(Writer’s notes: Most of you have seen that my output has been low lately. I’ll make it easy and simple: My work is mentally exhausting. I generally like to write, but when I get home from tough days of figuring out problems, I sometimes don’t have the capability to write. I am working on it for 2020, however, and hope to have more. I definitely have ideas. Here’s today’s fictioneers…)
(Author’s note: It’s been a busy week here at Music and Fiction. 3 different stories have been posted for your perusal, and I hope you can read them all. You can read the mini-fictions The Lament of the Scribe and 5 Steps, plus the longer fiction Walking On Ice (my current personal favorite of mine.) Make sure to comment on them, as a few of these were actually created as a result of class exercises for my university courses. Besides that, please enjoy today’s creation.)
We had just pulled up to the drive thru on Route 7. I was reaching for my wallet when Caroline shrieked.
“Honey! What’s wrong?”
“I can’t stand bugs! And there are two right under the drive-thru window!”
Being a valiant man, I reached over the seat to get them. In my haste to shoo the beasts away, I miscalculated my reach. I let out a “whoa!” just before my face landed in her lap. I heard a gasp, then a breath.
“My darling, if you wanted pie, you should have just said so…”
I looked up at her, and she cracked up. I can’t help but crack up now whenever she, my beautiful wife, asks if I want pie.
The smell of the apartment was enough to choke the life out of a thousand hardened terrorists.
I got to this position due to my friendship with Ryan. Ryan could be considered one of my better friends from college. He’s someone who is dependable, friendly, and usually on time with just about everything. He was even at events, on the nose, as they started. The folks at the atomic laboratory could set their clocks to him, and they’d be quite accurate.
At least, that was the case until just about 3 weeks ago. That was when things went pear-shaped.
All through college, Ryan was dating a seemingly nice, yet quite meek girl named Clarissa. They came from opposing high schools in the same town, but started dating just as they ended high school. For the full four years of university, they were together. He had a bit of independence, especially with “safe” friends like me. It seemed that by the way things were going, they would be married after college.
6 months ago, Clarissa changed dramatically. The meek girl we all knew suddenly became vocal, brash, and pretty darn mean. She was also quite controlling, it appeared.
About that time was when Ryan stopped hanging out with us. Sure, he’d be able to sneak away and be able to join me at a coffee shop somewhere on campus, or he’d give an excuse about having me in class, and somehow I was in that responsible circle of friends.
3 weeks ago, the day after we all graduated, I was there when Ryan was given the shove-off. Clarissa dumped him, flat out, and proceeded to kiss her new girlfriend out in the open. As Ryan slowly turned and walked out, I rushed after him to be a friend and help him out. He told me “Thank you”, and proceeded to get into a taxi.
Now it’s 3 weeks later, and I am visiting his apartment. No one saw him, work’s been wondering where he is, and even his mom is worried. So I told her I’d go over and check up on him. As I opened the apartment door, I was hit with the overpowering stench of dirty dishes and overflowing trash.
The room was dark, all of the curtains closed. It was hard to walk around the place without seeing, so I decided to open up the living room window. The sight that greeted me upon illumination was incredibly ghastly. Pizza boxes strewn all over, half-eaten bowls of mac and cheese that had mold and other things growing on it laid haphazardly in various places. Banana peels lay rotting on the carpet, one or two even ground in a bit like they were walked on.
Through all of this, I could hear one sound coming from what I assumed was the bedroom. It was the sound of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” song.
Tiptoeing around the trash, and after opening a window to let the stench out and the pleasant fall air in, I made my way to the bedroom door. I knocked once and asked if he was there. No answer. I knocked a second time, and said that I was coming in. No answer. So, I opened the door and looked inside.
I’ve seen messes of undeniable putridness. However, looking into my good friend’s room, I was knocked over by just how bad things got. For a man who was known to be quite clean, this was a level of messy that not even my sister could have achieved.
Clothes, pizza boxes and old pizza crusts, and pudding containers were strewn about the room. The windows were sealed with plastic and duct tape, and the smell of the room was atrocious. I turned on the light, and I saw Ryan, lying in his bed. His eyes were open, and his head was lolling side to side as if he was on drugs. I couldn’t think of much to say.
“Hey, Ryan. We’ve been a bit worried about you. You alright?”
“Do you think I’m alright?” he said, his voice raspy and dry.
“Nope, not at all.”
“Listen to the song. That’s how I feel.”
“Dude, I know the song. That was my theme for a long time. Now you’ve taken it on. I get that. Want to talk about it?”
I walked in, navigating around the land mines of trash that were liable to explode. I felt the edge of the bed to see if there was any trash, and feeling a safe spot, I sat down.
Ryan told me about how crushed he was by Clarissa’s explanation. She said that for the 3 months before us outsiders noticed the change, she was starting to show her true colors. And started having sex with her new friend from the women’s center. He told us about how she controlled nearly everything about life, and how she sent her “allies from the center” to spy on our conversations when we met. As he spilled his guts, the pain and hardship he felt finally came forth and he was periodically wracked with sobs. I offered him my shoulder, so he could help.
“I’ve been listening to this song for 3 weeks. I need to go my own way on things now.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m swearing off women for a while. Clarissa’s given me a bad taste, and all the stuff she was preaching this past year is really leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Hell, I used to support their ideas at one time, until I realized that their ideas aren’t compatible with my way of life.”
