The house was crooked. Its paint, whatever was left of it, was of mysterious original coloration. The entire thing was made of wood, wood that creaked underfoot, creaked in the wind, creaked when the sounds and reverberations came from within it.
Mary’s music lessons were in this house. Mary learned piano from Jonas. Jonas had gone to a local but prestigious school for jazz performance, moved to New York City, gained some significant fame, disappeared, and reappeared back here in his hometown, in this house.
There were instruments strewn all across the residence’s main rooms–the stand-up piano, of course, where Mary had her lessons–but also guitars hung all over the walls, there was a drum set in the corner, a box of percussion, and various specifically ethnically-infused stringed instruments.
It was like the entire earth under that house had cracked. Mary remembers the giant but smooth oscillation in the road just prior to arriving. In the back seat of her mother’s 1977 Cadillac Sedan de Ville, the pothole-bump combo sent Mary well off the seat, the suspension not recovering until they had made the left onto the small gravel driveway, Mary having been bounced across the seat to the passenger-side door. She would snatch her music from beside her and stumble unsteadily into the funhouse of music.
Mary was a good student and a quick study, but one day she just wasn’t feeling it. Her dad was long gone, her mother was busy with work and her various boyfriends, and Mary just hadn’t practiced as much as she should have. She sat at the piano in the funhouse and made mistake after mistake. No energy flowed through her fingers. Jonas saw she was on the verge of tears.
“Somedays, you just aren’t feeling it,” he said. “And that’s ok. There are usually a lot of reasons you might not be feeling it that day, usually more than one reason at a time. And the thing to do is not to just plow through, although the goal is to get through. The thing to do is take one step back and repeat that last step. Let’s play last week’s lesson.”
He flipped the lesson book back a page, the page with last week’s date and a big checkmark on it. Wordlessly, she began to play. The notes came much more easily. By the end of the piece her hands were moving freely again and the tears that had welled up in her eyes had dried.
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Talk about the passion
“Some days it’s more important to be true to yourself than to others. But on those days it’s of the utmost importance. If you need to sing, sing. If you need to play, play. If you need to, walk through the woods, write a poem, sit quietly, read a book, watch a matinee.”
Try to win and suit your needs
Speak out sometimes but try to win
At the end of the lesson, he asked, “Do you have a record player or tape player at home?”
“We have a tape recorder at home, an 8-track in the car, and a record player on the hi-fi.”
“Excellent. I want to give you something.” He reached over and pulled an LP record off the top of the piano. He handed it to Mary. She looked at the cover.
She couldn’t really tell what the picture was on the cover. She didn’t really know how to process the sudden gift. She said thank you and put it with her lesson books. She got home and put it on the turntable.
Sit and try for the big kill
A waste of time sitting still
I can hear you
Buy the sky and sell the sky
And tell the sky, and tell the sky
Don’t fall on me
Three years later Mary had asked for a Walkman for her birthday and bought Life’s Rich Pageant on cassette. She listened to it nonstop. The tape grew worn and warped the sound so she saved up and bought another copy.
Buy the sky and sell the sky
And lift your arms up to the sky
She was ten and Jonas had her playing Beethoven piano sonatas, and after her practice sessions, she would learn Cuyahoga by ear, belting out the chorus as loud as she could.
She saved up some more and bought Reckoning and Fables of the Reconstruction. She drew the I.R.S. Man logo and Blu-tacked it to the wall in her bedroom. Her next tape purchase was Special Beat Service by the English Beat. She dyed her brown hair black and begged her mother for a pair of Dr. Martens. Her mother would not acquiesce. The hair was quite enough, her mother would say.
“Can I see that?” Mary asked towards the end of one of her lessons as she pointed to the Fender Jazzmaster Bass on the wall.
I am Superman
And I know what’s happening
I am Superman
And I can do anything
Jonas pulled the bass from the wall, picked up a quarter-inch cable, plugged the cable into the guitar and a nearby amp, and flipped on the amp. It warmed up and hummed with potential energy. He slapped a string and a big tone came forth. He handed the instrument to Mary. It was the size of her torso. She rested it carefully on her leg and wrapped her arm around it. She held down a string and plucked. Then she played the bass line to Superman by ear. First slowly, then faster and with more confidence. Jonas stood, mouth agape.
