|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
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We Are Back
His father's standing on the front porch of the home where Mark grew up. His family moved here when he was almost eight, and when Mark turned nineteen he moved into an apartment just across the town, skipping college so he could write songs and tour with his band. The name PELLION still remains in fancy script on a porcelain plaque above the mailbox. He remembers when his parents added it, the day they moved in. They were so proud to move from one side of Kitty to the other. So happy that they now lived in Tiger Bay, the Nice Part of Town. Even though Mark sees his parents every Christmas at their rented house in the mountains of North Carolina — he drives down from Manhattan; they drive from Virginia — this is the first time in twenty years he's been home.
"Dad," he repeats. "It's late. You didn't have to wait up."
It's almost midnight, and all the windows along the suburban street are dark — except for the warm glow coming from behind the closed curtains of his parents' living room.
"Couldn't sleep," his dad says. There's a smile on his face. "You made it."
Mark grabs a duffel bag from the back seat, locks the rental car, and walks up the front steps. He leans in for a hug.
"Good. She's asleep, but she's excited to see you, too."
Mark pulls back.
"Sorry. I got a later start than I meant to. And there was traffic."
His dad looks down at the ground and nods, running a slipper over the weathered welcome mat — so worn away, the letters are just ghosts.
"It's so — it's good to have you home."
They go inside. Mark places the duffel bag on the floor in the hallway and walks into the living room. It's exactly as he remembers it — same pictures, same wallpaper, same carpet. The only thing different is a new flat-screen TV and cable box glowing in the corner. Under the TV is the same VCR they bought when he was in high school.
"How was the drive?"
"Long. My back's killing me."
When neither of them speaks again, there's silence. It startles Mark. New York City doesn't do quiet. His dad finally says, "We've been getting phone calls."
"Why? About what?"
His dad walks to where an old Dell laptop is open on top of an ottoman. The ottoman is faded and threadbare in two spots from where Mark's dad likes to put up his feet to watch TV. Mark sits on the couch — the only couch he can remember his parents ever owning — and looks at the computer. He sees his face. It's a picture of him from the nineties, an old publicity shot for his band Bottlecap from when they were on that first record label, the one their friend Dave ran. Gary and Steve are on either side of him. All three of them are wearing flannel shirts and sitting in a field located on the outskirts of town — if Mark remembers correctly — almost all the way to Mechanicsville. Next to the photo is a Kitty Courier story about the show next week.
BOTTLECAP, OTHERS TO UNITE FOR BENEFIT
On May 18th Kitty legends Bottlecap, the band who had a minor hit at the tail end of the grunge years with their single "I Want to Feel You," will reform for one night as part of a benefit for local company VR Records.
Label owner and founder Dave Rowland says, "It means the world to me that all of my old groups, and my old friends, are getting back together to help me save VR Records. They helped put it on the map all those years ago, and I hope they can help me keep it going now."
VR, which shortened its name from Violent Revolution soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is run out of Rowland's home and now releases music digitally. Its last vinyl record was released in 2002, and its last CD was released in 2010.
The original members of Bottlecap haven't played together since their original singer and Kitty native Mark Pellion stormed out of the Los Angeles recording sessions for their major label debut nearly twenty years ago. Pellion will be joined by bassist Gary Reiger and drummer Steve Haverkamp, both of whom have moved back to Kitty since Bottlecap called it quits in 2001. Steve is now a salesman at Haverkamp Motors, while Gary still plays in a variety of local bands.
Bottlecap will be joined by other bands under the VR label, including the Disappointed and the Deer Park, though neither group has played in Kitty since local nightclub the Scene closed its doors in 1998.
The concert will be held at the Dark Star Lounge next Saturday at 8:00 PM. Advance tickets are available online or at the Dark Star box office during regular business hours.
When Mark's done reading, he looks up and sees his dad watching him, smiling. There's not a lot of light in the room — just what's coming from the hallway and the kitchen — but what light there is gets caught in his dad's eyes. It's been a long time since Mark's seen him look like this.
"The Nearys called. Do you remember the Nearys, Mark?"
"Who? No. But that's — I didn't think it'd be such a big deal."
"You forget how small this town is, Mark. It's not," the old man laughs, "Manhattan."
Mark closes the computer. Without the glowing screen, the room is just shadows.
"Anyway, you must be tired. You need help with your luggage?" Mark gets up, grabs the duffel bag.
"Tomorrow. Traveling light for now."
Mark moves toward the stairs. He can see his dad's about to say something. Mark pauses, waiting for him to speak.
"Laura still lives here, you know."
"I know, Dad."
Mark didn't know, not for sure, but he figured.
