The Silver Year: Chapter 18

 

Chapter​​ 18

I Heard My Soul Singing Behind a​​ Leaf

 

“Now repeat after me,​​ zum wohl,” their​​ tour group’s​​ German​​ sommelier said​​ as he raised up a shot glass of wine​​ at the other end of the long, candle-laden table.​​ 

Zum wohl,” everyone repeated.

“Zis is zee proper way to toast zee wine. It means to good health and zee way it has been done for​​ over four hundred years in zis wine​​ cellar,” he said gesturing to​​ the​​ underground​​ cylindrical chamber​​ lined with oversized wine barrels and soft lighting.

From​​ the low​​ chatter​​ patting​​ the​​ cellar​​ walls it seemed Amsterdam had made friends of everyone​​ in​​ Walter’s​​ absence.​​ Even Curt and Kourtney had new friends​​ they were conversing with​​ instead of​​ him​​ since he​​ had​​ gone out of his way to sequester himself​​ from them​​ since boarding the bus earlier​​ that day. Although they tried to talked to him, he told them he was too tired, then pretended to sleep or actually slept with his earbuds​​ in​​ for the entirety of the trip​​ from Amsterdam​​ to St. Goar.​​ He just needed time to find words again.​​ Everything felt different about himself. Not so much he’d been changed, but exposed,​​ and someone forgot to stitch the skin back on.​​ Now it was “real life”​​ that felt like a dream, while his night with Shiva​​ felt like the first time he’d actually been living.​​ There seemed no point to the trip now. It wasn’t about writing a book, paying tribute to Amber,​​ or any of the reasons he thought he came on this trip for. The reason was her.

So​​ why​​ didn’t he go on living​​ then​​ instead of choosing to remain dead​​ by continuing this bus tour?​​ Why​​ didn’t​​ he​​ turn himself into the police to be with her​​ instead of here where it seemed no one cared any differently​​ if​​ he​​ was there or not?​​ Even Curt and Kourtney had​​ moved on from him. But who could blame them for not wanting to be around someone they were constantly having to talk off ledges?​​ Maybe it was time​​ Walter​​ did the world a favor and just jumped.​​ The universe had given him his​​ one opportunity​​ for love​​ and he walked away because he was afraid. He was a coward. He was a sad and pathetic coward no one wanted to be around. The world was tired of Walter Huxley and his whining. He should​​ just​​ go down​​ to​​ the river, walk in and drown.

Silently boiling over​​ inside, Walter​​ excused himself to​​ go​​ to​​ the restroom, but instead went upstairs and out the​​ cellar door, toward​​ the​​ river.​​ 

 

From the​​ darkness of the​​ cellar, Walter emerged​​ into twilight​​ light​​ atop one of the many​​ steep and​​ narrow​​ brick​​ roads​​ of​​ the small German town of​​ St.​​ Goar.​​ Located in the lush and historic Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the​​ surrounding​​ slopes were dotted with​​ medieval​​ castles and​​ vineyards, and the town itself kept a​​ comparable​​ medieval, gothic​​ character. The streets​​ were​​ silent and vacated being​​ almost nine in​​ the evening before the Corpus Christi holiday.​​ All the shops were closed, and even most of the houses he passed on his way to the river were shuttered and abandoned​​ as much of the citizenry had left town.​​ 

Upon reaching the river bank,​​ Walter​​ hiked his pants​​ up​​ and waded into the water. In front of him,​​ passing​​ cargo ships plunged in and out of​​ the setting sun​​ wedging​​ itself​​ into the​​ wide river​​ gulch,​​ spilling​​ its​​ blood-orange​​ innards​​ over​​ the​​ storied and fertile​​ hills​​ that had been battled over since the time of the Romans.​​ Momentarily​​ forgetting​​ his​​ present-day​​ woes​​ in​​ imaginations of the past,​​ Walter​​ stayed standing in the river​​ until​​ it​​ swallowed the sun whole.​​ Then​​ when​​ the stars began opening their eyes,​​ he​​ returned​​ to the river​​ shore​​ to ruminate in them as​​ it’d been a long time since he could see and communicate with​​ so many.​​ But as his eyes adjusted to the light of the dark diamond sea, he noticed he was not alone in his stargazing. Up on a grassy​​ knoll​​ just adjacent to him​​ was Kourtney.

“I was wondering when you were going to notice me,” she said​​ as Walter walked over​​ and sat​​ beside​​ her.​​ 

“How long have you been here?” he asked.​​ 

“Oh about as​​ long as you. I​​ followed you​​ to​​ make sure you​​ weren’t​​ going​​ to drown yourself.”

He​​ laughed. “How’d you know?”

“Happy people don’t​​ isolate themselves from their​​ friends all day,​​ suicidal people do.​​ But​​ furthermore, last​​ night​​ you told me you were going to the ‘restroom’​​ then​​ disappeared for the entire night only to reappear on the bus today a completely different person.​​ So​​ either​​ the real Walter​​ got abducted by aliens last night and you were coming down here to go back to your spaceship, or, by the look on your face when you left,​​ you were​​ coming down here to drown yourself.​​ Either way, I’m not letting​​ you out of my sight​​ again​​ until I find​​ out​​ what happened last night, because​​ obviously something happened last night.”

​​ Walter took a few moments before responding.​​ “Yes,” he said,​​ “a lot happened last night, so much so I’m still trying to tally it all up​​ and that’s why I haven’t said anything. And​​ I'm not​​ really​​ suicidal,​​ I​​ just​​ sometimes​​ need to​​ idle insignificantly in​​ suicide’s​​ waters to​​ soothe​​ the desire. That’s​​ why I came down​​ to the river,​​ to​​ soak in​​ a little​​ perception​​ and find an explanation for what happened last night, because to be honest, it all​​ still​​ feels​​ unexplainable.”

“And the​​ soak​​ didn’t​​ help?”

“I no longer feel like killing myself, however,​​ as far as finding an​​ explanation,​​ no.​​ I was too distracted by​​ that​​ sunset​​ to think about last night, which is probably good​​ because I’ve been thinking​​ and worrying​​ about last night all day.​​ That​​ might’ve been the most beautiful​​ sunset​​ I’ve​​ ever​​ seen.”

“And to think we had it all to ourselves.”

“Where’s everyone else?”

“At​​ the hostel’s​​ pub.​​ It’s the​​ only​​ place open in town.​​ Don’t know how they could​​ be​​ though with this on our doorstep. Plus, this is a lot better​​ view to​​ drink​​ to,” she said holding up a bottle of the​​ town’s exclusive ice wine their​​ sommelier​​ had been​​ pushing​​ during​​ their​​ tasting.​​ 

“Curt too?”​​ Walter asked.

“Yeah.​​ And to be honest, I needed​​ a little break from him​​ anyhow.​​ Not that we’re​​ not​​ getting along, I’m just used to being alone​​ more, where he likes to​​ always​​ be in on the action. While​​ we​​ might​​ be brother and sister,​​ I’m​​ discovering we’re​​ also​​ very​​ different people. Anyway...” she held out the bottle to him,​​ “...if​​ a​​ soak in the river didn’t​​ help​​ find an explanation, maybe​​ a soak​​ in​​ this​​ wine​​ bottle can.​​ Care​​ to split it and​​ talk​​ last night​​ over​​ with me?​​ Two heads are better than one you know.​​ Also I restocked on joints in Amsterdam.”​​ She then reached into her jacket pocket and handed him one.​​ 

“You always know the way to my heart Kourtney,”​​ Walter​​ said​​ smiling​​ as he took it. “And​​ I suppose talking to someone is probably a better way of going about​​ it.”

“Good,” she said as she began uncorking the wine. “Hopefully​​ you’re​​ okay​​ with drinking a sixty-euro bottle of wine​​ straight from the spout though. I didn’t bring glasses.​​ Wine’s more about who than what you drink it with anyway.”

Zum wohl​​ to that,​​ Walter said lighting the joint, then taking​​ a hit before passing it to​​ Kourtney​​ in exchange for the bottle.

“So...” she said inhaling a toke then exhaling it out, “...what the hell happened last night?​​ Curt and I were really worried​​ this morning​​ when no one had heard from you, especially since we ate​​ all​​ those​​ hash​​ brownies we didn’t know were hash brownies. But after that Flugel stuff the boat captain gave us,​​ we​​ all​​ kind of blacked out.”

“Boat captain?”​​ 

“Yeah from the canal cruise. You really don’t remember? Wow, you were as fucked up as you looked. We just thought you were joking.”

“I kind of remember the canal cruise now​​ that you mention it.​​ We went to a sex show after, right?”

“Yeah, where you​​ ate that​​ banana.”

“Yes, I definitely remember the banana. But everything after is a blank​​ until I came to at some rave.”

“Walter!​​ We were just a floor above​​ the rave.​​ Remember we went to that​​ three-story club​​ with​​ a rave on the first floor, a rock​​ club​​ on the second, and​​ a​​ hip-hop​​ club​​ on the third? That’s where you​​ said you had to use the ‘restroom’ then just disappeared. But you were​​ just downstairs​​ from us.”

“I don’t remember any rock club, but​​ I was looking for a​​ restroom​​ when I came to,​​ however,​​ security​​ kicked me out before I could​​ find one.”

“You got kicked out?​​ For what?”

Walter​​ chuckled.​​ “Um, pulling​​ my dick out​​ on the dancefloor,” he said,​​ “but there’s much more​​ to it than that...”

 

“Holy shit,”​​ Kourtney​​ said​​ after​​ Walter​​ spilled all the beans of the evening, every event, feeling, and fear.​​ “That’s one hell of a story and night.​​ And you have no way of getting ahold of​​ Shiva?​​ Not even​​ Facebook?”

“She’s not on any social media,”​​ he said.​​ “She​​ has to keep a low profile since she’s an illegal alien. All she had was a burner phone which I stupidly never got the number to​​ . . . I have to go back to Amsterdam. I’m​​ going to ask Anna tomorrow if there’s any​​ way​​ I can hitch a ride on another bus or​​ take a train back.​​ I’m not supposed to be here. There’s no reason for me to continue this trip.”​​ 

“Well, hold on. Don’t​​ throw​​ away​​ the trip just yet. I mean, she could be getting deported​​ as we speak. Then instead of being across an ocean from you, she’ll only be across a state​​ once you’re back home. Maybe just wait until​​ then​​ to find her. The internet’s a lot better place to find people than IRL anyway.​​ It’s​​ where I found my brother.​​ Do​​ you really think​​ going back to Amsterdam and​​ turning yourself into the police is a good idea?​​ What if you don’t find her, or even worse you get jailed and miss your flight home?”

