Grave Refrain by Sarah M. Glover

Grave Refrain: A Ghost/Love Story
by Sarah M. Glover

Omnific Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-936305-91-9
Print ISBN: 978-1-936305-90-2

When it comes to true love, one lifetime is never enough… Inspired by the sexy noirs and comedies of the past, Grave Refrain transports the reader to a place where the things that go bump in the night not only thrill you, but might just take your breath away for good.

Note: Prologue omitted.
Chapter One

Neil St. John wanted the young man to kill. He had killed the last two nights—brutally according to certain rumors, beautifully according to others. Unfortunately, Neil had not been there to witness it.
The mob pressed him on all sides as he battled his way to the last remaining table near the stage of the dark, subterranean club. The air reeked of pot, of hot, close bodies covered in sweat and anticipation. These were the scents he remembered from his youth, when the buzzing energy of bands drugged and seduced him with their violence and sound. And although this time he had come to London for other reasons, he inevitably found himself drawn back into the clubs, to where his life had begun so many years ago.
At about nine-thirty the opening act, an accordionist trying his best to channel They Might be Giants but without the requisite wit, abandoned the stage to two guitarists and a drummer. They hustled into position to raucous applause, waving briefly at the audience who appeared to know them well. They were clothed in the nameless rugby shirts and torn jeans that were the uniform of every other indie, pseudo-intellectual band Neil had encountered over the last decade, fresh from college, with little representation and even less money. A chosen few he had gone on to manage—to guide them to success, broker their recording deals, oversee the production of their albums, and stand behind them as they collected their fame—but most he had dismissed after hearing their first set.
Neil knew the sound he expected to expect tonight. There was little new under the sun, and all bands these days stole their styles from somewhere or someone else. “They’re X, with some Y, reminiscent of Z,” he had been quoted as saying recently in one of his rare interviews. For him, the variables and the math might change, but the songs remained the same. He had spent the last twenty years of his life searching for it to be otherwise, to find a group that gutted reason, battered his senses, and made him want to want. He sat straight in his chair, readying himself, each time expecting that miracle to happen.
His attention, as well as the rest of the room’s, quickly focused on the lead guitarist, a young man who stood under the lights and stared out at the crowd. He wore the defiant awkwardness that most young rockers strived for, although the boy’s face held something more. An impatience, perhaps? Whatever it was, it only intensified as he adjusted his guitar, checked his pedals, and tossed the ratty red scarf he wore about his neck. Closing his eyes, he whispered bitingly, “One, two—one, two, three, four…”
Sound exploded against the walls. Sound so raw and vibrant and—there were no other words for it—fucking joyous. The crowd screamed while young girls rocketed from their seats below the stage and gripped the edge of the small tables, their flame-colored nails impaling the bar napkins against the wood. Within minutes, those young men owned the universe and all around them gathered there, in from the frozen London streets, a crowd lucky to be alive at that moment, to be in their orbit, to hear their words.
They played two more songs, each one ratcheting up the already eardrum-splitting cheering in the club. By the fourth number, people were on their feet, bodies slamming, arms over their heads. Ecstasy shone on the young man’s face as he saw the crowd going wild. He closed his eyes and let loose a string of profanities so sharp, so wry and vicious, that Neil gripped the table himself.
The song ended in a blistering solo from the drummer, nothing but elbows and angles, his face a younger version of an older John Lennon, complete with round glasses, his coiled arms given license to bash and thrash. Next to him, the bass guitarist swayed on with his head down, all handsome dreadlocks, brown skin, wide open face, and bliss. He nodded to the lead guitarist, sharing the inside joke that lived in each band, the one you’d kill to know.
As the applause died down, the lead guitarist approached the microphone with a tense smile and leaned forward. “Thanks, thanks truly.” In the harsh focus of the lights, sweat shone on the converging angles of his face; a flush of red swept from his temple to his jaw, mirroring the scarf around his neck. His skin, a ruddy golden hue, was only slightly lighter than the disarray of his brown hair. Everything about him seemed alert—manic, even—from his eyes to his shoulders and forearms, down to his fingers that twisted continuously about the neck of his guitar. No part of him could stand still.
He shook the hair from his eyes, and in a fit of apparent frustration, blew the strands away with a loud raspberry followed by a muttered, “Christ.”
