3 – Where to Begin
Sherry made him drunk with love.
On stage Slater was a commanding figure. He was twenty-one. He didn’t know a C chord from an F, his majors from his minors. But he could write lyrics and took a crash-course into knowing how to hold a microphone and, simultaneously, a tune. And, to enhance a mood, he could scream on key. Important tools, he determined, for a shock-rock singer. Women went wild for his brand of passion. He sang about dying, exploring the mind, and getting laid. Of the latter he was frequently successful.
His foster-adopted parents had come to surprise him one night at The Crossroads where his band, the Dyslexic Dogs, were playing. But they turned to exit before the band had completed a single song. He’d been crooning in his growl a daring composition entitled “No Way In Hell.” Heather was furiously yanking Roy out the doorway when Slater happened to open his eyes.
He dedicated the next song to his dead parents – his real ones, who had died before he was born. At a key point in the song he missed the edge and fell off the stage.
Fans adored his angst.
When he first saw Sherry coming toward him he was stoned, a glass of whiskey in hand, cigarette in mouth, and had expected the usual blithering praise. And maybe later, if lucky, her naked body in his hotel bed. Her body had a radiant glow.
“Hello, Love,” he said with a grin. She was gorgeous, golden locks framing her face, and obviously college material, as was her friend, another beauty with cascading raven hair, both standing side by side. He began to see double. Envisioning them both in bed.
“Seriously, the second coming?” said the brunette with a laugh.
The blond was more direct. “What a waste of talent.”
“Sorry, what?” said Slater.
“We knew each other, once.” Neither extended their hand nor wanted an autograph. “Sherry. I came over to say hi. You used to be shy. More accessible. Anyway, good luck. You’ll need it.”
“We’re about to record, Darling,” said Wolfe.
“Electra wants us bad,” said Slater. “Hey, we are together.”
“My mistake,” said the brunette, exchanging a teasing glance with her friend. “We wish you both the very best.”
The blond and brunette turned and walked away.
“Hey, wait!” Slater quickly rose from his slouch. The ascent made his head ache and spin. “Who the hell were they?”
“Fuck ‘em,” said Wolfe.
“I…intend to,” said Slater. “What’d she say her name was?”
“Who?” said Smitts, the drummer.
“Jesus,” said Slater.
“The Savior? I don’t think so,” said Wolfe dryly, inhaling from his cigarette. The girl beside him broke into a whinny of laughter. Smitts snorted a laugh too and drum-rolled with his nimble fingers on the edge of the table.
Slater felt strange, out-of-bounds, clairvoyant. A sweet metallic scent flooded his nostrils. A prelude to the splinter of light and blare of pain in which he pictured this woman. The two of them were in a forest. Slater was placing a ring on her finger. A young girl was then beside them. Her eyes wet with tears and clearly frightened, hugging a stuffed animal. An orange taxi hovered above the ground. Its door was open, waiting to take this woman and child away. They were in danger, Slater realized.
“I’m supposed to marry her,” he said aloud.
“The fuck—what?” said Wolfe.
“I need to save her,” Slater added.
Smitts laughed. “Save her? Marry who?”
Their lead guitarist, Gloria, joined them with a drink and a new boyfriend. “This is Ricky. What? Give it up.”
“Marriage,” said Smitts. “Slater’s about to take the plunge.”
Gloria wagged a finger. “Stop falling off the stage. Ain’t no way to prove your love. Who’s the heartbreaker? She have a name?”
“A fucking mystery.” Wolfe blew out smoke.
“Sherry. That was it,” said Slater.
“Maybe it’s what she was drinking, mate,” said Smitts.
“Why,” asked Wolfe, “if you don’t mind me asking, do you feel you’ve gotta marry someone you don’t even fucking know?”
Gloria was intrigued. “A paternity thing? Did you place a bun in her little oven?”
“Denial, ha!,” she laughed. “Not the best line of defense.”
“I haven’t even touched her yet, okay?”
“Okay.” She winked. “Good luck. You’ll need it.”
“What?” Slater received a disturbing aftershock of images. He rubbed his eyes. He was seeing two children now. Both girls. Then a gunshot of intense light. The youngest one hemorrhaging blood from her chest. In shock, she was reaching for Slater to save her too. Slater drowned his throat with whiskey. “It was a premonition, or whatever. I don’t even know what the fuck I’m saying.”
“Jeeez, so marry her!” laughed Wolfe. “Satyr, my twisted friend, what you gotta do, what we need, is for you to get your head in a zone so we can produce more radical tunes. Savvy?”
“A premonition? I like that,” said Gloria.
“Meant for each other, you mean?” said Smitts.
“A destiny thing,” said Gloria. “Like Anthony and Cleopatra, Bonnie and Clyde. Samson and—Delilah.”
“Or your basic lust,” said Wolfe. “Listen, man, Electra wants to make us rich. Focus on that destiny.”
Slater combed fingers through his unruly hair. “I am focused. But what if she’s right?”
“Who, Electra?” said Wolfe. “She was one screwed up Greek girl. But Electra, the company, they’re offering us a ticket out of this rat hole.”
“I think he meant his new love interest,” said Smitts.
“Sherry, yum-yumm,” teased Gloria. “Satyr wants a taste.”
