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Kate Baggott


Kate Baggott is a Canadian writer living in Europe. Her work has appeared in publications around the world. "The Girl in the Song" is from her recently-completed book Tales from Planet Wine Cooler for which she is actively seeking a publisher. Links to other published pieces can be found at http://www.katebaggott.com

The following work is copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.


The Girl in the Song

I’d forgotten all about him. When Julian Pierre came over to our table while my best friend and I were out for a drink and a chat one Saturday night, I really had no idea who he was.

“Hey Marina,” he said. “Long time no see.”

Then, he summoned the waiter and bought us a round. My best friend gave me a questioning glance and I returned it.

“I went back to that bar, Doug’s Cottage, to look for you, you know,” he said. “But I guess you stopping hanging around there. It’s closed now.”

And then, I remembered everything. Julian had been in a band called First Names Only. They hung out at Doug’s Cottage, my beloved neighbourhood tavern, where I could go all by myself to visit with my neighbours. It was meant to be a summer cottage in the city. It was the place where you went on a rainy day to play dominoes or pool and have a beer. There were faux-logs lining the walls, an electric fireplace casting an orange glow over everything and everyone.

It had been a home away from home, until, in one terrible error of judgement, Doug had allowed First Names Only to play there on a Saturday night. Julian had been the quiet guitarist and singer in the three-piece band. Lars Johannes, the keyboardist, was a self-styled musicologist who knew everything about world music, except how to play it. Ian Christopher, the drummer who couldn’t count, was a very pretty boy. So pretty, no one could resist him. It took just one incident involving the drummer, his jealous girlfriend and a dozen girls he had been involved in long intense flirtations with, to turn a happy tavern into something ugly. I may have been one of those dozen girls, but the flirtation, while long and intense, never went any further. After the First Names Only incident, everyone stopped going to Doug’s Cabin and I experienced a very flat time in my life.

“It was nice of you to think of us,” I told Julian when he surfaced again. “It was a tough time and I just couldn’t go back there after everything that happened.”

I was as polite to Julian as I could be considering how much his reappearance bothered me. I didn’t want to remember Ian Christopher who had promised so much and delivered so little. I didn’t want to be reminded of Doug’s Cabin and the old men playing dominoes, the tables full of guys who worked at the bakery, the secretaries and the nursery school teachers. When I thought of them, I missed them.

“I just thought of you, Marina,” Julian said. “I missed you.”

It was a pretty intense thing to hear from someone whose existence I’d forgotten about until two minutes before. And then, I realised he was up to his former band’s old tricks. He was flirting with me so that I would be his fan! He’d be able to sell one more ticket, one more t-shirt.

“You’re in a new band, aren’t you?” I asked.

“Yeah, but it’s so much better,” he said. “Everyone knows what they’re doing, not like the guys from before. We’re even going into the recording studio.”

“That’s good to hear,” I told him. “I’m glad things worked out for someone.”

I was trying not to think of Doug, who had had to close his bar and find a new job at 55 years of age because of one evening with the wrong entertainment. I also hoped Julian would take my congratulations as his cue to move on, but he didn’t.

“We’ve got a show later. Tonight I mean,” he said. “If you want to come, I’ll put you on the guest list. Your friend too.”

“I really don’t think –” I started to reply, but my best friend had other ideas.

“Yeah, we’ll be there,” she said. “I haven’t heard a new band in ages.”

And so my best friend and I finished our drinks, had one more round and took a cab to an address Julian Pierre had written on a napkin. The venue was a bicycle factory warehouse that had been converted into a night club.

There are three things people who aren’t really into music notice when they walk into a live music show. First, there are the Band Girlfriends. They dance with devotion. They twist with terrible responsibility. They understand the lyrics through the conditions that inspired them. They shimmy with shared enthusiasm for each shift in the harmony. And then, when the music stops, they stop. The slink into a place of semi-hidden safety behind the loud speakers and sip their drinks slowly and seriously through straws. They whisper among themselves newly modest and demure. Their quiet stillness when the band isn’t playing reminds me of the hush during a funeral home visitation. It seems inappropriately serious for a night club.

Then, there are the Band Boyfriends. I suspect there is seldom any sex involved between the band and their boyfriends. It’s more of a male friendship the boyfriends imagine they have with the band.

Band Boyfriends live for music. They might not play instruments, they definitely do not sing, but they might have pages and pages full of lyrics scribbled into notebooks at home. They typically own huge libraries of music and go out to clubs six nights a week. Among them, I would include music journalists who work for alternative weeklies and on-air at local radio stations. They stand at the bar and never take their eyes off the stage. They never dance, but they do move their heads with the beat, often unintentionally synchronized with each other. All the Band Boyfriends are waiting for access to the right interview to help them hit the big time with a publication credit in a large music magazine. During the breaks, the Band Boyfriends try to think of new ways to describe the same old sounds. I even knew some of them from my days as a university poet. They could still po-mo, po-co, wo-mu, hillbilly, old school new term old word like it was their mother tongue. Of course, my best friend knew more of them from her work in radio advertising.

