The Silver Year: Chapter 9

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Chapter​​ 9

There​​ is​​ Always a Silver Lining

 

“Hi​​ Karen,” Walter​​ said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The​​ truth?”

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

“You lied to me about what?”​​ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Her suicide note.”

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

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

“What’s wrong?”​​ she​​ asked.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Why didn’t you?”​​ 

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

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

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

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

“So it was love?”

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

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

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

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

“You mean like a​​ son?”

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

They both laughed. Then both looked ashamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sorry again,​​ 

 

Amber

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 8

Chapter​​ 8

Fuck Today

 

5-19-2012

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

“Wanna know what my last words to Squids were when I found him shooting up in that tour bus bathroom he later died in, right before he probably shot up the dose that killed him? ‘Shoot up until you’re dead for all I care,​​ because once this tour’s over, you’re out of the band.’”

 

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

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

​​ 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Dear​​ Walter,​​ 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Love,​​ 

You know who

 

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

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

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

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

The Silver Year: Chapter 7

Chapter​​ 7

A Boy at Heart

 

APRIL​​ 2012

 

“What stays with you most from that day?”​​ she asked​​ sitting on the sofa across from​​ him, pen​​ circling her open​​ notebook.

“It wasn’t seeing him dead,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “In fact,​​ he looked quite peaceful.” Her pen began​​ scratching​​ at the pace of his speech across the page. “He​​ even had​​ this​​ smile on his face​​ . . . It was when they put him in a body bag.​​ That faceless bundle of flesh and bone will haunt me forever.​​ It’s amazing the​​ guilt you suddenly feel for being alive when face-to-face with someone who no longer has that privilege.”

“That’s a strange thing to say. Why would you feel guilt?”

“I wasn’t always the nicest to​​ Brian.”

“You two didn’t get along?”

“Hardly ever.”

“Why was that?”

“I suppose egos got in the way. We just didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things.”

“When was the last time you saw him alive?”

“Um…” Walter’s fingers unthinkingly began to fidget in an effort to fight his natural urge to always tell the truth​​ even when he didn’t have to, “...on the bus.”

“The bus he died on?”

“Yes.”

“What were​​ your last​​ moments​​ like​​ with​​ him?”

Walter’s heart began racing and his stomach tightened. “I... I... I...” He stalled. “Do I have to tell you?”

Her​​ bucktooth grin flashed beneath her​​ bulging,​​ chipmunk-like cheeks,​​ making​​ her button nose​​ crinkle​​ adorably​​ between her doting, big,​​ brown eyes.​​ Maybe it was​​ the​​ disarming​​ English accent, but​​ somehow she’d​​ become his closest counselor and was pulling things out of him that had long been sewn up, when only an hour earlier, she’d been nothing but a stranger—well not exactly. Francis Jones was​​ Rolling Stone’s foremost​​ reporter, and there was a reason why.

“You don’t have to say anything you​​ don’t want to,”​​ Francis​​ said.​​ “This is your story. Not Quinn Quark’s, Cirkus’s,​​ or anyone else’s. Remember, you reached out to me, and no one knows about this interview but us. It’s just us​​ . . . But, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask. A lot of people want to know what happened that night.”

“And so​​ would I, but I was pretty gone that night myself . . .​​ Um…​​ you mind?”​​ Walter​​ said eyeing a bottle of Jameson​​ and an​​ ice bucket​​ filled with mixers​​ on the coffee table.

“Go ahead, that’s why it’s there.” She flashed​​ him​​ another​​ grin.​​ He poured himself a drink,​​ then leaned back in​​ his​​ armchair.

The​​ tranquil​​ glow of​​ Francis’s​​ living room​​ fireplace​​ was​​ dangerously​​ homey,​​ a feeling he hadn’t felt in​​ some time.​​ Although the label​​ had given him some money to get by,​​ it was nowhere near enough to get him out of Grandma’s,​​ which​​ was becoming more of a prison than a home​​ lately. Day and night,​​ growing​​ multitudes​​ of​​ paparazzi​​ and other bounty hunters of fame​​ stalked​​ the​​ front​​ door, so​​ Walter​​ had to​​ stay​​ holed up inside, unless of course he found the strength to endure their​​ legally-protected harassing.​​ 

Cirkus’s announcement of​​ the​​ live​​ show​​ and record​​ had​​ made​​ Walter’s​​ fame​​ (aka Quinn Quark)​​ balloon​​ even​​ greater,​​ thanks​​ in​​ large​​ part​​ to Lola’s shrewd​​ peddling.​​ Unbeknownst to​​ him,​​ his​​ emotional​​ soundcheck​​ performance of “See The Sky About To Rain”​​ had been filmed and recorded, and with no single or music video to use​​ for​​ promotion,​​ Lola instead​​ pushed​​ the video—one tight shot of Walter’s​​ genital-swelling​​ face rolling through the emotions of the song​​ until climaxing in​​ a money shot of tears.

Being that it was​​ recorded​​ on the day of​​ Quinn Quark’s​​ infamous last​​ performance,​​ the video​​ circulated quickly and soon became​​ a​​ viral​​ hit​​ among rock and indie circles. Cirkus was quick to respond, releasing the cover as a single, and soon the punk-leaning label had their first top-ten​​ U.S. hit once the video and Walter’s face made it into the general public’s circles and genitals. The​​ swelling was all​​ anyone​​ could talk about.​​ And although the song was labeled rock n’ roll​​ and Quinn Quark a rock star, it was not, and he was not.​​ America didn’t actually still like rock n’ roll,​​ but rock stars​​ were​​ like cowboys​​ to Americans,​​ mythologized​​ clichés​​ they loved​​ to resurrect over and over again.

