THG3 – CH 19 – Black Lipstick Pt 2

Where were we before I got out of sync with the Christmas story? Ah, Deanna had just bought her way out of hanging with a serious study mentor/monitor pest by agreeing to attend a “Punk of Some Sort” concert in black lipstick and grunge attire. But first she needs the lipstick, and ends up with a philosophic reality check from Feeb the Boots Girl.

Smoke On The Water

Mid July, 1979 / Boots, Cambridge UK

“No black, love. Management doesn’t want the type.” The light olive, attractive mid-twenties Boots counter girl stood from her squat where she’d been stocking, smoothed the one-piece jumper over her patterned blouse. She lowered her chin, corner eyed the sewn in pocket patch that matched the blouse and tugged lightly to fluff it, just under a nametag with FEEB and a smiley face at a 45-degree angle. Her dark hair in a sensible bob pulled behind one ear exposed a not too sensible dangly earring. For a cosmetics girl she wore very little makeup. And lacked the air of disinterested superiority Deanna had expected.

“Do have some Deep Purple, if you’d fancy a look.”

“Smo-oke on the wah-terrrr…doot-doot-doooo, doot-doot-dee-doo…” Deanna got a madwoman stare before the counter girl broke out laughing.

“I’ve seen you about. The American mess in Meri and Cat’s pack. In for necessaries, never over here.”

“Makeup and I don’t get along.”

“Me and men.”

“Oh please…” Deanna smeared the offered Q-tip of Deep Purple on her lips, rubbed them together in the counter top mirror. “I don’t do well there, either. At all.”

“I do too well at times, and I’d think you would. The hair limits your choices I’m sure. Not the sweater and crest’s or businessman’s lunch lot, but…” She pulled a cream scarf from under the counter, framed Deanna’s face with it. “Show time, that is.”

Deanna yanked it off, shook her head. “That’s the point. Or not the point. What I look like has nothing to do with anything. Every guy I meet wants the wrong piece of me, and I’m sick of it. I was sick of it when I was 16 and I’m sick of it now.”

“Then why the lipstick?”

“Someone has offered me a deal I can’t refuse. If I go see something called Quigleys with him he’ll stay out of my way for a couple of weeks. All he asked for was black lipstick and raccoon eyes. I can do Alice Cooper for a few hours for the time off. It’s in public, so I’m not worried about it getting too weird. Do you know them, Quigleys?”

“The Quigs’re pigs. Locals they were before going off. Screaming about slits and gash and piss and shit and we’re all fucked but them. They play one song for an hour and a half, change up the lyric along the way. A mosh and bruises and mystery gropes evening I should think.”

“What do they sound like?”

“A motorbike or six with muffler’s all gone missing. I’m going, but I don’t fancy them. I like a bit of blues. Not the poncey Rolling Stones, but I do like some ZZ Top.”

Deanna finger drummed on the counter. “Haow haow haow…ummm hmmm.”

Feeb rolled her eyes.  “You’d know all the old songs?”

“Know a guy who does. Knew a…” she smacked the glass counter. “God dammit.” She glared at the counter girl. “Why do they do that? How do they just suck us in and –”

“Don’t drink or touch anything the ugly Quigs hand you and you won’t get sucked anywhere. Do and you’ll wake up stupid three days later with every hole in your body screaming bloody murder.”

“I got that lecture. From, from…and well I sort of ignored it and then freaked after and now I have…this hair, and I’m avoiding a guy buying black lipstick –”

“Deep purple, love.”

“So does that make love like a big bruise? All purple and…Because that’s what it feels like. I mean it.” She took a breath, looked for some composure. Goddam Jackson. She was about to lose it on somebody if he didn’t turn up. “How much?”

“One pound and ten.” She bagged the lipstick, handed it to Deanna. “We’re not through. Here.” She took the hand Deanna held out for change, slid a spongey pad under it, set it down. With her left hand still on Deanna’s she turned and with her right hand fished around in a drawer behind the counter. She turned back with something in her hand, bumped the drawer closed with a hip.

“What –” Deanna worked her fingers between the slight humps in the pad and fell in love with it.

“Nails, love.”

“But –” The pad massaged her fingers, like it was made for them. She squished her fingers around a little and the pad squished in return. Feeb set a small bottle of Deep Purple nail polish beside the pad. “Really, uh, I don’t need –”

“Can’t do proper whatever punk it is this week without matching nails.” She held up the tips of Deanna’s fingers, eyed them like a pawnbroker appraising a tarnished but salvageable bracelet. “Proper would be to chip them biting your nails. Well turned out is once a month for most of the bandy girls. A clean Cambridge lass’ll stand out like a bog pickle on the Queen’s doorstep.”

“I can’t afford the polish, or to have you…Bog pickle? Um…And he’s staring. Your boss? Over there?”

Feeb turned her head, held up the nail polish brush and flashed a version of Deanna’s Miss Popularity smile so sweet it could’ve induced immediate onset diabetes. The man flustered, waved her off and disappeared through a door.

“Now we can talk. I’m Feeb. Phoebe. But don’t.”

“Feeb is, uh…Cool.” She could hear Jackson calling any lame-o involved in anything a ‘feeb’, stopped herself from letting it fall out her mouth on the Boots girl. “Deanna. Deee – Anna.” The second and deliberate one earned her a raised eyebrow from Feeb. “Sorry. Somehow, over here, it always turns into Dina or Deena or Danna. I haven’t heard my name the right way since I got here, except the times I’ve called home…”

“Missing it you are.” She buffed back and forth, two strokes per fingernail. “What’s his name?”

“Jackson. Jax…I mean, how do you…?”

“Nobody misses their Mum with that face. What’s his take on you across the pond with us and all?”

“That’s the…” She felt it building again, realized she couldn’t smack the counter with her right hand. “He hasn’t…Won’t, maybe. I don’t know…It’s just…Shit. Really.”

“Took it hard, did he? Some do. There’s no easy way to let them go unless they think it’s their doing.” She brushed Deep Purple on Deanna’s lifted index finger, turned it slightly, tilted her head, expressionless. “I eloped with a pretty soldier. On a dare. My dare. To see how far his ‘shippin’ out tomorrow’ heavy breathing ‘proposal’ would go. On the train to Devonport I pretended sleep and he jumped with his kit the first stop after Paddington. Sent me a lovely note explaining how he wasn’t good enough for me.” She made a noise in her throat followed by “Bloody coward.” She lifted Deanna’s ring finger and brushed. “Lovely bit of man art he was. Fit, clean, a good size and hard as nails. Everywhere.” She smiled, wistfully, cocked an eyebrow. “Give us the thumb and a word about your Jackson. Was he rough when you left him?”

Deanna worked her lower lip while Feeb finished her right hand and set her left on the spongey pad. “No. Well, I mean he said I was trophy hunting. That no matter what I said about not that I was always trophy hunting. My presentations. Academics. Men.”

Feeb waved a small warm air dryer over Deanna’s fresh polish. “Are you?”

“Maybe. I…God that feels so-o good. Like I don’t have icicle fingers for once.” Feeb let her space, briefly.

“Trophy hunting?”

“’Kay. I didn’t think so, really. I…I got into some kinda stupid trouble being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Feeb turned her head slightly, knitted her eyebrows together.

“Well, okay. For real I was putting myself in the wrong place and I guess it did sorta look like trophy hunting. And they never turned out how I was imagining them. But at the time you don’t see it, you know?”

“Only if you don’t want to see it or won’t like the way it will sound if you say it to yourself. Is he gone for good d’ya think?”

“I don’t know, really. I got a Valentine’s card, he sounded out of it. Mom Anne, that’s his mom, she said Amanda, that’s Ms. Morisé my…well my old mentor, she won’t talk to me either, at all. She, Amanda I mean, she told Mom Anne he’d almost died in New Mexico. How she even knew that I don’t know. And that’s all crazy because he knew about stuff. Street stuff. How to stay out of trouble or see it coming and was always so pissed at me when I blew it and got my stupid on. So how could he be almost dead?”

“You left him to where he didn’t care. Wasn’t a case of underdone suicide?”

