​ writing your debut album.​​ Yes,​​ Walter’s​​ getting a little more out of this, but don’t you think that’s fair?”

“Well, it’s just no wonder he’s pushing this deal over the other ones.​​ Why can’t you rent a beach house for us all to write together?”

“Because​​ when have we ever written together?” Walter said.​​ “And do you suddenly have songs Squids?”

“Yeah,​​ maybe​​ I do.”​​ 

“Then let’s hear a song. Go get your bass or whatever you need to play it and let’s hear it.”

“They’re works in progress.​​ Just some ideas, like riffs and stuff.”

“Oh,​​ fuck off Squids.”​​ 

“Come on guys,”​​ Seano, their lead guitarist and natural Slash lookalike,​​ said. “Squids, he’s always written the music​​ alone, and​​ if​​ he​​ doesn’t write the album we’re out of a job, plain and simple.”

Jimmy Stokes, their drummer and not one for words, nodded in agreement.​​ Finally, Walter​​ was getting​​ through to them without Squids.​​ Since Jimmy hardly spoke and Seano never wanted to be involved in band politics, it was always Squids Walter had to deal with on everything, and everything​​ was always​​ a fight.​​ 

From the beginning, Walter saw​​ him​​ as​​ a​​ lazy​​ and unnecessary liability,​​ but like marriage, sometimes​​ blind eyes and compromise​​ are required​​ to​​ keep a band​​ afloat.​​ Seano,​​ who was​​ irreplaceable in Walter’s​​ opinion, founded the band with Squids, and they’d been best friends since the third grade. Also,​​ as Walter discovered at the two shows they tried to do without Squids, when Seano didn’t have his best friend, Jack Daniels became his best friend, so much so they couldn’t leave each other alone enough for Seano to make it to the end of a show before passing out.​​ So​​ for Seano, Walter put up with​​ Squids. Not just his unreliable performances, playing, and risky drug use, but also​​ his mouth.

“But​​ we​​ already have​​ two EPs​​ worth​​ of​​ songs written,”​​ Squids​​ said.​​ “Those are the ones​​ the fans​​ know.​​ We should be rerecording​​ them​​ for​​ our debut album.”

“Why?” Walter said. “So​​ we​​ can give them​​ more polished and inauthentic​​ versions​​ of​​ songs they already know? Besides,​​ my songwriting was​​ still​​ developing​​ on those EPs.”​​ ​​ 

“Well,​​ if​​ its development means​​ more songs​​ like ‘Baby Blue Part 2’ or ‘MagPi Song’,​​ we’re fucked.”

“Then​​ fucking​​ quit​​ Squids!​​ You’re​​ always​​ threatening​​ to,​​ but​​ never​​ have the balls to actually​​ do it.​​ Go start your​​ own​​ band where you write​​ all​​ the music​​ and make all the rules​​ because​​ I’m done arguing the same points​​ over and over again​​ with you.”​​ Walter leapt​​ off the stage and began walking to the bar.​​ “I’m just done.”​​ 

“Walter!” Lola shouted​​ at him. “You’re done, when I’m done. Until then, sit your ass back on the stage.”​​ She stared at him until he did so.​​ “While I understand the new material​​ isn’t your old material,” she​​ addressed​​ his bandmates,​​ “what​​ great artist wants to repeat themselves?​​ With time, I think​​ the new material will grow on you. I believe​​ it’s something special,​​ so​​ special​​ I’m not only ready to sign you​​ right now,​​ but have you open​​ for​​ the​​ biggest artist​​ on our label​​ on​​ their U.S. summer tour​​ this year.”

“You mean​​ Jester?” Squids asked.​​ 

“Yes, the all-mighty Jester.​​ That way​​ before​​ heading​​ into the studio this fall,​​ there will be an audience waiting.​​ I​​ think​​ their fans will​​ take​​ to you, what do you think?”​​ 

We’re going on tour with Jester!​​ Gimme a fucking pen, I’m in!”

Lola and Walter gave each other sly glances.​​ He​​ had​​ negotiated the tour in knowing Squids wouldn’t be able to refuse; Jester was his favorite band.

 

As Jimmy’s lone, plodding, double-bass drumbeat beat the air during the breakdown of the third song of their showcase, “Minerva​​ Doom”, the world felt wrapped around Walter like a warm bath of balance and harmony, a place where he could make no mistakes; a place he could only find​​ onstage—that is if it was a good show. If it was a bad show, the opposite. The stage was​​ a sucking whirlpool of​​ chaos​​ and self-hatred.​​ 

Although​​ already decided​​ who they were​​ going to sign with, the label showcase was still​​ Perfect Crime’s​​ formal​​ acknowledgement by​​ the​​ music​​ industry of their arrival into the​​ major​​ leagues,​​ an​​ event even​​ more​​ talked about​​ because they were a rock n’ roll act, a genre thought​​ of​​ as​​ all but​​ gone​​ by the industry, but people were always​​ hoping​​ for​​ its​​ saviors.