She sat there for a few seconds and then played Fall On Me. Then Cuyahoga. Then Save It for Later. Jonas continued in his speechlessness. She handed the bass back and he took it.
“Mary, that was amazing,” was all he could say.
“Thanks,” was all she could say.
When her mother came back and knocked on the door, Mary went straight to the car as she always did, but her mother stayed on the porch of the house talking with Jonas. Finally, she came back to the car, and after backing out of the driveway and getting down the street, said, “Jonas says you have a real talent for the bass guitar.”
“I guess,” said Mary.
“Interesting,” said her mother.
At her next practice, Jonas had Mary run through her piano material very quickly, then instead of giving her more to work on he said, “I want you to play the bass again.”
“Ok,” she said. He pulled the same Fender Jazzmaster off the wall and handed it to her.
“Play the same things you played last time.”
“What did I play last time?”
“And the English Beat.”
“Yes, and the English Beat.”
Mary proceeded to play Save It for Later, here and there adding flourishes to the steady bass line.
Jonas picked up an electric guitar and began strumming without even plugging into an amp. He had a giant smile on his face. It inspired a smirk from Mary.
“I want to give you another record,” he said after they finished the tune. He walked behind the piano to a series of milk crates laying on the floor. He flicked through the records inside the first crate and pulled out This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. He handed it to Mary triumphantly.
“Next week, we’re going to play Pump It Up from this record, ok?”
“Ok,” she replied with a small shrug. “What about my piano?”
“Do the same music again for next week,” Jonas said, forgetfully.
The next week Mary played Pump It Up perfectly, as Jonas played guitar and sang. When she burst forth with the opening line, his insides flew. He smiled uncontrollably.
Jonas had a P.A. system set up in the house this time. “Let’s play Save It for Later again,” he suggested as he flipped it on. They broke into the tune and he did his best English accent singing.
“Ok, we’d better practice some piano now or your mother will kill me,” he said after they finished. For some reason Mary conjured a vision of her mom climbing out of the Cadillac sedan, brandishing a large pistol, taking aim at Jonas. It was comical and she laughed out loud just a little as she moved to the piano bench.
As Mary walked to the door at the end of her lesson time, Jonas said, “I have this band–well, it’s just two of us–anyway, I was wondering if you wanted to come play those two tunes with us next time we play. I’ll talk to your mom about it.”
“Sure,” Mary said nonchalantly.
“Just show up. We’ll play those two songs. You don’t need to practice. I’ll bring the bass. I’ll give your mom the address.”
Jonas had picked an early show at one of the cleaner, well-lit bars his band of two frequently gigged at. As he set up, he kept his eye out for Mary and her mother. When they walked through the front door he could tell her mother was immediately scoping the place out, looking for signs that she should immediately escape with her daughter to a safer place. But apparently, she decided that this establishment was acceptable. Mary spotted him from across the large room and as he waved hello she quickly walked over.
“We’ll play your tunes early on in the set,” he told her, “In the meantime, you and your mom can just hang out? Sit anywhere you like.” There weren’t many patrons this early in the evening, so there were plenty of tables open, and the early evening light still shone through the ample windows.
They played a couple of tunes and then he announced that they were going to have a special guest play with them. He called Mary up to the stage and encouraged fanfare from the crowd. It was clear they were equally shocked and impressed by her young age.
She sat with the bass and Jonas counted off the tune. She began to play but nothing happened. Her hands didn’t know which notes to play anymore. She tried, briefly, but had to stop. Jonas looked over, his face first confused and a little shocked, but after a second he just gave her a wink and continued with the song. After they had finished it, he leaned over.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know what to play–how to play–anymore,” she said.
“Ok. That’s ok,” Jonas replied, still puzzled. “Want to try the other one?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, give it a try,” and he began to play the next song.
Her hands continued to disobey. They were rocks, ice cubes. She started to become embarrassed. She felt sweat start to drip from her armpits for the first time in her life. She glanced at her mother, who returned a warm smile, and in whose eyes was held that desire all parents have to save their daughters.
“So what happened?” Jonas asked at the start of Mary’s next piano lesson.
“I don’t know,” replied Mary.
“Did you get nervous?”
“Not really. I just couldn’t play like I could in here.”
“Let’s get through your piano music really quick and then practice those tunes again.”