“Jax? No way. If I’m gone it’s like so what, he knows girls I don’t even know he knows, in places I would never go.” The lip chew was back. “And he promised. To wait. And other stuff. And, well, he didn’t have to be such a fucking jerk and leave for California before I was even gone. Like he’d been thinking about it, planning it. Forever, maybe.”

“How long had you had us on your diary?”

“That doesn’t count. I mean I had a reason. I…Okay. A year? A year I was really working on it. Thinking about it for a year before. Maybe two, but it was all out of focus. I was just…”

“Unhappy?”

“Not really. I wanted to do more. About what I was writing and saying and feeling, not just running my mouth in auditoriums with Jax and Amanda polishing me like you and my nails…Fuck, you know? I really fucked all that up leaving, didn’t I?” She raised her eyes, Feeb’s were waiting.

“I don’t know, Dee-Anna. All is lot of fucked up.” A tiny smile and almost giggle passed between them. “But if he won’t call and whoever set you up to be whatever you wanted to be won’t talk but his Mum will? You didn’t explain yourself to who you should’ve and left a right shit mess. His Mum is past it and sees you as daughter by proxy with him the means.” The eye lock lasted, not forced, for a quiet minute.

“I guess I did, huh? Leave a giant shit pile.”

“I guess. You should have done like my soldier.”

“Left them sleeping? Not said anything? I couldn’t do that, I…I should’ve, huh? Shit, then I’d be here and they’d be all sorry I was gone and I could be the one sending lovely little cards about how they were too good for me…Except, well…”

“Jackson?”

“Yes. What do I do about that? About losing him. Forever, maybe?” Feeb hot aired Deanna’s left hand. Warm fingers. A task Deanna would put her unused since the pinking shears haircut hair dryer on when she got home.

“Replace him. They’re interchangeable, you know. Except the good ones. And like the lady said, they’re all taken.”

“What about love? Doesn’t that count?”

“Love is like that song.” She held up the nail polish, label out. “All smoke. On the water. Where nothing can stay lit for long.”

 

 

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Goldmine

This time of year it’s easy to get cynical, get materialistic or so busy we don’t feel, put a happy face on sadness, miss people and places we loved. Miss the innocence and wonder of Santa Claus and flying reindeer and the baby Jesus. Miss the Norman Rockwell Snowman, snowball fights, being a teenager with a blush and a warm hand to hold not shopping in the mall. (Tough to hold the Amazon driver’s hand…) We might not get what we want or deserve, but if we make a friend, we might just get what we need.

Venice Beach, CA / Wednesday December 19, 1979

The girl with hair like black silk followed an oblivious Jackson all the way from their composition juries at USC and sat down to his left on the little grassy patch he’d picked just before the sand got started where the line between South Beach and Venice blurred.

“That’s a shitty guitar.”

He picked up a gum wrapper, absently flicked it toward the steel barrel to his right. “I’m a shitty guitar player. Works out.”

“Most shitty guitar players redeem themselves with their singing.” She tried to put on a smile she hadn’t felt like lately, missed it.

“I’m a shittier singer. I’m going to try to fix that in the spring. Next year sometime, anyway.”

“Oh yeah?” A laugh managed its way into her voice. “Remedial Singing with Summerford? She’s older than oil and her breath will peel paint. Good luck.”

“That sucks, about Summerford.” He looked up, threw her a surprise smile he wasn’t sure he had, either. “Hey, you’re Honey Muffin from the Dick Baits. I’ve seen your gig. You run a cello stuffed with diapers through a wah pedal and a phase shifter, play it like a big, fretless hollow body guitar into a cranked Marshall half-stack. Most badass. That girl drummer you have stomps.” He paused a beat, lost some enthusiasm. “You, uh, might need to fire the bass player.”

“I don’t need you, of all people, to critique –”

“I said the bass player sucked the night I saw you, that’s all. Like she started yesterday. Unless that’s the way you write that shit, then it’s your fault.”

“We had a gig and she’s never played bass before. She’s another cellist. We’re all string players, the guitars are just like, ‘Oh, right, frets’. Frets are for sissies, but it makes it easy to cross over. And easy? I checked out your comp piece. What was that? Music for ‘I saw a beautiful cloud?’ It was so simple I thought they’d expel you for pretending to be a student.”

“Simple is harder than it looks.”

“That’s what he said. It was beautiful. And simple. I’d almost go elegant, but since we’re critiquing, the trumpet part would sound better on cello. More air. If you go that way, make me your first call.”

“Ring. I have to record it after the first and I’m not married to the trumpet. If you can bring that girl who played classical guitar on your jury piece, I’ll try to find some more money. You get high?”

“Thanks for calling. Yes I’ll play your puffy cloud music, yes I’ll bring Yaz and before I say yes to the last part, what have you got?”

“I’m no junkie, it’s just some NorCal weed. I’ve been mostly straight for a couple of weeks working on this damn final. The cat who gave it to me claimed it’ll melt my face like the old ‘stages of a stoner’ poster.”

“I’m a NorCal girl, I can deal.”

“Gotta tell me your real name first. Just so I’m not another Muffin groupie.”

“I followed you, lonely one. Besides, we rant on men too much. Our groupies want us to spank them for being naughty.” She rolled a little to one side and pulled a Bic lighter out of her back jeans pocket. “Malika. Heinz. Make a ketchup or a mutt joke and I’ll crack you. I’m a Ninja.”

He lit the thin joint rolled in a Stars and Stripes paper, handed it off. “Jackson. That’s all there is. Whoa, shit,” he coughed, coughed again.

She coughed, looked around. “One name Jackson. I heard. Is it a gimmick or is there a story?”

“Story. Want it?”

“If there’s a short version.”

“Done. Parental brain fart, last name on first name line. Nurse came back with it, mom said they’d get a first name when they got to know me, never got back on it. According to legend the only thing she said to anybody in the hospital after that was ‘get me the hell out of here’. The nurse put my last name on the right line when they checked her out and here I am. Jackson Jackson.”

“Damn. Your mom had other stuff on her mind, huh?”

“Always.. She doesn’t like being told what to do, or when to do it. She’s a hard core womens worlder in suburban camo. High heels, pearls, and an opinion on everything she thinks she needs to share with everybody.”

“I know her. How’s your dad cope?”

“He sells paper, has a garage full of Kotex and tampon and paper towel samples, spends his days listening to grocery store buyers talk smack about women and their periods and how messed up it is they have to buy all that junk from him, comes home and listens to my mom talk smack about jerks with penises who talk smack about women and their periods. He says living with my mom beats the hell out of normal and keeping up with her keeps him from watching mind pudding on TV. Except for Porter Waggoner on Saturday at dinner.”

“That has to be about the behive blonde with the boobs, Dolly whatsit. Mom let’s that slide?”

“She likes it that Dolly’s getting over on Nashville with her assetts. Dad gets a pass for handing out free emergency lady gear to her freinds.”

“They’re harder to follow than your puffy cloud music. My mom is Vietnamese. Don’t say something stupid like ‘I’d never have guessed’. She’s the same way. A heart of gold as big as the sky, but on her terms. Her main thing is making sure everybody eats because we might forget. I have relatives on her side that go on for like centuries. Some of them, I have no idea who they are or how they’re related and they’re so old I don’t think anybody else knows, either. But they all come for Christmas and mom feeds them. The house smells like fish and cabbage and old people who smoke for a month. Vietnamese women run their world, so if she has forty old people no one has ever seen before in her kitchen you can’t ask her like ‘Mom, you know, why, and who are all these people?’”

“I know that ‘don’t ask questions’ mom. I used to have to iron the tablecloth, just in case. That was my mom’s wear clean underwear rule for housekeeping. What’s your dad do?”

“Dad is a white ex-surfer dude, who for real surfed all over, even Hawaii, and played surf guitar. Until he saw what happened to old surfers wasn’t the dream he wanted and became an aeronautical engineer. Mom wanted me to be a pianist, dad wanted a country singer. Cello was my compromise. Neither of them understood it and whatever I told them was little Melika’s ‘isn’t she smart’ gospel. That’s how my first wah-wah pedal came to be in my Christmas stocking when I was twelve.”

