Chapter Twelve: Pay No Mind (Don’t You Worry)
“Call it women’s intuition, but I think I’m onto something here
Temoraryism has been the black plague and the Jesus of our age
I know I sound opinionated, maybe biased, and quite possibly jaded
But sooner than later, they’ll be throwing quarters at you on stage.
Who are you? When will this be through?
Yeah, it’s just a phase… It will be over soon…”
Incubus . Just a Phase
Peeking out between the solid steel door and the wall, he watched the rain come down in sheets, a trail of smoke filtering out from between his fingers. Closing his eyes, he watched the sparks fly as he launched it out, into the rain, dancing like firefly’s against the early black moments of night. The loud, mechanical click of the lock slipping into place popped in his ears, as he turned away from the door, blinded by the bright, fluorescent bulbs mounted in the drop ceiling.
And everything seemed to swell.
Back through the dressing rooms and the personnel of WATM, he made his way towards the makeshift, plywood stage area; his nerves wound tighter than a tourniquet, the valves of his heart firing a mile a minute, and his eyes darting around. His nervous twitch was playing with nose and running his hands through his shaggy hair; his palms drenched with sweat and his mouth dry as a desert. He was losing it in a manner of speaking. He was so high strung, he felt like he was coming undone. Ripped apart at the seams, like a rag doll, lying limp in some derelict corner, it’s ticking puffing out in place of blood.
With a look towards his watch, he nodded to Dave and Jami as they approached, and the three of them, together, stared at the dim stage that sprung to life with the flip of a switch. A benign electric chair.
“Are you ready?” Jami asked, biting her lip, tasting the chapped flesh tearing off between her teeth.
“Do I have a choice? Now or never, kill or be killed. If not, I’m fucked. Doesn’t matter, either way. Let’s go. Is everyone in position?” he asked, his eyes darting quickly to David.
“As far as I know, yes.” He answered, his eyes fixed coldly on the gray carpeting under the mock-pulpit ten yards from his feet.
“Josh, why did you change it up, with me up here and Beth taking care of the primping?”
“I don’t know, it just felt right, I guess. It may be back to the way things were planned if we come back next week. We’ll see. Why, are you nervous?” he jeered teasingly, petting her head a few times before returning his full attention to the desolate stage.
“Not really. Just curious.”
“Okay. Dave, do you think Bruce can operate that fucking camera, or should I be having Kat do it? I just remembered some of the home movies he’s shot… worst camera work I’ve seen since ‘Clerks’.”
“Piss off, Josh, he’ll do fine. And if you don’t remember, those home movies were while we were all tripping, and if I remember correctly, we were tripping our balls off when we watched them.”
“Well, Jami, is he tripping at the moment?”
“No, not that I’m aware of, anyways.” She snickered, pinching his elbow, answered with a shocked glance over his shoulder. “Sorry?”
“No, it’s all good. I’m just a little burnt right now. My nerves are shot to shit. Nothing personal, kiddo. Just… yeah. Y’know.”
“Yeah, I know. What time is it?”
“Five ‘till. Dave, how’re you feeling?”
“Fine. Probably the calmest one here. And before you ask; no valium was needed. I just know that no one’ll be watching, so there’s no point in getting bent out of shape.”
“God, aren’t you supportive?”
“You know it. Time yet?”
“Might as well get out there. Let’s go.” His teeth ground together as he tapped David on the shoulder, and the three of them went out onto the stage, the lights giving off radiant warmth. “Fuck… I’m scared shitless.”
× X ×
It was all a blur – the half hour on camera he was just walking away from was like a picture on a shaken Etch-a-Sketch. Faded and edgeless. But, none the less, it was significant, if only to him; and no one really understood what it did mean to him. The three of them left stage-right, and passed silently down the corridor to the dressing room, where the others had already congregated. Across the threshold; into the tiny, heavily air conditioned room, Josh noticed for the first time how laden with sweat he was, his skin being bitten by the cool breeze.
Raising his hands to quell the chatter surrounding him; he tried to speak, nothing coming out but a dull, raspy whisper. “Good job, one and all.” he choked out; collapsing onto the cheap, overly-patched couch, sighing deeply and refreshingly. Cool breaths on a bleeding throat.