Walter set​​ down​​ his drink and cleared his throat.​​ “While it​​ does​​ feel​​ good​​ to finally talk about​​ Squids’s death,”​​ he​​ said,​​ “I’m not sure this is the right venue. I’m sorry. I hope you understand.”

“Of course,”​​ Francis​​ said, however, there was​​ a​​ pinch​​ of exasperation on​​ her​​ face.​​ “How about something easy then?​​ What’s your favorite color?”

“Gamma ray.”​​ He​​ smirked.

“What?”

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

“Favorite holiday?”

“Halloween.”

“Least favorite holiday?”

“Christmas.”

“Christmas? Who doesn’t​​ like Christmas?”​​ 

“How about the non-Christian world? But my reasons are different. Let’s just move on.”

“Okay...” Francis said turning​​ a​​ page​​ in​​ her notebook​​ .​​ . . How’s​​ rehearsal​​ going?​​ How’s it been​​ working​​ with​​ Jason Newsted?”

“Rehearsals are going great actually. It just feels great to be playing with a band again. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.​​ It’s like not having sex.​​ And Jason, oh man, it’s​​ like a whole​​ new​​ sex​​ now that​​ we​​ have a bassist who can​​ actually​​ play—um,​​ fuck.​​ I didn’t​​ mean to​​ say that. I’m sorry.”

You’re​​ fine.” Francis stopped scribing, surrendering her pen to the air as if she were a captured soldier surrendering a sword. “I can leave​​ it​​ out—I can leave anything out. Remember, this is a magazine interview, not a live interview, so​​ you​​ can relax​​ if you​​ slip up​​ now and then.​​ 

That was nice to hear, Walter thought. He didn’t have to be perfect. He wasn’t​​ onstage with thousands of eyes​​ stalking​​ him, just two big brown ones​​ like​​ glossy​​ eyes​​ of a beloved​​ Teddy bear. Her face quelled something in him like cutesy cartoon forest animals can do.

“Thanks,”​​ he said. “What I​​ meant​​ was, everyone in the band has nothing but the upmost respect for him, and it’s inspiring to be playing with someone of his caliber.

“So is there a possibility​​ we might see this lineup perform again after​​ the​​ Greek?”

“No. Let’s make that perfectly clear.​​ N-O. There will be no Perfect Crime or Quinn Quark after this show.”

“But what about your unreleased album,​​ Love Songs in a Minor Crash?”

“I never finished it. And the songs I had, they​​ weren’t​​ right for Perfect Crime.”

“But right for a solo project perhaps?”

“Yes,​​ actually.​​ Something completely​​ new​​ for me​​ though.”

“Really?” Francis said repositioning herself, pen ready to transcribe​​ again.​​ “What kind of sound is this new project?”​​ 

“Silence.”​​ Francis’s​​ eyes hung on​​ Walter​​ for further explanation, but he just smiled.

“I’m sorry,” she said,​​ “but​​ I’m not understanding.”​​ 

“It’s a novel. I’m writing a novel.”

“A​​ novel?” She looked to be reshuffling notes in her head.​​ “Why?”

“I suppose I like the privacy of it.​​ With a novel, my​​ physical image​​ doesn’t have to be packaged alongside my art.​​ I​​ also​​ don’t have​​ to relive​​ the emotions​​ of​​ my art night after night​​ on tour​​ for years on end.”

“That’s​​ surprising to hear from someone who seemingly​​ enjoyed the stage very much at one point. Did​​ Squids’s death spur this change?”

“Partially, but​​ not​​ fully.”

“Is the​​ novel​​ related to​​ his death?”​​ 

“No, and again, I don’t want to talk about his death.”

“Then what’s it about?”​​ 

“Uh…​​ well, death,​​ life,​​ love, existence—all the typical stuff,”​​ Walter fibbed.​​ So far​​ his​​ novel​​ was about nothing, because beside his​​ lacquered piece of shit he’d torn to bits, he’d written nothing.

“Care to expound​​ a​​ little more?”​​ Francis’s​​ pen​​ rapped​​ frustratedly​​ against her notebook.

“I guess you could also say it’s​​ a revue​​ of sorts, featuring​​ all​​ the women​​ who have shaped​​ me, good and bad.”

“Past lovers?”

“Some.”

“Can you tell me about them? Your love life is something of a mystery to most people.”

“There’s a reason,​​ and I don’t want to talk about it.”

“All right.” Francis’s pen rapped harder. “Are​​ you​​ currently seeing anyone?”

“I just said I don’t want to talk about my love life. But if the teeny boppers must know, yes I’m single, but nowhere​​ near​​ ready to mingle, and especially not with them.”

“So those rumors of​​ numerous​​ love affairs on the road aren’t true?”

“What? That I​​ enjoyed a few nights with​​ a​​ select​​ handful of of-age and fully consenting women? Yes, I enjoyed myself a little. Anyone would’ve have after what I went through.”

“What did you​​ go through?”

“No.​​ We’re not going there either.”

Francis’s button nose crinkled​​ sharply​​ and her lips pursed into a taut circle. She then​​ slapped her pen​​ onto​​ the coffee table and threw her notebook to the side.

