Lisa Maguire Fiction

Live At Budokan

“Plenty of one-hit wonders had it worse,” said Teddy. He was adding logs to the Weber grill around which he had arranged a circle of peeling Adirondack chairs. The glow was going out of the autumn afternoon, and this made a pleasant make-shift fire-pit, although whenever the wind picked up his guests had to get up to move their chairs out of the way of the blowing smoke and cinders.

“Take Archie Bell. ‘Tighten Up’ goes to Number One on the R&B charts in 1968, but Archie’s been drafted and on his way to Vietnam. There he is in basic training, doing push-ups, and his song’s all over the radio. And by the time he gets back- who the hell remembers Archie Bell and the Drells? At least I got to enjoy some of it.”

Teddy and Gertrude had a party this time every year, inviting people over to enjoy mulled wine and backyard foliage. Gertrude was Teddy’s nickname for his house, a fine Victorian painted lady now down on her luck. He lived there rent free in exchange for minor handyman upkeep and gardening, supporting himself by renting out the extra bed rooms. The party was always an open house, with people coming and going all day. The drinking started early, and in years past Teddy set aside big black contractor bags for people to slide down the long hill behind the house, slick with leaves, and there were always a few guests who could be counted on to be caught in a spare room under the coats. This year the punch bowl was untouched, and people gathered in small groups, chatting. They were all getting older.

Guests still liked to stroll down the hill and along the rocky embankment that bounded the property from the Metro North line. The stroll was shaded by trees that grew along the chain link fence in front of the train tracks. City dwellers collected leaves from the bright red sugar maples, or Sycamore leaves, big as dinner plates. Today Teddy saw his old drummer, Kane, busy with some stakes and a mallet in the backyard, setting up signs with enlarged photo portraits of environmental and human rights activists unjustly imprisoned around the world. Teddy liked Kane better in prior years, when he was the one organizing the bong hits and the garbage bag toboggans.

His other friends sat around the barbecue in the low slung chairs, talking and taking no notice of their host. Kane’s wife Jacq sat apart, looking at a screen in her palm. Teddy stared into the horizon line of Jacq’s frizzled red bangs and the upper rims of her glasses, but she did not look up.

“Definitely wouldn’t want to be Archie Bell,” Teddy continued, settling back into his seat. At 45, he was still all angular limbs, and still had that teenage boy way of pushing his forelock out of his eyes when he spoke. “Shot in the leg, then totally forgotten. But ‘Tighten Up’ is perfect. Gamble and Huff, pure Philly soul. And it’s not played to death on the oldies stations. You could imagine a hamburger or gum commercial. I bet he could get some nice residuals.” Teddy had made a study of one-hit wonders. He’d watched “Where Are they Now” documentaries on music cable channels, partly in the hope of finding out how producers of such programs could be interested in a Sugar Time reunion.

“Archie Bell,” Jacq repeated, staring into her phone.

The wind changed direction, and Jacq got up and pushed her chair next to his, out of the path of the blowing smoke and cinders.

“Next time, do build the fire out of the wind, Teddy,” she said. Kane probably found her English accent sexy at one time, but that hectoring nanny voice was a dick shriveler. How did Kane put up with it?

“I’ll keep it in mind,” said Teddy, but there would be no next time. Teddy was being evicted. The bank had foreclosed on Teddy’s landlord and sold Gertrude to a young couple from New York who were going to fix it up and live in it. Teddy was shocked that the house was anything but a tear down, since it needed a new roof and a new foundation, and the Metro North ran screaming through the backyard every forty minutes.

“I wish we’d been Katrina and the Waves.”

“Adam Ant,” Jacq offered, settling into her chair again.

“No one wants to be Adam Ant. Even Adam Ant doesn’t want to be Adam Ant.”

“How about the Romantics? ‘Whut ah like about choo, uh huh huh, hey hey hey.'” She shook her head like she had water in her ear. Jacq had perfected the conversation-stopper. Teddy, who had never been married, wondered if this was something all wives knew how to do.

Jacq picked up a stick and started poking at the barbecue. This was something else Teddy didn’t like about her. The fire could be burning better, giving off more heat, and Teddy knew she would to continue to poke at it–she couldn’t leave anything alone. “I think it’s more productive be thinking about what you want to be doing now than about what you might have been,” she said. Kane was now working for his father, who owned a number of steakhouses and bars on Long Island.