When they had run through Mary’s piano lesson material, Jonas broke out the guitar and bass and plugged them in. He counted off Pump It Up and they both played the song perfectly. Jonas smiled and when they had played the last note puzzled out loud, “I wonder what happened at Gilley’s? You can play it perfectly here.” Jonas thought silently for a moment. “I’m going to see if your mom will let you come to our next practice.”
“Here they come,” said Jonas to his bandmate. “Put out that cigarette!”
His bandmate looked confused, shrugged, and put the cigarette out in the large glass ashtray on the floor. Jonas grabbed the ashtray and hid it on a ledge around the corner. Mary’s mother didn’t accompany her to the door, so the urgency was a little unnecessary, other than for not contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
They started with Save It for Later and Mary played it perfectly. The three of them were so tight, it sounded like they’d played together for years. Jonas’s bandmate looked at him in disbelief, and Jonas looked back at him as if to say, “I told you!”
“That was really good, Mary.”
They moved onto Pump It Up and it was the same. Both songs she had been completely unable to play at the gig, she now played not only correctly, but flawlessly, with feeling and a level of mastery with the instrument well beyond what could be possible at her age.
Jonas had an idea. “We’re going to play a different tune now.” He counted off (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding, and the three of them played it like they were in The Attractions. Jonas even sounded a lot like Elvis Costello.
Next, they played Accidents Will Happen. Then Cruel to Be Kind by Nick Lowe. Burning Down the House and Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads. Despite having seen this several times previously, Jonas was in complete shock. No matter what they threw at her, she played it perfectly the first time. His bandmate was more skeptical. “I want to try something,” he said, and stepped out from behind the keyboard, grabbing a tambourine. “Follow me. Bring the guitars.”
He walked out the front door and Jonas and Mary looked at each other, shrugged like they were in a comedic sitcom, and followed. He started to tap out the eighth-note beat of Once in a Lifetime on the tambourine, announced which tune it was, and counted off. Jonas caught on immediately and started strumming the chords. Mary just stood there, the bass now hanging low from the thick strap. Jonas saw her sudden hesitation and started singing the vocal melody loudly.
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
Mary tried. She just couldn’t find the notes. Or the groove. “I–I just can’t,” she said, visibly upset.
Jonas gave his bandmate a dirty look.
“Hang on. Follow me back inside.”
They marched back inside and as soon as they were all inside the front door he tapped out the beat on the tambourine again, this time picking up the vocals himself.
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well…how did I get here?”
Mary plucked at the thick strings with her tiny hands. The part was flawless. Her timekeeping was like a metronome.
They stopped after the first chorus. Jonas looked at his bandmate, who smiled back a toothy grin.
“How did you think of that?”
“I don’t know, but it sure is interesting.”
Mary hadn’t said a word, still grasping the situation herself.
“What does it feel like?” Jonas asked her.
“I don’t know. Fun, mostly. And when we were out there–nothing. Just that same feeling you have any time you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.”
Jonas laughed out loud, embarrassed by the unexpected curse coming from the mouth of a girl. “Sorry,” he said, still barely suppressing his laughter. He looked at his bandmate. “What do you make of it?”
“Dunno. Maybe this house is haunted by the ghost of some great bass player. His spirit floats up from his dismembered body hidden under the floorboards and embodies anyone who plays bass.”
“Dude!” Jonas barked, still very protective of Mary.
“Sorry,” he replied, chuckling.
“Besides,” Jonas continued, “You and I have both played bass in this house and nothing like that happened.”
“True. Mary, let’s play that Talking Heads tune again, but this time you go play the keys.”
“Ok,” Mary replied, took off the bass, leaned it against the wall, and walked behind the keyboard.
“I don’t want to play bass,” Jonas’s bandmate said to him. Jonas shrugged and handed him the guitar and picked up the bass.
Jonas had a degree in music and knew the tune and had played it a hundred times on guitar and keyboards, but he still had to concentrate to keep on top of the bass part. Meanwhile, Mary played the keyboard with more soul than either of them ever had.
“Mary, you’re good at your piano music, but not that good. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, it just came naturally.”
“Dude, let’s have her play the drums!” Jonas’s bandmate said and quickly lit a cigarette and adjusted the drum kit and the drum throne. Jonas didn’t even care about the cigarettes anymore.
“What do you want to play?”
