Sunday, November 7, 2010

"In the Kind of World Where We Belong": A story based on "Mike's Love Xexagon" by The Fall, as suggested by writer Thomas Cooper (20/100)

In the Kind of World Where We Belong

I married Ed’s sister a couple of times and now he hates me. He’s a drummer, and when we play together, I have to stand next to him, in the back by the rest of the brass section. If his sister, Cheryl, is singing back up instead of lead, she has to stand next to him, too. He doesn’t like her, either, to be fair. There’s nothing he says one way or the other, no outbursts or sharp words, there’s just nothing. He became fed up with our problems long before Cheryl or I did.

The first time we got married, it was an accident, despite being a good lesson in just how legally binding the state of Tennessee considers drive-thru weddings to be, and the second time was on purpose and sober. Now, Cheryl won’t drink around me, do much of anything around me, and even though she doesn’t hate me as much as Ed does, she still hates me. Other than the repetition and hiccups, the way we got to this point is pretty commonplace: in love, out of love, finish. Cheryl, Ed, and I grew up together and I think we all have different ideas as to what that means we’re entitled to. I thought it meant that it was okay to marry Cheryl, Cheryl thought it meant that it was okay to divorce me, and Ed thought it meant that it was time to leave town.

But, Ed stayed in Nashville, worked at the same job he’s always worked at, lived in the same apartment he’s always lived in. We’re not in a band, really, but we fall into a lot of the same gigs, playing whatever we’re needed for: Latin dance music, small jazz groups, raucous Tejano funk. By the time the dollars trickle down to the musicians themselves, there’s enough for the essentials—food, instrument repairs, cocaine—and that’s it. It’s no way to live. Or die.

Some small label has commissioned us to be part of the backing band on a Beach Boys tribute album. The studio where we’re recording is nice, with beautiful, resonate wood all over the walls and a big open floor, large enough for a small orchestra. They sent the charts to us a couple of weeks beforehand and we’ve done our homework, just like everyone else in the band. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is up first. Cheryl’s standing around a microphone with four other people, ready to sing her part of the harmonies. Ed’s seated behind his drums, eyes forward and ready to go. I’m on tuba and I don’t come in until about twenty seconds into the song.

Even though an instrumental version of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was playing at the drive-thru chapel where Cheryl and I got married that first time, it’s our second marriage I think of when everyone starts playing. The way I stood there in my tux, ill-fitting as it was, and how Cheryl would gently sink her nails into the soft pink of my hand every time I’d fidget or try to readjust my jacket. The lights were dim, and I remember thinking how much brighter it was the first time, every bulb in the light-up Preacher Elvis looking about to burst. When twenty seconds have passed and I’ve counted all my rests, I inhale and begin to play. The horn fits onto the end of my lips like death. Ed’s eyes remain forward.



The Fall is the name of whoever is currently playing music with Mark E. Smith. They have a thousand albums out and, one time, they made John Peel faint.

Thomas Cooper
lives in New Orleans, so I hope he's into all the sweet sludge metal bands down there. He also writes awesome short fiction. Check out some links to some of his writing here (including the awesome "Scapegoat," which is how I found out about him). Cooper is also a musician and fan of William Gay, so you kind of have to like the guy. Seriously, though, he's one of the strongest voices in all of flash fiction, like if Grace Paley and Amy Hempel were not just dudes, but one dude with a hyper-focus problem, which is to say his stories are clever and wound tightly, with each sentence doing several things at once, transitioning from line to line while composing the guts of the story. Read him.

Next week: A story based on "Brain of J" by Pearl Jam, as suggested by writer Stephen Schwegler.