Axe

If I had to pinpoint where it all changed, where it all went wrong, I’d say it was at the beginning, and if I had to pinpoint why, I’d say it was because of Jessie.

Imagine an axe lodged in the trunk of a tree. It disrupts the scene, or makes it, depending on one’s perspective, but from my perspective, the axe disrupts the scene. Naturally then, I want to remove the axe, but by doing so I will have to touch the axe, which leads me to feeling the axe’s smooth handle, then seeing the shine of the axe’s head, then experiencing the weight and the quality of the axe. After this occurs I will know that it is truly a fine axe, which makes me begin to question whether or not removing the axe from the tree trunk was a good idea, because now that I am aware that this axe is good, the question arises as to whether I inadvertently detracted from the scene when my only intent was to restore it. I must also face the reality that now that I have removed the axe, there is no putting it back without striking the already-cut tree trunk, further disrupting the scene, which means I am now fully responsible for this axe and must decide what to do with it.

To recap, first there is the axe which does the disrupting of the scene by being lodged in the tree trunk, and then there is me removing the axe and feeling the axe which leads to all manner of confusions. That’s Jessie. That’s what Jessie did. Jessie is the axe.

When I first got here, which was at the beginning, there was no axe. I can’t say for certain when the axe arrived or where it first became lodged in the tree trunk, but it wasn’t long after the beginning commenced, which was when I first got here. So technically, the axe became lodged in the tree trunk in the beginning, but the ambiguity lies in the temporal moment of impact, which I am uncertain of. Once the axe made impact with the tree trunk however, things began to change. Firstly, it was clear the scene had become disrupted. The paradigm had shifted and the circumstances were now full of doubt. Accusations were made which led to retaliation, which led to intervention from external forces. Now to clarify, while the removing of the axe did, in fact, come after the disruption of the scene, the removing of the axe was by no means immediate. In hindsight, given how quickly events moved during the period of the disruption of the scene, the removing of the axe did not happen until much later after the scene had become sufficiently disrupted.

Whether or not Jessie intended to disrupt the scene, the fact of the matter was that once the scene became sufficiently disrupted, the relevant parties involved went their separate ways within their new groupings. Except for Jessie, who, being like an axe lodged in a tree trunk, remained a part of the disrupted scene.

Between the disrupting of the scene and the removing of the axe, there was a time in which I considered the implications of the scene’s disruption, meaning, the decision to remove the axe was by no means impulsive. To be sure, there were times when I asked myself if the scene had even been disrupted in the first place. Obviously the disruption of the scene led to the separating of the relevant parties involved, but a part of me wondered if that change warranted being referred to as a disruption. Perhaps that is all it was – a change, not a disruption, no value judgment needed. I even entertained the possibility that the disruption, tentatively referred to as a change, might have been a positive event, in which case it would be called a growth. In the time increments that followed, all of the negative repercussions caused by the axe becoming lodged in the tree trunk drove me to the conclusion that the disruption was definitely not a change, much less a growth. It was a disruption of a scene that prior to the axe becoming lodged in the tree trunk, was a good scene.

After having been driven to the conclusion that a disruption had indeed taken place, I resolved to remove the axe from the tree trunk in which it had become lodged. Upon doing so, I felt the quality of the axe and for a moment I enjoyed the axe. I wondered how that could be, considering its disruption of what was formerly a good scene, but I enjoyed the axe nonetheless. It was instinctual, almost reactionary, my enjoyment of the axe. There were moments within the greater overarching moment where the image of myself and the axe dipped between being a scene in itself. During these sub-moments there was a constant uncertainty and awareness about the possibility of a scene arising, which caused the dipping in and out. The implication was that if the image of myself and the axe resulted in a scene, the disruption may no longer be considered as such. The disruption might even be considered a growth, if such a scene were to result. This doubt ultimately led to the termination of the potential scene of the image of me and the axe, despite its goodness and my enjoyment of the axe.

Jessie and I don’t talk anymore. There are no scenes that will arise from either of us, and all previously existing scenes and potential scenes have been sufficiently disrupted and not worth revisiting.

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Interview with Jacques Derrida on the sudden doubt a writer experiences when their creative process has halted for whatever reason. As an aspiring professional writer, this video is highly relevant to my own process. Many a night have I found myself kept awake by a wave of self-consciousness about my current work. Even during my waking consciousness, I have occasionally been forced to deflect considerations about my writing until after it has been critiqued or at the very least, completed. While troublesome, I am grateful for this fear because it forces me to justify my work to myself, and I am my worst critic.

Fear and Doubt via Deridda

Hidden in the Quiet

The rally began one hour after school and was held in the main courtyard, where the morale brigade had set up a large shrine for the occasion. In the center of it stood a huge print of Hitomi’s smiling face. Shinji did not attend, which was probably for the best. Instead, he watched from an empty classroom on the third floor and ate his snack. The class officers began the ceremony with a group prayer before allowing others to step up and speak.

