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Authors: Cecil Castellucci

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BOOK: Beige
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But I can’t focus on it. I can’t. I can’t conjure up the image to teleport me there. It’s too loud. Everything here is too loud. Even with the earplugs.

I try to zone out again, between bands. I float away in the pocket of silence until I am shaken out of my reverie by a sonic boom. At least that’s what I think it is. I let out a yelp.

Lake laughs at me again.

“Relax,” Lake says. “It’s just feedback from one of the amps.”

She likes that I don’t know anything. Thinking I’m stupid probably makes her feel good about herself. She climbs up on a plastic chair so that she can see better. She puts her fingers in her mouth and whistles like a trucker.

Suck is the band now taking the stage. Everyone at the party starts to stumble closer. They all want to see. Mob mentality makes me want to see, too. I climb up on a chair next to Lake.

The Rat takes his place and sits behind his drum kit, shirtless. Sam quietly stands at the microphone as the entire party becomes still. He just stands there with intention. I lean forward. I almost tip off the chair. No one dares to breathe.

Suddenly, The Rat breaks the spell, clicking the drumsticks over his head. He screams, “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!”

And then he crashes his sticks on the drums. Smashes them. They explode. Like they are bombs. Sam Suck is no longer the quiet gentleman that I met by the guacamole. He is screaming. He is all noise and insanity. He is all jumping and falling and throwing and attacking the air with his body. He is all danger and pain.

I’ve got a knot in my stomach.

I don’t know what’s going to happen.

I’m afraid.

The people in front of the makeshift stage are dancing wildly. Their bodies smash into each other. They push and claw. They use each other to gain energy and force. The music is coaxing the crazy out of them. I don’t like it.

Now I shrink back from the noise. I can’t even look at The Rat. He has an evil look on his face. An evil grin. This is not the same person that picked me up from the airport. This is a real rat. A no-good carrier of the plague. Only The Rat’s plague is
music.
Angry, angry music. Pounding on those drums. Punishing those skins. Torturing us all.

This sounds nothing like the album I heard at home. It’s worse.

Sam Suck grabs at the microphone. He attacks it with his words.

“When I stand at attention

I’m really asking questions

Like what the hell is up with you?

Your red?

Your white?

Your fucking blue?

And when I go to cast my vote

I’m unimpressed with your one note,

People spitting back what you quote.

I won’t learn your words by rote.”

By the end of the set, The Rat is sweaty. No.
Sweaty
is too polite a word. He’s a pig. He’s a sweaty pig, dripping rivers from his body as he gets up and throws his sticks into the audience. And Sam Suck’s knuckles are bleeding; his hair is soaking wet and sticking to his face grotesquely, like long tentacles or snakes. The Rat pushes over his drum kit and it falls into a heap on the ground. Then he tackles Sam Suck. They roll around on the stage, laughing and groping each other, fake fighting, fake fucking. Everyone else is laughing and goading them on.

Sam Suck gets up off the floor. He spits on the side of the stage. He picks up the microphone.

Then he speaks.

“My name is Sam Suck. And I have something to say. I stand for all that is true. I vow to be myself at all times. Speak out when I can. Not be afraid of the repercussions of having a voice that might not be in accordance with the mainstream. I vow to think for myself. I vow to make sure that I am always asking questions. I will go my own way. I am unique. And I swear you are, too. So stand up and be heard. Stand up unafraid. We’re going to think out, speak out, act out for social change. Do not be afraid to declare yourself a punk. Everyone who is a thinking, feeling, questioning person who stands up for truth is a punk. I salute you.”

Then he flips everyone his middle finger with one hand and pushes over the microphone with the other, and the crowd goes wild. They are pumping their fists in the air. They start screaming. Like a chant. Like an anthem.

“FUCK YOU!”

“FUCK YOU!”

“FUCK YOU!”

They yell beside me and around me while I shrink to the smallest size I ever was. Small like a child. Like a frightened mouse.

“They’re something else, huh?” Lake says in her baby voice — no change in her. She’s all cool and clapping, sometimes throwing a fist in the air. Devil’s horns. Or middle finger. Or truck-stop whistling.

I don’t even know what to say.

I may have swallowed my own tongue.

She sees my fear — I can tell. And she disapproves. She rolls her eyes.

“God, you’re so
beige,
” she says.

I fake being asleep in the car all the way home, so when The Rat asks me how I liked the show, I just kind of mumble incoherently. I must do a pretty good job of faking, because he just leaves me be and drives while beating out a peppy beat on the steering wheel. That suits me just fine. I am glad. I don’t have any good answers for the kinds of questions he might ask me.

I don’t even think what Suck plays
is
music. And that “concert” was not like any concert I ever went to. Once I went with Leticia to see Boy Bomb. We had assigned seats and it was in a theater. And the boys on stage had dance moves that were coordinated. That’s the kind of music I can swallow. It was all very civilized. I even bought a program and a T-shirt.

When we get home, I just excuse myself, go to my room, and close the door. I write Mom an e-mail. She might not even get it, but it makes me feel better to send it.

Mom,

The Rat’s friends behave like juvenile delinquents. I’m sure that child welfare services are going to take me away. Also, Suck sucks. I’m sure that I’ve already suffered permanent hearing loss from the noise they call music. Better send that ticket to Lima before I have to learn sign language.

Bisous, Katy.

I send it out into the ether. Like a cyber message in a bottle. SOS.

The Rat is so into showing me the city of Los Angeles. He’s making all sorts of efforts.

“It gets a bad rap, but this city is great,” he says.

It’s officially true that you can only stand seeing so much touristy stuff before your head explodes. It’s also officially true that The Rat and I won’t agree on what constitutes a “cool tourist thing to do,” which is why we are sitting at the Hamburger Hamlet not talking to each other while he eats a California burger and I eat a veggie burger.

