Saturday Afternoon: Feeding Time at the Zoo

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Suddenly all heads turned to the aisle, where a girl pushed a large, unsteady cart, creakily bearing a teetering pile of food. As a single beast, every person dropped what they were doing and ran for the cart. Blocked, the girl was forced to stop as hand after hand grabbed at the food. Throwing her arms up, she giggled delightedly at the attention all around her, clapping her hands like a little girl. But she wasn’t little – a mound of extra flesh peeked out around her tight-fitting clothing.

Trix appeared in front of me, gently removing her guitar from my unconsciously possessive grip. She motioned to the commotion.

“Feeding time at the zoo, Mouse,” she shared. I scrunched up my nose, disgusted by the nickname, until I realized that just made me look even more mousey. If she kept calling me Mouse everyone would, and I didn’t want that. Trix leaped from the stage without noticing my reaction. I clamoured clumsily down behind her.

Food revealed itself as sandwich wraps, vegetarian but not bland or boring – warm, full of sprouts and shredded carrots with a gentle, insistent spiciness. I savoured the sour, salty bite even as sauce dripped on my chin. Surreptitiously, I wiped it off with the blade of my finger, and flicked towards the floor before wiping the rest on my jeans – they needed a wash anyway. But I sure hoped no one saw that.

I looked around for somewhere to sit, but I didn’t see anyone I knew at first glance. At least twenty people lounged around the theatre, eating intently with few words between them. In the dim light, I realized most were teenage boys, or not much older. Trace and Bash sat on the stage steps off-side, forming an insular clique. Trace saw me looking and leaned in to whisper something to Bash, pointedly not inviting me over. Fine, I’d have felt intimidated anyway.

Trix walked the room, talking briefly with everyone who crossed her path. Trailing her, my eyes caught on Jamie, bent over a kid at the sound controls, his compact body exuding a competence and gentle authority I hadn’t sensed in our brief encounter. He looked somehow older next to someone his own age. I kept my eye on him while he retrieved a sandwich, then I hurried  to nonchalantly take the seat beside him. He flashed me a quick smile before looking down at his lap.

“You nailed it,” he assured me, his face in profile. “I bet she has you in the show.”

“Really?” I asked, quite pleased with this praise. He still didn’t quite look at me, facing front while he spoke.

“Most of the kids who sub for guitar kinda suck lately. Next to them, you’re a rock star. Plus Trix’ll like how sexy you look with her big Axe in your fast little hands.” He turned, looking me up and down boldly with no attempt to hide his assessment. The next second, he ducked his head shyly. This boy was a mass of contradiction. I felt tempted to whack him for insolence, but restrained myself – I had to remember that I’d only met Jamie a couple of hours ago. He felt like a kid brother, if I’d had one, but he seemed too fragile for even playful roughhousing.

“So is that what this was?” I asked, “an audition for something?”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” Jamie’s tone said he’d figured as much. “Trix likes to keep the sound…fluid, you know? So she subs in musicians like, all the time. Some kids wait months to get a spot at practice to show their stuff – and then you… well, here you are. Anyway, it’s cool – how songs change when new musicians get into them? She keeps people around while as it’s working, then subs in someone else. Some regulars show up a lot. But the only ones who are always here are Trix, Trace and Bash. Well, and me.”

“What about Mr. Strat?”

“John? He’s amazing, huh? But he and Trix don’t like to share the sandbox. He’s kind of…in and out? He’s Trace’s uncle, and I don’t know if he has that many places to go anymore. So, he keeps coming back? And things go better when he’s here, he kinda keeps the calm in the bunkers.”

“The bunkers? What’s that mean?” Now I felt really curious. Keeps the calm? But Jamie nudged my attention forward. Trix stood, quietly watching the assembly, waiting for us to notice her. She said nothing, but her bearing, her very presence in wait, demanded our attention. All the little satellite conversations dropped off suddenly as people turned their faces her way. When she had the room at attention, she spoke.

“We had some great subs today. Thoughts?” Trix looked around. One guy called out “Al Roy!” and punched at the sky. I heard mumbled assent and the rap artist raised his fist in thanks.

“Yes, that almost worked. We can practice a few numbers this week and see what takes. Could be interesting for Friday.”

Jamie leaned in and whispered, “Can’t believe Trix went for that! Nobody gets a show first time out, and rap? He probably just won twenty bucks off those guys.”

Jamie raised his hand like a kid in school. Trix flashed him a bright, proud smile – he was clearly a favourite. She played along, adopting an officious tone.

“Yes, Jamie, please share your thoughts with the class.”

“Chrissy Christine here lit up your sorry stage.” Shit, he did notice my name slip after all. He nodded my way and I heard some agreement from the room. My face burned, and this time I really did almost whack him. Trix grinned appreciatively.

“Indeed. And she can play, too. Of course we’re keeping you, Mouse. You’ll join us Friday night.” It wasn’t a question. I could hardly lift my eyes.

Discussion continued. The boy who couldn’t keep up on guitar needed more practice with a band before he could try again. The trumpet could come to rehearsals, but no promises, and if he made a nuisance of himself in every song he was out. Someone wanted to know if he played saxophone, which interested Trix for about five seconds until he admitted he didn’t. A lot of laughter and light-hearted banter accompanied conversation that moved over various aspects of the performance. No one seemed to take criticism too seriously, and since I’d escaped unscathed, I found it easy to join in the general mood.

When my phone buzzed a text, I suddenly noticed the time, later than I’d planned to be there.  I didn’t even know what time the bus came by, or even when the last bus left. Time to go. I quietly made my way to the front, seeking the exit.

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