What a waste of time. Hitomi had been missing for two weeks now and instead of trying to find her the whole school turned into one big grief pageant. Suddenly, everyone was competing to share their fondest memories of Hitomi in an attempt to prove that they were her true best friend. A bunch of liars and fakes. He opened the window filled the room with the soggy echoes of a crying student.

“…she was always kind, and beautiful, with soft skin, and a voice like…”

Gross. Shinji closed the window and the quiet returned. To think, his peers thought he was the creepy one. The other day Shinji overheard two girls whispering about how he must have had something to do with Hitomi’s disappearance because he had no friends and looked creepy. How could somebody ‘look’ creepy? There was nothing strange about Shinji that warranted suspicion against him. Regardless, the girls must have shared this idea with the other students since Shinji had been receiving dirty looks all day. Such ignorance.

Besides, Shinji knew who the real culprits were. They were standing on the stage conducting this whole charade. His older sister Makoto and her tough guy boyfriend Tarou held the mics for each speaker with feigned looks of concern and anguish. Emotions stapled to their faces like paper masks. Phonies. Makoto dabbed her eye every now and then. Tarou shook his head and closed his eyes. Shinji finished his snack and crumpled the wrapper.

Shinji was certain Makoto and Tarou kidnapped Hitomi. He hadn’t seen them do it, nor had he found out where they were keeping her yet, but he had enough justification to support his hunch. The first day Hitomi stopped showing up to school, Makoto and Tarou were extra irritable and extra fidgety. They got their nerves under control soon enough, but not before Shinji took notice. They also began spending deliberate time apart in public settings, despite normally being inseparable. Their attempts to avoid suspicion and resolve their guilt just made them stick out like sore thumbs. An attention to the subtle changes in people’s behaviors was something Shinji had developed by being alone all the time. He kept himself separate from social situations and instead focused on the big picture.

He was also present when Makoto said Hitomi’s name while she and Tarou had sex in the restroom three days ago. Shinji had been in one of the stalls, drawing graffiti when he heard them come in. He propped his feet up on the seat, hushed his breath, and hid in the quiet as they slid into the stall beside him. It wasn’t the first time he listened to them fuck. There was something about listening to real sex that seemed natural, unlike the stuff he watched on his computer. That day, there was more ferocity to Tarou’s grunts and Makoto seemed a lot more into it than usual. Between gasps she said: I want to fuck in front of Hitomi again, ok? Tada!

Shinji debated taking his theory to the authorities. He decided against it, however, since he understood that his ‘proof’ was based on his own perspectival observations. At best, they would simply dismiss his claims. At worst, they would perform a half-assed investigation that risked driving Makoto and Tarou to desperation. Right now they were predictable and Shinji needed to gather more tangible evidence before coming forward.

Then there was the video. A few days after her disappearance, an anonymous user posted a video of Hitomi to the school’s message board showing her naked and chained to a wall in an empty room. The video only lasted a minute and a half and had no audio, but Shinji watched it dozens of times in hopes of finding clues to her whereabouts. Her large breasts made the viewings less tedious, but he could not discern anything useful from the footage aside from the fact that she was alive and in captivity somewhere.

Shinji exited the classroom. There was no point in watching the rally. He didn’t even know Hitomi that well, anyway. On his way home, he stopped at the convenience store for another snack. Shinji liked this particular shop because the owner didn’t care if students oggled the lewd magazines, as he himself was often buried in one at the register. Shinji liked to read them and try and see which of the models resembled his classmates. Today, he had no such luck, not that he would buy any. The only magazine he ever purchased featured a girl that looked like Makoto. Shinji and his sister had never been close but he still found her quite attractive. She gave him a hard time for how he behaved at home and he shamed her with his superior academics, so there wasn’t much to their relationship aside from resentment. She also often mocked him for his lack of a girlfriend. In turn, Shinji teased her for settling for a bonehead like Tarou. She could do better, he thought.

Shinji sighed and paid for his bag of chips at the register. He looked out the door and saw Makoto and Tarou hurry past the store window. Was the rally over so soon? They must have been going to see Hitomi. Where else would they go in such a rush? This was his chance. Shinji stepped outside and followed them.

As paranoid as they were lately, Makoto and Tarou still had no idea they were being followed. From the store, they continued down the road for three blocks then made a sharp right. Shinji turned one block before that and sped up his pace. He kept sight of them through the alleyways, but after another four blocks they turned left. Shinji followed. Six blocks, left. Two blocks, right. Three blocks, left. Homes began to repeat, it seemed. Was that cat the same grey cat? A lady had been folding a pink shirt for five blocks now. Seven blocks, left. A park. A factory? Six blocks, left. Couldn’t they have taken a shorter route? Three blocks, right. He was lost in the geometry. Two blocks, left. Graves. One block, gone.

Shinji reached a dead end. To his left was a patch of overgrowth where an old car sat rotting. To his right was a barred-off sewer tunnel. He had never been to this area before, nor did he imagine ever needing to judging by the state of it. Everything was old and abandoned and perfect for hiding stolen girls. Finding his way out would be a conundrum, but he had come this far already and sun was beginning to set. Now or never. Shinji closed his eyes and listened to the quiet. No breeze. No cars. No birds.