After the show, the Band Boyfriends would rush backstage brandishing recording devices, notebooks and compliments to get some comment from the band. Some of them would even help load the equipment for a little extra attention from the bassist.

The Band Boyfriends were marginally more interesting to watch than the Band Girlfriends. Still, there was something deeply depressing about both groups and their need for approval. Their need to be included without actually being in the band was just sad.

The only people worth envying at a live show are the fans: The people who have a drink, put aside all their cares and worries and stress and just have a good time. They are really the ones with something special at a night club. The joy of dancing, of laughing and of sharing a beat is almost holy. While the music plays they are a tribe with nothing to hold them back from each other. I have been there. I have been one of them completely. I haven’t been in that shared place every time I have ever been to a club, but often enough to miss it when, for some reason or another, I just can’t get into the groove.

But, that night in the bicycle factory with all those people listening to Julian Pierre’s new band, I got into it. I danced in that crowd of loving strangers and felt what they felt. And, at the end of every number, I screamed for more as part of one, loud, collective voice. They were my family. It was magic music.

After the second encore, Julian Pierre jumped off the stage. He moved through the crowd of people who patted him on the back, hugged him and shouted “great show, man!” They spoke in that big voice way of people who are a little deaf after listening to too much loud music.

Julian Pierre found me on the dance floor. He put his arms around me. He kissed me. And it all seemed like part of the ritual, exactly what was meant to happen after all that togetherness.

“Let’s go,” he said.

I went.

We wandered out into the street. We didn’t talk for a while. Our ears needed time to adjust, but we held hands and walked. He lived, just like I did, in one rented room of a shared house. A cooperative house, we called it. That meant we all shared the housework, in theory. In reality, no one did their share. I met two of his room mates in the kitchen making toast. Julian washed two glasses and filled them with cold water. One of the room mates offered me a piece of toast, but I was already following Julian upstairs. He locked the door to his room. It wasn’t as messy as I would have expected. I sat on the bed. He was the kind of man who made his bed. The light from the lamp was golden and gentle. The room was warm.

“I want you,” he said.

I kissed him.

“Do you want me?” he asked me and the ringing in my ears stopped. “I want you to want me. I need you to tell me.”

“I want you,” I whispered. “I want you Julian.”

He unbuttoned my dress. I unbuttoned his shirt. He traced the outline of my bra down into my cleavage and back up, slowly, first with his finger tips, then with his lips. I took off my own bra.

“Don’t rush,” Julian said. “Let me see you slowly, like I always imagined it.”

He reached for me, stroked the inside of my wrist, his hand followed my arm to my shoulder, he put his lips to my neck and wove his hands through my hair.

“And now,” he whispered. “I can see to your beautiful, beautiful breasts.”

I reached for him and held his face in my hands before I reached for his belt buckle. I’d never encountered a belt buckle before. I didn’t know how to get past it. I had to pull on it and pull and still, it didn’t come off.

“Sorry,” Julian said, and eased the buckle out of its holes in the belt.

I could finally undo the belt, the button, unzip his jeans.

“Was that just enthusiasm, or are you kind of aggressive?” he whispered in my ear.

“I don’t know, Julian. I really don’t know, tell me later,” I answered. “Can I be on top first?”

After sunrise, he switched off the lamp. We slept when warm sunbeams fell across his single bed. And then, it was late afternoon and Sunday was almost gone. It was time for me to go home.

“We go into the studio tomorrow,” Julian said. “Do you want to come and hang out?”

“I can’t,” I told him. “I work during the day.”

“We have a show Thursday night,” he said.

“I’ll meet you before the show,” I told him. “I’ll make you dinner and send you to work. I can’t go to a show on a school night.”

“Are you always so nine to five?” he asked.

“Pretty much,” I said.

“When you hung out with us at Doug’s Cottage, you never seemed like that.”

“Things were different then,” I told him. I used to work late into the evening and never in the early hours of the morning. I could have changed back, I suppose, but part of me was already thinking of the Band Girlfriends and how they only seemed to come alive when the men they loved were playing them music. I wanted Julian to know I was not that kind of girl.

It’s not bad, being a regular person, you know,” I told him. “I can plan my life a little.”

“I am going to do something special,” he said. “Something better than you have ever planned. You could come with me.”

“It’s all a bit sudden, don’t you think?”

He looked me meaningfully in the eye. “Why don’t we give the real problem here a name?” he asked.

“I know I’m not spontaneous,” I admitted.

“Or, you could be,” he said, “if you didn’t think all musicians were heartbreakers like Ian Christopher.”

“I don’t think he has anything to do with it,” I said.

“Really,” Julian said, “I don’t understand why all the women were into that guy. He was a drummer who couldn’t count.”

“I don’t think you’re like him at all,” I said.

“I am not like him at all!” Julian said. “I’m a musical genius.”

I had to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“Look, honey, you can’t just say ‘I’m a musical genius’ like that,” I told him. “That kind of ego drives regular people like me crazy. You’ve got to be a bit ironic. Raise your eyebrow, smile a little. Show people that you don’t take yourself so seriously.”