“I know,​​ I know,​​ but​​ something’s​​ just​​ telling​​ me to go back. And as much as I never trusted gut feelings before,​​ as​​ I said,​​ with her​​ everything is​​ different.​​ I don’t know how to explain it.​​ As much​​ as​​ I thought people just brainwash themselves into thinking someone’s ‘the one’, I​​ totally​​ believe it now.”

Kourtney snickered.

“What?”​​ Walter​​ asked.

It’s just obvious you’ve never​​ really​​ been in love​​ then, otherwise you’d know​​ the one’ really is bullshit.​​ No one is meant for each other.​​ Only in poetry is love undyingly perfect. In the real world​​ it’s​​ extremely​​ complicated,​​ full of​​ sacrifices,​​ and most of the time romanceless,​​ but that’s​​ how​​ it​​ makes us better​​ people.

“How so?”

“Well, when you first fall in love with someone,​​ all you see is a​​ romanticized version of who they really are; you see their​​ best​​ qualities first.​​ It takes time to​​ chip away at this façade and​​ see​​ the​​ real,​​ imperfect person beneath, but that’s​​ when love’s magic​​ really​​ starts to work.​​ You’re​​ going to​​ have to​​ figure out​​ how to deal​​ with​​ someone​​ who’s not​​ completely compatible​​ with you​​ sexually,​​ emotionally,​​ and/or​​ philosophically, and they’ll have to do the same of you. But this friction​​ is what​​ strengthens​​ and transforms​​ you both​​ into​​ something closer to​​ those idealized versions of yourselves you both initially fell in love with,​​ because ideally,​​ you​​ both​​ don’t want to let the other person down.​​ Granted, there will be certain flaws you’ll​​ have to accept,​​ and you’ll need to figure out what and how many flaws are worth the price of love, but as weird as it sounds, balanced friction​​ really​​ is true love.”

“Sounds like you speak​​ from experience,”​​ Walter said.

“Not exactly, but​​ I​​ might’ve​​ let a few good ones get away because I thought I was looking for​​ ‘the one’.​​ Strangely, it’s​​ actually​​ been getting to know my brother that’s been the biggest reminder​​ love is about compromise. Although I’m​​ annoyed with him right now,​​ he has been​​ helping​​ me come out​​ of my shell more during this trip.​​ But​​ I guess​​ what​​ I’m trying to say is​​ love is not a one shot thing.​​ Life is filled with many shots at love. What’s more important​​ is​​ knowing​​ where to aim.​​ Not​​ to say​​ Shiva won’t​​ be your ‘one’​​ and​​ isn’t​​ worth fighting​​ for, but​​ I guarantee​​ you​​ another Shiva will​​ eventually​​ come along​​ if it’s not her.​​ Besides, if​​ she really is ‘the one’ and​​ it’s really fate​​ that’s​​ guiding your destiny,​​ it will let you know if you should go back.​​ Until then, I think you should​​ just​​ get some good sleep tonight and enjoy this trip​​ a little. After all, we’re only on the second stop of the tour.”

“You’re right​​ . . . I guess to fate then,” Walter said and took a​​ swig of the bottle before handing it to​​ Kourtney.

“To fate,”​​ she​​ said​​ taking a drink then putting an arm around him.​​ “But maybe I’m being​​ a little​​ selfish​​ too​​ because I​​ know I’d​​ miss you terribly if you left.”

“Really?​​ Someone you’re​​ constantly​​ having to​​ talk off ledges?”

“Well, it’s better than having a boring friend.​​ And talking to you has made me forget about my problems with my brother. So in some way, without even trying, you​​ also talked me off a ledge—or maybe just a small mound. But regardless,​​ friends like that are​​ hard to come by​​ because you can’t force that type of​​ chemistry.”

“Well,​​ I think the wine deserves some credit too...” Walter said shaking the nearly empty bottle,​​ “...but​​ I must be the luckiest person in the world​​ then​​ to have found you​​ Kourtney.” He​​ started to​​ put​​ his arm around her, but​​ hesitated.​​ “And​​ uh... I​​ meant​​ that in​​ the most​​ strictly platonic​​ way.”

She​​ laughed.​​ “I know that Walter,” she said​​ pulling his arm​​ around her.​​ They then​​ fell​​ back into​​ the grass and rested their heads upon each​​ other.​​ “But it​​ is really romantic​​ though, isn’t it?”​​ she​​ said.

“What is?”

“This:​​ the wine, the stars, the castles glowing like candles around us.”

“Yes, I suppose it is. Too​​ bad it’s being wasted on us​​ though.”

“Why? Romance can be just as equally appreciated between friends.​​ At least there’s someone to share it with. That’s the most depressing part of being alone. Life’s no different than a memory​​ and you can’t share a memory with anyone but yourself, just like you can’t share last night with anyone but Shiva.​​ That’s probably why you feel so crazy.​​ The only person who can confirm last night wasn’t just in your head is now gone. But at least you​​ know tonight​​ will never be​​ just a memory.”​​ She kissed him on the cheek. “I love you Walter.”

He kissed her on the cheek back. “I love you too Kourtney. What I did to deserve your​​ love​​ I’ll never know, but I guess someone is still looking out for me.”

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 17

Chapter​​ 17

Dancing Around​​ 

 

For the first time in his life​​ Walter​​ was happy​​ to see​​ morning. Not even​​ his​​ less than​​ three hours of sleep phased him.

The​​ horizon of consciousness​​ came at​​ what would usually be the​​ godawful hour of eight a.m.​​ to the​​ sound of​​ light rain​​ drumming​​ on the skylight​​ then the sight of​​ her​​ red hair​​ resting​​ upon the pillow​​ beside​​ him.​​ Whether​​ the color​​ was natural or not, he didn’t​​ care, it was the most beautiful​​ red​​ he’d ever seen​​ because​​ he’d only seen it​​ in a​​ dream. But​​ his​​ raw​​ lips​​ and​​ aching​​ muscles​​ were a testament this red was in fact a real color of life and​​ the​​ dancing they made until​​ the​​ moon​​ met the first rays​​ of​​ sunlight. But​​ then​​ real​​ also​​ were​​ his​​ feelings​​ and the evening which defeated his supposedly superior powers of reasoning.

But no,​​ Walter​​ reminded himself,​​ your powers of reasoning are​​ under slept​​ and​​ heavily​​ intoxicated​​ by​​ dopamine​​ from all that dancing last night.​​ This feeling of a​​ jigsaw puzzle​​ falling into place will pass.

But then​​ the red hair​​ turned​​ around​​ and her still sleeping face made all the pieces fall right back.

For the next few minutes​​ all​​ Walter​​ could do​​ was​​ stare​​ at​​ this​​ puzzle​​ in the face, this puzzle he’d known for​​ less than​​ one evening, an evening he still couldn’t remember beginning only being dropped into​​ as​​ an entangled electron coming into​​ being. He saw so much of himself mirrored in her,​​ like​​ two unknown hemispheres of the same earth that could​​ now​​ never be independent​​ of each other.​​ But​​ the reflection wasn’t​​ at all​​ what​​ he​​ was expecting.​​ He never thought love would be a tarot-card-reading hippie.​​ But somehow too, it made perfect sense.

Perfect sense?​​ . . .​​ Oh my God,​​ I’ve become​​ Billie.

“Whatta ya​​ looking at creep?”​​ Shiva​​ said with her eyes​​ still​​ seemingly​​ closed. She​​ then​​ opened them​​ and​​ began laughing, the​​ same​​ musical laugh that​​ had​​ sound-tracked his dream.​​ “Did you even sleep,” she asked,​​ “or​​ were you afraid you’d wake up and lose me?”

“No,”​​ he​​ said,​​ “I slept and woke up​​ and you’re still here. So​​ I guess​​ last night wasn’t​​ a dream.​​ Unless dreams leave​​ love bites.” He showed her​​ the inside of his​​ bruised​​ lower lip.​​ She then peeled her lip and he saw hers looked the same. They both laughed.

“No​​ sir,” she said,​​ “only flesh and blood. But I guess I was​​ appraising​​ the​​ validity​​ of​​ yours​​ also.​​ It would’ve been lonely​​ this morning​​ with​​ only​​ a figment of my​​ subconscious​​ to warm me.”​​ She snuggled her​​ flesh and blood​​ closer to his​​ beneath the blankets.​​ “Bodies are much​​ warmer in the morning​​ than dreams.”​​ ​​ 

“But​​ whose​​ body’s going to keep you warm​​ after this dream ends?”​​ Shiva looked at him confused.​​ “Or did​​ you forget I’m on a bus tour that leaves at​​ two​​ today?”

“Oh, no,” she said, but​​ looking as if she did.​​ “It... it​​ just felt so far away last night.​​ The​​ night​​ always seems like it can stretch forever​​ and it always catches you off guard when it doesn’t.”

“Almost​​ like a dream.”

“Yes,” she said​​ smiling, “especially​​ a dream​​ that​​ keeps you so busy dancing​​ you​​ forget about the time​​ . . .​​ What’s your next stop?”

“A small town in the Rhineland called St. Goar,​​ then​​ Munich, Austria, Venice, Switzerland, and Paris.”

“Sounds​​ like an amazing trip.​​ What do you have​​ planned?”

“Other than​​ visiting​​ some​​ famous headstones in Paris,​​ not much.​​ Contiki plans​​ everything​​ for you.”

“Let me guess...​​ Descartes​​ obviously.​​ Voltaire,​​ Jim Morrison​​ possibly?”

Walter smiled and shook his head.​​ “How well you’ve gotten to know me in our little time together,” he said.

They were silent for a moment while their eyes played a brief game of tag and their smiles hide and seek.

“Well,” Shiva said, “tell Jim I said hi.​​ His grave was the first place I​​ went​​ when​​ I went​​ to Paris for the first time.​​ I was madly in love with​​ him​​ as​​ a​​ teenager.​​ He was my gateway to poetry.”

“Are you sure ‘hi’​​ is​​ all you want​​ to say​​ then?”

