THG 3 – CH 21 – Black Lipstick Pt 4

Mid-July, 1979 / Train Between Nottingham and Cambrdge, UK

Deanna fingered interlocking circles on the fogged train window, let a half smile break through. She could hear Jax saying from the driver’s seat of his stupid, precious car, “D, why do you do that to my windows?” For some attention, maybe, or just to piss you off, Mister Clean. If he was for real in the seat next to her he would lean over, squeeze her knee where it tickled and pretend to look out her window, wet kiss her nose or ear to piss her off, wipe off the circles and say, “Trains, Collings. What a concept.” Yeah, Mister half dead and lost, they are. And they go everywhere. She tried to hear what he’d say to that. “Everywhere? I don’t care about everywhere, but do they have lots of tunnels? Trains and tunnels, you know, because –” She’d have smacked his arm at the grin and ‘you know.’ She tried to hear what he’d say to Ms. Pollyanna Perfect Deanna Collings losing however many days…

She elbowed the green Army jacket next to her, where Jackson should have been. “Alvy, what day is it?”

“Huh?” The olive drab jacket roused, more from boredom than sleep.

Day, Alvy. What day is it?”

“Christ, D’anna. Monday.”

“God…” She kept her gaze out the window, counted silently on her fingers. Friday night, Saturday…Sunday. Where’d that one go? Now it was Monday. Afternoon sometime. Cloudy, cool. Well, pushing 70. Hot by English standards.

“Who called you?”

“Morton.” Alvy yawned, rounded himself into a stretch in the seat.

“The beanpole with the moles? His name’s Morton? I thought it was Fish or something.”

“Fizz. Fizzy Piss. They call him that because he can pee on anything, pavement even, and it still bubbles like soapy water or –”

“Just what I needed to hear. He’s an architect. Was an architect, right? Quit to get rich screaming bullshit at skinheads? And none of them are really named Quiqley? Now that you say it, Fizzy, I heard it I think, at the party thing…”

“I wasn’t there.”

“No, you weren’t.” Did he have to wrap everything he said in mope? “What happened?”

“After the fight or before?”

“Fight?”

“Go on, D’anna.”

Okay, be that way. Someone would tell her. “What was in those pills?”

Tablets. Different ones, different things.”

“The blue one?” Dumbass.

“Special blend. Some Ketamine, Ritalin, pheno.”

“Can you tell me what that means without a chemistry lesson?”

“Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic. Ritalin to keep you awake. The pheno and Ketamine react to –”

“I said no –”

“It’s a speedball with psychedelic properties, okay?”

The woman in front of them, the one who’d moved when Deanna sat by her to avoid Alvy, turned to look at them.

“Excuse him. He talks too loud. To impress people.” The woman gave them a church lady look, turned back around.

The speedball psychedelic explained Friday. The endless car ride with five girls stuffed like sardines in a small car some friend of Feeb’s was driving. They laughed for hours. Driving sideroads too trashed to be on the A1, headed for someplace outside Nottingham. They went through Peterborough, all of them making burrowed Peter jokes. They got lost in Blid something Bottoms, all got out to pee, obsessed with the thought of bottoms. Deanna discovered tripping and personal plumbing and bathroom business was hilarious and impossible. They made it to a house in Nottinghamshire somewhere. A big house. Ancient looking outside, completely modern inside. An old man, tall, creamy hair, ascot…ponytail. A butler. No, an actor who looked like a butler, but he owned the place. “Welcome,” followed by some kind of arts and enlightenment, creative and enlightened people junk. She’d laughed. He remained an overdressed mannequin, offered her a tall glass.

“A drink? Champagne?” Okay. One won’t kill me.

“What’s upstairs?” What did he say?