Neil’s breath stopped short; a ghost passed through his heart. He remembered the woman who had long ago done the same thing: over books, over a pint of bitter, over him.
“Evening. Thanks for coming out in this god-awful shit, yes? Snow? Ludicrous stuff, makes you want a drink, doesn’t it?” He took a swig of a Guinness and toasted the shouting crowd, waiting until only a few hoots and cat calls remained. “Just finished our first album today. Thought it might be wise since we’ve left university a tad prematurely.”
More shouts erupted as the bassist strummed the classic Pink Floyd riff dissing the need for education, which made the young man laugh. Neil was aware that everyone around him laughed—they had to, the young man had laughed.
“That’s Christian Wood on bass, by the way—for your listening pleasure. And the incomparable Simon Godden on drums.” He offered up another smile, but this one was filled with self-conscious gratitude. “And I’m Andrew Hayes. We are The Lost Boys.”
In Neil’s mind, the memory of the woman smiled. Yes, as if he could ever forget any detail about her. He’d heard she had a son. This boy couldn’t be more than twenty-two, twenty-three at most, old enough to be her first born, perhaps.
Before Neil could orchestrate his thoughts any further, Andrew unplugged his guitar and set it on its stand. “This has been coming to me for a while now. Mostly in my dreams. Hope you like it. Okay, right…yes, right.”
Neil watched Andrew’s band mates watch Andrew. It was an ingrained response he had developed over years of practice. He learned more that way, studying a band’s dynamic, searching for holes in their fabric, uncovering any potential warning signs. In this case, it distracted him from the dangerous path where his thoughts were heading. He saw concern battle curiosity as the boys stared at Andrew while he tightened a tuner and plucked the harmonics on the strings. Especially the drummer, who raised his chin, his eyes fixed on the guitarist’s back.
The beginning chords were haunting, the words oddly poetic in their way, and Neil could understand the band mates’ unease. Andrew had deviated from the set list, and by the looks of things, this was evidently a common occurrence. Not good.
It marked the young man’s first mistake; it was too pretentious a choice for this crowd—a beginner’s muck up, understandable but second-rate. He was too cheeky, too manic, and although his voice was poignant when stripped of everything else, he didn’t have the gravitas to carry off this piece and not appear the sincere young man with his sincere guitar, busking on a street corner. This was the last thing this fired-up horde wanted to hear. Coughs would come next, followed by averted eyes, laughter, and then the cringing descent into heckling and boos. He felt sorry for this Andrew Hayes, but it was a necessary evil; every performer had to learn to read one’s audience and recognize one’s limitations. It also made Neil feel infinitely better. He could return to his accustomed sense of superiority, as the previous minutes had left him badly shaken. No, it was good to know the way the world turned.
Except the world had tilted. For everyone there, every man, every woman, responded to this young man. His music uncoiled, recalling memories of loss and longing and of words uttered too late. But it also offered hope—didn’t swear it—just gave it away. And because of that, eyes teared up, couples grasped hands more tightly, and Neil knew without a shadow of a doubt that a great deal of people were going to get laid that night.
All too quickly the song ended. Then silence.
No one clapped. The young man sat there stoically, his hand muffling the strings as though they would give him the answer he was looking for. Then his painfully familiar face rose from the guitar, and the house came down.
Surprise overtook Andrew Hayes, or it might have been embarrassment. In response, he grabbed his Stratocaster like armor, and the three of them, these Lost Boys, ignited the stage in the same frenzied style as before.
Neil had to meet him.
***
“Well, I’d say that definitely didn’t suck,” Simon announced as he snapped shut the last of the equipment cases and shoved his drum sticks in the back pocket of his jeans.
The club had cleared out; only the bartender and a few waitresses remained. Andrew hadn’t realized he’d been staring at one of them until she tilted her head in invitation. Immediately his gaze shot to the floor, an embarrassing blush heating his face. Ridiculous, he knew, given his stellar performance, not to mention his age. All he would have to do was smile in return; she would approach, he would crack a few jokes, and good night to all. Except he was too restless for sex, too restless to concentrate on pleasing someone. What he wanted was a cigarette, but reminded himself he had quit, or tried to, or had at least hidden them in the glove box of the truck. Christ. Why wasn’t she here tonight? He swore she would be here tonight. And that too was ridiculous.