Kane tried for years to get Teddy to gig again. But the idea of going back to living in an Econoline, playing in front of maybe fifteen people, next to the pool table, making just enough for gas money, did not appeal to Teddy even now. Kane kept saying there was money overseas, that they could probably play arenas in Japan if they tried. Teddy told him the Big in Japan thing was a cliche twenty years ago. Now they’d be touring jungle mining towns in Borneo and getting malaria along the way.

“Kane said the new owners are coming,” said Jacq. “How is that? Did you meet them?”

“Yeah, they asked if they could stop by with their architect. They wanted to start planning the renovation. Cool people. The guy said he was a fan in high school.”

“Have they closed?”

“On the sixteenth, I didn’t have to let them in, but I didn’t want to be a dick.”

“Has everyone else moved out?”

“Yeah.” Teddy had given notice to all of his renters at the end of the month before. The masseuse, the divinity student, the two bartenders from the TGI Fridays, and Laura. Not a lot of people. He had passed on Laura’s idea of renting out one room to four dishwashers from Puebla. She thought they could share the room, putting in bunk beds, but he did not want Gertrude turning into a flophouse. The roommates had gotten along well, tolerating Teddy’s music and his dogs, as well as each other. Teddy would never find such an easy living arrangement again. In his experience, whenever you lived off other people, you earned every penny.

“They moved out over the weekend, but almost all of them came back for the party,” said Teddy. As if he needed to affirm to Jacq how he was really not that bad a guy, that the renters were almost his friends.

“Laura, too?”

“No, not Laura,” said Teddy. “She had to work.” It wasn’t a complete lie, he knew Laura worked the breakfast and brunch shift at the Silver Spur on Sundays, but she had left in tears on Thursday, after a bad and awkward scene in which Teddy told her that since he didn’t know where he was going, it would be better that she didn’t come with him.

Teddy went inside to avoid any more questions about Laura and to get another beer. The porch held fallen parts of Gertrude–she seemed to moult regularly, like a living animal–some weather stripping, a chair rail, a collection of loose tiles. All of them were projects that Teddy had neglected and now would never complete. All other clutter and most of the furniture was gone. The renters had taken all their belongings with them. There was a tag sale going in one of the upstairs bedrooms because Teddy did not want to be weighed down by possessions in this next phase of life, and he had so far made $65. The guitars he had taken into the city two weeks before. They were worth money, and he knew a music store that would buy them outright, not just take them on consignment. Kane had wanted to know why the guitars, but Teddy just shrugged and said you could only play one at a time.

Teddy found the fridge empty of beer, and was heading back to the fire when the doorbell rang. It was odd, since all the other party guests had just come around back, following the noise. He opened the door and saw Gertrude’s new owners, the Feynmans, standing on the front steps, holding a bottle of Champagne wrapped in an outsized silver bow. The Champagne was all wrong, it was for a housewarming, or christening a ship, not this.

He remembered the last time the Feynmans visited, joined by the architect in the chunky eye glasses, full of bad ideas for “opening up” the house. There was something indecent about what they wanted to do to Gertrude, a proper old lady who would want to keep her petticoats and corsets on at all cost. The architect talked a lot about recessed lighting and slate, which made Teddy sigh for Gertrude, who would soon look like the inside of an upscale Asian fusion restaurant. The architect soon left, but the Feynmans stayed behind. They sat in the kitchen, drank red wine, and the finance-nerd husband asked Teddy a lot of questions about Sugar Time.

The wife was not a music fan, and simply said “oh” when her husband explained who Teddy was. She was dressed the same way that day as today, in jeans tucked into tall suede boots and a short coat of some nubby wool with lots of leather bits to make it look meant for riding horses. The outfit was the kind of thing featured in one of Laura’s magazines as something for a Country Weekend. They were moving out of the city to live here, and Teddy wondered if the husband was doing this to please her, so that his wife could have a country weekend all week long. She had buttery blond hair and a lush mouth painted that finger-staining red once dusted on pistachio nuts. For the first time in long while he regretted someone had to explain to a girl who he was.

