First appeared in The Woolf
Tales from the Pit no. 5
CODES OF CONDUCT (PART II)
On the way into the club, he makes a show of ducking under the door frame to let everyone know how sorry he is for being tall and out in public. This also explains the slouch, which shaves off an inch or two though never quite compensates for his presence near the stage.
Look, he paid for a ticket, too. Rushed from work, in fact, to swing by the coat check with the suit he had worn over his t-shirt from the band’s first tour. By now, the scroll of cities and dates down his back had faded, but not the memory. All those benders and bust-ups – all that fire. When the music seared everything in his path, he knew what to do with himself. But that was long before the solo material and fat-and-happy choruses, long before the coat checks.
If he could just get his attention, he would ask what happened. Nicely, of course. Not ‘Why can’t you go back to making music that helps me forget we’re all going to die’ but rather ‘When are you guys getting back together’ in a non-confrontational, genuinely curious manner.
After the third song, the cheers die down. The fool starts fiddling with his guitar, practically begging for it. He clears his throat to let the ‘When’ rocket from his mouth, but the drums smother the rest. Way up there, alone with his truncated question, the air feels even thinner.
When the drums roll in, I pry the phone out of my jeans. I have waited two years and come prepared. And by that I mean: with a fully charged battery and storage capacity as ample as my heart.
From the very first line, I commence with the recording and the Rapture: words mouthed, eyes glazed over and the unmissable lurch of my high-seas sway. Still, his eyes keep darting between the mic and neck of his guitar. Even the three excitable ones with the flag fail to score a nod.
When he jumps an octave, I am the first to whoop. When a woman throws her arm up, I raise mine higher. I tower on my tiptoes until they buckle in defeat. The lights burn red and he sinks into a solo.
I wave my phone like a hypnotist, willing him to draw near. And just like that, he creeps to the edge of the stage and gazes into a screen that belongs to me and me alone, gracing me with the footage that will prove he was mine for all of five seconds, and I, or at least my screen, was his.
‘My only wish for my children,’ she likes to joke, ‘is that they’ll be tall enough to see the stage.’ Tonight, with her face mashed up against a sweaty list of tour dates, she means it. It’s a conspiracy, it has to be, because no matter where she stands at any gig, she can count on a shoulder left, an armpit right and smack in front, a back the size of a speaker stack.
For the first half of the show, she fumes. No wonder she never shows up in the YouTube footage, at best a fuzzy, pixelated spot where some chump tried to edit her out – or maybe she’s a vampire. On the opening notes to her favorite song, she tries to catch a glimpse of the guy she came to see but might as well be under the sound board.
She doesn’t know the etiquette, doesn’t care. Pokes the guy next to her and jacks her thumbs up to the sky. When she tucks her foot into the cradle of his hands, there is a wobble, a totter and then a whoosh as she pushes off his shoulder, out into the sea. For a second, she thinks about the description of dying her friend intercepted from the spirits: falling and fighting it with every muscle pinched in panic until the horizon tilts, hands float to the surface… and she lets go.
There he is, head to toe, there’s the band. She’ll finally be able to see him sing that haunting line. Up on the ceiling, a black lattice of pipes turns from shadow to red to gold. Roving beams of blue and purple crash and break into stars. She could crane her neck to watch the words leave his mouth, or ride the swell to where the stage is just a coordinate and the moment, so much bigger.