“Yeah, if they all could suck like that, man,” Christian crooned, his New Orleans’ patois ever the perfect counterpoint to Simon’s staccato Irish brogue. The beads on his dreadlocks clacked their approval, and he looked up at Andrew with a dazzling grin. “Though I got to say, that was a fine piece of music you played tonight. When did you write it?”
“That? That’s nothing.”
Andrew did not want to get into the details. They would only razz him, and he was too keyed up from coming off the high of performing for such an appreciative crowd. He needed sleep, yet he knew he wouldn’t get more than his usual four hours. Plus, he was wallowing in self-pity again. She was not here tonight. Why did he feel like she would be? Romantic tosh, he knew it was, all of it. He shook his head hoping to toss away the thought.
“You’re getting that look again, my friend,” said Simon. “We need to ditch the equipment and get you some fine— What’s the name of the place across the street?”
“The Rat Hole,” Andrew answered archly and slung his gig bag over his shoulder.
“Hmmm. Well then, some fine Rat Hole grub ‘tis. Just bat those Byronic eyelashes of yours in the closest serving wench’s direction.”
“Will you let it lie, already? I do not have Byronic shit, understand?”
“He doth crap and the poets weep,” Simon intoned, his hand over his heart.
“Sod off.”
Simon took endless delight in quoting the most recent write-up the band had received. It had appeared in the local newspaper a few weeks earlier, and the writer, who could not control being twenty, pert, and blond evidently could not control her painful vocabulary either and opted to gush nauseatingly about the band, Andrew in particular. A coiled spring of Byronic sex, the most ghastly of the epithets she had burdened him with. But the gibe stuck.
“Come on, Paulie boy. I’m going to gnaw Christian’s arm off if I don’t get some food soon, so let’s be off.”
“If you stopped wearing those hideous glasses, you could be Paul instead.”
“I’ll never be Paul. No need.”
Simon pushed his glasses up his long, thin nose with a pronounced shove of his middle finger exactly as he had when Andrew had met him in their first year at school. He’d been a boy, all skin and bones, a veritable eleven-year-old Iggy Pop wearing those same wire-rimmed, round glasses and a Chairman Mao jacket, forever searching for a fight or a rehearsal room.
The Rat Hole proved to be a postage stamp-sized restaurant that, from the chalkboard menu and the sticky Naugahyde booths, seemed to specialize in grease. A waitress stalked over to their table wearing an untied apron and a closing-time scowl. The few patrons remaining, pale and hunkered down over their drinks, appeared too intimidated by her to ask for another as she passed, but the moment she laid eyes on Andrew, Simon, and Christian, her pen and her smile clicked to attention.
Simon peered over his glasses at her waxy fuchsia lips. ‘What’s your name, love?”
“Gloria.”
He carefully spelled out her name as though gaining enlightenment. Before anyone knew what was happening, a grin burst across his face and he began to wail the chorus of the iconic song, causing the stricken waitress to drop her pad with a cry. Confusion reigned as Simon kept on, pausing only to order, while the other customers around them hunkered down further in their seats.
“Hit me,” Christian shouted to Andrew over the din.
“You or him?”
“Him, actually, but hit me with it.”
“’Gloria’, by Van the Man, with his band at the time, Them. Recorded it in sixty-four on the B-side of ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’. And Shadows of Knight released it in sixty-five and got it all the way to number ten.”
“Covers?”
“Covered by every damn man alive, although I’m digging Simon’s take on it. It’s almost religious—makes you wish for death.”
It was their thing. Christian or Simon would name an obscure lyric and see if Andrew could place it. He could—always—as well as the original recording and any subsequent covers. It drove them insane.
A few minutes later, the waitress returned and crammed a pyramid-like pile of burgers, onion rings, and pints of Guinness around them before swiftly departing.
“I’ve been in touch with some people in Amsterdam,” Andrew announced midway through the meal, gauging his band mates’ reaction on whether they paused in their gorging or not. “We can line up a decent string of gigs there after we finish our rounds here, then start up in Prague again before Berlin.”
