Chapter Seventeen- The morning after the night before
In the morning we all sat around the kitchen table eating cereal. There was toast pasted with jams, honey and marmalade. Our coffees smoked like chimneys over the slaughter of a battleground of utensils, splatters of milk, sugar, obliterated crumbs, and suicidal Cheerios.
Tiny had joined us, but not having a chair to sit on, perched on the steps between the kitchen and the breakfast nook. Currently, a humming bird buzzed and darted outside the window in a frenetic pattern, holding his attention. Tiny pawed at his left ear, like a hound dog successfully renting his fur to fleas. His crazy mass of hair flowed from the effort. Today he was dressed more sensibly in jeans— the fabric of which, would have easily covered the table. He also wore a grey T-shirt, stretched and bulged like a second skin around his upper body.
Nothing was said about the night before, other than Grub stating, he’d slept well. I assumed by his declaration, the ghostly murmurs had ceased, and neither Doc nor I, offered up further inquisition. We continued our carnivorous ways, navigating past the skyscrapers of breakfast cereals and delivering the swaths of butter to bread with surgical skill. Our gorging remained uninterrupted until, we were startled by a woman who seemed to appear out of nowhere. She was standing off to the left by a pantry of fine china and a hangman’s row of spoons from obscure global destinations. She was busy scrutinizing our habitual morning routine before Doc jumped as he looked up, alerting everyone to her presence.
“Je-sus!” He said.
“No.” Tiny replied. “Not Jesus. Miss Agnes.”
Miss Agnes was a woman of dark skin in her fifties. She was appareled in a dress of yellow daffodils bordering on bourgeois and her accentuated lips spread into a wide smile as if there was a well of good cheer inside. Her hair was tied back, clipped by a metal butterfly, and her eyes portrayed deep, dark pools of theological wisdom.
She radiated warmly. “Agnes Cooley,” she said, sending the echo of a smile our way. “You boys recording here in my father’s studio, I guess?”
She searched our faces for vulnerability, then settled earnestly on Doc. “Are you a church goer?”
“No Mam. I’m what you might call a retired Christian.”
“What does that mean? I’m not familiar with that term.”
“It means I attend the church within. I just decided to cut out the middle man.”
“I see. Personally I feel we all need guidance from those chosen to help us on our path.” She looked at Grub. He was rubbing a small pot, waiting for a steeped tea genie to emerge. “You’ve suffered a great hurt recently,” she probed.
Grub held up his bandaged hand as he gnawed his way through a bagel. “I broke my wrist.”
“Not that type of hurt Sweetie. A hurt of a different kind. An injustice. I can see you all have.” She clasped her hands together and closed her eyes drawing her breath in deeply as she shook her clenched fingers. “Yes, I feel it.” She said as if she had tapped some psychic link to another world. She released her hands and curdled her mouth into another curve of delight. She looked at Wally. “Is there something you want to say? Perhaps something you’ve kept hidden inside for sometime?”
Wally looked dumbfounded. He let the toast drop to the plate as he gazed up with puppy dog eyes. “Er . . . ,” he said, after a moment of contemplation. Crumbs were impaled on his stubbled beard like he’d ingested a jar of paste before attacking the bread. “You look nice?” He offered finally.
“Not the answer I was expecting, but thank you for the compliment.” She moved on to Skunk. “People at home miss you.”
Skunk, like myself was not worship material. She didn’t even lift her head as she continued to shovel cereal into her open orifice. “That’s nice. You tell them I miss them too.”
Agnes trained her gaze on me, as much as, knifed me with it. She came closer and touched a sandpaper finger to my cheek. I felt the shell of her nail, in contrast, cold and smooth like bone. Her perfume was tart and not the least enticing. To me it smelled more like she was marking her territory.
“You have much turmoil inside you,” she said. “You need to make peace with that. Cleanse the sin.”
“I have to be honest Miss Agnes. No offense, but I’m not religious. Not even by the tiniest of margins.”
“That’s OK darlin’. In time, you will come to Jesus.”
Not unless he’s in a porno, with wah-wah guitars playing in the background, I thought.
She tilted her head and spoke to the gargantuan gaffer. “You’ll have to get the traps out. The racoons are back. Me and Florence saw two of em last night out on the lawn when we were praying.”
Is that what she calls what she was doing?
