Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chapter 5 (concluded)

Glancing back at Larissa, he found her staring at him.  Perhaps something was showing in his expression; that blank, studying look was what passed for concern in Larissa’s facial lexicon.  Tina rambled on, oblivious.  When she finally looked up and noticed that Larissa’s attention had been hijacked, she too looked over at Johnny.  She brightened immediately and waved at him to come join them.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” she was saying as he drew within earshot.  “Perfect, yeah, perfect.  We need a male opinion.  Point and counterpoint, ya know?”  She looked at Johnny expectantly.

“Uh, sorry, what?” Johnny mumbled, confused and still distracted.

“The great name debate,” Tina said, rolling her eyes.  As if there could be any other topic, her demeanor suggested.

Apparently, the band was between names again.  In truth, it spent more time there than anywhere else.  Johnny had long ago given up trying to keep track of the current moniker.  “Oh.  Um ... what were the choices again?”

Tina pursed her lips and rolled her eyes theatrically.  “We’re trying to think of some.  That’s the point.”

“Oh,” Johnny repeated.  He still wasn’t really concentrating on this conversation, and he suspected, from her look, that Larissa knew it.  “Um ... what was the last name?”

Tina threw her hands up in exasperation.  “Crystal Eyes!  Don’t you remember?  That one was my suggestion, but then Grinchy over there didn’t like it—like he ever likes anything—and Flesh’ said she didn’t really care, but Debbie was so supportive ...”  Johnny had to blink a couple of times before he could remember that “Debbie” was Braithwaite; no one but Tina called her that.  Tina had gone on talking, of course.  ”... so Melora said ‘screw that’ and now we’re back to square one.  I swear, one little band name ... you wouldn’t think it would be that hard, right?  But apparently there’s all sorts of legal issues and then everybody has their ‘artistic sensibilities’ ...”  Tina invested this phrase with quite a bit of sarcasm; Johnny suspected that, in Tina’s view, all this was just a quirky hobby that her girlfriend would eventually grow out of.

Larissa suddenly interrupted, which was a fairly un-Larissa-like thing to do.  “Have you asked Doug?”

Tina’s face lit up.  “No! Yes! Of course!”  She rose and flounced over to the sometime-sound-engineer.  “Doug!” she screeched over the music.  Doug, who didn’t speak much in the most relaxed of situations, looked up with a rather alarmed look.

Larissa turned back to Johnny.  She didn’t speak, but Johnny knew that she had just gotten rid of Tina, and that she knew that he knew this, and that as far as she was concerned “what’s wrong” would at this point be redundant.

Johnny opened his mouth, unsure of how to explain the problem.  “Larissa ... where are your parents?”  And then clapped his mouth shut, practically horrified at what had somehow come out.

Johnny and Larissa had known each other for at least two years, probably three, possibly four.  During that time, there were months in which they were constantly in each other’s presence, days in which the only time they couldn’t see each other was when one of them was going to the bathroom (and, truth be told, even that was often a just matter of the other one having the courtesy to turn their back).  There were also months in which they barely saw each other, but fewer of those.  They had spoken to each other in every conceivable situation: while walking, while eating, while hustling change, while huddled together for warmth, while trying to avoid getting mugged for their coats or shoes, while sitting on the Mall in the summer sunshine, while crouching, shivering, under a slight overhang in the pouring rain.  In all that time, never once had either of them asked about the other’s family.  It simply wasn’t done.  A street person might volunteer information about their past—and once they did so the floodgates were opened—but until they did, if they ever did, you never asked.  Never.  Johnny’s question was as bad as farting in public—worse, really, in street culture, which wasn’t nearly as uptight about bodily functions as the rest of society.

Larissa cocked her head to one side and continued to focus that look at him.

Johnny knew he must be red.  “I’m sorry, I don’t know ...”  He swallowed.  “I just feel ... something.  And maybe I need to ...”  He shook his head helplessly.

Larissa straightened her head and reached over and touched his hand, another rare gesture for her.  Johnny felt a momentary flush that he couldn’t sort out.

Then it hit him again.

This time it was like the hook was set right into the middle of his guts and twisted, twirling his intestines around to get a firmer grip, and then it pulled.  And this time there was a very definite direction that it pulled in.

He realized that he had clutched Larissa’s hand reflexively.  She was staring at his grip on her smaller hand.  Then she looked up at him.  Still studying.

Johnny was so breathless he forgot to be embarrassed.  He let go of her and opened his mouth and just stared at the south wall of the studio.  It was that way ... no, more to the right.  He turned his head slightly until he was facing almost southwest.  “There,” he whispered.

Larissa flipped her palms up.  Her expression didn’t change, but this was as clear as if she’d shouted “What??”

Tina had returned.  “You catchin’ flies there, Juanito?”  She chuckled, although it sounded more like a snort.

Johnny ignored her.  “Where are we?” he asked Larissa.  “What neighborhood, I mean.”

“Truxton Circle,” she answered immediately.

Tina wrinkled her nose.  “This is part of Shaw, isn’t it?  Or are we far enough east to be in Eckington ... let’s see ...”

Johnny ignored this too.  He pointed.  “What’s that way?”

Larissa looked in the direction he indicated and unfocussed her eyes, as if she could see through the walls.  She shrugged.  “The New York Avenue Playground?  The northern terminus of 395?  Chinatown?  Gallery Place metro and the MCI Center?”

Larissa looked ready to continue indefinitely—Johnny knew she was perfectly happy to keep going until she hit Arlington, or possibly Mexico—but he held up a hand.  Johnny considered.  “Where we were last night, you mean.”

Tina happily joined into the conversation.  Not knowing what people were talking about never stopped Tina.  “Oh, you were in Chinatown last night?  I love Chinatown.  They have such great restaurants there.  I was at this one place ...”

Tuning out Tina was becoming second nature.  “I think we have to go back,” he said in a low voice.

She gazed back at him for a moment, then: “Now?”

Johnny hesitated.  “I don’t ... maybe ... no ...”  He ground his teeth in frustration.  “I don’t know!” he hissed.  Tina seemed to take no notice.

“Johnny Angel said to lay low,” Larissa pointed out.

“Angels!” Tina interjected.  “I don’t really believe in angels, myself.  My family’s Catholic, of course, but I ...”

“Yeah, I know,” Johnny answered.

Larissa said nothing.  Tina continued to babble about angels.

Johnny looked back at the still nameless band, who were now tuning up.  “Maybe we should stay till practice is over.”

Tina nodded enthusiastically.  “Oh, yeah yeah, sure, you don’t want to miss them playing, right?”

Larissa just gazed at Tina.  Johnny spoke into the silence.  “Yeah.  Right.”


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