Sunday Morning: Ethan on the Bus

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Bus Mouse You sold my guitar

 

Armed with my new bus plan, fully charged phone and cued up music, I made my way into the world. I breezed by people on the sidewalk, suddenly full of energy, feeling on top of the world. I knew it wouldn’t last, so I rode it out, smiling and bouncing along to the bus stop. I pressed [play] on Trix n’ Traces.

The music captured me right away. My first thought was how it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard, but I realized that wasn’t exactly it. This music sounded more like everything I’d ever heard, but then, not really that, either. Intricate beats promised an answering call to a dream I once had that I’d longed for ever since. Trix’s high-and-mightiness, her exuberance, sexiness, quick flashes of anger, serious intent and mischievous sense of humour all blended into a sound that not only compelled me incredibly, it totally ROCKED! I had been listening for about fifteen minutes before I knew it. Only as the bus appeared on the horizon did I slowly start to realize that I had to learn and play this music in the space of a few days.

I resisted the urge to turn around and just go home. I willed myself to mount the bus steps, and forced my face into a smile for the driver. I paid my fare and took my transfer, then told myself to sit down and quit panicking. I sat, but inside I freaked out. What was I going to do? Where did the electronics end and the guitar begin? How could I pick out what I should be doing, let alone reproduce what was clearly and distinctly Trix’s own guitar work? It sounded just like her – self-assured, with a hint of showy, chic flare to accent highly-skilled proficiency. Trix was a gifted player, not so much because of her clearly-earned technical skill, but because her guitar sang for her. Or maybe, it let her sing through it. How could I possibly replicate that sound? Could I even learn these songs by Friday? What had I gotten myself into?

My phone vibrated a new text:

Ethanalogy: Ur moms L4U

Shit. I neglected to let my mother know when I changed cell numbers, and of course she picked now to catch up. Through Ethan. Mom had a radar for bad times, and I didn’t look forward to her opinions. I hoped I could head things off.

PurC: DN gv her my #

Ethanalogy: 2L8

PurC: Grr

Ethanalogy: wru?

PurC: bus

My phone rang – Ethan. At least it wasn’t my mom. I answered.

“Hey, Ethan.” I knew I sounded wary – I felt it.

“Hey, Chrissy.” My stomach lurched. My name in his voice felt shockingly warm and familiar. The loving tenderness I could still hear almost broke my heart. For a second, I yearned to curl up on our old plaid sofa with him. For a second, I longed to feel safe.

“Why’d you give her my number?” I whined.

“She’s your mom. Why didn’t you give her your number?”

“Ooh, Mr. Self-Righteous. You know why.”

“So do you.” He always sided with her. Ethan believed in family.

“Anyways,” he continued, “I called your place to give you a heads up, and Chris said you’re out, didn’t know when you’d be back? So, what, things a little rocky in the love nest?” he ventured.

“No, why do you say that?” I sounded defensive.

“Just surprised he let you out already – if I were him, I’d want to keep you to myself awhile before you’re on to the next thing.” His teasing tone didn’t hide the bitterness. I didn’t care if I deserved it. I reacted right away.

“If you’re going to be an asshole, I will hang up.”

“Fine. But you’re avoiding the question. You guys still in love?”

“It’s none of your business.” He barely let me finish the words before jumping on them.

“I think it is, actually. Since I’m the one who’s going to be picking up the pieces when you come home.” When. His innocent certainty hit me like a punch in the gut.

“Oh, Ethan…”

“Whatever. Look, whatever, okay? You come back. You don’t come back. I still love you. I still care.”

That he really meant it only made his words harder to hear. I needed to back this conversation up, knock it down an intimacy level.

“Things are fine with Chris. I’m on my way to a rehearsal. I’m playing a show on Friday.”

“A show? Already? No WAY! I didn’t think you’d even have time to audition anywhere yet. Is it with the city orchestra?”

“No, it’s a band.”

“A rock band? Well, alright Chrissy!” He actually sounded enthusiastic. I accepted his interest like a tentative step on thin ice.

“Not rock, exactly. I don’t know. I just started listening. It’s a local band. Chris says they’re getting attention. Trix n’ Traces? T-R-I-X, like the silly rabbit,” I offered helpfully. “Wait, was it the rabbit, or the cereal?”

“The cereal. Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!” Ethan mimicked. I giggled at the incongruence between cool Ms. Trix and those ads, but then my mind flashed a picture of her bobbing down the street beside me, and the rabbit’s fluid impossibility wasn’t as far off as I’d thought.

“I’ve never heard of Trix n’ Traces,” he admitted, “but hold on, I’m about to be an expert.” Distraction achieved! I smiled to myself. I heard the clack of typing and pictured Ethan, forelock hanging over one eye, lounging in my writing corner with the morning sun beside him and our cute little mac book perched on his lap. I shook my head to clear the image.