“No,​​ also​​ tell him this...”​​ Her​​ lips​​ sealed​​ to his​​ and​​ their​​ torsos​​ imitated, arms and legs​​ knotting​​ around​​ one​​ another​​ as​​ if​​ trying to stem the​​ flow of​​ their time left together.​​ But the harder they pressed, the more time​​ had something to measure itself against​​ inside​​ their chests as their hearts​​ hammered the bars of their ribcages.

“I’m sure​​ he​​ would​​ much rather hear​​ that​​ from you,” Walter’s heart​​ spoke​​ out loud​​ after their kiss withdrew. “Let’s go to​​ Paris and tell​​ Jim​​ hi together.​​ Fuck my​​ bus​​ tour. With the exception of two people, I wasn’t a big fan anyway.”

She​​ said nothing,​​ but​​ in​​ her eyes a war of words​​ could be seen.

“I’m sorry if that sounded crazy,”​​ Walter apologized for his heart’s behavior.

“No...” she​​ replied, now unable to look him in the eye. Her body​​ also​​ loosened​​ its grip around​​ him.​​ “It sounds wonderful,” she said,​​ “but I’d hate for you to do that for me.”

“Well,​​ I​​ hate​​ the thought I’m going to have to say goodbye to you in less than six hours,” Walter’s heart continued in its ways.​​ “I’m sorry again if I sound crazy, but​​ how am I supposed to just walk away from the person every sign in the universe is telling me​​ to​​ stay with?​​ I mean,​​ you’re the only reason why I’m suddenly seeing reason in signs​​ now.​​ I could rationalize​​ everything​​ before you, but​​ suddenly my world makes no sense because of you,​​ and nothing draws me in more than a​​ seemingly​​ unsolvable​​ puzzle.”​​ 

She​​ became even more uncomfortable, her body continuing to​​ unfasten​​ and separate​​ from his.

Shut up Heart!​​ Walter begged from the chair he was tied to inside​​ his head.​​ Shut up! You’re going to​​ spoil​​ love like​​ you always do by speaking too soon.

Well...” Shiva​​ said,​​ “seemingly unsolvable puzzles can​​ also​​ be traps in disguise . . .​​ Walter, there’s something I’ve been dancing around that I need to tell you. Mags isn’t just my best friend and roommate, she’s my girlfriend.”

He​​ shuttered and sharply turned​​ his head​​ away with his eyes closed​​ as if a​​ landmine had exploded. He should’ve known better than to​​ follow​​ his heart​​ into​​ no​​ man’s​​ land.​​ ​​ 

“W-Why... why​​ didn’t you tell me?”​​ he​​ asked​​ doing his best to cover his wounds.

 “Because I didn’t think I​​ would have to​​ when​​ I first met you,” she​​ said, her body​​ clinging​​ back to​​ his to calm​​ his​​ shaking.​​ “Mags and I have​​ always had an open relationship, but as of recent it’s been increasingly​​ open​​ and​​ you’re not the first​​ stranger​​ I’ve taken to​​ La Lune Rouge​​ and spent the night ‘dancing’ with​​ lately.​​ But​​ obviously you’re no ordinary stranger. Youre​​ the first​​ and only person​​ I’ve ever sung ‘Harvest Moon’ to​​ because I was​​ actually​​ saving it for my future husband or wife. But now my guinea pig​​ will​​ forever​​ have​​ that song, along with the only tarot card I’ve ever given​​ away​​ from my mother’s deck,​​ and I’m not exactly sure​​ why I​​ seem to be​​ attaching​​ so much meaning to​​ you,​​ someone I’ve known for less than eight hours,​​ other than I’m under some strange spell. But my horoscope​​ did​​ say​​ my love life was​​ going to be fucked this month​​ because my ruling planet Jupiter​​ is​​ moving into Gemini and the full moon lunar eclipse in​​ my sign​​ Sagittarius​​ would be the beginning of it,​​ the full moon you happened to appear the night after.​​ However, I never take horoscopes seriously, and​​ while I’m not exactly in a​​ happy relationship,​​ Mags​​ still​​ has a lot of my heart and​​ I’m​​ not sure​​ abandoning her for​​ someone I’ve known less than eight hours—because if I leave with you we both know that’s what​​ I’d be doing—is​​ the right answer either. But I suppose it’s now or never for you...

“No,” Walter then said after a short silence.​​ “My tour ends in​​ Paris​​ in a week. Meet me there if​​ you decide me.​​ We are under some strange spell and it’s called​​ sleep deprivation​​ mixed with​​ toxic levels of dopamine.​​ Also, I did do a lot of drugs last night.​​ Let’s​​ wait until then to​​ see if we’re still feeling our ‘alignment’ as strongly.”

“You’re right,”​​ Shiva said.​​ “Obviously we’re​​ not thinking straight, and maybe some of this is in our heads. However,​​ my heart feels differently.”

“Mine too, but hearts​​ are​​ idiots​​ we shouldn’t always trust.”

“You got that right. Following my heart​​ to Europe​​ is what got me into this mess to begin with.”

“But​​ it’s not a mess you have to stay with. Why not just go back home?”

“It’s​​ not​​ that I don’t want to go back, I just only have a limited time left before I can never travel again​​ and now is​​ my only time. I know that doesn’t make sense​​ probably, but that’s the​​ best​​ I can put it. Also because I overstayed my visa, I most likely won’t be able to return to Europe for a long​​ time, possibly never if the authorities discover the illegal activities I was engaged in, and​​ there’s​​ a good chance they​​ will.”

“So what, you’re just going to stay in Europe until you get​​ caught​​ and deported?”

“Basically.”

“I don’t understand. You’re twenty-two. What’s​​ so limiting in your life? What​​ else​​ are you dancing around Shiva?”

 She smirked​​ and​​ sighed​​ weakly. “You’ve also gotten​​ to know me better than our time together says you should,” she said.​​ Fine. But if you’re going to know​​ my mother and I’s secret,​​ you first need to meet my mother​​ . . .​​ The​​ morning before my first day of first grade,​​ I​​ discovered her overdosed on painkillers in her bed when I went​​ into her room​​ to say goodbye.​​ Although it​​ was a suicide,​​ she’d been suffering with​​ Huntington’s disease​​ my entire life, but she hadn’t been​​ diagnosed until​​ after​​ she was pregnant with me.​​ It​​ started​​ slowly,​​ but by the time I was four, she was basically a prisoner of her body. She couldn’t complete a sentence without stuttering or walk without falling. Then she started to sporadically forget who I was, and eventually my father too, and it only got worse as time went on. There’s no cure, so we just had to watch helplessly as the disease robbed her of everything she loved​​ about life: dancing, singing, her family, her freewill. So I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same in the same situation.”

Shiva’s​​ eyes began to glisten and her breath began to deepen. “The thing is,” she said, “one day I will be in the same situation.​​ Did you know that if you stretched your entire genome sequence around the world, the genetic mistake that caused my mother’s disease would only make up less than an inch? Just a few extra repeating lines of DNA makes the difference.​​ But did you also know an affected parent has a fifty percent chance of passing the disease to their child?”

“You’re​​ telling me…”​​ Walter​​ attempted to ask.

“Yes, I have​​ Huntington’s also. I still have​​ an​​ estimated​​ seven years or so before my decline​​ should​​ begin,​​ but it can happen any time. Ultimately, however, whether by suicide or a slow regression from my body and mind, I’m not going to see anything close to a full life. But then I guess I should be asking myself if my life is already so compromised, then why should my heart be also? And​​ as the Ace of Cups says, ‘divine love always looks like certain madness in the beginning’ . . .​​ Fuck, it’s so much easier​​ looking​​ for guidance from the universe than accepting it.​​ But how more direct can it be than someone with your​​ fucking​​ name on his​​ t-shirt?”

Speaking of​​ my​​ shirt...” Walter​​ cleared his throat nervously,​​ ...there’s​​ something​​ I​​ danced around’​​ last night​​ also.

A flash​​ of the banshee came over Shiva’s face.​​ “What do you mean there’s something you danced around?” she said.

“My​​ friend, Dug​​ . . .​​ I’m 99.9 percent certain hes the owner of the label that ripped you off because indeed​​ he​​ was running a record label—or what on the surface appeared to be a record label, and​​ my​​ shirt came out of a box of band shirts he had. While I can’t say I saw​​ irrefutable​​ evidence of a cocaine operation,​​ he did have a lot of other boxes in the room with the box of band shirts he was very adamant about me not looking into. Also​​ I did see him​​ do a​​ suspicious​​ amount​​ of​​ coke​​ for​​ the brief time I was with him.

“But the label​​ was in Paris, not​​ here.​​ The only reason I moved​​ to​​ Amsterdam was this was where I was told I was selling the most records.”

“It was in Paris, but then​​ he​​ moved​​ it​​ to Amsterdam​​ because his girlfriend wanted to move here, however, she left him for someone else three months after arriving. Now that I think about​​ it,​​ he said his girlfriend was​​ a cabaret dancer . . . Mags​​ wouldn’t happen to be​​ Parisian?”

“Yes.​​ And she​​ moved​​ here​​ from Paris​​ two years ago. When did Dug move here?”

“Two years ago.​​ This may sound offensive, but how’s​​ Mags’s ass compared to other asses?”​​ 

“Best​​ I’ve seen,​​ hands down.”

“And​​ does she enjoy having​​ something​​ shoved up it​​ every once and a while​​ in order to get off?”

​​ “Not particularly,”​​ Shiva laughed, “but​​ her subs do.​​ Fisting is​​ kind of what she’s​​ famous​​ for.​​ Walter gave her a coy look.​​ I​​ said her​​ subs,” she​​ replied to his eyes. “Nobody wants to​​ be at​​ work​​ at​​ home​​ and that’s all​​ you need to know.​​ Why, did this Dug say something different about his girlfriend?”

“Yeah, but maybe he just wasn’t man enough to admit it was the opposite way around.​​ He​​ also​​ said​​ she​​ was​​ an​​ abstract​​ painter who​​ had an affinity for​​ mixing​​ her own vomit into the paint along with other​​ bodily fluids​​ like blood and semen. Does Mags​​ do any​​ painting?”

Shiva’s brows furrowed.​​ “Not​​ that I’m aware of,” she said.​​ “However,​​ where’s your shirt?”

“Here,” Walter said scooping it up from the floor​​ and handing it to her.​​ They​​ then sat up in the bed and spread​​ the shirt​​ out over it.

