by David W. Landrum
Joey will come to see your flowers
Joey will come to while away your hours
But she will tell you you're not so good for her
She wouldn't be there if it could be that you were.
----“Joey” by Nick Drake
Jolene Redford went by the nickname Joey. I had to explain that to my mother when I mentioned one afternoon I was going dancing with Joey. Mom is suspicious of musicians; and since I stopped going to church she is certain I am on the road to perdition, at least as she understands it. When I brought Joey over for her to meet, I don’t think she felt a lot of comfort that my date was, indeed, a young woman. Not that Joey is off-putting. In fact, she is very tame compared to a lot of other girls I’ve dated in the past year. She does not spike her hair, let it go nappy, dye it, or buzz it short. Only her ears are pierced. She dresses conventionally, her tattoos are minimal, and she is polite and soft-spoken. But my mother sensed the thing about her I found difficult to take at times: that Jolene Redford is very much her own person and does not give a tinker’s damn whether you approve of her or of what she does.
I met her at a coffee bar.
Coffee bars make for uneven crowds. They fill up, twenty or thirty people talking, listening to you play, giving tips; then they empty out and it’s just you and the baristas. The door opened and a young woman in a heavy coat and knit hat came in. I strummed, wondering what song I would do. She was nice-looking: tall with long brown hair, a round face, big eyes. She ordered a latte, sat down, and began to read. As she waited for her drink I played (for some reason) the theme to “The Thornbirds.” When I finished she applauded.
“Thanks,” I said.
“I like that song,” she replied. Sitting at the other end of the long, deep room she had to raise her voice. “I’ve got Pink Guitar CD and love it.”
Pink Guitar was a collection of Henry Mancini songs done by various artists. It was one of my favorites as well.
“I’ll play what I know from that CD.”
People started to come in again. The place filled up. She looked at me and applauded when I did the nice slow version of “The Sweetheart Tree.” She came up, threw two dollars in my guitar case with a smile, and left.
A month later I was at a local bar. I had run into a married couple—Garth and Kendra—and they invited me for a drink. Our waitress looked vaguely familiar but I could not place her. Kendra introduced us.
“This is my friend, Joey Redford.”
I said hi and we both studied each other.
“Where do I know you from?” she asked.
I remembered. “Four Friends. Pink Guitar.”
She smiled, showing a line of straight, white teeth. We talked. Kendra taught yoga and Joey was one of her students. Joey had on a black miniskirt, fishnet hose, and black jacket over a red chemise. She had braided her hair on one side and wound a red thread through the braid.
“That’s a real head-turner of an outfit,” Kendra commented.
Joey glanced down. “I always dress like a whore when I work here,” she said. “I get better tips that way.” We laughed and she turned to me. “Are you playing anytime soon, Zach?”
Providentially, I was playing at Dillenbeck’s on Friday and, providentially, she had that day off.
“I’ll come and see you,” she said.
Joey got off at nine. Kendra invited her to have a drink with us.
“Zachary’s a third wheel here, so you can balance things out.”
“Glad to,” she said.
At nine o’clock she cashed out and joined us at the table. I bought a round because I wanted to impress her and I had played a lot of gigs lately and had some extra money. We stayed until the place closed. I thought we hit it off well. She talked to me about the music she liked and her jobs. She worked part-time as a waitress at the bar and full-time as a legal secretary for a local law partnership.
“When do you have time for anything other than work?” I asked.
“I don’t, so that’s why I try to enjoy myself when I do have time off.”
We kept our heads close together and talked for more than an hour. She got mellow-drunk, started touching my hand and shoulder, and I resisted the temptation to put my hand on her knee. We laughed, joked with Garth and Kendra and derided our city, Grand Rapids (a favorite sport with locals). By closing time I was smitten and wanted a date with Joey. Too soon to ask, I thought, but if she came to see me play at Dillenbeck’s I would ask her out; if she didn’t come I would get her number from Kendra and call her.
Only one thing caused me dismay that night. An older man, who introduced himself as Len, came into the bar. I would guess he was in his early sixties, tall, with striking grey hair, handsome, and dressed in a classy suit and tie. Joey responded to him in a manner that suggested he was more than an acquaintance, went over to the bar with him and in talked to him in a manner that seemed, from my vantage point, intimate and familiar.
“How does she know him?” I asked Garth. “Is he her boss?”
“He’s a friend. They’ve known each other a lot of years.”
I would guess Joey’s age at twenty-five or so. If they had known each other “a lot of years,” the connection had to be something familial, I thought. But the intensity of their talk and their relaxed intimacy made me think otherwise.
He left, Joey returned, and we went outside. The streets were blanketed with snow, the air clear and frosty, temperatures low. I told Joey I would walk her to her car, helped her brush it off and, as I hoped, shared a kiss with her before she drove off into the night.
