Short Stories, Writing

La Ronde, Part 10: “It’s Raining Down in Texas”

12.06.10 | 6 Comments

The invaluable Patricia Abbott has started La Ronde, a flash-fiction experiment with jealousy as its theme. Each writer takes the subject of jealousy from the previous story and shows what they’re jealous of. This here is Part 10; here’s Part 9; and here are links to all 9 parts.

This is my own humble submission, “It’s Raining Down in Texas”.

It’s Raining Down in Texas

By Graham Powell

Patrice was wide awake by the second ring.

Her cell was there on the night stand, the screen glowing blue in the darkness. Quickly she slipped out of bed and scooped it up. In a low voice she said, “This is Patrice.”

The torrent of profanity that poured forth made her flinch. She listened in silence, mouth a tight line. Finally she said, “Yes, Cary, I heard you. I’ll take care of it.” As she hung up the voice on the other end was still shouting.

Patrice dressed in darkness, fumbled a change of clothes out of the hotel dresser and into her bag, carefully zipped it shut. As she tiptoed towards the door India rolled over and raised her head. “Where are you off to?” she said drowsily.

“Austin,” said Patrice. “Cary Kitchens’ guitar player skipped out in the middle of the tour.”

“And you have to sweet talk him back into the fold?” India sat up, the sheet sliding down to her waist. “How long will you be gone?”

Patrice grinned. She ran a hand lightly along the top of India’s shoulder, down her arm. With a finger she traced the valleys and ridges around a nipple. “You won’t even know I’m gone,” she said.

* * *

The only car available at Hertz was a Toyota Corolla. Patrice sighed and climbed aboard.

The GPS app on her phone guided her southwest to, no lie, Dripping Springs. She rolled through the barren plains and into town, through the square with its ornate stone courthouse, and finally down streets lined with pecan trees and modest bungalows. A few kids played baseball in a vacant lot. Jesus Christ, she thought. Is this Dripping Springs or fucking Mayberry?

It was drizzling when the GPS announced that she had reached her destination. Patrice held her messenger bag over her head and trotted up the drive. Three short steps up to the porch and she pressed the doorbell.

The man who answered was not what she’d expected. In his mid-thirties at a guess but he looked older, with steel-rimmed glasses and flecks of gray in his hair. He hardly fit the image of the flame-throwing guitar slinger for Captain Kitchen and the Roaches.

“Mr. Berk?” she said, smiling.

“That’s me,” he said, face and voice neutral.

“My name is Patrice Cassidy, and I’m Cary Kitchens’ agent.”

He didn’t budge from the doorway. “I know who you are.”

“Well, may I come in?”

Reluctantly he gave ground, and she followed him into the living room.

Which was another surprise. The homes of Patrice’s clients tended to look as though they hired college students to give them a thorough trashing, but this one was tidy to an anal extreme. An overstuffed sofa sat flanked by two low end tables. One held a telephone – wired, she noticed, which made it positively vintage – and the other held a lamp. A stereo, no, a Hi-Fi set sat against the wall opposite. Add in an old La-Z-Boy and a low shelf crowded with black-and-white photos and that was the sum total of the furnishings.

Berk sat directly in the center of the sofa and glared at her. Sitting next to him would require an uncomfortable invasion of personal space, so Patrice chose the recliner.

Before she could open her mouth Berk said, “I don’t know what Cary said to you, but going back is not an option.”

“Listen, he’s really sorry about all that. Give him a chance to make it right. He’s a pretty decent guy at heart.”

“Decent?” Berk leaned forward. “Is that what you call a guy who gets his ‘fucking guitarist’, as he put it, out of bed at 2am? Because he wants to hear ‘Ma Vie en Rose’ during his groupie gang-bang? Does that qualify as decent?”

Among my clients, that qualifies for sainthood. “I’m really sorry, but I promise–”

“I’m through listening. Cary’s a scumbag, and Jamie hates that shit.”

Jamie’s a pretentious prick who refers to himself in the third person. Patrice hates that shit. “He’ll double your salary,” said Patrice bluntly. “You can travel separately, have separate lodgings. Just show up and play. Ten more shows, and that’s it.”

Berk opened his mouth, but before he could reply, Patrice’s phone rang. She glanced at the display. Cary Kitchens.

She smiled and said, “I have to take this.”

When she pressed it to her ear Cary was already in full-throated fury. “Where they fuck are you, Patrice? Where’s fucking Jamie? I have a show in eight hours and nobody to play guitar! If you don’t get that motherfucker up here, fast, you’d better take some fucking lessons and be ready to play yourself!”

