As the last glint of sunlight fades beyond the horizon, we end up pulling into an "authentic Italian" pizzeria in a little strip mall with both a Mac's, a Check-n-Cash, and a veterinarian on the corner of a street not far from Boundary Road, a long strip of blacktop revered by Whitecaps soccer fans which acts as the unofficial divider between Vancouver and Burnaby. Cloudy is inside, sitting at a long and rustic looking wooden table tucked into the corner closest to the front windows, pouring beer from a plastic pitcher into a stubby glass mug, which he lifts to us as we enter and sit down, exchanging greetings. Everyone reaches for a mug and Cloudy takes it upon himself to play mother, filling each mug except for mine, which I ask for a half-fill, ignoring the playful chiding from Kevin.
"Cheers to you, you buggers," Cloudy offers. "You're gonna have a hell of a record when we're done."
"Demo," Lindsay corrects, receiving an exaggerated eye roll in return, but she's flashing her tilted smirk that seems to get cuter each time it shows.
"Check. Now, I dunno exactly how 'authentic' this place is, but the price is right. And the pizza's not too bad either." Obligatory chuckles follow. "Sure you don't want a full one there, Jay?"
I shake my head. "This is fine for now. Besides, I don't want to show up hungover tomorrow. I'm no use if I can't even get a basic progression right."
"So what's the difference?" Kevin asks with a grin that quickly vanishes with a surprised yelp. The tabletop budges slightly, causing lager tidal waves to rise and crash in our glasses. He looks over to Lindsay, who's once more looking pissed off. "What was that for?"
"Don't be an ass," she says in a voice so firm I can almost hear the tension cables groaning within each word. "And while you're at it, don't call the kettle black." An all-too familiar silence thick with tension descends over the table, Cloudy trying too hard to examine his draft for floaties while Kevin, flushed with embarrassment and anger, mutters a sullen apology one would expect from a stubborn little child caught red-handed in a lie so thin you can see right through it. I just sit there and sip. Soon, Lindsay picks up a menu and flips through it lackadaisically. As if by magic, a waiter appears, pulling a little black notebook out of his just as black apron pocket and asks if we're ready to order. It doesn't take much hemming and hawing for him to replace the notebook and offer to give us a few more minutes before stepping away.
"So what happens next?" I venture to ask. Nobody responds, or seems to know what I'm talking about. "The demo, I mean, after we're finished recording."
"Oh," says Cloudy. "Well, you give me a group photo, a cover, and then I work my magic."
"How long does that take you?"
He thinks this over. "Well, assuming Ozzy and friends don't drop by and book a month for the next Sabbath album... that's a joke..."
"That's so funny, I think my sense of humor just died," Kevin murmurs from behind his mug, which I'm disheartened to see is already running low.
Cloudy doesn't pay attention to him or the death glare from Lindsay. "Barring any delays, you'll have copies by..." He retrieves his phone and scrolls through the calendar, counting off weeks to himself, "Late next month, early November at the latest. After that, my only obligation is to say 'Good luck, go with God' and make sure to be in the audience for your LocalFest gig in the New Year." He reads the concern that's knotting his brow and raises a hand, "Scout's honour. I never bullshit when it comes to my work, Linds'll back me up on that."
She offers a consenting nod and goes back to flipping through the menu, frown deepening. "Oh, I don't know what I want," she says, tossing the menu back onto the table with a flick of the wrist. "Cloudy, you pick, you're the regular." He swears by the barbecue chicken, and no objections are raised. At that moment, the magical waiter re-appears, takes the order, along with the multiple menu copies and disappears through the swing doors leading to the kitchen. We fall back into a routine of sipping and re-filling mugs and idle chitchat I'm not exactly eager to partake of. I take another half draft I no longer have an appetite for, and excuse myself to the men's room.