“Look closely,”​​ Shiva​​ said, “I always knew there was​​ something about​​ this image​​ that made it seem of flesh and blood, because it is—or at least​​ some of it is. It so obvious​​ looking at it​​ now.​​ His girlfriend​​ must’ve been the person who painted this.”​​ Shiva​​ then​​ looked​​ suddenly​​ as if she’d just been slapped​​ repeatedly​​ in the face.​​ “Oh my God.​​ It​​ all​​ makes sense, but also doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“What does?” Walter said.

They were then abruptly interrupted by a thunderous​​ pounding​​ at​​ the cabin door. From the door’s porthole on the other side of the boat they saw​​ a small​​ image of a​​ bald and​​ mustached man​​ poking an eye in on them.

“The deadbolt!” Shiva yelled​​ and​​ darted to the​​ door on the​​ other side of the boat​​ to​​ engage​​ it. The​​ man​​ in the porthole​​ then​​ exploded in presumably Dutch expletives.​​ Apparently he didn’t have a key.​​ 

Having followed her to the door, Walter saw​​ the​​ man​​ had​​ what​​ appeared​​ to be his family​​ behind him, a wife,​​ an adult son, and a young daughter.

“What’s going​​ on?”​​ Walter​​ asked. “I thought you said you knew the owner?”

“The​​ owner’s son​​ technically,​​ the tall guy in the blue shirt​​ out there.”

“How​​ do you know him?”

“Mostly biblically,​​ every couple of weeks​​ or so​​ in here.​​ But last week he​​ said​​ he​​ was going out of town for a week starting yesterday, or maybe it​​ could’ve been today. I wasn’t the most sober. I also didn’t consider ‘going out of town’ meant on his boat.”

Shiva waved through the porthole at her handsome-looking beau, who waved​​ back​​ awkwardly. His bald and mustached and much shorter father then turned and​​ began yelling at​​ Shiva’s​​ beau,​​ turned back to the door,​​ kicked​​ it​​ a few times, yelled at​​ her beau​​ again​​ a few more times, then sent him away.

“Well​​ that bought us some time,” Shiva said. “If I translated correctly,​​ I think he has to go get​​ the key​​ for the deadbolt.​​ Let’s get​​ out of here​​ before he​​ does.”

“So...” Walter asked as they​​ clothed, “...anything else you’ve been ‘dancing around’ I should know?”

“Oh because hey Walter,​​ let me take you back to my occasional fuckboy’s boat would’ve been better? Yes, you met me at sort of​​ a shameful period in my life​​ and I’m sorry​​ if​​ I’m not so​​ ready to​​ share it​​ all​​ with​​ you right away.​​ But​​ regardless,​​ what you ‘danced around’​​ was​​ way​​ worse.​​ How could you not tell me after you knew what that bastard did—what he took from me? It​​ makes me wonder if there’s anything else you’re protecting for him.”

“I wasn’t protecting him, and no there’s not.​​ I didn’t tell you for the same reason you didn’t tell me about your girlfriend​​ right away;​​ I didn’t know last​​ night would come to this. But I never planned on not telling you.​​ However,​​ now​​ I’m​​ wondering​​ what else you might be​​ ‘dancing around’​​ because you find it too​​ ‘shameful’ to tell me.​​ At least​​ I​​ actually​​ danced​​ around​​ the truth, you​​ just​​ flat out​​ lied.”

“Yeah,​​ but​​ a little​​ white​​ lie hurts a​​ whole​​ lot less than​​ a​​ fatass​​ half-truth.”

Shiva then looked out the porthole. “Shit,” she said, “he’s already back​​ with the key.​​ We’re just going to have to make a run for it.”

They primed themselves​​ by​​ the door.​​ “Ready?”​​ she​​ asked.​​ Walter​​ shook his​​ head emphatically.​​ She​​ then​​ swung​​ the door​​ open​​ and​​ they both charged forward, catching​​ Shiva’s beau​​ behind it​​ off-guard​​ and​​ knocking him​​ to the floor. They​​ then​​ jumped​​ over his body to an applause. A​​ crowd​​ had gathered​​ on the bank​​ to watch​​ the spectacle, clapping​​ again​​ as​​ Walter outmaneuvered the​​ short but burly​​ father​​ on the slippery and wet boat deck​​ while​​ the​​ daughter and​​ wife watched in​​ horror.​​ 

Just as Walter’s feet made it to​​ the canal sidewalk,​​ the crowd​​ lit up​​ again​​ as the father​​ seized​​ Shiva by the arm​​ just as she was about to leap off the boat deck.​​ She​​ began shaking​​ like a rodeo bull,​​ but​​ couldn’t free​​ herself.​​ She then slipped and​​ the father managed to grab the other arm and pinned​​ them both behind her back as Walter​​ leapt​​ back onto the deck and​​ circled in a standoff​​ with​​ him.

“I’m very sorry,” Walter said. “Please let her go and we’ll leave. I don’t want any trouble.”

Politie!​​ Politie!”​​ the father​​ shouted​​ back.

“What’s he saying?”​​ 

“Police!” Shiva​​ cried,​​ scowling​​ in agony and embarrassment.​​ “Walter,​​ do something!​​ I can’t get arrested.”​​ However just as she said that she​​ wrestled​​ an​​ arm away,​​ then​​ kicked​​ the father​​ squarely in the crotch.​​ “Run!” she screamed.

Adrenaline took the lead. Sprinting faster than he thought capable, Walter began​​ winding​​ through the streets, keeping Shiva’s flashing red mane in his peripheral​​ behind him.

“Run up that alleyway to the right!” he heard her shout.

He ducked into it and came upon a​​ small​​ and shady​​ garden​​ hub​​ in which​​ three smaller​​ alleyways​​ convened.​​ He went​​ into the left​​ one​​ and turned to wait for Shiva. After waiting a five second​​ eternity, he ran back out into the street. She wasn’t there.

“Shiva!” he screamed. But the quiet street gave no response. “Shiva!”

Walter tried​​ to backtrack his steps, but​​ two streets in,​​ he began to be unsure of his path. Two minutes​​ later his mind was in​​ a​​ terror.

“Shiv—” he cut himself off​​ just​​ as he​​ came upon the chirp​​ of a siren from around a corner.​​ 

He dipped into​​ a nearby​​ flower shop and​​ from behind its​​ window​​ saw​​ her​​ being​​ loaded​​ into a Volkswagen​​ police car. He​​ then​​ ran to the window only to see the car pull away.​​ Tears​​ began waterfalling helplessly as he ran​​ out​​ of​​ the flower shop and back​​ onto the street​​ in hyperventilation.​​ He staggered back to the​​ garden​​ hub​​ and​​ crumpled onto​​ a​​ bench.

He’d lost her, and​​ neither​​ of them​​ had any contact information for each other.​​ Maybe love would forever be a no man’s land​​ for Walter.​​ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 16

Chapter​​ 16

The​​ Guinea Pig

 

Es-tu prêt?” Shiva said coming out of​​ Maloe Melo’s​​ restroom after changing into​​ her street clothes,​​ a​​ burnt orange​​ maxi​​ skirt​​ and​​ a​​ black​​ shirt​​ covered by a blue jean vest.​​ She’d put her hair in a messy bun and had a​​ wrap choker​​ cord​​ necklace​​ tied​​ around her​​ swan-like neck.​​ No longer the banshee,​​ what Walter​​ thought was​​ a​​ dream was becoming more real.

 “Prêt​​ comme je serai jamais,” he​​ replied.​​ 

In​​ the taxi,​​ he​​ learned​​ La Lune Rouge​​ was​​ a Parisian cabaret, but with an Amsterdam​​ twist. While not technically a brothel, there was a hotel above it, and if performers,​​ who were often times​​ either off-duty sex show workers or​​ prostitutes,​​ wanted to take someone​​ up there to exchange money for sex off-premises, they​​ could and did. Most, however,​​ came to the cabaret to practice​​ routines​​ they put together themselves​​ or with others.

The cabaret​​ is where I met Mags,” Shiva told​​ Walter. “She did​​ this​​ routine to Bowie’s​​ We Are The Dead​​ as Halloween Jack​​ and I was floored. I don’t like everything Bowie, but that​​ song​​ and​​ Diamond​​ Dogs​​ are​​ all-time favorites.​​ We spoke after​​ about doing a​​ show​​ around​​ the album, and​​ it didn’t take long before we​​ became​​ best friends.”

“Where’s Mags tonight?”​​ Walter asked.

“Working​​ as always.​​ She enjoys​​ work​​ more than anything else​​ because it’s not​​ prostitution​​ to her, it’s​​ theater,​​ a​​ world​​ she’s in control of​​ away from the​​ one she’s not​​ . . .​​ She’s a dominatrix. Although when I first met her, the only money she​​ made for sex​​ was​​ just for fun​​ at​​ La Lune Rouge,​​ but then she found a​​ character,​​ Lady​​ Duc de Glace, and​​ a niche​​ crowd there​​ where she could​​ express herself in ways she couldn’t on a cabaret stage. Now​​ La Duc’​​ not only​​ dominates​​ most of​​ her life, but​​ the​​ Amsterdam​​ BDSM​​ audience. She​​ has a waiting list over a month long.”​​ 

“Quite an interesting best friend​​ you​​ have.”​​ 

“Yes, but best friend doesn’t always​​ mean good friend, just whoever happens to​​ best​​ reflect​​ you​​ at​​ a moment​​ in​​ your life, and​​ I have to say​​ my moment​​ in reflection​​ with Mags has come and gone.​​ But​​ I have no​​ one​​ else in Europe,​​ so​​ she​​ still holds my best friend​​ card.​​ It’s rare we see each other more than once or twice a week​​ though. She’s​​ effectively​​ moved into​​ the ‘lair’ she rents for ‘theater’​​ now.”

“How long ago​​ did​​ you meet?”

“Right after luna hunny went to shit. I was barely twenty​​ and​​ a lot​​ more nihilistic since​​ everything​​ I had to live for had​​ just​​ been​​ taken​​ away, and​​ Mags,​​ being ten years older​​ than me,​​ had​​ long before​​ climbed into bed with​​ nihilism​​ and​​ brought me​​ right​​ in​​ with her​​ for a time.​​ I​​ dropped out of the art school I was attending,​​ became a borderline alcoholic, cocaine was my morning coffee, although morning was usually about sunset. But I rationalized it all because we were ‘saving’ lives, so​​ why​​ care about mine?

