Mid July 1979 / Cambridge UK
Deanna sighed quietly, looked at her feet as they moved in slow motion across the mid-summer manicured lawn of whatever college they were crossing. Summer? Ha. Sixty-three degrees, light drizzly rain half the time before the sun came out. Perfect football weather. Real football, not group kickball or the crazy rugby people her brother’s size who played an empty lot, full-contact football. Without pads. She could space this way, her mind elsewhere, through just about whatever anyone said, a talent she’d picked up young. She’d keep a small percentage of her ears open for trigger words. ‘Bomb’,‘fire’,‘duck’. Or for a certain pitch in her mom’s voice and a small buffer of whatever the last few words said to her that hadn’t been auto filtered and purged. Now it wasn’t the talk, really, it was the walk and talk that killed her.
Jax used to point out in music, without going on forever beating it to death, the beautiful simplicity of a dead slow groove, and how it was a lot more difficult than it sounded. Whatever. Well, he was right about difficult, but he could eat it, and all the dead slow he could stand because this walk, like the months of ones that had preceded it, was on the other side of the universe from beautiful. Dead slow, and every so often painfully reverential when Alvy slowed, even more, turned toward her to be sure she’d lapped up the last drop of his irrelevant insight Oreo built from cross-contaminated history, science, economics, and culture. Like really, he couldn’t keep walking if his upper body was a few degrees off-axis while he slogged through the most boring quagmire of historical minutiae, desperately trying to relate it to literature, and her?
Today was worse because every couple of weeks he tried to get personal, or be personable, and he wasn’t much for either. Well no, really, nothing was worse than farm and economic growth output prior to 1700. Every time he said 1700 it made her think of the Morisé floor in Oilman’s Bank Tower, and home, and…Until he got to swine production and all the uses of pig parts and their economic impact and…Really? Who gave a flying fuck about livestock and farm employment 250 years ago? Did Dryden and Pope really care about pig parts? And who the hell was getting paid to teach and write that junk, much less read it for fun? No, she knew the answer to that one. It was the speed bump in front of her.
From an out of body upper floor window perspective she knew the two of them must appear proper, if opposite, Cambridge students. His pale lankiness, loose blonde curls that grew in a rolled-up cylinder the size of a toilet tissue tube around his head from eyebrows, bottom of his ears and across the top of his collar like a wheat stalk wreath that bounced with every step. His hands, too small for the rest of him, either escaping in animation or sucked into the white cuffs of the Oxford cloth shirt he wore every day under a sweater with the Selwyn crest. On top of gray or black slacks so tight the pockets pulled open exposing the whiteness inside. In direct opposition to her bulky layers on a thinner frame than she’d left home with, jeans, leg warmers, and worn running shoes. Both walking so slowly they could be contemplatively discussing how ‘realism’ was too broad a term for over a century’s worth of literature. Didn’t she wish…
“They’re a wonderful band. Mates, y’know? I ran with them a bit in school. I fiddled the bass some as well. Don’t laugh.” Instead of the laugh he got no reaction, turned a little further and that brought him from dead slow to dead stop. She was miles away and attached to him only peripherally and stopped a fraction of an inch shy of running him down. “D’anna? Mates, the Quigleys? Bass?”
“Sorry, I…” Maybe he was a year older, but she already had an undergraduate degree that fucking Cambridge wouldn’t accept unless she jumped through hoops taking courses she’d already had and testing her way forward. He was boring as fuck and her name wasn’t Danna. These people could screw up pronouncing everything from taco to Mazda to vitamins. But he was also her lead Graduand study advisor for now, going on two lit class and culture combos and a friend of Merriam’s in chemistry that had shown up the second day after she landed to say “Cheers! Alvin Carrashon. Chemistry’s my game. History’s my passion.” Well, ‘Cheers! Alvin Carrashon’ had bribed or blackmailed and obviously kissed some serious ass to get the study mod’s job in almost every class she’d taken just to be around her. Obvious because he was no kind of scholar. But he knew the rules and the tests and the paperchase and played the game like a good gerbil hauling ass on a wheel going nowhere. Called the Dons and junior lecturers alike “professor” without coming across as too patronizing. Smarmy –
After she stopped walking by the lake with Jackson, which was what she’d been doing in her head, she dropped Alvin’s last spoken word on the turntable in her head. Base? Baseball? Not cricket? He was really reaching for commonality today. “Which base?”
“Oh. Yes, of course. Excellent question. Electric, not upright.”
“I meant –”
“No, no, a legitimate question. Cleanliness in thought and word gets the point over.” He had turned enough to get thirty percent of dead slow back on track, stopped and tapped his head. “Investigate, extrapolate, postulate, articulate. The basics for strong communication and conversation.”
“I must have missed something…”
“Me. A bass player. Only a bit. It was a kick, thumpa thumpa thumpa, one note, one string stuff, but college came first at home, not some band of mechanic’s sons and an art major so I quit at 14, never learned it proper.” His smile faded into somewhere lost dreams go. “Shame, that. I’ll never make a million quid here.”
“Sorry, I still don’t –”
“The Quigleys. D’anna. I was their first bass player. They’re mates and they’re in town and I was wondering if you’d like to come out and…”
“Base, like in baseball, that’s what I was asking. First? Second? Third? Which one, you know? Because you aren’t going to any of them with me.” It went all echoey off down into a cave after that. There she was, watching Jax walk out the door, off to another gig she didn’t want to see, didn’t want to be the band guy’s girlfriend, didn’t want to be alone and get hit on in some bar, didn’t want to share him. “Theater” he’d say. But he had a smile that said he was in heaven. A smile she hadn’t gotten in a long time.
