The Dog Days of Summer and a Short Story from 1988. . .
With the summer heat, a certainly laziness that effects one at this point in the summer, and also the recent recovery of a lot of my old “treasures”, I decided to share something I wrote along time ago! 1988. It is a piece of fiction – a short story. It does take place in the summer, and does still talk about bands and all. So why not? I am pondering taking it and using it for a new project, but why not milk it for all its worth.
I welcome any and all feedback!
Robert Schaffer 1/19/88
“How come I can’t write anymore? How come I can’t sing anymore. You know it was so damn easy to sing of pain, desperation. To sing a cry of help.” Her tone seemed out of place in the quiet elegance of the small restaurant the two of them now sat in. It would have been more appropriate in a crowded corner bar but then the questions raised there would have been this months rent the wages being paid.
Sarah looked at her old friend Ann. Looking for an answer. What she saw was Ann playing with a small candle in front of her. Perhaps Ann was ignoring her. Perhaps thinking over the question. Finally she looked up, her eyes meeting Sarah*s.”Well those cries for help certainly sold and still do.”
“Ann. I don’t care about that. Well I do, but that’s not what I’m talking about. No. The problem is; here I am-happy, Sarah Stevens. I want to share it. That was the theme of my last album. A complete metamorphosis.”
“It was a bomb. It did not sell. To be honest I didn’t like it.” Ann’s finger still played with the tip of the flame as she spoke. She realized it was actually quite dark in here. As she knocked the flame around the whole room shifted, put out that flame and it would be black.
Sarah took advantage of the moment, enjoying a long sip from her vodka and tonic. She let out a sigh folding her arms on the table.”I know it didn’t sell. Nobody liked that album, even me. But my contract said a record was due and Mike said it would do. I should of told him to buzz off. I didn’t. I would have a few years ago.” She stopped, taking another long sip of her drink. “I put more time into that material and it just did not work. The more I worked on it the muddier it got. I guess happiness for me cannot be translated into music.”
“Well why don’t you go back to the bluesy style you started with? . . Or you can go back to Thomas and he can inspire you.” Ann finished with a little grin of sarcasm.
“No. I’ll have none of that. Every time I try to write in my old style, my old persona, I don’t like it. I’ve always had to write them the way I feel. . . Did I just say that?” She smiled.
Ann straightened up in her seat. Delicately taking a sip from her drink before giving her response.”All I can say is keep trying, but I think something is missing. There is something you are not seeing that is not allowing you to perform. You had it two albums ago but now it is gone. If it is not Tom, then it is something you discarded with him.”
“The only thing I discarded with Thomas that I do miss is the sex. That is it.” She saw Ann about to speak. She cut her off. She anticipated her question.”Yes. That is it. Since we weren’t married he was not entitled to half of anything. Thank God we weren’t in California.”
She paused as the waiter arrived at their table.”Are you ladies ready to order?”
Sarah looked at Ann, shrugging her shoulders.”I want another round and then we shall order. How about yourself?”
“Yes another round and then we shall order.” Ann agreed.
“So two more vodka and tonics for the ladies.”
“That’s right.” The man turned and walked away. “Most people function better when their personal problems are cleared up. Not me. I solved them and now I can’t function. The thing that got me through them is as useless as the relationship I discarded. I refuse to believe that the beauty of my music relies on the ugliness of my personal life.”
Ann looked at her for a moment. A puzzle she thought.”You are simply going to have to look at how and when you wrote your best stuff. What pushed you on? Why’ you wrote?”
“I don’t want to look back. All I want is to be able to write and sing again. You know even my live stuff isn’t as good.” She paused, reflecting on what she had just said.”I guess that is to be expected, considering my opinion of the material I have to work with.”
“No. You are going to have to look back. That is the only way you’ll find what you lost. Otherwise I think you might as well walk away.”