"I just thought you'd want to — anyway, you go on to bed. I'll lock up down here."
Mark walks quietly up the dark staircase. At the top, he can hear his mom breathing at the end of the hallway. Downstairs he hears his dad turning off lights and then walking through the kitchen to check the back door, the nightly routine hasn't changed after all these years. His steps are heavy, plodding. It sounds like he's carrying suitcases, but all he's carrying is himself. Mark tries to remember how old his parents are, but can't.
Every year when they get together in December, Mark notices a decline in their health. They're always a bit slower than the year before. His dad keeps getting thinner, and his hands shake, while his mom seems to shrink all over. Walking into the house tonight, he was depressed to discover it no longer smelled like his parents. Now it just smells like old people.
Mark enters his room, not bothering to turn on the light. He slips off his shoes, takes off his pants, and climbs into bed. He can't remember a time growing up that he didn't sleep in this bed. It may even be the bed he's had since leaving the crib. When he was a boy, the bed seemed huge. He would pretend it was a train, a boat, a plane coasting through the sky. Now it's just a bed. He pulls the covers over himself and smells dust, some of which must be made of him. Mark closes his eyes and tries to sleep.
Charles is sure he smells mold. He's positive. He can practically see it floating in the air, green clouds of evil. Acrid, acidy, eating away at his brain. With every breath, he feels his intelligences dip.
"Darling, stop sniffing."
His wife, Grace, enters the room, carrying a cup of coffee. Charles is in bed, his Ralph Lauren pajamas wrinkled from tossing and turning all night. He's staring at the ceiling, nostrils opening and closing. Grace is wearing workout pants, a Lululemon sweatshirt, and bright purple New Balance sneakers.
She hands Charles the coffee. On the mug are pictures of their daughter, Maddie. The photos — Charles holding Maddie in his arms, Maddie yawning, Maddie sleeping in a stroller — are faded. The mug was a gift from Grace to Charles on his first Father's Day. Maddie was just five months old at the time. She turned eight three weeks ago, and Charles is freaking out.
Last month he noticed stains on the ceiling of her room. When he went into the attic to investigate, he found puddles of water on the insulation and dark streaks on the boards that formed the underside of the roof frame. Apparently the roof had been leaking for years despite having been replaced shortly before Charles and Grace bought the house five years ago.
The problem was that the flashing hadn't been installed properly. There were also leaks at the joints between the roof and the chimney, as well as between the sloped sections at the front of the roof. Rain had leaked down to the rafters, resulting in wood rot and mold. Not that he liked the idea of rotting wood, but the mold is what scared Charles the most. The bedrooms were on the second floor, with Maddie's room sitting right underneath the worst of the damage.
"You can't smell the mold, remember?" Now Grace is staring at the ceiling, too. "That's what makes it so dangerous. One of the contractors told us that."
Last weekend Charles had three different contractors come out and take a look, and they all said the same thing. The whole roof needed to be replaced. What pissed off Charles the most was that if the leaks had been caught earlier it would have been a simple repair. Just a few hundred bucks. When the contractors gave their estimates for the work, Charles couldn't believe it. The price ranged from twenty to thirty thousand dollars. For a fucking roof.
Charles finally looks away from the ceiling and takes a sip of the coffee. It's hot and strong. He takes another sip and then trades the coffee for the MacBook that's sitting on his nightstand.
"Sweetheart, what are you doing?" Grace's arms are crossed. "You know the rule. No laptops in bed."
"I know, I know," Charles says as he enters his password. "I just want to check my email really quick before heading to the office."
Grace stomps out of the room. She enters the bathroom that's right outside the bedroom. Charles hears the faucet go on and off. Drawers are opened and closed.
Charles clicks on the Outlook icon, waits impatiently for it to load. There have been some rumors that his department's going to be reorganized and that O'Brien, the head of their branch, is looking to promote someone to vice president. Charles and a couple of other guys on his floor — Dylan and Brooks — have been speculating about who's going to get the job. Charles was hoping for an email from one of them with some news or gossip. But there's nothing.
Frustrated, Charles clicks over to Gmail. The first thing he sees is from the local paper, the Kitty Courier. Sometimes, if there's something newsworthy, they'll send out an email with a link to the story. Usually it's just about ice storms or dates of the county fair, nothing that ever interests Charles. But this headline reads BOTTLECAP, OTHERS TO UNITE FOR BENEFIT. He quickly scans the article.
"No way!" he calls out. "Honey, you've got to see this."
Grace comes back into the room.
"What is it?" "Bottlecap, this band from town I used to love, is getting back together. They're playing a show next week."
"Bottlecap?" she says, as she puts her hair into a ponytail, "Never heard of them."