“Do you know Driver 8 by R.E.M?”
“We don’t, but we can figure it out really quick. I think I have the record.” He dug through his record crates and soon found Fables Of The Reconstruction, putting it on the turntable and setting the needle on track three. He turned the volume up and listened to the opening riff. “Oh, yes, I remember!” he exclaimed, grabbing the guitar back from his bandmate and playing along to the recording. He gave Mary a nod. She pounded the drums like some kind of combination of Bill Berry and Buddy Rich.
As they played along, Jonas’s bandmate shouted at him over the music, “She’s better at the drums than you are!”
“She’s better at everything than we are!” Jonas shot back.
When they had finished, Jonas put his guitar down. “I have an idea.” He practically skipped down the hall, ducking into one of the rooms. He returned shortly with a sitar. “Try this!”
He instructed Mary on how to sit and placed the instrument in front of her. He picked up an acoustic guitar and began playing Norwegian Wood. Her sitar technique was flawless.
“Dude, we still don’t know why this didn’t work for years with her piano lessons,” Jonas observed again.
Dude stroked his chin and suggested, “Try playing along with her.”
Jonas had played classical duets with Mary before, but decided to humor his bandmate. He moved the keyboard behind the piano and asked Mary to play her current piano piece. They played the piece successfully but none of the magic was there.
“Maybe it’s only music I like,” said Mary.
“You don’t like this classical music?” Jonas replied, a little offended.
“I mean. It’s not that I don’t like it. I just don’t like-like it.”
“We just threw a few new tunes at you and you played them perfectly. Did you know you liked them already before we started?” asked Dude.
“No. But thinking back, I do like them all.”
“What’s a tune that you don’t like.”
“Well my mom is really into Sinatra and it kind of makes me want to gag.”
“That’s it! Get out!” Dude said sarcastically and guffawed loudly.
“Ok, dude, what Sinatra do we know?”
“Fly Me to the Moon?”
“Ok. Mary, you get back on bass–you haven’t missed yet on bass,” Jonas said and picked up a guitar as Dude scooted the keyboards back to where they would face Jonas.
Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
And let me see what spring is like
On a-Jupiter and Mars
They took a second to find all the chords but they had both played in their university jazz band. Mary just sat there.
“Try,” beseeched Jonas. Mary plucked a few sour notes and shrugged.
“Well, I’ll be damned. Girl only plays what she wants to play,” Dude said and laughed again.
About that time, Mary’s mom returned to pick her up from what she thought was a normal, hopefully innocent band practice.
“Shit. Do not tell my mom about this,” Mary implored.
“Don’t worry, I don’t even know what I would tell her,” Jonas replied.
“Just tell her the truth, this house is haunted,” suggested Dude. He was entertaining himself nonstop at this point.
Jonas walked with Mary out to the car. Her mom rolled down the window and Jonas leaned over to talk into the driver-side window. Mary’s mom looked at him with a look that for the first time made him think maybe there was more at work here than just Mary’s freak talent for new wave and college rock.
“Well, if she wants to keep practicing with us, we’d love to have her.”
“Would you like that, honey?” Mary’s mom asked to the back seat as Mary climbed in.
“Yeah,” Mary said.
“We can just do this same time next week,” Jonas offered.
“Sounds good!” Mary’s mom said, a bit too enthusiastically. She flipped the car into reverse and bounced out of the driveway.
Jonas walked back into the house. “Dude, I think Mary’s mom is into me.”
“Good thing you like older women!” Dude could not be stopped.
Zombie by The Cranberries was playing loudly on the home stereo. Parents were gone for the weekend, so teenagers had gathered, and Mary’s best friend had dragged her there. They stood with red Solo cups in hand, some disgusting combination of fruit punch and rum swirling in them, and their heads in it.
“My brother just walked in,” Mary’s friend said casually as she looked towards the front door. Said brother was older, in college, and was one of those cool, paternalistic older brothers. He wasn’t there to monitor or mock. He just happened to have some friends there, too. He spotted his sister and walked over.
“Is this party any good?”
“Cool. Have you seen Judge?”
“No, but he might be here. I saw some of your other friends.”
“Oh yeah? Who?”
“The ones whose names I don’t know,” Mary’s friend said and rolled her eyes dramatically.
“Right.” Suddenly, he did a double-take in Mary’s direction. “Hey, I remember you!”
