Shit. Why did I ask him to come to St. Louis?
It sure as hell wasn’t so he could watch me drop a guitar pick and almost crack a kneecap I went down so fast with a spasm in my hand so bad it felt worse than the fucking knife had.
Maybe that’s an unfair comparison since I actually really didn’t feel the knife at all when it happened. But you get the idea.
I had just looked into the pit and noticed Ziggy sitting next to Court, in the same spot Claire had been the night before, when the meat in my palm decided to curdle. That exact moment.
And the weird thought that went through my head–while I tried to pry my fingers open with my other hand, and Remo covered for me by picking up his solo early, and I wondered if people in the audience were looking at me instead of him and hoping they were looking at him–was that at least my mother didn’t see me fuck up like this. Weird because, you know, it was as if I cared what my mother thought.
Meanwhile I did care what Ziggy thought but not in the same way. In the back of my head I noted that Ziggy was very low key. No makeup or so little it looked like none, his hair down and combed into neat bangs on his forehead–I don’t think I had ever seen him with bangs before. He was in a plain black mock turtleneck like he was trying to blend in with the crew.
Flip helped me to my feet and when I wouldn’t cooperate with him trying to get the guitar strap over my shoulder he just herded me off the stage.
Which was the right thing to do. I realized that once I was not on stage and my brain shifted to thinking something more logical than just “no, this isn’t right.” Flip set the guitar aside and took my hand in his.
“How bad is it?” he asked, in my ear since the band was still playing.
I heard him fine through the earplug. “You know how it kills when you get a cramp in your leg during the night?”
“Like that. Only worse.” The cramp was in the muscles of my palm itself but it was like it spread into my fingers and my wrist.
Flip did something with shaking it a certain way that cracked my wrist and half of the spasm let go. The other half, though, no luck. “What do you want to do?” he asked me.
“Hell if I know.”
We both looked back toward the stage. Remo was looking our direction trying to figure out what to do differently, if anything. Flip gave him a negative sign and dragged me all the way to the prep area.
I sat in a folding chair with y hand tucked under my arm, trying not to crack a tooth. Flip made me take some ibuprofen and the coating on the pills was sweet, like M&Ms. Then he brought me a bucket of hot water and epsom salts. I stuck my hand in it.
I wish I could say it felt instantly better, but all it felt right away was hot and wet. Oh well.
I heard the band finish another song.
“You’re probably out of commission until at least the encore,” Flip said.
“Yeah.” Where I was sitting wasn’t all the way to the green room, but just an additional backstage area where equipment cases and some random chairs sat. It was one of the spots where friends and family could see the stage from, though not as well as down in the security and camera pit. It was weird seeing the band from this angle.
They could do it without me. I knew they could. But when I’d had the stomach flu I hadn’t seen what it looked like without me there. I caught Fran and Alan and Martin and Remo all looking off to the side to check on me. I held up the bucket each time and shrugged.
“Is it working?” Flip asked.
He went away and then came back a few minutes later with a hot water bottle and a towel.
He set the bucket aside and I immediately missed it–which I guess means it was doing something. He set the hot water bottle on my leg, wrapped the towel around it once, and then wrapped the towel around my hand to sort of bandage it to the hot water bottle, palm against the heat.
That started to work. I felt a teensy bit of relief. But a few minutes later when I tried to pull my hand free again, the second it wasn’t in contact with the hot water bottle it would cramp up again. I sighed.
“I can only think of one other thing to try,” he said.
“Besides taking the other half a pill?”
“What are you thinking?”
He made a toking motion with pinched fingers.
I agreed immediately. “They only said no alcohol. They never said a word about weed.”
“Be right back.”
He came back this time with Jam, who had an actual corncob pipe in his teeth, along with a shit-eating grin. He pulled up a chair next to me and he and Flip cooperated with Jam holding the pipe to my mouth while Flip worked the lighter. I had one free hand but they didn’t seem to notice that.
I proceeded to get good and baked. It had been a while.
At one point I said, “Is this an actual goddam corncob pipe?”
And Jam said, “This is Kansas! Of course it is!”
“Aren’t we in Missouri?”
He clucked his tongue. “Details! Details!”
I got baked enough that when I held up my hands to look at them neither of them really looked like mine at first. But the fingers wiggled when I sent the signals to wiggle them so they must have been mine.
And then it was time for the first encore. Flip and Remo had a quick and intense discussion that I couldn’t hear but I could see the looks on their faces and the gestures in my direction.
“I’m fine,” I insisted, in case that was what they were talking about.
So no acoustic encore that time. It was better to just go all out with loud stuff and the whole band because then it didn’t matter so much if my superfine control was nonexistent. So that’s what we did. The two fast, loud songs that were usually in the third encore and the usual fourth encore finale which was also two “send them home with their feet tapping” numbers.
The only mistake I made was I got the capo onto the wrong fret in one of them and so I was in the wrong key, which the band realized after three beats and I realized in two more when they all started to laugh and quit playing. The audience ate it up and I admit I had a good laugh about it myself because it had sounded so ridiculous. Nothing sounds worse than being a half-step off from everyone else.
I got through it. My fingers started to cramp again in the last song but I was stoned enough that I didn’t care. When it was over I flung the guitar pick into the audience before taking my final bows.
Then came the St. Louis hometown party for Remo that I had forgotten was going to happen (or hadn’t known about). I wanted to escape. But I also wanted to hit it with a little more weed, thinking that if I could get the spasm to calm down now, I wouldn’t have to do anything to stress that hand for two whole days. And this was how I ended up with Jam holding the corn cob pipe and the lighter while I toked on the bowl he had packed while waiting for Court to bring Ziggy back.