“Are you giving me career advice?” he asked. “Are you my girlfriend or my director of marketing and publicity?”

“Oh, come on.”

“No, really, what do you know about the music business? You don’t even know what they say about drummers who can’t keep the beat.”

“No, I don’t,” I admitted. “I’m not a musical genius. Have fun in the studio, I’ll see you for dinner on Thursday.”

I never heard from him again.

I can’t say I was heart-broken. I wasn’t even terribly disappointed. It’s hard to be sad about an experience that was so short and, mostly, perfect.

And then, Julian Pierre ruined my life.

It started slowly about six months after the night of Julian’s show. I’d walk into the office and the programmers would start singing.

Oh Marina! Oh my Marina!
If only I’d seen ya


At first, I thought it was an affectionate gesture, a new office morale-boosting technique. I went into my cubical and made up little songs about all of my colleagues. I emailed everyone the document, but my songs didn’t take off.

After a few days of being serenaded by the programmers, my best friend summoned me to come over and listen to her new radio commercial. She turned on her favourite local radio station and stood back.

“Just listen to this,” she said.

Instead of listening to another radio commercial about shaving foam, I heard Julian Pierre’s new song.

Oh Marina! Oh My Marina!
If only I’d seen ya
Just five minutes before
He walked through the door

I’d’ve had you on the floor
Dancing to my song
You know I’m not wrong
I’d’ve had you wanting more

Just five minutes before
He walked through the door
Oh Marina! Oh My Marina!
If only I’d seen ya

I’d’ve held you at the wall
Told you you’re such a doll
I’d’ve kissed you lips and tongue
Kept you ready till my show was done

Oh Marina! Oh My Marina!
If only I’d seen ya
Just five minutes before
He walked through the door

I’d’ve taken you to my bed
I’d’ve led, you’d’ve led
Sweet words coulda been said
Now that idea is dead

Just five minutes before
He walked through the door
Oh Marina! Oh My Marina!
If only I’d seen ya

Women think they want the drummer
I’m just a guitar strummer
The guy couldn’t count to eight
But he still stole my date

Oh Marina! Oh My Marina!
If only I’d seen ya
Just five minutes before
He walked through the door


Naturally, my first thought was: Musical genius, my ass!

The single went into such heavy rotation on the radio that my life became one embarrassing moment after another. Everyone I met sang the song at me. It greeted me when I bought my morning coffee at the neighbourhood bakery and when I boarded the streetcar to work. It was the opening item on the agenda of business meetings and the last thing I heard when I said goodnight to my housemates.

If I dared to go out for a drink with my best friend, we’d inevitably run into one of the Band Boyfriends. She would introduce me proudly as the girl from the song and they would fawn all over me, looking for the inside scoop.

“So, my Marina?” they’d ask. “Did you get off with the drummer?”

The song was a hit and my life was being reduced to a footnote in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Just when I was ready to go live under a rock, my best friend handed me a copy of the daily newspaper.

“I’ve been published!” she shouted with glee.

I turned to the advice column.


Dear Aunty Alice,

My ex-boyfriend and I had a messy break up right before he went into the recording studio. I guess our argument triggered some kind of creative catharsis and he wrote a song about it. He didn’t even change my name. It’s not an uncommon name, but it’s not like Sarah or Jennifer, which is pretty easy to hide behind.

While I live in a big city, it often seems like a little village. Everyone I know is looking at me differently. They think I am the kind of girl who dates rock stars, cheats on them and breaks their hearts. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am just a nice young woman who wants to meet a nice young man and start a family, but because of that stupid song, even men from church who my grandmother introduces me to think they can ask me about my sex life.

It’s not that I have any bad feelings toward my ex. I hope he’s rich and happy. Is it mean of me to wish he’d release a new single already and let the song about me fade into musical obscurity? Right now, I am worried I’ll never meet anyone else and will die alone.

Signed,

The Girl in the Song
“You had no right to write that letter!” I wailed at my best friend.

“What makes you think anyone will know it’s you?” she asked.

In her enthusiasm at seeing her words in print, my best friend had not bothered to read the response.


Dear Marina,

So, did you get off with the drummer?
“I can never leave the house again,” I told my so-called best friend. “I’d tell you to find a new best friend, but somebody’s got to bring me groceries.”

“It’s not that bad,” she said. “The new single will be out soon. You could just learn how to enjoy the attention, you know.”

“I’m going to die alone and you think I should learn to enjoy the attention?”

“If it gets worse, you can just start listening to classical music,” she said. “You could even start going to the opera. There are tons of men there.”

“Oh, God help me,” I said.

The world sang at me for six more weeks. I investigated disguises. Then, I saw Julian Pierre being interviewed on television by one of the better-known Band Boyfriend journalists.

“Your first album is a big hit,” the Band Boyfriend fawned. “What do you credit for your success?”

“Well, I guess it’s just musical genius,” Julian replied, but he let everyone know that he doesn’t really take himself so seriously. While he was saying it, he looked toward the camera, smiled and raised an eyebrow.

I could laugh then. I forgave him everything.