“Brian Wilson is the most underrated artist of the twentieth century …” I am telling Sam as she leans forward to light yet another cigarette from a lighter that once was mine. “Can you hear this! Are you listening?”
“Yes.” Puff. “Listening, I’m listening.”
“To what? To you?”
“No, to the stereo … the stereo!” I wail as one hand rises from steering wheel to sky. “So pure … so … so fucken pure!”
The horizon teases as brush and foliage sweep past, the centre line blurs and the Beach Boys take over as harmonies rise and Sam offers another line off a delicate wrist as her peace sign bracelet swings ever so gently with the beat.
“And he’s deaf! Well, half deaf. His father was a right asshole who once gave him a beating that left him deaf in one ear,” sniff, “so he had to record in mono … do you understand!”
“Yes, I understand …”
“And so,” sniff, “and so he recorded in mono and the sound engineer had to flip it to stereo and still … you hear that? You hear that!”
“I hear it, I hear it … the guy’s a fucken genius already!”
Sam punches my shoulder and mumbles ‘Sweet Jesus’ as she exhales and we speed toward a destination that speaks of endless possibility and we smile and we laugh as Brian Wilson guides the way.
And yet as we arrive James is lent against the bent and buckled railing of a porch in need of repair and he receives us with half-hearted wave more warning than welcome.
As we exit the car Sam bites her lip and we enter to find James’ warning well advised. The shades are drawn and yet this seems a detail at best as there is morbidity in the air that no amount of light can repel. The house appears raided by relatives from far and wide, the remaining piece of furniture a single sofa draped in soiled white cloth.
“This is the ‘formerly–living’ room,” James deadpans as he points to the spot next to the sofa where his Aunt was discovered.
Sam crosses herself as James removes a hip flask from his rear jean pocket, lies in front of a laptop and begins to tap at the keys.
“This was a favoured Aunt?” I ask. “So how was the funeral?”
“I didn’t go to the funeral, I had exams,” he says as he taps.
“But you didn’t go to any of your exams …”
“Yeah, but when she died I hadn’t planned that far ahead,” he replies and then, “She suffered from Anhedonia. That’s what my Mom used to tell me every time we came to visit. Mom would remind me that ‘Great Aunt Dee suffered from Anhedonia, so I should keep that in mind’. And it wasn’t till I was a teenager I realized Mom was talking shit.”
With this he reaches for the flask, “Anhedonia’s the inability to derive pleasure … it was my Mom’s way of getting back at Dee for all the grief she’d caused.”
James tips his head and swallows twice, his eyes water, “Shit, she wasn’t a sociopath, if anything she was the last of the puritans. At the end of the day Dee simply wasn’t afraid to bring others down to her level, and for that I figure she wasn’t so bad.”
And so Sam and I head for supplies while James promises to make an effort, if only for an evening.
Sam and I search streets of abandoned homes and lawns waist-high. The odd local leans against a wall, an elderly couple inch along a side-walk.
We park outside a 7-Eleven and as if on cue a stray approaches. Sam bends to pat its head before recoiling at the dog’s condition, all skin and bones, matted fur, tongue lolled to one side.
Sam grabs my arm and as we enter the store the stray lays down and sees us inside.
We grab two bottles of Jack and a bottle of Rum and approach the register beneath the gaze of a man with a beard to his belly and knuckle tattoos. Sam pays no mind and points to the dog outside.
“That dog? That damn dog’s been hanging round for weeks Ma’am.”
There is a definite emphasis on ‘Ma’am’.
“County’s supposed to take care of it,” the Beard continues, “but damned if I know when they’ll pull their thumbs out long enough …”
“The dog’s been here for weeks?”
“And no-one’s looking out for it?”
“So if she’s …”
“Don’t know if it’s a he nor she nor fiddle-dee-dee,” interrupts the Beard, “but I’ll be goddamned if I’m gonna go anywhere near a dog that far gone … bitch like that’d be more than happy to bite you on the ass and pass on all sorts of devil and disease.” With this he takes a sip of coffee from a polystyrene cup the size of a thermos.
“So you’re just going to …”
“Ma’am, that’ll be ninety three dollars and seventy five cents.”
“Ma’am, that’ll be ninety three dollars and seventy five cents.”
“And this …” says Sam reaching for some beef jerky, “for the dog.”
As Sam pays I return to the car, the dog is nowhere to be seen. Sam places the meat on the asphalt as I start the engine.
“He’s gone.” I say.
“He’s here somewhere. He’s just learned his place, that’s all.”
And as we drive away I find I am lost, Sam gives direction while I try to remember why I’m here, with these people …
…I first came across James sprawled in the park one morning as he attempts to convince a blonde that in ‘no way’ has he slept with anyone the night before.
She storms off and James calls after her, “You know when beavers are attacked they tear their balls off and hurl them at their enemy… I’m starting to see the wisdom in that!”
And I laugh and James raises his head and it seems he’s swiped a bottle of bourbon from his roommate and we get drunk while sophomores in short shorts play frisbee.
James drinks and jokes and drinks and smokes and drinks and asks if I’m aware of the affairs of the damned and at the time I assume this relates to an assignment but looking back I’m not so sure.