“Okay Mister Huxley,” she said, “well,​​ where do you want to go, because I’m not having much luck driving?”

“Anywhere, just not my past.”

“Fine...” she said picking up her pen and notebook again, “...let’s talk about the future. This novel you’re working on, when can​​ we expect it?”

“Sometime,” Walter said,​​ “but you won’t​​ know because​​ I’m releasing it under​​ a​​ penname.”

“Why​​ is that?”

“Because the​​ book​​ can’t make it on the back​​ of​​ my music career.​​ I couldn’t​​ take myself seriously​​ as a writer​​ if​​ it​​ did.​​ That’s why people can’t know I wrote it.”

“So will anyone ever know​​ the author’s true identity?”

“God, I hope not. All I want is to disappear into​​ obscurity after this​​ farewell​​ show.”​​ 

Francis sighed​​ sympathetically​​ as​​ her demeanor shifted gears.​​ “That’s​​ a shame​​ you want to disappear from the world,” she said,​​ “because the world​​ really​​ seems​​ to​​ like you​​ Walter.​​ A​​ lot of great things​​ are​​ being said.​​ Some​​ have​​ even called​​ you​​ genius.”

“Genius? I’m a rock musician, that’s all.​​ If what I​​ have​​ is genius, then genius​​ is​​ much more an exercise than​​ a​​ gift.”

“I see . . . Excuse me,”​​ she​​ said​​ setting down her notebook​​ and pen again​​ and removing​​ her Stanford University sweater. Walter’s​​ eyes couldn’t help but say hello to the​​ cupfuls of breast​​ now​​ peeking​​ out​​ over​​ her​​ red​​ tank top.​​ He was trying his best to​​ not​​ sexualize his interviewer, but​​ nature isn’t​​ always​​ honorable​​ amongst cutesy forest animals.​​ 

“The fireplace,” she said,​​ “it’s kind of making things warm.”

“Well,​​ April isn’t​​ the most ideal​​ fireplace​​ weather.”

“I know...” she said, aware of his eyes as she​​ bent​​ over to​​ pick​​ up a​​ thick​​ binder from the floor, “…but​​ I just love fireside chats. It always brings out the best conversations.”​​ She opened the binder​​ across her lap.​​ “I hope you don’t mind​​ if we revisit your past again briefly,” she​​ said while thumbing through​​ its​​ many plastic-sheathed pages,​​ “but​​ I​​ spoke​​ to​​ a few of your​​ professors​​ at UCLA,​​ and​​ while​​ yes,​​ some in the music press have called you​​ genius, I​​ actually​​ heard​​ the​​ designation​​ much more​​ often​​ from​​ them​​ in regards​​ to​​ your work in physics.”

“Physics? I was​​ a​​ C-average physics student.”

“Yes,​​ but only in your junior and senior years. Before that you were the​​ most promising physics student the department had seen in some time, so much so you were​​ given​​ a full-ride scholarship—unprecedented for an incoming​​ freshman.​​ That’s why although many​​ of your professors​​ describe you as​​ genius, they also deride you as being…”​​ ​​ She​​ began reading​​ from​​ the binder:​​ “...‘arrogant’​​ . . . ‘lazy’​​ . . . ‘immature’ . . .​​ ‘ungrateful’,​​ and my personal favorite, ‘disproportioned​​ in​​ blood flow between​​ his​​ brain and penis.’”

“That last one​​ was​​ from Schechter,​​ wasn’t it?” Walter​​ asked.

“Yes. He actually had the most to say about you. He even showed me your papers, and while he admitted there was​​ a lot wrong with​​ them, he seemed to think…”​​ She​​ read from​​ her notes​​ again:​​ “…‘They’re the type of creative​​ genius​​ of someone​​ who could​​ revolutionize physics.’”

“So, what does​​ Schechter​​ know?​​ He was a great teacher, but a failed theorist himself.​​ A whole life wasted chasing dead-end theories. I’m sorry, but I didn’t​​ want to end up like him. He’s gone so crazy now​​ he’s trying to convince naive journalists who haven’t the slightest clue about theoretical physics what’s going to revolutionize it.​​ Probably because they’re the only ones who will take him seriously now.”

“You​​ don’t have to be condescending,”​​ Francis​​ said.

“Condescending? Okay, what’s the uncertainty principle?”​​ Walter asked.​​ She​​ shrugged.​​ “See,​​ naïve journalist who doesn’t​​ know shit​​ about physics.​​ Not condescending,​​ just​​ the truth.”

“But still,​​ you don’t have to be​​ a...”​​ She tried to come up with a​​ polite​​ rebuttal, but went blank.​​ 

“What?” Walter continued​​ his charge.​​ “An asshole? Is that what you want to call me? Go ahead, but you’re the real asshole here.​​ This entire interview you’ve been trying​​ to​​ trap me​​ because​​ you​​ thought​​ by putting together some extensive book report on my life you’d​​ know it better than​​ me.​​ And by the way, just because​​ I’m​​ famous​​ now,​​ that​​ doesn’t mean you have an all-access​​ pass to riffle through my past—”

“Actually it does,” she interrupted.​​ “Maybe I don’t know​​ ‘shit about physics’,​​ but​​ I do know​​ shit​​ about media law.”​​ 

“Well, whatever.​​ I’m done​​ here.” He stood from his chair and​​ walked​​ toward the door. “If you think you’re going to prod any more information​​ out of​​ me you’re nuts.”

