Tuesday, April 20, 2010

babies & james Part Two

Those nights alone with James Taylor seem to last forever. The hours between midnight and eight never used to seem so endless. She remembers nights alone in her bedroom with Karen. Her sister would sleep and Mom would sleep and everyone would sleep. Dad was probably sleeping, too, but he wasn’t down the hall like the rest. But Deb would stay awake as long as she could because she could hum her songs and not work at anything. When everyone who knew her was asleep, she was anybody she wanted. She was a millionaire or married to one and draped in jewels. And she gave to charities. And she never went back to Oregon. She was sixteen and she was timeless. But these nights in California weren’t like back in Oregon. She couldn’t lie still for hours anymore. She had to move. In all her hours with James, she felt she must have aged five years each night.  
*     *     *

To Deb, it seemed like only a moment had passed until they were back at the Fandango Club for the second night. Deb was drinking Tequila and missing Nick more than ever. All she wanted to do was get drunk and listen to some good music. She hoped that these Midnight Rider guys were good.
      The first person she saw clearly was Sam. He was hatless that night and his hair bushed out in two clouds around the part down the middle. This guy looked like a sphinx! He was perfect for Peggy. Her boobs sagged like his Wranglers. And he probably liked a meaty girl like Peg.
      When the colored lights shifted, Deb could see that Sam’s steel guitar had a silver lightning bolt darting from left to right. His solo sounded more like an electric guitar on the same acid that messed up Karen than a country pedal steel. And the girls treated the solo like drugs. They screamed like they were hallucinating. He was a steel player. Deb was baffled. But she looked at him again. He was so into the music; moving his head back and forth. Entranced for a while, he grooved until he stood up on his steel. It was like an explosion from the crowd and in Deb’s drunk eyes that felt ten times heavier than normal.
      Peggy turned to face Deb, still clapping her hands. “Deb, isn’t he the best? I’m going to go talk to him.”
      For as hard as she tried, it annoyed Deb that she still couldn’t remember after 10 years how she and Sam ended up back at his place. The windows were open, though, and they talked for it seemed like most of the night in his bed with only sheets covering them. He kissed her arms and her stomach. He kissed her eyelids and her fingernails. He talked about music and his industry friends. He talked about James Taylor. He talked about love and children while he brushed her forehead with his smooth hands.
      When “How Sweet It Is” rolled around on the record, he kissed her all over and played with her. “It’s like jelly to bee, Babe, yeah, yeah.”
      “Ain’t no doubt that love’s the finest thing around, whisper something sweet and kind.” She whispered to him. She didn’t know all the words, but he never said anything about that. He liked her to sing to him.
      Deb had always wanted to be able to sing. She thought, if she could just sing and be up on stage like that, she could be happy. She knew that if she could just do one thing better than anybody else could, then she could be happy. She would be back to see Sam. He made her feel like she was the only one— that she was better than anybody at being with him. He didn’t mind that she sang off key and he never gave her looks that made her feel like trash. He was a musician.
      Nick had money, but this guy was best friends with James Taylor’s drummer.
      On the plane the next afternoon, Deb gushed to Peggy. She shouldn’t have done that. Peggy looked hurt, and when she pouted, Debbie noticed that her little saggy boobs sagged more than usual. Deb tried to cover with light talk.
      “Would you do James Taylor? I would. I think he’s sexy.”
      Back in Nick’s house, Deb threw down her leather duffle bag on the bed. Nick had this huge painting of galloping, crazy stallions hanging over their waterbed. He was blasting Led Zepplin downstairs, but in the bedroom, Deb flung herself down on the waterbed with “Sweet Baby James.” She looked around the room for the plants she had put in the room. Nowhere to be found. Probably died.
      In the mirror across the room, she could see herself. The way the mirrors were slanted, it gave the impression that she was another separate person that she could look at from a distance. If she blurred her eyes a little, it was like Karen was in the room with her. She unblurred them.
      “Hey you,” she called to herself. “I like your shirt. Where did you get that? You wouldn’t know of the place. It’s in South Carolina. You ever been there?”
       Nick came up the stairs holding a stack of invitations from her purse and scowling.
      “Who do you think you are? What is this shit?” He waited for her to answer, but Deb didn’t. “These are bullshit and you know it.”
      She told people she canceled the wedding and was leaving Nick for Sam, but she knew it was a lie. Deb never had anyone to leave.  
*      *      *
      Deb listens to James over and over, as loud as the volume will go, watching the red lights dance on the speakers. And if she stares long enough, they look like big black holes that might suck her in for good. She stares straight ahead and inhales the smoke all around her, trying to see herself in it. If she closes her eyes, sometimes she can feel like how she used to feel; make her face in the same expression as she did that summer, when she still had the chance to save some of it at least. Late at night, Deb sits on her couch and smokes, ignoring the clouds that form and circle around her. She remembers when sex and drinking and music were about fun instead of just habit and tricks for her to avoid thinking about now. She thinks about the two mink coats she got from Nick Eckland. Deb thinks of the dead girl’s color tombstone and she wishes she could remember what they did with it after they got it back to Nick’s house. She still didn’t know what killed that child.
      She thinks about what could have been with Sam instead of the big black bruise on her leg and the bigger one on her back. She thinks about Nick who hated her, and Sam who loved her and she threw away so she doesn’t have to think about now, doesn’t have to think about Michael. She’ll think about two little dark haired Eckland baby girls, instead of her blonde five-year-old who can’t sleep and that Michael pushed off the couch yesterday.
      Deb calls Nick’s house sometimes to see what his voice sounds like at thirty-four. She doesn’t say anything, but swears he can smell the screwdriver on her breath and knows it’s her. 

Ryann Ferguson

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