But after Maria​​ and meeting death in-person,​​ I​​ began questioning whether​​ living in nihilism was​​ a life worth living, while for Mags it​​ was​​ only more justification. Since then she’s only​​ fallen deeper into drugs and​​ ‘La Duc’, and although we still say we’re best friends,​​ we’ve​​ been​​ drifting in​​ opposite​​ directions​​ for​​ a while.​​ However, since​​ I’m​​ an illegal alien​​ now​​ because​​ I​​ overstayed my​​ student​​ visa​​ and​​ she’s​​ an EU citizen,​​ I’m anchored to her​​ for​​ almost anything I can’t acquire legally, including​​ a place to live and​​ most of my​​ money. The money I lived on​​ before came​​ from​​ a college trust fund set up in my mom’s name after she died, but once you overstay a visa, immigration authorities​​ are alerted and​​ monitor​​ your bank accounts.”

“Why not​​ just go back home?” Walter asked.

“It’s more complicated​​ than that​​ . . .​​ Anyway,​​ ” she continued on,​​ “the cabaret was​​ originally​​ built as​​ an underground​​ nuclear fallout center.”

Eventually​​ Shiva directed​​ the taxi​​ driver​​ to​​ an​​ alley​​ that​​ seemed to go nowhere. The surrounding streets were​​ soulless and​​ veiled in​​ darkness.

“Are you​​ planning to murder me?” Walter​​ asked​​ looking out the window​​ as they stopped.

“Yes,” Shiva said opening the taxi van’s sliding door. “But​​ only​​ because I want to show you the fun side of hell​​ after, which is down that alley.​​ Besides,​​ if you still think this is a dream,​​ nothing can actually kill you. So what do you have to lose​​ other than​​ waking up?”

“You, that is if this is a dream.”

“True. But​​ wouldn’t​​ I be also killing myself by killing you?”

“Well, how else are we supposed to​​ get to​​ hell together?”​​ 

She laughed.​​ “You are clever,”​​ she said​​ then​​ stepped​​ out of the taxi. “But truthfully, all we need to do is walk down that alley.”​​ 

 

They walked to the end​​ of the alley​​ where​​ a red, nondescript door​​ was.​​ Above it​​ were​​ seven​​ stories of small, barred windows, three to each​​ floor, all softly glowing like candles behind sooted​​ glass. From the other side of the door, Walter could hear a​​ muffled​​ ruckus of​​ shouting, stomping, pianoing, and fiddling.​​ Shiva​​ pressed​​ a​​ hidden​​ bell​​ fleshed​​ into the door frame. Two minutes later it opened and a​​ female​​ hostess with​​ short brunette hair and​​ a​​ foxlike​​ face greeted them.

Bonsoir monsieur,​​ la dame,”​​ she​​ said, giving Shiva a knowing​​ glance. “Le mot de passe?

Audaces fortuna iuvat,” Shiva replied.

“Welcome to​​ La​​ Lune Rouge,​​ the hostess​​ said​​ smiling.

She​​ opened a door behind her​​ to​​ a sleepy​​ piano bar with a few patrons scattered about​​ as​​ some lazy​​ piano​​ jazz chords​​ settled over some still​​ enigmatic​​ ruckus wallowing the walls.​​ Shiva then took him to​​ a​​ corner of the bar​​ where he found the source​​ emitting more loudly from a​​ tightly​​ descending​​ corkscrew staircase​​ drilled into the floor.​​ “The real fun is down there,” she said.​​ 

They​​ entered and spiraled​​ thrice, then​​ went​​ through​​ a​​ dimly-lit​​ tunnel into a​​ small​​ foyer with a​​ drink stand​​ from which they​​ got two beers before entering​​ the​​ small,​​ but​​ filled and​​ riotous​​ cabaret​​ room.

The room​​ looked like a cave made from the​​ belly​​ of a whale​​ with​​ candlelight​​ dancing​​ along​​ its​​ bleached and​​ uneven​​ rocky​​ walls.​​ The​​ whale’s​​ brick​​ backbone and​​ ribs supporting the ceiling were​​ greased​​ by​​ many hands over many years​​ being​​ easily within​​ reach​​ when​​ standing on the long​​ and​​ wide​​ wooden​​ table that divided the room in two, which​​ many people were.​​ That’s why upon first impression it was hard to distinguish​​ audience​​ from performer, for the table in the center also doubled as the stage, but many of the patrons were also partaking in the​​ bedlam of the​​ performance.​​ One plain-looking woman with glasses had even taken her shirt off—but left​​ a​​ bra​​ on—and was wheeling it over her head like a flag of insurgency, while another couple was laid out at the end of the table-stage, dry humping each other as if no one​​ was around.

At the other end of the table-stage was a small platform carved into the wall just big enough to support a saloon-style piano with player, a furious fiddler, and a small and stripped-down drum set with drummer.​​ Two singers, a dandelion-haired drag queen about six-two and a tuxedoed woman with a fake mustache​​ almost​​ the same height​​ were charging​​ and chirping​​ up and down the table-stage​​ knocking over drinks singing​​ an​​ anthemic​​ number in Dutch​​ while bumping and grinding on the audience members who were also dancing on it.​​ Shiva​​ said the song​​ was​​ a local​​ soccer​​ favorite,​​ “Blood, Sweat and Tears”.​​ 

While not perfectly fluent​​ in either,​​ Shiva​​ spoke​​ as much Dutch as she did French and switched between them and English as she greeted staff, performers, and other apparent regulars​​ she knew​​ while​​ moving​​ throughout​​ the room​​ with​​ Walter​​ at her side like an accessory not many people seemed to notice.

Once the song ended​​ and the mood calmed,​​ the dry humping couple​​ at the end of the table-stage​​ rolled off​​ and​​ staggered out​​ to assumedly​​ continue in the hotel above, leaving open the two​​ best​​ seats​​ in the house.

“Shall we?” Walter asked Shiva, pointing to the seats.

“Sure, why not?” she said​​ grinning enthusiastically.​​ 

“This next song…” the drag queen said​​ in​​ a​​ French​​ accent​​ from the​​ other end of the table-stage​​ as they​​ sat,​​ “…is a song I wrote​​ in English​​ about the man who tore out my heart only to steal it away.​​ I love you​​ chéri,” she​​ blew a kiss to the mustached​​ woman who had taken a seat amongst some​​ of the​​ other apparent performers in the audience.

The drag queen​​ then settled sideways into a chair​​ she’d​​ placed on​​ the​​ table-stage​​ and her red silt dress opened revealing a long and elegant leg.​​ She gave a passing glance to the piano player, then​​ brought the microphone to her lips​​ as a​​ bleary, burlesque jazz number​​ began playing. At first her lispy voice lumbered low, then soared into a tiny, tinny timbre, like that of a child on the verge of crying, enchanting the air with every sorrowful color of life:

 

Blood-drawn rain on​​ a​​ desert’s skin​​ 

That’s when I kissed your lips and found no end

But what is love without your design?​​ 

Does it feel? Does it laugh? Does it even know how to cry inside?

 

What did​​ it​​ mean to you?

For you to throw away my love like you always do?

So now instead​​ my love​​ hovers just above your heart

Like birds of prey waiting over a dying art

 

Oh Mother Myth and Father Fear

Throwing arrows through my ears

When do you​​ think you've had enough

Of trying​​ to press diamonds from the ashes of love?​​ 

 

At this point, the​​ drag queen​​ had walked from one end of the table-stage to the other and was now cloaked over Walter like a backwards coat as fleshly mechanisms began working at him through her thin underwear.

Love is like a tiger cub,” she sang,​​ a good idea until it grows up. Crush to being crushed,​​ crush to being crushed.​​ So let me​​ put​​ on a show fer you​​ tiger​​ cub, let me show you​​ my​​ love...”​​ she sang until the song’s end.​​ 

“Forgot to tell you,”​​ Shiva​​ said laughing​​ after the drag queen relinquished him. “These two seats​​ see​​ the most action all night.”

As the show wore on, they were honored with​​ a program​​ in several languages from the whole of the​​ world and​​ sexual spectrum,​​ a gathering of​​ fetishists,​​ misfit toys,​​ artists, and exhibitionists​​ featuring​​ cabaret and sex show routines,​​ poetry readings,​​ and​​ mime and comedic pieces.​​ There were​​ more lap dances and more​​ stage-table​​ dances​​ in which​​ Walter and Shiva’s​​ singing voices​​ and bodies​​ got to familiarize themselves​​ for the first time​​ while grabbing​​ ahold​​ of​​ the ceiling​​ with one hand​​ so they weren’t knocked over by​​ all the​​ other singing and​​ familiarizing bodies​​ they​​ shared the​​ cloister​​ with.

After a​​ rousing​​ hour or so in the never-ending cabaret show that went into the daylight hours, they​​ went upstairs to​​ decompress in the piano bar.​​ Upon​​ ascending,​​ the piano was playing a tune Walter knew well.

Oh you pretty things...” he couldn’t stop himself from singing along to the melody only the piano was singing.

The piano player, looking a little like a latter-years Serge​​ Gainsbourg, smiled back at him with a​​ tobacco-stained grin and waved​​ Walter​​ over as he began singing along in a low,​​ gravelly​​ growl as Shiva​​ teased​​ the upper register, untangling something in Walter every​​ time​​ their eyes met​​ while singing.​​ The​​ sleepy​​ bar​​ then​​ woke up and​​ nearly everyone was​​ singing the choruses​​ toward the end, which the piano player repeated over and over​​ to stretch out the song.

“Do you know any more Bowie?” Walter asked​​ when​​ the piano player​​ finished.

“Some,” he said in some Eastern European accent Walter couldn’t distinguish, “but I haven’t had cigarette for hour. I’m dying for air. You play?”

“Yes he does,” Shiva answered for​​ him.

“Then you play.​​ My voice is shit​​ anyway. You two sound like angels.” He​​ then​​ grabbed his​​ suit​​ coat​​ and vacated the piano​​ to smoke outside.

“More Bowie?” Walter asked Shiva as they sat​​ together​​ on the​​ piano bench.

“No. I want​​ to be serenaded with​​ the cheesiest love song you know, Bowie’s cheesy love songs​​ excluded.”