Teddy ushered them in, but did not take the bottle, steering them to the dining room, now denuded of pictures and holding only mismatched chairs and a table for eight, which was covered with foil containers from the Indian restaurant. “Come out back,” he said over his shoulder. Why had he invited these people? He’d had a rush of warm feeling for the husband when he was sitting in Teddy’s kitchen, flushed with wine, singing all the lyrics to “BQE” and even imitating Teddy’s jangly guitar. For about eighteen months, it was a sound that no one could get enough of until, suddenly, they could.

He returned to his place by the fire. Everyone had gathered around the barbecue because Kane had moved all the beer into a cooler out there. One of the bartender roommates was being regaled with stories of other roommates, some of the stranger people who had flowed through Gertrude over the years. “Remember that guy Teddy called ‘The Lodger’? He lived here, but no one ever actually saw him.”

“He was like Bigfoot, man,” said Kane. “People claimed to have seen him. Like, the guy did not leave his room, ever. No one saw him in the kitchen. He didn’t even ever use the bathroom.”

Some people started chuckling. “We never did find out what he did. What was he doing in there?” Jacq was still poking at the logs.

Kane made a circle with his hand and pumped it up and down.

“Literally or figuratively?”

“How do you jerk off figuratively?”

“Ted would know,” said Kane, his way of welcoming Teddy back into the conversation
“The Lodger did leave his room, sometimes,” Teddy told them. “He’d come to my room, but he didn’t talk to me. He’d leave me little notes.”

“What kind of notes?”

“Notes about the temperature in the house…it was too hot or too cold. Or there was a weird tapping noise that was keeping him up, it was the branches outside his window. Could I trim them. Stuff like that. Some of the notes were a little creepy–suggestions for how to get more girls to live in the house, although he never talked or saw anyone here.” Teddy had a hard time remembering most of the people who moved in and out of Gertrude over the years, but he had a clear image of The Lodger, a zitty guy in a hoodie encrusted with old Chinese food. He’d probably caught sight of The Lodger twice in the months he lived here, but his memory had been made indelible, at first by the nickname, so Pinteresque, then by the idea of him, a video store guy living in one room, fresh out of possibility, at his own dead end.

The Feynmans had joined the circle. There were no more places to sit, so they hovered behind the chairs, listening. There was a break in the conversation, so the husband bounded toward Kane, hand outstretched. “Steve Feynman. And this is Shana. I know who you are,” he said to Kane.

Kane looked at Shana up and down as she stared blankly at the other guests. She wasn’t interested in making any friends.

“Then there was that other creep, what was her name? Felicia?” Kane now imagined himself a human rights advocate, but he had never lost his gleeful hatred of actual people. He turned to the Feynmans. “She was a church organist. Beautiful. She looked like Grace Kelly. Ted thought she had some sort of…anxiety, I guess you’d call it, she didn’t want anyone talking to her or coming to her room when she was home. So she tried to scare people off. That what he said, anyway. All I know is that whenever she heard footsteps in the hallway past her room, she run to the door, and crouch behind it, making this noise like whoop whoop whoop.” Kane bent over, bug-eyed, mouth like a grouper, demonstrating what he thought she looked like behind the door.

Everyone laughed, Steve Feynman the loudest of all. Teddy noticed with interest that Shana made a tiny moue of disgust at her husband. Jacq’s voice cut through the laughter. “You know what? It worked. Scared him off. It was pretty fucking weird.”

Teddy said: “She only did that to Kane. Girls will do anything to make him go away.”

Shana Feynman had wandered off, and was in the backyard, studying Kane’s signs in the dim light. Teddy left the group to join her. His dogs followed, feathery tails in the air, hopeful. Teddy stood next to her, watching her read about a Chinese dissident in solitary confinement. Her small nose had a delicate wrinkle. He had decided on her last visit that the breasts were real. The jury was still out on the nose. “They’ve been playing the same George Michael album in his cell over and over for the past seven years, trying to break him. It’s a human rights outrage,” he said.

Shana turned to look at him. “Really?”

“No, not really.” Shana stared, and Teddy looked away. “Never mind.”

Shana looked to the bottom of the garden. “It’s not that bad, the train, is it?”

“Sorry, what did you say?”

Shana did not smile at this, but kept looking at the railroad. Teddy was certain that she and Feynman had spent hours poring over the Metro North schedule, researching options for sound barrier fencing and privet hedges, and that she was only expressing early stage buyer’s remorse. He was surprised that they would choose this house knowing they were unable to fix all of its defects. This town had become unaffordable.