“...Big critters. They got into the garbage. Made an infernal mess. They even broke the hand of my sweet Jesus. Ohhh.” She closed her eyes and clasped her hands again. “Now, he looks like he’s cussin’ the Almighty. We can’t have that.” As she finished her statement, she opened her eyes and traced them from me to Doc. I felt like I had suddenly been stripped of all my clothing.
Tiny jumped to attention. “Yes Miss Agnes. Right away Miss Agnes. Tiny likes to help.” He excused himself. “Tiny needs to go now. Bye Miss Agnes.” He bowed to the exit, and disappeared through it in a forward waddle.
“What’s the name of your musical group?”
“We were known as the Oral Blondes at one time,” I told her.
“Oh,” she said. Her mouth’s drawn arc of happiness, subsided to a flat line of disappointment, like the patient had just died. “I don’t much care for that name. No, not at all. I can’t say as I do. A name should praise music, represent its beauty, deliver the cadence of its wonder. That’s what my father had in mind when he founded Faith Sound Studios.”
“So that’s one for No,” Skunk said. She placed another spoonful into her waiting mouth and began to munch.
Miss Agnes ignored the comment and turned to leave. She paused at the doorway and wagged a threatening finger at us. “You boys stay out of trouble now. Idle hands you know.”
We watched her glide out of the room as she hummed softly to herself. Some hymn no less. We looked at each other and Doc made a cuckoo motion with his finger spiraling clockwise.
“Skunk, you didn’t have to be so rude.”
“Bible thumping is not acceptable to me. Especially before noon on weekends, Wally. Besides, you want to talk about rude? Look at the way you’re sawing through everything on the table. I feel like I should be nailing shit down to save it from that hurricane mouth of yours.”
“But she owns this studio with her sister. We should be careful what we say.”
“Because of us, she pays the bills. I doubt she gets a monthly check for utilities from her Lord and savior.”
“I’ll bet she says, he pays her in other ways.”
“Bottom line, Wally, the customer is always right, and that’s us.” Skunk seemed contented the conversation was at an end and went back to digging in to the fathom of her bowl.
Suds came into the kitchen to a hail of good mornings. His hair looked more controlled today than it had since I’d met him. It had been brushed and now had the appearance of a tiny pelt of wolf fur. He was dressed in a little, charcoal-colored suit, no doubt obtained from a rack in the boys section of a department store somewhere. He stood with his feet slightly apart and his hands on his hips. From the top of the steps, he was an appropriate height, which at present, would save us from more sore necks. “I see you met Miss Agnes.”
“Nice woman . . . very intuitive.” Wally blushed.
“They live in the guest house here.”
“Really? I didn’t know that,” Doc chatted nervously. He was still trying to recover from the x-ray vision of the woman’s gaze.
“She doesn’t usually come in here. She must have been called to do so. Not much gets past Miss Agnes, that’s for sure . . . Oh, I found out who’s playing at the casino by the way. Somebody by the name of Matt Margolis.”
“Matt Margolis? You don’t say?”
Grub blew out some crumbs, as he poured his tea. “Isn’t that the guy we performed with who does Metallica like a lounge singer?”
“Yeah, when he was Matt Tallicas. But he’s gone back to his roots and his original name. The Mayor says he’s as big as a house now.” I spun back to Suds. “— So he’s playing at the casino?”
“He’s doing the Tiger Lounge. There’s no cover charge. You shouldn’t have any problem talking with any of the guys.”
“We know Matt. This should be very interesting. Finally some good news. We shouldn’t have too much trouble persuading his drummer to drop by for a session. Those guys are always looking for a few extra bucks. Things appear to be coming together at last.”
There was a thundering crash from the studio and we immediately stopped our chatter. Exchanged looks of bewilderment quickly melted into panic. We rushed to meet the explosion of sound in a storm of squeaking chair legs and thundering feet. We found Tiny brushing himself off over the annihilated remains of Grub’s drum kit. He must have fallen on top of them. The percussive instruments lay in a jumble, underneath the tent of the plexiglass barrier, like a train derailment.
“Tiny, sorry. Tiny fall.”
“Yeah, how many times?” Doc erupted, as he surveyed the remains. He looked angrily at Suds. “What the fuck was he trying to do?”
“My drums!” Grub began to hyperventilate again. “Meeya! Meeya!”