With​​ Marshall full stacks, fuzzily distorted guitars,​​ and stories of​​ wild shows and​​ drunken and​​ drugged debauchery—mostly exhibited by his bandmates​​ but Walter played along too, Perfect Crime sold​​ rock n’ roll​​ saviors​​ well.​​ But they weren’t simply making​​ something old​​ new​​ again​​ like so many​​ other​​ “new”​​ rock bands, they were​​ doing​​ something​​ wholly​​ new​​ with rock n’ roll itself, a sound so unique it had to be heard because words couldn’t describe​​ it. But like​​ all great music regardless of genre,​​ the​​ lyrics moved minds,​​ Walter’s​​ voice​​ moved​​ hearts,​​ and​​ the​​ music​​ moved​​ bodies,​​ both​​ masculine and feminine alike.​​ Walter’s​​ face also​​ swelled​​ genitals,​​ so that helped​​ too—or at least it helped​​ in attracting​​ the big record labels​​ back to rock n’ roll.

A sick man’s lying in my head no doubt...”​​ Walter​​ sang with his guitar slung over his shoulder as the crowd clapped​​ along to the beat,​​ “...it’s​​ a​​ wonder people think it’s me. I try to keep him down but he always comes out for everybody to see.​​ I​​ mean that’s why​​ you’re paying me...

Clap,​​ clap, clap...

“...The stage is blessed as a sovereign state from accountability.​​ So every time I cast my name on the marquee pane, we celebrate the death of me.​​ Great cemetery with personality!

In a well-practiced move, Walter spun his heavy Les Paul back to his front, and pick-slid into a grand power chord​​ which​​ re-introduced​​ the chorus:

Glory Hallelujah.​​ Glory,​​ glory friend!​​ Glory Hallelujah,​​ and I’m frying myself again.​​ Lying to myself again!

The band then broke into a double-time​​ chorus​​ and the crowd went into a frenzy of not exactly moshing, but not exactly dancing. The dancefloor​​ became​​ a gigantic fun pit​​ of crisscrossing bodies, many​​ of whom​​ were his​​ most-dedicated fans​​ made of mostly teenagers​​ who called themselves “Quarkians”, distinguished by the bellbottoms​​ they​​ wore in emulation of​​ Walter’s.​​ 

While​​ Walter’s​​ bottom half was always​​ seventies​​ onstage,​​ his top half​​ was​​ always​​ nineties:​​ a plaid flannel and​​ shaggy,​​ unkempt hair. The only​​ wardrobe item that​​ seemed to​​ change​​ was his​​ ceaseless​​ supply of​​ nerdy​​ science shirts.​​ Tonight​​ his shirt​​ had a picture of the physicist Richard Feynman, with​​ the​​ caption “DICK!” underneath it.

Grinding​​ Minerva’s​​ second to last chord​​ over his strings, Walter​​ took​​ a full swinger​​ before​​ hitting​​ the​​ song’s​​ stinger.​​ A roar blew​​ back​​ at him​​ from the crowd like wind from a blowhole.​​ Just​​ behind​​ the​​ blast,​​ Amber​​ clapped and​​ smiled proudly, blowing him kisses​​ from the merch booth she’d​​ been​​ dutifully​​ managing​​ since​​ the start of​​ their​​ two-week tour of the​​ Western states,​​ the tour which​​ had​​ been key in​​ taking​​ Perfect Crime​​ from local sensation to​​ unsigned​​ phenomenon.​​ Because of this, Walter​​ began​​ calling​​ her the band’s​​ lucky​​ charm.

“I know you​​ weren’t planning on​​ hearing​​ any covers tonight, but I’d like to do one,”​​ Walter​​ said​​ to the crowd as​​ he​​ set down his​​ guitar​​ and began​​ walking to his new​​ Wurlitzer electric piano, a​​ secret​​ gift from Lola, a secret between​​ only​​ them.​​ “It’s​​ not a Guns N’ Roses​​ cover, however,​​ it’s​​ a Neil Young song, and it’s​​ for my girlfriend, Amber Evans...” The crowd awed and clapped.​​ “I won’t point her out because she’ll hate me if I do, but I love you​​ lucky charm.” He​​ then​​ sat at​​ his​​ piano. “This song is called ‘See the Sky About to Rain’.”

 

“I love you​​ so much,”​​ Amber said after the show.