Standing in front of the urinal, pointing my prick at the half-dissolved urinal cake, trying to force a piss I don't really need to take, I drift off into the realm of deep thought some call "the over-logic" and others "space." I think about this thing called Ravenclaw I now find myself woven into like the off-setting color strip in a tartan scarf, I think about Cage; about Art and D, even my uninvolved parents living out their country bumpkin golden years up island with only coastline and acreage, and each other, for company. How much more disappointed in me would Frederick Mallory be if he'd watched the ridiculous comic tragedy that has been the last six months of my life, sneering down on me from his cushy pedestal and shaking his head, full of "I told you so's" and "You're going nowhere in life's"; perhaps an "I'm ashamed of you" or two, for luck. Good old Frederick, the retired fisherman, he sure knew how to find and press your button; still does for all I know, I haven't exactly called to check in for quite a while.
For once, the smouldering remains of Dichotomy of Mind don't pop into mind like a sudden flash of lightning before the not-too-far-behind thunderclap rumbles in overhead. Until, of course, I become aware of this, and then the floodgates open. "Bastard," I mutter again, still standing there like an idiot, leaning an arm against a likely not-too-clean wall.
"I beg your pardon?"
The outside voice clears my mind like a shaken Etch-a-Sketch. I look over to see Kevin stroll into the bathroom, mount the tiled step in front of the second urinal and undo his belt. "I thought we were friends," he says with a stupid chuckle.
"Har har." Then I start thinking again, and follow up with, "Just what the fuck is wrong with you?"
Kevin flinches. "Huh?"
"All this," I say, waving my hand in a circle. "You and Lindsay have been grating away at each other all day, not to mention you're jumpier than you've been the last few days. I'm not sure I made it clear to you two, but this is exactly the sort of shit I had to put up with my last band, and was what led to the fallout at Funky's, among other things, and exactly what I do not want to see happen here. Unless you want to end up in a fistfight at the bottom of a moshpit at LocalFest, too, that is."
Kevin snorts. "Like you've never had a bad day before? Jesus, Jay, don't get your balls in a knot. Shit happens. It'll pass. And no offence, but if it involved you, you'd know about it, so maybe pay attention to your riffs and doodles and things that are actually your business."
I put my money into this, so it is my business, asshole, I think. What I say is something a shade more diplomatic. "Well. Glad we understand each other." I step down, zip up, wash my hands and go back to our table. Kevin stares at the wall and doesn't offer as much as a grunt of acknowledgement.
The pizza is sitting on a tray in the center of the table when I drop back down into my spot. Lindsay watches me from a sideways glance, biting off a chunk from a large slice heavy-laden with chicken, peppers and onions, a slice that looks about ready to collapse under its own weight. "What's up?" she asks, her voice a barely audible whisper.
"Nothing," I say.
"The hell you say. You look ready to cry."
"Let's just say it would make for poor dinner conversation," I whisper back to her. Then something in me makes me reach out and grab hold of her free hand resting on her thigh and squeeze it gently. The surprise in her eyes is unmistakable, but she doesn't pull away, just yet. "Let's just eat, I'm fucking starving." This is another lie, but she either believes it or decides to accept it, tilting her head in the slightest of nods, before drawing her hand away. Not too slowly, though, I notice.
To my surprise, I end up putting away four slices and would have done likewise with the final slice had Cloudy not beat me to it. Kevin, when he comes out of the washroom, makes three slices disappear and then turns his attention back to his empty mug and the almost empty pitcher. "Jay, you want the last slug?" he asks.
Now it's my turn to jump. "Uh no, no, I'm good. Thanks, thanks though."
Kevin lets out a "Mhm," and chases his three slices with the last half-mug.