A whisper! But where? No echo, not the pipe. No rustle, not the trees. Forward, but there was the wall. Shinji moved closer and noticed a secret passage. A set of stairs descended beneath the barrier, hidden by brush and vines. Beneath it was a short underpass that led to the other side where Shinji found himself in an isolated neighborhood. Ancient wooden houses clustered together, lost and forgotten among themselves. He listened again and heard panting coming from the second one to his right. He snuck between backgates and towards the source of the noises and peered through the broken windows.

In a dusty bedroom, Makoto and Tarou lay sprawled on the floor, naked and sweaty. Across from them, a laptop was set up playing the video of Hitomi on repeat. As Tarou thrusted atop his sister, Shinji saw Makoto turn her head to watch the screen. Hitomi was blindfolded, crying, and struggling against her restraints. She kept sliding backwards towards the wall, as if trying to escape from somebody. Wait, could this be a different video? No, it was a live stream! Makoto and Tarou were not Hitomi’s captors, but if they had access to live footage of her, they had to be complicit somehow. Shinji needed to stay and see what happened. Perhaps the perpetrator would reveal themselves on camera, or perhaps a better visual of Hitomi’s location would be shown. Hitomi continued to kick and scream as a cut appeared on her leg. What? Shinji blinked his eyes. It was difficult to see the screen from his position, but he swore the cut was not there a second ago. Her flailing grew more frantic. Another cut appeared, this time on her torso. What the hell? Shinji gasped, startled by the sight.

Tarou and Makoto cursed and scrambled off each other. Tarou called out and rushed from the room to investigate. Makoto crawled over and shut the laptop. Shinji turned around and booked it, running from the house. He ducked under the wall-stairs and turned towards the direction of the overgrowth. Behind the car was a long stretch of grass and shrubbery. Foliage crunched beneath his feet as he pressed on with no regard to his destination. Behind him Tarou yelled profanities, but soon his voice became distant. Shinji kept running.

The sun had fully set by the time he felt safe enough to stop. Shinji was even more lost now than he was before. It was difficult for him to see in the twilight, even with the soft glow of the traditional lanterns that hung from the trees around him. Trees. He was in a forest. He did not recall crossing into the forest from the suburbs. He was not even aware that there was a forest nearby, yet somehow he managed to run straight into the heart of it. Trees stood in every direction and there was no suggestion as to which direction would lead back to civilization. There was no geometry here.

Shinji spun around and set off the way he came. He was fairly certain he had not changed direction while he ran. so if he retraced his steps he would eventually find a way out. Right? That was the logical conclusion, but with each step Shinji’s doubts grew. He walked for a long time and nothing changed. Trees, lanterns, darkness. He could not even see the sky past the thick canopy of branches that loomed above his head. His feet hurt and his stomach rumbled.

Why had he even bothered trying to find Hitomi in the first place? Shinji did not want to be a hero, nor did he imagine being showered with affection after her rescue. Would he have paid as much attention to the disappearance had he not suspected Makoto? Did he want Makoto and Tarou to be the culprits? Did he want Makoto? What about the video they were watching? What was up with those cuts? When did things get so weird? Shinji thought of his sister’s naked body sprawled on the floor with Tarou. He thought of her long legs and the hair between them. He thought of Tarou’s physique and how much he himself lacked in comparison. He thought of Hitomi, chained to a wall somewhere and the cuts that appeared on her delicate skin.

Hours passed. Far off in the distance, Shinji thought he saw a small structure amidst the trees. He sped up his pace, but it turned out to be a lot further away than it looked, and smaller too. As he approached he saw that the structure was a shrine. Two pillars stood parallel, holding up a decorative mantel. In the center of it stood a small portrait surrounded by candles. A figure kneeled prostrate on the ground before it. He moved closer from the edge of the wood and saw that they were naked. There was something unnerving about the sight. Something felt odd, as though this was a dream. Even so, he was lost and desperate for direction. When he called out, the figure rose. It appeared to be a woman, with long, black hair that fell beneath her rear.

She turned around to face him, slowly. Against the dim glow of the lanterns, her skin resembled the color of rotting bone. Shinji stared at her body, allowing the sight of her nudity to soak in. He gazed at her round breasts and dark nipples, her petite shoulders and long, thin arms, her navel and the bush beneath it. Despite the strangeness of the situation, Shinji felt arousal take hold of him. He was eager to see her face, to see what she looked like. Who she looked like. Without thinking, he took a step towards her.

The woman lurched her head upwards with a crack. Where her face should have been was a decrepit, wooden mask with two black eyeholes and a smiling mouth carved into it. Her arms flung forward and she bounded towards Shinji, screaming an inhuman wail. Shinji screamed too and ran for his life. He dashed through branches, tears in his eyes, unable to see where he was going. Behind him he could feel the woman getting closer. As he ran, carnal images flashed within his mind and he could hear suggestive whispers in his ears. He felt a finger brush across the back of his neck and he sprinted even faster. Suddenly, the pattering of grass was replaced by the clopping of sneakers on pavement. He was back in the suburbs. The streets looked familiar to Shinji and he knew the way home, but he kept running, farther and farther away, unable to look back. The screaming became softer and the voices subsided, until eventually the quiet returned again.