“I love you too,”​​ Walter said, his hands undoing​​ her​​ pants. Dim, auburn​​ light​​ from a streetlamp twenty yards away drizzled onto her bare stomach stretched​​ across​​ his car passenger seat.​​ His car along with all the bands’​​ cars were parked in the​​ Troubadour’s​​ side​​ alley since it was where they had to load their equipment​​ in and out. Currently everyone​​ and their equipment​​ was​​ in for​​ about​​ another twenty minutes while the closing band, personal friends of Perfect Crime, finished​​ their set.

With his bottom half already de-clothed, after de-clothing hers, they joined​​ their​​ de-clothed halves together and made​​ wordless love​​ for two songs on the radio​​ until commercial break.

“I don’t know​​ why​​ it​​ didn’t click until I was onstage tonight...” Walter​​ then​​ said,​​ his mind still racing from the excitement of the night, “... but​​ this is the greatest day of my life. My life will never be the same​​ after. Today is the beginning of life 2.0, the life I’ve been dreaming of since​​ I was eleven.​​ And best​​ of all, I never have to wear that monkey suit for Endeavor​​ ever​​ again.”

“I know,” Amber said grinning,​​ I can’t believe we’re​​ finally​​ quitting.

Wait, you’re quitting?”

Yeah. Not right away. But once​​ we​​ go on tour. Someone has to manage the merch booth, right?

“I think the label will probably have someone for that now.”

“But​​ what else am I supposed to do on tour?”

“Well,​​ truthfully, I​​ didn’t​​ know you were​​ coming on tour because I didn’t know you were quitting your job.​​ And maybe the label might pay you, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to pay rent—even if it’s just to your mom.”

“But I thought—I mean, I just figured we’d be moving in together​​ since​​ Cirkus is paying for a house. I know how badly you’ve been wanting to get out of your grandma’s,​​ and​​ you know​​ how badly I’ve been wanting to get out of my mom’s. I thought that’s why you had them put it in the contract.

“No, not at all. I put it in to be left alone. I have to finish writing our album.”

Amber’s body paused below him​​ along with their love making.​​ She brought a fist to her chin and began teething​​ her index finger.​​ 

“Okay...” she said, “but where do I fit in​​ in​​ all this? What’s your girlfriend supposed to do for the​​ six weeks​​ you’re on tour, then for however long you need to write​​ the​​ album?”

Walter struggled for​​ words​​ so​​ only​​ the​​ crude truth came out:

“I guess​​ I was so caught up with everything else,​​ I didn’t think about​​ you.”

“Y-you didn’t think about​​ me?” she said, the words quivering under her quickening breath.​​ She then pushed​​ him away and off of her.​​ You know​​ I​​ put my heart and soul into this​​ band​​ too,” she said rummaging the dark floors for her clothes. “Your dream​​ has been​​ just as much​​ my dream. How could you not think of me in its future?​​ How could you not think of your​​ lucky​​ charm?​​ Or was that just bullshit onstage? An act for your audience? Because I’m really beginning to doubt if you actually love me.

Walter​​ remained​​ silent, searching​​ for answers on the​​ dashboard.​​ 

“Say something!” she​​ demanded.​​ But the only things he could find were all those little doubts he thought he’d gotten over​​ long ago.​​ 

“I never asked you to share my dream,”​​ Walter​​ said​​ at last. “When I first met you, you had a dream of your own;​​ you wanted to be a writer. But once we got together, instead of finishing the​​ novel you always said you would, you just began making excuses until you convinced yourself it would never happen.”

Amber sighed.​​ “Because​​ I​​ realized I​​ don’t have the same​​ gift​​ in writing​​ that​​ you have in music,” she said. “That’s the truth.​​ After​​ seeing the dedication​​ you have—the dedication it takes to make art a​​ career,​​ I just came to terms I’m not cut out for it.”

“But dedication is different than being gifted. Dedication is something you can change​​ if you didn’t​​ let​​ your depression have such a stranglehold on it.​​ Depression is​​ a​​ part of your gift, and it can either work against​​ you​​ or for​​ you.​​ Let​​ me show you how it can work for you, but I can’t do that if you never let me read your writing.​​ I’ve always wanted to, and from everything​​ your mother​​ has​​ said, it seems like it’s worth reading.”

“Of course​​ she’s​​ says good things; she’s​​ my mother. It’s​​ decent, but not exceptional, not like your music.​​ If you​​ ever​​ read my writing, you’d know.”