“Hey Josh!” Beth called out from across the room, a cup of lukewarm, stale coffee in her hand, answered by a curt nod, “Do you find it amusing that we’re being followed by a racist, Christian-right Propagandist?” and again, all that was returned was a small, feeble smile and a shaken nod.
With a look at his watch, he shot up like a jack-in-the-box, and dispensed hugs to all involved with the nights recording. “Sorry kids, I gotta’ get to work. Tomorrow night, the diner?” They all agreed, and he lingered for a second longer with his arms around Kathryn; “Call me when you get home, okay?” With the same answer he had given to Beth, he smiled a pained, little smile and headed out the door and down the corridor, following the long, fluorescent bulbs to the steel-gray door.
The door latched shut behind him as he lit a cigarette, and he began to pass towards the car, tapping the unlock button on the key chain. Rolling his head, popping his neck, opened the door and grabbed his work shirt from the back seat before he took his place behind the wheel and turned the ignition; the Tool bootleg he had been listening to on the way there resumed from his position as he left the lot and merged his way through the sparse traffic and onto the interstate. Forty minutes until he had to be there, and it was a twenty minute trek. He always thought it was better to be early than to be late, plus he needed to talk to the girl who was working before him on this night; he needed her advice.
As he crossed ten miles over the limit, the rain began to fall and cleanse the world of all its decay, of all its disease. He wanted to step out onto the interstate, amidst the cars barreling down the dumb, concrete river and dance. Dance between the ground and the stars, letting his filth be washed away. No matter how together he thought things were, he felt them being pulled apart at the seams. It was the way his life always worked.
× X ×
Scurrying like a rat from his car to the awning, he stubbed his cigarette out into the ashtray and strode casually through the lobby to the front desk, dropping his book of CD’s onto the back portion, near the fax machine, and hopped up onto the desk, facing his friend and co-worker, Stephanie, who had turned to face him.
“Hello.” She chimed, tucking her bookmark into her overly read copy of a novel by Wally Lamb, “How’ve you been, Josh?”
“Oh, you know; same shit, different spin. Just trying to make ends meet and life fall into place.”
“No, not really. How about yourself?”
“Well, I got a call for Cory’s babysitter, and I’m going to have to pay two-thousand, plus dollars to repair some woman’s car. Apparently, he and another boy were caught throwing rocks and sticks at it, and the woman is filing charges.”
“Now that’s some shit, you shouldn’t be held responsible. Yeah, it was your kid, but the babysitter should’ve been watching them.”
“That’s the way it should be, but there was never a contract signed, which brings her part in the ordeal to nil.”
“Christ, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, there goes my tax refund. I just don’t know what to do with him. She said that Friday is the last day she’ll watch him. He’s cycled through so many, it’s insane.”
“Ever think about prison or military school? Y’know, they do have those day-programs at the prison. Maybe he needs the fear of god instilled into him.”
“Maybe, but I don’t know, I don’t want to do that to him. Jesus, Josh, I don’t know what to do with him. I was talking to him the other day about something, and I started crying…”
“What-?! You? Crying?”
“It happens, but no. I was sitting there, and I was watching him. He smiled. He fucking smiled. He tried to hide it, but it was so obvious. He was happy.”
“That’s ill. I still suggest military school or prison. Although, considering what we make, prison is the best bet.”
“Do you know what I spent last year, in day care alone?” she asked, rhetorically; “Six thousand dollars.”
“Goddamn. That’s surreal. I could never imagine spending that on something so… eh, I don’t know. That just seems high. Maybe it would be cheaper sending him to Culver.”
“Maybe.” She answered, shaking her head in disbelief. “He’s just such a hellion; I don’t even know what to do anymore. I just wish I could call his dad.” She sighed and looked at him tearfully. “So, what have you been up to, kid? How’s Beth?”
“Eh, I need to talk to you about that. I need to get your opinion on the matter. Shit, are you working tomorrow morning?”
“Then get the hell out of here. We’ll talk about it when you come in.” he said quickly, not wanting to delve into the subject, for matters of time. She would have to be back in there in eight hours; and between the drive home, and whatever hell she went through in the morning with getting her and the kid ready, and him to school, Josh didn’t want to neglect her of any possible sleep.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Whatever’s going on isn’t going to end within the next eight hours. We’ll talk about it later, okay? Not a big deal at all.”
“Alright, hun, we’ll talk tomorrow morning.” She rose up from the comfy Ikea and hugged him tightly; “Take care of yourself.”
