Monday Evening: Lucky Ball and Chain

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Sitting, I found myself finally alone with my phone, and I remembered the video I’d had to abandon. It seemed like a perfect time. Clicking my phone on, I found myself face to face with a Timeless feed, obviously installed by Milo during his brief possession of my device. The feed ticker told me “Mouse sucks it up” with a still shot from the after-practice feedback session, fronted by a giant “play” button. Uh, no, I really didn’t need to see how stupid I looked – bad enough to have lived it! The feed shifted to read “Lovestruck ex serenades Mouse.” Were there any headlines that weren’t about me? But this was actually the one I’d been looking for.

I popped in my ear buds and started the video. The general noises of home filled my ears, as our entire crowd of friends shuffled into place on stage at the Status Quo. Jude held a large jug, Reg had two blocks of wood, and Charlie sat, as always, at his drum kit. Pat perched on a stool with a banjo I’d never seen before, while Cindy shook the tambourine she only took out at parties. Jude blew into the jug, making a loud, hollow noise into his lowered mic, while Reg held up those blocks of wood like an invitation and threat all rolled into one. Then, Ethan strode out, dressed completely in a prison costume – black stripes from heels to prison-capped head. He dragged a ball and chain behind him and cradled his Gibson in his arms. Whoever was manning the camera zoomed quickly and unsteadily in on his face as he spoke into the mic.

“Okay, so I guess everyone here knows I’m in love with Chrissy Purnell, lately known as Mouse with the band Trix and Traces. And I guess everyone knows by now she left me for the big City!”

The crowd booed and hissed. I could only imagine how much more ugly things would have gotten if he’d told them that I left him for another guy. Maybe he was just saving his pride, or maybe he was protecting me, even now, from the label of skanky whore.The role of big-B Bitch seemed at least somewhat more palatable.

In his best Elvis impersonation, Ethan breathed into the mic, “Chrissy, this one’s for you.”

His nod sparked two quick drumbeats from Charlie and the band kicked into a cover of They Might Be Giants, Lucky Ball and Chain. Brilliant choice, of course. Ethan used to sing that back when he thought it was a joke to imagine I could leave him, so it had a double-dig that only he and I would know. His taffy voice crooned the lyrics:

I lost my lucky ball and chain
Now she’s one week gone
Just five feet tall and sick of me
And all my rattling on
She threw away her baby-doll
I held on to my pride
But I was young and foolish then
I feel old and foolish now

Confidentially
She never called me baby-doll
Confidentially
I never had much pride
But now I rock a bar stool
And I drink for two
Just pondering this time bomb in my mind

Reg slammed his blocks together once to make the point.

I lost my lucky ball and chain
Now she’s one week gone
Just five feet tall and sick of me
And all my rattling on
She walked away from a happy man
I thought I was so cool
I just stood there whistling
“There goes the bride” as she walked out the door
“There goes the bride” as she walked out the door

At this point, Ethan broke into an impressive guitar solo, the kind that used to hold me mesmerized and jealous, believing he could do anything with those hands. He was still really good – better than me. He crashed back into the lyrics.

I could shake my tiny fist
And swear I wasn’t wrong
But what’s the sense in arguing
When you’re all alone?
Sure as you can steer a train
You can change your fate
And when she told me off that day
I knew I’d lost my home

Confidentially
I never told you of her charms
Confidentially
We never had a home
But this railroad apartment
Was the perfect place
When she’d sit and hold me in her arms

I lost my lucky ball and chain
Now she’s one week gone
Just five feet tall and sick of me
And all my rattling on
She walked away from a happy man
I thought I was so cool
I just stood there whistling
“There goes the bride” as she walked out the door
“There goes the bride” as she walked out the door
“There goes the bride” as she walked out the door

The band stopped abruptly, Ethan’s voice cracking on the last line as the camera zoomed into his devastated face. This was not an acting job, all of a sudden, in spite of all the hoopla. He looked so stripped bare and drawn that I wanted to reach through the phone to stroke his face to ease his pain. His cheeks shone wet with tears he neither hid nor acknowledged, like a true man, while the crowd cheered. When they quieted a bit, he leaned back in to the mic, addressing the camera directly.

“Chrissy, I’m not giving up on you. Come home.” His eyes searched the camera a few more seconds before he broke into a wide grin. In his worst Schwartzeneger impression, he growled, “I’ll be back.” The video went black. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d already dialed his number.

“You saw it?” he answered with a question, ready for me.

“I saw it. You know I can’t come home. Why are you torturing us?”

“Because it’s fun! You’ll come home eventually, I just need to be patient.” The bravado of his certainty told me that he was still refusing to acknowledge how much it mattered if we wanted different things from life. He was still ignoring that love wasn’t the only factor.

“You have to stop thinking that.”

“No I don’t. You’re not the boss of me. And since you’re attaching yourself to a bit of fame this week, I’ve got over 8,000 hits so far today! This thing might go viral. But what did you think? Everyone helped, we all miss you.”

He was hitting me where it hurt, or at least trying to. But the truth was, I knew where people’s loyalty lay – Ethan was the wronged party in all this, after all. I was the bad one. Everyone was on his side.

“They’re your friends, they just want to help you. But I bet they’re glad I left, so you can find a proper girlfriend.”

“Cindy and Jude would feel very hurt to hear you say that. And Pat, and even Charlie,” he admonished.

“So don’t tell them! Anyway, yes, it was cool, I have to admit it. You and your sexy black Gibson, I almost remember why I thought you were a rock star!”

“Ouch!”

“You know what I mean!” I cried, sorry for how it had come across but irritated he would take it that way.

“Unfortunately, I do. Anyway, glad you liked it. Watch this space!”

He hung up abruptly, thus winning this round of telephone hang-up. I couldn’t help but grin.

“Point for you,” I whispered.

All in all, I’d had it with Monday. I felt like I’d been pelted with small and mid-sized rocks all day. I’d thrown myself into a fray, gotten knocked this way and that. I felt bruised from my skin through to my soul. The blue-lit bus, where I sat ignored and unmolested by its few silent inhabitants, felt like an oasis. My stop showed up sooner than expected, making me shake my head. Time to get back in the game. Was I ready to be the person I needed to be for Chris, now? I stood in front of our building, my feet planted on the ground, savoring how solid and sure the soil felt under my shoes. The Earth could really hold me up, even if nothing else was clear. I breathed in and out, watching the window to Chris’ apartment. His silhouette moved in and out of view behind the curtain – what was he doing? Tidying? He seemed to be moving a chair, and something bulky. I preferred this feeling of curiosity to the caution I’d been holding tight. Suddenly, he appeared between the curtains, looking out for me. He spotted me on the grass and waved, gesturing for me to come. He looked happy. I headed up the stairs interested instead of dread-filled. After the day I’d had, mustering up that kind of open readiness felt like a feat of strength. I took a little pride in my zen-ness.

 

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