Seriously?” she said. “You asked​​ me​​ for this interview.​​ I thought you wanted to introduce​​ the ‘real you’ to the world? How am I supposed to do that when you won’t tell me anything​​ about you?

“Well apparently you already​​ know​​ everything about me.​​ What else do you need to know?”

“How about why someone so gifted continually​​ wastes​​ his​​ talents?​​ Songwriter, physicist, and now you tell me writer, you’re so much more than Quinn Quark​​ the one-hit rock star​​ and I​​ just​​ want​​ the world​​ to​​ know.​​ Isn’t that what you want​​ too, for people to know the real you?”

Walter stood silent, contemplating​​ for a moment.

“No​​ actually,” he said.​​ “I’m sorry,​​ this​​ was​​ a mistake.”​​ He opened her front door.​​ 

“Walter stop,” she​​ begged. “Why?”

“Because​​ the real me is not who you think​​ he​​ is. Wanna know the truth? I have no​​ novel, not a single​​ page, so cross off writer.” He slashed an invisible pen over the air. “And some crackpot ideas I had while smoking too much pot in college doesn’t classify me as a physicist either; in fact, it’s just an​​ insult to the field.​​ So we’ll cross off that one too.​​ Hm…​​ what else? Oh yeah,​​ songwriter. I guess I’ll give you that, but not for much longer. As of next month I’m officially resigned of that title too. So there it is, an over-hyped,​​ title-less nobody who can’t commit himself to​​ anyone or​​ anything; just a big fucking face for people to​​ talk​​ about, that’s all.​​ You know, sometimes I wish nature hadn’t made me so brilliant if that’s what I really am. It’d sure make things a​​ lot easier. I envy the average man; the person who can float through life blissfully ignorant​​ of the world,​​ because​​ fuck the world!”

The front door struck​​ its frame like a thunderbolt.​​ 

 

Walter​​ tried to​​ walk​​ to his car,​​ but​​ delirium cuffed him to the​​ curb in front of​​ Francis’s​​ house.​​ As he sat, his head tilted​​ to​​ the night sky​​ in search​​ of​​ answers as​​ it​​ so often did.​​ 

 “She’s right,” he said.​​ Why?​​ . . .​​ Why-why-why-why?​​ Why do​​ you​​ always​​ throw away​​ everything good​​ for something uncertain​​ Walter, or whoever the fuck you are today?​​ Physics for rock stardom, rock stardom for writing, Amber for her mother—what’s next and when will it stop?”

A​​ cycle​​ then​​ began​​ to formulate.​​ Every​​ time something became too​​ comfortable,​​ he abandoned it​​ for​​ something new and more​​ challenging.​​ He couldn’t stand​​ to be comfortable, to be stable—to be bored.

“But then who am I?”​​ he​​ asked. “What am​​ I? Can I still be​​ or should​​ I​​ be asking these questions at​​ twenty-five? I can’t keep going around like this,​​ flirting with everything life has to offer. I have to stick to something, stick to someone. I have to be an adult . . . But I like new things. I like to dream. I like change.​​ I like being​​ single.​​ Why does it have to stop?​​ Why does life have to revolve around one resolute identity?”​​ 

The dilemma of being twenty-five.​​ Walter​​ had grown into a man, but was still very much a boy​​ at heart.

“Who are you talking to?”​​ Francis​​ asked​​ from​​ her doorway.​​ Walter stirred​​ to​​ his​​ feet​​ in surprise.

“Um…​​ myself,”​​ he replied.

“You realize that’s kind of​​ crazy,​​ right?”

“Guilty as charged.”

She shook her head.​​ “So what’s your deal?” she asked.​​ “Does it​​ really​​ drive you​​ that​​ crazy that​​ people recognize you​​ sometimes; that you impact their lives?”

“Just because people recognize me doesn’t mean I affect​​ their​​ lives.​​ I recognize Kim Kardashian, but if she​​ never existed​​ I think my world would be no different.”​​ 

“But​​ you​​ don’t​​ represent the world​​ Walter.​​ Kim Kardashian may have no impact on you, but she sure​​ does on the rest of the world—and that’s important. If there’s one thing I’ve learned​​ as a journalist, it’s that​​ you can’t be so consumed in your own world that you​​ forget about​​ the​​ actual​​ one. Kim Kardashian, as unfortunate as it may sound​​ to you, is the real world.

“Since I’ve already tanked my interview,”​​ Francis​​ continued, “I’m just going to be brutally honest with you now:​​ you​​ really​​ need​​ to​​ buck the fuck up​​ and stop being such a whiny bitch. There’s a lot worse curses that could be placed on​​ you​​ than being intelligent,​​ multi-talented,​​ good-looking,​​ and famous.​​ Also, becoming​​ a writer isn’t going to free you of​​ fame.​​ If your intention is to have an impact on people, whether it be through a song, a​​ story, or even a theory, you’re​​ also​​ going to have to deal with them—deal with being famous.​​ People​​ don’t connect with ideas​​ insomuch as they​​ connect with​​ other​​ people. Now,​​ should I call the cops and tell them some madman is talking​​ to himself in​​ my front lawn,​​ or do you want to come back in?”

 

Back in the living room,​​ Walter snatched up his discarded drink from the coffee table and began sipping at it.

“I can’t help but notice your drink is just ice,” Francis said. He pulled the glass​​ to his eyes and realized she was right.​​ “Do you want some more whiskey, or something else?”​​ she asked.

