Songs

Songs

In Fiction by Lamar Henderson0 Comments

So, I’ve been told I have to get serious about editing down Reason to Be until it’s at least under 100,000 words. Sadly, that means that the entire Maggie subplot is going to have to go (which causes its own problems, of course).

The bulk of what used to be chapter 7 will now no longer be in the book. That being said, I thought it made a fairly decent little story on its own. None of this will be happening in the book now, but I couldn’t bare not to share the awesomeness that is my bad song writing skills — and of course the awesomeness that was Maggie Kinnear.

*****

I was a bit surprised when the appointment reminder pinged on my phone. Oh, man, I had completely forgotten this. Fortunately, I had enough time to make it if I left right away.

Westbridge was the western-most town that was considered a suburb of New Salem, although it was nearly as old as the city itself. It was a blue color sort of town, home to most of the factories that still operated in the area, so it had seen its share of economic ups and downs for a while. The town had been settled by Scots-Irish in the early days, and it retained that New World Celtic flavor in its place names and society. I wasn’t surprised that the show would be in a pub called The Harp and Pheasant.

The place was easy enough to find, as it was the only overflowing parking lot I saw in Westbridge that evening. I found a space a few blocks over and strolled up to the free-standing building, a two-story, old-brick storefront with a large, hand-painted sign of a bird-like creature that might have been a pheasant plucking an Irish harp.

Even before I managed to get in the door, I realized that it was a public house in the truest sense of the term. It was full of families instead of the normal twenty- and thirtysomethings you’d find in most bars. I was almost knocked over by a gaggle of pre-schoolers running at full tilt, then nearly collided with the grandmotherly lady chasing them. The taproom was crowded, but even through the crowd, I could hear the music.

The performers were a pair of kids, maybe 12 or 13 — twins, I guessed, a boy and a girl. He played the violin — fiddle, if you prefer — while she played a squeezebox-looking thing that looked more delicate, and sounded more jolly, than the traditional Lawrence-Welkesque accordion. The kids played a jig, and the floor was filled with people dancing in whatever space opened up. The musicians were young, but they had skill. The dancing was genuine, even infectious. I felt my toes tapping as I stood at the bar. Not wanting to be conspicuous, I ordered a pint of Guinness.

The crowd let out a hearty round of cheering and applause as the musical twins finished their number and took a bow. A curtain rolled in from the wings, and the kids headed off behind it before it even closed.

I took a sip of my dark, bitter brew and saw Kenesha waving to me from a table near the stage. I danced a bit to get through the crowd without knocking anyone over or spilling my drink.

“Mr. Locke, hi!” Kenesha almost had to yell to be heard. “This is my boyfriend, Keenan!”

From the chair next to Kenesha rose a tall, athletic fellow with the look of a real football player about him. He dressed in country-club chic — a plaid button-down and pleated trousers. He reached out his hand — firm grip, three pumps, release. “Mr. Locke, I’m pleased to finally meet you. Kenesha has told me a great deal about you.”

“Good to meet you.” We both sat down. “And, please, if just for tonight, will you call me ‘Ben,’ or at the very least ‘Benjamin?’”

Keenan laugh, and Kenesha nodded, grudgingly.

“Have you seen Maggie?”

Kenesha looked over at the stage curtains. “She came out and said hello before the kids started playing. I think she was a bit nervous.”

“A bit? How many times did she ask if she looked OK? I was about to say she looked terrible just see the expression on her face.”

“You!” Kenesha mock-slapped Keenan on the shoulder. “You quit being bad, or I’ll drive home without you.”

“That would be kind of hard, considering I have the car keys.”

“Oooh, my. Then I guess I must be on my best behavior, Mr. Anderson.”

“I suppose you must, Miss Mortonsen.” The two smooched briefly, both trying hard not to giggle.

On the stage, then, jumped a guy dressed in well-worn jeans, a work shirt and black leather vest. His hair was longer than mine, although thinning a bit in front, all salt-and-peppery, drawn into a thick ponytail. His face was covered with a heavy salt-and-pepper beard that could have deflected bullets. I heard some applause and some good-natured catcalls from the audience when he stood up to the microphone.

“Let’s all give it up again for the O’Shaughnessy Twins.” Again, the crowd applauded, whistled and stomped its collective feet. The guy took a quick look behind the curtain before turning back to the house.