“Good, then you can educate me. These people are weird. I’m a little scared, actually.”

“I can see why! No one is that tall in real life. She must make you feel like a dwarf, Short-Stuff!” Ethan laughed – I didn’t. Another familiar pattern. Ethan continued wasting my minutes enthralled with whatever he’d found online.

“Wow, look at that! What is she doing…? Whoa!”

“You do know I can’t see, right?”

“I’m just watching youtube. She moves like Cajun Tiger.” He started humming The Love Cats by The Cure, then stopped. He whistled low, in awe. “She’s sexy in a way that makes me feel like a fetishist just for saying so.”

I laughed. That was actually perfect. Ethan made a low, uncertain sound in his throat. When he spoke again, I knew he also felt the thin ice sliding us along.

“Chrissy,” he started hesitantly, “this isn’t so much your kind of thing, is it? I mean, there’s a lot of electronics, showy stuff, it’s like a big…theatre production or something. This video is grainy, but it looks pretty choreographed.”

“I don’t know what I’m in for,” I pouted glumly.

“Oh, don’t get down. I’m sure it’ll be fun to try…”

“No, you’re right, maybe I should stick with what I know. I think I’m over my head.”

He didn’t answer right away. When he did, I heard something in Ethan’s voice that I couldn’t place, something determined and tender that I hadn’t heard in a very long time.

“No, Chrissy, you should push your talent and see what it can do. I can totally see you doing this. Listen, she’ll spotlight you on a few songs, let you play into the noise, dance up and down your legs – you do know she’s a total lesbo, right?”

“Nice.”

“Yeah, well the way she’s dancing with that blonde, it’s a wonder their crowd isn’t full of frat boys. Practically soft porn. Have you checked this stuff out?”

“Not really. There were people over last night, and I was a little late getting started this morning.” I knew right away that I’d made a mistake. I’d used that line too many times when the mornings were with him. Silence teemed with tension several seconds too long.

“I’m sure you were. Fine. Okay. Listen, um, enjoy the practice.”

“Wait, Ethan?”

“Yes?” The hope in his voice made me feel bad. But this was important.

“I need my guitars.” He didn’t reply. I waited. Finally he took a deep breath and spoke.

“Okay, Chrissy, listen. I was really angry when you left.” My heart skipped a beat. Creeping tension tightened my shoulders up into my neck.

“Ethan…”

“Listen, just listen, okay? I’ll make it up to you.”

I felt bile rising from my stomach. I knew Ethan was angry, but I hadn’t allowed myself to seriously consider that he’d do anything to my guitars. The classical acoustic was a gift from my grandmother, paid for by her Catholic Women’s League upon the occasion of my high school graduation. I named my new guitar Villanelle, so she could bring my music poetic discipline with freeing magic. She’d been with me for every performance I’d given with the orchestra. If Ethan had done something to that guitar, I didn’t think I could forgive him.

“I’m sorry. I smashed the electric pretty much to bits.” I didn’t react. I never loved that knockoff backup, itself an Ethan hand-me-down, so smashing it seemed a dubious punishment. He knew what I was waiting for. I resented having to ask.

“What about Nell?”

Ethan said nothing. My voice vibrated with the stirrings of hysterics.

“Ethan, you know. You know about that guitar.” My voice got louder in spite of me. Around me, other passengers looked up, then quickly down again.

“I didn’t smash it.”

His tone gave him away – he was holding something important back. I tried for benign.

“Good. Can you send her to me, then?” A nice, even tone.

He didn’t answer right away. My palms felt itchy; my finger nails dug in. My breath shallowed. I heard Ethan swallow and breathe in sharply.

“Chrissy, you know when I said I sold your guitars…”

“Oh. Oh! Oh! No! Oh my GOD, Ethan. You pawned my Nell? She’s gone. She’s gone.” I hyperventilated.

“I’ll get it back. I swear to you. As soon as they open at noon. I’ll get it.”

“I can’t believe…I mean, I know you’re mad at me but…” My voice broke off. I felt small and betrayed, like I was realizing for the first time, once again, that no one in the world loved me enough to be trusted with what mattered.

Ethan sounded distraught. “I know. I’m sorry. What can I say? You left me for another guy after forever together, when I thought we were finally solid. You called me a coward, you called me boring, you called me a Pillsbury Dough-Boy waiting to sit life out on the back porch drinking beer. You made me look like a fool to my family and everyone I know, you made me feel like dirt. My heart is rotted and it’s like a monster is gnawing me away from inside, all the time! Have you ever had your heart broken, Chrissy? Do you even have a heart?”