“The stairs, yes, by all means.” Toasted her with some sexist garbage, clinked her glass with “Stairway to Heaven vintage.” He’d smiled with one side of his mouth, the other side frozen, like the eye above it. The music was so loud, the fireplace huge, everything too much. She took the stairs two at a time, stood on the second-floor landing. It was quieter.  Through a door off the hall some people offered her a seat with them on a satin pillow the size of a living room rug. There were guitars and weird shakers and bongos scattered around. No one was playing them. The forest of incense sticks put out so many smells it was a perfume counter on fire. The satin pillow people chanted nonsense and passed a fat candle around. A strange candle that left a neon trail in its wake, the smoke curling along with the incense into morphing faces on their way to a disappearing ceiling. Neon tracer candle passing and murmuring, and they all wanted to touch her forehead.

No.

Back to the stairs. No! The fucking wooden staircase had turned into a river of chocolate, the bannister, when she grabbed it at first a feathery boa, next the real thing. Did she go all the way down the liquid fudge slide on her butt? She wasn’t covered in chocolate, but she was downstairs, the snake had turned into another glass of champagne. People were laughing, the lyrics to the too loud music running out their ears. God. Talking with your ears. Not fucking funny, people! Outside. Outside. Feeb! Thank God, Feeb! Feeb’s eyes. She was dead. Oh, shit. Dead. Outside somewhere, on a cement bench by a naked white guy built like a jock. He had curly hair, a tiny little dick surrounded by the same, and he was peeing in a jar. Get a life, dude. Really. Feeb! You’re dead! Did he do this? Blood, running from Feeb’s eyes. That was it.

She’d told that story, what had happened to Feeb, when Skinny Moles pulled her from a pile of intertwined bodies wrapped in canvas and straw. He’d said, “All the wiser we are for damage done to young Apollo pissing.” Told her not to worry, the rest would come back in a couple of days. The pile she’d come from. More dead people? The stench of the bodies. Overpowering. She’d complained, he’d snarled, said it was as much her as the rest. She shed the oversized denim jacket of unknown origin. It hadn’t helped much with reducing the smell, and it was cold, so she kept it. Wrapped herself back in a potpourri of stale cigarette smoke, incense, alcohol, urine, vomit, sex. She felt like a frat party’s worth of dirty underwear with feet. None of the stink really hers, she hoped. And woodsmoke.

Woodsmoke! Saturday had been the philosophical bonfire where everyone wanted to shag – what a fucking word, shag – they all wanted to fuck. Not make love, fuck. Nasty, careless fucking. With anyone and everyone else, regardless of gender boundaries or how dysfunctional their bodies were from drugs. She’d gone on a rampage about women protecting themselves, like a wild woman version of her mother with the condom and cucumber. The “Fiery cunt from Cambridge  preaching the sanctity of the vagina,” Fishy Piss had told her. She’d gone around unplugging, mid coitus, the ones who could figure it out until someone dragged her off to the house. She had more of the old butler man’s champagne and Sunday vanished.

On the drive to Nottingham station Morton or Fish or Fizz or whoever had called her a stagnant bit of Cambridge good girl who needed to find something to believe in besides her twat. If she had to know what happened, fine. He lit a smelly Russian cigarette, told her she’d been out, of her own and everyone else’s misery, somewhere in the woods for twenty-four hours before she was found and tossed on the pile in the barn with the rest of the passed-out party casualties. His last words to her before slowing down and opening the van door were “You go on about being a good girl with broken girl looks, pretending, with your golden twat and a pole up your arse. See what it gets you.” She was out on the sidewalk, the old van rounding a corner before she could respond.

“Alvy? Who called you?”

“Morton. I said, didn’t I? Rang me at half gone noon. Said you were a right solid pain in his arse, dumped on him as you were by me, and I had to come make you disappear from his life. I said you were none of mine, he said bollocks. Said I’d have to take the train. He said be quick about it. The train’s three bloody hours I said.He blew a sigh out his nose. “That was pissing petrol on his fire.”

“Great. He must have waited to wake me up. Twenty minutes from the barn to the sidewalk and there you were. Who bought my ticket?”

“D’anna, it’s not, it doesn’t…What is, and does, is we’ve missed Monday. My supers, the study committee, the advisors – we’ll say we caught something, ate something. I’ll think of –”

“Something? You do that.” She curled into the train wall, pulled the stinky jacket tighter. “And then explain away what the fuck you were doing with that bag of crazy pills while you’re at it.”