“Yes, my friend, Mary.” Except Mary had never met him. He’d been gone every time she happened to have been at their house.
“No, I remember you from those house shows. You were young then.”
Mary just stared in response. Like she had been caught stealing once when she was five.
“Yeah, that was you, right?”
“Yeah, it was.”
“Whatever happened to those shows? I remember–you were amazing!”
Another tune was on by then.
She says Dad’s the one I love the most
But Stipe’s not far behind
“I don’t know. Just stopped doing them.”
“Well, they were really good shows. Y’all should’ve played out more.”
“Yeah, probably,” Mary replied, heart still sinking at the memories, eight years old at this point.
“I see him,” he said, looking in the distance into the backyard, and then hurried off after his friend.
“What is this? What was he talking about? Dish now, or I’ll just find out from him later.”
Mary sighed. She didn’t want to stroll down this particular memory lane, nor did she want to give too much detail about the how or why of the shows in that house. “Yeah, I played some house shows with some older guys when I was ten.”
“Yeah. It was with my piano teacher. We played R.E.M. and stuff.” Mary was trying to downplay the entire experience.
“What did you play?”
“You can play bass?”
“You could play bass when you were ten but not now?” Mary’s friend asked, incredulously.
Mary was relieved when her friend suddenly became distracted by the appearance of a boy she liked.
The first house show was incredible. It was Dude’s idea, Mary enthusiastically agreed it was a good one, and it only took about a minute of convincing to get Jonas onboard. They scheduled rehearsals, picked a date, Dude started sketching a flyer and Jonas picked out a stack of records for Mary to listen to.
“Let me know which of these you like,” he said. She accepted the stack into her outstretched arms. Just then her mother pulled into the driveway.
“What do you think?” Dude was holding up a small sheet of paper with stylized letters penciled across it: Funhouse of Music
“I like it,” Mary said. Jonas just raised one eyebrow. When Mary returned for their first rehearsal Jonas immediately inquired about the records.
“I liked them all,” she replied, “But I want to play these too,” and held out two tapes: The Police’s Ghost in the Machine and Friend Or Foe by Adam Ant.
“Goody Two Shoes…”
“Of course,” he cut her off.
“…and Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”
“Naturally. Any more?”
“No, that will do.”
“Dude! Stewart Copeland!” It was a different voice, coming from a tall, lanky man screwing cymbals onto stands.
“Mary, meet Joe. He’s going to play drums for us.”
“Joe and Jonas?” Mary asked suspiciously.
Before the first show, Jonas spent the day sprucing up the house. He put candles in random spots, picked up, arranged the furniture–what furniture there was–just so.
“You’re welcome to stay,” he said invitingly to Mary’s mom when she dropped Mary off.
“Oh, no. I would just feel old. Besides, I’ve heard some of the music Mary’s brought home. Not my cup of tea.”
“Ok, well, we’ll not go too late. Is ten ok to pick her back up?”
“It’s Friday. Sure.”
“Great!” Jonas was relieved that she hadn’t taken him up on his offer to stick around.
Guests started arriving, almost all of them friends of Jonas, Dude, and Joe, or their dates. Mostly musicians from the local music scene or people Jonas went to college with. Frequently both.
Normally the music would start later at something like this, but the gimmick was also the constraint: the ten-year-old girl who was going to shock and awe with her prowess at the bass guitar–or anything else they decided to throw at her tonight. Jonas was nervous. He wanted people to get there on time at 8 pm–he had instructed them to get there on time–but these were creatures of habit, and creatures of the night.
At nine o’clock people were still arriving, but as soon as they got out of their cars they could hear the music and commotion coming out of the house and jogged over and rushed inside. There was a lot of movement, sweat, smoke, and beer. Mary felt so much older. She wasn’t tempted to sneak a beer but she was already buzzed. The energy inside that small room wasn’t just palpable, it was all-encompassing. It soaked itself into Mary’s body and electrified her entire nervous system.
People danced, they sang along, they patted Mary on the back, they held their hands up for high-fives, which Mary could connect with in-between notes. She started to lose herself in the music, her head bouncing to the beat while her hands danced across the fretboard of the Jazzmaster bass. The entire band was so in the zone that they forgot to switch up instruments. They just went from one song to the next.