I now know the entire sordid history of Suck. I know everything about Suck. I could get a PhD in Suck.

I look out the window while The Rat starts talking. There are a bunch of people taking pictures of the feet in the cement (BORING) and taking pictures with people who are dressed up like Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe and various other pop culture demons (WEIRDOS).

I point across the street to Mann’s Chinese Theater.

“Does somebody pay those people?” I ask.

“What?” The Rat says.

“Those people dressed up as celebrities. Does somebody pay them to do that? Is that their job?”

“I don’t think they’re paid. Charlie Chaplin asked me for a dollar once,” The Rat says. “I took my picture with her. It’s a woman. I tried to leave and she grabbed me with her arm, strong grip, and she whispered through her fake smile, ‘Give me a dollar.’”

“It’s kind of a weird job,” I say.

“Oh, I have had weirder.” He kind of eases his shoulders now that we are talking and not being quiet. I think the quiet drives him crazy. But I think he’s trying to be quiet for me.

“Like what?”

“Costumed message-delivery boy and singing telegram dressed as a gorilla usually. Making balloon animals at kiddie parties,” he says. “Oh! And a member of the midnight flamingo assault squad.”

“What’s that?”

“For a fee, we would sneak onto people’s lawns and plant hundreds of pink plastic flamingos.”

“Mom’s been a receptionist, a salesgirl, a waitress, and a research assistant.”

“That’s a far cry from the Leda I knew,” The Rat says.

I know her best.
I
do.

“She likes research assistant and teacher’s assistant best,” I say.

“Your mom was a squeegee punk when I met her.”

My mom? A squeegee punk? One of those dirty kids who wash your windows uninvited at red lights? They are disgusting. She’s never told me that she used to be one of them. That she could relate to their begging for change. She never told me to be quiet when I spoke about how disgusting they were. Now I understand why Mom always rolls down her window and gives them loonies.

“It’s just a dollar,” she always says.

I don’t let The Rat know that I didn’t know about that. I just put my burger in my mouth. Like,
Oh, yeah. Squeegee punk. Right. Forgot about that one.

“Did you kidnap her?” I ask finally. “Grand-maman always says you kidnapped her.”

It’s one of those unanswered questions that no one ever answers around me.

The Rat does a drumroll on the table.

I hold my breath. This is where the story always ends. This is where the subject gets changed. This is where my mystery begins. This is where the questions I always ask remain unanswered.

“No, your mom stowed away on the bus. I found her under the covers of my bunk when we got to Ottawa.”

“What happened then?”

“I kissed her.”

“Did you like her?”

“No, I didn’t even know her name. She was just a groupie on the bus.”

“What happened then?”

The Rat takes the saltshaker in his hand and starts to spin it around. His eyes seem to focus on something far away.

“After the show in Ottawa, we all went to an after-hours party. We all got drunk.”

“And high?” I ask.

“Maybe.”

He starts to look uncomfortable, but I don’t want him to stop. Not now. I gesture with my hand for him to go on.

The Rat takes a deep breath. He pats his pocket where he keeps his cigarettes and then glances at the no smoking sign and puts his hand on the table. Starts drumming his fingers.

I remind myself to breathe as he opens his mouth and begins to speak.

“Your mom and I ended up on the roof of this warehouse. She started screaming at the city. Just howling. So, I started howling, too. Then we lay down on the roof, and I thought here was my big chance to have wild sex with this cute, crazy girl. I thought, I’ll just roll over and throw it in her.”

Ew, gross,
I think. But I don’t dare say anything that might make him stop telling me the story. Layers and layers deep. I am diving right to the bottom. At last he’s telling me something I’m interested in.

“I turned to her ready to make my move and she looked at me with those wicked green eyes of hers and she opened her mouth and she said something along the lines of ‘I want to be able to float away in my body so I can finally catch up with my mind.’ And she took my hand and no hand has ever felt like that. So
real.
It was like suddenly I was completely inhabiting my own body, too. All I wanted to do was look into her eyes on that roof and hold her hand and never let it go.”

“But you did,” I say. “You did let it go.”

“Well, that’s another story,” The Rat says, leaning back in his chair, like he’s lighter. Like a weight has been removed from him. “But you should add merch girl to the rest of the jobs that she’s had. She sold our merch for the rest of the tour all the way to California. That’s how she got here and I’m why she stayed.”

“Until she left,” I say.

“Yeah, until then.”

Because of
me.

And now I know the real story of how Mom met The Rat. But I notice that he doesn’t say how he was twenty-seven and she was sixteen and how she got hooked on heroin and ran away from Los Angeles back to Montréal with a baby in her belly. And how that was
wrong.

He was
wrong.

“What’s done is done,” Mom says. “It just happened that way. I was young. I was stupid. I told him I was eighteen. I thought it was so cool. I’ve moved on.”

“What about you?” I ask The Rat. “What do you do now?”

“Besides rock star?” He laughs. He does a drumroll. “To pay the bills, I’m an art preparator. I’ve got a toolbox and I know how to use it.”

“What’s an art preparator?”

“I install art and installations in museums, galleries, and homes. It’s flexible and steady and I can go on the road if I need to.”

I mull it over while I sip my coffee.

“Why don’t you just get a real job?”

The Rat looks like he didn’t understand the question.

“What?” I say.

Then he laughs while shaking his head. “The point is, Katy, those were all real jobs.”

“Not squeegee punk,” I say.

“Yes,” he says. “In a way it was.”

When we get back to the house, I go to my room and I hear The Rat shuffling around in the living room.

BOOK: Beige
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