He held up his hand, and in a moment the pub got quiet — quieter, at least. The crowd was hot, rowdy but in a friendly, kind-hearted sort of way. Boisterous, I suppose you could say.

“And now, without further ado, it gives me, and everyone else here at the The Harp and Pheasant, great pleasure to present to you, our honored guests —”

“Does that mean we don’t have to pay for the beer, Jimmy?” The crowd laughed, and there was some scattered applause.

“Only if you’re buying for everyone else, Mickey!” More laughs, more clapping. “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, it gives us all at The Harp and Pheasant great pride to present the debut performance of a new local band. Ladies and gentlemen — and you, too, Mickey Jones — put your hands together for Emerald Night!”

Jimmy backed off the stage, leading the loud applause. The curtain pulled back, showing five musicians, three men and two women, and a third woman standing up front. They were all dressed in costumes that wouldn’t be out of place at a Ye Olde Renaissance Faire — there was a lot of green and flowers — but it looked good, not cheesy. Not too cheesy.

The singer, especially, was striking, wearing a long, low-cut emerald gown with elaborate embroidery around the neckline, cuffs and hem. Her dark hair was done up with a wreath of small white flowers, almost dainty. Some of the applause and most of the whistles from the house were aimed at her.

It took me a few moments to realize that the singer was Maggie Kinnear.

The players stood stock still until the crowd’s welcoming applause died down. There was a heartbeat or two of silence in the room, then the musicians began to play with all their might, as if their lives depended on it. All the instruments were acoustic and traditional. A big fellow in the back banged on a series of Irish drums as if trying to beat them into submission, while another man on guitar, a woman on fiddle and another on accordion all tried to keep up. Cutting through it all, amazingly, was a short guy blowing on a shrill penny whistle. It was a wild tune, an obvious Celtic melody, but played with an almost ecstatic passion. I imagined this might be the sort of song Irish warriors danced to before painting themselves blue and running naked into battle.

On the stage, Maggie was almost dancing, swaying back and forth as if mesmerized by the music, holding the microphone. At last, just as the music hit some sort of climax, Maggie opened her mouth and began belting out lyrics so fast and so loud the sound waves nearly blew me back in my chair.

The song started out wild and just got more frenetic from there. Without any encouragement, the dancers in the crowd were up and at it again, and I was afraid lives would be lost. I couldn’t tell you what the song was about — I’m guessing the lyrics were in Gaelic — but Maggie rolled it out with a fierce rhythm that reminded me of punk rock as much as anything. Some in the audience seemed to either know the song or were able to pick up on the chorus; they started singing along, clapping and stomping their feet. Keenan and Kenesha joined in, and I found myself clapping to the beat.

When the the song came to a sudden, sharp cut end, the house exploded with cheers, whistles, foot-stomping and applause. Those of us who weren’t already on our feet got up for that. All the band members smiled and waved at the audience. Maggie looked embarrassed by the attention, but pleased, too.

As soon as the crowd settled down, the band played again, a more traditional tune sung in English, although I didn’t recognize it. That was followed up with a rousing jig, nearly as frenetic as the opening number. A portion of the audience created an impromptu circle dance in one of the larger clear areas on the floor. Kenesha and Keenan jumped up to join in. The band, seeing what a good time the crowd was having amusing itself, extended the tune further than it was meant to go, but the audience loved it, and the circle continued dancing until the band, finally, brought the song to an end.

“We’ve got a rowdy bunch here tonight.” The audience responded to Maggie with another round of cheers, whistles and applause. Giving everyone a few minutes to catch their breaths, Maggie introduced all the members of Emerald Night, leaving herself for last. Each member bowed to the audience when mentioned and received a hearty round of applause.

After the crowd had restocked on drinks and snacks, the band started up again. The next batch of tunes weren’t so wild as the first, but they still had a rousing beat. The folks in the audience seemed to enjoy them. Each tune, though, was a bit rowdier than the last, as if the players were working their way up the intensity scale, walking the crowd back to that frenzied place they had all visited for the opening number.

At last, the band hit a wild, frenetic song that easily matched the first in energy and volume. Maggie spun around so fast I was afraid she would lose her balance and fall off the stage. The crowd danced again, partners swinging each other arm in arm, passing in each direction in a circle. The noise surrounded us like a fog the same density no matter where you stood in the room. It was hot. Many of the dancers were sweating profusely. I feared someone — maybe me — might pass out, and I wasn’t even dancing.