The Nipple has been Freed

I had a dream that they finally freed the nipple.
A big, dark, bumpy nipple.
It broke through the clouds as it descended
Upon the suburbs of America.
Mothers crashed their vans into homes and
Their children scrambled from the wrecks
To seek out sex, drugs, and violence.
The men of the neighborhoods
Lost control of their carnal urges.
All the old people died.
I woke up and thanked God that it was just a dream.

Debbie I

My World of Warcraft character is a hot babe.
When I play her, I get to be a hot babe too.
I have adopted the persona of a seventeen year-old brunette named Debbie.
I am a hot babe.

Debbie receives a lot of creepy messages in-game.
Zorath wanted me to quit school and move to Arkansas with him.
Armagio from Washington wanted me to see him naked on Skype.
Cat-called on the streets of Dalaran!
Can’t a warlock sell her wares in peace?

A gnome-priest named Marcutio said,
“I need your sex and your age.”
He said this five times, before challenging me to a duel.
I destroyed him of course, and he called me a slut.

I made an online-dating profile for Debbie.
She needed to be believable, after all.
I met a really sweet man named Bernard.
He promised to help Debbie pay for college.
I think Debbie might love him.

I deleted Debbie.
The new update made warlocks garbage.
Marcutio demanded a rematch, but this time I got wrecked.
Bernard, wherever you are, I am sorry.
Now, I am a druid named Britney.

 

Live at the Old Parish

“You ready?” David asked.

“Would it matter if I said no?” Jacob replied.

David grinned. “Nope.” He slapped Jacob on the back. “Look alive, my friend. This is our last stop.”

Jacob narrowed his eyes. “What’s up with you? This isn’t exactly the greatest place to end a tour.”

“No, but I’m feeling sentimental,” David raised his eyebrows, “Besides, we’re in Oakland. You never know who might stop by.”

A knot formed in Jacob’s stomach and he felt a sudden pinch of doubt. “Who’s coming?”

“No one I know of, but whatever can happen will happen,” He saw Jacob’s unamused expression. “Murphy’s Law,” He added.

“No,” Jacob said, “that’s incorrect. Murphy’s Law says that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. It focuses on the negative.”

David waved his hands and scrunched his face, “Whatever man! I’m gonna head out there.” With that, he grabbed his guitar and went on stage. Jacob pondered his own words. There was a lot that could go wrong tonight. He reached into his jacket pocket and swallowed an aspirin. He could leave, just dip out, call a cab and go home. The guys would understand if he explained. That would be the smart thing to do. Jacob rubbed his cheeks. If he left, would everything have been for nothing? Not just this tour – everything. If he quit now, would he still be justified? He mumbled something about being an idiot and walked on stage with his stuff.

***

The crowd was small, but not that small. Small like sixteen years ago, but not eighteen. Eighteen meant something like ten to twenty people, some of whom would just be in attendance by happenstance, while sixteen was more along the lines of eighty to a hundred people who wanted to be there. Sixteen was a reasonable turnout and one that was to be expected at this age. Jacob doubted he and the guys could ever regress back to eighteen-small, because that was some open-mic coffee-shop shit. Sometimes though, just before a show, he wondered if it was coming.

The faces in the crowd cycled between red, pink, and indigo against the lights. The smallest venues always had regular dimmed lights – like regular yellow light bulbs but half-off, because those places were bars first and venues second. The largest venues, the concert halls and the amphitheaters and the arenas, all had bright, white stadium lights. Those lights were hot and they were always accompanied by bigger production accessories like fog, strobe effects, and flashing from the cameras in the crowd. The middle tier however, just had colored lights, and for some reason they were always red, pink, and indigo. Jacob thought he remembered green and cyan lights once, at a club in Santa Monica, but he was so shitfaced that all memories from that show were of dubious validity.

Jacob made an effort not to look at the crowd for too long, because the longer he looked, the more he ran the risk making eye contact with a fan. Once that happened, the fan would invariably smile and wave and maybe even shout something declaring his fan-hood, at which point Jacob would feel obligated to smile and wave and acknowledge the gesture. This would cause other members of the crowd to do the same, until it all spiralled out of control. Then Jacob would have to say something to them in order to maintain his stage presence or else suffer the guilt that came with revealing that he wasn’t who they thought he was, at least not anymore. He wasn’t there to do any of that. He was too old for that stuff, so he stared down at his pedalboard instead, checked his settings for a third time, and pretended to tune his bass. He didn’t have to be there, he could have said no to playing the show, yet there he was regardless. Jacob was there to play music. Nothing more, nothing less.