Simon swallowed hard in response but his protests were interrupted when the door of the restaurant opened and a tall gentleman entered. Andrew hadn’t fully appreciated the true squalor of the restaurant until it served as the backdrop for the man’s Savile Row coat. Together with his tailored clothes and silk tie, Andrew reckoned his outfit probably cost more than their van and their equipment and their last two nights’ draws, all combined. As the man approached, the anemic overhead lights accented the highlights in his dark-blond hair and the laugh lines near the edges of his eyes that had left white quotation marks against his tanned skin.
“Cleaned favored and imperially slim,” Andrew whispered to himself, quoting Richard Cory. It was the curse of his almost poetry major to see everything in stanzas, second only in uselessness to his almost music major. The man must either have been lost or needed to take a piss.
“Andrew Hayes?”
The fact that he knew Andrew’s name didn’t bode well. Andrew stood and extended his hand; good manners had been drilled into him since he had been old enough to slouch, and he reasoned whatever was coming, it would be better to just get it over with.
“The same,” said Andrew cautiously.
The man removed his glove and offered his hand, his grip hard and immediate, like a polite arm wrestle. “May I?” He nodded to the booth where Simon and Christian sat.
“If we owe anything, we can’t pay it. At least not until the last check clears. But we’re good for it, or at least he is,” Simon stated, pointing his finger at Andrew.
The man smiled and took a seat before motioning to the bartender to replenish the empty glasses on the table. Curious silence held them together, as though they were watching each other through a zoo enclosure. Andrew especially felt the man’s scrutiny. Had they damaged something at the club? Was he some girl’s father? Was he a dealer? He knew Simon had been clean for years, so he couldn’t be a dealer. Christ, please let him not be a dealer.
The tension finally got the better of Simon, and he asked, “And you would be?”
“Neil St. John.”
Andrew fell into his seat, not realizing he was still standing. His mind shot into overdrive. The name…he knew the name, but from where? Images flooded his consciousness first, as they always did, and then came the torrent of words and sounds: his favorite band, a television reporter, a face responding to questions. How do you account for The Fractures’ meteoric rise to success, when a few short months ago they were playing dive bars? Then the screen cut to a face that held a curt smile and feigned interest. They needed the proper help. The caption read Neil St. John. The Neil St. John. But he had retired after helping to produce The Compositions’ last album and was currently living in—oh, where the hell was it…San Francisco.
No, it couldn’t be, Andrew thought. Bloody Christ. Evidently, Simon and Christian hadn’t put two and two together yet, or weren’t nearly as fazed as Andrew was by the fact that one of the world’s greatest managers now sat a few feet away from them.
Perhaps that was for the best. The last thing Andrew wanted was for them to appear desperate, and Christian would never be able to control his excitement if he knew who this man truly was. Being in a band had never lost its initial thrill for him despite the sleepless nights, the rotten food, and the endless headaches. Getting someone like Neil St. John to back them would be huge. Beyond huge. Andrew felt his mouth go dry and his ADD making its way out of his hands as they began to play the underside of the table, fast and faster until he forced them flat in his lap.
“I was impressed by what I heard tonight. It’s raw and needs work, a lot of work actually, but it’s got something, something that could be incredible if you do the right things. You recorded an album. On what label?”
Andrew blinked and his mind raced to comprehend the situation before him. “We don’t have one. It’s self-financed.” He was not sure this was what Neil wanted to hear, yet the man’s face gave nothing away. Christ, he had to stop his hands from shaking. Neil St. John. The Neil St. John.
“No manager, no agent?”
“Nothing.”
“How do you do it?”
“Well…” Andrew took a deep breath. How did they do it? In the beginning, they had hired one Mr. Lou Fratteni, a squat, paunchy chartered-accountant type from Liverpool who claimed he knew the business inside and out. He ended up disappearing one night with most of their money and Andrew’s best Cherryburst Les Paul. After that, they swore off the idea, deciding to manage the band on their own. It worked, or had worked for a while. Andrew knew they couldn’t go on like this forever though; they needed help. It was too much—too much work, too much tension, too much everything.
“We manage pretty well. We exploit every form of social media we can get our hands on, and we’re obsessively fan driven. Arrange our shows where we can gather the most bodies. Like tonight, we knew a ton of our fans would show up if we could book that particular site. See, we can usually fill up houses that way, that and by word-of-mouth. There isn’t much left over for marketing—a little radio, flyers, and whatever the venue is willing to front.” Andrew wanted to sound intelligent or at least intelligible, but his excitement left him rocking back and forth like his seat was on fire.