“I don’t like those ‘I know the band’ things, Alvy. They get…Uncomfortable. Loud. Drunk guys and…Unless I like them, the band I mean, and that’s rare. Or I get to dance, and I dance like a cheerleader. Or so I’ve been told,” harrumph built rapidly in her voice. “By a naked, stupid, wrapped in scarves dance major whore who knew my…And he said the same thing, only…” It was her turn to stop, collect. He continued a few steps until he stopped talking about not knowing what she was talking about, American Baseball and bases and naked scarf whores, not understanding the cross talk from her at all, noticed her missing. He turned, found her holding her books across her chest.
“Who, or what, are Quigleys?”
“Post Punk. Or p’raps Industrial Punk.” He puckered, scratched the side of his head. “Is true Punk dead?”
She snorted a laugh at his earnestness. “I know some true punks who should be.”
“Oh. Yes. Well, we all know Wilcox and Herndon need to shut it, and their lack of respect in our groups is in their CV jackets. It won’t harm them down the line, but they’ll get caught up short next two terms and have to overproduce or fall behind.”
“That’s not…” How could anyone so naïve be so arrogant? So assured of his own credibility? Staring at him she thought he was the stupidest, silliest, most posturing piece of vain, vapid guy she’d met since high school. Except maybe for some of Jax’s art school friends…Seriously? Over produce? Alvy had no idea. She’d overproduced with Amanda Morisé on her ass telling her to mean it. Jackson with his conductor’s wand telling her to own it. Heard more from Alix and her French infused feminist and historical European literature insight than this shithead in front of her would ever know, then they shoved her into a room with Stacey and her deep rhetorical theory and BAM words. She wanted to tell him all that, peel the skin off his face with it. But not now…Where was her fire? She’d turned into another sleep-deprived ass kisser like the waste of space wheel-bound gerbil in front of her, just to get the job done.
He started going on about modernist art and how he had no stomach for the Avant-Garde and it was just as well since the punks sold out to a mainstream pigeonhole doing sneaker adverts on telly.
“Alvy, stop. Please. I don’t care. About the punk guard on TV or whatever. Just. Stop.”
From deep left field, he blurted “But we do see a lot of each other.” It came out loaded with incredulity and minor hurt that took her a few seconds to process.
‘Too much’ was the wrong answer. “We do. But it’s not –”
“And we enjoy our talks on these walks.”
‘You enjoy talking after inviting yourself once and forgetting to ask me if I minded or for a topic I might give a damn about.’ “There are times, okay. Maybe. But really, I mean it, Alvy. Most of the time you can be a real –”
“Then come out,” he became a midway game barker, arms wide in full plead mode. “They’ll find me an awful dud, the same as you if I show up alone. I was the one, back then, y’see. All the girls fancied a one-note bass player.” He air played bass and gyrated his Goldilocks head in a good imitation of a thrasher. She had to put a hand over her mouth.
“I heard it was guitar players with that finger thing. Was it your index finger? Middle finger?” She wiggled hers as fast as she could over an imaginary string at crotch level.
“Well, now that…Yes, it was. Middle, I –”
“Thought so. We’re supposed to believe that’s some indication of sexuality, get us all wound up. Can you believe that garbage? It’s ridiculous because we aren’t all thinking about that near as much as you wish we were. And I don’t ‘fancy’ any of them, really, bass or guitar or any sort of electrified phallus waving…The one I…He had to stand, or sit. And smile too much.”
“Precisely! The lad in your dresser frame. Merri’s said he’s one, a musician of a sort as that’s all you’ll say, and you miss him, and that’s why –”
“What I miss about him isn’t shitty cover bands or screaming punk pub bands or his stupid piano hands tickling my ivory body. Well, okay…But no. What I miss is where the hell is he and, and what did I do that he had to, to, and…What I hate about all of that nonsense is how I, we, are supposed to fall in love with them, musicians I mean, and all they do is have fun and call it work and then just, just disappear like I don’t matter at all and –”
“You don’t matter?”
“Literal, Alvy.” But she was shaking. “Look. Bar bands suck. Even when they don’t.”
“The Quigs’re all original.”
“Really, Alvy? I mean that’s worse. Unless they have a record or –”
“They do. An EP. One of the short ones?”
“I’ll bet that’s a relief.” Does no one with a penis listen?
“Then you’ll come out, won’t you? I can make it up to you. Monday and Wednesday nights off next week? I’ll give you my topics for moderation notes. You can read them or ignore them. I know you find me less than enlightening in your arena at times.”
‘Always…’ But…Two nights off that maybe could be bumped? “What did you say?”
“About modernism? Post Punk, by definition –”
“Right. But wrong. The other part. Four nights off, and we’ll forgo these post class walkie-talkies for two weeks. So I can get on down the road with the Italian poets without sludging your pig parts out of my brain before I can start.”
“A fortnight so…On down the road…Poets? Pig parts? I…”
“On down the road. Something the frame on the dresser used to say all the time. Deal?”
“You won’t really be an awful dud, any more than you already are.” Oooops. “Do I need to cut some holes in a sweatshirt or something? I haven’t had time to shave in weeks. If it’s hot in the wherever it is, I’d love that. And I could go sleeveless. Not braless, I hate that. I’d almost kill someone to be really warm. Like hot, sweaty warm.”
“No, I…” He’d never considered there to be anything under her layers but more of her porcelain complexion laid over a perfectly defined, if somewhat thin, textbook female anatomy, certainly not hair and sweat. “Uh…” With his index fingers he drew circles around his eyes in pantomime.
“Eye…shadow? Eye…line – Racoon Eyes! Okay, and?”