***

Jacob remembered the band’s first sold-out show sixteen years ago. They were all in their mid-twenties back then. No longer recent graduates, each of the guys settled into stable, well-paying day jobs which afforded them a big house with ample practice space, as well as extra money for better equipment, an infinite supply of beer, and coke for special occasions. They had recently recruited Chelsea, their second vocalist to the band and started recording their first album. Icarus Grounded was still riding on the success of their EP, but wanted to keep up the momentum with regular shows in the city while they conceptualized new material. The show was held on a Thursday night at a respected venue called The Sleepy Son, which was known for its broad selection of IPAs on tap, including Pliny the Eldest. Icarus Grounded headlined while a college-aged psychedelic band named Generizer opened for them.

The show was amazing. Everyone there wanted to see them play. Not just their close friends. Not just the usual music-journalists. Everyone there had heard of them. The energy was unforgettable, so much so that Jacob still remembered the applause they received when they finished their closing song, “To the End.” He remembered the lights, the sweat on his brow and on his fingers, and how he almost tripped on a cord in the middle of their set. He remembered greeting the crowd at the beginning and hearing cheers before he could even introduce the band. Most of all, he remembered how into it David looked, radiating electricity with each note he played. He was tense and stoic, with his jaws clenched tight and his head bowed down. David looked mad, as if he hated being there, but Jacob knew him well enough to understand that his body language translated into pure, unadulterated pride. Jacob knew then, that he belonged with the band. Not just because of the fact that they were starting to “make it,” but because there are only a handful of musicians to have ever lived that can channel that particular level of emotion into their music. It’s one thing to be a brilliant songwriter, but being a performer on stage was a different feat altogether. David was both.

In that moment, Jacob could tell that the others saw something similar. He recalled how Chelsea smiled at David and surged a burst of passion into her voice. He recalled how Tony nodded in solid approval and weaved through his melodies on the guitar alongside David, performing one of their epic combos on the guitar. Ryan, their original drummer, was too zoned out to notice anything. The dude had some intense ADHD or something, but he was a fantastic percussionist. Jacob liked the music that David wrote – he would not have joined the band in the first place if he hadn’t, but that moment on stage was the first tangible indicator that his faith was well-placed. He went on to see that same phenomenon from David many more times over the years, and each one became a sort of checkpoint in Jacob’s mind. A milestone. In David he trusted, even now, so many years later.

***

“How’s everyone doing tonight?” David yelled to the crowd. They erupted into a raucous flurry of ‘woo’s’ and applause. Some guy in the back screamed “yeah!” David smiled and started setting up his effects. “We’re gonna play some songs for you guys tonight, if that’s okay,” the crowd cheered again, “because weeeeee looooove Oakland.” With that, their first song began. Jacob stood still and bobbed his head to the rhythm while he shook his guitar at random intervals to contribute to the ambience. He didn’t play much for this song – once the verse started, he played the five note sequence with one hand and walked over to the piano to get it ready for the rest of the songs. He did this sort of swaying back and forth movement like a good entertainer was supposed to do to show that they were ‘feeling it.’ Then he looked out into the crowd.

Muscle memory was a strange thing for Jacob. He was thankful for it, but he still found it strange. As long as he didn’t wander too far down the rabbit hole, he could set his body to autopilot and trust himself to play music properly while he dealt with the occasional flashback. He had always been prone to memory trips and instances of dissociation, even before he discovered drugs, so he wasn’t sure if it was his age or years of abuse that made them more frequent. Probably both. He normally did not have to worry about zoning out until at least the third song. Not tonight though. When Jacob glanced up to survey the faces watching him, his eyes caught a woman holding a baby towards the back of the venue. Who the fuck brings a baby to a rock show? That was something he never understood. The baby looked like most babies, but babies reminded him of Clarien. A sudden wave of regret swept over Jacob as he was brought back to the year of his son’s birth. Maybe if he had been present that day, he could have prevented his mother from naming him Clarien.

***

Lily had never forgiven Jacob for going on tour while she was pregnant, and although she did not include it in her list of grievances against him, Jacob figured it was probably one of the main reasons she divorced him several years later. She broke the news of her pregnancy to him right before their first world tour, thirteen years ago. It was just after the release of their second studio album. Jacob was ecstatic when he found out. They were going to have a baby! She told him that she was almost towards the end of the first trimester, but waited to tell him until then in case any complications arose. Jacob suspected for a while by that point, but was too afraid to ask in case she had just been putting on weight. His thoughts raced as he rambled about calling the label to see if they could book additional hotel suites for her to stay in, but she cut him off and asked him not to go.

“What?” He asked her, dumbfounded.

“Jacob, please don’t go on tour,” She said.

He shook his head and said “what?” again.

“I’m not going to travel the world with a baby inside me. I need you here with me,” she said. Her voice was firm. She had rehearsed this.

“But,” he stammered, “we leave next week! We can’t find a replacement on such short notice, and cancelling is out of the question.” Was this really happening?

“Well why not? Why can’t you guys just push it back?” she asked.

“What are you – do you even know what you’re asking?” Jacob was incredulous.

“I’m not going, Jacob and I really, really don’t want you to go,” her voice began to waver. “Please don’t turn the announcement of our baby into an argument.”