We all pitch in for the check, but Kevin surprises me by laying down an extra fiver. "For the beer," he says. Cloudy looks like he wants to push the bill back to him, but doesn't mention it. He only nods and follows Lindsay and I out into the strip mall. Kevin follows close behind. After saying our goodnights, the three of us pile into what Kevin has taken to calling "the Ravencube," Lindsay taking the wheel, to which I am secretly relieved. Even though she partook in the evening's beverages, I trust her behind the wheel a lot more than I do Kevin. We roll alongside Cloudy in his beat-to-hell compact until Main Street, where his car lefts onto Terminal Avenue and eventually out of sight; lost among a sea of stuttering taillights, while we continue on to the Ravenclaw residence. As Lindsay pulls the van up to the driveway, she turns her head to look at Kevin and says, "This is where you get out, drummer boy."
"Huh?" the two of us utter simultaneously.
"Go on. Out. Jay-Jay and I have some unfinished business."
"Yes. Now out. You know what happens to bad little boys who make me repeat myself three times." She makes a "you don't dare try me" face that's somehow both hilarious and frightening. I'd hate to be on the receiving end of that, I think, as Kevin shrugs resignedly, slips off his belt and slides out of the van, yanking the door shut.
"Well, alright, whatever, man. Guess I'll have an early night." His lack of concern is as befuddling as the rest of his little idiosyncrasies; a kinder word I'm not quite sure I'd use left alone to my own thoughts. Before he goes inside, he holds out a hand to me through my window. "Jay. Until we meet again." Too surprised to think about it, I reach out and take his hand. The ensuing handshake turns into a sideways grip, until our hands pull apart. I expect him to offer a fist bump to complete the cool-dude sequence, but instead, he goes up to the door, fishes for his keys, slides one into the lock, opens the door and closes it behind him without so much as a look back.
"Well, that was interesting," I can't help saying once I ascertain the door is definitely closed. "I don't think I'll ever really understand him, though." I turn to face Lindsay. "So, what's this unfinished business we apparently have?"
Lindsay smiles sweetly, shifts the gear column mounted on the steering wheel into drive and pilots us out of the lifeless cul-de-sac. A brief memory of Brea and I walking down this street on our way to the lesson-turned-recruitment-turned-pie-in-the-face-for-me and first ever encounter with what would come to be my new band flashes through my mind, fading quick as it came. "An early night for him usually means only four or so hours of Call of Duty or Gears or War or whatever."
"Fascinating tidbit of info. Now where are we going?"
"You'll see," Lindsay says again, a momentary glint of annoyance appears in her eyes, and I decide not to risk a third time, choosing instead to sigh and rest my head back against the headrest and just... wait and see. At one point, the idea, bizarre and unlikely as it is funny, occurs to me that my (in)-famous laissez-faire approach to getting involved in all these random, and frankly unnecessary plots is really going to come back and bite me in the ass - hard - one day.
My response is to reach for my cigarettes and press the lighter on the dash. Lindsay glances at me momentarily, nose wrinkled in disapproval. I shrug. "If you're going to take me on a joyride, I might as well enjoy myself. The windows are open." The lighter pops back up with a loud clack. I pluck it free, touch the glowing metal coil to the end of the cigarette, puffing until it's lit and plug it back in. I drag long and hard, and exhale a thick plume out the window at the passing traffic. "One's not gonna give you cancer."
"I'm not the one who should be thinking about cancer," is her only response.
I shrug again.
Ten minutes later, we pull up to the curb in front of my building. Lindsay kills the engine and pockets the fat key with the equally fat fob. "What are we doing here?" I ask.
"This is your place, isn't it?"
"Well, yeah, you know that. But..."
"Then there's no problem," she says, rolling her window up and unbuckling her seatbelt. "Finish that happy poison stick of yours and hurry up."
"Why? What are we doing?"
The look on her face translates into something along the lines of "Are you really this stupid?" She climbs out of the van and bumps the door closed with her hip. "Well, first things first: You're either gonna hurry up and smoke that or put it out, 'cause I'm sure as hell not gonna stand out here for long, it's already getting cool. Then we're gonna go up to your place and you're gonna invite me in and offer me something to drink."
Trying hard to resist the smile tugging at the corners of my lips, I look at the second, barely smoked cigarette, and send it out the window with a heavy flick before doing up my own window and climbing out. "You certainly seem sure of yourself, don't you?" I ask, shoving the passenger door closed.
