Arthur Morelli was older, an unsmiling man in his late thirties or early forties who played with a heavy swing. In his solos he wheeled out into wild tangents, he pushed the music to the edge before he came back to rhythm. Liam Deval looked about Gavin's age, late twenties or early thirties, the star of the show: a perfect counterpoint to Morelli, all shimmering arpeggios and light sharp tones. Gavin had never seen anyone's hands move so quickly. His skill was astonishing. Jazz slipped into gypsy music and back again, a thrilling hybrid form. Gavin knew it wasn't new, what they were doing, but it was the first time he'd encountered it live. There was a bassist and occasionally a drummer, one solo each per set but otherwise strictly backup. Everyone was backup to Liam Deval, including Morelli. It was obvious that they were a duo in name only.
They played the nine o'clock set every Monday, until a particular night in June when it seemed to Gavin that there was tension between Deval and Morelli during the first set. They took a break, during which they murmured inaudibly but furiously in a back corner. They started the second set unevenly. Something was off - Morelli was glaring at his guitar and when he took a solo he went too far out and the beat was lost. Deval's glissandos were ungrounded. The guitars went subtly but maddeningly out of sync. The bass player closed his eyes and struggled to keep the rhythm. When the short set was over they packed up their instruments without looking at one another. Deval slung his guitar case over his back and walked out of the room without a word. Morelli looked up at him when he left, his expression unreadable. The bass player was glowering and wouldn't look at either of them. Morelli left a few minutes later, and after that the nine o'clock set on Mondays was a large beautiful woman with squared-off bangs and red lipstick who played exquisite melodies on a ukulele, a dreamlike wave of strings and horns and soft drumbeats rising up behind her.
Julie sent him an email. She wanted to know if there was anything he wanted to tell her. There was, there was, but he sat paralyzed for some time before he managed it. "Some of this you already know," he wrote, but he listed them all anyway: the woman in the Florida story whose name wasn't Chloe, the imaginary concerned parent in the Bronx playground with the child who also didn't exist, the woman who probably wasn't an Alkaitis investor climbing into a taxi in the rain, the day he stood across the street from a burned-out apartment and couldn't bear to speak with any of the neighbors or get any closer to the scene: it seemed a banal downfall when he read it on the screen. He said he was sorry and hit send. He waited days for a response but there was nothing.
The drip from the showerhead in Gavin's apartment had turned into a steady trickle and now it leaked a stream of hot water day and night. Gavin wasn't paying rent anymore, which made the situation awkward, because once you've stopped paying rent you can't really call the landlord to complain about repairs, and spending his own money on a plumber was out of the question. In a way he didn't mind it. The sound lulled him to sleep. The leaking water was scaldingly hot, which made the room fill permanently with steam. The bathroom grew strange and almost subtropical. Cool drips fell from the ceiling, water slid down the walls, the paint bubbled.
Gavin imagined the damage being done to the paint job was irreparable, but this struck him as a reasonable trade-off for the landlord's failure to do anything about the broken light in the stairwell. He stood barefoot in the bathroom some mornings, rain falling from the ceiling, and wondered what Karen would do in this situation. The obvious answer, of course, was that Karen would never have allowed this to happen in the first place. He was pretty sure the dark spot in the northeast corner of the ceiling was turning into a mushroom. His reflection in the fogged-up mirror stared back at him with a fixed, somewhat shell-shocked expression. He wondered how much more he could lose.
Excerpted from The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel. Copyright © 2012 by Emily St. John Mandel. Excerpted by permission of Unbridled Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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