“You know, I could go for a beer if you have one,” he​​ replied.

“Of course. I’ll be right back.”

As​​ he watched her leave the room,​​ the​​ long,​​ naked legs​​ and​​ nice​​ behind​​ beneath her thin pajama bottoms​​ began circling his imagination.​​ 

No Walter. Be a good boy. Use your fucking brain. His tongue tossed around an ice cube to ease his drooling libido. Maybe his old professor Alan Schechter was right; maybe he did have deficient blood flow to operate his penis and brain at the same time. He often found his sex drive a maddening​​ disruption, leeching his​​ brain’s​​ ability​​ to think about anything else​​ until satisfied.​​ 

Walter​​ noticed​​ Francis’s binder, left temptingly abandoned on the couch.​​ What else does she have on me?​​ he wondered as he went to capture it.​​ 

Clearly​​ Francis​​ must’ve been anal about organization; every page was carefully tabbed and alphabetically arranged into sections about​​ his​​ life. Never had he imagined it with so much order. He opened to his time at UCLA and something caught his eye he hadn’t seen in well over three years; something that had once been as important to him as children.

“I hope you don’t mind, but all I have are some locally brewed IPAs,” she said, passively looking over two beers.

“Strange, because according to this file . . . on preferred intoxicants, under alcohol, under beer, you have listed Left Coast Trestles IPA. Oh, what a coincidence, that’s exactly the beer you have in your hands.”

Her chipmunkish cheeks turned red.​​ “Oh my god!”​​ she said and​​ snatched the binder from his lap.

“What? Am I not allowed to read this very comprehensive examination of my own life? I feel completely invaded, but oddly impressed.​​ You’re like a​​ female Nardwuar.”

She chuckled.​​ “No,” she said, “but​​ thank you for the comparison.​​ Your favorite drinks were easy; they’re on your tour rider. The other stuff… well, a good journalist never reveals​​ all​​ her sources. Truthfully, I don’t normally do this much homework,​​ but once I started digging, it was hard to stop. There really is so much more to you than people know.”

“And I’d like to keep it that way.”

“Here we go again.” She rolled her eyes. “Listen, you’re not my prisoner. You’re free to leave,​​ however,​​ if you’re going to stay, you need to start answering some questions, okay? I understand this...” she held up the binder, “...is kind of creepy. But there’s a reason​​ why​​ I​​ get​​ the stories no one else can: no one else works harder than me.”

Although the​​ salvo was​​ made, there was a controlled crazy around her Walter’s own crazy​​ couldn’t help but be drawn​​ into​​ play​​ with.

“Good,” she said, taking his silence as acceptance. She then pulled open one of the coffee table drawers beneath him, revealing a water pipe. “Oops. Forgot that was in there.”

Sure you did...​​ his penis-constricted mind managed to eke out. ...Run away.

Francis​​ closed the drawer and opened another. “Ah, there it is,” she said, and took out a bottle opener. “Cheers...”​​ she​​ gave him a bottle then​​ held​​ hers to his.​​ They​​ tapped, then​​ both took​​ big​​ swigs. Walter’s attention then went back to her binder.

“I noticed you have copies of my ‘crackpot ideas’ from college in there,” he said.​​ 

“Yes. Actually, I was hoping you could explain your theories a little? Just for the sake of my own curiosity.” She smiled widely, her buckteeth biting into her bottom lip like fangs into Walter’s heart.

“Well first off,” he said, “please don’t call them theories. The word​​ theory​​ deserves more sanctity than that. They’re more like . . . arts and crafts time, but with physics. Mind if I see them?”

She removed only the necessary pages and handed them to him. As he sorted​​ through, he​​ laughed​​ softly like someone reminiscing over an old photo album.  ​​​​ 

“Okay,” Francis said, “well, can you explain some of your ‘arts and crafts’ then? Uh…​​ Fibonacci Manipulations of Calabi-Yau​​ Manifolds…” she struggled to read from her notes,  ​​​​ “…sounds like a good place to start.”

​​ “Sure,”​​ Walter​​ said. “Unlike my personal life, I could talk about physics all night. You should take a deep breath to clear your head​​ though.​​ I’ll try my best to​​ keep​​ a tether, but I can’t promise you won’t let go.”

“Where​​ are you planning​​ on taking me Mister Huxley?” she said, her fangs biting in again. She then took an exaggerated breath. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“So the first thing every aspiring physicist learns,” Walter began, “is the big unsolved​​ question​​ of their day. Sort of a goal to reach if you really think you’re the next Einstein. The big unsolved problem facing physicists today is bringing Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which explains how big things like planets, stars, and galaxies operate, together with quantum mechanics, which tells us how things smaller than an atom operate. Separately, these mechanisms work great for calculating their constituents and have been proven beyond a doubt, yet when you bring them together—which we know has to happen when matter is compressed inside a blackhole, the calculations make no sense. A theory that would solve this has thus been dubbed, ‘a theory of everything’. Are you still following Francis?”

She was​​ fluidly​​ jotting away​​ with her eyes focused to the paper.​​ “Yep,​​ still​​ listening,” she said. “The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics don’t play nicely together—got it.”

