I ended up going back to the hospital, getting Ziggy, and then bringing him back to the hotel so I could tell him the whole story in four-part harmony, without interruptions or worrying who might overhear.
He listened, sitting on the very rectangular couch, with one knee crossed over the other, a cup of lukewarm tea poised in one hand, and one eyebrow arched. He punctuated my recap with the occasional “oh?” or “really.”
When I caught up to the present, I sat down next to him and put my hands over my eyes. “What’s funny is I’m angrier about it now than I was at the time.”
“You’re pretty good at suppressing what you feel, you know.”
“Hm. I guess.”
“And you have a slower fuse than you think. It takes a while for what you should be angry about to sink in. Don’t you think?”
I dropped my hands and looked at him. “I suppose. Now I’m cooling off again, though, and I just feel… sort of sorry for her? Like, how can you go through life being that fucked up? I guess thank goodness she didn’t have kids?”
“Yet. She’s only thirty. But let’s talk about Digger.”
“Speaking of head cases.” I leaned into him as he set down the cup of tea and put an arm around me. “What about him?”
“Well, I’d like to know if it’s true he’s working out some kind of settlement in Sarah’s embezzlement case. What time is it?”
“I have no idea.” I couldn’t have told you the day of the week, either. Daylight was coming through the windows and it was after lunch but that was as precise as I got.
“It’s still office hours,” he said, and got up to go to the phone by the bed.
I curled up on the couch. “Ugh. Don’t tell me I have to tell that whole story again.”
“No, dear one. I’ll do that.” He had already dialed and was listening to it ring. “Barrett, please,” he said to someone who must’ve recognized his voice since they put him right through. “Hey. I have a little news and we might want to get Mintz on the line for this.”
My brain stopped listening to the words and instead I just took in the sound of his voice. Now that I wasn’t angry anymore, I felt tired, and I drifted to sleep. When I woke up a little while later, he was still on the phone.
“Oh, really. BNC’s lawyers said that? Did they put it in writing? No? I wouldn’t believe it until I hear Patty say it, then. Yeah, yeah, that’s what I think, too. Well, let me know if you hear anything. You know where to page me.”
He hung up and then sat there without moving. I decided if I was going to be lying down I might as well be lying down on the bed next to him, so I moved over there. He still didn’t say anything, just reached out a hand and lay it on my arm.
When I woke up the next time, his hand was also on my arm but ZIggy had moved to the other side of me and was lying down, too.
I guess he heard my eyelids open or something because he said, “You awake?”
“Mintz was very interested in that, as you can imagine. He agreed it sounds like Digger will do anything to avoid jail. And yet when it comes to me, it seems like he’s going to force us to file a countersuit.”
“Why would he want that? Won’t that just expose even more of his embezzlement?”
“He wants to expose the weakness of our witnesses, I guess. Given what your sister said.” He sighed. “I don’t want to force Janessa and Colin to go through that too many times.”
“Bart’s dad would do it. And he probably looks better than Colin.”
“Still has the problem that he’s a family member. They’re going to claim that Janessa is the one who falsified the books, of course. If there are two sets, they’re going to say the real ones are the fakes and the fake one is real.”
There’s a song in there somewhere, I thought. That should work as a metaphor or something, shouldn’t it? But I was drifting off to sleep again.
We slept through dinner. When we woke up it was nightfall, and I had a sudden panic that something had happened at the hospital and they hadn’t called and told us. Then I thought that was silly, of course they would have called. Then I had a second panic that something had happened to Courtney and Lilibeth. I sat up. “I’m sure they’re fine,” I said aloud.
Ziggy rolled over languidly. “I’m sure they are. Who are we talking about? Your sisters?”
He echoed me. “I’m sure they’re fine.”
I turned the light on beside the bed and sat there blinking. I had that feeling in the back of my head like I had started to say something but forgot. What was it?
A chill crept up my spine as the memory fizzled back. A song idea. I’d had a song idea as I was falling asleep. What was it? Something about… reality?
I blinked again. About cooking the books financially, and having two sets of them, one real and one fake. Now that I was awake I was disappointed to realize that was actually not a great metaphor to build a song around. A love song abot spreadsheets was just not in my wheelhouse.