His mouth mouth dropped. “Are you fucking serious, Lily?” Boom. She burst into tears. There was no turning back, so Jacob continued. “Do you know how big our band is? Does the term ‘world tour’ not register within your head?” Lily had her face in her hands now. “Babe,” she wailed even harder at the utterance of the word ‘babe,’ “work with me here. If you have a solution, then we can figure this out, but it doesn’t seem like you bothered with an alternative before making up your mind. Me, on the other hand, can make all fucking sorts of accommodations for you.”

Shut the fuck up, Jacob! You’re such an asshole, you know that?” She screamed at him.

Jacob threw his hands over his head. “Holy shit Lily, what in God’s name – have you gone mad?”

“You always do this! You always put the stupid band before our relationship!” She said.

Jacob inhaled and closed his eyes. “Lily, I don’t think this is quite the same situa-”

Stop being so goddamn condescending, Jacob!” She said as she threw a remote at him.

It hit him square in the forehead.

***

Back in the present, Jacob flinched and snapped out of the memory. The song was over, but he kept playing the fade-out riff over and over. The rest of the band followed his lead and kept on with the extended outro, but when Jacob looked up, he saw the others staring at him in confusion. He played it once more before letting the notes ring out into silence. The crowd clapped and cheered. Jacob sighed and glanced around the stage again. Tony mouthed a ‘what the fuck’ at him, Freddy, their new drummer wiped the sweat from his forehead and rolled his shoulders, and Susan, their violinist smiled and waved at the crowd. David laughed into the mic and talked about how glad they all were to be there, to which he received yet another round of applause. Jacob shook his head and surveyed the venue again. The woman with the baby had disappeared amidst the sea of glistening faces. Jacob took a swig of water and rubbed his brow. There was no nostalgia that came with thinking of Lily, yet she found her way into his mind often enough for it to be bothersome. Clarien was barely a teenager now, but Jacob had not seen him in almost seven years. He shook his head and repositioned his microphone for the next song. If these were the kinds of flashbacks he would be having for the duration of the show, it was going to be a long one.

The argument with Lily was never fully resolved. He left for the tour before they made proper amends, but they kind-of sorted things out over Skype. He always offered to have her fly out to meet them and join the tour, but she refused. She never gave a real reason why. Jacob had a theory that it was just out of some weird principle. Lily never stopped hoping that ‘being in a band’ was just a phase for Jacob. She wanted him to have a stable, albeit less lucrative career, where he dressed up in a shirt and tie every day, dealt with fuck-os in a cubicle for eight hours, and came home to hump her for a few minutes before falling asleep. Maybe it was not as dismal in her head as it was in Jacob’s, but that was the gist of what she wanted. A routine. The American nuclear family lifestyle. It was no surprise then, that with each milestone of success in the band’s career, his relationship with Lily deteriorated. Jacob used to have a fantasy about an alternate universe Lily that was as stoked about music as he was and would follow them on tour. In his imagination, she would even play an instrument. Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire toured only a few months after she and Win had their baby, and she was a member of the band. Jacob never understood why Lily was so opposed to coming along. Lily gave birth to Clarien five months after their fight, one week before the end of the tour and three weeks ahead of schedule. They almost had another fight when Jacob found out what she named their son. Jacob blinked. They had started the opening to their second song.  It was called “Hollow,” and that’s exactly what it was without Chelsea’s vocals.

***

There was something ethereal about Chelsea’s singing that no one else could replicate. Before she joined the band way back when, she was a fringe member of the group’s social circle as an acquaintance of Tony’s. David begged her to jam with them as soon as he heard her sing during a night of drunken karaoke, and after everyone else heard her voice at their first formal practice, she was in for good. Chelsea was an old soul and a free spirit – two things that helped shape the band’s unique image as they became more and more popular. Her gentle stage persona was the perfect contrast to the rest of the band’s rugged attitude, and even though she was the last of the original members to join, she grew to become the face of their music alongside David. Yet above all else, her musical prowess aside, she was a close friend to all of them. Even Lily liked her. Jacob’s marriage may have ended a lot sooner if it were not for Chelsea and Lily getting along so well. After she quit the band nine years ago, there were a few half-hearted attempts at finding a replacement, but none of the girls who tried out had the ‘spark’ that David was looking for. Icarus Grounded announced their indefinite hiatus not long afterwards.

David and Chelsea grew close over the course of their first world tour and began a formal relationship upon its completion. Everyone agreed to go on a short year and a half break from band life to give Jacob time to take care of baby Clarien, but they all remained in touch. In Jacob’s memories, this was probably the happiest period of his life. He and Lily put their problems aside, Tony got married and started up a side project, David and Chelsea were madly in love and writing new songs together, and Ryan took an extended trip to the UK. Their bliss was short lived, however. It was not long before David became antsy and jumped the gun with the announcement of another album in an interview with Pitchfork Magazine. Shortly after that, they were all back in the studio once more. Jacob’s marital problems came to a head when he revealed to Lily their plans for a second world tour. After a good amount of pointless fighting, they decided to separate. He blamed the split as the reason for his first foray into drug abuse. His memories of the tour were a haze of booze, pills, and coke, with intermittent periods of sorrow. David was his best friend, but he was too wrapped up in the music to notice how difficult things were for Jacob. Instead, it was Chelsea who kept him afloat. Jacob and Chelsea both felt the void from David’s distance as he consumed himself with his own creativity, and in his absence they became confidants for each other. Jacob recalled many nights when the two of them would wander off after a show and explore whatever city they were in. He confided in her his worries and regrets, and she confessed her growing frustration with David and the direction they were headed. A year after the tour, David and Chelsea had a huge fight. Later that week, Chelsea asked Jacob to meet at a cafe in Seattle.

