A birthday night written for The Writer's Cramp.
|He knew that his dad wanted to take him out for his twenty first birthday. But his dad sucked, so a week before he had shut off his phone.
He walked down to the library after work to check the bulletin board. There was the usual paraphernalia about missing pets, book clubs and the weekly meetings of the foreign language clubs. Tucked in, almost hidden, like an afterthought, was a scrap of paper, the edges torn rather than cut straight.
He pulled on its warped corner and felt the page pull free with a small snap from the thumb tack holding it in place.
It appeared hand drawn, fluid shapes on a background of vibrant color. The lines looped and curled and the illustration of a man sitting behind a drum kit looked like nothing so much as a mass of neon spaghetti formed into a person. The freedom it would take to create something like that. . . The drawing so organic that it looked effortless. The headlining band’s name was drawn into the front of the bass drum. Screaming Monkies. David had heard of them. A hardcore punk band that had been gaining a lot of traction in the local scene.
He thought about putting the flier back up. Hiding it back behind the gathering of the quilting society but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead he took it home and stuck it to his fridge. For the next three days he stared at the flier while he leaned against the counter in his kitchen, absently munching his bowl of cereal.
It was inevitable that he’d go. And just as inevitable that it would be obvious that he’d never been to anything like this before. He had sensible black shoes and khakis for every day of the week. An endless row of blue t-shirts so that he never had to worry about matching things.
He paid the cover charge and stepped into another world. The room was dim. The place was all black lights and electric art on the walls. A mural of the hookah smoking caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland spread across one wall like an acid burn. The atmosphere sunk into him and he felt a tension that he wasn’t aware that he was carrying ease out of his shoulders.
The only real illumination came from the bar. He pulled up a stool and ordered his first beer.
A stool next to him scraped across the floor as it was drawn out.
“Yo, man. You lost?” a voice beside him asked, though not unpleasantly.
He took his first swig of his drink and then wiped the foam from his lip. “No,” he said. “I think I’m right where I want to be.”
He turned to look at the person next to him and felt a frisson of recognition but couldn’t quite place it.
He could tell that the man beside him felt the same. They considered each other in silence.
The newcomer was tall and thin. His leather jacket must have had hundreds of safety pins in it. A modern day chain mail. He fit right in with this crowd. Suddenly he narrowed his eyes and said, “Is your name David?”
“Oh, man. You remember me? Quinn! We used to wreak havoc around midtown back when we were kids.”
David nodded then smiled and said, “Yeah, back when we were kids? What the hell are we now?”
“Free, man. I don’t see your old man anywhere. There’s a blessing.” He drained the rest of his cup and ordered another drink. “So what are you up to these days?”
David shrugged. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t want to tell Quinn about his office job and his daily grind of mind numbing order. “Just keeping on. Paying the bills. How about you?”
“Eh. You know. Starving artist routine. I drew the flier for this thing. The band is pretty into supporting local artists. You seen it? The flier?”
“I stole the one from the library. It’s on my fridge.”
Quinn laughed. “When someone steals your art that’s the highest form of compliment. For true.”
He raised his cup to David and they clinked their plastic solo cups together in solidarity.
“It’s my birthday.” David said, unprompted.
“Oh, yeah? Twenty-one?”
“Well, let’s make a night of it then.”
The band started up and a circle pit formed in front of the stage. Quinn jumped down from his stool. “I’m going in,” he yelled over the shrieking guitar and the bumping bass, “You comin’?”
David eyed the runners and the speed with which they moved. “Looks dangerous!”
“It is. But it’s also fun! Don’t worry, man. I’ll keep ya from breaking your face.”
Hours and several bars later, David was feeling a little foggy at the edges. Soft but happy. They’d kept an even pace for a good buzz but nothing more.
Quinn was talking, “Twenty one has always seemed like such a liminal time to me. Feels young and old at the same time, some invisible line crossed and now we’re supposed to know what to do with ourselves?” He shook his head, sluggishly.
David thought back to other late night conversations they’d had when they were younger. He thought that Quinn had been about protecting him back then too. From other kids or giving him a place to stay when his dad was on a bender. And tonight at the show.
“Yeah,” David said, shaking away the past, “I’ve no idea what I want to do. Does anyone know, do you think?”
“Nah. Here, let’s toast.” He raised his glass and said, “Here’s to not knowing anything about anything.”
Some nights are forgotten, ships in the dark, and some nights stay with you. David never forgot the pounding of the music or the hard slap of his shoes on the floor as he ran. Never forgot the coldness of the beer from the tap of the simple pleasure of a truly good time.