She showed up at Dillenbeck’s. She came up and greeted me with a smile and another friendly kiss and found a table near the front. I played Celtic music. Joey’s presence made me perform well. She listened, humming and tapping her foot. We went out for a drink afterward and in the months that followed became an item. Dating blossomed into a more regular relationship. My other girlfriends dropped off. I stayed at Joey’s place, she at mine, we met for lunch at least two times a week and spent weekends together.
Or I should say we spent most weekends together. Sometimes Joey said she could not see me on weekends and became evasive when I asked her why not. I decided to see if Kendra had any idea where she went those times when she put me off.
“You sure you want to know?” she asked.
“She’s probably with Len—the guy you saw at Bar Davani.”
“That old dude? What does she do with him?”
Kendra gave me a smile.
“I imagine she does with him the same thing she does with you.”
For the rest of the weekend I drank, sulked, and could barely sleep. I avoided going out because I thought I might get in a fight if anyone joked to me about Joey or even mentioned her name. When I played gigs I was grim and did my darker, pessimistic numbers.
When she came back I met her at the Kava House for coffee. I asked straight out if she had been with Len.
“I was up at his cabin in Charlevoix,” she answered. “We go there for a weekend together every now and then.”
I did not reply. She noticed my anger and sighed.
“Zachary,” she said, leaning in close, “I like you a lot. But what I do with my time and what I do on my time are really my business. If you don’t like that, we can stop seeing each other. Let’s get together here in a week and you can tell me what you’ve decided.”
And with that she got up and walked out.
Now my anger turned into stunned bewilderment. I tried to call her. She did not answer but sent me a voice-mail saying we would see each other in a week; until then we would maintain separation. If I called her again, she said, we could forget everything.
When I arrived at Kava House on the appointed day it was snowing big flakes. The day had been long and gloomy and the roads were closing up. I ordered a latte. A band set up: three girls who looked junior high age. Their adoring parents helped them with equipment. Their guitars and sound system were expensive and their performance absolutely hideous.
An hour passed. Huge flakes of snow came silently through the winter dark. I wondered if she had got stuck and decided not to come. But if that was so why had she not called? I could not call her—though maybe in these circumstances her edict against it would not apply; I did not want to risk it. Had she decided to write me off? The three girls sang out of tune as their parents looked on with beaming faces. I went to the john. When I walked back to my table she was there. She smiled up at me.
“Hi, Zach. Sorry I’m late. Something came up. Sorry I made you wait.”
“Why didn’t you call?”
“I didn’t want to talk to you about something else before we talked about this. Are you going to sit down?”
I had been standing all this time. She wriggled out of her coat and took off her snow-covered cap. I got her a chai as she listened to the girl-band. When I sat down with her drink and a new one for me she rolled her eyes at the music they were making.
“Definitely not The Donnas,” I whispered.
“Not even the Barlow Girls,” she whispered back.
Joey watched a moment then turned to me.
“Okay,” she said. “Where are we?”
“I’m not sure. I guess that’s for you to say.”
“It’s not for me to say if we’re going to keep seeing each other. I like you, Zach. But you have to accept me as I am and accept what I do.”
I decided I had to bring up the source of our quarrel. I leaned a little closer to her.
“I wonder about Len. You said you wanted to talk about it so we might as well talk about the real issue.”
“Okay. What do you want to know?”
She looked at me, her expression even.
“The obvious. Who is he? How do you know him?”
“He’s a friend. He used to work for my daddy. I’ve known him since I was a little girl. We’ve been in serious relationship for the last two years.”
She hesitated and then spoke. “I think you know what a serious relationship is. And to answer the question we’re dodging, yes I do sleep with him.”
Silence fell—a silence as deep as the snow falling outside.
“Okay, we’re being frank. He’s a little older than you—in fact, he’s a lot older than you. And we are in what I thought was a serious relationship, or at least one that is intimate and a little more than casual. So I don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand?”
“How you can have two men in your life and expect them to tolerate each other. I like you a lot, Joey.”
“Then you shouldn’t be concerned about what else I do.”
“Usually if you like someone you don’t want to share them with someone else. Wouldn’t you be upset if you found out I had a girlfriend on the side?”
She looked straight at me and then looked down.
“I’ll admit I would, yes.”
I spread my hands. The little girl band played on.
“I see your point.” And then she pulled her chair over. She took my hands and put her face close to mine. I was startled, both by the suddenness of her action and by her arresting beauty. Her blues eyes met mine.
“I don’t want to lose you, Zach. But I have to do the thing with Lenny.”
“I can’t tell you. Not now. You’ll have just to accept that.”
As I looked into her eyes, I knew I could not walk away from what Joey and I had begun. I resolved to find out what lay behind this whole mess.