“Then​​ for God sake’s,​​ let me​​ read​​ it!​​ I don’t care if it was inspired by Greg​​ or if you don’t think it’s​​ ‘exceptional’.​​ I don’t​​ think​​ a great majority of​​ my​​ art​​ is​​ good, let alone ‘exceptional’, but still, I​​ share it all with you. How can we share our hearts together if you’re not willing to share​​ your art? Are they not one in the same? . . . In fact,​​ there’s​​ a lot I wished you’d​​ share with me​​ more, like when you’re angry​​ with​​ me, or when something I do bothers you.​​ But​​ instead you swallow it inside and​​ just​​ pretend everything is perfect.​​ Why?”

Amber​​ hugged​​ her knees to her chest and began​​ sobbing.​​ “I’m​​ sorry!”​​ she cried​​ congestedly​​ into her knees, making her sound as if she were speaking into a paper lunch bag.​​ “If you want to know the truth​​ . . .​​ I’m​​ terrified​​ to lose you.​​ I don’t​​ know​​ what I did to deserve​​ you, but if I didn’t have you, I don’t know what I’d do.”

“But​​ hiding your true feelings—your true self—is exactly how you’ll lose me.​​ I don’t want you to feel you can’t express yourself honestly. That’s the​​ exact opposite of what I want in a relationship.​​ And why would I be with you if I didn’t think you deserved me?”

“Because you feel guilty.”

It slapped​​ Walter​​ in the face because it was true—at least in the beginning​​ it was.​​ But​​ now​​ things were better. He was in love with her—or at least​​ the potential of her. He always felt the potential to love​​ Amber​​ if she changed. But​​ she hadn’t really once he thought about it.​​ Then was he​​ really​​ in love with her?

“Amber, don’t think that,” was the best consoling comment he could come up with without lying. He had no more foma. “I just don’t know what you’re supposed to do​​ if​​ my dream​​ is coming​​ true if you don’t have one of your own. Are you supposed to sponge off me and​​ my dream​​ for the rest of your life? How is that any different than the complacent housewife you refused to be for​​ Greg?​​ I just thought​​ . . . I just​​ thought you were​​ someone with​​ their​​ own​​ dreams;​​ a love outside of just me.​​ That’s​​ what I want.”​​ 

“What? Are​​ you​​ trying to say​​ you don’t want me​​ anymore​​ then?”

“I… I​​ think I am. I’m​​ so​​ sorry.​​ I love you, but you​​ still​​ need to find yourself.​​ I can’t​​ be your​​ surrogate dream.”

No-no-no…” she began groveling and clawing at him.​​ Please.​​ Please.​​ I’ll begin writing again.​​ I just need time. Please, not right now. I had​​ plans​​ for us. Something that might inspire me to write again.

“I’m sorry​​ Amber, but you need to find​​ that inspiration​​ on​​ your own, and when you do, then maybe we can try again. I’m so sorry, but it’s the best for both of us.”

“No.​​ You don’t understand.​​ I had​​ plans for your birthday.”

“My birthday? That​​ was​​ over​​ three months ago.”

“Next year.​​ I had something planned for—” Her face froze into​​ the​​ blank stare​​ he’d seen in this car​​ before.

“Amber​​ . . .​​ Amber​​ . . . Amber!”

“What?” she​​ finally came to.​​ She looked more disoriented than last time.

“You had another​​ staring spell​​ . . . Are you okay?”​​ He reached out to hold her.

“Of course I’m not okay!” she shouted​​ and pushed his arms away.​​ “You’re leaving me!”​​ She then​​ flung​​ the car door open​​ and​​ took off​​ down the alley.

“Amber stop!” Walter yelled​​ running after​​ her.

“No.​​ You want to be left alone—wish granted.”

Just​​ as she reached​​ the sidewalk of​​ Santa Monica​​ Boulevard, Walter caught up to her and​​ grabbed her​​ by the arm. “Don’t touch me!” she screamed.​​ “Get away!”​​ He attempted again, but she kept screaming bloody murder,​​ attracting a nearby hotel security guard.

“Should I call​​ the police​​ miss?” he said stepping between them, staring down Walter.

“No. Just​​ keep him away until​​ I​​ can​​ get my car from​​ the​​ valet and leave,”​​ she said.​​ 

“Amber, you shouldn’t be driving,” Walter said.​​ “Please come back​​ and talk to me​​ . . .​​ You don’t understand,” he said to the security blocking him, “she shouldn’t be driving right now.”

“Is she intoxicated?”

“No, but...”

“Are you intoxicated? Your breath smells like whiskey.”

“Yes,​​ I just had a glass​​ not that long ago, but—”

“Then don’t make another step toward her until she’s in her car and gone if you don’t want me to call the police, you understand me?”

Walter stood helpless on the sidewalk. “Karen,” he​​ then​​ said,​​ and​​ ran back down the alley, into the backdoor of the venue.