Ann paused for a moment, looking at Sarah. It was Sarah who now played with the candle, watching it flicker. Ann took a sip from her drink. It was close to empty. She asked herself where the waiter was with their drinks. She looked over at Sarah again and quietly asked,”You keep saying you’re happy. Are you really?”
It was Sarah who now ignored the question. The waiter arrived with their drinks. They browsed over the menu once more and ordered. The conversation moved on and the meal was served. At the end of it they walked to their cars, saying goodbye and promising to do it again.
Sarah got in her car and rolled down the window. It was hot. She rolled down her window, never using her air. After starting the car she searched for a station on the dial. Pulling out onto Walnut Street, she took in a breath, car fumes. She smiled. It was a night like this that she enjoyed that smell. Her thoughts went back to a small drag strip that she and Tom use to go to. She remembered how they both would reserve a couple of Saturdays every summer just for that. Both of them drove. They never won. It was just a break.
It had reached into the nineties for the first time today. It was dark now but the heat still lingered. It was late but a corner Deli was still open. Out in front a couple of dudes hung out. Kitting a red light she saw groups people sitting on their steps. Their apartments too hot. This was how one knew the seasons – by the sounds of grinding air conditioners pushing stale air and crowded steps and fire-escapes outside run down apartment buildings.
Driving along Sarah knew she did not want to go home. Turning off Walnut,she continued her trek. She soon hit the intersection with Chestnut Street and remembered the Chestnut Cabaret. It was always open, always had a band and was always crowded. Sarah wanted a crowd, something to melt into. It was small and cozy. She had played there a few times before getting her contract with CBS. The place generally had good acts. George Thorogood had started there. The Hooters played there enough. Tommy Comwell, she was certain had played there. She wondered who was there tonight. She didn’t care. It was simply better than going home.
Approaching the Cabaret she wondered why she could not go home. Thoughts of what Ann had said ran through her mind as she tried to make out the Marquee. Ann was perhaps right but Sarah was not about to concede it. Pulling into one of the small lots on a side street. Sarah parked her Vette and locked it. The Cabaret was now right across the way.
Sarah walked in and paid the cover. It wasn’t till opening the door to the barroom that the grind of music and the clouds of cigarette smoke pulled her in. Gliding through the crowd, Sarah searched for a seat. Preferably one at the bar with a good view of the stage. They were all taken. It was too late. Shrugging her shoulders she now pushed her way to the bar anyway. Another vodka and tonic to sip. Memories of the past came back to her, vodka and tonics with shots of Sambuka on the side.
Sipping her drink she looked over at the band. They looked good. Some bands just looked like they belonged on stage. This was one of them. A five piece banging out originals. They were tight. The sound was clean. The mix might have been better but that was a matter of opinion.
As the song rolled to an end, the keyboardist got up and took the center stage, grabbing hold of a wireless mike. He surveyed the crowd before stepping into it. The stage was only inches above the dance floor. “Hello! “He roared into the mike.” How we doin this Thursday night?!”He put his hand up to his ear, a sarcastic look of concern masking his face. He wandered through the crowd, heading towards the bar. The spotlight following him all the while. He was not far from Sarah.
She turned to take him in. His hair was tightly curled down to his shoulders. In the back was a long braided rat tail which bounced from behind when he walked. His outfit belonged to that of country gentleman of nineteenth century England, The black woolen jacket, the rolled lapels down the front of his white shirt. A black string tie intertwining with the cotton of the shirt. A constant smile upon his face. His eyes wide in the darkness, acknowledged her stare.
She smiled back as he looked at her. She was in her soft leather boots laced upto the knee. She wore a simple brown broadcloth dress with a chain of buckles around her waist. A thin gold necklace around her neck. Her hair was long and black. Her face was thin and tanned.