“Okay. I accept.” I smiled. “I’m still in if you’re still in.”
But I meant to find out what she did not want to tell me.
Two weeks later I was with Kendra at Gaia, a vegetarian restaurant on Diamond Street. Kendra had just finished teaching a yoga class.
“Who is this guy?” I asked her.
“He knew her Dad. They were in business together.”
“Insurance. Len became the CEO of the company.”
“Does her dad still work for him?”
“Her father died about two years ago.”
“When did she start dating him? And why?”
“When—about three years back. As for why—Zach, I don’t know. Joey is an odd girl in a lot of ways. She’s always been independent, always her own person, always a little edgy, and yet she loves her family and was close to her father.”
I sat there and gloomily ate my Cuban Eggs. It was rude to be morose around a guest, but what Kendra had just said did not put me in a chatty mood
I went to the library and dug around in the newspaper archives. I did not find out much. Joey’s father had worked at an insurance firm; Len Fairfax joined it and eventually rose to the position of CEO. I could see no hint of scandal or wrongdoing on his part. Joey’s father died of heart failure. I read in his obituary that he was survived by his wife and “his belovéd daughter, Jolene Amanda Redford.” It also mentioned that she attended Calvin College. Joey had not said she went to college.
And I could not figure out Joey’s affection for Len.
I had piled up a lot of gigs and did not have a chance to see her much. My chagrin at sharing her with Len increased daily. This would not work, I told myself. I began rehearsing the speech I planned to give when I dumped her. Joey was beautiful, smart, I liked her, she loved the things I loved—but, damn it, I could not bear the thought that she split her affection between Len and me. Every time we made love I thought about her and him. Her relationship with him was a blot on our relationship. This was something I could no longer endure.
One night, in the middle of a gig at The One Trick Pony, she and Len walked in together.
I almost lost my place in the song but managed to keep singing. The waitress led them to a table only about ten feet from the stage platform. My blood boiled. This had to be the supreme insult. I had told Joey I had a gig at the Pony and invited her along. She said she was busy but congratulated me on getting to play there (the place is one of the top folk venues in town). We would go there together some other time, she said.
Now she was here with him.
I stole glances at them, and at Len. He was a good-looking man. Tall, dignified, his hair not steel grey but the kind of white-grey that is attractive on older men. He still moved with considerable energy. Once glance at the clothes he wore told me he must be successful. I shuddered as I thought about him.
And there was Joey. She had on a beige sweater and an earth-tone short skirt that showed off a lot of her marvelous legs; boots, her hair lying in long, shiny strands over her shoulders. I thought of us in bed, thought of her love, and then felt flashes of hatred and anger course through me when I imagined her doing the same thing with Len. As I sat on stage I decided I needed to stop playing the fool, the eunuch, the petty-boy. We were finished. I would tell her tonight if I got to a chance to talk to her in private. No need to make a scene, but this went beyond the limits of what I could endure. And I felt like an idiot for enduring it so very long.
Time for my break rolled around but I decided before I went off stage I would sing one for Joey. I had done mostly blues, a few pop songs. The perfect number emerged from memory. I leaned into the mic.
“Before I take a break, I’m going to do an oldie. Anyone remember The Buckinghams?”
A smattering of applause came from the older people in the audience. I smiled.
“My Dad had an album by them and played it over and over again. And when I was learning guitar, I figured out the chords to all their songs. So enjoy this one—especially dedicated to a friend of mine who’s here tonight.”
I had not played the song in years but it came back to my mind with clarity. I remembered the lyrics and my fingers found the chords as if I had only just now rehearsed it. The Buckinghams did it fast; I made it slow, bluesy, and soulful. I hoped this would have more of an effect on Joey that way. I hoped it would cut into her heart if her heart could be cut at all. As I sang the lyrics I kept glancing at her, trying to catch her eye. Once or twice I succeeded.
If you don't love me
Why don't you tell me?
Instead of running around
With all the other guys in town
Can't you see you're hurting me?
Don't you care?
Don't you care?
The crowd loved it, applauded enthusiastically, and showered me with tips when I got up. Two guys offered to buy me drinks, one saying the song reminded him of a girl who dumped him in high school, whom he eventually got back together with and married.
Someone tapped me on the back. It was Len. He smiled as I turned to him. “Great song,” he said and handed me a ten.
I was nonplussed for a moment then tried to smile. “Thanks.”
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked.
“Well, I’ve queued up three. I might be too drunk to perform if I have it, but what the hell?”
“I’ve got to go now, but”—he summoned the bartender and told him to put my drink on his tab. Then he walked away.
I did not know how much Len knew about me and Joey and whether his tip and friendly manner were meant to be insulting. I finished my drinks and, a little wobbly, headed for the stage to start the second half of tonight’s performance.