“Well,​​ this paper is a guess to that problem. All my papers are essentially guesses to that problem. This particular one, however, is rooted in string theory, and according to​​ it, our universe is made up of ten to eleven dimensions, however,​​ we only experience four of them. Think about the way in which you give someone your location. You tell them you’re on the corner of Main and Broadway on the second floor of such-and-such building. These coordinates represent the three spatial dimensions: left and right, forward and back, and up and down. Of course you also give a​​ time​​ in which you’ll be at this three dimensional location, and that is dimension number four. My second paper, however,​​ Reconsiderations of The Time Dimension,​​ questions if time can really constitute as a full dimension because it only flows one direction—forward, and my third paper,​​ Application of Uncertainty Principle to Spacetime, expands on this by saying there is no such thing as time because​​ wave-particle duality we find in quantum mechanics can also be found in the characteristics of spacetime​​ being that space is all location and time is all momentum yet they​​ still make​​ up​​ the same entity—” Walter stopped, noticing her confusion. “Sorry, I’m getting a little sidetracked.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s cute how worked up you get about this.”

“Who wouldn’t? We’re poking at the mind of God​​ here!​​ . . . Let’s back up. So string theory, ten to eleven dimensions, but we only experience four. So where are the other six—or seven if you want to count an M-theory technicality which my ‘guess’ does not?​​ They, according​​ to theory,​​ are​​ down at something called the Planck length,​​ rolled up into unfathomably small, six-dimensional ‘knots’ called Calabi–Yau manifolds that hold the threads of reality together so to speak.​​ To give you a reference​​ point,​​ imagine if an atom were the entire universe, this length​​ would be the​​ size​​ of​​ an​​ average tree here on Earth.​​ The shape of these ‘knots’, however,​​ is unknown, but very important.​​ Just the way the shape of a trumpet or tuba manipulates air​​ into particular​​ sound properties such​​ as​​ pitch and​​ timbre,​​ the​​ shape of these​​ knots​​ manipulate vibrating,​​ microscopic strings​​ into​​ particular​​ particle properties​​ such as​​ charge and mass, which​​ dictate gravity​​ and the forces that​​ attract, glue, and pull apart particles.​​ Particles like quarks​​ then​​ coalesce into protons and neutrons,​​ which interact with electrons to become atoms. Atoms interact with other atoms to become molecules;​​ molecules interact with other molecules​​ to become​​ matter, until eventually,​​ this beautifully complex symphony​​ emerges​​ we call reality.​​ Incredible​​ isn’t it?”

Some of​​ Walter’s​​ zeal seemingly soaked into Francis as her eyes had closed and her pen had stopped. Her body​​ appeared​​ seized in revelation.​​ 

Her lashes fluttered open.​​ “Yes, it really is,” she said. “Maybe that’s​​ why music connects​​ with us at our core; we’re just part of some great masterpiece by some unknown composer.”

“Physics does have a lot in common with music,”​​ Walter​​ said. “It even has the same wave-particle like nature we find in quantum mechanics.”

Francis looked at him lustfully.​​ “God,” she said, “you​​ must​​ be​​ really​​ fun to get high with.”

“Yes, getting high with God would be fun,” Walter joked. “But I insist I am not him.” He then finished off his first beer. “Mind if I have another?” he asked.

“Sure, one sec.” She stood to get another. “I’m serious though. If you want to, that bong in the drawer is all yours. Help yourself.”​​ 

Her teasing eyes remained on him until she left the room. As she returned, he looked at her cynically. He couldn’t shake the feeling he was being duped.

“Should we get high?” she asked.​​ 

“Maybe after the interview. I haven’t even told you my addition to string theory yet—I mean my meaningless guess.”

“Please continue,” she said and set the new beer in front of him.

“So are you familiar with a Fibonacci sequence?” he asked.

“Sounds familiar, but remind me.”

“In​​ a Fibonacci sequence,​​ you add the number with the number before it to get the next number.​​ 1+1 equals 2, 2+1 equals 3, 3+2 equals 5, 5+3 equals 8 and so forth, until you have a sequence that looks like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55—you get the point. You find Fibonacci numbers and ratios all over nature, the most popular one being a logarithmic spiral based on the sequence called ‘the golden spiral’. You see this spiral in plants, galaxies, seashells, hurricanes, and even in the structure of DNA. However, this is not because the Fibonacci sequence is some magical cosmic code, but more so a logical arrangement that nature was bound to adopt because it’s efficient and practical, whether it be packing as many seeds as possible into a given space, arranging leaves in order to capture the most sunlight,​​ or in my​​ paper’s​​ case, arranging six dimensions into a very small​​ ‘knot’.​​ 

“All this paper explores is possible Calabi-Yau​​ manifolds arranged​​ according to the mathematical constant behind the golden spiral: the golden ratio.​​ But​​ my understanding of multiverse theory at the time was very limited,​​ and it shows there may be an infinite​​ number​​ of​​ possible ‘knots’. My fourth paper,​​ Fibonacci Influenced Cosmic Inflation, does the same thing, but​​ applies the golden ratio to the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang.​​ But really, all these papers were just me​​ having​​ fun​​ with​​ the paintbrush of mathematics.​​ I didn’t really know what I was doing,​​ however, I was arrogant enough to call the year I wrote them,​​ 2007,​​ my​​ annus mirabilis, or ‘miracle year’ after Einstein’s miracle year in 1905​​ because I thought they were going to change the world.

Francis​​ again​​ looked awestruck, slowly shaking her head at him.

“What?” Walter​​ said.​​ 

“I don’t know,” she​​ replied.​​ “You’ve​​ just​​ been the center of my world lately in preparation for this interview, and now to have you here in front of me,​​ I guess​​ you’re exceeding expectations—good and bad. I’ve interviewed everyone from rock stars to presidents,​​ and I’ve never felt so… so star-struck​​ I guess.”