“We’re the rock geek darlings of the Internet,” Simon added, peering briefly over his glasses at his band mate. “We give our knickers away for free online, let ‘em listen to our music, get them hooked, but make them pay at the door to hear it live.” His hand curled around the handle of his glass, the letters I-R-O-N tattooed on the back of his fingers. Simon wiggled his pinky, emblazoned with a Y.
Over the next Guinness, Andrew could feel the anticipation hum around them much like the bristling nervous edge of walking onstage. It was apparent that Neil was interested; he seemed full of questions and noted their answers in errant scribbles on the paper placemats. How interested, who knew, but the communal sense of unease of a few minutes ago had given way to fast conversation, people talking over people, and in the back of Andrew’s mind the future was quickly being reduced to this booth on Saturday, December 27, 2009. Their first conversation, the anthologies would say. He could see the article in Spin, with a black and white picture of the four of them leaning against the tattered booth.
“Wait, you’ve been touring for how long?” Neil asked, bringing Andrew back down to earth.
“Two straight years with no breaks,” Christian answered, a hint of pride mingled with disbelief in his tone. “Unless you account for the time we took to record the album and the two weeks off for Christmas so my parents could scream at me for squandering my Cambridge scholarship. I told them I just couldn’t get enough of living in a van with Euro-trash degenerates and using travel-sized mini-soaps.”
Neil laughed out loud at that, which allowed the rest of them to join along.
“Christian was playing jazz downtown when we saved him from wasting his fine talents on decent pay,” Simon interrupted, wanting to set the record straight. “We had left university and thought it would be a healthy career choice for him as well.”
“Proving that slavery never died,” added Christian.
“And you two? How did you meet?” Neil looked between Andrew and Simon.
“Go ahead,” Simon offered with a wave of his glass, R-O-N-Y stretching wide. It was a story they had recited countless times, never tiring in the retelling, as it always gave them the opportunity to get a rise out of the other. “I’ll correct it anyway. You always fuck it up, trying to make yourself look superior with that Byronic sex appeal.”
“Christ.” Andrew blew the long hair out of his eyes and shook his head, to which Neil took a measured swig of his drink.
“Simon ruined my otherwise exemplary boarding school experience. He got me thrown into detention more times than I can remember, the git. For the first two years of school we tortured each other—tor-tur-ed each other,” Andrew said, grinning and slapping his hand against the table as he dragged out the syllables.
“Then one day a music professor, who was either mental or more likely bloody sick of us, set us to compose our first piece of music together. He locked us in a rehearsal room—I mean literally locked us in with a few bottles of water and a tin of stale biscuits. We didn’t leave that godforsaken place for fifteen hours, despite the kicking and the screaming.”
“And the begging,” interjected Simon.
“You begged. I never begged.”
“Paulie boy here had to get taken down a notch or two. He needed to realize that there was a greater talent other than his out there under the sun. Everyone thought he could walk on water.”
“Paulie?” Neil asked, smirking at Andrew.
“Simon is convinced he’s John Lennon’s love child. Long story,” Andrew explained with a dismissive wave at Simon. “So by default, I’m Paul. Or I should say, he requires a Paul.”
“And I, of course, look exactly like George,” remarked Christian with a jangle of his dreads. “Not to mention that I’ve met Simon’s mom, and I know for a fact she has a major problem with the whole love child thing. She knows exactly who the fathers are of all her children.”
“And I’m her best hope. The rest of her family are out driving trolleys or doing construction if they’re not drinking themselves shit-faced, while I’m off on scholarship to boarding school and university. No, I am firmly entrenched in the warm bosom of me mum, though she’s not talking to me at the present. Hates the band as much as Christian’s lot does. Thank God for Claudia, now there’s a peach of a woman, putting up with all our shit. I’d bloody marry the woman if she’d have me, but then I’d be related to this twat and I’d be forced to shoot myself.”
“Claudia?” Neil repeated, his glass halfway to his lips.
“Andrew’s mum. Thank God for her. She’s our benefactor. Meal ticket. When we find ourselves in times of trouble, you get the picture.”
“She lives nearby?” Neil asked, more insistent now.