“That’s…It’s not that easy.”

“Sure it is. ‘Here Danna, you might like this one.’ And it’s three fucking days later and I’ve seen all kinds of crazy shit happen and, and, ohhh no!” She reached, grabbed his jacket. “Feeb’s dead. And that old man’s hair ate his head…”

The old woman turned again, scowled deep and long. They waited for her to have enough.

“Feeb’s at work. Saw her yesterday.” He stretched again. “She’s how you got out of the club alive. She’s the one left you in Nottingham wood.” He hrumphed further down in the seat. “She should be on this bloody train, not me.”

“Really? She’s not…Dead? Or anything?”

“She’s something, but not dead.”

In the window she saw Feeb’s eyes again. They ran down her face in a black river of moonlight blood, her mouth open, her teeth stained black with it. How was she alive?

“What about the old butler?”

“Fizz says Krysanthe is still with us and all, as nothing ate his head. He was well done with Fizz and Feeb and the whole lot of them for having you out to one of his expansionist happenings. Says you ought to be caged.”

“His face. That thing on his face was mocking me when we were talking. He’d say something, and I’d say something back. Then it would ‘Nyah Nyah’ me, repeat what I said. I slapped it and it went crazy. I saw it. His hair got all mad about it and ate his head. Really, I mean it. I saw it, Alvy.”

He let that sit for a long ten seconds, didn’t bother to look at her. “Some people shouldn’t do drugs.”

“If that was about me, I know a guy who said the same thing. He said I was wound too tight and a good hit of windowpane would probably cure me if it didn’t kill me, but he didn’t want to be around to co-pilot.” Jax kept all that, that part of himWhere did he keep it? She’d never seen him really out of it except a couple of times. His thing was pot, mostly. But he knew about all of it, said it was everywhere. “More bad shit around where music happens than you can imagine, D.” Her brother had said the same thing about college and pro football. Maybe that was why he and Jax got along, the two un-likelies. They’d both said, “Keep your head down, do your thing, stay out of it.” She finally hadn’t kept her head down, and they were right. Wow. How could that be? Jax and Doug. They were, were…Guys. And they got it?

She gave a couple of the window circles eyes and angry eyebrows, thinking about the concert. More like hours of horrid noise in public. Did Jax know about Punk? He’d never said. He did do that stupid egg beater thing on the piano for that stupid whore dance major. He knew about Classical, that was pretty weird, because he’d talk about it, when he talked, with the same sort of vocabulary she used for lit, but he was in music school. He knew all about Oldies and Radio Rock, made her listen to ‘Prog’ sometimes which was just too much. Poetry could be outside, but songs were supposed to be songs. Songs you could dance to. Weren’t they? And the Blues. She liked the old ones by black guys best. Jax said they were “honest,” not written for white kids and Billboard. His favorite stuff, he told her early on and she wasn’t supposed to tell, was Standards and ‘Torch Songs’. He’d hooked her with those. The dreamy sounds…

He could sit in Amanda’s office with Amanda and Alix and Amber the Lady Godiva California hippie turned lawyer and they’d talk about all kinds of music. He’d make fun of Amanda’s folky stuff, but he and Amber would play folk songs for her until they’d make a joke out of one and Amanda would say “Enough” in that way she had. There was something he’d play on the piano for Amanda, the same as he did “Summertime” for her mom. And they both got that same way about him and “their” songs that made her jealous. They’d get all wispy over them, and he’d have to say something to make them laugh. Amber said it was because he could make the colored bubbles come. Like that was some sort of magic. But Amber said it so off hand, like everybody saw the bubbles and understood. Colored bubbles was nutso, and Deanna’d said as much. What was Jax, anyway? Some kind of, of,

“What did you call that stuff? Ketta whatsit?”

“Ketamine? A dissociative anesthetic.” He saw her face, wanting to ask but not wanting to look stupid. “The pharmacologic point is you get so doodled by it you don’t know you hurt.”

