"And tomorrow," said Lowri.
This seemed the funniest thing that any of us had ever heard. For about twenty minutes we were in agony as the first one able to breathe would say, "What about the Wednesday before . . . l-a-a-s-t!"
A telephone call did come, though, from MPR Records. Some kid in A & R that John Vintello had put on to us wanted to come right on up, or send a train ticket for Anya to go down to the city.
"Screw that," I said. "You should play some more gigs. Let's get you in some places up here. Just till the end of August. There's plenty of small venues in town and a lot of tourists to play to."
So next day Anya and Rick and I got in the Chevy and headed into town. We stood in daylight bars that smelled of last night's beer where the soles of your boots ripped up from the sticky floor when you tried to move. Rick did his spiel, Anya looked demure and icy, I kept an eye out for trouble. A guy with a white Afro and six rows of beads sat Anya on a tall bar stool to play while he slumped down at a low table so he could see up her skirt. An old woman in a pool hall said Anya could play for tips. A bar on the waterfront liked her enough to offer her a week, but not till September.
We went with the white Afro at five bucks an hour, beer and tips. He told Anya to sing some folk songs, which she had to do anyway because she didn't have enough material of her own to fill the time.
"I like that," he said, when she'd played him one. "Is that Appalachian or what?"
"Sure. See you Saturday."
Back in the car, Rick said, "Was that schmuck trying to get a look at your panties?"
"I think so."
"What a pervert."
"Don't worry, I wasn't wearing any."
She was the only one who could shut Rick up.
Those few weeks, I was so happy I hardly dared inhale. I think it was the same for all of us. Households could break up as quickly as they formed and no one liked to talk about what made this one work where the last one crashed. I'd first met Lowri when I was in LA after my English band had broken up and she was living in Laurel Canyon in a house with six other people, three of them with giant egos. Lowri was the glue that held it together and no one seemed to notice how beautiful she was, with her brown eyes and straw hair and dusty freckles. She was always pushing herself into the background. I noticed her, though. She and I went to the Troubadour and the Whisky a Go Go and saw all those people who'd go on to be famous. That was way back, out west. But this summer, with Anya and Rick. What made our farmhouse run so well? It could have been the joker in the pack: maybe Rick gave people just enough to find annoying, so he was the lightning conductor. Maybe it was the bit-part characters, Becky and Suzanne, who went to work at the big neighboring farm by day, saving up their wages to travel in the fall, and earned their keep by helping out and being cool (and in both cases, I suspected, visiting Rick on his couch in the night. The runty little guy had a way of getting girls to do things to him). Maybe it helped having Maria and John up the road for a change of scene. Also, there were no money hassles, thanks to the royalties still coming in from my last album.
We accommodated Anya. Soft-spoken, young, unrecorded, mild-mannered . . . Was there anything that wasn't easy about it? The size of her talent, I suppose. The silent power of her self-belief. It left this kind of force field round her. She was in no hurry to get back to the city; it was like she knew her time would come and there was no need to rush. Perhaps she could foresee the limousines and the press officers and the chain hotels and all the other things that would threaten her ability to find the pure thoughts inside her.
The gig we'd set up in town turned out pretty well. The audience was folkies for the most part, but with plenty of vacationers passing through and a solid core of drinkers who took a lot of winning over. When she needed to retune or change guitars and they just wanted something to sing along to, there was kind of a big frost. She never played a note until she was one hundred percent ready.
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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