He’d gone from sorry to freakshow in twenty seconds flat. I had a hard time listening to his pain and feeling my own. I wanted to end it for both of us – for my best friend whom I loved still, and for me, weary from emotional storms. I felt guilty for causing him pain – every word he said was true. And I resented him for inflicting his pain on me, when it clearly belonged to him. I wished I could have never hurt him, but I couldn’t just sit tight until death because he didn’t want to move and I wanted to protect him from my loss. He, on the other hand, had acted deliberately to hurt me, and that just proved I’d made the right decision.

“Ethan, look, I’m sorry that I hurt you. I never do things the right way, you know that by now. Maybe I should have left on my own, but I was too afraid so here I am with Chris, and he’s a good guy, it could work out, who knows? I suppose I could have been here with you, but you didn’t even want to try.”

“I didn’t want to work retail renting a tiny rat-infested room in some city slum and living half my life on a bus. No, not really.”

“Exactly. Fine. So anyway, I’m playing a show on Friday and Gretel is broken, my alternate is smashed,” I paused to let him remember that both these obstacles were his fault, “and you sold my GRANDMA’S GUITAR! Fuck, Ethan, I can’t believe you would do that when…”

Anxiety clutched my stomach again as my voice broke off. I knew I’d start blubbering in a second. A couple of high school girls whispered and giggled behind their hands, careful not to look at me long enough to catch my eye.

“Chrissy, Chrissy, I’ll get it back. I’m putting on my shoes. Right now. I’m going to go stand outside the door until they open, so no one can walk in ahead of me to buy it. It was still in the window yesterday. Okay? Shh, I’m so sorry.”

“She was IN THE WINDOW? Like a piece of MEAT? Your shoes are on, like, right now? Are they done up?” I knew what I sounded like and I didn’t care.

“Yes.”

“Go. Go get my guitar. Wait, do you have enough money?”

“I didn’t spend the money. I was going to send it to you with a letter.”

“Oh, yeah? What did the letter say?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Yes, I really, really do.”

“Well, I might mail it yet. With some shards from the electric for good measure.”

“Ouch.”

In a way I felt relieved that he seemed comfortable enough to dig at me a little. I felt, if not quite forgiven, like we both knew he would forgive me when the wound wasn’t so fresh. Ethan was my best friend, after all. This guitar thing had evened our footing, and though I knew it, I still felt like the wronged party. Whether I would forgive him remained an open question, depending heavily on the outcome of his mission.

“Really, Ethan, please get my guitar back. My grandma…”

“I know. I know. I do regret it now. Even though I’m still really mad at you…that just wasn’t cool. I wanted to hurt you.”

“You picked a good way.”

“I know. I’ll get it back.” His voice cracked. I felt bad for how bad he felt, but also satisfied. He deserved it. I didn’t want to talk with him anymore.

“Okay, I should actually listen to this music before I fumble and stumble through it in front of a bunch of strangers on someone else’s pet guitar. Are you at the door, ready to go?”

“Yes. I’m at the door. Call you later?”

“We should text. Long distance costs a fortune.”

“I know. I just paid your phone bill.” A reminder that he was still taking care of me. It felt kind of nice to know someone was, until I realized that dates and numbers on that bill might taint his comment.

“I guess I should change the address.”

“No rush. I’ll send you an invoice. Hey, have fun today! I mean it.”

“I’ll try. Get my guitar. Bye.” I hung up, fast, before he could say something else. It was a kind of game we’d always played on the phone, stretching out the goodbye and ending abruptly. We’d never defined the rules, but we both knew how to play. We’d grown up making up these kinds of games together.

I got surprised by my stop for the transfer coming up fast. I dinged the bell at the last possible second. The driver glared at me in his mirror, then braked hard so I lost my footing and knocked into an old man’s walker. I felt suddenly irate, fed up with pettiness. I found myself screaming over my shoulder as I stepped off.

“God, IT HAPPENS! People mess up! You don’t have to be a TOTAL DICK!” The high school girls laughed derisively as the doors slid shut. My foot came down into a puddle.

I tried not to stew while I awaited the next bus, but my mind zinged. Ethan was so ingrained in me that he got under my skin. It didn’t help that three buses arrived and left before my transfer showed up. As I climbed the step, I realized that I hadn’t actually heard any of the songs that I’d been playing into my ears. I handed the driver my transfer, and he said something. I turned off the music.

“Pardon?”

“This transfer’s expired.” Flat, bored face. Denying my transfer probably offered his entertainment for the day. I understood perfectly well that if I smiled pretty and flirted, he’d let it pass. I felt so beyond doing that.

“That’s the one he gave me. You’re the first number twelve to come along.” I started heading for my seat. The driver grabbed my arm, hard.