“Is everything okay with you?” Jacob asked Chelsea after they sat down.

“Yeah. I’m fine. I mean, not with David, but I’m dealing with it.” She said.

“That’s good.” He nodded and looked out the window.

She seemed surprised at his nonchalance. “I just can’t deal with-”

“Hey, I get it. You don’t have to justify anything.” He gave her a solemn smile.

She looked relieved that he understood. “Thank you.” The two of them sat in silence for a while. Then Chelsea took a deep breath and sighed. “I’m leaving the band, Jacob.”

Jacob nodded again and sipped his tea. “I kind of assumed as much after hearing you guys,” His sullen eyes met hers,  “What are you going to do?”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“Like, are you going to still do music?” He said.

Chelsea furrowed her brow. “I – I think so. I can’t imagine not performing, you know? I just don’t know where to start.”

Jacob shrugged. “You’re a fantastic artist. People know you. You could find a back up band in no time.”

“What if I don’t want to find strangers?” Something in her tone changed as she said this.

Jacob raised an eyebrow. He realized that she had not asked to meet for the sake of comfort. She had a proposition. “Are you suggesting-?”

“I don’t know, Jacob. All I know is that you’re one of my best friends and if there’s anyone in the world who I can trust to help me start something new, it’s you.” She put her hand on the table, not quite reaching out, but prepared to.

Jacob clenched his jaw. “Chelsea,” He began, his voice was stuck in his throat, “you’re asking that we both leave David.”

Chelsea shut her eyes. “Yes, I know. I’m trying to think about what’s best for me though – and maybe for you too. I know you guys go way back, but hasn’t he seemed out of touch lately? It’s like he’s possessed. He’s not there for any of us. He isn’t the leader he used to be. I mean, look at you-”

Jacob bristled at her assessment of him. “What about me?” He agreed with everything she said, but she had made a jab at his pride, whether intentional or not. “Do you think I need help?” His voice came out louder than he meant it to.

“No, that’s not what I meant Jacob, but you and I would both be lying if we said you weren’t in a bad place right now. I’m not saying its David’s fault but he sure as hell isn’t helping.” There was frustration riddled in the compassion in her voice.

“Look, Chelsea,” He said, “I’ve stuck with the band through thick and thin. I gave up my marriage for this. For the music. If I quit and join you, who knows what will happen? What if we don’t make it? Would everything have been for nothing?”

“You’d still have someone who cares. We’d have each other.” She lowered her voice to a whisper.

Jacob was too stubborn to understand. “David’s my friend too.” Chelsea nodded and after a tense period of silence, she left without a word. It was a long time later when Jacob realized that she wasn’t just offering her friendship.

***

Another rush of guilt flowed through Jacob’s gut, along with a tingling numbness in his hands and feet. He staggered a bit as he finished their fifth song, but nobody seemed to notice. He muttered a ‘fuck’ under his breath and made his way over to his case. In the compartment meant for storing cables, he pulled out his bottle of aspirin and popped two more onto his palm. Being as discreet as one could be on a stage in front of over a hundred people, he dry swallowed and removed his guitar from over his shoulders. Jacob’s vision zoomed in and out, like a camera lens struggling to focus. He steadied himself and took a deep breath, then walked over and handed the guitar to David. In another time he would have done a quick bump, but it was his fourth year sober and no one he knew even came near him with drugs anymore. Jacob cracked his knuckles and sat down at the piano, then scratched his beard while he waited for David to shut up and play their hit, “Submarina.” David took a while to tune, so Jacob started playing the opening keys. The venue went quiet. After the second bar, Susan joined in with a violin and the two of them completed the movement’s haunting melody. This was how they started the song in the old days when it was still Chelsea on strings. As soon as they finished, Jacob muttered, “One, two, three-,” slammed the keys, and the rest of the band jumped in in an explosion of sound.