The song reached its climax, and the band brought it to a sharp, definite conclusion. The crowd hit its loudest yet. I feared for my hearing.

Even before the curtain on the small stage closed, there were shouts of “Encore!” from the crowd. It almost became a chant, with accompanying clapping and foot stomping. Before too long, the curtain drew back, and the audience greeted the band again.

From the wings, Maggie brought out a wooden stool, placed it downstage and sat. She lowered the microphone to her new level. The fiddle player stood just behind her, and the rest of the band took a step back. The crowd in the house grew still.

With a nod from Maggie, the fiddler began to play. The music was dark, slow and mournful, but still lovely for all that. After a bit, the other musicians joined in, but softly, supporting the violin without overwhelming it.

At last, Maggie held her face up to the microphone, and began to sing.

“The path I walk is overgrown now,
hidden deep in the forest away.
I walk the path on my own now,
where the light of the moon holds sway.
I used to hold the sun in my hands;
it shined on and only for me.
I once held the sun in my own hands;
and it gave me my reason to be.

“I once lived in a mighty house,
that overlooked the dark, foamy sea.
I was queen of all the lands at last,
but all alone, none sharing with me.
You bowed and pledged your heart true and strong,
and vowed to fill my soul’s aching need.
You stole the sun from out of my hands,
and robbed me of my reason to be.

“The difference between Home and No Place to Go
can be just a plain state of mind.
In greatest of pride are the mighty brought low,
their lost past nowhere they can find.
They walk and they sail and they climb and they row,
and tramp where the dark road may lead.
They’ll cry and they’ll beg and they’ll offer their souls
for one more touch of their reason to be.”

After the chorus, the fiddler played a brief solo, dark and mournful, but like the rest of the tune, it had an almost hopeful lilt in the undertone. It ran under the sad current of the music, keeping it, if not light, then at least from falling into despair. The fiddler returned to the original theme, and Maggie took up the song, again.

“The path I walk is overgrown now,
Turned deep in the forest away.
I’ve lost the hope to regain the sun.
I’ve lost the hope to find the day.
I’d trade the house high on the shore,
and my lands far over the sea.
What profit is there to gain the whole world
but to lose your reason to be?”

The music faded to an end. The crowd’s response, although more restrained than it had been, was no less heartfelt. I saw more than a few teary eyes. The curtains closed again, and Jimmy the MC returned to the stage to announced the return of the O’Shaughnessy Twins. The kids played with enthusiasm and skill, but compared to what Emerald Night had accomplished, their music lacked a certain edge. Maybe that’s what the audience needed by then.

A waitress brought us fresh drinks. As Kenesha, Keenan and I talked about the performance, Maggie worked her way through the crowed toward us. She had a bit of a time for it, as everyone in the room seemed to want to congratulate her.

Kenesha threw her arms around Maggie. I pulled out a chair for her and we sat.

“That was fabulous.” Jimmy carried over a drink for Maggie, a tall glass of ice water. “Just fabulous! You’ll be playing here a lot, if I have my way about it.”

“Thanks, Jimmy.” Maggie’s face was moist; the room was downright hot by then, and it must have been even worse on stage. She had a glow to her, though, and couldn’t seem to stop smiling.

We all agreed with Jimmy and tried to outdo each other with compliments. Maggie took it all with obvious pleasure, but she also looked a bit embarrassed, as well.

On stage, the O’Shaughnessy Twins finished up a rousing tune, then started playing something slower and quite lovely. A number of couples took to the floor to sway slowly.

At our table, Kenesha stood and tugged on Keenan’s arm. He started to protest. It didn’t go well.

“Why, yes, Mr. Anderson; I most certainly would enjoy a lovely dance with such a tall and handsome gentleman.” Maggie and I laughed. Keenan shrugged with an I-guess-there’s-nothing-I-can-do-about-it expression before he took Kenesha’s hand and led her to a clear spot on the floor.

Maggie sipped her drink.

“That was cute. Kenesha knows just how to wrap Keenan around her finger.”

“Apparently.” Out on the floor, the two of them stepped and swayed along with everyone else, Kenesha’s head resting against Keenan’s chest.

Maggie looked out over the floor, watching the dancers, smiling a tired grin. She was still dressed in her green stage gown, and her hair was still up, interwoven with sprays of tiny white flowers. Her foot was tapping along with the music.

On a whim, I stood and held out my hand. “Ms. Kinnear, would you care to dance?”

