I was at the fusebox in the back. My phone was lit up with a Philips in the other hand. I heard Saul talking with someone female. I stopped and shifted around so my knee was pointing towards where he stood near the lip of the stage.
It wasn’t two yet and there was still some light coming in through the windows on either side of the theatre. The cork zig-zagged below the stage and didn’t look quite as grimy as usual. I was the only one looking at it.
‘…so you’re a singer?’
‘Yeah, yes I am. I heard about the gig – and the demo – from a friend. Who’s promoting it?’
‘Promoting it? We all are, I guess. Adi’s the main guy though. He’s the one who had the idea…’
She was gazing up as Saul filled her in on the different heads involved in putting on the gig. I couldn’t tell if she was listening to him or the echoes of a syllable here or there hitting, returning, from the arches.
Earnest, plucky face. Where’d that word come from? Her hands were copper-ish under the straps that came from her arms and rode out from the instrument case sticking out above her. The thumbs poked out as if she was hitching for a ride in some directions.
‘Hey, I’m Adi. You’re a singer?’ I looked at Saul when my name came out and then back to her. A small amount of freckles, short nose, a purple tint to her blonde hair… yes, she looked an intelligent one. A decent one.
‘Hi, I’m Jess. Yeah, I guess I am,’ she looked straight at me, ‘I mean I do a few things. Beatboxing, slamming, but singing’s main part of it all. Have done some gigs recently…’
My phone light was still on, throwing a mini-beam out, as she moved her eyes away from it.
‘…did the Partridge last week with the Fishers’ – I nodded – ‘and I sang a few songs with Slum Hitchens at Wokey, Wokey.’
I tried to not grimace, to keep my mouth upwards.
‘I could…?’ and she gestured behind her.
‘Play something now?’ I shifted. ‘Don’t want to be rude… how old are you?’
‘Cool, cool.’ I pocketed the screwdriver, phone. ‘I just need to head off to this meeting. If you can hang on…’ and walked to the side, down the steps down.
Seeing the graphics guy wasn’t for another hour but I had to pay for parking and Tre wanted me to look for a coffee machine. Plus I preferred to hear someone when I was ready, when my mind wasn’t full up and elsewhere. This Jess only wanted a bit of my time now but one song could turn into two, and one might be long enough, was usually more than enough.
My arm rested on the stage – was I out of breath? Her feet were in fairly battered ballet pumps with a bit of sludge on the front of the sole. That peach still had a bit of a colour, making a change from the usual Doc black, hemp brown, Vans white. She looked to have her toes curled down inside them – nervous? – but I might have been over-thinking. From the giant cover looming over her small locks down towards a pair of sparrer legs, she was in danger of shrinking or being crippled by the weight above.
‘I can bob back later if that was possible? I was saying to – ‘Saul’, he smiled – ‘Saul, that the gig sounds great and I’d love to be a part of it. I’ve got quite a few followers on-line and I’d be happy to get the word out there. It’s about time someone showed we’re not all ignorant gammons round here. I mean…’ – and she seemed to lean back a little so there was her and the Crass logo staring back at me – ‘…we don’t all have to be little Englanders, do we?’
I put together a smile to show we had a mutual dislike of self-righteous pink fools. She was alert – probably way more than most – but more was needed than that, and she might not be much cop.
I said I’d be back at 5 and could hear her then. As I found my jacket, she remained talking with Saul who was dangling his legs in front of her and rooting in his pockets. From the sound of my steps, it seemed like I was hurrying away so I slowed a little, reaching for my keys, moving all the bits of paper on me to my back pocket, making sure that lump of solid was still zipped up. Old habits, eternal teenagers.
As I pulled the door open and past me, hearing slow-moving engines outside, I glanced back. Jess was laughing with Saul. She’d taken her case off and was resting it against her front. He was rolling for her; she looked to be acting out summat, amusing him and coming to life. Especially as the light had spotted her. It was a private gig. They were enjoying themselves and I felt I should go.
The fridge shop was closed but I couldn’t tell why. There was no sign in the window and not even a glimpse of the cat coiled unevenly on his hoover bed. I turned back towards the road and walked across the pavement to my car. There was no sign of a jobsworth but I put a couple of quid in the meter after picking up a pen from the car. Hauling myself up the road, remembering to straighten up so my belly wasn’t quite on show, I checked for messages and deleted spam, squinting a little with the light.
Desy was an old school mate who was doing well with his graphics company. His uncle had given him space at the back of his printers near the canal. We got mate-rate design work; the printing jobs pleased his dad and Desy kept himself busy before it was pub time
pub, barmaid… the N2prize app had a red and white ‘1’ on it which helped with his thumb stabbing. Lucy had replied to last night’s message:
lol ta. Nice to get proper compliments.