Luckily​​ he​​ knew such a song, the first song he ever learned on piano actually,​​ “November Rain”.​​ So​​ he​​ began​​ bellowing and playing​​ the​​ nearly nine minute​​ ballad—guitar solos and all—but only in the style of Axl Rose at impromptu moments just​​ to​​ make Shiva laugh and snap her out​​ of​​ the trance​​ he kept catching her fall into when he sang​​ in​​ his natural voice.​​ Because the piano faced away from the crowd and their eyes​​ were​​ so distracted​​ with​​ each other, they were surprised by the loud applause when the song ended. They turned around and the bar​​ was twice as​​ full​​ as before.​​ 

“Not bad job,”​​ the piano player said returning, soaked in​​ the stench of​​ cigarette smoke. “You’re really good. You want to play more?”

Walter looked to Shiva​​ who was trying to subdue a stubborn smile.​​ “I think I’ve had my fill of cheesy love songs for the night,”​​ she​​ said​​ to him. “Unless of course you want to.”

“No,” Walter said standing, “I think I’ve taken up enough spotlight for​​ the​​ evening.​​ All​​ yours again my friend.”

They left the piano and sat​​ at​​ a table,​​ however,​​ once the energy and patrons drained​​ back downstairs Walter and Shiva found themselves restless.

“Do you want to dance some​​ more?” she asked him.

“Down below?”

“No, alone. On a houseboat.”

“Your houseboat?”

“Don’t​​ ask questions. Yes or no?”

Walter smirked.​​ As long as it’s​​ only​​ dancing​​ we’ll be doing,​​ he​​ said.

“Of course,” she​​ replied. “However, when​​ is life not dancing? If you’re not dancing you’re dead.”

 

“See that boat up there?” Shiva​​ pointed to a​​ small​​ houseboat about a hundred yards up​​ on a lonely canal.​​ “The​​ owner​​ is my friend and he’s out of town right now.”

“And he’s okay with you using his houseboat?”​​ Walter asked.

“Yeah, fellow Deadhead. We’re very generous people.”

Taking her word, Walter followed her aboard, even though to open the cabin door she had to pick the lock with​​ his​​ credit card. “He​​ always​​ locks​​ the easy​​ one,” she​​ said​​ sliding the card into the doorjamb, “but​​ leaves the deadbolt unlocked​​ for friends.” Seconds later the door was open.​​ “Welcome aboard Mister Huxley.”

Inside was a​​ miniaturized​​ kitchen and living room​​ with​​ a​​ miniaturized couch and chair and​​ even a​​ miniaturized​​ acoustic​​ guitar hanging on the wall. Shiva went for the guitar and took it​​ with Walter in tow​​ and​​ a bottle of wine from the kitchen​​ to the​​ only​​ bedroom​​ in the back of the boat​​ with a skylight above​​ the bed​​ and​​ a sliding glass door leading to a deck.

Keeping the lights off,​​ Shiva​​ cranked​​ the​​ skylight​​ cover​​ open​​ and a ghostly moonbeam​​ streamed in​​ making the white​​ bedding​​ sparkle​​ like​​ marble. She​​ lit a few candles around the bed before​​ drawing​​ the​​ curtains​​ and sliding open the deck door,​​ letting​​ the​​ almost​​ full moon​​ peek​​ in.

Come hither Mister Huxley,” she said,​​ our dancefloor awaits​​ outside. And​​ I lied​​ a little,​​ I​​ didn’t bring you here​​ just​​ to dance with you.​​ I want​​ to serenade you​​ with​​ a​​ cheesy love song​​ also, but​​ I wanted to do it​​ in the moonlight. You’ll see why.”

The​​ wooden​​ deck​​ outside was​​ the length of the boat​​ with wooden​​ trellises banking​​ its​​ edges​​ for partial privacy. There were​​ two​​ canvas​​ deck​​ chairs​​ and​​ a hammock​​ spread across one of its ends, which they opted​​ to​​ share bottoms in.​​ 

“I never actually want to be married,”​​ Shiva​​ said strumming the nylon strings of​​ the​​ small​​ guitar as she tuned them,​​ “but​​ I always said this would be my​​ first dance song if I ever have a wedding. It’s a Neil Young song.​​ I hope​​ you don’t mind.”

“Wow, you really are cheesy,” Walter said​​ grinning.​​ “‘Harvest Moon’ in the moonlight? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were trying to seduce me.”

“Not cheesy and not seducing,” she said smiling back,​​ “I’m just a romantic opportunist and you just happen to be​​ the right​​ guinea pig​​ on​​ the right night—actually, last night during the full​​ moon would’ve been​​ a little more fitting, but​​ I’ll take​​ a slightly waning gibbous.”​​ 

“Well, your guinea pig is waiting.”

Suddenly she​​ turned​​ bashful and had to restart twice before slipping into the song. But once she did Walter​​ became completely​​ unraveled​​ in​​ her​​ voice’s​​ soft crystalline timbre​​ and the silky​​ patter of the guitar’s nylon strings​​ up against​​ the​​ rippling​​ water.​​ In the​​ luminous dew​​ of the moon​​ Shiva appeared powdered in starlight and her​​ silvery​​ eyes flickered like​​ brightly polished coins​​ every time she flashed​​ them his way.

Too perfect for a dream,​​ but​​ too real to believe,​​ Walter​​ thought.

“Well​​ guinea pig,”​​ she​​ said after,​​ setting​​ the guitar​​ by her side, “what did you think?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Shouldn’t a first dance song be danced to?”

“I can only do​​ so​​ much holding​​ a guitar.”

“I don’t see you holding one now.”​​ Walter stood,​​ then offered his hand to her.

“And what? I’m​​ supposed to re-sing the song​​ while we dance?” she​​ asked.

“No,​​ that​​ would spoil​​ the song for​​ your first dance​​ because it’d only remind you of your guinea pig.​​ And​​ what would your future husband think​​ if​​ he​​ discovered your first time was not actually your first?​​ No, I only need you and your feet. The sound of life​​ will provide the music.”

Charmed, she accepted his hand and he brought​​ her​​ to​​ the water’s edge.​​ They laughed as they began to​​ dramatically​​ pirouette​​ over​​ the deck, mocking their absurdity, but every time their eyes met, they seemed to speak​​ more seriously.​​ At last​​ their eyes​​ clasped and wouldn’t let go, bringing​​ their​​ dancing​​ silhouettes​​ into​​ communion​​ in front of the falling moon.

Warm​​ cheek​​ to​​ warm cheek, their​​ quickening​​ breaths​​ stroked each other’s​​ ears​​ and neck,​​ sending an​​ exciting tension​​ they could feel in each other’s​​ firming​​ bodies.​​ Walter’s​​ hand​​ then​​ slid​​ to the small of​​ Shiva’s​​ back​​ while the other swept aside a stray ringlet of​​ red​​ hair from her face. She then​​ reached behind her head and​​ undid her hair, sending it​​ cascading​​ down like a coppery lava flow​​ over​​ his fingers​​ which​​ proceeded to weave and run themselves through it.​​ His hand on her back then pulled her closer as her hands​​ around​​ his back did the same.​​ Now with​​ foreheads​​ pressed,​​ their breaths​​ tickled their lips and​​ trickled​​ down across​​ their jaws,​​ eyes​​ locked and​​ wide​​ on each other.​​ Then with one last​​ caress​​ their​​ eyes​​ shut​​ and​​ the space between their lips​​ closed, immediately​​ releasing the​​ restless​​ tension​​ like a bungee​​ cord​​ recoiling, leaving them to​​ reel​​ and float in​​ a careless​​ air of​​ mad​​ peace​​ as​​ their​​ mouths​​ began​​ dancing​​ wildly​​ to​​ the​​ music of the freefall.​​ Losing feeling of the​​ ground​​ beneath them,​​ they​​ fell to their knees​​ with lips still smacking.

“We’re fucked aren’t we?” Shiva asked​​ through their​​ kissing.

“Yes,”​​ Walter​​ replied, “but​​ we can worry about that in the morning.​​ Tonight, we’re only dancing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 5

Chapter​​ 5

Tears Are For Mothers

 

 

CHRISTMAS DAY 1997

 

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

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

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

 

Walter’s​​ stepmother had been threatening his father with​​ divorce for as long as​​ Walter​​ could remember. In the last year, however,​​ her threats had escalated​​ upon​​ Walter’s​​ joining of the Mormon church​​ ten months earlier.​​ In the beginning,​​ she not so much hated​​ the​​ church,​​ just the person who introduced​​ him​​ to it, his maternal grandmother, the only relative he had contact with on his birth mother’s side.​​ But once his father began showing an interest​​ in the church​​ and as a consequence​​ was considering​​ quitting​​ drinking,​​ his stepmother’s​​ alcoholic logic​​ stepped in and she began​​ believing​​ and telling him​​ the church​​ was​​ of​​ Satan.

Disturbed by this, his father​​ decided to​​ quit the church and became​​ even​​ more committed to​​ his​​ drinking.​​ His​​ wife’s​​ happiness and respect for​​ that​​ happiness always​​ came​​ first​​ as​​ she​​ was burdened with the​​ constant​​ sorrow​​ of his​​ infidelity:​​ Walter.​​ And when alcoholic logic is empowered by guilt, even fatherly logic doesn’t stand a chance. ​​ 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Back in Walter’s bedroom,​​ his​​ father at last came in​​ and​​ dragged​​ the​​ slurring and slobbering nightmare away​​ from​​ his​​ bedside,​​ but​​ her rum and cigarette scented​​ phantom​​ lingered​​ long​​ after​​ the​​ door slammed and​​ his parents​​ verbal throttling moved​​ back​​ to​​ their “adult room”.​​ Ten minutes later,​​ he​​ heard car keys, then the front door slam. That slam would be the last​​ Walter​​ would​​ hear of his stepmother. All her belongings would be moved out​​ two​​ weeks​​ later while he was at school.

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

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

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

 

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

Six months later,​​ she​​ was​​ then​​ granted full custody over​​ him​​ thanks to​​ his​​ father’s fist hospitalizing​​ Walter​​ after​​ he​​ dumped out three of his​​ father’s​​ newly-purchased rum bottles.​​ That fist would be the last​​ Walter would​​ know of his father.