Slater downed the last of his whiskey. “What’s wrong with that, Glory, huh? Wanting to soar high – wanting to taste it all?”
“Okay by me, mate,” said Smitts.
Slater leaned back and gripped the table as he philosophized drunkenly, “Life’s extemporaneous. Good for a time. Consume it fast – before it spoils.”
“We’re time bombs,” Wolfe added, “is what we are.”
“Yeah,” said Slater, “the underlying theme of our existence. It’s like Jim Morrison said, ‘No one here gets out alive.’ On arrival, we’re as good as dead. And we know it.”
“The downside of having consciousness,” said Wolfe.
“But, hey,” Slater laughed. “Our band…it’s gonna soar.”
Wolfe shoved a cocktail napkin and pen toward Slater. “Good, here, when you sober up, write down some new lyrics.”
Slater began scribbling. Gloria laughed, knuckled his shoulder. His doodle amounted to a woman’s curving torso with two dotted circles and a scribbled triangle below. “The essence of poetry. The holy trinity of pleasure. Who the fock needs words?”
“You’re a regular Picasso,” said Smitts.
“I’ll try building a melody around it. Shit,” said Wolfe. “Get serious, Slater. You’re gonna blow this for us, aren’t you?”
“I won’t, I won’t.” Slater grinned and signaled the bartender for another whiskey. “But why—I mean—why would she say that?”
“Who?” said Wolfe.
“She said our music was a waste,” said Slater.
“Not our music,” said Smitts. “She was targeting you.”
“Because she wants your baby,” teased Gloria.
“Fuck the critics,” said Wolfe. “Stay focused and we will soar to the top of this fucking heap. Right?”
“Right,” said Slater.
“You are wasted,” Wolfe lit another cigarette. “Stay aloft, my friend. Don’t crash and burn. Savvy?”
Slater massaged his eyeballs. He saw lights from a barrage of paparazzi. “Right. We soar…get famous. Then disintegrate. Time passes and Glory…you’re doing casino gigs in Vegas. And Wolfe… you start some…sort of underground movement. A revolution.”
Gloria laughed. “Vegas! Like hell.”
Slater grinned, “Hey, I’m stoned. What do you expect?”
“You’re in love is more like it,” said Smitts. “Do me. What do you see in my future, mate?”
Wolfe grumbled to his girlfriend, “Now he’s a fucking psychic. Do you believe this shit?”
“Smitty, another time,” said Slater. “It’s all bullshit anyway.”
Wolfe was blunt. “You got that right.”
Slater snapped back, “I get tortured. Decapitated. That’s how I die – okay? Does that make you feel any better?”
“Shockingly, it doesn’t.” Wolfe was the unofficial leader of their group and told Slater, “Try saving whatever powers you might still possess for our second set.”
The premonition of Smitty’s fiery death had left Slater in a daze. His senses felt singed, tingling. “What’d you say?”
“Satyr…shit.” Wolfe stabbed out his cigarette. “Living on the edge doesn’t mean you have to fall off the stage every fucking night.” He followed this with a brotherly smile and a smoldering non-verbal threat: So don’t fuck this gig up you God-damned lunatic or I swear I will kill you!
Wolfe’s mouth stayed shut but Slater clearly heard the message. He had hoped he could outgrow this madness. But the auditory and visual seizures proved unrelenting. He sought shelter among this tribe of gypsies. Freaks in this circus world of rock-and-roll were considered the rule, not the exception. But even eccentricity among freaks had its limits. And no degree of logic could explain how he suddenly knew Wolfe, his best friend, would also fall in love with this same woman. Sherry Knowles.
The realization of who she was finally registered. In high school Slater had been smitten by her. She’d been a cheerleader, elected to student council and popular. Whereas Slater had been an outcast, a transfer student who had watched her from afar. Until the night he gained courage to ask her to dance at a school function. When she agreed and they danced, he fell madly in love.
Five years later – with so many women passing like water under his drawbridge – Slater had forgotten her. Almost. He was wasted, he realized. He closed his eyes. He tried to cancel out the barroom clamor and the recorded music. He conjured up her beautiful image. The vision of an angel. But an angel, he intuited, who also brought danger. And whose presence he now felt.
Slater flinched as fingers, soft as a feather, brushed his cheek. He opened his eyes and saw an empty table. His band mates had departed. The bar was filled with people he didn’t recognize. People who seemed transparent. A snare drum was rattling.
Wolfe was approaching. He appeared to be solid and coming back from the dead – and not very happy about it. The room was vibrating with life once again. Wolfe walked up and scowled.
“Are you waiting for a formal invitation? We’re on!”
“I got unstuck in time. You know, like Vonnegut, in—”
“Restick yourself,” said Wolfe. “Can you even stand?”
Slater grinned and stood unsteadily, assisted by the table. To make light of his predicament, he joked, “See? No problem. I’m a man of substance. It’s like…a miracle.”
“Yeah, it’ll be a miracle if you can sing,” muttered Wolfe
Slater pushed off and staggered toward the stage.
He acted as though self-assured, a man who couldn’t care less. But appearances were deceiving. It was a performance. The visions in his head were escalating – and they were spooking him.
But they had no real validity.
He kept telling himself.