Full of the swell of good will rising up inside of him, not to mention the continued flow of stout, Andrew formulated the idea on the spot. “Listen, we’re heading over there next. She’s having a small get together for us before we push off again, and it’s loads more comfortable. Would you care to join us?”
Neil appeared aghast; in Andrew’s dimming focus, it took him a minute to realize that it was already nearing midnight, and the thought of crashing some unknown lady’s flat, no matter how posh, certainly wouldn’t be his cup of tea. But instead of politely backing out, Neil’s eyes focused directly on Andrew’s.
“When are you going out on the road? Where?”
Andrew tried to look away but couldn’t; Neil’s gaze was too severe. “Well…we’ve got three shows set up in Glasgow first, and from there we’ll head over to Edinburgh, then south to—”
“Andrew likes to keep moving. Thinks he’ll find her if he visits every city on the globe,” said Simon dryly.
“Who?” Neil asked.
“His muse.”
“Excuse me?”
“Shut it, Simon,” Andrew warned. The silence stretched thin between the two men. Simon downed the rest of his pint.
A string of idle small talk unraveled itself about the table before Neil hesitated and eyed his watch. “I must apologize, but I have another engagement, and I’m late, in fact.”
All three men got up when Neil stood. The abruptness of his departure made Andrew want to pound the wall. Why the hell couldn’t Simon keep his mouth shut? Why bring it up now when Neil would think he was certifiable? Fuck! But then Neil said the miraculous, causing all three musicians to stare at him in shock.
“You know, I’m remodeling a house in San Francisco and converting it into flats. It’s a nasty business, headache and all. Can’t really rent it in its current shape, but if you ever need a place to crash, I mean, if you find yourself in the city, it’s yours. I could line up some gigs for you as well, keep you busy for some time.”
“That’s an incredibly generous offer.”
As if sensing the incredulity in Simon’s voice, Neil went on. “No really, you haven’t seen the house, it’s falling down around one’s ears at the present. Rather difficult to retain a crew, you see. It’s haunted. Charming, really.” He added this last part as more of an excuse than explanation.
“Haunted?” Andrew blinked at Neil, wondering if he had heard him correctly. “As in a ghost?”
“No.”
“Thank God, for a minute there I thought you said—”
“As in ghosts. Plural. Lovers, I suppose. They can’t seem to locate one another other as they’ve never been seen in the same room at the same time. I gather it frustrates them, from the wailings going on. My wife even named them—Nick and Nora,” he concluded as though he had no desire to discuss it further.
And with that, all of Andrew’s hopes and dreams of the last few minutes came crashing down like an armful of cymbals. The man was mental. He believed in ghosts, literary ghosts perhaps, but ghosts nonetheless. Andrew glanced over to Simon and Christian to see if this revelation had the same effect on them but saw they were still slack jawed with wonder.
“Here’s my card.” They all stared down at the crisp, expensive-looking business card Neil placed on the table, ending for Andrew any chance of further clarification on the subject of the supernatural. “Like I said, look me up. I still have some pull in the industry, and there are plenty of first-rate venues to show off your talent properly, and we could chat more about your future. There’s only so long you can continue to do this on your own, you know. You really need to take the next step.”
With that, he tossed a sizable wad of cash on the table to cover the drinks and then some, shook their hands, and departed.
“Holy…fucking…hell.” Simon grabbed the card as they all sat back down, but Christian pushed him aside, wrestling it from his hands.
Andrew’s fingers began their incessant drumming again.
“Neil St. John. Neil fucking St. John.” Simon whistled, his back slamming against the booth. “Neil St. John. Andrew, do you believe this? Lord Almighty. Here’s what we’re going to do. We go to San Francisco, play his gigs, and stay there as long as it takes to drag the bloke out of retirement. We’ll offer to remodel the place on our own, if that’s what’s necessary.”
Andrew didn’t respond but sat staring at the door.
“Andrew . . .”
“No, I understand. This is bloody amazing . . .”
“But what?”
“But ghosts? The man sees ghosts. Multiple ghosts. He’s named them.”
“Who the hell cares?”
“You don’t think it’s a little strange that the man actually admits to seeing ghosts?”
“And you don’t?”
“It’s not the same.”
“Oh, hell yes, it is. And the only difference is that he’s met his ghosts and you never will.”