“You told them you had to have it? Like it was a mandatory orchestral accessory?”

“Fact, Jack.” She pursed her lips, shook her head, stared at the dead joint between her fingers. “So now you know I’ve been stroking big, hollow wood between my legs since I was five.” She stuck the joint in the sand beside her. “Tell me your heartbreak story before I start to like you, or I have to leave. I know you have one, it’s written all over your music, so give it up. I need to ride on someone else’s shit ticket.”

“There’s a song somewhere in Shit Ticket.” He leaned into his knees and told her about Deanna, the almost year of silence, mostly his own fault being out of it, and her unexpected letter. The phone call looking for help she wouldn’t explain. Her poetic memories, the “beautiful lies.” He rolled sideways and pulled Deanna’s folded letter out of his back pocket. “My comp piece was about us. So I kept it for luck on the jury performance.”

Malika opened the folded letter, read it slowly. “Ouch, dude. You lived together. That gets intimate. Morning breath and showers where somebody just pooped. Cheap Aunt Flo panties in the laundry basket, soapy whiskers in the sink, tampon tubes in the wastebasket and dental floss on the floor. If I was by myself it would make me cry, hearing your piece and reading this.” She folded the letter, handed it back. They sat for a while, feeling the breeze off the ocean, the people-traffic noises not so loud on a weekday so close to Christmas.

“So what’s really happening, Ms. Heinz. You didn’t follow me because I’m cute.”

“I followed you because, word up, you’re the biggest musical anomaly in the system right now. You show up from the dust bowl, nobody gets what you’re up to. Out of nowhere Doc Hartmount dropped that air freshener music of yours in a no-money, no-body chick flick and I thought you might be interesting. Someone else who knows how, but has other ideas. And you shaved. That really helped. The homeless druid look was tired.”

“Come on. Rasputin the grunting piano string scraper was all the rage in Malibu for the fall art with wine and moldy cheese season. Made me some money. Mostly it kept me occupied instead of dreading the day that letter showed up.”

They sat for a while in a world of their own, watched the sun kick grays and golds and pinks over the Pacific’s vanishing point.

“I just lost my honey.” She sounded concerned, let it hang, as if she’d crossed an invisble intimacy line. But he’d shown her his, and he hadn’t recoiled. “After almost three years. But he’d never move in. He was a real cowboy from Wyoming and said my place was ‘too fragile’ for him. Old high school bedroom NorCal hippie chick stuff from Pier One. And that’s too fragile? His place was in a frat house, so that wasn’t a happening move for me.” She spaced for a minute before she pulled what was left of a crushed pack of Kool Super Lights from her other back pocket and lit one.

“He was about your height, only beefier. Hands like sandpaper, and like born to be in the army. The way he walked, you know,” she rolled up from her butt to her knees and mocked a stiff, elbows out shoulder-swinging military walk. “He was my bassist before Zuki. His dad let him get his music degree because everyone needs a hobby, right? Now he has to earn this deforestation business degree at some bullshit Ag college back home in Bumfuck. You know what he said when he left? After almost three years he says, ‘Well, Leeka, I’m gone. You were a hell of a little number.’ His senior juries were five days ago, and when he was done he walked straight out of the hall to his loaded pick up and drove off.  ‘Hot little number’?” She turned towards Jackson, leaned back on her right hand, her eyes glowing. “I mean what hot number? Two, five, twenty-seven? Six thousand? The asshole.” She reached for the guitar. “Give me that piece of shit. I wrote him a get fucked song.”

Jackson traded the guitar for her Kool. She got through a rough verse before she started to snuffle and he saw a metaphor in trading for her ‘Kool,’ left it alone. He pulled a couple of long strands of black hair that had stuck to her cheek with tear glue back behind her ear, took the guitar back.

“You think too much.”

“It’s a girl thing.”

He snort laughed. “That’s some no shit truth right there.” He took the first line of her song and a couple of her ideas. “I hope you miss me, when you kiss her, when she moans your name. I hope you miss me when you love her ‘cause she’ll never be the same. I hope you miss me when she leaves you for calling her my name. Anything down that line, but keep it organized.” He offered her the guitar back. “That’s your hook, ‘I hope you miss me…’ You could work ‘it’s a shame’ or ‘lame’ in there somewhere. That’s what you were trying to say the whole verse. Tell your ‘how you fucked me’ story in the verse, dump your ‘godammit I hate your guts’ in the chorus. That’s a Fifties heart breaker if you’ll back off the two million chord changes. That killer tune of yours about Gozzadini I heard at Transit is the same. ‘Dress like a man’ is the chorus, not the whole story. When I heard you guys play that live it was like four minutes of a great chorus, but where’s the song.”

She wiped her eyes with the back of her wrists, snuffled again and gave him a sideways look. “At least you dress it up and don’t just come right out and say it sucks. I don’t have another verse. Let’s talk, and I’ll play guitar.”

They sat on the grass for three hours, until the December sun started to set, and wrote four songs together. She had an accident with the ice cream cone they split, dropped the top ball right in her lap. Jackson dared her to let him eat it. After a lot of laughter “Pussy Flavored Ice Cream” became song number five.

She smiled, finally, stared out at the ocean. “When you take the voice class you might be the guy to get even with Summerford for all of us. The dude with the voice to match her breath.” She stretched out her legs, leaned back into her hands “I know where we can eat real food, space cowboy, for free. But you have to let me borrow this little acoustic to finish thinking about what we did today.”

When he looked again she was staring at the sand, a million miles away. Already finishing the songs, or eating something worth eating. He stood, reached out sideways with his left hand and pulled her up.

“Deal. It might do that little guitar some good to hang out with someone who can play it.”

She shook her legs out, brushed the sand off her butt. “Ground rules, Jackson. I’m not ready, or even looking, for some guy to jump me. But I want to do this again, the songs and all, as often as we can. I still can’t believe you know who Gozzadini was.”

“Women’s history 101. Right now I’d be worse at bone jumping than I am at singing, so your love canal is safe with me.”

“There’s another one. Damn, you’re a freaking goldmine.” She dug a pen out of her purse, wrote “love canal” on her palm. “I have a bigger idea for our girl band than Honey Muffin and the Dick Baits. Skanque, with a Q, U, E. Like the biggest girl band gimmick ever. I want to shred these songs you and I wrote, and I want us to fix a couple of the others. I can hear them. All I’ve been needing is simple-minded pop with depth. You have the simple mind, I have the depth. What do you think? Classical cellist forsakes cut-throat symphonic career for fame and fortune as a cooch rocker?” She let off on the full speed ahead, thought for a few seconds, elbowed him on the arm. “Nobody can know I wrote men are just stupid and fuck us up man hate songs with a simple minded man. How would it look?”

“I know exactly how it would look. I used to prep a would-be feminist for speeches. I stayed home and did the dirty work, she got to travel and party and get awards.”

“That’s the job I want, the travel and party and awards part. You stay home, keep the kitchen clean and come up with more ideas. What do you really think about Skanque?”

“I like it better because The Dick Baits isn’t really you or what you’re about. The Skanque thing is a gimmick itself, so you might want to lean on your guitar and only stick that cello between your legs as an extra gimmick, no matter how badass I think it is.”

“Yeah? well, right now I think I like a gimmicky cello better than that phony lumberjack who offered me his undying love for this hell of a hot little number until daddy waved the checkbook.” She stared at the sandy grass between her feet and he saw her start to tear up again.

“Goddammit.” She kicked at the patch of grass, looked past the palm trees and the kids playing with a Frisbee that lit up like a flying saucer. “It was the half -Vietnamese part, I know it was. His dad is a hardcore ‘nuke the gooks’ vet so I was never going home with him. I didn’t want to see it is all. Sorry, I keep girling down on you. It just hurts, you know?” She looked down, toed the sand again. “Did you pick up that roach? ‘Cause where I’m taking you, honest to God, has the best seafood quiche in California and way awesome deserts. They only speak Vietnamese, so I’ll talk and won’t order you anything slimy or gross. They’ll call my mother up north about us being there and bring me the phone and she’ll want to know when we’re getting married. I’ll tell her you’re my pimp and you drive a nice car and we went to a wedding chapel in Nevada and not to worry, I’m still on the pill. Smile and nod at everybody.”