She shrugs and smiles her lopsided smile. "What can I say? I believe in fate."
Call me crazy for half-hoping, half-expecting her to suddenly grab me in the elevator and proceed to tear my face off in a moment of unadulterated passion, but with Lindsay, I never know what the fuck could happen. Sure, it's a pain in the ass sometimes, but what can I say? There's always a price to pay for the little pleasures in life. It'd be another lie to say I'm not disappointed when our brief ride up to my floor is as humdrum as any other time. Once we're inside, she kicks off her boots, the long and lacy kind almost every woman into heavy metal has worn at one point or another in life, and surveys my apartment.
"Make yourself at home, I guess," I say, kicking off my own shoes and hanging my keys on the little plastic hook glued on the door, "be it ever so humble, and all that."
She looks, cocks her head, looks some more and then nods. "Not bad," she says. "Not great, but not bad."
"You'll understand most of my money's gone into my gear and other, ah, professional expenses, shall I say."
"I wouldn't expect anything else from you. Bathroom?"
"Through that door on your left, knock yourself out." She goes inside and closes the door. I step into the kitchen, paw through my cupboards and come up with nothing but a baby sampler bottle liberated from the neck of some long gone two-sixer. The label identifies the product as Malibu Tropical Banana, a sentence that makes my stomach turn just thinking about it. Against my better judgment, I twist the cap off and lift the bottle up to my face, passing it underneath my nose like a chemist testing a new formula, and am rewarded with an olfactory assault for the ages; a sinful combination of black-rotten bananas and coconuts left out too long in the sun, with alcohol fumes so strong that makes my stomach wrench and offer up a heavy belch that tastes salty and greasy. For a moment, I'm sure I'm going to puke, standing there with my head over the sink just waiting for it. Thankfully, the storm quickly subsides and my innards relax a bit. I immediately pour out the evil concoction trying to pass for rum, adding a generous squeeze of dish soap chasing it down the drain and back to hell where it belongs, just as Lindsay comes out of the bathroom and stares at me. "Do I even want to know?"
"Not unless you like Malibu Tropical Banana." Watching her lips curl and pucker is all I need for an answer. "Right, guess we'll have to settle for coffee, then."
"Guess so," she says, trying hard to look less disgusted than she is. "Why would you ever want to drink that crap?"
"Blame the Smirnoff Corporation, or whatever was in my last two-six for offering freebies," I say, taking a bag of dark roast out of the freezer and scooping grounds into a filter. It brews quickly, and soon we're on my couch, mugs in hand full to the brim. I'm pleased to find out Lindsay doesn't believe in drinking coffee with additives. After a few rounds of sipping and sighing the way you do after a long day and you're finally able to kick back and relax and say fuck you to the world and your problems for a little while.
Of course, mine never seem to stay away for long. "Linds?"
"What the fuck is going on?"
She blinks and looks away. "I... what do you mean?" She begins gnawing on her bottom lip.
"This whole thing, with the recording, and everything else, it's just not right." The gnawing begins to speed up, overtaking her top lip as well. Large flecks of her lipstick are disappearing. "I thought I could be a good sport about it, but after today, I just don't know."
It takes Lindsay a long time to respond, and when she does, her voice is flat and listless. "What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know. The truth would be nice."
"Yes. I've gotta know if we're going to go any further."
"Okay," she says, drawing the word out a bit shakily. "What do you want to know?"
"Well, first of all: Is he stable?"
She blinks a couple times, as though the question's caught her off guard. "What?"
"Kevin," I say, "is he really just a moody little bugger, or is - I don't know - is he alright?"
Lindsay's eyes drift away from me and out into space. She's so long in responding, at first I think it's never going to come, and it catches me off guard when it does come. "I guess you figured out pretty quick he's pretty fond of the sauce, huh? Because of the guy you kicked out of the other band, right? What was his name, Kurt?"