The keyboardist turned frontman turned to the band as they launched the next song. He stood amid the crowd. It was a choppy rhythm with the bass and drums setting the stage. As he began to sing his arms flailed. He was on the edge of hysterics. He took those around him by storm. They stepped back. Some in concern, others smiling. His voice was pure rasp. Each phrase was thrown against the throbbing bass and drums. The guitar and keyboards only rarely made their presence known. It was this vocalist that stood out. A madman with a smile. The band was reduced to a backdrop for him.
They finished that song and moved on. The guitarist had a bit more to do in the next one. Still it was the vocalist who stood out. His manic behavior. His ability to vary his tone. He was able to go from the dark tones of opera to the purest white rasp of rock. His range covered at two plus octaves, a good first tenor. The whole band grabbed you both musically and -. :”.”. visually. He was at the center of it.
She was impressed. Her leg pulsing to the beat. She watched them on stage, sometimes practically on tiptoe. She watched as the vocalist fooled around with the bass player. Both of them sharing the same mike. Both stealing it away from the other. Giving each other bizarre looks as they each waited for their separate parts. It was as much for their own benefit as it was for the audience and it was that sincerity that made it fun. That quality was present both in their stage antics and their music itself. The music was bright, original. The tempo was good for dancing as exhibited by the vocalist. At times their audience would follow his example. Other times they just watched, throwing howls of approval.
As the band finished their set, she learned their name was Vertigo. As the band dispersed she saw the vocalist head towards the bar. She cut him off, blocking his passage.”Hello. I must tell you I liked your set very much. You are very good.”
“And I must say I liked yours also.” He said to her.
“What do you mean?”
“You are Sarah Stevens. I saw you here once. That was a good show and thank you. I’m glad you liked it. Your opinion means a bit more than most.”
“Thank you. I’m impressed that you remember that. That was four or five years ago. She looked at him and then asked,”You wouldn’t care to join me for a shot of Sambuka, would you?”
“Sure. You will never see me turn down a drink.”
So she got the two shots and handed him his.”To your band – Vertigo.”
“And to you and your projects.”He replied. Both drank it down.”Thanks for the shot. Are you sticking around or leaving soon?”
“I don’t know. I think I will stick around.”
“Well if you do stay maybe I can buy you a drink.”
“Yes. I would like that. After the show then?” “Sounds good. Be right here. See you then. I have to run. Talk to my soundman about a monitor.”
As he left, Sarah realized that she had never gotten his name. She would get it. She stood there after he left, scanning the room. At the end of every survey, she would find her eyes focused on the soundboard and the two figures in front of it, She could just barely see his rat tail sticking out from behind. There he stood, discussing some last minute details with the man. She had done it too. Sarah enjoyed driving her crew crazy with such nuisances. They came to expect it from her.
The band started again. He played his keyboards for the first two songs and then was replaced as he moved to the center. Once again as he moved away from the keyboards he stole the show. She stood there watching him and then thought of her own last efforts to steal the show. All the hours she had applied. There was no effort in his performance. He was just as emotionally naked as she had desired to be. The smile he had, Sarah wanted. She had had it once. Sarah felt sorry for him. She felt sorry for herself. She thought he may have it now, he may have an audience now but not for long. Sarah wasn’t thinking of an audience in her case. Her thoughts were of Thomas, miles away from Vertigo.
She could see the Vietnamese girl that was with Thomas. Sarah remembered walking into that diner and seeing Thomas and that woman. The diner was nothing fancy. A bright neon sign outside with the ‘D’ missing. Her band mates once seated were amusing themselves with the jukebox at table. She could not see Thomas from the table. Her bandmates had missed the couple. Thomas, she was sure had seen her. Sarah realized as she nibbled on her food that her seat was torn and the vinyl was jabbing her in the back every time she moved. She decided to live with it and continue to eat.