“Do you know when the Devil rallies the witches of the world?”
“Friday after sunset,” he answers with a slight slur. “Many Priests tortured many girls to acquire this information. They’d break them on the rack, scorch their flesh, shove an instrument up an orifice or two …” He considers for a moment, “you can always rely on the celibate to employ the most perverse methods of torture.”
I return the bottle of bourbon.
“Turns out it was Friday after sunset witches came together. They would meet where soil refused seed, strip off their clothes and dance like freaks in impromptu circle while wolves howled and the Devil played the bagpipes.”
A frisbee falls.
James downs the last of the bourbon. “It makes you think man … I mean, I’m no fan of the Devil, but that sounds a hell of a lot more entertaining than Morning Mass at St Sebastian’s.”
And with this James places his hat in front of his face and I wait a while, then rise and walk away …
… and Sam and I met in circumstances where details differ but all felt strangely familiar.
I was approaching love with an actress who panted favoured monologue during foreplay and who – confined to bed with whatever virus was hep that week – struggles to wave farewell as I close the door to her dorm and proceed toward a house far off campus, where rumour whispers of Dionysian delight.
As I enter I find myself accosted on all sides, concert posters from decades past surround me, as I move through the house there appear more and more and the carpet is frayed and faded and all is broken light switch and cracked counter tile.
I am in the shell of a house – leave your soul at the door and all else be damned – and yet as I turn to leave I overhear a declaration that, “He’s such an asshole that word was he handed out confidentiality agreements at his 21st and, while this wasn’t in the least bit true, you can believe the rumour took its sweet time to die.”
I enter a far room to find the voice belongs to a brunette somehow central to gathered circle, others lean in and nod and offer the odd “Right on” and I approach and sit.
The brunette – cigarette in hand, full lips, dark eyes – listens as a blonde speaks in staccato.
“And my gyno said … he found traces of cocaine … up … you know … up there.”
“You may have a coked up cervix,” the brunette states most matter of fact. “That’s a huge problem right now and … you know, I just think you should get that checked out.”
The blonde is dumbstruck, she attempts reply but can’t … quite … find the words.
“Does your boyfriend rub coke on his dick?” The brunette asks without skipping a beat. “It’s actually a problem, so you should, you know … tell him to stop.”
The blonde slowly shakes her head, mouth wide open, eyes like saucers.
“But if not …” The brunette inhales and emphasises final point with a stab of her cigarette. “If he isn’t coating his cock with coke …” puff, “then you have a more serious problem. Cause if that isn’t the case …” puff, “then there’s a serious possibility that he’s using so much coke that it’s found its way into his seminal fluid.”
And with this the brunette turns her head to receive a joint from a random Rastafarian as the blonde slowly gets to her feet and staggers away …
“We should close the windows,” Sam says as the first drops fall and I take a step before realizing the windows are already closed as Aunt Dee wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sam and I have returned and the weather has turned and James has failed to move an inch. He briefly looks up from the glow of the computer screen, flicks a finger, music begins and “We should stay inside,” says James as the rain grows louder.
“We should stay inside,” repeats Sam.
“We should …” I begin as I turn toward the porch, the roof drumrolls as shower turns to downpour.
I take a breath as a candy wrapper makes its way down the road ahead. James appears and mumbles “the inability to derive pleasure” as he fashions a line on the railing and I lean forward and the coke is white and pure and Sam removes her blouse as ‘Sexy Sadie’ fills the air and she spins with arms outspread and her bra is a blur and her shoulders are bare and the notes are high and fine and
And I’m lying with my back to the wall as James regrets and Sam revels and so much more can be learned from the events of the night before than I am yet ready to admit.
James kneels, fingers gripped to toilet rim, feet rising as he lurches forward with each revolt.
Each howl echoes down the hall.
Sam stretches atop soiled white sheet, toes curl and hands rise to the ceiling as fingers flicker toward stars known to Sam and Sam alone.
And as I step outside I remember how Sam leaned in, I recall the warmth of her lips and the slight tempt of her tongue and the way she rubbed her nose as she withdrew and how she returned to my lips and
and Sam is above and we come together as Lennon cries and I close my eyes as Sam rolls aside and I smile and open my eyes to witness Sam and James and I return to the darkness and the music and years go by and I feel a hand on my shoulder as Sam returns and throughout my eyes remain closed as while they are closed this night must come to an end.
“It’s sad in a way,” says Sam as she leans against the railing and offers a light.
“What’s sad?” I reply as I accept and inhale.
“James … he’s got everything ahead of him and yet he’s knee-deep in all this.”
There is silence between us, and then, “James is one of the last people you should feel pity toward.”
“He has his problems.”
“James has the problems of any rich mother’s son.”
“I love it when people live down to your expectations.”
And in this moment I’m lost, as if it’s no longer James we’re talking about.
“And when I feel my finger on your trigger,” I begin, “I feel nobody can do me no harm, because …”
Sam yawns then turns to face me. “What?”
” … happiness is a warm gun.” I take a breath. “Just your typical Lennon bullshit.”
And with this I stub my cigarette against the railing and turn away, a few seconds pass and then footsteps follow and we drive back in silence as for once harmony offers little consolation.