I heard Joey call my name.
I turned. She sat alone at the table. I could not see Len anywhere in the room. I walked over to her.
“Can we talk?” she asked.
“Where did he go?”
“He had to leave.”
I slid into the chair where he had been sitting. “Yes, we can talk. And I’ll start off. We’re finished, Joey. What’s the idea of coming here with him? You knew I was playing tonight. Don’t say you didn’t know.”
“Damn right, you knew. Is this your idea of a joke? Don’t answer. I don’t think I want to know. All of this is too weird and too perverted for me, Joey. We need to go our separate ways.”
“I thought you’d say that.”
“Yeah, you’re pretty damned perceptive, aren’t you?”
“I’m only going to ask one thing, Zachary.”
It always sounded patronizing when she used my full name—kind of like a school marm talking down to an unruly student.
“Say it, hurry up, I need to get back on stage.”
“I have one request. If I call you, will you come and see me? I’ll only call you when I’m ready to explain.”
And she looked at me. Her face was etched with something between pain and desperation; but she also looked hard and determined.
“There’s nothing to explain.”
“There is. And it isn’t what you think. Will you promise me that?”
I shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
Then I got up and went back on stage.
Joey stayed. Her forlorn look did not soften the anger I felt. Inspired again, I launched into another old song, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” I hoped the words sliced her like razor wire. I went on to my blues repertory. I did not notice when she left but she slipped out sometime between “Glad and Sorry Blues” and “Before You Refuse Me.” I was glad she left without trying to talk to me again.
The usual aftermath of a bad break-up followed. I drank, sulked, and hid out. I landed enough performances that I was actually doing well financially. Spring came then summer. I did not hear from Joey. One afternoon in October I was with Garth and Kendra. She mentioned she had seen Joey.
“How is she?”
“She’s Joey. Enigmatic as always. I guess she’s going on a cruise with Len.”
“I hope she has fun pushing him around the deck in his wheelchair,” I said. My bitterness showed me I had not really gotten over her. But I would forget her. I owed it to myself. I would get her out of my heart.
A few days later I picked up the newspaper. I don’t usually read the business section, but a picture caught my eye as I breezed past it. I saw a photograph of Len beside a long story about how his company had changed hands in a hostile take-over. I read with fascination. Someone had been working his stockholders and managed to win enough of them over to get fifty-one per cent of the company stock. The first act of the new owner was to fire Len. The writer speculated, that had he been present he might have fought the take-over; but he was away on a cruise to the Bahamas.
When I got back to my place a phone message awaited me. From Joey. Reminding me of the promise I had made, she asked me to come over. She would be waiting until I did but I needed to come soon.
Joey lived with her mother in a nice suburban house. I knocked. Her mother, who looked solemn, let me in without a word and escorted me to the den.
Joey was there. She had on brightly-colored paisley minidress and a floppy hat and looked like a girl from the 1960s. When I walked in she did not speak to me but punched her cell phone. After a moment I heard her speak. She spoke calmly, but the emotion that she put into these quiet, even words came across so strongly I could feel it physically:
“Len,” she said. “I heard about what happened. I heard you lost your company.” She paused. “And I’m glad. I’m so happy I could dance. Now you know how my Daddy felt when you took over the business he’d spent years building. You let him work for you but he never recovered and he died and you killed him. I want you to know I never loved you. Everything I did was in the hope you would get so distracted with me that you’d get careless about the company you stole from my Daddy, and you did. And this is the last you’ll ever hear from me.”
She clicked off the phone, threw it across the room, and began to sob.
I went to her and put my arms around her. I understood now. As a legal secretary she had seen the inquiries for transfer of his company’s stock options. She knew about the take-over and got him out of the country, on a cruise, insisting he did not take his cell-phone or lap-tap along, deliberately isolating him while his enemies in the business world made their move.
In the last few months my career has taken off dramatically. I have lots of gigs and am working on a CD for release in the spring. My other task in life is bringing healing to Joey, who put herself through a peculiar kind of hell in order to get revenge—or maybe I should say in order to see justice done. This winter we are getting a lot of snow, more than last winter when Joey and I met. Underneath the covering of ice she allowed to grow and encase her body—the protective covering that baffled me and so many others—I can see the vulnerable girl who loved me enough to risk a relationship that might undermine all she had endured to see wrong made right. What I see, and what I touch and love now, is more beautiful than I even imagined it could be.
Joey and I have begun the journey circumstance postponed for her. I can see now she had wanted to take me along from the beginning.
Bio: David Landrum teaches Literature at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. He has written fiction, academic scholarship, and poetry. He edits the on-line journal, Lucid Rhythms, www.lucidrhythms.com.