“What do you mean​​ you​​ broke up?​​ I don’t understand.​​ Why?”​​ Karen​​ said​​ once he finally found her at the upstairs bar​​ playing darts​​ and told her what happened.​​ It was loud and Karen was buzzed, so only some of the story​​ sunk​​ in.

“I’ll tell you later,” he said.​​ “But right now we need to stop her​​ from​​ leaving.”

“Amber’s leaving? She’s my ride home.”

“Yes, and she just had​​ a​​ staring spell.”

“Oh my God. She shouldn’t be driving. Let’s go.”

But by the time they made it to​​ the valet at the front door, Amber had already left.

 

“I should’ve stopped her,” Walter said to Karen as​​ he loaded​​ his gear into​​ his​​ Prius’s hatchback. “I​​ tried, but she just kept screaming like I was trying to kill her.”

“You did everything you could,”​​ Karen​​ said with her phone to​​ her​​ cheek. “Damn it, she’s ignoring my calls now.” The phone then switched to​​ her​​ hands​​ and she began texting.

“Why did I break​​ up with her?” Walter continued. “Why didn’t I see this coming?​​ And why did I decide tonight of all nights?”

Karen​​ put her​​ phone​​ in her pocket, then​​ went to Walter and​​ placed​​ a hand on his shoulder.​​ “Because​​ change brings things like this out of nowhere sometimes,” she said. “But​​ to​​ be​​ honest, I​​ sort of saw this​​ coming once the band started​​ getting label attention. I didn’t think​​ it would happen the night you signed​​ or​​ all at once, but​​ I just sensed something like this was going to happen.”

“What do you mean?”​​ he asked.

“Well,​​ I could just see...​​ see that​​ you and Amber were on different paths, that’s all. I was just hoping you might help her to yours, but I suppose everyone has to find that path on their own, and it seemed the more you found your way, the more unmotivated she became in hers. That’s not a healthy relationship.” Karen took her hand off and turned away​​ from him.​​ “Sorry,​​ this​​ is​​ something​​ I shouldn’t​​ be giving my opinion on,” she said.​​ “Honesty​​ just​​ sometimes has a way of spilling out of me even when I don’t want it to, but​​ especially​​ if I’ve been​​ drinking.”

Walter smiled​​ and turned his​​ attention from his hatchback to her.​​ “No,” he said,​​ “I’m glad you did​​ . . .​​ And strangely, I feel better you did.”

Karen pulled her phone back out of her pocket.​​ “Oh shit,” she said,​​ “Amber​​ just texted me . . .​​ At home. Don’t worry, I’m safe. Just need time alone. Going to bed now. Talk to you in the morning.”

 

When​​ Walter and Karen​​ arrived at​​ her​​ house, Amber’s​​ dark green Civic​​ was​​ in the driveway.

“Looks like she’s​​ here,”​​ Walter said pulling in front of the house and putting​​ his​​ car in park.

“Yes​​ it does,” Karen said looking at the driveway.​​ “So happy that’s over.” She then turned to Walter. “Well, I guess​​ it’s goodbye now.”

“Yes,​​ I guess it is,” he said. “Goodbye forever.”

“Not forever. We can still... No we can’t, can we?”

“No, I don’t think we can, at least not for a while. But everyone says that and it never happens, so​​ yeah, it’s​​ probably forever.”

“You’re probably right...”​​ There was a long silence, then​​ Karen began​​ weeping.

“I’m sorry,” she said,​​ “just a little emotional right now. I was so worried about Amber,​​ I didn’t​​ have time to​​ process​​ this was goodbye for us​​ . . .​​ We’ve sure had some great​​ times​​ together, haven’t we Axl?”

“Yes we have Dolly,” Walter said, who’d begun weeping too. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sing ‘Jackson’ with anyone else.”

“And here I thought ‘A Whole New World’ was your favorite duet? Or maybe it was just mine because you always insisted on singing Jasmine’s parts.”

Laughter began soaking up​​ their​​ tears.

“I’m going to miss your ‘dirty pictures’ from​​ the​​ lab​​ of HeLa cells and mutated DNA,” Walter said.

“I’m going to miss our late night talks​​ after movie night,” Karen said.​​ “Who else can I discuss the laws of thermodynamics and the concepts of Brahman with until​​ three​​ a.m.?”

Walter noticed the​​ air​​ was​​ becoming​​ warmer. The windshield​​ was also beginning​​ to fog, and as it spread, so did the realization of why he​​ was​​ in love with Amber:​​ her mother.

