Copyright is held by the author.
AS LADY Ephemera rolled along in Stevie Wonder’s Highest Ground, Casey’s heart was not in it. She loved the vocal stylings of Margo, Montana, and Mandy — the pretty girls of the band — and the sweet groove produced by the husband and wife team of Gary (on keyboards) and Sarah (on drums and background vocals), but Casey could not throw herself 100 per cent into the song. Her Washburn acoustic afforded her maybe a 30 per cent effort, and her vocal harmonies perhaps a 10. The crowd in the beat up bar loved them. But she could not love them back. She could not love anyone here. She was all out of love.
The usual plots and villains were there in her loveless story. Her husband left her for other adventures and women (though that was almost 11 years ago, just after the birth of her sweet, sweet boy, Connor). Her boss at Sunshine Café treated her with such unbridled disdain she began to feel she was incapable of attracting love. The death of her beloved border collie, Joni (Casey had to put her down when the aged animal could no longer walk a straight line or control her bowels) left a vacancy in her heart that craved love, both the giving and receiving kind. And the opportunity of meeting a man she might want to date or start a relationship with was something akin to a miracle. And, there was Connor.
During the part of the song where everyone in Lady Ephemera sang together like a chorus of angels after a toke of fine Columbian, Mandy glanced over at Casey and cast an eye, not of concern, but consternation. Lady Ephemera was Mandy’s baby, and no one, not even one of her closest friends for the past five years was going to under perform to such a degree that the band’s name could be tarnished.
Mandy was a bitch most times, Casey knew. A prima donna other times; a fair-weather friend the remaining time. The rest of the band idolized her, the fans loved her, and her world ran smoothly when all of these were in proper alignment. Mandy and Casey were polar opposites, and what held them together was a superficial appreciation of the music they made.
Casey ignored the look. She glanced down at her fingers making a chord on the Washburn’s neck, and effected a facial expression of someone fully ensconced in the magic of the musical moment. She knew she did not pull it off. Mandy will have a word or two with/for her after this set.
If any of their songs did not require Casey’s full attention, she allowed a moment of daydreaming. Essentially she questioned how she got here — musically — and how she was going to escape — emotionally. She wasn’t like the other Ladies, with a boyfriend or a husband; she wasn’t as pretty or ebullient as them. They exuded joy when they performed. Casey looked like she could not wait for the set to end so she could rush over to the bar and order a Blue with a tequila chaser. Mechanically she played, while in her mind she revisited happier times in her life (falling in love with Connor’s father, seeing her son take his first steps), soon followed by the more unpleasant times. No matter how hard she tried she could not avoid the replaying of when Connor’s father abandoned his newly formed family, or when she got so drunk at a gig she fell flat on her back on stage, damaging Sarah’s vintage Ludwig drum kit. She could never stop returning to that empty, aching feeling when, after a gig, the rest of Lady Ephemera left for home with their loved ones and she, Casey, left with her Washburn in her rusty Toyota for her apartment that still smelled of her departed dog and last night’s Kraft Dinner. And there was that situation with Connor she had repressed, buried so deep in her conscious she had difficulty remembering what it was. When her thoughts drew close to the clarification something snapped, she let go of the memory and darkness took its place.
On most gig nights, Connor would be sleeping over at a friend’s. Casey usually went home to drink a bottle or two of wine or she would catch the encore songs of some band playing at another bar downtown. She would run into acquaintances — musicians like herself — with whom she would share some laughs, drinks, and stories of gigs featuring “fuck ups” from the band and “fuck ups” in the crowd who demanded to get up on stage to sing, play, or stomp around like stomping out a fire. Tonight was a bar night.
The bar was crowded. The band, cruising on the adrenaline of making music, rocked a Tragically Hip song. She watched the bass player for a moment. To glean any playing tips. When she found none she sidestepped bodies that rocked to the music. Casey found an empty spot near the end of the bar. She ordered a Blue with a tequila chaser, and then another, leaned forward, placed her face in her hands, and cried.
A giggling, drunken woman whose boyfriend attempted to suck on her face while tickling her, slammed into Casey. The couple was unaware of what they had done. Casey just looked up, tears dragging mascara down her cheeks. She thought about saying something, to make them aware of their clumsiness, but knew they wouldn’t give a shit and a fat, viscous sadness would fill her. She understood the woman did not mind being tickled or having her face sucked on by her ridiculous boyfriend — it was all part of an absurd game, their behaviour. Casey knew the game; she’s played it, witnessed it, far too many times.
She created a scenario in her mind about them. The girl’s name was Taylor, his, Josh. Taylor and Josh were “players” in the realm of superficial relationships: they slept around, their longest relationships lasting three months. They took care of their looks more than their minds; they needed the validation of friends for their existence. But they were well liked, respected, and no one thought their lives had any weaknesses or anomalies; Taylor and Josh lived the lives everyone aspired to. Except for Casey. If she could get away with it she would chainsaw their sorry lives into little, bloody pieces.
Casey scooted her chair away from the couple. And that was when she saw it. Or thought she saw something, a dark movement out of the corner of her eye. She snapped her head over, but saw nothing or no one that close, just the other patrons at their tables or standing at the edge of the dance floor.
“Christ, again,” she muttered into her beer.
“Why don’t you believe me, mom? I’m not lying.”
“I’m not saying you’re lying, Connor. It’s just hard for me to believe, that’s all. I mean, floating, purple orbs of light in your room?”
“It’s true! I see ’em all the time!”
“Don’t shout, Connor. I’m right here.”
“But I’m not lying! I’m not!”