Close to ten, Joe pounded out the tom beat to Goody Two Shoes. Dude punched out the horn part on the keyboard. The gathered crowd began to jump up and down, and the old wood floor bounced. It was like the entire house moved to the groove. Walls swayed to and fro. The roof expanded with every punch from the keyboard-trumpet, now turned up as loud as it would go through the small P.A.
After the last note of Goody Two Shoes, Jonas immediately broke into Rock Lobster. The jumping only intensified. A woman Mary didn’t know rushed up to the microphone to sing backup. Her voice was incredible. Another joined. Her voice was not. But it didn’t matter. Soon the entire populace of the house was singing along. After they had played what felt like forever, Jonas started to crouch down and play more quietly. Joe, Dude, and Mary followed his lead. Jonas finally stopped playing and pulled the electric guitar off over his head. Dude and Joe continued to softly pound out the beat, and Mary did the same. Jonas pulled a metal hollow-body acoustic off the wall and rejoined his bandmates. They got louder and louder, and Jonas repeated the final verse to a crescendo. By the time he was shouting, “Here comes a bikini whale!” he was leading a procession out the door, all chanting “Rock lobster!” Joe picked his floor tom off the floor and just started pounding it, a few people behind Jonas.
Mary’s euphoria was replaced by fear as she noticed the entire party was moving outdoors. Dude stopped playing and stepped around his keyboard. He grabbed a tambourine and a large gourd shaker. He smiled, handed the gourd to Mary, and started shaking the tambourine and following the crowd. Mary’s smile returned and she shook the gourd with exuberance.
The small front yard was completely packed with people. Some had grabbed other percussion, others were clapping, most were singing, and nearly all were dancing and jumping. A neighbor stepped out of his front door and yelled.
“Hey! Hey! Hey!”
Jonas finally heard something and stopped just long enough to try to locate the sound. The neighbor, realizing this was his chance to communicate, shouted, “I’m going to call the police!”
The entire crowd hushed suddenly. Then Jonas threw his hand in the air and shouted, “Yeah!” Everyone repeated the entire gesture. The cry of “Yeah!” traveled for blocks, and then Jonas broke back into song.
Just then, the familiar site of Mary’s mom’s Cadillac appeared from behind oncoming headlights.
“How was it?” Mary’s mom asked once they had pulled out of the neighborhood.
“Ok,” Mary said.
“Just ok? Looked like people were having a good time to me.”
“What music did you play?”
“A lot of stuff. R.E.M. The B-52’s. Adam Ant.”
“You like them, don’t you?”
“Yeah. It was fun.”
“Good, I’m glad.”
Mary didn’t realize she smelled like cigarette smoke but she knew she should probably shower before bed. As she lay in the moonlight streaming through her window, the buzz from the show started to wear off, and after a long time replaying all the details of that night in her head, she drifted off into a deep sleep.
The next house show was soon scheduled for the following month. Word had spread and there were about twice as many people there. It was getting cold in the evenings, but the small house couldn’t hold the crowd, which made its way all through the single hallway and rooms of the house, and out the front door and into the yard. Everyone was still fixated on the music and its energy multiplied as it moved throughout the house. Jonas still stopped the show when Mary had to leave, but he noticed her mom showed up about thirty minutes later than planned. She stood in the door and watched her daughter with pride. She might be a little stuck in the past, but she was still a cool mom. This might not have been her scene, she might not like the music, but she didn’t let it show. Mary was doing something special, and she knew it.
That winter was the most magical of Mary’s life and would remain so for many years to come. The nights were cool, sometimes even cold, but the house remained a sauna on those house show nights. Mary would step outside during breaks and the cold air hitting her sweaty face intensified the sense of electricity in the air. Those first two shows led to four more, one every month on a random Friday night. Winter gave way to spring, and Mary would never forget which R.E.M. t-shirt she wore to that sixth show because it was the worst day of her life.
The show went on as usual. They’d added some new material to their set. New songs they were getting into as well as crowd requests. A too-fast and energetic version of Shock the Monkey by Peter Gabriel; The Logical Song by Supertramp; Mr. Blue Sky by ELO; an entire mini-set of The Clash: London Calling, Rock the Casbah, and Should I Stay or Should I Go; another mini-set of Bowie: Young Americans, Let’s Dance, and Modern Love; My Sweet Lord by George Harrison, which Jonas saved for after Mary’s mom arrived one night and she seemed to appreciate it.