She leaned back into the window, her hair obliterating most of her window art. She drew a smile on the lone remaining crooked circle. “So maybe some people, or love even, could be like that, huh? That Ketamine stuff?”

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THG3 – CH 20 – Black Lipstick Pt 3

Mid-July, 1979 / Cambridge, UK

Deanna put on a second pair of socks, stuck her feet back into Merriam’s shiny black military surplus “skinner” boots. “The last time I wore work boots I went to a tractor pull. With a nice, straight redheaded racist who worked on a farm, smelled like my grampa and had a pickup about two stories off the ground.”

“A what pull?”

“Tractors. Only tractors like dragsters? They tried to pull trailers full of heavy stuff, or tug-of-war each other. They got really loud and then one or both of them blew up.”

“Lass, sometimes I don’t know if you’re high or lying.” Merriam reached over, pinched up a piece of black tight from Deanna’s thigh and stuck a fork in it. Randomly pinched and repeated on both legs.

“There are times I don’t know if you’re crazy or just fucked up in the head. What have you done to my only pair of warm tights?”

“Laddered. Can’t have you punkin’ as a night out for the Vicar’s missus. Mind you, laddered punked tights would run thirty pounds or more in a shop.”

Deanna held up a the Daisy Dukes cut-offs that moments ago had been her next to last pair of Jackson’s old Levis. “So it’s like a favor, you ruining my clothes?”

“Oh aye. Your clothes are refugees from the bin as it is. At least the ones you wear.” Merriam dug around in Deanna’s dresser, found the long-sleeved leotard Deanna lived in as her bottom layer.

“NO! Not that. You can’t. I –”

“Right. You’ll wear it under. But this…” Merriam’s scissors went across the bottom of Deanna’s brother’s orange Miami Dolphins jersey with COLLINGS across the shoulders and a foot tall 92, back and front.

“Oh…Well, it’s not like he doesn’t have any more.” Deanna held it up, checked the ragged trim running under the numbers, tightened her lips. “They’re fan jerseys, really, not game jerseys. I mean the real ones would be down to my knees. And this one covered…Used to cover my butt.”

“If arse were valuable you’d be chained to the far wall in debtor’s prison. Let’s put your face on.”

Deanna followed to the small dining table where sometimes they ate, she studied, Cat and Merriam drank. Merriam screwed the bulb into the hanging flying saucer fixture until it flashed on and proceeded to finger dusty black powder around Deanna’s eyes, followed with a streak of red across the top almost to her temples, told her to close her eyes and shot her eye art with hairspray.

“Done.” Merriam squinted, kept the laugh in check. “You look like a bloody escapee from the Hammer vampire lot.”

“Are you sure you won’t come? I mean it’s Alvy and…I’ve never done this before. Punk I mean. Really.” She grabbed Merriam’s hand. “Please? What do I say? I mean I’ve been to concerts and watched Jax play and everything and I know my way around, but not…Well, I’m not punk. Or never have been.”

Merriam removed her hand. “I’ve been, thank you. Keep your mouth shut or they’ll take you as smarter than the whole room and you’re out or worse. If they get you on top in the pit stay tits up or you’ll take a beating. Gets too much for you kick and scream and shove till you’ve found a door.”

***

Alvy maneuvered Deanna through the gauntlet of leaflet and handbill pushers, sprinkled with a few rude, rough and glam boys that floated like litter in a sloshing edge to edge tide pool of mostly male, middle class kids in various stages of high, sporting tails out button down shirts and jeans or t-shirts. All in poor imitations of the Fifties James Deans or Sixties Mods. Deanna had hurried through several essays in the sociology files about the state of punk. Too many influences, too much anger and volatility confused up with skinheads and squatters and no direction. All along the walk they were spewing what Deanna’s old mentors called “two bit sloganeering” while covering the ground with their oversized confetti handouts. Alvy pushed her head down, led her through a hole in a chain link fence past a smelly guy her brother’s size who grunted recognition and on through an open steel door in the back of a building she wouldn’t have known the front of if she saw it.

