Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chapter 5 (continued)

It was late afternoon now, and Johnny could hear voices bantering in the other room.  He rolled over and checked on Larissa; she was looking at him again, exactly as she had been before she fell asleep.  He wanted to speak to her, but had no idea what he wanted to say.  They lay, staring at each other in a not uncomfortable silence, as minutes ticked by.  Suddenly Larissa sat up and drank some of the water she had left on the small bedside table.  Johnny sat up too.

“Umm ... I guess we should get up now?”  Larissa shrugged.  Johnny looked out the window again.  There were more people moving about down on Harvard Street, but not too many.  Johnny guessed that it wasn’t yet quitting time for the nine-to-fivers.

Johnny stood up and retrieved his coat, which was the only thing he’d taken off.  Larissa hadn’t even done that; she’d slept in her light green jacket.  They opened the bedroom door and walked out into the main room.

“Waiting Room?” Grinch was asking.

“Done to death,” Jet replied.

There were several stacks of CDs on the coffee table and the two musicians were riffling through them.  Grinch was holding up a case with a dark red cover and no artwork.  “Yeah, but classic,” he said wistfully.  He put that one down and picked up another.  “I can’t believe you have this ... oooh, Woman in the Wall.  That would be sick.”  Johnny understood from his tone that this was a good thing.

Even with the sunglasses on Jet managed to convey that he was looking at the taller man as if he were crazy.  “And who’s going to sing that?  You?  You’re hardly a Beautiful South voice, and Fleshlight is even harsher.”

Grinch snorted.  “No, you’d have to sing it.”

“No.  Just ... no.  Find something for Fleshlight to sing.”

Grinch threw up his hands.  “She can’t sing!  Screech, maybe, but sing?  I don’t think so.”

“You’re a dick.  She sings just fine.  You just have to find something in her range ... PJ Harvey, maybe or ... ah, here we go.”  He held up a case with a yellow octopus on a purple background.  “Shutterbug.”

Grinch cocked his head to one side.  “I don’t think she can do the breathy parts.  Find something off American Thighs; I like that better anyway.  Or go back to your original idea ... Me-Jane, or ... hell, anything off Rid of Me.”

Jet glanced up and saw Johnny and Larissa in the doorway.  “Ah, welcome little dudes.  Care to join us?  We’re looking for songs to do covers of.  Everybody wants covers.”

Johnny looked back and forth between them.  “But I didn’t recognize any of those songs you were talking about.”

Grinch grumbled under his breath “yeah, that’s sorta the point.”  Jet just grinned widely.

Johnny decided to abandon this tack.  “Hey, thanks for the bed.  That was really cool of you.”

Jet nodded.  “We’re off to practice pretty soon.  You guys wanna come with?”  Johnny thought he saw Grinch roll his eyes, but the big man didn’t say anything.

“Ummm ... no, I guess not.  We’ll just take off now.”

Jet fiddled with one of his earrings.  “Don’t be silly.  You wanted to be out of the limelight for a bit, no?  So hang for a while.”

Johnny took a second too long to respond, and Larissa planted herself on the floor next to the table.  “Uh, yeah, okay,” Johnny said as Larissa started going through CDs.  He leaned against the wall and watched the three of them pick up and discard.  The two musicians stopped occasionally to quibble over some song or other; Larissa just worked with quiet determination.

After perhaps half an hour of this, which Johnny found calming in a weird way, Larissa suddenly held up an orange-ish case.  “Fat Man and Dancing Girl,” she announced.

Grinch took the disc from Larissa, read it, and laughed raucously.  “Suzanne Vega??  You own Suzanne Vega?”  He grinned ruthlessly at Jet.

Jet was staring open-mouthed at Larissa.  “Where’d you even find that?” he asked.  “I thought I’d lost it.”

Larissa shrugged.  “Under the couch.”

Grinch was still chuckling.  “Look, even if I agreed to shred it up to Suzanne Vega”—he invested the name with a heavy dose of sarcasm—“who’s gonna sing that?”

Larissa looked calmly back at him.  “Braithwaite.”

Grinch stopped laughing.  “Braithwaite can sing?”  He looked to Jet for confirmation.

Jet shrugged.  “Sure, she used to sing all the time before she hooked up with Fleshlight.  Mostly acoustic: Tracy Chapman, Indigo Girls, that sort of thing.  She could do Suzanne Vega, sure.”  He had taken the CD from Larissa and was staring at the back of it.  “You know the song?” he asked Grinch.