That night they finished with Rock Lobster again. After the house had stopped shaking, a number of seconds after they’d played the final note, Jonas put his hand in the air and spoke into the microphone. “Hey, everybody, I have some sad news.” He paused while people quieted down. There were a number of concerned looks, including Mary’s, which was mixed with confusion.
“Our landlord is kicking us out,” was met with some boos and a small chorus of “What?”
“He’s selling the place. There’s nothing we can do. We’ll be out within a month, so this is our last show for a while, at least.” The grumbling in the crowd increased. “Sorry,” was all Jonas could muster, and he shrugged.
Mary tried to hold back her tears. She felt even younger as the emotions started to burst out from within her. If the shows had doubled her age, this news halved it. She ripped off the bass and ran outside, the sobs rising up through her throat. Her mother just happened to be walking up through the yard from her car parked down the street. Mary could barely see through her tears but knew it was her. She ran into her arms and her mother embraced her. After a few seconds, she asked, “What happened?”
Mary managed to explain, in that stuttering way a sobbing child speaks, that it was their last show, that Jonas was going to have to move away, out of the house.
“I’m sure he won’t go far, baby,” her mother said reassuringly. “Maybe you can play shows somewhere else.” At those words, Mary’s crying climaxed to a wail, and Jonas appeared, silhouetted against the house lights.
“We don’t know where we’re going to go yet, our landlord has sprung this on us with no warning,” he said, intuiting the subject of their conversation.
Mary’s mother once again had that desperate look of a woman wishing less pain for her daughter. “You’re going to stay in town, though, right?”
“Yeah, for sure,” Jonas replied. He wasn’t sure, but he was smart enough to just go along with Mary’s mom.
Mary started to compose herself, motivated by a desire to not embarrass herself in front of Jonas. She sniffled and wiped her nose on her short sleeve.
“Can she play a little bit longer tonight, mom?” Jonas asked, “Maybe we can play some quieter songs.”
“Sure.” The reply came with a smile. They both cared about this special girl.
Mary went to the bathroom to blow her nose and splash some water on her face. When she walked back out into the main room, Jonas was holding the Jazzmaster out, and the crowd had parted, leaving a path to the piano bench. She took the bass, walked the bench, and sat, one leg over the other. Jonas fiddled with his mic stand for a second and looked at Mary. “Let’s go,” she said and smiled. He smiled back and said, “Don’t Let Me Down.” They’d never played many Beatles songs, and certainly not that one. Mary plucked a couple of notes, leaving out any she wasn’t sure of, and then felt that familiar force move through her arms and into her hands.
As promised, they played some quieter songs, some deeper cuts. They ended with (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville, not one of Mary’s favorite R.E.M. tracks but her favorite off of Reckoning. The entire room would sing the chorus, leaving the last line–”And waste another year”–to Jonas, after which he would fumble through the short guitar lead. He was good but not as good as Mary. At least not in that house.
I know it might sound strange but I believe
You’ll be coming back before too long
Every few days for the next month, Mary would ride her bike over to the Funhouse of Music. It took her about half an hour on her old banana-seat cruiser. If it looked like Jonas was home, she’d knock on the door. A couple of times he was, and he and his roommate let Mary hang out while they hung out talking, slowly packed away their things, or leisurely jammed on guitars. It felt like they were the last few kids to be picked up from summer camp. Then one day the U-Haul was out front, and they were loading furniture and boxes into it. Jonas was busy but saw Mary sitting on her bicycle out in the street and waved. She waved back, then turned the bicycle and rode away.
She continued riding down to the house every few days. Eventually, parts of it started to disappear. The front door and the windows, mostly. She walked inside and noticed the oven and fridge were gone. It was a warm spring day, but she felt a chill run through her body.
Then one day a bulldozer was there, and partly full of fear, partly full of dread, she immediately did a u-turn and went back home. The next day she went back down and there was nothing there but an empty dirt lot.
A few months later Jonas and Dude were having their semi-regular coffee at the local diner when Dude broke a moment of silence with, “Dude, did you hear what happened with the old house?” He looked excited to share the news.
“They found bones under the house. Human bones! I told you that place was haunted!” Dude guffawed loudly.
“Shut up, dude.”