“Francis...”​​ he​​ said, his cheeks looking suddenly sunburned, “I’m a lot more ordinary than you think.”

“Well, I’m having trouble finding anything ordinary about you.” Her smile​​ again​​ sunk into his heart. “So what happened? You had your miracle year and then what, it all slipped away?”

“I suppose, but​​ I never really wanted it in the first place.​​ Physicist was​​ always​​ just plan B to​​ rock star. That was​​ always my dream,​​ but​​ in high​​ school,​​ my religion​​ didn’t quite fit into the lifestyle of my dream since band​​ gigs were​​ always​​ at places and with people the​​ Mormon​​ church didn’t​​ find kosher, so I got more interested in physics​​ instead.​​ But by​​ sophomore year​​ in college, Mormonism was no longer making​​ the​​ rules, rock n’ roll was, and once I realized I’d never be a new Einstein, I lost interest in physics.​​ It was really just​​ me trying​​ to prove my parents wrong anyhow.”

“What do​​ you​​ mean?”

“I… I just didn’t get much support from them​​ growing up,​​ my​​ stepmother​​ especially who​​ always said​​ I was​​ worthless and stupid, so my​​ solution was trying to become the next Einstein​​ to prove her wrong, even though she was dead by the time I was fourteen.”

“Really?” Francis said, unable to mask her enthusiasm. “What did she die from?”

It suddenly occurred to Walter what was happening.​​ They were supposed to enter his past briefly, but​​ now they were in his childhood, a place he had not been since until recent events forced him to revisit again. When four people’s lives would​​ most likely​​ still exist​​ if yours didn’t, you begin to wonder about​​ the meaning of such​​ patterns.

“Goddamn it,” he said shaking his head. “I need​​ to​​ shut up. Why am I telling you all this? Stanford’s journalism department​​ must​​ be proud. You really have a knack for pulling information out of people.”

“I was a psychology major. And to be honest, I’m not having to try very hard. Remember, I can leave anything out. I can be​​ just​​ an ear​​ too.”​​ She surrendered her pen again.

“She​​ drank herself to death four years after my parents divorced,”​​ Walter said.

“Why’d they divorce?”​​ Francis asked.

“Numerous reasons, all​​ involving me​​ though. But​​ the breaking point came when​​ I​​ joined the Mormon church​​ when I was ten,​​ which my stepmother​​ thought was of Satan—or her alcoholism​​ did​​ once​​ my father began​​ showing a passing​​ interest in the church.​​ When​​ my father​​ was gone on business trips, she used to lock me in my room after removing the interior doorknob for days sometimes, refusing to feed me unless I renounced the church.”

“That’s horrible.​​ Did your​​ father know?”

“Yes, but he downplayed it since my stepmother did. Her word was always taken over mine because I was proof of his dishonesty, and anytime he questioned hers,​​ I​​ was​​ always​​ her leveraging point.

“Leveraging point?”

“Oops,​​ I​​ didn’t mean for that to slip out.”

“It’s okay. Remember, ‘slip ups’​​ are okay here.”

Walter finished​​ his beer​​ before answering:​​ “I was​​ the​​ product of​​ an​​ extramarital one-night stand, but when​​ my mother​​ died giving birth to me, my father had no choice but to take me in.”

“Oh​​ my.​​ I’m​​ so​​ sorry.”

“Why​​ does everyone say that?”

“Sorry . . .​​ Where’s your father now?”

“Still in Arizona, but dead to me.​​ After the divorce, he dove into the alcohol even further, and after I dumped out his new bottles of rum one night, he put me in the hospital with a concussion. Child services then gave custody to my maternal grandmother,​​ who I still live with now . . .​​ I’m sorry,”​​ Walter​​ said wiping his eyes. “I haven’t thought about these things for a long time, but​​ ever since Squids’s death,​​ I​​ feel like they’ve been​​ bubbling out of me.”

“Please, don’t be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for.​​ It’s probably because you’ve repressed them for so long.​​ What do you think it​​ is about his death that’s​​ triggering them?”

“It wasn’t just his death, it was my girlfriend’s too. I never told anyone in the press this, but she died right before the tour with Jester. They both​​ died within three months of each other, and both were sort of my fault.”​​ Walter’s tears became too much for wiping.​​ 

Francis took her notebook and pen sitting by her side and placed them on the coffee table.​​ “Come here,” she patted the​​ seat​​ cushion next to her, then opened her arms to him. He couldn’t hold himself back from accepting​​ the​​ invitation,​​ and​​ continued crying​​ into her clavicle.

“Shh…” she​​ said patting his back. “It’s all right Walter, it’s all right.”

Once calmed, he brought his head up.​​ “Thank you,” he​​ told her. “Maybe​​ we should pull out that bong now.​​ It might make me feel better.”

 

“Want another?” Francis asked​​ an hour or so later​​ as she gently stroked​​ Walter’s​​ head resting atop her mons pubis.​​ 

“Yes please,”​​ he​​ cooed. She took a hit from the bong and shot-gunned it into his mouth like​​ Amber used to do.

“So...” she said as her lips departed, “Squids stuck the needle in his arm and Amber died of a seizure, how​​ is that your fault?”