Fuck you, pus-bucket. Her smile grew wider. “Don’t worry, dear,” she said. “I’ll take care of it.”

“You’d better. I don’t pay you fifteen percent for nothing! And if this gig gets canceled, I won’t have shit, and fifteen percent of shit is shit! So you’d–”

“I love you too,” she said, and hung up.

“That was Cary, wasn’t it?” said Berk.

While Patrice was still thinking up a convincing lie, a high, keening whine erupted from the back of the house. Dancing lord Shiva, what is that noise? she thought as she covered her ears.

A young woman, little more than a girl really, emerged from a hallway to their left, a squalling baby held against her hip. In the other hand she held a rag, with which she was blotting at a streak of off-white paste as it dripped down her T-shirt. The smell reached Patrice and she realized that it was vomit.

The woman looked at Berk with tired eyes and said, “The phone woke him up. I think he’s hungry, and we’re out of formula. Could you run to the store real quick?”

“Okay, Babe.”

As Berk made his escape, Babe looked at Patrice and said, “Come on, make yourself useful.” She held out the baby.

Patrice said, “But, ah, I, , er…”

“Georgie won’t bite, just take him.”

The thing was silent now, staring at her, drool running down its chin. Patrice held out her arms gingerly. “How should I…?”

The woman thrust the baby into her arms and said, “Come back here while I get changed.”

Georgie seemed to know what to do. He put his head down on Patrice’s shoulder and began to gently chew on her neck. It tickled, and she laughed.

The hallway ended with doors in three walls, two bedrooms and a bath. Babe turned into the bathroom and whipped off her shirt. Standing there in a bra and blue jeans she said, “Do you see any in my hair?”

“Uh, no,” said Patrice.

“Good. Once you get that stink on you, it stays for a while.” She ran a damp washcloth across her shoulders. “Bring Georgie in here while I find another shirt.”

Georgie was now mumbling to himself and tugging at Patrice’s hair. “How old is he?”

Babe pulled on a clean T and grinned. “Six months now? Seven? I guess I’ve lost track. Everything’s been a blur since he was born. And I thought musicians kept funny hours.”

Ah, yes. Back to business. “Listen, Cary asked me to tell you how sorry he was about what went down the other night. He knows it was wrong, and he wants to make it up to you, but he can’t unless you come back on tour.”

Babe looked at her. “You can forget that shit,” she said flatly. “As long as I have anything to say about it, we’re not leaving this house.”

Gravel crunched in the driveway, and a screen door slammed. Berk was back from the store.

Babe mixed a bottle of Similac and took Georgie into his room. Patrice followed Berk out onto the screened-in back porch.

There was a makeshift studio set up out there – a small mixer on an old card table, a couple of amps. Berk sat on the end of a chaise lounge strumming a cherry sunburst Les Paul.

Patrice began to speak, marshalling her arguments for a final assault on behalf of the idiot king Cary Kitchens, before she noticed the wires trailing from Berk’s ears. So she stood there instead, watching his head bob in time to the silent music.

The rain had stopped.

The door creaked open behind her and Babe came out, smiling. “He’s sleeping now,” she whispered. She crossed to Berk, laid a hand on his shoulder. “Got it all set up, Dan?”

Dan? But…

“Just the way you like, Jamie,” he said. He handed her the guitar and moved to the mixer.

“Put it on low,” she said. “Don’t wake the baby.”

“But you’re…” said Patrice.

Then Jamie began to play. The notes seemed to drip from the strings, each shining and liquid and as perfectly formed as the raindrops that still fell from the edge of the roof. She launched a fast run up the neck, making the guitar laugh and sing and cry, and suddenly Patrice was right back in that tiny club on the Sunset Strip, just out of USC, pressed in a sweaty crowd against the front of the bandstand, watching a hot new group called the Kelly Gang. After the show she’d walked right up to the singer, bold as brass, and said, “You guys are pretty good, but if you want to get out of this shitbox you’re gonna need a manager.”

Patrice felt herself getting wet.

She turned and went inside.

Standing there in the living room, she thought about her sterile aparement back in L.A. about the parad of hotel rooms where she spent most of her nights. I’ve been wasting my time. What could possibly get them out of this house? Hell, what could get anyone out of here?

She found herself walking down the hall, through a half-closed door into the smaller bedroom. The crib was in there, with Georgie inside of it, laying on his back. He really did look like a little angel there. She leaned closer, reached in a hand, and then – with hardly any force at all, and certainly no more than was required – she pinched him on his fat white thigh.

As his cries filled the house she hurried out the front door and didn’t look back.


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