John, Maria's husband, came back from the city, driving his station wagon up from the railway halt. He was starting a month's vacation and was in a happy state of mind. MPR had three acts in the Billboard Top 20 and they had six people from A & R out on the road scouting for new talent. John was planning to sail a boat with Maria and a couple of friends from Key West down to the Caribbean. He'd asked a few weeks earlier if Lowri and I would like to come aboard, and we had both pictured storms blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico and Maria's pill habit in a cramped space. "But you're a Brit," said Lowri, "you're meant to have the sea in your blood." "And you're a Yankee girl, you're meant to be a pioneer." "Horses, Jack. Covered wagons. We left the sea at Plymouth Rock and never got our feet wet again." After the two of us had spent an entire evening calculating what might be the longest period between landfalls we knew it wasn't our scene.
There was no swimming for John. He brought out some beers and a jug of margaritas. The sun was going down and I called Lowri from the phone in the hall. She said two of Rick's friends had already showed up from New YorkDenny Roberts, whose band Blue Ridge Cowboys had had a Top 10 album in the spring (a kind of country rock thing with interesting harmonies), and his folksinger girlfriend, Tommi Fontaine.
We took two cars back to the farm, and I finally got Anya to talk a little. Her voice was rich and low. She told me she'd been playing in a coffee bar in the Village when Rick came up and spoke to her after her set. "I was, like, a little distrustful of this guy coming on to me. I've been handling my own material for three years. Making my own bookings."
"You were still in a coffee bar?"
"Sure. But a New York coffee bar. To a girl from Devils Lake, North Dakota, a Village coffee bar's as good as Radio City."
"How long have you been in New York?"
"Two years. I had a job in a kind of songwriting factory for a bit."
"The Brill Building?"
"Yeah, like that, only worse. In Brooklyn. We were in a row of small cubicles. It was like a musical reform school. A state pen for tunesmiths. I sold two songs. Two B-sides."
"And you left?"
"Yeah, I'd started hearing songs on albums that weren't made for commercial radio. Songs with real words. I saw you could write a song about . . . you know, anything."
"Not just love songs."
"Sure. And you could write for your own voice, to your own strengths."
"Are we going to hear you play?"
She smiledthe first time I'd seen her smile. It was a little lopsided. "It's a long way to bring a guitar and leave it in the trunk."
"I look forward to it. Rick Kohler has great taste."
She looked at the floor of the car, then back up at me. "I liked your last record, by the way," she said. Her eyes were flaring with light, but guarded.
"Thank you. We've pretty much broken up. The band, I mean. I didn't like the production. I thought it was too West Coast."
Anya focused on rolling a small cigarette with tobacco from a tin in her Mexican shoulder bag, as though she felt she'd given enough of herself for now. She felt no awkwardness in just shutting down. There were no fade-outs, no good-byes.
The farmhouse we lived in had once been little more than a barn and was still only half converted. In the music room at one end of the ground floor, there were a piano, three guitars, various harmonicas, maracas and tambourines, and a double-height window that gave onto the woods. At the other end of the ground floor, Lowri had made a living space with sofas and a kitchen and a brick fireplace, which we seldom used for fear of setting light to the whole building. There were red curtains at the window, cottage furniture and always jars of wildflowers. The two bedrooms were upstairs, in what had once been a hayloft.
Copyright © 2012 by Sebastian Faulks
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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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