“Wanna know the truth?” Walter said, so gone he could no longer keep his eyes in place. “Wanna know what my last words to Squids were when I found him shooting up in that tour bus bathroom he later died in, right before he probably shot up the dose that killed him? ‘Shoot up until you’re dead for​​ all I care, because once this tour’s over, you’re out of the band.’ And it seems he took that to heart. Then poor Amber, after she dedicated her life to helping Perfect Crime make it, I decided on the very day we signed our record contract to break up with her, which was also the same​​ night​​ she died.”

“And​​ you think the break up caused her fatal seizure?”​​ 

“Almost certainly. Amber had absent seizures as a child, but they stopped​​ at​​ nine.​​ But when​​ she was caught cheating with me on a fiancé she was three months out from marrying, they returned. She also had one right after I broke up with her, which, I suppose in hindsight, was only a foreshock to the grand mal that killed her later. Even worse, you know what I was doing in the hours right before she died? I was lip-locking with her mother in my car while we both had our hands down each other’s pants.”

Francis’s eyes went wide​​ and​​ her​​ pen fell​​ to the floor​​ which she had picked​​ up​​ again without Walter noticing.​​ “Did you say her​​ mother?” she​​ asked.

A​​ great​​ surge of regret​​ rose in​​ Walter, but convinced Francis’s affection was​​ not only​​ benevolent​​ but​​ romantic, his head lacked the blood supply to stop his mouth from moving.​​ 

“Yes,​​ I guess I did,” he​​ answered.​​ 

“So​​ wait.​​ Amber cheated on her fiancé with you, then left him for you, then you cheated on her with her mother?”

“Well, I had broken up with Amber an hour and a half before, but basically.​​ But it​​ was only​​ that​​ one time.​​ We were both emotional, and it just happened. And​​ I know it sounds horrible, but​​ I think the only reason I was dating Amber was​​ because I was in love​​ with​​ her mother.​​ I think some part of her​​ mother​​ was​​ also​​ unknowingly​​ in love with me, but​​ some loves​​ are better​​ off​​ not mentioned and​​ just forgotten.”

“But forgotten​​ doesn’t mean​​ non-existing​​ . . .​​ Are​​ you still​​ in​​ love​​ with​​ her​​ mother?”

Walter’s eyes began leaking again as he shook his head yes. “I​​ miss​​ her all the time,​​ and I hate myself for it. It’s why I can’t release​​ Love Songs in A Minor Crash.​​ It’s not because I didn’t finish it, it’s because most of the songs​​ ended up being​​ about her.

Francis looked down at him​​ as he continued to cry, then at the large number of empty glasses and bottles around them, not all of them​​ Walter’s.

“Um…” she said​​ giving his head one final rub,​​ “…it’s three​​ a.m. If you’re okay, I think I’m going to​​ go to​​ bed now.​​ You can sleep​​ on my​​ couch.”

He wasn’t okay and he didn’t want​​ to sleep on​​ her​​ couch, yet​​ “okay,”​​ was all he​​ said.​​ She​​ then stood and his head fell off her lap.​​ She then got him​​ a blanket and tossed it by his side.

“Do you need anything else?”​​ she asked.​​ He wanted to say “you”, but instead just shook his head sourly. “Okay. Goodnight.”

She then turned​​ off the gas fireplace and lights, leaving Walter alone in​​ obscurity.​​ Obscurity, however,​​ soon​​ started to spin, and​​ an imaginary centrifugal force pinned him to his back. He reached for the ice bucket still on the table, but his fingers were just out of reach. He then began to bleat loudly.

“Are you crying​​ again?” he could hear Francis say in the dark. “What’s that smell?” She flicked a light switch and found her answer. “Oh my god, you’ve got to be shitting me.”

“I’m sorry,” Walter said, leaned over the side of the couch covered in puke.

“No, this is... this is​​ partially​​ my fault.​​ But that doesn’t mean you’re not helping me clean up.”​​ 

Walter stood, holding up the bottom of his shirt to let the mess pool into it. She giggled faintly.​​ 

“Even covered in your own barf,” she said, “somehow you manage to still look pathetically cute​​ . . .​​ I guess it’s not that bad. Thankfully you got most of it on yourself. Go take a shower. I’ll take care of the rest.”

After a thorough shower and teeth brushing, in nothing but his underwear, Walter accepted his place back on the couch.​​ 

“Come on,” Francis said, “you can sleep in my bed with me.”​​ He​​ perked like a happy dog from the couch. “It smells like cleaner in here now and the couch is still wet.​​ But no more crying or puking. I need my sleep.”

Entering her room, Francis looked over Walter’s mostly naked body, subtly stirred by it. She shook her head.​​ 

“Here, put on a damn shirt,” she said handing him one from her closet. They then settled under the covers, and surprisingly she accepted a kiss from him. Overly eager and still partially plastered, Walter then made a clumsy attempt for a breast, but she pushed his hand away.

“No Walter, it’s not happening,” she said. “Go to sleep.” She then turned away from him and he was left to sulk at her back.

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 6

Chapter​​ 6

Who is Walter Huxley?

 

VALENTINE’S DAY/ WALTER’S BIRTHDAY 2012

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Quinn Quark!” A passerby shouted.​​ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay?” she asked​​ Walter.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, please stay. I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re suing me?!”

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walter sighed and shook his head.

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

“Can you kiss me​​ again?” he asked.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. I​​ want to be a writer.”

“Like a songwriter?”

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

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

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

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

“Just one page.”

“Want to read it to me?”

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

“Just read it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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