“She’ll know those are all lies. Us getting married, and my primer gray pimp-mobile that one side of is sitting on chunks of railroad ties.”

“No, she won’t. And since I know you’re not going anywhere else she’ll a set a place for you at Christmas dinner ‘cause you’re family. Hope you like fish. We’ll pick it up fresh in a cooler off the pier, from another relative in San Francisco.” She took his guitar, walked him to her yellow ‘75 Dart Swinger decked out with plastic flowers and decals of flowers and all kinds of beads hanging from the mirror. And a “Real Musicians Play Cello” bumper sticker. “I’m about to find out where you live, Jackson, so be sure that’s where we really go. A week from today, Christmas Eve, I’ll pick you up in the same place I drop you. You can drive and I’ll sing and we’ll write songs all the way up the Five.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

THG3 – Ch18 – Black Lipstick Pt 1

The original outline intent was to have Deanna and Jackson teeter-totter over the course of Cambridge Year One. He bombed himself out on the front end and works his way back over the year. She hit the ground running, defiant and strong and slips downhill into catatonic after doing a year and a half of Cambridge in 11 months. This is where she starts to spiral with more than a few foreshadowing bits. And some character head time, something unusual for me.

Mid July 1979 / Cambridge UK

Deanna looked at her feet as they moved in slow motion across the mid-summer manicured lawn of whatever college they were crossing, sighed quietly. 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 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 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. As opposed 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 –

“D’anna?”

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.” He smiled, it 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 over produce 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 over produced 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,” 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?”

“But…”

“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?”

“Black lipstick?”

THG3 – Ch 17 – Affable

Regardless of their price range hookers talk, and it spreads like wildfire. From tricks that are dangerous to what hotels are hot. Word came up from the bottom about the space case kid piano player at the Sea Wind, a place upscale girls wouldn’t work, but a few came to see him off the clock. The kid was funny, didn’t talk hooker smack or ask for favors when he found out who they were. Instead he asked for their favorite songs and sent them off to dreamland low and slow. It was apparent he wasn’t new to after midnight, or how to hang with the late night off work crowd. After they’d taken him to a few two AM breakfasts just to see who he was off the piano bench and found themselves spending too much time at the Sea Wind they went looking for a way to move him.

The tall platinum blonde wasn’t gaudy, but her presence was commanding. Marilyn Monroe as PTA mom, only five-ten without the heels. Cool, aloof, big blue eyes that missed nothing, gave nothing away under often sarcastically expressive eyebrows. Her left hip, parked on the red leather stool that matched her lipstick put her a head taller than Franklin the “bartender”, a short, stocky man with a square head, wiry salt and pepper hair, perpetual five o’clock shadow. A retired enforcer, tenacious, once upon a time dangerous, Franklin managed not-main-room talent and other aspects of a few square blocks of Vegas “entertainment”. He squinted unenthusiastically between the blonde and the polaroid on the bar, the diamonds in his cufflinks sparkled in the dark room like wrist-worn disco balls.

“Sheesh, Savannah…I dunno.” He rubbed his thick neck with a thick hand. “I got these creeps out the wazoo.”

“Billy Joel wannabes, basket case temperamental classicals can’t find work, drunk ex big band sidemen, unemployed music directors waiting on the next has-been to sell out and move to town. Frankie’s carousel of the unreliable and unwanted.” He raised his eyes to hers out of habit to see if there was any insult in what she’d said.

Affable, Savannah. Affable. I hadda look that word up. Know why? ‘Cause Johnny used it all the time to say what he wanted in no-name talent that puts face on the Lost Wages foot traffic. And they’re my unreliable, affable piano players. The shtick is affable. My people know that. Besides,” a big shrug that got a head tilt involved, “somebody misses a shift, nobody misses them, I pay myself.”

“This town is too full of invisible smiles as it is. Do something real for a change. You said yourself what you have in the stable doesn’t work everywhere. Too busy, too flirty, too drunk, too –”

Loud. Everybody is too goddam loud. In the city? Back there you could a find a place, y’know, a quiet place. Somebody there knew how to play piano or maybe some jazz guitar. Somebody understood intimacy. Nobody in this town understands intimacy, that’s what Johnny says. Now…” His big fingers drummed on the bar hard enough to rattle the hostess’ drink garnish tray. “Okay, maybe loud I can do without somewhere and I got nobody.” He looked down the bar at the half dozen top shelf women lined up in silent support of Savannah’s pitch. “Good Golly Miss Molly, I need to meet this kid.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Okay, wiseacre. Where do I put him?”

“The piano in front of the Stiletto has had a cover on it for over a year.”

He checked both ways, leaned into her space like he was letting go of a secret. “People do business in the Stiletto, woman. Johnny’s girlfriend lives in a suite at that hotel and hits all the talent. I can’t put somebody I don’t know in there, somebody that don’t know the rules.”

“Those people leave their women standing around, reading three-month-old magazines in the lobby and looking like a herd of stupid hookers to the cheapskate tourists in that restaurant. Get some plush chairs and cocktail tables out of storage, put them and a cute, affable fag waiter in the anteroom, you have our word the kid will make them happy. Men like their women happy when they’re finished with their other business.” She edged the polaroid closer with a fingernail. “Don’t they?”

Aunty-room?”

“The big dead space full of dusty palms and ratty bamboo and the leaky roof wastebasket stash between the restaurant and the lounge, Lumpo.”

“Ida broke your nose for that ten years ago.”

“Ida cut your intestines out and fed them to you right after. I have other options, I came to you first. Going once…”

“Awright.” He scowled at the picture. “Johnny’s girl’s been putting him on a bitch lately about the Aunty-room lookin’ like that in her lobby anyways.” He blew his nose on a bar napkin, tossed it over his shoulder. “Can you do something about the hair for me? You know how those guys get about hippies and niggers, no matter how good they play.”

“Ponytail?”

“Ponytail is good. Heard Johnny’s girl say she liked that Paul Revere’s Paraders show. Broad can call a bucket of shit a vase of roses and sell it to Johnny, ponytail’s no problem. Kid has any decent bullshit at all, keeps it low key and knows his place, don’t talk politics… It could work.”

“Raiders, Lumpo. Paul Revere and the Raiders.” She twirled the polaoid with her fingernail, a sly smile sneaked out. “I can just see Johnny in a George Washington get up, dancer tights, three-way hat and a powdery ponytail. High heel boots, maybe. You?”

“What Johnny gets up to with that broad ain’t any of my – an stop callin’ me –” He caught her eyebrows, eyes.  “Goddammit Savannah, I’m workin’ with you here. Put a lid on fuckin’ with me, will ya? All you damn women these days… What happened to hookers with some respect?”

“Same thing that happened to broken noses.”

“Fuck a duck…” He followed a long pause with a sigh and a deeper, arms flexed lean into the bar. “Tomorrow, four-thirty, the Stiletto. I’ll have the Aunty-room set up, dust the palms, get the piano tuned. You gotta get Johnny’s squeeze in on this, figure the decorating.” He made a few notes on a bar napkin, stuffed it in his vest pocket. “Lotta goddam work. Your little darlin’ better be right, ladies.” He peered down the bar again, eyebrows knitted together. “All I’m gonna say.”

***

Savannah and a shorter, sun freckled brunette of the same ilk snaked from a red SEL convertible they parked in front of Michael’s cold Coke box, blocking the drive. They helped themselves, gave him a ten, stated their business and waited.

Michael knocked on the window of Jackson’s car in the service bay. When the window came down he blurted “Coupla put your lights out babes…and dude I mean,” looking over his shoulder, “lights fucking out. Wanna talk to you.”

After a brief conversation with the “lights out babes” Jackson backed his car out of Michael’s garage and followed them across town to a two-bedroom apartment on the new, far west side where he was told seven working girls rotated in and out, took showers, changed clothes. Savannah handed him the key at the foot of the iron railed stairs.