***

“Submarina” was about holding onto the things that mattered most. It was the first song on their third album – the one David wrote with Chelsea, and it was all Jacob listened to while in rehab. Things fell apart after Chelsea left, for the band and for its members. David lost a lot of his passion and it wasn’t long before the group disbanded. Officially he called it a hiatus, but the others knew better. Jacob was tempted to take up Chelsea’s offer after that, but he still saw it as a betrayal to David. Instead, he spent a few months getting clean before reaching out to Lily in a last ditch effort to reconnect with his family. Things were going smoothly for a while, but their previous turmoil never went away, and Lily filed for divorce two years later. It was at that point that Jacob hit rock bottom. He receded from everyone he knew, went off the grid, and did just about everything he could get his hands on. For three years, Jacob was a recluse. He sold his home twice, downgrading each time so that he could afford not to work, until finally he decided to hit the road. He drove all over the U.S., slept in his car and in shitty roadside diners, sometimes trying to write or play music on the street. Eventually even that came to an end. Jacob had just about run out of everything when he found himself back in San Francisco. Walking through Tenderloin one night, he wound up in front of The Sleepy Son. For the first time in recent history for him, Jacob felt something. It was only the faint murmur of nostalgia, but it was enough to pique his curiosity. He walked in and sat at the bar. Not long after that, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Jacob?” Came a raspy voice. Jacob turned around to see David, a look of bewilderment plastered on his face. Jacob said nothing. He couldn’t. He hadn’t spoken to David in so long and now, to be seen like this? “Jacob, what are you doing here?”

Jacob shook his head and turned away. “Leave me alone, David.” He managed to mumble.

David grabbed his arm. “Dude, don’t take this the wrong way, but what the fuck happened, man?”

Jacob recalled when Chelsea said something similar at a cafe, years ago. He had gotten angry then, but now there was nothing left to fuel those feelings. “I don’t know,” He said, “A lotta shit.”

David pulled up a chair next to him. “Well where’d you go? Y’know, me and Tony – we tried contacting you a while ago but we couldn’t-” He stopped when he saw Jacob staring at him with glossy eyes.

“I fucked up, man.” Jacob pounded his fist on the bar and sniffed. “I fucked up. I mean, first with Lily – I never should have chosen between my life and – and hers but,” He trailed off and bobbed his head, “And with Chelsea. She was there for me, but I pushed her away too and,” He felt tears welling up in his eyes, “And why the fuck weren’t you there, David? Where the fuck did you go?”

David let go of Jacob’s arm. He took a long sip of his beer and stared at the counter.  “I let you guys down.” He said. David took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair. “Plain and simple. I lost sight of what we were all about. I fucked up too, Jacob, I’m sorry.”

Neither of them said anything for the remainder of the night. Some indie band played a decent set while the two of them watched from afar. After the show, David asked if Jacob had a place to stay, and when it was clear he didn’t, urged Jacob to crash at his place. In the morning, they caught up. Jacob told David all the shit he’d done, and David brought Jacob up to speed. He and Tony landed jobs as producers at a label but David still yearned to play music again. David still hadn’t settled down, nor had he heard from Chelsea, and Tony was still happily married. Ryan fell out of touch with the guys, but David heard that he had died in a car crash a couple years back. David and Tony attended his funeral.

David offered to help Jacob get back on his feet again and figure out what he wanted to do. It took a while, but things started to improve. Jacob went to rehab for six months and landed a job as a studio manager where Tony and David worked. It was only a matter of time before the three of them started playing music again. They just messed around and jammed at first, but it was Jacob who brought up the subject of reformation, much to the surprise of the others. He reasoned that he had lost too much choosing a life of music to quit now and that it was too late in the game for him to do anything else. Even though he was only in his forties, Jacob felt and looked a lot older. David and Tony came around and promised Jacob that things would be different this time. So far, they had, but Jacob still felt the effects of his downward spiral. Before their latest tour, Jacob was hospitalized briefly. None of the other members new, as he kept it a secret, but with each show they played and each place they travelled to, it became more difficult to keep it together.

***

Jacob forced his eyes shut for the end. It was dead quiet again, except for his voice and the piano keys. After the sound of the last notes dissipated, he kept singing. David stepped back towards the mic and joined him, then Susan, then Tony. They all recited the final lines of the chorus together, over and over until even the audience joined in. Jacob clenched his fists in his lap. His whole body was numb now. He reached up to touch his face and couldn’t feel anything there either. While the crowd still sang the words to “Submarina,” David motioned to Freddy, who began kicking the bass drum in 4/4 time. Jacob braced himself for their last song, “To the End.” Susan came in with her violin and Tony used his Ebow to simulate the sound of another one. David started the bassline and Jacob joined the flurry with the piano chords. He was grateful that he didn’t have to sing on this song, because playing piano was difficult enough on its own while having a stroke.

The red, pink, and indigo lights swirled within each other as if to declare this show his last. The music melted together into a crescendo of emotion and Jacob could not tell whether the crowd was cheering or if it was just white noise. He was not even sure whether David was slurring his lyrics or actually singing. He looked out one last time at all the people who had come to see them play and tried to smile. Jacob thought he saw the lady with the baby again. He thought she looked a little bit like Lily. He thought he saw Chelsea in the front row, eyes wide, awestruck with their performance. She looked straight at him and her expression turned to worry. Unlike everyone else in the venue, maybe she knew that he was losing it. Maybe she was actually there.. His fingers danced atop the keys like they were supposed to, devoid of all sensation except for cold. He thanked his muscle memory for that. The room was spinning now. The lights and the sound blended together in his head as he closed his eyes. The music began to fade away into darkness and as the band reached the finale, he thought he felt the sudden, dulled impact of  stone floor. It made sense to die on stage. It was the only justification for everything else. Jacob let go.