“Alvy! Rotten little faggot, what have you brought us?” The skinny guy with a Three Stooges bowl haircut and a sprinkle of facial moles, who wore skin tight black everything, slammed a cupped hand into Deanna’s crotch, grabbed the back of her head, lifted her off the ground and stuck his tongue far enough down her throat to gag her. She fought her way loose, backed up bent over, hacked projectile spit on skinny mole face’s feet. He threw his head back, laughed and dropped an arm collar around Alvy’s neck.

“Can’t have us a gagger, Alvy. What else have you before she’s off home with the good girls?”

To Deanna’s wide-eyed shock Alvy produced a Zip baggie stuffed with light blue, white and yellow pills, handed it off.

“Alvy? What the fuhhh –”

The backhanded slap from a guy in slashed brown fatigues landed on Deanna’s left cheek followed by “Shut up, bitch. Not your game, is it? Why don’t you bugger right – ”

Deanna’s right fist landed hard on Shredded Fatigues’ nose and lip, dead center. He duck-walked backwards into a cinder block wall. Another guy in normal street clothes who could have been working behind the counter at Burger King, if he wasn’t smoking and strapped onto a huge electric bass, caught the guitar stumbling Fatigues knocked off a stand when he hit the wall. All the sound from outside and the front of the club disappeared from the tiny cinder block alcove.

Alvy broke the smokey soundproof Vaseline bubble. “Her brother’s an American footballer. His jersey she’s in.” Everyone cast an eye at Deanna and nodded, barely, as if it was enough explanation for a thin, pretty, pasty girl with crazy hair to have a solid, shoulder driven right.

“Fair done, Miss.” Street Clothes tossed the guitar up, caught it by the neck closer to the body, looked down and kicked Fatigues in the ribs. “By a Cambridge schoolgirl. Pathetic shit.” His throat rumbled, he hocked something green and brown and slimy on fatigue’s chest, dropped the guitar in his lap and left by a narrow, doorless opening. His exit elicited a wild rise in the noise from beyond the alcove.

“Scab and Freeze don’t get on. So…” Skinny Moles examined Deanna. He threw up his hands, palms out in mock surrender when she stepped up into his gaze. “Alvy’s a chemist. We’re a band. We throw a handful out into the crowd.” He checked his watch. “Gone half-ten they’re off in as many directions as a pack of blind Bishops on holiday in Rome, we’re a third down the set. Come midnight the press interviews the puke parade, says we pulled another stunner of a show. Trust you to forget all and say less?”

“It’s not really…” She looked into the black holes that were his eyes. “Never mind. It’s not for me to say.” Shredded Fatigues edged past her, sullen, bloody nosed, his guitar strapped on. Her eyes burned into his back. “Your fraud’s not my game, is it?”

“No…Nor yours ours.” Skinny Moles offered a vague smile. “What it’s all about, eh? Vive la différence? Where would we all be with no one to hate…” He held his hand on the opening like it was a curtain, stared off into the noise. “You’ve done us a favor, Freeze starting out bloodied.” His sigh was on the edge of imperceptible. “Scab will still have another go at him.” He waited a theatrical pause and followed Shredded Fatigues through the narrow hole in the wall to yet an even louder eruption of noise.

Deanna tilted her head through, hands flat on either side, in time to see an older, muscular, covered in tattoos head shaved guy wearing nothing but baggy capri length pants and high top dirty white Converses use two members of the crowd’s heads to vault himself onto the stage with a free air summersault. She blew a buried in crowd noise finger whistle in ex-cheerleader appreciation. Muscled tattoos jumped over and behind a meagre, mismatched drum set, clacked his sticks and the Quigleys overrode the crowd noise with a deafening cacophony of feedback, throbbing bass and screaming delivered with retarded string puppet prance dancing.

She turned, screamed at Alvy. “This is Punk?”

“Yeah,” he screamed back. “Like it?”

“Not yet.” She ducked under his arms for the back door, still having to scream. “Is it better from the front?”

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.”

 

 

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.