Behind the Red Door
They mixed gin and tonics after they had gone for pizza down the street. Lin had asked about pizza, and Steve said, “You have to have pizza to understand what America is all about. It’s dinner on bread with cheese! Can’t get much more American than that.”
They Settled on the chartreuse sofa shaped like a seven that divided the living room/ bedroom (there was a twin bed tucked away in the corner) from the kitchen area. The sofa faced a conglomeration of shelves that contained an old TV with a funky antennae arrangement, an ancient stereo with a turn table on top of a low shelf and vinyl records in a wire rack underneath along with cassettes scattered loosely about.
Steve focused his attention on Random and after taking a swig of his drink he spoke seriously, “Hey, Man, tell me about this thing with Essie. How come you said nothing when we last talked?”
“I donno, I guess I was just trying not to think about it too much.” Random took a sip of his drink and leaned back, closing his eyes. “You know how it is. You see it coming, but you just can’t get out of the way.”
“Donit jus’ go that way.”
“Where you with her long?” Lin said shyly, holding her drink with two hands, cautiously taking tiny sips.
“10 years,” Random shook his head to one side and pursed his lips. “Can you believe it’s been 10 years since Jered split?”
Steve looked up and smiled.
“Its actually 11 years, Man. It was a week before Essie’s big three Oh party. Remember that?!”
Random recalled what a raging disaster that turned out to be even though he had planned it so carefully to be looking forward. There was to be no mention of Jered, but Jered called to wish her a happy birthday. Essie answered the phone and ended up heaving it through the window, glass and all.
Random remembered how surprised he was when he found out that Essie was 5 years older than he was. It was a shock. He had just assumed because of her more passionate spirit that she was younger. She just moved in and said that in 2 days she would be 30 years old.
“Can you believe eet, thirty years I have in 2 days! I feel like a child,” she had said when they were resting from moving her few boxes and bags up the stairs.
It made Random sad to think how much passion he had lost or maybe never had.
Then he remembered her last birthday just a month ago. There was a big 4 and a big 1 candle in the middle of the cake.
They lived in apartment 41. It was on the door. The flaking chrome numbers seemed to reinforce the importance of the passage of time in years.
It had been 11 years not 10 since she had come to him. How could he just lose a year like that? He promised himself that he would sit there and remember each year as clearly as possible tonight maybe with a little gin and tonic to help.
“How the fuck do you just lose a year like that. I must be sleeping through my life the last couple years,” Random rubbed his hand over his face and finished off his drink.
“I gotta have a few more of these. I gotta wake up! I musta been dreaming. She knew it!”
“She was older than you?” Lin asked tentatively.
“Yeah, about 5 years. But just in age, she was such a child, passionate and crazy.”
“Wow, was she. She could be laughing one second and throwing hard stuff at you the next,” Steve laughed.
“Hey, why are we talking like she’s dead.” Random said irritated with himself. “She just left my sorry ass. She’ll be somewhere else doing the same crazy shit.”
“You bet, bro. You better believe it!” Steve hooted. “She is like a fucking force of nature. You don’t change that.”
“No, ya just gotta live with it and let it go,” Random finished off the train of thought and got up to get another drink.
“Hey ol’ Bonzo’s dead, Man,” he slurred.
“Yeah, I heard that.”
“Who is this Bonzo?” Lin asked sleepily. She had curled up next to Steve resting her head on his stomach.
“He was a drummer and a madman,” Steve raised his glass. “Here’s to all the fucking mad drummers of the world.”
Random lifted his glass and shouted, “Here’s to Keith Moon. He was a fucking lunatic and he’s dead too!”
Lin smiled sweetly, her eyes still closed.
“These must be rockers, Right?” Lin asked vaguely.
“Yeah and verily, the fucking rockiest,” Steve burbled dreamily.
In the background the drum solo ended and Robert Plant went into the screaming blues backed by a shredding lead guitar vamp. Jimmie Page ripped into a solo.
Random felt himself fading as the room spun and suddenly
He was sitting in the cemetery on a bench next to the thinking angel, in front of him a drum kit which he promptly began a delicate solo with brushes. An angel on top of the monument next door pulled out a long trumpet and began jamming cool Miles Davis blurbs and riffs and single notes to punctuate a particularly complex set of moves on the drums. A large shiny raven sat in the tree doing croaky vocals ala Satchmo. All was swingin’ nicely. Random put down the drum sticks, walked over, and picked up a flute that just happened to be perched in the crotch of a bent black little tree. It was all gold and shine. Random put the mouthpiece to his lips, tensed them and puffed. His fingers flying in arpeggios of perfect notes. the flute spoke of an endless, lunatic night. The moon rose huge as the music and cemetery jazz scene faded.
Random woke again to sun coming through the blinds, but this time his head lay on Lin’s thin thigh. Lin’s head lay on Steve’s lap, who sat with his head back over the back of the couch loudly snoring at the ceiling.
Random sat up and stretched, stood unsteadily and went over to take the needle off of the record which had run up against the middle of disc and made a repetitive hiss pop. As he put the tone arm back on the stand, He looked at the record. It was Miles Davis’ Silent Way.
“Those angels knew how to jam,” he thought, “But, the flute solo was all mine,”
He suddenly realized the song they were playing. It was an old Zombies tune “She’s Not There.”
Let me tell you ‘bout the way she looked
The way she acted
The color of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool
Her eyes were clear and bright,
But she’s not there.
That’s what the raven was singing only so much cooler and slower than the rock version. That Satchmo swing, hitting the notes that worked for his gravelly growl, placing them perfectly to keep the song jamming along.
If it’s too late to say you’re sorry
How should I know?
Why should I care?
Don’t bother tryin’ to find her
She’s not there.
The words echoed in his aching head as drove back over the bay bridge to his apartment to get ready for work.