“None of them live here, the smaller bedroom is yours.” She tilted her head slighty toward her friend. “Paris you know. The rest are taking you on faith. Keep the place clean, do their laundry or anything else they ask, don’t be any kind of retard with a hard on.” She opened the door of the red SEL, shifted her gum to the side. “Do us right on this, Junior. In this town friends are hard to come by and enemies are hard to lose.” He watched them drive away, sixteen again, Marcus admonishing him to do them right on a lounge piano gig full of big-time politicians as an indirect favor to Amanda Morisé. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same. ‘Don’t be that guy. Do us right’.

He took the cash Savannah had given him, followed his instructions to buy a blouse-y white shirt, a black vest and pants, run them through a one-hour dry cleaners and be at the Stiletto a couple of blocks off the strip by four-thirty. And don’t forget the black ribbon for his Paul Revere ponytail.

***

“He doesn’t play any real music. Not that I recognize.”

“You have to listen, he doesn’t run over you with it. That’s Moon River, Johnny baby. I asked him to play it just for you.”

He listened, found the melody at last, sipped his drink. “He knows me already?”

“For a friend, I said. He’s a doll. Look around.” The dead yesterday anteroom had become the pre-lounge for the Stiletto. “Businessmen” enveloped in darkness through the Stiletto’s oak door left behind women, some theirs, some rented, a lightweight movie starlet or two all talking, smoking, drinking, laughing over inside jokes, bumping desert sun-kissed bare arms, jangling bracelets, looking over their shoulders to see if they were being seen. Mixed in with a few tourists and mid-range double knit sport coat gamblers exiting the restaurant it was an oasis in the desert between the rattle of slot machines and dishes and the off-limits inner sanctum.

“Frank tells me this was all his idea, like a present to get the Tarzan and Sambo shit out of here for me.” He nodded, smiled, lifted a glass to someone. “Looks like it cost too much. Tell me what you hear.”

“Savannah brought it to him. Frankie called me last night, asked what we’d like to see in here.”

“We? You and Frank and that mouthy whore did this?”

“Careful, she’s a friend and we did it on the cheap. Frankie got the chairs I wanted out of the old Montrose, had a crew steaming them all night. Savannah and I found the cut glass vases and ashtrays in a box in the poker room and I ordered the flowers.”

“You shouldn’t be friends with or be seen running around town with that whore thinks her shit doesn’t stink. Keep it up with her and I’ll see she has to move.”

“Do that.” Her turn to smile, lift a hand off his arm in acknowledgement. “They’ll find you with a .25 caliber hole in your heart and your dick in your mouth.”

“How, in some crazy dream world, do you see that happening?”

“A man with a hardon and his pants down is the easiest target there is, Johnny. You know we’re the ones really make it all go,” she tugged on his tie, smoothed it back, stepped in so he could feel her breath, “and we’re the only ones who can get close enough.” She smiled, turned away, chirpy. “This keeps up I’ll just have to order new carpet.”

THG 3 – Ch 16 (2) – Shit Grenade

This wraps the broken window nude modeling episode. The short story version of the last two days is here. Further commentary will be a Writerly Concerns. Like Chick Fil A, we’ll be closed on Sunday.

Cambridge, U.K. / Closing in on 1 AM Thursday June 21, 1979

“No ma’am. Really. I mean it, I didn’t ‘fancy’ him. At all.” Deanna had been through the interview three times and wanted to go home. Before the sun came up. She leaned her head next to the police woman’s and lowered her voice. “He’s got a big butt, for a guy. You know? I don’t know about you, but my dream guy isn’t shaped like a pear.”

The WPC taking Deanna’s statement snorted into the back of her hand so hard she dropped her pen. “Very well. You’re not being formally charged with anything, Miss Collings. If you change your mind you might still give us a ring about him.” She handed Deanna her card, looked at Michael and over at the Officer in Charge who nodded. “Pick up your things, Miss Collings. You may go. Mind you, quietly.

Deanna shouldered her way around the swearing and demonstrative arm waving red-faced lorry driver whose windscreen had gotten smashed when the easel dropped into the street and two bored uniformed policemen and on past a no-nonsense looking man in a lightweight tan jacket, leaning a shoulder against the door jamb. He reminded her of someone, vaguely. Seen him around, somewhere? Maybe?

Michael said “Good night” again, this time to the police contingent, found himself alone with the no-nonsense man who had volunteered to help tape cardboard over the broken window.

No-nonsense used his teeth to tear a piece of duct tape from the roll he was holding, held it up to the wall while Michael pushed the cardboard into place. “Busy night for an art teacher.”

“Bloody stupid, skinny fucking cow. Forty pounds to stand about naked, not a thank you of any kind. And I’m done for the window.”

“Insurance will have the lorry’s windscreen, Cambridge city fathers will have this all under the rug to keep you from being the big bad wolf on their payroll, unless there’s a cop with their hand out to the morning press. All’s fair. Off light I’d say, for chasing a lass, drawers around your ankles and all, who wasn’t up for being your Wednesday’s casual. I’ll have the film roll, if you don’t mind.”

“You’ll be?”

“Meyers.” He ran the strip of tape down the side of the cardboard in a quick, smooth motion.

“Well, Meyers,” Michael held the right side of the cardboard up, watched his helper eyeball and tear the tape a perfect length and swipe it across the top in the same smooth motion. “I do mind. I shot it, it’s mine and I’ll have my forty again and more out of her, one way or another.”

“Or…One way or another I’ll have the film. Day’s end, Michael? This window was all of yours needed breaking on a Cambridge summer’s eve.”

Michael took in Meyers out of the corner of an artist’s trained eye. A deceptively offhand, non-chalant, Marlboro man sort. Sandy hair, hard, gray eyes that could have come from Michelangelo’s David set in an outdoorsy tanned face and whose deft economies of movement snapped him to the fact that nude photos of the girl, and some possible extra income from them, weren’t worth a trip to the emergency room. They swapped out holding the cardboard and Michael took a couple of steps to a cluttered desk where he rummaged around, located his camera, popped the film and tossed it to Meyers. “She was just another nude model who turned out to be a bit of bad idea. Who is she to you?”

“I’m told someone across the pond has concerns. Wasn’t sure I wanted the job, seemed like babysitting.” The film disappeared into Meyers’ pocket. “That said,” he tore another piece of tape with his teeth, offered it with a mildly amused expression. “She appears to be a girl who can turn a bit of bad idea into a right shit grenade, eh? Tape?”

THG 3 – Ch 16 – Knackered Mop

Cambridge U.K., Tuesday, June 5th, 1979

“…S…O…”

“You’ll forgive me?”

Deanna flinched, opened her eyes and noticed immediately that he was different. Older. Confident, laid back. A touch of somewhere European in his voice. Funny, baggy clothes and paint splattered vest. His goatee was trimmed but he needed a shave, his eyes deep brown under unruly eyebrows and more unruly bangs that turned into a thin ponytail that flicked to the front of his shoulder when he looked at her.

“A phonetic aberration of Pooh sticks?”

“…N. No.” She watched her last petal float toward the water of the river Cam. “I drop the letters of names. Like they’re attached to the flower petals. Or sometimes, don’t tell anyone, I use pieces of paper. Not big ones. It’s like making a wish and he loves me, he loves me not, all together. Only he always does…Love me, I mean, because it’s seven letters and I start with ‘loves me’. I guess it isn’t like that part at all, is it? If he always does.”

“Just a wish then?” He’d already gotten more answer than he wanted. He pulled a white flower that said stolen from a garden mum from behind his back, held it out over the railing and rubbed it briskly between his palms. A shower of petals kissed the water and disappeared. “More the merrier to help yours on their way. I have a wish.”

“I’ll bet you do. I’m not going to wash your, um,” here were those stupid wrong English words for everything, “vest for you. It might be pointless. I don’t think all that paint will come out. I mean ever.” She pulled back a touch. “And I don’t really have time for anything else. Any thing else.”

“A painter’s vest is his history. When I’ve forgotten what paint belonged to which project I clip out the best parts, put them in tiny frames with bigger prices for the English’s come meet an artist weekend boot sale at a country estate and buy a new one with the proceeds.” He held his thumb and forefinger the width of a piece of paper apart. “And there is a wee small something else.” He looked at her, curiously. “Michael.”

