Face the Music
by Robert Mitchell
Soloing is a way of ignoring ghosts and expressing fulgurous soul through music. In Jake’s case, the excitement of diving into a guitar solo, ramping up as the measures count down, listening to the drum ‘n bass, or launching in from right where the vocal leaves off, is a point of no return. The electric guitar is lightning. Jake loved the risk and adventure of never knowing where to strike. There is that moment before a solo. It has the same feeling as pushing off from shore on a rope-swing over water when, right before you let go to fall in, there is a micro split-second where you’re not moving. That’s when you reach into your guitar self to submerge and surface, making noticeable waves. When you’re done, it’s like waking from a dream.
Looking for love, but first a job and a place to live, there were already too many times in Jake’s life when he was out of money and living in an unstable situation.
“If I don’t make it by the time I’m thirty, that’s it!”
For years, he needed to tell his story with a guitar and lyrics. Something had to change. Trying so hard for so long with varying degrees of diminishing success was incentive enough to reevaluate everything. He loved the craft and took pride in creating good music but maybe this was just a thing for himself, like scratching an itch.
In a small apartment with a lot of sunlight, Jake built a bed and a table from discarded wood he found on the street. In Chinatown, finding fabric for curtains and to cover funky faux-wood paneled walls, he bartered for cheaper prices. For music, he plugged his old Sony Walkman into a small Marshall guitar amplifier. It didn’t sound great but it was home, on the fifth floor overlooking the animated blocks of Beacon Hill. Without money to fling around, dating was a tough consideration, plus, he was in a raw state from travels abroad and a rough return. He felt like an outcast in a rustic but Beautiful Prison.
Beautiful prison, the idea has been with me for one year nearly,
to do my time and collect my pay, to be free to leave,
free to say what I say about a beautiful prison
such an eerie thing
a shadow in the black midnight rising
as I stand outside an unlocked gate
feel the wind rise, feel the heaven and hate break.
All of the sudden things had changed.
Day became night and it was always raining.
All my dreams could be seen on screens. Imagination was a public station.
As my eye rose my heart froze
I began to know what I always knew about every prison, every fear
how to take away pain, make it disappear and break.
In survival mode, Jake had steady work and shelter from the storm but he needed something. After months of determined focus in Europe, back now again at the restaurant where he used to work, Jake arrived early in order to be on top of his game. As Chef began to review the day’s menu, a young woman walked in, dazzling the door she came through. The lighting subtly changed throughout the entire world. She was young but strong and going somewhere in life. You could see that. Jake asked if he could get her some coffee and how did she like it? They made contact and from there he deliberately stayed cool for the rest of the shift, smiling calmly when they passed each other on their busy rounds to and from the kitchen. He found multiple reasons to suddenly be in the area where she was working. They chatted and finally, towards the end of the afternoon, Jake managed to speak actual, direct words. Stacking some glasses for her, he asked,
“So, how is your life?”
Surprised by the question, her answer came with a small sigh,
“Oh, it’s good but lacking in passion and romance.”
“Well you should have some,” was Jake’s instant reply, followed with, “Would you like to go out for dinner or a movie or something?”
Somehow it was a Yes and they started seeing each other. Quietly graceful, heads turned when she passed. She was of a higher species of human than Jake had known. A deep thinker, it was hard to know what was on her mind but Jake was mesmerized by her unfamiliar beauty and super intelligence. Brenda was alive and vital and Jake was hungry to feel their physical chemistry but it took a long time. In fact, it took SO long. But it was wonderful and new to go out for nice meals and to see movies together. Brenda especially liked foreign films and she was elegant with just a touch of make-up and always a surprise from her hidden stash of jewelry. She knew how to be stylish but her heart and body seemed preoccupied.
With Brenda, Jake was becoming someone with people in his life. Shopping together, going to parties and galleries, she took him in like a stray dog and freed him from an isolated world. At twenty-nine years old, Jake Martin found an intelligent woman with a heart and soul who was willing to be with him. He had hope with her, hope and a feeling of family.
We stood together – for a while
We stood together – in many more ways than one way.
Well, you can wash away things that never happened
and you can wish away anything in your imagination.
When you’re tearing paper, throwing things away,
when there’s been too much thinking,
driving yourself crazy.
We stood together – for a while
We stood together – in many more ways than one way.
Mistaken identity once again surprising
Noticing so simple, profile in the night-line
Watching me all winter, seeing me in spring
feeling the heat under, wanting it all we stand.
We stood together.
They shared a sparse apartment in Somerville with her two cats. Home was bright and clean with the energy of a genius but mysterious woman. It was fairly familial and Jake was not alone even though he often felt alone. He still had the black and blue haunt of his past preventing him from opening all the way to full bloom. But there was happiness and newness as they nurtured their earthly love.