Tiny hung his massive melon and began to cry, while Grub ran to the heap. He peeled back the plexiglass barrier as one would pull the aggressor off a weaker foe. He began to sift through the mess, formerly known as his crimson set of Premiers.
Suds tried to calm Tiny down. “What happened big man?”
“Tiny was getting raccoon traps for Miss Agnes,” he said through sniffles.
“Who the fuck keeps raccoon traps next to a drum kit?”
“We keep stuff we don’t have much use for in a small storage area in the corner,” Suds defended. He pointed to a small open door and the two metal cages now laying on the floor next to Grub’s deceased musical baby. Suds returned his attention to Tiny, brushing his massive mitt, like it was a cat who craved attention. He handed him a hanky pulled from his breast pocket and Tiny blew a trumpet blast into it. “The traps must have been lodged in there tight and he lost his balance, is all.”
“Uh huh,” Tiny whimpered.
“Oh Fuck! Just beautiful!” Doc boomed, as he looked to the heavens.
“My drums.” Grub wheezed. A feeble whimper escaped his lungs, as he carefully extracted his snare drum. It had a hole in the center punctured by a microphone.
“Think of every possible avenue for disaster and you have this weekend,” Skunk scoffed. “I’m definitely not going back to my family, or work relaxed after this.”
“You should be ya big galoot!”
“Don’t talk to him like that. He said he was sorry. It was an accident.”
Skunk shook her head in disbelief. Like all of us, the burr under her saddle was becoming mighty uncomfortable and we were all on edge. “I can’t believe this. We didn’t have this much shit happen to us when we did this full time.”
“Rooster calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down Wally! That could’ve easily been my guitar and amp he fell on!”
“Wally’s just trying to help.”
“Doesn’t sound that way to me Barlow.”
“We’ll figure out something,” Suds reassured.
“Great, let’s all get on the tractor and ride to the nearest music store like a troop of Chinese acrobats. I’m sure there’s one right down the frickin’ highway,” Doc spat in true Barlow sarcasm. “Or maybe, we can go back to Old Man Thompson’s place and get fleeced again? I’d bet he probably has what we need if the price is right? Snare drum? Yup. Gots one in the stall next to the chickens.”
“I don’t know why I agreed to do this. What a fuckin’ mistake. I’ve got cracked ribs, sore tits, a totaled car my husbands going to kill me for and we haven’t recorded one single note.”
“You agreed to do this, because you wanted to do it, Skunk.”
“No Wally, I’m only here because I felt guilty you all agreed to do it first.”
“You’re wrong. I was the last one to agree, Skunk. Sparky said so.”
“Stop talking shit Wally. If it wasn’t for me saying yes, you wouldn’t even be here.”
“You calling me a liar?”
“What if I am? Are you going to do, fight me? You couldn’t fight your way into a vagina, let alone somebody with one, Wally.”
“Stop it please!” I pleaded.
“See, Sparky. I told you all we ever did was argue,” Grub reminded. He cradled a tom drum lovingly in his arms. “Besides, I was the last person to agree to do this.”
“You’re all wrong gents, I am the one responsible for us being here.” Doc raved. “Right Sparky!”
I am so fucked. Why didn’t I listen to the Mayor?
The jabbering continued like a bunch of school kids fighting over possession of a playground swing.
“No, I was!”
The argument reached a fevered pitch of discord and hypnotic tones. Threatening tenors jousted salacious sopranos, who were in turn attacked by aggravated altos. Even in its dissonance, it was the most music I’d heard all weekend.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Fuck you and FUCK THIS!”
“Tiny, so sorry.”
“Sparky! What have you been telling the others? Hey are you trying to sneak out of here? Come back right now!”
Everyone ceased the octagon of ultimate bickering and gazed at me. I felt as if I were suddenly a condemned man being taken to the chair. A hopeless wretch led by a chain with Miss Agnes pulling from the other end, and encouraging me to, cleanse my sins. Leading me down streets covered in shard glass with not even Tiny’s boots to protect my naked feet. My accusers were dining on a buffet of curses, and it was all you can eat. Rightfully so, I was the target of their verbal lashing. I could almost smell the smouldering of my ass soon to be set ablaze with the truth. “Sparky! What do you have to say for yourself?”
Forget the drums, I felt like Tiny had just fallen on top of me.