Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fiction #37: Brian Clarke

Kawartha

This fall can be blamed on the fact I was raised to believe I was the second coming of Christ, that I could do no wrong. One thing was sure, some day I'd end up on a cross. Just like Jesus, this all could have been avoided if not for my inability to keep my mouth shut, to maintain a low profile. I fear leaving this bed today for what I'll hear from my friends as they begin to fill in the blanks I've drawn on last night's transgressions. 

You always feel this way when you drink, I tell myself, and it's never as bad as you think. I mean, sure I probably acted out a lot, said some silly things but it's not likely I grabbed that poor girl's breasts, screamed all those racial slurs as my guilty conscience would have me believe. If only I knew for sure, if only I could remember last night with the same clarity as you appeared to me in the dream I'd been having before waking, paranoid.

Not that I've ever forgotten you Paige. I can still see you, see us, walking across the bridge as you spoke proudly of that, your city's thriving music scene but as usual I just couldn't give it to you. “Nothing but boring white hip-hop and thrift store troubadours butchering the blues. And don't even get me started on the coffee shops with terrible puns for names.” Despite a clear resentment, it had actually been in one such place, Bean There, known for its selection of world coffees, that you entered my life a year and a half earlier, when I was dragged to a concert there by my friend Samantha.

She had hopes of bagging the undeserving headliner, Levon Sugabush, whose four song EP we had listened to on repeat the entire forty-five minute drive to the show. It was in that audible agony that I wondered if Samantha felt the same sexual tension I did every time we hung out and if she'd ever allow me another drunken chance with her. Any possibility of that happening the night of the concert quickly crumbled as I was promptly ditched upon arriving at the coffee shop, which had already began filling up for the show.

It was typical of Samantha to desert me when someone she deemed more interesting or useful came along, like her local friends that night. She would never go about it in a rude way, just pleasantly state “Listen, Lily has been sleeping with Levon's bass player and I honestly think he's my way in. I'll check in on you in a little bit. Promise.”

I had been through this same scenario too many times before to know it wasn't true and I probably wouldn't see her again for the rest of the night. You once asked me why, if she so commonly treated me this way, did I remain friends with her for as long as I did? Due to my romantic commitment to you at the time, I simply said I wasn't sure when in truth it was the way she made me feel when I was that person. To her then, I was always hilarious and everything I said would be greeted with warm affection. That and of course her fantastic breasts, not that I want to resort to petty blows.

Shortly after Samantha took off I ordered a coffee as it was still before 8 p.m. and Bean There had not yet transformed into The Pot, the name it gave itself at night when functioning as concert venue serving alcohol. Before you even took to the stage I knew what you looked like and figured the kind of music you likely played. An album cover with your picture caught my eye on the merchandise table I'd been silently ridiculing, finding it unnecessary given the low caliber of performers I was expecting to see. In it you appeared in a grey alley, under a red umbrella in the driving rain. Despite the bleak surroundings, a smile graced your face, which seemed fitting for the melancholic pop I believed you played. In the bottom right hand corner was your name, Paige Meadows, written as a signature, the album assumed self titled.

Though I never admitted this to you, I was planning to leave for a burrito before you performed, returning only when Samantha deemed it time to go home. However, on my way to the door I saw you modestly step onto the stage and decided you were beautiful, by way of your blue eyes and exposed thighs above a well worn pair of cowboy boots. Furthermore, I was enticed to stay when I first heard your voice or rather your adorable, nervous laugh as you introduced yourself to the crowd, strumming the guitar, ensuring it was in tune. Only when you belted out the first song, your version of the traditional ballad Corrine, Corrina, did I order a drink and make myself comfortable. Settling in, I watched as you tapped into original material, seemingly bearing your last cross for all to see in a sprawling ten minute epic which, in its climax, hopelessly entranced me with nothing more than a stomp of your boot heel and the shrill of your raspy, haunting voice.

As the night wore on you won me over again and again, to the point where I was envious, almost resentful, of the fiddle player you invited to join in on a number. I had been so caught up in your show I neglected to check on Samantha, who anxiously drank too much, too quickly, and repeatedly embarrassed herself in front Levon. Last I saw she was following him out for a cigarette as you finished your set and can only guess she left sometime shortly after as Levon soon returned with another girl who led him to stage, sending him on with a kiss.