“You too, kiddo. Now, get home and get some sleep, alright?”
“Have a good night, Josh.” She grabbed her purse and made her way out the door, keys jingling in her hand.
“Oh,” she added as she reached the door; “Amy told me you’ve started writing a new story – don’t make me perpetually drunk this time around, okay?”
× X ×
He stared up from his scribbles, from the stark white page, covered and smeared with black ink, into the dim lobby, and into the far brighter foyer. He heard a door creak, but it must have just been the wind. His heart skipped a beat; his ears squealed and screeched with noise. No, not noise – the phone, it was ringing. It was a few minutes after one, it must be her. He answered it, trying to keep his still raspy voice calm; the mild affliction of a southern drawl creeping out, and peeking around his façade of northern enlightenment.
I don’t want to sound like them assholes.
My mother’s from
I meant all those other assholes.
“Josh, it’s Kathryn. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. The phone startled me a bit, I was in…” he paused, trying to find the write word in the jumble of scratches on the lone sheet of paper, atop the desk. “Trance, I suppose. I was writing. Thinking.”
“No, I mean earlier. Why did you need me to call you.”
“Oh… that.” He paused, again staring at the smudged words in front of him. Alone and secluded on the empty desk top. “Don’t worry about it; we’ll talk about it tomorrow, okay? It’s nothing of any major importance. Just something I’m concerned about. But I’m not in the state of mind to discuss it at the present moment. What are you doing?”
“Nothing. Just sitting here digging my PJ’s out of the drawer. You?”
“I hate to ask, but could you bring me a bite to eat? I didn’t have time to grab something on the way in. there was an accident on the interstate, I was a couple minutes late as it was.”
“Why don’t you just order a pizza? There are a slew of places around there.”
“But I’ve had pizza a lot lately, I’m rather sick of it.”
“Alright, Josh. I’ll bring you something. What do you want?” she asked, her voice soft on the other end of the phone.
“Anything but Chinese or pizza. Basically, anything that doesn’t deliver.” He chuckled, running his fingers down the side of his face.
“Give me about forty-five minutes and I’ll be there, okay, sweetie?”
“That is quite fine, I’ll see you then, Kathryn.”
“Drive safely, and call me if you need anything. Not that I’ll really be able to do anything proper, but I’d like to know. Y’know.”
“Yeah, yeah – I’m on my way. You owe me.”
“Indeed I do, be careful. Bye.”
“Bye.” She hung up the phone and headed towards the door, a tight flutter and pull in her stomach, drawing her ever faster in the direction of Joshua.
× X ×
It was vile and wrong; he knew it, and deep down inside, he hated himself for it. His hair was still clumped in the shape of a clenched fist and sticking up at odd angles as he pulled the chain and pushed open the double glass doors into the lobby. He was covered in the Kathryn’s sweet scent, and she was in the back, leaning against the warm, rumbling dryer, adjusting her skirt and composing herself. With a peek around the corner, and a soft smile, she joined him at his side, and together they glided through the lobby, as though they were on air, and through the front doors to share a smoke.
Sitting out on the bench, staring at the dark pool, Josh felt the edges of his mind slipping away and his vision curved. Rubbing his temples, he felt the pressure beginning to build, rising like a steam engine inside his skull. Far back in the distance, he could see a wave of blackness creeping up on him, like a twenty foot swell off the coast off
No, I kind of like it here in a coma.
His perception of life and reality came to a skidding halt as his vision cleared, and the steam released from his ears, easing the pressure on his frontal lobes.
“Yeah?” he answered, trying to sound perfectly normal.
“You okay, hun?”
“Yeah, I just phased out for a bit. You?”
“I’m quite alright, I’m not the one who just had like an epileptic fit or something.”
“Oh, I’m fine.”
“If you say so.” She whispered quietly, wrapping her arms around him, and kissing him on the mouth, exposing her inner-most tender parts. “I think it’s time for me to head out, I’m starting to get tired.”
“Alright, call me as soon as you get home?” He reciprocated the kiss before she could answer, and smiled as she withdrew, her eyes full of desire.
“Of course. I’ll call you as soon as I open the door, before I’m fully inside the house.” She stood up from the bench, her hand lingering in his, not wanting to depart.
“Now, shoo. We’ll talk here in a bit. You need to get home before you fall asleep driving. Goodnight, sweetie.