The distant clouds rose up like snarling beasts curling and black. Bursts of lightning streaked across them. Electric eels swirling and dancing against the demonic darkness. It was as if the deepest depths of the ocean had become the sky and Jarette drove toward it. Into it.
The desert around him sprawled out and disappeared into the night. Here, the only light came from the headlights of his car illuminating the landscape, which was quickly swallowed by looming shadows.
The thunder cracked with the sound of a thousand waves smashing. Jarette drove on, lured by the chaotic squall. Called by the Sirens of his past. He was lashed to his steering wheel like Odysseus to the mast, but he couldn’t hear the bombastic drum of the storm ahead. All he could hear were his memories, darker than anything that lay ahead.
He was stumbling in a bathroom. Cigarette dangling from his mouth. Swollen with days of booze and pills. Staring into the mirror over the shallow, white sink, he peered into his own eyes, bloodshot with cyclonic fire whirling in them. He pulled a long flume of smoke into his lungs and released it.
How did I get here? Is that knocking?
“Jarette? Jarette! We need you at the venue. They’re waiting! Everyone is waiting.”
It was a high-pitched genderless voice. Almost animal. Muted.
He fumbled the cigarette from his mouth into the wet sink, stumbled back, used the cloth shower curtain to balance himself, and then mumbled loudly at the door, “It’s no venue. It’s a church! There aren’t pianos anywhere anymore…so I gotta play a fuckin’ church!”
“I’ll go down there. I’ll tell them you’re coming soon. The opener can do another song. You’re going to be fine. Once you get on stage, you’ll be fine.”
The voice outside the door had already left when Jarette whispered to himself, “Cancel the fucking show.”
Do I hear an ambulance? Or is that the police? Maybe there’s some wine left.
He stumbled through the apartment and found a half-empty bottle of red wine. Before downing it, he managed to leave a large stain on his shirt. Wardrobe. He took it off, considered only wearing a scarf over his bare chest, and then found a new shirt in his suitcase.
He became conscious and was wandering sideways down a busy street, light fading. Saturday night. Two bearded men walked by hand-in-hand. A group of women laughed hysterically and clomped around him in high heels. An old man cleaned up his dog’s shit. A pack of beer-drunk university boys yelled obscenities.
I’m a salmon swimming upstream.
Dance music pumped out from windows that spiraled over his head. Four-on-the-floor thumping with erotic laser screams pierced through synth symphonies. Neon on the tops of corner stores began to eclipse the dusk light. A mannequin in a shop window wearing a leather bustier with chains for panties grinned at him.
I could be in San Francisco or I could be in Amsterdam. Berlin or Seattle. Bruges or Minneapolis.
A gutter punk laying on the street with a kitten lashed to him with dark green yarn looked up at Jarette and asked with a loud rasp, “Pet the kitty for a dollar?!”
Jarette heard applause out in the cavernous hall. He had a shirt on now, violet and unbuttoned to showcase the scarlet scarf he had managed to remember to secure around his neck.
Drunken pirates looked like puritanical priests in comparison to the mess he was.
The pills had managed to somehow not help him sleep and to infuse the vodka and gin he had quaffed with villainous and inebriating power. He had only begun on the wine to keep his head from lolling into the furious headache that awaited. A creature huddled to climb into his skull. Soul-shattering anxiety hid quietly around the corner from the headache ghoul. He was running at full speed from both monsters.
When he had sat down at a coal-black baby grand piano the day before to rehearse, it felt like he was a little boy who had fallen into a well but was mute and could not scream to get out. His efforts to press his fingers to the ivory keys were ten skinny frogs swimming in molasses. And when he tried to utter a sound from his throat, the sinking feeling in his heart dragged all of the breath out of him.
Now, at the precipice of the stage, he needed to remember lyrics to his own songs but they seemed to have been written by a stranger in a foreign language. As he walked out from backstage, he felt he was falling backward further into the well and the water was rising around him.
The skittering of wheels against the gravel and growing flash flood water pulled Jarette out of his memories. He winced, pulled his eyes wide, and directed the car back onto the road. The downpour was a wall of water now. He was driving into a tsunami. Alone in a hellacious womb.
Did I fall asleep? Or have a seizure? Or a drug flashback? That night. The night of my rock ’n’ roll meltdown. So long and not so long ago. The end of what was.
The town of Fallon was back there about 45 miles, so I must be getting to Middlegate. If I can get there, I can pull off and avoid death out here.
Deciding to tune out the pounding sounds of rain echoing throughout the car, Jarette turned on the radio. The tuner began to search through the static of the storm, the numbers rising from 88.0 but finding nothing.
He imagined the radio signals as sheriffs and their dogs. Out in the desert sniffing. Hunting. They were looking for him. He was a fugitive from nowhere and the darkness ahead was the boundary between him and escape from the past.
The tempest grew in intensity. So loud that he could no longer hear the car or even feel its vibrations under him. It was only the storm.
Is that a town sign?
Consciousness retook Jarette and he was on a piano bench looking out into a blazing spotlight. Gravity pulled and he nearly fell off. Equilibrium and balance meant nothing in this bizarre underwater kingdom. He could make out the silhouettes of heads seated in rows and rows in front of him. The slightly moving shapes were a rustling black field of kelp.
His hands were playing and his voice was singing but he couldn’t hear it. The sound seemed to be drowned out by the heaviness of water that held him in place. Across the hall soaring up over him 60 feet, he could make out the iconography of saints, gold leaf, and halos, and from them, he felt a sinister surge of dense water coming at him.
He was on the ground. Carpet burns. Women around him in a circular coven of witches. He wanted to kiss their poisonous lips and take away this immense pain.
“Does he need a doctor? Is he on heroin or fentanyl or something?”
“What he did was so unprofessional.”
“I can take care of him. I’ll make sure and take care of him.”
“Take his money and his passport. Make sure the pretentious asshole doesn’t go anywhere.”
“Get him ready. He’s going on after intermission.”
He was looking at an old wood building that appeared to be a trading post. Wagon wheels leaned against a decaying fence. Dawn’s orange glow was just beginning to paint over the red that had broken the night.
Did I time travel?
After seeing the sign for Middlegate during the heaviest part of the downpour, he had pulled into the first turn-off he could find. Exhausted from gripping the steering wheel and deaf from the hammering of rain and thunder, he allowed the car to slide into a muddy lot without knowing where he was. Sleep came immediately after.
Now, he was upright in his seat, every muscle taut and aching, and as the light grew, he saw a sign indicating he was still in the 21st century. Tubes of extinguished neon wrapped together to spell out “B A R”.
He opened the driver’s side door emerging into the dawn. A submarine captain finally returned to the surface. Stepping onto a murky puddle of land, he sloshed toward the front door of the old building. Walking up to the front door, he looked for the hours of operation.
Middlegate Station. Opens at 7:00 AM. Breakfast served. Guess I’ll wait until intermission is over.
He found a bench and sat quietly listening to the drops of water fall from the roof hoping that the storm had passed completely. Light continued to increase. Here in the middle of nowhere with the sun coming up, he believed the past would remain there for an hour or two and he could just rest.
A truck backfired on a road in the distance. The engine’s hum grew closer. Someone was coming earlier than Jarette expected.
Continue on and read Part 5: The Bartendress in the Center of Nowhere
If you missed any of Tedium, read:
Part 1: Waiting for the Cat in the Hat to Show Up
Part 2: A Plastic Soldier After an Imaginary War
Part 3: The Alamo Inn
Part 4: The Ghost of Bertha and the Elephant Girl