Not only did she abandon her plan but Samantha also left me stranded there alone. Perhaps because of this I was not too concerned she was now extremely drunk and emotionally distraught, driving down winding country roads in the dark. I also had local friends and knew it wouldn't be a problem spending the night at their place. With this in mind, I ordered one more drink as I'd been enjoying myself and didn't want to be disappointed once again on account of Samantha. 

 Noticing you then standing at the bar, I discreetly began admiring, with quick, probing glances, your graceful mannerisms while chatting with fans and friends. Rendered red were your cheeks as one by one they congratulated you on the performance. I could tell by the way you interacted, communicating through embrace, that you were sensitive though at times it was difficult to watch other men approach you, offering compliments or themselves as paranoia had me convinced. None of them, however, seemed to be able to hold your attention for very long which came as a relief, not that I intended on trying for you myself. No, I was content simply soaking you in from a distance. Only when I had come to terms with this and attempted a swift glance did my eyes lock with yours in a mutual gaze, a connection made.

Initially upon seeing you stare, I figured you thought me a creep, gawking from the perverted shadows of desperation, which you later confessed was at least a little true. The first response that came was to finish my drink and leave immediately to avoid causing you any more discomfort with my intrusive eyes, which I instead fixed on the stage, only to see Levon Sugabush blatantly screw up for the fourth time in as many songs. This didn't seem to deter the legion of girls swooning at the foot of the stage and I wondered how they could swallow such mediocre bullshit? He was much worse live than in his recordings, irritating me to the point I considered leaving my beer unfinished and calling it a terrible night. It was then you tapped my shoulder and asked me to join you for a drink.

After our formal meeting we got to know each other, you focusing on me and me focusing on your music. We discussed your influences, Joni, Joan and Janis, and informing me of upcoming gigs, you expressed excitement for a lucrative spot you'd earned at Shelter Valley for the second year in a row. Gravely, you spoke of your experiences the previous year, how your guitar was stolen from the back of a car. After the performance you had given, I was surprised to learn you only recently had begun performing again following an emotional hiatus brought on by the loss of your instrument, a part of yourself as you described it. Briefly, I considered relating feelings of my own failed artistic aspirations but thought better as mentioning them could do nothing but jeopardize the good thing we had going. 

When you asked about me, I explained Samantha's plan and how it was aborted, leaving me here alone. I couldn't stay at your house due to an overprotective mother but you said, quite assertively, you knew a place we could spend the night. Before I could process what was said, we were at the merchandise table, talking to the punky girl who manned it. She gave you a box containing your wares and a $20 bill, four C.Ds sold. The air was thick and stale as we loaded the box and guitar into the trunk of your car and took off, a storm fast approaching.

That city, which I always thought dull, seemed so exciting that night, so alive, as we drove through the four block downtown core, passing the places, then unknown, which would soon become familiar and eventually haunted by  memories of our relationship. Fifteen minutes outside of town, you pulled off the road and into a secluded grove. As the thunder began to roll, I found myself in the back seat with you, sporadic lightning revealing another detail of your naked body with every strike but how I begged you to leave those boots on.

The next morning you drove me home, offering a copy of your C.D as a keepsake from our night together. Now regretfully, I declined, coyly saying I planned on seeing you in person, preferably every day. Ironically, when we bagen dating you banned me from seeing you perform live as my presence made you feel nervous and incredibly self-conscious. This did not stop me, however, from stowing myself away in the shit-stained bathroom of a seedy club the night I knew you were debuting new material. Listening to those muffled songs through the graffiti coated walls I couldn't help but worry our relationship was influencing your writing as your music was clearly moving in a more sombre direction.

“You're the greatest musical export this town has to offer,” I told you that night on the bridge, trying hard to convince you to move to a bigger city for more exposure. But you were a patriot and the discussion ended abruptly as we approached the home of your mother, who had come to terms with the idea of me. There we made love to the Evangelical screams of an a preacher on late night television. After, holding you close, I stared out the frost framed window at the brightly light tower of a distant factory, sensing importance or perhaps simply searching for some sort of significance in it. Now, as I lay alone this morning, hungover in my big city with its creative credibility, I can think of nothing but that factory tower, the bridge and what I wouldn't give just to hear you sing again.

*

Brian Clarke is 23 and living in Toronto. He is currently in the process of publishing a collection of short stories and trying really hard to like himself.

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