“You or me? Michael, I mean?”

He shook lightly with a contained laugh, nodded at her bag full of poetry and literature books. “A sense of humor is a must if you’re going to fill your head with that.” He seemed to sigh, or maybe it was an even lighter version of the laugh. “I shant ridicule. Art is the wordless man’s literature. Stories bound by a frame, not cloth or leather.”

“There was Blake. He did both. And —”

“From the Greeks to Lyrical Abstraction there have been artists who expose more than one creative facet. Yeats painted to send his mind out to the cleaners. Cummings painted as if Van Gogh spilled paint on a wet Picasso. Morris, Rosetti, Burne-Jones, all the Pre-Raphs got up to everything they could lay hands to. The Twentieth Century is full of them. Vonnegut, Plath, Michaux, Lorca, Cummings again. The tip of the iceberg. The modern pop-art lot believe that all creative outlets belong to them and we’d damn well better pay attention, even if it’s no more than varnished shit in a biscuit tin or a whistle that blows itself. I’ve even been told Sinatra paints.” He leaned both arms on the bridge rail, looked like a relaxed bag of laundry in paint splattered work boots. “Bring musicians into this conversation and we could go on for days.”

Deanna had scrambled to dig a steno pad out of her bag while he talked. “No. Do. Go on, I mean. No! I meant not go on on, like leave or anything, but who did you say?”

“Writer’s who paint are legion. Put the pen away. Pick a century, or an era you fancy, ask an art librarian, not one of yours.”

“Okay. Wow. I will. Thank you, really. I love connections, you know, because core concepts and symbolism, like feminism? They’re spread all across the curriculum, especially in the arts and since —”

“You can thank me by granting my wish.” He remained relaxed, not pushy. Interrupting. A lot. But not pushy.

“Oh? I don’t know…I’m not a genie. Or a pickup whore. So I —”

“Feminist symbolism says you’ve a modern girl’s mind. Your look as well. Thin, pale. Your hair is a bit of a…Statement. All of you creates a…” His pause full of appraisal, hands a foot away from her body on either side, moving up and down. “A uniquely attractive…Surprise?”

“Do you think so? Really?” She bounced her hair with her hand and made a face. “I kind of, well I —”

“What I think, really, is that you would be a perfect change-up to model for a pensioners art class I direct.” He reached out with both hands again, fluffed her shortish jagged layers of hair, tilted his head, looked at her like her mom used to look at curtains or dresses. “Two sessions. An hour and half each. Forty pounds for all. Mm?”

Forty pounds? To let old people paint pictures of me? No shit?”

“You. No shit.” He kept leaning his head, looking at her from different angles.

“Cool! And can we talk, maybe? After? You and I? About art and symbolism and —”

“Yes. Fine. Wednesday a week. Seven-thirty.” He handed her a card. “Come more than a few early, if you don’t mind. Lay of the land and all that.”

She glanced at the card, had no idea where the address was, but she’d find it. “You’re a real artist? With your own studio and everything?”

“I am a real art instructor and lecturer with an old room in an old building furnished by city services where I tell my gran’s neighbor from the oldies home she’s the next Matisse. I occasionally take all their spectacles away and end up with a room full of Monet. You know my name. You are?”

“Deanna. Collings. Collings! Just like you! Except I’m not from here. Well, I am. Now. But, well —”

“I never would have guessed. Miss? It is Miss? Good. Miss Deanna Collings.” He took her hand, gave it a light squeeze. His hands were rougher than she’d imagined. But he did frames and stuff, probably.

“Do you make —”

Michael Collings, Miss Collings. It has been my pleasure. You have an honest face and a sympathetic surname, I’m going to trust you.” He handed her two folded twenty pound notes, looked her in the eye. “Wednesday. Week. Not tomorrow. A week. And again a fortnight.” He raised his eyebrows in that “Got it?” sort of way.

“Okay. Not tomorrow. But a week from tomorrow. And two weeks from tomorrow.” He bowed, slightly, made a goofy sweeping gesture with his hand before he turned and sauntered off. He had kind of a wide butt, but he didn’t swagger or do the guy things with his shoulders or arms or the stoner shuffle or the jock walk. Straight ahead. Some guy, hands in the pockets of his baggy pants, his mind on something else, on to somewhere in such a casual and unusual for Cambridge no big hurry way. But seriously, the Michael guy was taking an extra butt with him. She giggled to herself while she stared at the card.

Michael Collings
Art Instruction
Personal and Commercial Environments
Design and Execution

An address somewhere in Cambridge and one of those long English phone numbers.

Kinda wordy, all that was missing was landscaping, but he probably had a couple of cards with that and more. Artists never made any money until they were dead, so he had to advertise everything he did wherever he could. Blake did that. She’d have to see Michael’s art to see if he’d be worth anything dead, though. Or alive. The goatee with paint flecks in it was gross like all beards. And he did have that kind of big butt which she never imagined artists like Blake having. At all. But forty pounds? Wow.

***

“What the fuck?” Deanna shook the satiny bathrobe Michael handed her when she’d set purse and down and taken off her jacket.

“Can’t have you spoil the illusion by in off the street to nude in front of everyone.” He put a hand between her shoulder blades and gave her a gentle shove toward a DIY four-panel room divider made of old doors. “Did you get my message about loose clothes, no bra, no panties?”

“Yes, but…” She spun around and had to walk backwards because he was right there and kept coming. “But I hate braless, all bouncing around and cold and everything. Unless I’m just home or something. And no panties? I mean how gross is that? I mean it, what the fuck, Michael?”

“Tight clothes and elastic leave lines where a discerning eye would rather none.”

“So? I’m not a nude model.”

He pulled one of the doors almost to the wall in front of himself to enclose her, stuck his head in. “You are tonight.”

“I am not! I don’t do the nudist thing. I did that once on accident water skiing and lost a sixty-dollar bikini. And six weeks of a summer with someone I was in luh…who was important.”

He pulled the screen panel open, stepped right into her face. “Shut it. Now. You took the forty. To model. What did you think they wanted to see? A skinny yank in out-sized clothes? You’ve nothing special to keep hidden away. On a right day you’re no more than a knackered mop stood on end.” His scowl intensified for a few seconds before it vanished when he heard the door. He checked the clock on the far wall. “They’ll be setting their places. Clothes or no clothes, on the stand or down the stairs, as you will. Six minutes.”

She peered through the cracks where the panels joined. Older than grandparents people, canvases of various sizes in hand, pulled easels from a cluster on the far wall. They way they sorted and picked it seemed they each had staked claim to their own. Along that wall and under the tall windows facing the street were worn, mid-thigh high wooden cabinets, eight inches wide at most. The tops served as window sills and a shelf for glass jars of all sizes from test tube to gallon. Some with brushes inside, tip up, some full of colored liquid, and between them what seemed like hundreds of brushes lined up on oil cloth and old towels.

At seven-thirty she stepped around the edge of the screen of doors in the satiny robe. Timid, frightened, shaking but determined. Knackered mop? Insulting her pride to get her naked? Another gamey asshole trick. Mother fuc—

She flashed the Miss Popularity smile that had momentarily resurfaced by necessity and stepped up onto a homemade riser covered in a worn out oriental rug and topped with a faded Victorian bench, facing the room, back to the windows. She slid out of the robe, one knee forward in a move she’d seen in one of Jackson’s old movies. Those stupid old movie afternoons of his had been good for something. Where was he? Godammit, she couldn’t smile like this all night, and big-bottom Michael needed to turn the heater up, something she mentioned through the smile. “Summer” in England was a lie. It rained a little less, there were green plants. The rest was still late fall in the real world.

***

A room full of male and female pensioners, Michael and one Dr. David Childs, Ph.D, had spent three enjoyable hours spread over two ninety-minute sessions with a too thin, starkly attractive, non-speaking naked young girl so frightened they could see it in her eyes. She’d presented them with a vulnerability rarely seen in nude models, something Michael had captured with a camera so that he could paint her himself when he had time, and pop out a few prints on the soft porn side to “friends.” Childs had logged that look as well.