Grinch snorted again.  “Do I know a Suzanne Vega song?  Seriously?”

Jet waved this away.  “It’s sort of trippy, actually.  You’d like the words ... and we could really punk it up, like the Pixies doing Head On, or ...”

“Dinosaur Jr doing Just Like Heaven,” Larissa supplied.

Grinch was now staring at her in disbelief.  “How old are you, kid?  You must’ve been in diapers when that came out.”  Larissa just gazed back at him.

Jet ignored this byplay.  “No, no, this is good, this could ... Alice, my lass, you are a genius.”  He popped the CD into a boom box sitting beside his chair.  Grinch groaned something about having to actually listen to Suzanne Vega, but Jet was too excited to be stopped.  They lapsed into a discussion of the arrangement and how it could be deconstructed.  Johnny sort of liked the song he heard coming out of the speakers, but he suspected it wouldn’t sound very much like that when it came out of Grinch’s guitar.

He looked down at Larissa, who had stood up and was now leaning against the wall beside him.  “How do you do that?” he asked conversationally.

She looked back at him with a puzzled expression.  “Do what?”

section break

Braithwaite’s laugh was throaty and rich.  “You want to do what?”  The chunky bass player’s wardrobe was also very consistent, although she allowed a bit of variation in terms of color: tonight her long men’s shirt was a faded black, and her baggy jeans were a crisper blue.  Her shoulder-length brown hair framed her smiling round face.

Fleshlight was performing the amazing feat of sucking on a cigarette and chewing gum at the same time.  She looked at the hastily scribbled notes Jet had handed her while keeping one ear cocked to the original song, playing on the much larger speakers in the band’s practice space.  Her honey-blonde cornrows hung loosely; the beads on the ends clacked together rhythmically as she twitched her head in time with the music.  She wore a loose, sleeveless shirt, and Johnny could see flashes of hair in her armpits.  This excited him in a mildly uncomfortable way, although Johnny was used to that from her.  But it seemed to be affecting him more tonight.  Probably because he was getting older.  Johnny had no real sexual experience with women—he had hit puberty during his early time on the streets, which wasn’t particularly conducive to finding a girlfriend, and he had mostly ignored his hormones.  He was apparently a bit of a late bloomer: he had never shaved, but had no facial hair to speak of.  But it was difficult to ignore a specimen such as Fleshlight.

Larissa was sitting at the dumpster-scavenged table that someone had haphazardly repaired enough to stand on four mismatched legs, chatting over pizza with Tina, Braithwaite’s girlfriend.  The two of them were deep in discussion, Tina talking with her hands and with her mouth full.  Her hint of a Hispanic accent became more pronounced when she lost herself in a good conversation.  Johnny had attempted to contribute to the pizza fund, but Jet had brushed him off, saying “you can catch me next time.”  Jet said that pretty much every time.  Johnny was long past the days of arguing with that type of comment, and he had put his few tattered bills back in his pocket without another word.  The pizza was delivery from some forgettable joint; it was greasy and had the consistency of cardboard, but it was hot, and Johnny had certainly not complained.

As he stood watching the band confer in two distinct knots (Jet with Fleshlight, and Braithwaite with Grinch and the band’s manager, Melora), Johnny felt a sudden tug in his guts.  He started, and looked around in confusion.  Larissa and Tina were holding forth on some topic or other that he couldn’t really make out over the music.  Doug, who occasionally showed up and messed around with the sound board, was lounging in a corner fiddling with some piece of electronic equipment.  Johnny had been here several times—he never turned down free pizza, even if the cost was having to suffer through loud discordant post-punk aural assaults—so he knew that sometimes there were small knots of die-hard fans or friends of friends, but today the warehouse-like space was pretty deserted.  The small troupe of actors and street performers who had had the previous timeslot had cleared out pretty quickly: apparently none of them appreciated the band’s style of music.  There was no one else here, nothing else happening.  He looked back at Fleshlight.  The armholes of her shirt were stretched out, and it was obvious that she wasn’t wearing a bra.  Maybe it was just ... he was a red-blooded teenage boy, after all.

When it came a second time, though, it didn’t feel like that at all.  It felt more like something was trying to get his attention.  He thought of those parodies of old vaudeville routines where the inept performer is dragged offstage by a hook ... it was as if that hook had reached into his body somehow and was tugging on his intenstines.  He felt like he needed to go: both in the sense of needing a bathroom as well as a desperate desire to leave.


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