by Brandy Isadora
Mane / Maniac / Music
There’s a “Friends don’t let friends cut their hair” bumper sticker on the back of Adam’s amplifier. He is the only one with hair past his shoulders. It’s thick and the color of vanilla maple. During the shows he moves his head in a circle so that he looks like a windmill. You never see his face even when he’s standing still.
Naked / Noise / Notes
Lately the shows have been more packed. The band is gaining momentum. But success doesn’t always make them happy. Musicians are naked warriors, thinly veiled by the notes they play on their instruments.
Behind the venue, as people left to go home, the drummer asked me to hold his hand while the effects of whatever he took faded. His green Mohawk wilted from perspiration. Every time he heard a noise, he jumped or twitched. Even my whistling bothered him.
Onion / Oompah / Opportunity
“It’s like peeling an onion. There are layers,” I explained to Ellison when he asked about my progress documenting their band. “Everyday I get to know you guys a little better, a little closer to the core.”
“But why write about us? We haven’t made it. We may never make it.” He took a long sip from his beer and held the glass to his forehead. Until recently he never drank before the show, but now he has at least two drinks before he goes onstage.
“This is the most interesting phase of a band’s journey. There’s not enough room for every band to have a successful career. You’re all fighting for a piece of that limited space. I don’t think people understand the extent to which you all make sacrifices just to have the opportunity to play.”
Ellison shrugged and nodded. The members from the opening band started their sound check. A slender girl with curly black hair swayed to the rhythm of oompahs coming from her trombone. The sound was low and made me think of soft velvet.
“I think I’m in love,” Ellison said, a little beer dribbling down his chin.
Pages / Phoenix / Piano
Two hundred and eighty-three pages and eighty-eight thousand two hundred and ninety-six words so far for my documentary.
We reached Phoenix today. It is a city that’s culturally comatose. There are few parks and pretty places. Most of the buildings are dilapidated grey concrete cubes. The roads are super wide and there are enormous parking lots everywhere, like tarmac lakes.
At a small and nearly empty bar, I ended my separation with the piano. When I thought no one was looking, I sat down and felt the smooth keys with my fingertips. I played just one song. I couldn’t remember anything else.
Queen / Quirk / Quit
Her name was Mistress Annihilation, the Queen of Metal. She was well known in the metal community. Every week she interviewed a band for her web show. She had never played an instrument in her life, but she knew everything about rock music. She often wore corsets and miniskirts made out of patent black leather and boots that reached her thighs. Her voice was low and raspy. She punctuated every other sentence making the sign of horns with her long manicured fingers and sticking out her tongue. Tonight she introduced the bands for the show.
When the guys smoked outside they talked about her, imitating her quirks. Birdie suddenly started coughing after his second cigarette. “I really need to quit,” he claimed, “just after I finish this pack.”
Real / Road / Rock
Ha ha, Jenny. I figured out your password. I’ll let you guess who this is.
So far so good on this documentary piece. I think you’re pretty metal, for a girl of course. I’m glad you’re with us. You are kind of like our rock, even though you don’t talk much. Why is that? Is that why you write? Because you’re too afraid to say things out loud? Where will you go when you’ve reached the end of the road with us?
Self / Seven / Shadow
In my literary theory class, Dr. C. talked about the representation of the fragmented self in Modern and Postmodern literature. It didn’t mean as much to me then, but I think I can see what he was talking about now. Was it ever possible to live without a fragmented self?
Adam likes to talk about his multiple identities, which he describes as his army of shadows that follow him everywhere. When he was seven, therapists put him on different medications to make him less hyper. But the drugs just made him more rambunctious.
“You could say the shadows are like different voices that live inside my head. Sometimes one voice gets louder and takes control. Like when I’m onstage I’m one person, and when I’m off stage I’m another person. I think everyone is that way to some extent. Maybe they just don’t know it,” Adam said.
Thigh / Trust / Tucson
Last night, Ellison and I sat outside, since we were not in the mood to be inside a bar. The outside of our thighs touched. The air was still hot and dry, and the dust was sticking to the back of our throats, making us thirsty. We stared at the strip mall across the street with its shops closed for the evening.
“Who the hell lives in Tucson?” Ellison asked.
“Apparently, college students and people who don’t want to live in Phoenix,” I answered lazily.
When there was nothing else to say, I looked at his thin, muscular forearms wrapped in thick blue veins. His right thumbnail was completely blue. Was he the one who had discovered my password?
Unscathed / Urge / Used
From the intruder:
Yesterday I had the urge to punch a woman in the face. She was still young, but the matronly dress she wore made her look older. We were both standing in front of the refrigerated section. She picked up two cartons of eggs, and I grabbed a quart of Strawberry Nesquik. No one exchanged words. It was the look on her face that angered me. I’ve seen that look many times. The look of judgment.
I get these looks often. I should be used to it by now, but I’m not.
No one goes unscathed. We’re all broken in some way.
Vanilla / Verona / Vigorous
Everyone practiced regularly, but Adam practiced several hours every day except when it was his turn to drive. His regimen was vigorous: Two hours of scales with a metronome and alternate picking, two hours practicing the band’s material, and another two hours writing new songs.
Nothing got between him and his practices, except his girlfriend, Verona. They hadn’t been together for very long. His cheeks always burned red when she phoned him. “Things are going great. People really like us on the west coast,” I could hear him say to Verona. “Oh, but we’re not moving or anything. I’m just saying they’re much more open here. We’ll be back in a couple weeks. I promise.”
He was snarky when he caught me watching him.
“What?” I exclaimed. “It’s cute. There’s nothing wrong with being cute.”
Wanderlust / Want / Whistle
No one wants to go home. They are consumed by wanderlust and that feeling of playing in front of enthusiastic crowds. After their last show, they sat on the edge of the stage with their rigs stacked and packed in piles. A few people stayed until closing. One of them was an attractive blonde who approached Adam coyly. He smiled shyly, and she sat on his lap, brushing her lacquered lips against his face.
While we packed the trailer for the last time, Adam disappeared. He returned a few hours later, his pale neck bruised and a little bit of that want still flashing in those pale grey eyes.
Xerox / X-rated / X-ray
Nothing about home feels real anymore. On the kitchen table, my mother left a Xerox of her X-ray. A small greyish blur was circled several times with a red felt tip pen.
“It almost looks phallic,” my mother said, carrying a bag loaded with groceries.
“Is it cancer?”
“It’s benign, but the doctor needs to remove it because it’s putting pressure on my right lung. It should be a quick procedure. You can take care of the house while I recover.” Her voice was calm.
I nodded automatically, running my finger over the image. I took a deep breath, but my lungs wouldn’t take in the oxygen. I kept inhaling until my body released a yawn.
Yawn / Yoke / Young
The “quick” procedure lasted ten hours. While she was healing, my mother and I pretended that everything was all right. One day she said that she was worried about me. When I asked her why, she didn’t answer immediately. I gave up after a while and dumped Ovaltine into my glass until the milk turned to mud.
“I just want you to be happy,” she said.
“I am. I’m just a little stuck.”
Zero / Zephyr / Zombie
When you’re not where you’re supposed to be, you turn into a zombie. I function like a well-oiled machine. A healthy looking zero lives inside my mind. Sometimes I pull out the documentary, thumb through the pages and reread certain passages. I’m still not sure what to do with it.
Now and again I feel the urge. The moments are brief and subtle, like a zephyr in the unrelenting, predictable pattern of life. But I wish I knew what these urges really meant.
Copyright © 2019 by Brandy Isadora