“It’s expired. Pay the fare or get off the bus.” Behind me, people started shoving. I hesitated. The thing was, if I paid now, I didn’t have fare to get home. I should have asked Chris for money but I didn’t, accidentally on purpose. I didn’t want to ask him. If he’d offered, I would have taken it, but he didn’t think to and I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth, so now I found myself in a stupid position. Just like me.

I pulled my arm free. My face hot with humiliation and absolute rage, my hand shaking, I paid the fare. Later would have to take care of itself, as usual. I plunked myself into a seat by a window and watched the world roll by. I started the music again, determined to really listen this time. I closed my eyes.

The song I heard diverged from the rest of the album. I found myself lost in a spooky piece of wisp and shadow, darting among dense forest trees but not quite materializing as a coherent piece of music. Suddenly, harmonized voices created cohesion, many voices forming a single vibration, a messenger. That was why I heard the lyrics – they deliberately stood out in bold face. Had all the songs been this…serious? Up until now, I’d been listening for the music and where I could fit, treating Trix’s voice like one more instrument. I cut the song short to start the whole album again from the beginning, listening more carefully to the words.

What I’d taken for tight, hard-edged dance music sounded a little different the second time through. Song by song, I realized Trix was spelling out a philosophy. Self-discipline, respect and attention. Standing up against oppression. Meeting might with creativity. Meeting power with strength of conviction. Railing against the world’s ultimate corruption and calling for humanity’s last stand. All pretty standard revolution speak, but something about how she did it – the heavy beats and spellbinding tones, the rise and fall of her voice – made the songs feel more radical than the words alone. Like an incitement to riot. Trix never called it out, exactly, never demanded nor condoned violence. Yet, her songs stirred within me a distinct warrior’s passion to leap into the battle for what’s right.

I rocked in my seat, to the amusement and annoyance of other passengers. I didn’t care.The songs demanded that my body move and my spirit take fight. I felt inspired to rise up and charge with her. Trix n’ Traces were not just playing, they invited us to join a world-altering movement, and made me want to say yes. My heart leaped with potential, certain this music itself could change the world. I didn’t feel afraid about learning the notes, anymore. I anticipated being part of something important.

I stepped off the bus as the last piece began again – the haunting, slow miasma that had first alerted me to the importance of words. Bash’s bass created an underlying fog through which other instruments emerged and retreated until the voices, clear and strong:

Mother Spirit called forth Earth
So Earth could sing her song
Father sowed his Life
An experiment gone wrong

For love of Life, once made
Mother fed while Father led
A brutal race of forces
Dead eating the dead

Mother Spirit fed Earth’s blood
Earth’s abundance fed the Life
but Life turned on its mother
Exchanging teat for knife

So many lives, compounding
Each eating life to live
Earth drowns in her creations
As Life cries give give give

Earth’s song now anguished screaming
Mother Spirit shakes with pain
But rises ‘midst the fire
Begging mercy, if in vain

The verses, harmonized hypnotics, ended abruptly as something shifted under the music, sped up like a current under apparently still water. Current rose to surface; guitar and keyboard sped with an urgent flow. Then Trix’s voice spoke over the rushed tones calmly: spoken word artist, story-teller, instigator.

Mother Spirit calls to Father
She’s the only one he’ll hear

She asks, he denies
She cajoles, he diverts
She begs, he sneers
She demands, he makes…
VI-O-LE-EN-NCE!

With the boom of a giant drum, the voices dropped back in, their harmony decidedly off-key yet somehow beautiful, chanting behind Trix’s single-word shriek:

Violence Violence Violence Violence

A deep male voice intoned:

Force. Power. Assert my will.

The voices chanted again “Violence Violence Violence Violence” behind Trix’s wail. The male voice returned, rising, vaguely distorted, stretched out and commanding:

You will because I say you will.

Abruptly, the building crescendo of music stopped dead in mid-air, never reaching its peak. Silence. End of album. I felt physically shaken. The chaotic, dense instrumentation, weird-sister vocals and shifting rhythms left behind a clammy, unclean feeling. I felt like I had witnessed the moment evil entered the innocent world. Goosebumps rose on my arms. How could she end the album here?

I walked with silence in my ears for about thirty seconds before quiet piano notes began – not finished, after all. Pigeon-piano, my grandma would call it. Two fingers that knew where they were going, poking out a questioning rhythm, a just-waking-up-wondering-where-I-am innocence. The sound of newborn hope getting its feet. Fingers plucked along, gaining momentum, a little fun, a little joy, then wandered off out of my earshot to go start changing the world again. I smiled.

I arrived at Timeless just as the album finished – strangely picture-perfect timing.

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