He​​ said nothing.​​ She said nothing. Their​​ eyes, however,​​ seemed to​​ be telling each other a lot.​​ The heat continued to​​ grow, then something​​ pulled his hand to hers, resting atop her lap. She clasped it. The hands then began to caress one another.

“I…” Walter said,​​ but​​ before he knew​​ what he was going to say,​​ his​​ lips​​ were​​ saying it on​​ hers, and his hands,​​ her body.​​ He​​ tore under her clothes and into her​​ soft flesh, as her hands began to​​ do​​ the same, grazing up and down his chest.​​ His mouth then found its way down her neck, then to her​​ breasts. Her​​ hand then found its way​​ into his pants, so one of his hands followed into hers. She soon let out a​​ gasping yelp​​ and was coming​​ greatly, soaking his hand and the inside of her pants, causing him to reciprocate​​ just as quickly and strongly.​​ It was only then that​​ they​​ both​​ comprehended​​ what was happening.

They sat​​ back​​ stiffy​​ in​​ their​​ seats,​​ breathing heavily​​ and​​ wide-eyed on the now completely​​ fogged windshield.

“I’m so sorry,” Walter said.​​ 

“It was just as much my fault,” Karen said. “I need to go.”

“I understand . . . We probably shouldn’t hug goodbye.”

“Yes, we probably shouldn’t . . . Goodbye Walter.”

“Goodbye Karen.”

 

The next morning,​​ Walter​​ awoke​​ in​​ disbelief of everything that had happened in the twenty-four hours before. Surely it had been a dream—or nightmare, but the​​ phone ringing​​ on his nightstand​​ was a reminder it was not.​​ It was Karen.

“Hello,” he said.

It was​​ only​​ her again​​ weeping.

“Karen? What’s wrong?”

“Walter...” she mumbled.​​ 

“Yes? What is it?”

 “I’m not sure how to say this . . . Amber passed away last night. She had a grand mal seizure and​​ asphyxiated in her sleep.

His​​ eyes lurched back and his gut compressed as if gravity had suddenly​​ been​​ amplified.

“No, no, no…” he​​ said and began​​ bawling. “I killed her.​​ I killed her.”

“Stop​​ it.​​ You didn’t kill her.​​ Please, don’t blame yourself.”

“How can I not?”

“Please​​ Walter, don’t blame yourself...”​​ Karen​​ dwindled​​ into​​ more​​ crying.

“Karen?”

“Yes?”

“I need to see you. I can’t handle this on my own. You’re the only person​​ who​​ understands.”

“And that’s exactly why​​ we​​ can’t​​ see each other. No good will come of it​​ . . . I’m​​ so​​ sorry​​ Walter, but we​​ can never see each other again.”

“No, please Karen.”

“It’s for both of us. But don’t let this stop your dream.​​ Go on tour, record your album,​​ put this pain in your art. That’s all I can​​ say​​ . . . I’m sorry, but I’ve got a lot more people to call; you were the first.”

“I can’t say goodbye.”

“Then I’ll​​ do​​ it for you . . . Goodbye Walter.”

The call ended. ​​ ​​ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 3

Chapter 3

à La Recherche de L'amour Perdu

MAY 2011

“‘You are what you love, not what loves you.’ Do you think that’s true?” Karen asked as credits rolled on their second Saturday movie night. Movie night used to be on Monday when Walter​​ didn’t have a show, but Perfect Crime’s residency at The House of Blues had recently been promoted from first Monday every month to every Monday every week.​​ 

“No,” Amber said little-spooned into Walter on her mother’s chocolate brown living room couch. Like the house, the couch was modest in size, but not too self-effacing, stylish, but not lacking character or comfort. “Love exists between people, not between yourself,” Amber continued. “It’s just clever wordplay pretending to be substantive—a lot like this movie. Mom, I know you’re just starting to explore film and have taken a liking to Kaufman, but I think you’ll eventually realize his films are for hipsters who pretend to be intellectuals because they can understand irony and​​ Adaptation​​ is the epitome​​ of it. Strip away all the ‘irony’, and this movie has nothing. Just wasted time. Inserting yourself in your own story is such a creative cop-out.”

“But isn’t that pretty much what Proust does in​​ In Search of Lost Time? And that’s your favorite novel.”

“He​​ didn’t insert himself literally, and​​ In Search of Lost Time​​ is actually a story—one of the all-time greatest, not Proust’s story of the story. Unless you’re Vonnegut—who Kaufman is nothing but a poor man’s version of, writers shouldn’t be​​ characters in their own story, and a story shouldn’t be a story of a story.”