You look nice to. Wot you wana know?
What knowledge of Lucy was I seeking? Whether I could write ‘I LIKE COCK’ on the inside of her thighs was at my finger-tips but this wasn’t sleazing in dark lone hours with a committee of two. This was the polite beginning, the reach and then the conversation around us both:
do you have any hobbies
do you think it’s a bit too warm
at the moment
I work part-time as a cleaner and a look
after grand-son for my daughter, he’s
lovely but I’m glad to close the
door sometimes and have the place back to me.
It took a while and a ramble through
I think you’re a bit too young for me
I look younger but I’ve actually had
quite a few older partners in fact
my last three girlfriends were in their
wow, well its not the number
its the person who counts
couldn’t agree more
before the talk confirmed what I’d originally wondered.
hi Lucy, ta for the reply.
I’m Adi, 42, live in Dulwich
not far from you? You having a good
day? I’m doing jobs now – chat later?
Fingered down, I stowed the phone away, steering around a flattened yogurt pot and its floored contents. I went up sandy steps to Desy’s office, hearing break-beat and a ragga vocal when the air-con hit me.
Inside was a cross between an exhibition covering the last ten years of flyers and posters for city gigs and club nights and an early stage of a twenty-year scheme to turn an office into a toilet. After catching up on small talk and general BS, I lost track of time trying to will a Mac mouse to move where I wanted it to go but not knowing which drop-down folder I wanted.
Desy sat patiently in front of me with his partial murmurs easing my temper down. The A5 flyer and A2 poster were getting there. All the key info was on there – sponsors, double-u, double us, bus numbers. He was still waiting on the final line-up from me so was keeping himself busy with small adjustments. Different fonts and placements; text here and a JPEG there – or then the two reversed. I couldn’t and wouldn’t complain. What he, what we had at that moment, looked purposeful and proper.
People were so caught up in what they barely knew were first world problems. Where to find that brand of flavoured gin or could the new Alexa find your latest baile-folk mix on the new cockmamey app for your finagled dog whistle phone … it was all un-important shite.
That said, I knew I was a bit of a piss-up organiser. Put on plenty of gigs in the past: different but all worthy causes. Saving black whales that are changing sex, what my dad would no doubt say, the cynical bastard. The fact I could always get my round in when we deigned to meet was just enough to stop a proper slagging.
Yes, I would cover my running costs, but my reasoning was it enabled me to go on to do more of these. Bands got a leg-up, the theatre still showed it had a bit of life left in it and it kept my foot in the door, as Tre put it. Time to check in.
‘Hiya love, you alright?’
‘Yeah… …ah, that’s good. What? Th- no, I’ve just bobbed on there, they weren’t open.’
‘… yeah, I know. C’mere, I can try tomorrow, yeah?’
‘Ok, I’ll let you go. Yeah, I’m at Desy’s right now, and then I’ll need to get back to check on what Saul’s done.’
‘Yeah, I know. Yeah, I’ll be back about seven I think… but I’ll text you, ok? Ok, eh?’
‘Ok, love ya.’
I could even put myself on the bill if I so wanted, or still wanted, but that need seemed to have vanished. The decks were rarely used and Tre was starting to make it clear that perhaps they needed to move upstairs. Maybe what she meant was to sell ’em? If they went, the records would be next and if that happened…? Breathe! Maybe it should, though? It was no way to live – slaving after a seven-inch from lower New Orleans that hadn’t had a wash and bake from sunny Katrina. If I was properly conscious, I would be berating myself for cheating on my loved woman, wouldn’t I? I wasn’t though, wasn’t thinking of her cool arms around my neck, wasn’t thinking enough if Lucy and her fluoro bra straps were in my head.
Des was still talking about the reggae set he’d heard last night – ‘man they mash it‘ – and I knew his attention had wandered. We nudged fists and I started walking, going at a faster pace than before, as I remembered I had to see, to listen, to… to Jess. Hopefully Saul had finished with rigging the lights and making the theatre look nearly ready. He might have even hidden the fucking cargo netting so I couldn’t rip it again.
He was involved to make sure his band Nous would have a decent slot. I hadn’t thought anyone would like them, their shtick as he called it, when I first heard that file of ’em. But it made more sense, a lot of sense at night in the dark, the plastic pints crunched under feet and a weird vibe in the air. Revival preachers meeting with an Altamont undercurrent for the shanking, wanking generation.