I rubbed the back of my neck where the hairs had stood up. “How can you tell something’s wrong?”
“You’re slouching more than usual.”
Great. “On top of all the worry about Claire, and Digger, and my sister, and cancer and million dollar lawsuits, my writers block is getting me down. Which feels… like it should be trivial in comparison.”
“Is it what?”
“Trivial. In comparison.”
“Yes and no? I mean, it feels like it should be. It’s not life or death, right? But it’s this huge thing in my head, and getting huger all the time.”
“Like a wolf blotting out the sun.” Don’t ask me where he got that metaphor from.
“Well, maybe that’s part of the problem. You keep trying to minimize it, to make it seem like less, and it grows because the more you try to pretend it’s not that big, the bigger it gets.”
I lay back down and curled toward him, laying my hand on his chest. “You’re undoubtedly right. But what do I do then?”
“Keep trying? It’s been at least a week since we sat down and tried.” He snickered. “God. I sound like a wife talking to her impotent husband.”
“Have you overheard a lot of couples having this talk?”
“Correction: I sound like a wife talking to her impotent husband in a trashy novel. There there, dear. Let’s just try again. But I suppose that does seem the most straightforward way to be supportive.” He rolled to face me. “What’s funny is ‘straightforward’ would be the last word I’d use to describe myself.”
“So, what are you saying, we should try a more roundabout approach to the problem?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Did Jordan ever pull the Eno cards on you?”
“What? You just said a bunch of words but they didn’t make a sentence.”
He grinned. “Jordan had this deck of cards with little sayings on them. Well, not sayings, creative approaches. They were specifically for breaking through when you’d get stuck writing a song or in a project. Brian Eno wrote them.”
“Eno wrote them for Jordan?”
“No, no, they were published in the seventies. Jordan had two sets. One at the studio and one at his house. The cards came out at parties sometimes.”
I had never seen these cards. “What did they say on them?”
“All kinds of stuff. I don’t remember them all. But the idea was you’d pull one out, and it would force you to think about your song or whatever in a different way, and then even if that thing wasn’t the solution, you’d have looked at it from another perspective. One of them I remember was ‘what would your closest friend do.'”
Hm, what would Bart do if he had to write a funeral song for Claire? Probably listen to Mozart’s Requiem nonstop for three days, do a couple of shots of flaming absinthe, and then sit down at the piano.
Which would probably not work for me. But maybe I should try it some time.
I focused back on Ziggy’s face, which looked somber. “What song were you working on when you pulled that card?”
“Into the Night,” he said.
“Did it work? The card, I mean?”
“No. I flung it back at Jordan, had a tantrum, and stormed off. Because I felt at that point like I didn’t have a best friend. I wasn’t sure I had anyone I could call friend right then.”
“Shit.” I was probably in Spain then.
“Yeah, I was feeling very isolated, very alienated at that point. I…” He trailed off, his gaze wandering toward the dark ceiling. “I ended up on the roof of the building.”
My neck hairs prickled. He didn’t come out and say whether he contemplated suicide or if he was just looking for his equivalent of my water tank to hide in. He didn’t have to. “Zig.”
“But someone came and talked to me and told me about shit they’d been through and this and that and let me vent and rage and in the end I felt better.”
“Digger.” His eyes were sober. “Your father talked me down.”
“Are you saying I’m being too hard on him?”
“No! Not at all. He’s an awful human being. The fact that he can occasionally use sincerity and his own vulnerability as manipulative tools doesn’t make him a better person. He and I grew very close. I was manipulating him, too, of course. But that’s not what we’re talking about right now. We’re talking about you’re writers block.”
“The only other card I remember was one that said ‘Ask your body.'” He stretched an arm upward toward the ceiling, the short sleeve of his (my) T-shirt loose around his lithe limb.
Ask my body. My hands were saying no way José. When it came to playing music they were on strike. The rest of me was too distracted by the body next to mine to focus on music. My hands wanted to touch his skin, to fit my palm under the curve of his ribcage while I leaned over to kiss him. To warm his cheek and pull him close.
(So that’s what I did.)