Brenda drove them to a beach in her pewter, Honda Civic. She found a spot along an ocean side road, pulled over and changed into her swim suit. Some kind of superior, biological urge was summoning her. For Jake, the Atlantic was too cold that day but she was determined to swim and have the intense experience of submerging into cold, powerful waves. He stood ready to save her but she needed no rescue. Concentrating, she made her way beyond mossy rocks. She wanted him to watch her. Maybe they would fall in love. He watched her and safeguarded a book she had given him, An Exploration of Rings, by Ted McGillicuddy. She knew Jake would especially appreciate it.
Brenda stood tall, taller than her actual size and water refused to leave her body. Jake understood the water and wanted to touch her living, pulsating frame but the sun was upon her first. He would have to wait his turn. Her long black hair framed her head and sleek neck. The one-piece, light-green swim suit must have been made for her and her alone. Jake wondered how she could stand so mightily against the crashing waves. Her safety among the slippery rocks was his first concern but she was fearless. Nature stood toe-to-toe with her in sheer untouchable beauty. Like a seed in moist soil, blooming its way into the energy from the sun, life with her was exactly what he needed.
Their family expanded when Brenda found a photo with a hand-written sign about a dog needing a home. Jake insisted that they could not afford a dog nor did they have time to take proper care of an animal. But she convinced him to at least meet the dog. Against his will, they went. Greeted by an elderly woman, she explained that she loved the young mutt but she was too weak to take the dog outside, too poor to feed her, and too tired to train her. She had the dog in another room because she wanted to be sure Brenda and Jake were ok and not some crazy dog killers. When the happy puppy was finally allowed into the room, she ran in at full speed and jumped directly into Jake’s lap.
“We’ll take her!” Jake said.
They named her Boo because, as a puppy, she chewed up most of the things in their apartment and would disappear when found out. She was a smart dog and would reappear once Brenda and Jake seemed worried enough. Sharing their home, the two cats pretended to be annoyed but they slept curled up with Boo.
Music was at a high water mark for Jake when his band got signed to Boom Time Records. Promoting their second CD, they had a budget for gas, hotels, and a van for as many gigs as they could book. It felt like anything was possible when the walkie-talkie sized cellular phone rang. Jake was driving the band home after a packed and wild gig at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA. Someone answered the giant phone. From the driver’s seat, Jake could hear enthusiastic voices discussing the crowd, the sound mix, how many CDs were sold, and it seemed like business as usual until the vibe changed. No longer jovial from the rush of playing an energized set, the band puzzled over the news that Boom Time was folding. Silent Jake listened to simultaneous voices sounding like a chicken farm at 70 mph.
“What are we gonna do? … find another label … we need to keep promoting the CD … we need more gigs … we should get a manager … Jake, what do you think?”
He had been listening, thinking, and he let them know that for him, life would be changing. In a few months, Brenda and he would be having a baby. Immediately after the shock of no longer having the support of their record label, the group shared genuine, congratulatory joy. One foot was on the gas pedal and the other was about to go shopping for baby things.
Arriving home, it had just rained after a heavy snow. The rain froze into rolling waves of ice which were so strong, they could easily hold Brenda’s weight. Outside with their dog, thinking quickly, Brenda ran back upstairs for her ice-skates. Easily able to skate all over the park, she flew over the rolling small hills and valleys of ice while Jake was too heavy. He simply sank into crunchy snow. Brenda glided above the earth and it was beautiful. Boo slipped and scrambled trying to run after her but there was no hope in catching Brenda. It was a happy moment.
Dog and man stood and watched as something changed in the atmosphere. Light from moving cars and vapor from thawing ice melded together in rings of shimmering nocturnal color. Brenda picked up so much speed it became hard to distinguish details as she blurred and seemed to gain loft. How could she be above ground? Rising into the night sky, Jake and dog could not believe what transpired, right before their eyes. Brenda was up, up and away. Actually gone.
No one believed this story, none of it. People assumed she ran away and that Jake made it all up. Boo became Jake’s closest confidant and friend. Knowing that he had upcoming out of state bookings, Jake asked Boo if she could sing? Tail wagging, she sat down and let free the most beautiful, soulful howl. Boo could do more than Jake knew.
Bio: Robert Mitchell is a working, published musician, film editor and songwriter, living in NYC. Due to the pandemic, Mitchell has redirected his story telling focus towards the adventurousness of short form fiction. Robert's stories have very recently been published in: Rejected Manuscripts, The Literary Yard, The Reflex Press, The Galway Review, Impspired Magazine, and Libretto Magazine.