Nous had amateur deliberations of Kylie‘s head shopped onto male and female porn actors in between bridge jumps and sab footage of battery farms. Saul manned his cabled machines at the back of the stage; the two brothers upfront and dressed up, pirouetting and duetting and dualling as a two-for one: Suicide meets the Birdie Song. Check the liability insurance and the bio-hazard gear had arrived, I noted.
A taunt that throbbed, Saul once called it, and I still smiled when thinking of it. I already knew that PoulterGuiste would headline as they had to. They’d schlepped through enough support slots for me and not complained; now they had a twelve out it was only right. Plus the four of them meant at least one if not two dealers would come. Drugs + loud music – head-wreckers = good times & an update of a Spaceman 3 T-shirt. There were enough people I’d shook hands with to fill the day and the night, but I could squeeze Jess in if need be, if she was good. Squeeze in Jess.
I’d walked past the venue so stopped and turned. Weak afternoon sun still came. Leafy branches hanging near the Post Office entrance looked darker now, a patchy roof over a mum pulling on her son’s free hand and shunting the pram forward, whining at the dawdler as she gripped the white rail. I was looming at her arse seemingly – it was time to head back to reality, one-twos and weedy rollies, not this one right now. Fuck you Bright House, fuck – not right now mister booze shop and your alkie-cheeked front.
Saul had left a note for me on top of the desk, using the back of a rent reminder. ‘HOPE DES HAS DONE/IS DOING A GOOD JOB. HAVE SORTED OUT THE SPOTS BUT STILL NEED TO CHECK THE ROBOS TOMORROW… HAVING PINTS AT ALFS 6-ISH IF U FANCY? X’.
He’d put a shite drawing of a spliff leant against a pint glass. I loosened the bobble at the back, re-gathering it to knot up whilst I had the silence of the room. It was nice to have the whole theatre to myself, not least as I didn’t want to look a vain fool fucking around with thinning hair. I crumpled up Saul’s handiwork –
‘Are you not going to recycle it?’ said a faint voice. A second went and then I twigged who it might be. Jess was there at the side of the theatre where there were still seats screwed to the floor. We’d a habit of dumping sticky leads and dinged kit there, hinged plastic glass snaking frozen see-through plastic. The lot of it didn’t normally register, but Jess was waiting, a sideways smile on her face with cupped palms.
‘Oh, hey. Yeah, we need to sort out the recycling round here’. I threw the balled note to her, which she caught before looking at the pile around her. ‘There might be a bag with other bits in it but you can just dump it there. Tre’ll do it later when she comes in tomorrow.’
She’d already dropped it and had moved out of the aisle into the space in the middle of the floor for the mixing desk. It was a bit darker now than when I’d seen her earlier, but I could see a red thread pattern on her calico jacket. Her eyes caught mine when she unbuttoned her jacket and she saw I now looked inside it.
‘She’s my partner.’
‘As in till death…?’
‘Yeah, that… and with putting the gigs on. She – pretties the whole thing up in a way. If it wasn’t for her, we’d have a load of long hairs and fuck all attention from anyone else.’
She’d taken a guitar out of that case and placed it in a stand on the floor.
‘You all set up then?’
‘Yeah. You free now?’ she asked.
Rather than answer, I moved inside the barriers surrounding the mixing desk and pulled out a flip chair, leaning it back to nudge the edge of the stage and putting my phone on silent. Jess strapped on the guitar. Its body hid most of hers before she turned.
She was picking and tuning. She was treading down pedals. I made a quick note on to-dos – and a note came on another and my first thought was Shuggy, his B side track where he took off different blues guys, but then those notes didn’t vanish ‘stead they hung in the air, buttons prodded on a piece of black kit with one wave form shooming then another: purple, red, purple, red, purple, yellow, purple, red,,,,
Here is the church
what she’d played was banked-looped-soaring – tinny but-it all accumulating in the air, pealing-curving around, and then she put the guitar on its side, across the arm rests of those chairs, her finger were patting not patting, gently thumping a beat in over four bars to air too
and here is the steeple
and then she opened a smile and moved it, pursing, with hooped oval woos coming out, throaty ‘dums’, followed by a placed pedal and she was ready with words not words cleaning out the air but the notes she hit came to chest heart head I heard ‘us’? Us, US, lovely us
open the doors
wasn’t the language or any such meaning – it was sudden rapid Cs from a tougher than leathery lissome lounging loller, a who grunted, had me hooked, lined and sunk the whole lot kept going, and it was as beautiful-I’d get married to this, die to it, and, and, and And at some point it had ended And I had gone, I swear, left earth, reached Jupiter and my phone was left with zshta#zxt##'0amohrlereetwa
and here are all the people.