Michael stuck his arm across the doorway, stopped David Childs in his tracks. With his right hand he waved a folded bill in David’s face.“No, David. The Fifty is for the ring to come and have a look. I’ll be needing the forty I’m out for getting her here.”

“You are aware of my delicate financial situation, Michael. Couldn’t we —”

“Ninety, David. Or I’ll call Lady Childs for it and your financial situation will indelicately vaporize.”

David counted out another forty pounds, slapped them into Michael’s outstretched hand. “Beastly excuse for a man you are.”

“Comes with the under compensated instructor’s crown, you know that well enough.” Michael folded the bills and shoved them in his front pocket. “I’ll let you know how she goes.”

David Childs’ eyes said bastard louder than he ever could. Or would. Michael hadn’t much dangerous going for him except an advantage in size, but if it came down to insults leading to blows David was even less. Pushing fifty but younger looking down to vanity and a private bathroom full of magic creams from the women’s counter at Boots. A full head of hair, distinguished touch of gray at the temples and practically invisible rimless glasses. Sallow, pale in an academic way, gone soft or never really been in shape, but a proper weight and dressed in suitable, casual professorial elegance by his wife. A man easily described by pulp novelists as a ‘milktoast’.

He’d had Deanna’s information from Michael, discovered in her records that she would be around at least two more years. He’d schedule her into his rotation at leisure. It might take him a year to work through his current list until she came up, but he would certainly find a place for her. Her hair and look. She’d be his little Bohemian rhapsody, something different than the overworked, over stressed, soft, pale, everyday school or party girls looking for a favorable letter from a distinguished chaired lecturer in their CV portfolios.

Michael broke their genteel version of Mexican standoff, ushered David out, said “Good Night” to his last pensioner and locked the door from the inside. Unlike Dr. Childs, he didn’t have patience, a title, wasn’t well married or have a list of girls to work his way through.

“Michael?” Deanna tossed the robe over the top of the screen in another old movie move. “Are we going to talk about the cross curriculum symbolism? I made some time for us, and a list.”

He unzipped his pants and shoved the room divider open. “Knob bob time best served before wordplay, Miss Collings. I’d ask to have at down below but that’s a right lion’s head you’ve got between your legs.” He reached for her and his pants hit his ankles. Hers were only halfway up when she let go of them to slide out the backside of the screen and shuffled to grab her purse, book bag and coat. Michael almost tripped backing out of the screen, and after two shuffle steps he grabbed the back of a chair, hop danced his feet out of captivity, lunged and caught her. She spun away from him but her feet, still bound by her jeans, didn’t follow. He caught her by the upper arm, dragged her to the riser and tossed her like a rag doll onto the ratty upholstered Victorian bench she’d modeled on. The good news was she’d lost the jeans along the way, the bad news was she bounced off the bench onto the riser, rolled to its edge feet first, and then off. She tried to stay up but her momentum, balance and sock feet were at cross purposes. In an effort to stay upright she clutched at an easel and when she knew it wasn’t going to work and she was on the way down, with or without it, she heaved the easel at one of the tall glass windows in the second story studio. The sound of the window shattering seemed to last for hours.

Michael picked her up, propped her on the riser. “Are you done?”

“Yes. No! I’m finished, not done. I’m not a fucking cake. Are you?”

“A cake? No, I’m not a bloody cake. Well done I am, thanks to you.” He looked through the hole where the window had been while he pulled on his baggy pants and reloaded his shirt tail. Deanna had never heard so many different emotions in the word “shit” before. Maybe it was an artist thing. She heard the not too distant doo-dah, doo-dah of British police car sirens approaching and said it herself.

THG 3 – Ch 15 – Sorry, Wrong Girl

Today I re-read THG3 1 as it sits in the can and decided the heck with it, here it comes, a chapter a day, slop and all. Duck.

Following in the “style” auditions thought, I tried out some epistolary as this all occurred before cell phones. There are a few times in THG 3 where, over three years, letters and packages play a part. But not, as I once envisioned, making up the bulk of it because I was lazy and after all one need research far less if the content is parked in letters home. I find the format confining and demanding, although it is how many famous historical relationships flourished and thrived. As a child of the second half of the 20th Century I folded. Too much work. Voices in dialogue, fine. Too many overeducated people in this tome for me to write all that properly.

Cambridge, U.K., May 1979

Dear Mom, (and Daddy). I can hear Amanda saying “Mother and Father. You are through with baby words, young lady.”

I’m sorry I don’t write as often as I thought I would. I write all the time, just not letters. ALL the time. Cat and Merriam and I worked it out that we use forty-two hours a day, between us. That’s girl hours for studying in one flat, on one day, in Cambridge. I always said school was school and I could handle it, but I never thought it could be like this. It’s the middle of Easter term and that means nothing because it seems like my individual studies run on forever, beyond the limits of term. Some days I feel they run on beyond my own limits. And the weather is miserable again for May.  I can see my breath.

I have finally had to take a few days off, that’s why I’m writing. The days off are because I had to go to the infirmary after an incident at the Red Door. That’s a pub. It’s not far away and kind of small and the food isn’t really food but nasty mush in a chicken pot pie crust with fat French fries and not very cold beer. You would say it was quaint, and tolerable if it was all there was and you hadn’t eaten in a week. Not like that gross shack where Jax took us all to eat monster barbecue when Doug had to get married and you didn’t want to get out of the car. I know you made dad get a map to that place from Jax after.

I don’t know how the infirmary works. I didn’t have to pay them anything, but if they send you a bill or something you’ll know it was me and I really went. It was all because I sent some letters and they came back after too long and I sort of lost it. You know me and beer and everything.

I’m studying things I’ve studied before, only in a different way. How they make us think about things, how they think about them. English literature. Where I am now it happened all around me. But it seems like a lot of people over here don’t even know what they have. First you have to be a Royalist, or not, then you can have a discussion. If you think the Queen is cool, then you hang out over here, and if you don’t you hang out over there and if you’re an anarchist or a socialist  you go somewhere else. If you’re an American and don’t care you have to say that out loud. So I have to say, “I don’t care about your bloody monarchy,” then they go “Oh the Yank lass, she’s alright,” and I can sit anywhere. Weird.

I miss you. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. All of the things I used to have. The little things I complained about I shouldn’t have. I have a sort of friend. He’s a not yet priest, or not yet Vicar I guess, and he told me I should face my darkest shadows with the most ferocity and that meant tell everyone I loved that I loved them instead of not wanting them to love me because it felt like this super monstrous responsibility and I just couldn’t be who they loved all the time. He said people who really loved me didn’t have those expectations or something. I couldn’t listen to him after a while because it took him forever to not be able to unscrew my furniture from the floor. So I love you, Mom. And Daddy, too. And even Doug. I’m sorry I’m such a big mess all the time.

If you ever talk to Mom Anne, if she knows, or you know, or if even Amanda knows where Jackson is, please tell them to tell him to write to me, or tell me where he is. I know I say the same things every time, but all I do is go to school.

Your Loving Daughter (really), Deanna

My Only Deanna,

I love you. I miss you. I worry constantly. I will never understand how you think or how you feel or how you imagine others feel but thank you, at long last, for trying. I sense there is more to “incident at a pub” and the infirmary and a few days off than you and your inability to drink beer. All I can say is please take care of yourself and let us us know how you are as often as time allows. Even the smallest notes mean so much.

I love you, and so does your “father” because you are part of us, not because we have to, or because you have to be a certain way for us. We were so lucky that you were beautiful and healthy and yes, more than a handful at times. Unlike Douglas who was a disaster from the moment of his birth. A physical, smart troublemaker always looking to shake things up. You were our perfectionist thinker with that smart troublemaker gene who wanted to shake things up the right way, who lost her heart somewhere and never told anyone how or why or what we could do to help you find it. Except my mother and she is gone. Yes, you have exerted your brand of mess as well as your brother. It’s different for girls. I know you want to change that entire scenario, but please, for all our sakes, remember how dangerous it is to be a female, even a smart one.