 

AUGUST​​ 2011

 

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

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

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

“Yes?”​​ he​​ replied.

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

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

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

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

“Just​​ the​​ new​​ one. I might use it on a couple others, but I was hoping to run through them with the band during soundcheck . . . Lola, any word?”

Lola was above on one of the very upper benches. She threw back an invisible beer bottle, a familiar gesture between them now that the band was hungover again. Their one o’clock soundchecks were becoming increasingly​​ more​​ difficult to make.

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

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

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

“Sure, take her for a spin.”

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

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

 

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

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

The tour and Cirkus’s intensive PR work​​ had done​​ wonders for​​ Perfect Crime—or more specifically Quinn Quark.​​ Most if not all the press’s attention was​​ shed​​ on​​ their​​ charismatic and attractive front man, and it was deepening an already widening rift between Walter and his band. His band somehow felt he was to blame, but​​ he felt​​ they​​ had no one to blame but themselves.​​ He was the one putting​​ all​​ the work​​ in​​ while they were​​ acting​​ like all the work was done​​ and partying was their new career, even though they had yet to record​​ their​​ debut album.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jimmy?” Walter asked his drummer.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“No,” she said smiling, “we’re doing it in​​ the tunnel.”

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

“I know, but​​ most​​ of​​ the staff just went to lunch, so we’ve got at least a half hour where it will​​ most likely​​ be​​ without traffic. But let’s not​​ dawdle.”​​ She took​​ his​​ hand and began walking.​​ 

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

While​​ Lola always went on her bands’ first tours to​​ build​​ a close and personal relationship upfront,​​ with​​ Walter,​​ it’d grown to​​ a​​ new​​ degree​​ at a dizzying speed. Neither​​ of them saw it coming,​​ but​​ in the past month and a half​​ she’d seen him through some​​ heavy​​ hours​​ offstage, and​​ under pressure, comfort can​​ easily ignite into sex​​ if the chemistry is right.​​ Luckily for them,​​ however,​​ there was a safety net from falling in love;​​ Lola was much more lesbian than bi.​​ Although indifferent to her sex partners,​​ mechanically,​​ she​​ could only fall in love with another​​ woman, which​​ for the moment​​ was​​ ideal​​ for​​ Walter. He​​ wanted nothing to do with love​​ after Amber,​​ but​​ everything to do with sex. He​​ was​​ finding​​ it​​ to be the​​ only way​​ he​​ could silence his inner voices​​ other than being onstage.​​ And other than being onstage,​​ Lola​​ was​​ the best​​ silencer​​ he had ever had.​​ 

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

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

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

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

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

“Just write your name​​ for now,”​​ she said.

“But which one, Quinn or Walter?”

“I don’t know, you decide.”

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

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

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

“Of course,” she said taking one out of her purse. “But make sure you take it off before you shoot​​ this time. Remember it only works if the venue gets the full load. You need to show it who’s​​ bitch.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Someone’s coming,” Walter said.​​ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You got that right.”

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

“Shit,​​ that was close,” Lola said.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our faces like two reflecting mirrors

Drawing together to see someone else

But only we know what we see

Infinite repeating realities

I am breathing my last breath of life

Death emerges dressed in a cobweb of lies…

 

The song then continued through several suites of unrepeating musical vignettes strung together to create what​​ Walter​​ grandiosely believed to be a​​ new​​ “Bohemian Rhapsody”​​ and a new “Paranoid Android”,​​ but​​ Quinn never made it that far.

Halfway​​ through​​ the first verse, Walter​​ realized​​ people​​ were​​ leaving for the​​ restrooms. Quinn​​ was​​ at first undisturbed by this, but as Walter​​ became increasingly aware of the thinning and disinterested crowd, Quinn increasingly struggled to hold the song and himself together until both cracked​​ and collapsed​​ around​​ him, leaving​​ Walter’s​​ formless and​​ hapless​​ ego​​ to fry under the spotlight.​​ As it​​ congealed​​ before the crowd, Quinn’s​​ mouth went silent​​ and his​​ hands froze over the keys.​​ The​​ crowd​​ then began whispering and hissing,​​ frying​​ and shriveling​​ Walter’s ego​​ even further until​​ he​​ was​​ again that ten-year-old boy, reduced to wanting​​ nothing more than to​​ die.

Somewhere above,​​ a saber of light​​ then​​ pierced the sky,​​ the fissure clapping so loud it shook Walter and the amphitheater from its disorientation, then plunged them into​​ complete​​ darkness.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh… Hey Walter,”​​ she said.

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

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

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

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

“But why​​ wouldn’t you tell me?”

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

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

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

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

Sai and Walter​​ had​​ dated​​ casually​​ during his freshman year​​ of college—or defined more crudely, they were fuck buddies.​​ But also,​​ she was the woman who had seized his virginity. And​​ being four years older and much more experienced than him, she​​ taught him everything from the basics of​​ kissing to the advanced studies of exploratory intercourse.​​ But sexuality wasn’t the only thing​​ she​​ enlightened him to. She also introduced​​ him​​ to one of his​​ most important​​ allies: Mary Jane.​​ While music had helped him find a place for his insanity, marijuana helped him find the humor in it.

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

“Sorry, but rum’s the one liquor I can’t​​ stand.​​ Plus, I’ve​​ already been​​ well​​ taken care of.”​​ He held​​ up​​ his​​ mostly full​​ beer​​ glass.​​ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s on tour​​ with you?”

“Yeah. He’s outside on the Black Bat bus as we speak, but don’t say anything​​ to anyone. Black Bat doesn’t know we’re dating​​ and we’d both be fired if they did, even though​​ the tour has really been our first opportunity to spend more than a week together.​​ He was always gone​​ on business travel​​ before,​​ but​​ now​​ that’s no longer an issue.​​ Also, along with getting to see him every day now,​​ the job​​ really​​ isn’t as​​ awful as I imagined. Yeah the​​ serving​​ drinks part sucks, but it’s​​ sort​​ of fun waking up in a​​ new​​ place every morning, not knowing where or to whom the day is going to take you. I guess I can see the allure​​ in​​ being a touring musician.​​ However,​​ I have to ask,​​ what happened to physicist?”​​ ​​ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A​​ cringing shatter from inside​​ the bus​​ interrupted them.​​ “Shit,” Walter said, “shouldn’t have left the six-year-olds unsupervised.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey!​​ Quinn Quark,” Dave​​ said noticing​​ Walter. “First time I’ve seen you at one of these afterparties. It’s okay.​​ I’ll​​ just​​ take​​ Danielle to the hotel, if you don’t mind bartending for a little?​​ Not sure how Black Bat would feel about​​ it, but my hands are kind of tied. And it should only be for a little while.”

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

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

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

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

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

Not long​​ after, with​​ everyone​​ coming​​ aboard wanting to have a shot with Quinn Quark​​ the bartender, Walter​​ blacked​​ out.

 

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Squids is dead! Squids is fucking dead!”

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

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,​​ and​​ 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,​​ she’d been​​ 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.​​ However, after everyone but herself self-destructed from​​ suicide or​​ drugs,​​ 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.”​​ 

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

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

“Then quit.​​ You’re​​ always​​ threatening​​ to,​​ but​​ never​​ have the balls to.​​ 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​​ Squids.”​​ 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,” Lola said.​​ “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​​ smiled at each other.​​ 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​​ “Minerva​​ Doom”,​​ the third song of their showcase set,​​ the world felt wrapped around Walter like a warm bath of balance and harmony.​​ He was in​​ 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​​ 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​​ the music industry’s​​ formal​​ acknowledgement​​ of​​ Perfect Crime’s​​ arrival​​ to​​ the big​​ 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​​ are​​ always​​ looking​​ for​​ saviors.

With​​ Marshall full stacks, fuzzily distorted guitars,​​ and stories of​​ wild​​ shows, sometimes filled with unpredictable​​ drunken​​ 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​​ new​​ 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​​ most importantly,​​ 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.​​ I mean, that’s why you’re paying me.​​ Great cemetery with personality!

In a well-practiced move,​​ he then​​ 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​​ “Quarkians”,​​ Walter’s​​ most-dedicated fans​​ who were​​ mostly teenagers​​ who distinguished​​ themselves​​ by the bellbottoms​​ they​​ wore in emulation​​ of​​ his.​​ 

Onstage​​ or off, other than when he used to dress up as Axl Rose,​​ Walter’s​​ bottom half was always​​ seventies. And​​ his top half,​​ always​​ nineties:​​ a plaid flannel and​​ shaggy,​​ unkempt hair. The only​​ wardrobe item that​​ changed​​ was his​​ ceaseless​​ supply of​​ nerdy science shirts.​​ Tonight,​​ his shirt​​ had a picture of the physicist Richard Feynman with​​ the​​ caption “DICK!”​​ written​​ 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​​ with a proud​​ smile​​ and​​ blew him​​ kisses​​ from the merch booth she’d​​ been​​ dutifully​​ managing​​ ever​​ since​​ the​​ West​​ Coast tour,​​ the tour which​​ had​​ been key in​​ taking​​ Perfect Crime​​ from local sensation to​​ unsigned​​ phenomenon.​​ Because of this,​​ one of​​ Walter’s pet names for​​ Amber​​ was​​ 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 hand​​ 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​​ 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.​​ 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, what?​​ 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...” Walter made​​ a​​ dry swallow,​​ “truthfully,​​ I​​ didn’t​​ figure​​ you were​​ coming 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​​ is​​ just to your mom.”

Amber’s eyes began​​ blinking​​ rapidly.​​ “But I thought...” she said, “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.”

Her​​ body paused​​ along with their lovemaking.​​ “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?”

Unprepared,​​ 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,”​​ he said.​​ 

“Y-you… you​​ didn’t think about​​ me?​​ Amber’s breath began​​ quickening.​​ I put my heart and soul into this​​ band​​ too.​​ She pushed​​ him off​​ of her, then started​​ rummaging the dark floors for her clothes. “Your dream​​ has been​​ just as much​​ my dream​​ Walter.​​ How could you not think of me in its future?​​ How could you not think of your​​ lucky​​ charm?​​ Or was that just​​ onstage​​ bullshit?​​ I can never tell if you’re​​ really​​ being real on there​​ or not.​​ Because​​ right now, offstage,​​ I’m really beginning to doubt if you actually love me.

