by Kevin Hyde
Her hand ducked into mine; it shook softly like a CD player's vibrations, in circles.
"Are you cold?" I asked. She never held my hand voluntarily. I always had to grab.
"No, not really."
"Really? C'mon, you can tell me." She shook her head no and let go. We kept walking towards the sound ahead. I tried again, "So it's a secret I guess...secrets don't make friends." She walked forward and plucked a sharp leaf from a tree.
"That's OK. We're not friends."
"No, I guess we're more, right?" That was me as lilting shy prep-school boy, high note at the end, hands in my pockets and fingers in knots.
Couples say things after fights, after bad patches, to other couples mostly, like this: "We're good now, we're back on track". As if two people were like a train, a long, black-bellied coal-burning bastard, pounding down any pennies of disagreement. Karen and I were not like that. Imagine a stone wheel about ten feet tall. It is rolled along grass and gravel landscapes, pilotless but rough, with many knobs and buttes. Then the wheel gets caught in mud, or in a ditch -- it rocks back and forth to escape but cannot. It sighs in resignation until a cow (always a cow) can push it out. That is what Karen and I were like. Sinkhole:
"Sure, more, whatever." I took this in stride, in stride. I started to hum loudly. It resonates in her head and rings out annoyance, I knew this. "Okay, stop." The wheel was at rest, no struggle, not a damn cow in sight. I was the midwife for a pregnant pause. "Where are we going again?" she asked, and looked at my hair.
"Ten minutes ago, after we finished our ice cream at Carl's, we heard a noise from down the path. Now, and this is where things get tricky, I remember you turning to me and asking if we could go explore. You said, in a whisper, 'Tonight's a good night to Nancy Drew', to which I replied 'Can I be Frank Hardy then, without the homoeroticism?' You laughed and tapped my arm, and it made me think of babies in high-chairs. We're here," I sassed her.
"Okay, let's keep going then." Karen forgets a lot. Sometimes my name in bed, when we're throe-ish. Not that she says someone else's name. She just can't get past that first plosive 'P'. She's an orgasmic stutterer. Which is...well, the Porky Pig jokes get old after a while. And creepy.
"I'm game if you are." She coughed --
"Did you just say you were gay?" She asked this with a grin that looked like surface tension on a laugh. At least I could still do it inadvertently.
"Game, my girl, 'up for it', 'open to possibilities', birth certificate reads: Peter 'Ready' Bolin. Let's rock." I grabbed for her hand and overshot, hit wrist instead. Good enough. The bovine rescue crew was on the way, post-haste.
We went down the path, walking at 2/4 rhythm. Her sandals (Always sandals, even in winter. With socks!) clipped up, left heel strong and snare, right foot cymbal taps. What was ahead was getting louder, stretching out a little, loosening its claws, you know, flossing fangs.
"Stereo," I said. No, it was music. Not a tiger with a monocle and black mustache as I had secretly hoped. She stopped and cupped a hand to her ear. I laughed.
"You look like the Grinch," I said, through nose giggles.
"Thanks," she smiled and blew hair out of her eyes. It would've made my knees buckle if I hadn't been laughing so hard. "But I think it's a band. I hear a fiddle. No, there's definitely some renegade hoe-ing down going on." I had a thought and a sneeze at the same time.
"Did you ever read that story Young Goodman Brown?"
"Yeah," she bit her lip. "Ooh, yeah."
"So maybe we're walking in on a witches' jam session. Pointy hats and pedal steel. Pabst Blue Ribbon and green thumbnails as picks." She grabbed me in mock-shock. "Pictures of Satan with his arm around Garth, my god." I would have gone on and on, into juxtapositional infinity, but --
"Hey you." A man stepped out from behind a tree. He zipped up his fly. "What are you two doing back here?"
I made a noise, the one that happens when you breath in and try to talk at the same time -- what I'd think is the missing audio track to the Munch painting.
"We heard a noise, so we thought we'd come for a peek." She stayed cool, precious Karen, always helped me up, my defribulator with breasts --
"Oh. Okay." He frowned a little. "I'm Mike, I play bass," he offered his hand to her first, obviously sensing the absence of an alpha male. I made sure to death-grip his knuckles. "Ow!" he winced in pain, "Man, you just ruined my playing hand forever." No, he didn't say that, but I knew. Mike looked at his shoes. Hmmm. I knew I should say something, but all I could concentrate on was that he had just peed with that hand, and 'So, just splashed the boots, huh?' did not seem to be the conversation-starter called for, right then. "You all can come back and listen if you want. We're just practicing for a gig next week."
"Must be at a pretty backwoods venue, eh?" I joked, hard. Mike did not laugh. Karen elbowed me in the ribs.
"No." Mike offered. I thought I caught a whiff of Jim Beam on his breath.
"So, you said you play bass, right?" Karen asked, easing back the throttle on my testosterone.
"Yes ma'am. Upright bass -- old as dirt, but that's how I like 'em." He fell into step besides her. "You can sit right by me and see." Yeah, definitely alcohol wafting from this man's mouth. Probably brewed it himself from seedless grapes he found under his dog's teats: -- Forgot about these here, didn't I, Lola Mae? The dog just shakes its head in wonder.
"Yup," I said.
We followed Mike back into the trees, towards a clearing with lights. I took comfort in the fact that at least it would be well-lit when they started to tie me up with their guitar string and gathered around to chant. Karen would switch sides, I knew, she would do it, laugh with Mike as my face turned purple, ripping off the belly half of her shirt and changing into jean shorts which would magically appear. She would chew tobacco and make out with Mike, swapping chaw between mouths, like in some Phillip Morris funded teen movie. Oh yes.
Mike swept a pine branch aside and showed us in. Three other men, younger than me, sat on lawn chairs and tree stumps. One held a fiddle in his lap like a newborn. There was a guitarist and a guy with an extreme ponytail who had one of those harmonica neck-braces that always reminds me of Darth Vader's helmet, post Emperor-shotput. I was surprised by the lack of mullets or visible animal viscera.
"Hi," Karen said, "We heard a noise and found Mike." The three other men nodded silently. Obviously, Mike was the bait, all part of the plan. Mike interrupted my paranoia with a clap on the shoulder.
"Sit down you two. These guys don't talk much when they're not drunk, and since it's a Sunday night, well..." This got a huge laugh from the rest of the band, but I desperately wanted Mike to finish his sentence -- well...we won't be able to bury your bodies till Tuesday, cause that's our day off from the scrapyard. Hope you don't mind. I didn't have time to say anything, because they had started, some arcane hand signal from Mike and they were off. Karen pulled me by sleeve onto the rock where Mike's bass pounded gravel.
It was good, I won't lie. The man with the baby-fiddle sang a song about his wife and her whimsical bedroom habits. I looked at Karen. She was grinning and slapping her knee along, out of time, but god she was cute, arrhythmia be damned. The hum of the generators made the music swell and blossom in comparison, like perfect white clouds on a sharp horizon. Karen turned to look at me, and put her hands to my face. Our first kiss in two weeks, to which the band yelped their approval. I could feel the bass in her lips, low, and on cue, a cold night, I trebled right beside her.
About the author:
Kevin Hyde lives and works in Williamsburg, the colonial one, not the Hipster Capital of the World one. He thinks shoegaze music is the aural equivalent of cheesecake.