“We should play the gigs we’ve lined up, finish out here before we—”
“Oh no. Oh no, no, no. Stop it. Stop it now. You can’t be at all serious? You’re not turning down this opportunity because the guy sees a few dead people. He could be blowing Elvis for all I care. When are you going to realize she’s not out there? Even if we play every shithole from here to Bucharest, you’re not going to find her. She’s in your head. In your head, man—but I sure as hell wish she were flesh and blood so I could strangle her with my bare hands.”
“I beg to differ,” Christian offered, trying to diffuse the situation. “Personally, I’m cool with her living up in his head, or Graceland for that matter, as long as she keeps paying him a visit in his dreams every now and then. Makes for some incredible music. It’s best not to mess with one’s muse. Riles up the ghost world.”
Simon rolled his eyes. “Cut the voodoo hoodoo shit.”
“Hey, I learned that shit on my tante’s knee. Our boy’s haunted too. You got to respect that.”
“No he’s not! That muse of his isn’t some ghost. She never was real and never will be real. He’s got to give it up—it’s not healthy.” Simon turned to Andrew, trying to reason with him. “Listen, okay, listen…independent of this muse obsession of yours, or Christian’s ghost world, or this bloody Nick and Nora, I think we all need some time to get our heads screwed on straight after the last two years. We’ve been on the road constantly. You especially—you’ve been going at it like a madman, writing all hours of the night, never sleeping, pushing yourself to do everything to fucking perfection. You drive yourself to the brink during every performance. And don’t tell me you rested over Christmas. I know you didn’t. Your mum told us you were haunting the pubs. You’re going burn out or break down. Do you want to go through all that shit again?”
Andrew didn’t answer.
“I think we need to stay in one place for a while. And not for just a few days, either. Let’s relax for once before we head out again. This is a good thing. We play the gigs he lines up, he’s stoked, he—”
“He what, Simon? Comes out of retirement and manages us?” Andrew caught himself. It was what he wanted, what he had fantasized about only minutes ago before Neil went delusional. But to stop moving, to drop anchor in one place?
“I don’t know. But it sure as hell beats chasing after a woman that doesn’t exist. You have to live in the real world. I’m not going back to Dublin with nothing to show for it, and I’m not playing studio back up for the rest of whatever. This is our chance.”
The two men stared at each other; neither one moved. The few late night patrons had gone silent, and even Christian sat forward, convinced that this time Simon might actually haul off and punch his best friend.
“Because you know what, Paulie?” Simon slowly reached over and took hold of the malt vinegar bottle, IRONY tightening around the neck. Andrew didn’t blink. Simon clenched it tighter. This is it, Christian’s face read. He’s going to beat the living shit out of him. Simon moved the bottle to his mouth as though he might rip the top off with his teeth, but instead he held it to his lips like a microphone. A second later he began to belt to all who would listen about pictures fading to black and white and time standing still.
A loud groan rose from the customers as they hunkered down under the new vocal onslaught. Andrew sat back, shaking his head and scrubbing his face with his hands while Simon carried on.
Christian pointed his finger at Andrew.
“Elton John,” he shouted over the caterwauling. “Off of Caribou, nineteen seventy-four. Covers, again tons, but Maynard Ferguson did a wicked jazz rendition of it.”
“You frighten me, Andrew, you really do. Hey, but seriously, have you had any other visitations from your muse? Any dreams?”
Andrew swallowed at Christian’s question and dropped his glance into the bottom of his Guinness. “No.”
Christian had always been completely accepting of Andrew’s muse, which made Andrew feel a little less crazy, but he had searched for her all his life and he knew Christian was right. He was haunted in ways he could never explain and barely understood himself.
At some point during the last refrain, the cook trudged out of the kitchen brandishing a spatula and Simon reluctantly sat back down. He grabbed another onion ring and waved it at Andrew.
“Forget her, my friend. Long term women, fantasy or otherwise, are not in the cards right now. And who needs them? Look at us, I mean, who would’ve thought we’d be sitting in this most fashionable dining establishment, feasting on these most succulent grease delivery vehicles when only a few years ago we were starving uni students?”
“I’ve got news for you, Simon. We’re still starving.”
“Ah, yes, but now we’re starving and about to be dead famous,” he said and popped the onion ring into his mouth.
“He’s got a point.” Christian nodded.
“I haven’t said yes yet.”
“But you will.”

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