“It’s a good idea. You’ve been badly hurt. What you need to have is time to process with the rest of us guys, and then slowly develop good friendships with women who aren’t going to pull a 180 on you like that.”
Ryan slowly moved, brushing aside the bedsheets and blankets.
“I guess I am going to need to clean up this place. Think you could help me out a bit?”
“Am I not your brother, Ryan? That’s what friends do. I’ll help clean up the trash, you just take a shower and get yourself cleaned up that way.”
Ryan just smiled, a smile that I hadn’t seen for nearly a year.
“After that, we’ll get the vacuuming and steam cleaning done on this place. Then, you and me, we’re gonna go out to the river landing and shoot some cans.”
As the final strains of “Solitary Man” played across the speakers, I turned off his iPod. It was time for some new music for a new life. Putting a crust of pizza into a trash bag, I realized that sometimes, just sometimes, a man needs only one friend at one time to help bring him out of an unresolved situation.
Chelsea Paragovian, known to the rest of the world as Chelly Price, looked out the window at the brilliant lights of New York City. The twinkle of the skyline would be incredibly mesmerizing for a first-time girl in the big city. For someone who was there, it was a fading light that reflected the fading spark in her spirit.
Chelly Price was the main attraction for the new millennial musical movement, up there with the Demi Lovatos, Victoria Justices, and others of their ilk. Her first album, made when she was just 17 and a newbie in New York City, had gone platinum within 6 months. She was a hot commodity, and the various backing bands loved having her up front to bring the numbers in. After the concerts, she would swing through the party circuit. Sleep through the day, party all the night, press the flesh at music signings and celebrity appearances on TV shows. Her second album didn’t do as well, but did hit gold within 9 months.
As she looked at herself in the mirror, as the sun came up on that September morning, she finally caught the realization of everything she had been doing. The lines on her face, the premature worry-lines, the stress and the wear of the road was finally getting to her. She had success, she had the money, but she had nothing else.
She had one person left who could bring her back to earth.
She held onto the cell-phone, the flat phone that kept only the most important numbers. She clicked through the hundreds of contacts until she found the one that she was looking for, listed under the letter Z. It had the name “Zero Hour” on it, and she knew that when she called the number, things would never be the same. She clicked the entry, and waited.
One ring. Two rings. Three rings. *Click*
“Chelsea? Sweetie? Is that you?”
“Yeah, Daddy. It’s me. I’m sorry for calling you so early. I know that it’s probably the middle of the night over there…”
She heard a big yawn from the other side of the phone, and started to yawn as well.
“No, no, sweetie. It’s alright. I haven’t heard from you, it’s been so long. So, how is New York treating you?”
“It’s…it’s…it’s alright, I guess.”
“Is there something wrong, sweetie?”
Chelsea hesitated. She knew that if she said the wrong thing, it could doom her future. She believed that if she said something, that it could come to fruition in ways that were never meant to be.
“I looked in the mirror.”
“What did you see?”
“I saw lines. I saw myself as tired.”
“How long have you been doing this stuff that you’ve been doing?”
“2 years. I am due to go into the studios here in the next month to record the third record.”
“What do you think? Do you think you have enough for another one?”
“They keep supplying me with songs, but they’re not really that good. I really want to expand my horizons.”
“Do you remember what I told you when you first left on that midnight plane to New York?”
“You told me that diamond girls aren’t made to grow old.”
“Do you feel old?”
“I look old. I feel tired. But, I know that there’s a spark still in my heart. I just don’t think it’s here.”
She chuckled, thinking that it was silly she was having this discussion with her dad, who was a simple wood-mill worker, not a big entertainment man.
“Maybe what they’re asking of you is not what you want. Have you thought much about what you want to do?”
Chelsea paused. Have I really thought about it? she asked herself, in her mind.
“I am not sure. I am thinking about leaving the parties and the other stuff behind. Maybe refocusing my music, in a way?”
“Honey, whatever you plan to do, I’m behind you 100 percent. Did you hear about Bernie Griffin?”
“Big Bernie? The guy who slung the slats?”
“Yeah. He got drafted by the Dodgers. He’s heading to Florida, I think. He’s gonna be in the minors now.”
“How did he get into baseball?”
“When you saw him last, he was on the high school team. He was at a company baseball gathering, and some guy saw him. Put his name in with a scout, who saw him work, and signed him almost on the spot.”
“Wow. Who would have thought?”
“People thought the same thing about you, Chelsea. They didn’t realize that you were being picked up for a recording contract. A 3 record deal was a big thing for the people around here.”
Chelsea thought about that for a moment, seeing herself like Bernie, and chuckling to herself.
“What I’m trying to say to you, Chelsea, is that you need to do what you think is right. Diamond girls aren’t made to grow old, and you’re my diamond girl. If you think that going a different direction will be a good thing, then trust in what your heart is saying.”
“Daddy, I just need time away from this city. I want to come home for a while.”
“Your bed is ready when you need it. We love you and support you, and if you want to come back at any time, just give us a heads up so we can pick you up at the airport.”
Chelsea started crying right there, on the phone. She knew what she was going to do, and it may have to mean paying the price of her soul with her career.