The sound guy has long, slender fingers and the nails aren’t bitten or overgrown. He keeps them trimmed to dance along thick bass strings he no longer plays in public. When dirt creeps under a nail, he flicks another underneath to extract any fragments, just like he used to pluck bits of bass lines from whatever invisible ethers surrounded him. Back when he still played for us.
Meanwhile, my friend turns the volume on her radio down. Someone is telling love stories from her speakers, but she doesn’t listen. Instead, she tells me she’s doomed to drive away all men because she’s a Scorpio. She tells me I’m doomed to let everyone get away with everything; I’m too loyal for my own good — typical Taurus. I tell her she reads too many women’s magazines. She tells me I read too much.
The sound guy works nights pouring beers or twisting knobs for whichever band plays the crummy stage at the pour house, a short walk from his place. That means the dark minutes of the early morning are his happy hour. He puts a Coors in a frayed koozie that reads “Blood, Sweat, and Beers”, stands out in front of his apartment, and lights an American Spirit between his fingers. He inhales deeply, takes a swig, and stares off down the usually busy street, empty because of the time or the day or both. Sometimes he forgets to exhale and gets lightheaded.
My friend and I sit in her car while she sobers up and we watch the sound guy smoke; he doesn’t see us or isn’t paying attention to us or something. My friend wants to fuck his roommate and I think the sound guy is a Satanist. But that doesn’t make me hopeless.
“‘Satanist’ doesn’t mean what you think it does, anyway,” I’ve been told.
When I think of Satan I think of William Blake and wood carving. I think of the ornate, superfluous, unnecessary beauty of taking too long to walk home. But I also think of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” and feel overwhelmed. My friend tells me I think too much.
The sound guy wishes he was Australian. Or dead. Or floating in a pool with his acoustic bass, the sun hidden behind clouds so he doesn’t need prescription sunglasses — just his usual pair. Instead, he’s thirty-two with a brand new pack of American Spirits and fifty bucks from his shift as the sound guy that night. And there’s no sun because it’s night, always night.
My friend turns up the sound in her car. She’s listening to a podcast about modern love and spinning her own secret spells to make Scorpio less spurious and more serene; I’m watching the distant burning cherry of a cigarette. The sound guy’s roommate told my friend she must be a handful because she’s a Scorpio, and she needs needs needs to not be.
The sound guy suddenly lies down supine on the patch of grass in front of his street-level apartment across from the town’s community center, one hand clasped around his beer, the other holding the ever-burning cigarette. I know he can’t see the moon moving just like I can’t, and I bet he’ll end up cursing himself for letting his cigarette burn too long without taking a drag. A pack is $10.45 after all.
“And for you,” my friend says as she turns to me from the driver’s seat, “you should let go. Burn sage to rid yourself of specters.”
We both look beyond the dash to the sound guy trying to blow smoke rings.
“I like ghosts,” I reply.
“We’re all mystic misfits,” she concedes. “But I’m sober enough to drive.”
Brooke Knisley is an instructor in Emerson College’s writing studies program. She is working on a memoir about trauma and its damage.
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Art (cropped) William Blake Public Domain