No one hears much from Jackson, including his mother. Anne told me that he had mentioned to her some time ago about possibly finishing school in California, possibly with you. That was the first I had heard of it. You are a long way from school in California, and as far as anyone knows, so is Jackson.

It would be in your best interest to apologize to your Ms. Morisé before inquiring anything of her. Anne and I had lunch with her not long ago and as your brother would say, “She’s not a happy camper.” You should send Doug a note, too. Your sister-in-law is pregnant again. Again! Write or call, any time. I miss you with everything I am.

Love,
Mom

Dear Mom Anne,

I never thanked you for the gloves you sent me in that box with some other clothes from my mom. They’re the only ones I have and I wear them all the time. I never said anything because I was afraid of how you probably feel about me now. I look at everything back home and it’s all a giant, fucked up mess. Everyone is mad. Some are even hateful. I never understood what you meant by that word until now, about how people could be that way. Here I am in England and there’s nothing I can do about any of it. I hope you, of all the people I know, might get how I feel.

Mom said you told her you hear from Jackson less than I write to her. I know that’s my fault. I sent him some letters and they came back and I don’t know why I thought he’d get them anyway. His apartment was empty except for a box of my things. He did send me a Valentine’s rose but his note just said he’d missed enrolling in California. I didn’t know he would do that, go that far away, without saying something. If he doesn’t want to talk to me at all, ever again, I understand. But I need to talk to him. If I send you something for him, can you see that he gets it? Or if you know where he is can you tell me? I need to know he’s OK. And he needs to know that he promised.

Love,
Deanna

Angel,

Jackson calls me to say that he is alive, once every three weeks or so, usually on Sundays. I know he isn’t sick or dead or in jail and that is the best I can hope for and all I have to share. You know as much as I do now. I am not sure if you know that he left a box of his junk in the middle of the garage when he discovered you were going to England, and immediately drove to New Mexico where I was told that someone working for Amanda Morisé found him, half dead and “out of it,” 75 miles from where his car was parked. I have asked for more details but that is all I was told. I believe Amanda knows more than she tells me, I am sure her thinking is that I am better off not knowing. She obviously doesn’t have children. I say that and in truth she has two. You and my son. God knows why, of all the kids in the world, she picked you two.

The last time Jax called he claimed he had left New Mexico and is living in an old, concrete block gas station on the edge of Las Vegas, and playing piano in a run down motel frequented by a colorful cast of criminals. He said he found it “poetically amusing.” His proclaimed intention is to register for school at USC in Los Angeles for the fall semester. If he is in school he will need to have an address to register, then we will all know where he is. If I knew how to contact him I would give you his information, and between us we might both piece together a straight story. But you know my son. He would find a way to weave a tale full of innuendo and vague analogies that would leave us scratching our heads.

Deanna, some things last and other’s don’t. Do what you need to do for yourself, as a woman. Don’t weigh yourself down with what anyone, even my son, thinks of you or what you’re doing. I ran away twice in my life. Once from home and once from a man. It wasn’t any fun either time, but I had to do it. If you come home, come see me. If you need someone where you can say whatever you want, whenever you want, you have my number. I am here. You are my third child, Angel, and I love you. Take care of yourself. We never know what we’re made of until we are forced to find out.

Best always,
Love, Mom Anne

Mom Anne didn’t understand, either. Well, maybe a little. Where was he? Some old gas station in Las Vegas? That had to be a lie. He has to wait, like he said he would. Really. Had to tell him she knew he was upset and she blew it again. Had to know he was okay, that was the big one. Half dead and out of it? That didn’t help. At all. No one understood.

Cambridge, U.K., Mid May 1979

Ms. Amber Free, Ms. Beverly Sealy, Ms. Stacey Skillern
C/O C.A. Morisè
1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower

Dear Ladies of Morisé,

I’m sending this to all three of you. As first my apology for leaving without telling any of you. I understand from my mother there is a big ol’ box of my behavior in the library with “BITCH” written on it in giant letters. I don’t understand myself how everything happened. All I can do is ask for a truce and for all of you to put that somewhere and break it out when I come home. Second, right now and really important, is for you to PLEASE help me. Anne Jackson said someone from there found Jackson, my Jackson, half dead and out of it in the desert, but that he survived and is now missing until he crawls out of wherever he is and calls his mom. I know he and Amanda have something between them, and she wouldn’t just let him go die somewhere being stupid. So please, I’m sorry about everything, but you have to tell me who found him and where he is and how I can talk to him. I have to know he’s okay. I know you’re all mad but he was a big part of what we did and Amanda loves him even when she hates him and you guys know that, too.

Thank you,
Deanna (D.C.) Collings

She received three individual returns in one envelope. The first she opened was on silver embossed and bordered linen Morisé stationary, wow…

Ms. Deanna Collings,

Those of us at C.A. Morisé who were involved, and participated with you in the now closed D.C. Collings project, were all saddened by your sudden departure. Unfortunately, we are unable to assist you further with any inquiries save those related to your materials as outlined in the Mutuality of Use contract. Requests for copies of those materials may be submitted and will be processed in a timely manner.

It is the genuine wish of everyone at C.A. Morisé that your personal, academic and professional endeavors are successful, and that they will bring you the satisfaction you desire.

Sincerely,
Amber Free, Esq.,
Vice President, Legal – C.A. Morisé

Vice President? Legal? No wonder it was so…She opened a card with DaVinci looking flowers on the front, the inside filled in longhand.

Hot Stuff –
You’re right. You really pissed everyone off. Now you want to us to use our resources to help you find your old boyfriend? Personally, I could wring both your necks and slap your faces for your shit behavior. I watched a beautiful, caring woman fall apart in my living room because of you. Before anyone here will ever begin to forgive you as you requested, or consider helping you in any way, you need to find a way to tell Amanda you’re sorry, not us. You could have left us, you could have quit, you could have stuck a knife in all of us, fucked us all over completely. But you should have at least had the courtesy to let Amanda know what was up. She gave you all she had and backed you with everything at her disposal, including us. She made you the shitty little superstar you thought you were. She hung a dream on you, and you couldn’t bother to say, “Sorry, wrong girl?”

Save the stamp, don’t bother to write us again or I’ll be forced to tell you what a shit for nothing little bitch I think you are like I mean it. Duh, genius superstar, I got married before you left.

For all the “Ladies” of Morisé
Beverly Deflande

On a blank front C.A. Morisé all purpose card from Public Relations, in school teachery cartoonist printing

DC –

I asked Glenn if he’d heard from Jackson. He said “no.” I believe him. For some reason he and Marcus think the world of that little Bozo. They say some days Jackson was like an air purifier for their brains. When everyone else tried to make something impossible, Jackson could make it simple. Brought it on home. Took it to ‘choich’. They also say Glenn and I are his doing. I am hesitant to believe either of those tales. However, he always found a way to bring you home when you got too deep in your own bullshit. Glenn and I, maybe there’s something to his and Amber’s “colored bubbles” and music nonsense.

I asked the man who might be my future husband for a favor for someone I didn’t think deserved it because my mother had a sign over the front door we had to read every time we went outside. “There are no exceptions to the Golden Rule”. If mom were still around I could tell her no matter what the sign said, I’ve met some possible exceptions, and you would be close to the top of the list.

You could have done the right thing and put this Mission Impossible adventure of yours on the table in front of Amanda. You could have told her to stay out of it, that you had to do it your way. Told her it was coming, not done it behind her back. She would have understood and probably underwritten the whole thing.

The worst part for me is that I’m the one who signed off on your back door reference letter request. Do you know what that feels like? Being betrayed and betraying as a result? No, I doubt that you do. I hope you come to it, sooner than later. The truth that no one will speak around here is Morisé needs you. Both of you. Warning. Come back with your shit together, or stay gone.

Stace

“Shit together.” Right now, everything fucked up and sideways, just “together” would be okay. Just a word. Not today. Deanna dropped the cards in the big black bag under the sink, fuck the save the planet people, fuck recycling, fuck everything. There was no home anymore. There was no life. There was only sixteen to eighteen hours a day of Cambridge. Except on the days when there were twenty.