“Oh Connor . . .”
“No one believes me.”
“Connor . . .”
Casey had moved to the darkest corner of the bar. Drink cupped in hands she remembered this conversation with her son. This was an isolated memory that surfaced for no good reason. Her mind replayed it; she never fought to suppress it. For days he’d been telling her he had seen balls of purple light floating around in his room. They would come out of the wall, drift to the ceiling, then swoop down in his direction. The first time he did not run away. The other times he ran downstairs yelling for his mother. Casey had no words of explanation or comfort. She was as empathetic as she could be and, like a mother, redirected the subject of conversation to something more cheerful.
Sitting in the bar she realized this redirection, and others she perpetrated, was for her benefit. It was a way of avoiding unpleasantness. A way of pretending everything was all right, life sailed smoothly, and there was no room for fear to lay down its roots. Even after the cold reality of her husband’s abandonment she went through the pretence that life wasn’t as bad as it appeared on the surface. It was a repulsive habit that left her breathless, suffocated.
She realized, too, there was a rhythm to all this: happiness replaced by sadness, light by darkness. The rhythm had been in place for quite some time. If she thought about it Casey would see it began when she married Connor’s father. Was that truly when all her troubles began? That was another life and a lifetime ago.
Her cell phone rang on. The thin sound of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid seeped out of her purse. It was Mandy. Late for her to call, Casey thought. But, whatever.
“Casey, hi. Mandy. How are you?”
“Good. What’s up?”
“Well I really want to know how you are. You seemed off at the show tonight. Feeling all right?”
It’s a gig, not a show, Casey wanted to say. And: None of yer’ fucking business how I feel. “I’m okay. Tired, I guess.”
“I wanted to let you know we have two really important shows coming up, and I want to make sure you are . . .”
“I don’t know. Are you all in? Like, 100 percent?”
Casey needed to smash Mandy’s face with something hard, something that would do serious damage.
“You there, Casey. Hello?”
“Yeah. I’m here. Yeah. Uhh, yeah, I’m good for the gigs. Whadd’ya’ think? I’m goddamn good.”
“Are you drunk, Casey? Are you drinking?”
“Uhh, yeah, I’m in a bar, so, yeah. I am drinking.”
Casey closed her eyes in preparation for Mandy’s usual pious tirade about the evils of excessive drinking, especially Casey’s excessive drinking. Mandy rides in on a high horse every time, exuding the tone of holier-than-thou, better-than-thou, and my shit-doth-not-stinketh.
“I just want . . . You need to . . . Can you call me tomorrow, Casey, please? We can talk. Maybe we can have lunch. Sound good?”
“Yeah, sure, sure Mandy. That sounds great. Lunch. Tomorrow.” Their lunches together in the past involved a bottle or two of wine. Casey knew tomorrow’s lunch would be as dry as the Mojave.
She hadn’t realized she hung up without saying goodbye.
“Hello darlin’. You alone?”
It wasn’t the eventual giving in to that desire that bothered her. Or the evening-long parade of games before that — a smile, a shrug, a languid look across the barroom over the rim of her glass, the small tilting of her neck to allow a kiss that floated on the air of bourbon — no, the games did not bother her, they were prerequisite, and necessary to move things along. No. What upset her was that she could not remember if she’d slept with this man before.
She laughed, brashly, at that phrase. There was no sleeping involved, just a quick fuck in his car. What the hell, Casey? What are you doing?
He’d wanted to go to her place, and for a moment she thought that might be the best idea because she lived nearby. But bringing a man (stranger or not) into her private world with all its emptiness, quiet, and unrelenting memories was not a good idea.
And no, even the frosty farewell without the exchange of phone numbers was not upsetting. It was forgetting the stupid things she did, the poor decisions and wrong turns that ignited fire in her blood. Because if she did not remember those events — good or bad — of her past, then how could she move forward?
She walked home from the bar. She could feel it. She did not have to see it. The shadow, following her, hovering just behind her as though ready to descend upon her shoulders.
She fumbled with the keys for the outside door. She was drunk, and sore, most likely from the escapade in the car. She did not need to turn around; there was the shadow, again, behind her.
She slumped down to her knees and collapsed in an uncomfortable sitting position. She’ll have to wait it out, again. Another lifetime. Her life was a multitude of little lives lived.
Many, many, little lives: her First Communion; having her first wisdom tooth pulled; sneaking a cigarette and her daddy’s beer behind the garage; allowing Frank Enzicone’s meaty hands to maul her breasts and grope inside her Levis; feeling gentle, random kisses on her bared shoulders and neck; listening to proclamations of love that were surprisingly free of betrayal and avarice; nine hours of agonizing labour for Connor; a blackout that erased a day’s memory after a bottle of Jose Cuervo; and, the day Connor died.
She lived and relived that day. The guilt she felt because if she would have listened to him, went with him to that pond behind the old dump, he would still be alive. But he talked about a talking fish, a catfish. Connor was always full of stories — wild, imagined, or so she thought. A talking catfish?
Casey did not believe him. She did not go. Police told her he’d slipped, fell in the brackish water and hit his head on an old brass bed post. That pond had a sinister reputation for concealing all kinds of dangerous objects: stoves, fridges, broken glass, pieces of rebar, carcasses of automobiles.
And now the shadow had come to her again, for her to relive that terrible little life. Crumpled on the ground, bathed in the pool of white light above the door, she waited, sobbed. Tomorrow will come. Perhaps the shadow will come again, or not. Everyday she waited.
She will wait, to relive, one more time, to move forward, in her life.