When did I begin to fall in love with Anya King? Before I met her. Before I knew her. The day her head bobbed up from the other side of Rick's car . . . I felt I'd known her all my life and here she was at last. But she was someone I was also dead afraid of, because she was too much in me, too much a part of me, and, in some way I couldn't understand, stronger than me. She was more me than I was.
And I had to deal with the fact that I still loved Lowri. But the way I loved Lowri was full of respect. She was the opposite of me: she was fair, practical, considerate, wise. I was none of those things. We got on so well because we complemented each other. When I met her it was like: I'll take this one, she's the deal, she's got what it takes, she's got all I need.
With Anya there was no weighing up and no decision. There were things about her I thought wrong, things I didn't understand, and ways in which she was a lesser woman than Lowri. But none of them mattered at all. She was my destiny, and all I could do was ride it.
"Come on, Freddy," she'd say each day in the evening light, banging on the bonnet of the Chevy. "Time to go. I'm gonna try that new song tonight."
She'd learned to drive an automobile when she was twelveanything to get out of Devils Lakebut liked me to take charge of the expedition, like a roadie. In my bad moments I thought maybe she gave me roles in her life out of charity, but mostly I knew she needed someone to be between her and the world. She needed me to mediate for her. And I was thrilled, though I didn't let on.
"This time last year I was a guy with a Top Twenty record. Now I'm an unpaid driver."
"We make a left here, Freddy."
The new song she was trying out was called "Ready to Fly," and it made me excited and uncomfortable at the same time. It wasn't a fully personal-history thing like "You Next Time," but it seemed to refer to her own life at that moment. The chorus had a seesawing quality that had the people in the bar tapping their feet and humming along. The words went:
There's a time you're unsteady
This feeling is heady
You know you could easily cry
But you've spun there already
This frightening eddy
Now you know that you're ready to fly.
There were a few things that kept the song from being as simple as that chorus looked. The tune kept going from major to minor and back again, so you weren't sure how happy she was. The final word, "fly," was on that breaking verge between her middle and lower register, and she slid over two or three semitones. There was a "he" or a "him" in the song and if you were a woman listening then it could have referred to your man, but it could also have been someone in particular for Anya.
And was it just me, or was there a rhyme word that was obviously missing? And wasn't that word "Freddy"?
I'd sit at the back with some of the rowdier guys and try to set an example by applauding like crazy at the end of a song. Sometimes they'd look up to see what I was on about, and sometimes they wouldn't bother. I'd first played at the age of fifteen with my brothers in pubs in south London, so I knew the score.
The middle of the set was given to folk songs and to covers of other people's material. It amused Anya to pass off one of her own as a song from the Appalachians. She liked to watch some of the older men nod in approval, as though they'd had enough of this young woman's life and appreciated a real song now.
When Anya played, I was in the back-alley cold of "Genevieve," in the wilderness of "Julie in the Court of Dreams," in the vertigo of "Ready to Fly." And I was in her fingers on the strings, in her breathing, in her phrasing. I was pouring all my energy into her. I was part of something being born.
Copyright © 2012 by Sebastian Faulks
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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