He​​ remained​​ silent, searching​​ for answers on the​​ dashboard, but the only answers he​​ found​​ were​​ all those little doubts he thought he’d gotten over.

“Say something!” she​​ yelled.

“I never asked you to share my dream,”​​ he​​ 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​​ after a long pause. “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,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “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​​ won’t​​ let me read your writing.​​ And from everything​​ your mother​​ has​​ said, it seems like it’s worth reading.”

“Of course​​ she’s​​ says good things,”​​ Amber​​ said annoyed. “She’s​​ my mother.​​ It’s​​ decent, but not exceptional, not like your music.​​ If you read my writing, you’d​​ know what I mean. Plus, I told you. The story​​ was​​ inspired by the death of Greg’s dad our first​​ year​​ together. You don’t want to read about that,​​ and I’m not sure I want to write about​​ it​​ anymore either.”

For God sake’s,​​ just​​ let me​​ read​​ it!”​​ Walter​​ said, losing his patience.​​ 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, even the stuff I’m most uncomfortable about.​​ 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…” she​​ said, then​​ made a long sniffle, “the truth is,​​ I’m​​ terrified​​ to lose you.​​ That’s why I don’t say anything. Because​​ 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—hiding​​ your true self,​​ is exactly how you’ll lose me,” Walter said.​​ “I don’t want you to feel​​ like​​ you can’t express yourself honestly.​​ Why would anyone​​ want​​ that​​ in a relationship?​​ And why would I be with you if I didn’t think you deserved me?”

“Because you feel guilty.”

It slapped him in the face because it was true. It had always been true. His heart, however, had convinced him that he was in love with Amber because Amber would someday change​​ into somebody who wasn’t Amber.​​ But that​​ Amber,​​ he​​ was realizing,​​ only existed in his head.

“Amber, don’t think that,” was​​ the​​ best consoling comment​​ Walter​​ could come up with without lying.​​ He was​​ fresh​​ out of foma.​​ “However,​​ what​​ are​​ you supposed to do​​ now​​ if​​ my dream​​ is coming​​ true​​ and​​ you don’t have one of your own?​​ Are you​​ going​​ 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​​ don’t understand. I​​ thought​​ . . . I just​​ thought you were​​ someone with​​ their​​ own​​ dreams;​​ a love outside of just me.​​ That’s​​ what I want​​ because that’s what I have​​ with my music. I don’t want a sponge.”​​ 

“A sponge?”​​ Amber said. “Is that what​​ you really think of me?”

“I’m sorry, but​​ if you don’t have a job, a dream, and you’re moving in with me, then yes. I’m sorry, but​​ you know I sometimes​​ have​​ difficulty with​​ sugarcoating the truth.”

She was silent for a while.​​ “So...” she then said quietly, “what​​ are​​ you​​ trying to say​​ then? You don’t want​​ to be with​​ me​​ anymore?”

“I​​ think… no,​​ I am.”​​ Walter​​ began crying.​​ “I’m​​ so​​ sorry.​​ I love you, but you​​ still​​ need to find yourself.​​ I can’t​​ be your​​ surrogate dream.”

Amber​​ looked at him​​ dumbfounded​​ as tears filled her eyes. “Why…” she said lowly, “…why​​ are you the one crying?”

She​​ then​​ burst into​​ tears and began​​ groveling and clawing at him.​​ No-no-no…” she​​ pled. “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.​​ That’s what I need. Fresh inspiration.​​ Please.

“I’m sorry,”​​ he​​ said, “but you need to find​​ that inspiration​​ on​​ your own. When​​ you do, then maybe we can try again. But it’s the best for both of us​​ right now, okay? I really am doing this out of love.”

“No, no…” she​​ put her left fist to her mouth and began​​ gnawing her thumb’s​​ knuckle. “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—”​​ Amber’s​​ face froze into​​ the​​ blank stare​​ Walter​​ had seen​​ in this car​​ before. Her thumb​​ then​​ began bleeding​​ from her clenched teeth cutting into it.

“Amber!” he said trying to pull the thumb out of her bite, but she clenched harder. “Amber​​ stop!​​ Amber!”

“What?” she​​ finally came to​​ and released​​ the thumb.​​ Looking more disoriented than before, she​​ didn’t​​ seem​​ to​​ notice​​ her​​ bleeding​​ hand or the blood in her mouth.

“You had another​​ staring spell​​ and​​ you​​ almost bit your thumb in half.​​ Are you okay?”​​ he said gently taking her injured hand​​ and showing it to her. It wasn’t permanently damaged, but the​​ top layer of​​ skin around her thumb’s knuckle​​ was almost removed.

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

“Amber stop!”​​ Walter​​ yelled​​ running after​​ her, catching her by the arm just​​ as​​ she​​ reached​​ the sidewalk of​​ Santa Monica​​ Boulevard.

“Don’t touch me!”​​ she​​ screamed​​ pulling her arm away.​​ “Get away!”

He​​ attempted​​ to keep hold of her, but she kept screaming bloody murder,​​ attracting a nearby hotel security guard.

“Should I call​​ the police​​ miss?” he said stepping between them. He then noticed​​ the blood around​​ Amber’s​​ mouth. “Did he hit you?”

“No,​​ no,” Amber said.​​ “But just​​ keep him away​​ from me​​ until​​ I get my car from​​ the​​ valet.”

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

“Is she intoxicated?”​​ he asked.

“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. “Catherine,” he​​ then​​ said,​​ and​​ ran back down the alley​​ and​​ into the backdoor of the venue.

 

“What do you mean​​ you​​ broke up?” Catherine said.​​ “Why?”​​ After being unable to find her downstairs,​​ Walter​​ finally found​​ her​​ playing darts​​ in the upstairs bar. He​​ told her what happened, but it​​ was loud and​​ she​​ 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!” Catherine said finally getting it. “She shouldn’t be driving.”

They ran downstairs, but by​​ the time they made it to​​ the valet, Amber​​ was already gone.

 

“I should’ve stopped her,” Walter said 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,”​​ Catherine​​ said,​​ pacing​​ 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?” ​​​​ he continued, mostly talking to himself. “And why tonight of all nights?”

Catherine​​ put her​​ phone​​ down​​ and went over to him.​​ “Because​​ change brings things like this out of nowhere sometimes,” she said​​ putting a hand on his shoulder. “But​​ to​​ be​​ frank,​​ I thought this might happen once the band​​ took off.​​ I didn’t think​​ it would happen the night you signed, but​​ still.”

“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—maybe foolishly—you might help her to yours.”

“And​​ I think​​ so was I.”

Catherine sighed and gave Walter a one-armed hug. “And​​ you had the best intentions,” she said.​​ But​​ I guess the lesson learned is​​ everyone has to find​​ their​​ own​​ path on​​ their​​ own.​​ You did the right thing​​ by leaving. It wasn’t​​ a healthy relationship.​​ I know because I left her father for the same reason.

She then gasped and quickly​​ moved away.​​ “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have said that.​​ Honesty​​ just​​ has a way of spilling out of me​​ sometimes​​ even​​ if​​ I don’t want it to, but​​ especially​​ if I’ve been​​ drinking.”

Walter​​ smiled.​​ He wanted to hug her again, but didn’t.​​ “No,” he said,​​ “I’m glad you did.​​ And strangely, I feel better​​ because​​ you did.​​ Thank you.”

Catherine’s phone​​ then​​ buzzed in her pocket.​​ Oh shit,” she said​​ taking it out.​​ It’s Amber​​ . . .​​ At home. Don’t worry, I’m safe. Just need time alone. Going to bed now. Talk to you in the morning.”

 

When​​ they​​ arrived at​​ Catherine’s​​ house, Amber’s​​ dark green Civic​​ was​​ parked​​ 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,”​​ Catherine​​ said looking at the driveway.​​ “So happy that’s over.” She then turned​​ to​​ him. “Well…” she said somberly,​​ “I guess​​ it’s goodbye now.”

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

“No, not​​ forever.​​ We​​ still can…​​ No,​​ we can’t. We can’t ever again,​​ can we?”

“No,” he said after a moment. “I don’t think we can​​ ever see each other again,​​ or​​ at least not for a​​ long​​ time. But everyone says that and it never happens. So​​ yeah, it’s​​ probably forever.”

“You’re probably right...”

There was a long silence, then​​ Catherine​​ 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​​ and began​​ 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​​ debates​​ after movie night,”​​ Catherine​​ said.​​ “Who else can I discuss the laws of thermodynamics and the concepts of Brahman with until​​ three​​ a.m.?”

They laughed again, then became silent.​​ The​​ air​​ became​​ warmer​​ and the windshield​​ began​​ to fog. As​​ Walter​​ watched​​ the fog slowly​​ grow,​​ so did​​ a​​ realization.

He turned to Catherine, but said nothing.​​ She​​ also​​ said nothing, but their​​ eyes​​ began​​ 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​​ doing​​ the same, grazing up and down his chest.​​ His mouth then found its way down her neck​​ and​​ to​​ her breasts​​ as her​​ hand found its way​​ down​​ into his pants. One of his hands then​​ followed into hers, and​​ after a great storm of panting, she began to spasm, then began​​ coming​​ greatly, soaking his hand and the inside of her pants, causing him to​​ spasm then​​ reciprocate​​ just as quickly and strongly​​ over her hand.​​ Looking down at the mess, it was only then that​​ they​​ both​​ comprehended​​ what was happening.

With sweat pouring over their faces, they sat​​ back​​ stiffly and sticky​​ in​​ their​​ seats, still breathing heavily and​​ wide-eyed on the now fully fogged windshield.

“I’m so sorry,” Walter said​​ wiping his hands on his pants.

“It was just as much my fault,”​​ Catherine​​ said​​ doing the same, then wiped​​ her forehead on her sleeve.​​ “I need to go.”

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

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

“Goodbye​​ Catherine.”

 

The next morning,​​ Walter​​ awoke​​ in​​ disbelief of​​ 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​​ Catherine.

“Hello,” he said.

It was her​​ weeping​​ again.

“Catherine? 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​​ strengthened.

“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,​​ just​​ don’t​​ Walter. It’s not your fault...”​​ Catherine​​ then​​ dwindled​​ into​​ more​​ crying.

“Catherine?”​​ Walter said.

“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, but we​​ can never see each other again.”

“No, please​​ Catherine.”

“It’s for both of us​​ Walter.​​ 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. ​​ ​​