I had found a spot on a couch in a room full of partygoers who were standing up when Ziggy found me. I held out my arms and he came and hugged me, still standing up but leaning over.
“Wow, you smell toasty,” he said as he flopped onto the couch cushions next to me.
“I am toasty. The only thing that makes this feel better.” I held up my hand and examined the scars and marks. There were raised bumps where some of the stitches had been. My vision wasn’t very good right then.
It only got worse when Jam reappeared. “Last bowl,” he said. “Wanna kill it?”
He held it for me like he had been. I definitely felt like I’d had enough now. “Whew. Thanks.”
“Anytime, man. You know you just gotta ask. Hey, who’s your friend?” He grinned and offered the pipe to Ziggy.
Who declined with a sly smile and a wave of his hand. He patted me on the arm. “Are you feeling better?”
“I think so? I think so.” I waggled my fingers and then winced. “Well, mostly.” I saw Court across the room then and tried to wave to her. She didn’t seem to see me at all. It made total sense to stoned me to just get up and go get her, since what I wanted to do was leave and she might be able to help with those logistics.
What I think I didn’t realize in my druggy state was how crowded the room was and how far the door was from where I was sitting. A while later I still hadn’t made it across the room and by then I had lost sight of her. I decided to give up and go back to the couch. I’m honestly not sure how much time passed.
Enough time that something blew up between Ziggy and Jam. I don’t know exactly what, only that Ziggy was seething when I got back to the couch, Courtney was chasing Jam away, and then I was trying to explain that I thought we should blow this popsicle stand.
Minutes, or an hour, later, the three of us were in a cab and I was doing the usual thing of trying to get my mouth to work while stoned and failing. The two of them were talking a mile a minute and I was still working on one or two words.
Four words, actually. “That guy’s an asshole,” I finally said.
“You were mighty friendly with him.” Ziggy sounded as snitty as I’d ever heard him.
“We’re on tour,” was all I could say. I had wanted to make some statement like you know how you live in each other’s pockets when you’re on the road but all those words wouldn’t come.
“And that excuses everything,” Ziggy said.
“Well, not everything,” I insisted.
“No, just any kind of inappropriate sex or drugs,” he snarled.
I don’t know why I was so defensive all of a sudden. Instead of agreeing, I said, “you fucking know it or you and I never would’ve slept together.” Funny how all of a sudden I had plenty of words when I was saying something I had said before.
His gasp was supposed to tell me how wounded he was by that, I think, but it just sounded like one of my mother’s affectations to me. “Don’t you fucking dare.”
“Me? Me dare? Wasn’t that you who–”
“When the fuck are you going to stop bringing that up? If you’re not past that by now–four years ago!–how the fuck do you expect to have any future? Why the fuck do we even try?”
“Why?” I was making a fist but I couldn’t feel it. “I’ll tell you why we quote unquote try.” It was probably a good thing I couldn’t talk as fast as usual or I probably would have actually said the words you manipulative little shit. “Because when I don’t try to make it work with you, my entire life goes to shit and I hate myself.”
“So you hate me instead.”
“Whoa, who said I hate you? Who the fuck said that?”
“Guys–” Court tried to interject. We both ignored her.
“What I hate is that you and I started from a place where you lied to me,” I said. “Most days… I’m over it. Most days I trust you. But if you’re going to throw the book of judgement at me when I’m down, I’m going to throw it right the fuck back.”
His voice was as arch as his eyebrow. “I’m not supposed to judge? I’m not supposed to fucking judge when you’re getting felt up by the same sleazebag motherfucker who fucked with me in LA the very same time as the incident you’re getting up on your high horse about?”
Oh fuck. Yes. No. Shit. “He’s an asshole. I told you.”
“Then I have every right to be ripshit about him being all over you and you owe me an apology.” He folded his arms.
He was scary-looking in his clean-cut utterly non-glam aspect like that, like a tax accountant or something. I mean a stereotypical tax accountant–actual tax accountants we knew notwithstanding. I could not wrap my head around why I should have to apologize–I couldn’t find the logic in that at all. All I knew was it seemed like if I apologized the fight would be over, so I wanted to, but I knew if I fucked it up it would make it worse.
Best to just keep it really general, then. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“You don’t sound sorry.”
“Ziggy. I’m stoned out of my mind. I’m on a double dose of the muscle relaxant and I have no idea how much I smoked. I’m still in pain and on top of that you’re confusing the fuck out of me. If I sound not sorry that’s why.”
He snorted like a disgruntled dragon, as if jets of angry steam came out his nose, but he didn’t yell at me anymore, which I counted as the argument ending. I knew it had actually ended when Court got us the key to a room at the front desk and took us up to a junior suite on one of the upper floors and left us there, and when we were alone Ziggy hugged me. We hugged each other.
Him: You’re a wreck.
Me: I know. But at least you’re here.
Him: (skeptical) Does that make it better?
Me. It probably makes my stress worse, actually. But at least you’re here.
Him: You’re not making any sense.
Me: Ask me again when my head’s clear and I’ll try to explain it.
Him: Explain what?
Me: Why I’m so happy you’re here.
Him: You don’t seem very happy.
Me: Well, it’s hard to be happy when all we’ve done is fight.
Me: But I’m still happier than I would’ve been getting stoned with Jam and Flip all night.
He snorted again but didn’t let go.
(Guess what just went to press? Well, see below for a big hint. I’m waiting for a proof copy to see before we print the whole Kickstarter batch! Thank you to Gilly Rosenthol of Rosenthol Design for another brilliant design job! -ctan)