Even now as she watched Vertigo on stage she could still visualize that woman’s face. She was small, silk black hair down past her shoulders. A soft inviting smile and large blue grey eyes roofed under jet black eyebrows. She was pretty. Thomas did not come home that night. When Sarah got home herself the house was cold. She had to turn up the heat. Her and Thomas were trying to conserve-save on the heating bill. Usually he was home already and it was warm. Often he had already put the kettle on for tea. Tonight it was dark and the kettle had to be filled. Their pet Airedale, Charlemagne was still in the cellar. She would have to clean up after that stupid dog. Charlemagne jumped up on her, happy to see someone. For Sarah, though, he was little consolation.
Thomas did not make an appearance till lunchtime the next day. Sarah was working on some lyrics. There were crumpled up papers all around her on the floor. A few were in front of her with doodles on the edges. Vertigo was still up on stage, but Thomas and herself in that kitchen dominated her thoughts.”A long night I guess? Hmmm? Who was she? She was pretty.”
He went to the cabinet beside the sink and pulled a glass out. Waiting for the water to cool he turned to her.”I thought we were done with this issue a couple of months ago? You told me in the end that you would not mind me involved with someone else once in a while.
“I wish you would stop.”
“Stop what? All it is, is I meet somebody on occasion. Have a good time with her. Thank you, and goodnight. It doesn’t detract or at least it shouldn’t detract from what we got.”
“It does detract. It leaves me here alone. I missed you last night.”
“I am sorry but you got to remember you didn’t have to stay here. You could of done something. Don’t blame me for your being lonely last night “
She felt defeated by his last remark. She let it go. Maybe he’s right, maybe it is me. The hell it was. She realized she had been sucking on ice cubes for sometime. The music clattered on now but Sarah paid little attention to it. Finally the bartender came over and got her another vodka and tonic. Sarah moved back to where she was standing although it really did not matter. She was still in her thoughts, memories of that night with Thomas after the argument. They stayed home. She wondered what it was like for that Vietnamese woman as Thomas crawled into bed next to her, his beard rubbing, against her shoulder. She felt the warmth of his body. As he snuggled next to her. She wondered did it really make any difference for Thomas who was next to him. She remembered how the hair on his legs, his chest use to tickle her.
Two weeks after the diner Thomas disappeared for the night, No note was left, No call was made. Nothing. Sarah watched television that night and got drunk. By the eleven o’clock news she was telling herself that it made Thomas no difference who he slept with. In the morning though all was forgiven.
A few months later he did not come home. She figured she would not see him until tomorrow. He made it through the door at eleven that night. Sarah was at her piano, She was spending alot of her time at her piano. The band was continually surprised by some of her writing. Sarah heard him and continued to play. He was looking at her now. Entering the room he put his arms around her. She turned and looked at him. She had to force a smile at first as he began to play with her hair. Nothing was said, She was startled. It was quiet. She liked his hands on her, in her hair. He bent down to her. His face now level with her’s.”Come on, Sarah. Let’s go to bed.”
He said it so easily. There could not be anything between them. For the moment she left all behind. They kissed. He slowly pulled her up off the bench into his arms. Again it was quiet. That kiss, his smile, those words, his arms around her blanketed all else. She gave in.
Sarah again looked up at the stage at the vocalist. The set was winding down. One or two more songs and he would be back for his drink. How was he in bed she wondered. Tonight. She smiled. She wanted that warmth. She wondered how much hair he had. It seemed they had exchanged a few glances during the set but she also knew that was pretty damn hard to do on stage with all the lighting above and the huge crowd to sort through. She could see him.
Sipping her drink her thoughts went back to that night with Thomas, Her enchantment for him that night was quickly lost. As she undressed and Thomas did the same, her thoughts ran back to his past, to that girl in the diner and the nights she spent alone. Sarah wondered what happened that night that allowed him to come home early. He got turned down she thought. I should have turned him down. She had not.
She looked up at the vocalist as he sang. His mouth was wide as he reached for a note. He moved so freely upon that stage, There was nothing that could hold him back up there. She gazed at him feeling she would rather slap him then sleep with him tonight. She turned and walked out.