“I beg to differ. Also if Proust is one of the all-time greatest storytellers, I don’t believe he should need over a million words to tell a story. But since I’ve honestly never been able to make it through even​​ Swann’s Way, I’ll give you the benefit of a doubt, however, no matter how beautiful the music, Proust is also one of the all-time greatest windbags.” Walter felt Amber’s body tense and heard her throat swallow. “But regardless of story,” Karen continued, “you still have to admire the cleverness of the film.”

“He resorted to every cliché he believed against,” Amber said. “How is that clever?”

“Because beliefs can turn against the principles they profess to hold sacred when taken too literally. That’s the message I took away from the film, not so much irony.” ​​ 

“I think that’s your Buddhist leanings authoring that message Mother,” Amber nodded to the bronze Buddha sitting on the​​ Cocobolo coffee table, “not Charlie Kaufman.”

“Perhaps, but that’s the beautiful thing about art: interpretation, not meaning. Everyone has the right to be right because they are right.”

“Yes, but as a​​ writer, I can tell you Kaufman just took the lazy, solipsistic approach every amateur writer eventually​​ takes, and irony doesn’t excuse it. Creativity is supposed to be inspired by life, not copied from it.”

“Yes, but sometimes even creativity can’t compete with the master, and is life not the master of all creativity? Is it not drawn from the setbacks, missteps, and successes of life? Creativity always feels copied to me, even prophetic at times. However, that usually just means I’m on the right path.”

“Because in science that’s how creativity works: by Mother Nature’s rules. But in art there are no underlying rules or correct paths.”

“So why are you trying to define them then?”

Belly laughter blew against Amber’s back. She jabbed her arm back at it. “Why do you always take her side?” she said.

“I’m not,” Walter said. “She just righteously​​ checkmated you. You’re not going to beat her in an argument. Logic is her day job.”

“Right, what was I thinking? Logic trumps anyone else from expressing an opinion.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Yes you did. But both of you have never tried writing a novel, have you? What help is logic when there’s nothing to checkmate?”

“Amber, I’m sorry,” Karen said. “I didn’t mean to belittle you. I was just also trying to express an opinion. And you’re absolutely right. I don’t have the same type of creativity you have. Creating​​ a story long enough to fill a novel seems impossibly complex to me, let alone making it something people would want to read. But you’re truly gifted at it. You know it. I know it. All your teachers and professors knew it. That’s why I wish you’d finish your novel so the world can finally know it. And even if the story was inspired about a love that ultimately failed, like you said, in art you don’t have to copy.”

“What?” Walter said to Amber. “I thought your novel was inspired by the year you spent in a sorority?”

“Thanks Mom . . . Yes, but that’s also when I met Greg and also when his father passed away unexpectedly. That was the core of the story. But reality has tainted that story too much now and I can’t remove or change and surely don’t want to revisit that reality right now. I just need to start over fresh, but I haven’t had the time to figure out where when all I do is work, and all​​ my vacation time was just used for the tour. But it’s fine. This year is for the band anyway. Next year will​​ be for the book.”

“Speaking of the band,” Karen said to Walter. “Have you made your choice on a label?”

“I have,” Walter said, “but I can’t tell anyone yet. Also getting my bandmates onboard has proved more difficult than I assumed. Really, it’s just one​​ person, but without his approval, it’s hard to get the others’. Ultimately, it’s still my choice, but I’d like to have their support. I’m hoping the showcase will make things clear once they actually meet the reps in-person.”

“What’s the hang-up?”

Hang-ups. But I don’t want to talk about it. I’ve been ‘talking’ about it all week . . . Another beer anyone?”

“I’ll have another if you are,” Karen said. “But let me get them. You guys stay comfy on the couch. You want another glass of wine Amber?”

“No​​ thanks. Remember, I have to work at a decent hour tomorrow now that movie night is on Saturday.”

“How much longer are you at the airport again?”

“I should’ve been done a month ago, but with so many new hires at the local branches, they’re keeping people in​​ the ETP longer than ever before because they don’t have anywhere else to put them, so indefinitely for the​​ moment.” Amber stood and stretched her arms. “But I’m exhausted anyway,” she said. “I’m also in the middle of a good book I’d like to get back to before I get too sleepy. I need to cleanse my memory of that movie.

“Okay,” Walter said standing to kiss her. “I’ll be joining you soon.”

“Okay, if I’m asleep, love you and goodnight. And really just one more drink​​ Mother. I don’t need him stumbling in at 3:00 a.m. and snoring all night like last week.”

“No worries,” Karen said. “I learned my lesson. That hangover last week was the worst I’ve had in some years.”

“Me too,” Walter said. “I think we just got carried away because it was the first movie night we​​ didn’t have to work the next day. I promise, just one beer. And maybe a little weed too.”

