Song: “The Coast” by Simon, Paul from Rhythm of the Saints
Marla felt sore all over. Her feet were a collection of sharp pains and dull aches with every step she took. Her back was tight, too tight. She imagined the muscles tightening until them crushed her spine into dust. Her chest still burned with cold wet air and exertion. She couldn’t remember the last time she pushed herself that hard. She had to give up smoking, she realized for something more than the first time. If not for her life, if not for her music, then at least for her ability to go from one place to the other without feeling as though her lungs might simply shrug, plead overwork, and take a leave of absence.
She switched into musician mode and slowed her breathing like she might when preparing to take on a particular low note or a near endless string of 1/8 notes. And when she could hear something beyond the sound of her own rusty rattling breath in her ears, she listened. The rain, the very same rain that had rendered her clothes little more than wet rags hanging on her frame, landed in sheets on the roof of the old chapel, clattering downward over the roof like a cascade of marbles on tin.
Nervously, Marla danced her fingers up and down the case of her instrument, feeling the cheap black plastic, molded to be pockmarked as though the case suffered from some kind of cast iron envy. She looked around the small room at her bandmates and tried to collectively calculate the mileage they had accumulated—individually and in total—since the tour had begun. She gave up sometime around “a lot.”
Sean cracked open his case and pulled the horn free with a reverence more in line with, perhaps, the brandishing of the Holy Grail. Running a cloth over the gold dented and chipping metal, he whistled. Marla tried to recall where she had heard the soon before and was just about to give up when Billy yelled, “Party in the USA?”
Sean smirked and shrugged, “I am but a vessel that the whistling springs from.”
“You are,” his girlfriend Claire fired back, “but an inappropriate prick that hopes to somehow summon that Cyrus girl by whistling her music.”
“I…I would not be opposed to such an outcome,” he teased back, accepting her slug on the arm as deserved.
Marla took a moment to remind herself she belonged.
She still did not feel like it. Not all the time. Not even often. But sometimes. Sometimes when everyone else had fallen asleep in the van but her and whoever it was who had to take their turn at the wheel or in a bar after a gig when the evening slowed and tilted inevitably towards old road stories—which interested her—and attempts to hook up with townies and each other—which interested her less but still more than she wanted to admit—or the last second before the first song…then it was like she woke up a moment and “saw” how little sense she made as part of this group. But it passed. The music would come and her instrument would spring to life with her breath and her hands and then she could feel everything shift ever so slightly and she belonged. She was just like them. Different, to be sure, but just like them. A musician.
Dodge—real name unrevealed—pushes open the chapel doors, head already shaking, sigh audibly ringing. “Time to make camp,” he mumbles, gesturing over his shoulder, the meaning clear. The van was shot. Again.
The pastor that was nice enough to let them in while Dodge checked the van, hastily draws them a map on how to walk to the nearest place to get a room, a bed and breakfast up the hill. He reassures them that there is no way there won’t be vacancies. No one visits this time this time of year.
“That explains the nearly empty auditorium,” Marla thinks.
So it is back out in the rain, lugging instruments and suitcases and cursing the weather. It’ll be two hours before Marla feels dry and warm again, slurping a bowl of microwaved soup in a the near dark of the B&B’s empty kitchen and staring out the window. There is silence then, just her, the rain, and the sound of the spoon in the bowl. She feels comfortable and yet…like this was more what she was meant for. Staying in one place, eating soup alone, putting down roots, living a life more ordinary. There’s something genuinely tempting about the thought of running away from the band to settle down.
Then Claire is calling to her from the hall and there is the sounds of instruments tuning and the fuzzy chatter of arguing over which song they should play. And without a thought, Marla is tossing aside her bowl and grabbing her case from Claire, and sitting amongst them. She doesn’t quite fit, not yet, but the moment the first note kicks in, she’s already forgotten she was worried about it.