"That's what you get for growing up in Crozet. Here in Kitty they were a legend."
"Legend?" She sounds skeptical.
"Legend," he repeats, before adding, "well, to me and friends anyway. Maybe I'll see if Randy wants to go."
"That guy you used to live with?"
Grace has never met him but Charles is always telling stories about Randy, about how crazy their life was in the nineties, how they were both really into the music scene in town, and how they tried to get a zine off the ground. This was right after college, when everyone still called Charles by his childhood nickname "Chipp."
"Those were great days."
Even though Charles says this under his breath, Grace hears him. She smiles and says, "These days are pretty great, too. Don't you think? Speaking of which, can you drop off Maddie at school on your way in to work? I'd like to make an early yoga class."
Charles shakes his head.
"Can't, sweetie, sorry. There's that big meeting today, remember? O'Brien's delivering our quarterly results. 'Attendance is mandatory.'" "Yeah, but you said that's not until noon."
"It isn't, but it's a big day. I need to get there early. Show I'm a team player." He looks toward his closet. "Should probably wear a tie, too. Just in case."
"Okay, fine," Grace says, "but you owe me. Can you take Grace to the dentist on Thursday? I've got Pilates."
"Deal," Charles says as he writes up a quick email to Randy, asking for forgiveness for being out of touch, and seeing if he wants to get together soon. He finishes the email and hits SEND.
Grace says, "Where did he end up, anyway?"
"Randy, your old friend."
Charles looks out the window, considering this.
"I don't know. It's been so long since I've seen him — eight, ten years, maybe." He finally gets out of bed. "But Randy was a sharp guy. I'm sure he landed on his feet."
Randy slept in his clothes again. He doesn't know why. He can't remember anything from the night before. All he knows is that there's sunlight pouring into his room, he's waking up, and he's still wearing the jeans and T-shirt from yesterday. All that comes back to him is a girl and a bottle and his car that he should not have driven home from wherever he had been.
Shit, what time is it? I'm going to be late for my shift.
He sits up and looks for the clock, but can't find it. He knows there's one in his room somewhere. It's digital and he hears it beep occasionally, some long forgotten alarm going off. Some prior version of him late for something. But there's too much clutter to find it. Dirty clothes, unwashed dishes, and empty packets of cigarettes are everywhere.
He buries his head under a pillow, tries to go back to sleep, tries to escape the day he's not yet ready to face. But noises coming from the kitchen make his headache grow even larger. It's that shitty electronic music Cody and Hunter are always playing. There's not even a stereo in the apartment. His roommates just "stream" music on their laptops from wherever they happen to be sitting.
Randy used to live alone. But over the past decade his rent kept going up while his pay stayed the same and, as a result, he had to move into smaller and smaller apartments. He finally couldn't afford to live on his own. So he has roommates again, both younger than him by decades. If they were amused when Randy first showed up and told them he'd come about the Craigslist ad, they were downright baffled when he said he'd take it — it was the smallest room in the house. Randy, forty-four and old enough to be their father, knew they didn't want him there. But what could they say? They needed a third party to share the rent, and he moved in before they could think of an excuse.
Randy gets out of bed, his head throbbing and his back aching. He tries to stand up straight but can't. Hunched over, he rummages around his desk piled high with junk — cans of soda, crumpled receipts, unopened mail. Most of the mail is bills, most of them marked PAST DUE. He finally finds his cell phone, an old BlackBerry with a keyboard instead of a touch screen (no one has these anymore) and discovers it's almost ten. Since his shift at Bookstorage starts at one, he usually wakes up around noon. From 1:00 PM until closing, four days a week. That's his schedule.
He clears away a bunch of dirty clothes from a cheap-looking chair in front of an Ikea desk that's covered in stickers, and sits down. He picks up two socks from the floor that seem clean and appear to match. He puts them on and looks down at the jeans and T-shirt he slept in. They seem okay. He reaches for a pair of Doc Martens he's had forever. The orange stitching around the soles turned black long ago. As he bends over to lace them up, his knees crack. When he stands, he hears something pop. He grabs his wallet, a pack of cigarettes, and his car keys from a plastic cereal bowl atop a cluttered dresser.
He enters the shared area of the house and sees Cody and Hunter sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen table — chairs leaned back, computers on their laps, feet on the table. Cody is tall, angular, with jet-black hair in an '80s new-wave style. Hunter's shorter, stockier and soft, with hair that looks like it's never seen scissors and yet is still, somehow, stylish. They're both coders. Freelance. That typing they're doing right now, that's their work. One of them does something with databases and the other builds system architecture, whatever that is.
Excerpted from "Losing Our Edge"
Copyright © 2018 Jeff Gomez.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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