“Yes, I’ll have a little more of that myself,” Amber said, then picked up the pipe on the coffee table, the bowl still loaded with mostly green herbs. She lit it and​​ inhaled, then unloaded the hit into Walter’s mouth, something that was becoming an affectionate ritual between them since he found it sexy. Greg forbade her from even smoking.

“Love you,” Walter said after.

“Love you,” she echoed and kissed him again. Amber then kissed her mother, then went upstairs to bed.

 

“I didn’t want to say it in front of Amber…” Walter said to Karen as they sipped on their beers while listening to Chopin—the joys of which Karen had just introduced him to, “…but even though the hangover sucked, last week was so worth it. I haven’t had a volley like that since college, or maybe even ever. And it takes a lot to blow my mind.”

A lasting grin stretched across Karen’s face. “Hey, you blew my mind a few times too,” she said. “And I’m just as hard to impress, if not harder. And yes, even though that hangover in the morning was hell, the night before really was heaven. I haven’t been able to debate someone like that since probably college myself. But we need to keep track of the drinking and time tonight. Not only so we remember where we leave off, but it doesn’t look good when mom gets the boyfriend shitfaced drunk after being left alone with him for the first time. I was so embarrassed. Amber hardly spoke to me when she came home from work the next day. She didn’t say anything about it, but I could tell it bothered her a lot.”

“Yeah, she gave me an earful of angry silence also. Finally I just apologized, but she acted like it wasn’t a big deal, although I could tell it was. Sometimes I​​ just wish she’d say what was on her mind instead of—” ​​ Walter bit his lip. “Actually, let’s just move on. It’s already going to be hard enough​​ limiting our time together to just one beer. Last week, especially toward the end—or the end of my memory, left me with so many questions and thoughts, thoughts I never thought I’d be having about religion . . . What was that Hindu concept again? Broman?”

Brahman.”

“Yes.​​ Refresh my memory again.”

Karen smirked. “According to belief,” she said, “Brahman is the source​​ of all things in the universe including reality and existence. Everything comes from Brahman and everything returns to Brahman. Brahman is uncreated, external, infinite, and all-embracing.”

Walter shook his head smiling. “It really is just the first and second laws of thermodynamics,” he said, “but instead of energy, it’s Braham. The world’s oldest religion grasped these laws thousands of years before science did.”

“Hindus also invented the number zero,” Karen said, “so you could argue they also had a handle on the third before anyone else. But it’s not surprising. Religion and science are offspring of philosophy, and at one time they all coexisted in ‘relative’ peace until salvation became the purpose of religion. But even then—at least before those purposes became governing bodies, cooperation between Christians and Muslims was common, and was responsible for not only preserving the science we have from antiquity, but​​ also establishing many of the principles and techniques we still use in science and medicine today. Science owes a great debt to God.”

“But is that reason enough to believe in him?” Walter asked.​​ 

“Or her. Or it. I can’t imagine God having a defined sex just because the culture I grew up in told me so, even though ‘God’ definitely has the hallmarks of a man . . . I don’t know, but I like not knowing. It makes life more interesting, and that’s inspiration enough for me to be a decent human being, not promises and punishments in an afterlife. I find a deep sanctity and humility in the scientific​​ observations of this world, but I also find it in the rich diversity of its creators, because no one captures humans quite like their gods. But also, like with Brahman, I think clues to some answers science seeks to solve can be found in religion if science is openminded enough to look. Like I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if dark energy turned out to be past lives from reincarnation.”

“How so?”

“Because quantum mechanics proves it’s possible to have an infinite number of paths exist within one.” Karen emptied her beer, then shook the can. “But I’ve reached my time limit,” she said. “So we’ll have to pick up on this bedtime story next week.”

After throwing away their cans and turning out the lights, Karen and Walter went upstairs together, then separated at the top to separate rooms at separate ends of the single upstairs hallway. Before opening their respective doors, their eyes turned to each other.​​ 

“Goodnight Karen,” Walter said for the second time. “And don’t know if it’s too soon to say it, but​​ love you.”

She smiled at him. “You should never feel ashamed of love,” she said. “Goodnight, and love you too.”

They both then separated. ​​ 

 

Amber stirred when Walter’s body rumpled the mattress. She awoke in a rather horny mood as one sometimes does in the middle of the night, so they joyfully did the deed and before she went back to sleep she said, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” he said, and for the first time it felt one-hundred percent natural and in no parts foma.

They kissed, then she cradled her lovely tushy onto his hips and was quickly snoring, but it was adorable, cooing baby type of snoring. She then farted on him, but that too was an adorable, baby type of fart. So this was love; for making snoring and farts adorable and baby-like. Walter loved​​ Amber’s snoring and farting.

The Silver Year: Chapter 2