"Curtis, yeah," I say, shaking my head and blowing out a raspberry with my lips. "He also answered to 'asshole, fuckface,' among many others... not very nicely, I'll grant you, though."
Lindsay giggles. "So I've heard." The accompanying smile lasts about as long as a blink, gone before I knew it. She still can't, or won't, look at me. "If you're asking me if he's a full-blown drunk, the answer is I don't know. I've never seen him drink every single day, but that doesn't mean anything. Sometimes I can smell it coming from his room upstairs, on his clothes, you know what I mean? Kind of like those bottle return places, just not as, I dunno, pickle-y?"
I nod, unsure of what to say in response to this, if anything. What can you say? The warning bells that began ringing in the back of my mind earlier in the day, during the pantomime exchange in the sound booth, are growing louder, heat is prickling up my neck, across my face. Only, they aren't ringing for Kevin.
"It's just so fucking annoying!" Lindsay spits out, turning my attention back to her in another blink of the eye. "He's such a good drummer. I know it, you know it, he knows it. When he's in that... that zone, what did you call it, the 'realm'?"
"One of many names for it, yeah. I know what you mean." I take a long sip from my mug and continue. That threshold you cross when time seems to fade away, out of existence, and the bonds between musician and instrument fall away and what you're left with is this - this magical unity?
That gets her attention. She sits upright in a blur, the coffee swirling close to the lip of her mug, eyes locked onto mine. "Yes! That's totally it! When he enters that realm... it's genius!" Her hand flies up into the air like a rocket, further tempting the tidal wave of coffee to rise up over and out of the cup. "And the feeling that you get when you make that jump? My God! It's why I've tried to chase the rabbit down the hole ever since I was a teen, you know?"
I do know. I've been chasing my own rabbit, and it's why I continue to chase it, even as I draw closer to the big three-oh. It's less than two years away; some days it seems as close as tomorrow, other times it's farther away than that damned rabbit. Time can be cruel, that way.
Lindsay rolls on. "I just - I don't get it. If you know you're good, good enough to make that jump to the next level, with a chance of actually getting somewhere in this goddamned machine within a machine that is the music industry, why wouldn't you? Why piss your talent away like that? It's so stupid." Her face undergoes several transformations as she tries to continue with her venting, but can only watch her words trail off and vanish like smoke from a cigarette. It seems as though she wants to cry, but can't find the tears; or wants to scream but can't find an outlet. Eventually, she gives up and falls back into the depth of the couch cushions with a disgruntled sigh. She brings her mug up to her chipped lips and swallows the entire contents in a series of long gulps, despite the wisps of steam escaping from the cup and kissing her forehead as they pass on. She slides the cup onto the coffee table and cradles the side of her head with her hand, as though trying to shield her eyes from falling onto me, lest she be turned to stone.
Her words have a deeper impact on me than I first realize. It's as though the fates are using Lindsay as a divine mouthpiece to reach out and hammer home the point, although I never considered myself chained to booze to the same extent as Kevin, from what I'm learning about just now. Only, don't we all think that about ourselves?
"We all have our demons," I say, feeling dumb, both at the blunt insensitivity of my words and my inability to come up with anything with even a trace of profundity. With apparently nothing else to add, all I can think to do is put my hand on her shoulder, while mentally bracing myself for her to shrink back or swat it away.
She doesn't do either. Instead, she tips her head towards me and rests on it, staring off into space once again. "I like making music with you, Jay, she says, in spite of your demons."
"Thanks," I say, adding, partly out of my also apparent inability to not be a smartass, "I think."
She rolls her head back, still pressing her ear into my hand, eyes crawling up to meet mine. The distance between us shortens. Shortens some more. And more. Soon, we're separated by only inches. Her lips part, warm breath breaking against my face. And then there is no more distance, only... magical unity.
If our lives are truly a symphony we experience; from overture to coda, to the double bar signature that is death, then this night is given over to a grand crescendo.