Maggie looked up at me, and her tired grin spread into a bright, wide smile.

“Why, Mr. Locke, I do believe I would.” She took my hand, and we stepped onto the dance floor.

“I honestly had no idea you were so talented.” The dance was still slow, and we were able to stand close enough that I could speak to her just loud enough for her to hear.

“Oh, it isn’t just me.” She blushed and looked away. “The guys make me sound a lot better than I really am. We’ve been playing together off and on for years.”

“No. No, I don’t think that’s it. I think that you’re really just that good.”

Maggie looked pleased. She smiled and nodded, finally willing to accept a compliment. We danced, slow and quiet.

For a moment, I thought she was going to say something. If she was, though, the music ended before she got a chance. We all broke into applause. Maggie excused herself, saying that she wanted to change. I rejoined Kenesha and Keenan at the table.

I started to think that it was time to head out when Maggie joined us again, dressed in jeans and a dark blouse with her hair down and free of flowers, mostly.

“Wouldn’t you know it.” She tossed a small garment bag on the table. “I forgot I rode in with Francis — that’s our fiddle player, Francis — and she had to head out early. Kenesha, do you think I could catch a ride home with you guys?”

Kenesha looked over at Keenan. “Well, it isn’t a problem, really. It’s just that we’re heading south from here. It would be a little out of the way. I know! Don’t you live north of town, Ben?”

“Sure.” I could see where this was going. “I’d be happy to give you a ride home, Maggie.”

“Are you sure. I mean, I’d be happy to call a cab —”

“No, no. It isn’t a problem. Happy to do it. I’m ready anytime you are.”

Maggie and I said our goodnights to Kenesha and Keenan. As we navigated the crowd, even though it was starting to thin a bit, Maggie still had to stop every now and then to accept hearty, good-natured hugs. I got the impression a fair number of these folks knew her. When we got to the door, she gave a big hug to Jimmy the MC, who repeated his offer to have toe band play at The Harp and Pheasant again soon.

A bit of the party had spilled out into the parking lot. A number of folks called out greetings. Maggie returned the hellos and waved as we made our way down to where I had left my car. I popped the trunk for her garment bag, and then we were off back toward the city.

We chit-chatted on the way. Maggie, it turned out, had grown up in Westbridge, which I hadn’t known. She had sung and played with her friends in the band since high school, although they only recently took the plunge into performing in public. Their music, Maggie told me, had always just been for fun until one of them met Jimmy Riordan, the owner of the pub. Jimmy wanted to expand the live music he offered at The Harp and Pheasant, and the band wanted to try their hand at performing. One thing led to another, and now it seemed that Emerald Night was well on its way to becoming a Saturday-night staple in Westbridge.

Maggie seemed excited by the prospect, more so than I had ever seen her. Considering that she spent each work week crunching numbers for me, I could understand that.

At last, we rolled into Maggie’s neighborhood. She lived in a section of renovated townhouses a few blocks north of Chelsea Street. It was a nice area, with rich, old-fashioned architecture lining broad, well-lit streets. She pointed out her number, and I pulled the car over to the curb. We climbed out of the car. I popped the trunk and handed Maggie her bag.

“Well.” Maggie stood on the curb by the car. It made her a bit taller than I was. “Thank you for coming this evening. It really meant a lot to me.”

“Thank you for inviting me. It was a wonderful time. You’ll have to let me know when you guys are playing again.”

“Sure. I’ll do that. Well, I guess, thanks for the ride. Goodnight, then.” She started to back away, almost hesitantly.

“No problem.” I stepped over to get back in the car.

Before I got the chance, Maggie called out my name. She walked, almost ran, toward me.

Without a word, Maggie wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me, strong and hot. This was not a “thanks for the lift home” kiss, either, and, for half a heartbeat, I found myself kissing back.

Then, she stepped away, looking at me with mischievous grin, and waved a shy little wave. She bounced up the steps to her door. In a second, she was gone, and I was left standing on the street, touching my lips.

I drove home slowly. It had been a nice kiss — unexpected, perhaps sweeter for it. This was Maggie, though, after all. I mean, she was an attractive woman, but it had never occurred to me that… well, it had just never occurred to me, that’s all.

I pulled down my driveway and put the car away. I tried not to think about the implications. It was probably just the excitement of the evening. She was overcome by how successful her band had been.

Sure. I was sure that was the case.