Jacq’s cackle floated above the noise of the crowd. Teddy recalled the face Shana made at her husband. He wanted to feel embarrassed by his scruffy friends, Jacq’s ugly laugh. This girl made him feel the same way on her last visit, the same as the young mothers in yoga pants he saw in the village Starbucks as he stood in line next to them, invisible. The only ones worse were the teenagers. Kids were listening to music he had heard twenty years ago, but buzzier, with stupider lyrics. He knew he was the old one because he couldn’t tell the difference. Youth lived in another dimension. Salt used to taste saltier, the sun was warmer, and the world flatter, non-Euclidean; the actual had filled up all the space that had been potential.

“So where are you moving to?” she asked.

“Not sure yet.”

Shana wrinkled her nose again. She seemed to be annoyed by anything that wasn’t straight fact. He wanted to give her a fact. And then he heard himself say: “Well, I’ve had an offer to do an arena tour of some Asian countries. We’ll see if that creates enough momentum to tour here, and on the back of that, maybe go back into the studio.”

She said oh, but Teddy could tell she was impressed. “This Japanese promoter, Yuki Nagai, he’s been calling night and day.” Yuki Nagai was the name of a fan from Oxnard, California, who, in the years between 2001 and 2004, had visited the Sugar Time website at least 1459 times, leaving a like amount of comments.

“I’m cold,” said Shana, and started walking back to the house.

“You don’t even have a drink,” said Teddy. “Let’s go get you one.”

There was a crowd in the kitchen, making Margaritas in the blender. Kane was doing his party tricks, imitating the deaf Osmonds’ cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Steve Feynman was the only one who had not heard it, and chuckled appreciatively. Jacq was at the stove, stirring a reheating pot of her poisonous jambalaya, which accompanied her to every party in a plastic tub. This was the time when in earlier years the party began its inevitable downward slide, ending with vomit and tears in the bathroom. They were staying later than last year, which Teddy did not take a good sign.

“You ought to take that trip to Japan,” Shana said to her husband. “He’s going to be playing there.” She pointed at Teddy.

“What the fuck, Ted,” said Kane. “Were you waiting to surprise me?”

Jacq stopped stirring the jambalaya.

“Uh, yeah. I wanted to tell you about it, but I didn’t know how to bring it up, since you have other commitments and all.” Teddy looked at Jacq. “I found out that “Ass Ache” has been racking up sales in iTunes Japan.” Teddy could live with this lie for hours, not days, before he was found out, but he plowed on. “…So, I was contacted by this guy, he told me someone used it in this flick, Motorcycle Assassin. The movie was a huge hit in Japan and in Southeast Asia, and, uh, he thought we could capitalize on the new interest.”

Kane looked at him incredulous. “Ass Ache,” a track off their second, disastrous release, Thrift Shop Odin, was nothing but album filler, a rip off of the old Easybeats tune “Sorry.”

“So we thought maybe get together and go to Japan-”
“Benson’s touring with Kim Deal,” said Kane. “Who’s the guy in Japan? Is he with Smash, or UDO?” Teddy could see Kane taking scissors to all his responsibilities at home.

Kane pulled out his phone and began fingering the screen furiously. “Let’s see, according to the Google translator that movie’s called, what? Ansatsucha no ootobai? Did he say it came out this year?”

Teddy saw this could well be minutes, not hours.

“Put that away Kane,” said Jacq. “We can talk about it later. Happy for you, Teddy. I’ve been worried how would support yourself now without the renters.”

Steve and Shana looked at each other. “Don’t worry. They’re gone, all of them,” Teddy said quickly.

“All if them? We thought you lived here alone,” said Steve.

“Teddy’s closer to the Sixties than you think. He had a commune and it was groovy,” said Kane.

“You haven’t been working at all, then-”

“Not for twenty years,” volunteered Jacq.

Shana stared. It occurred to Teddy that she probably did not know any man without a job for twenty years who was not old, sick, or insane. She had eliminated the first two and was now looking for confirmation of the third. He felt a queasiness he sometimes had these days, the feeling that he could have started over, he could have turned if around–even as recently as five years ago, when he turned forty, he could have figured it out, and now it was too late.

The others followed Jacq’s pot of jambalaya into the dining room. Teddy and Shana trailed the others, giving Teddy the chance to take her elbow and lean in. “I couldn’t take the business any more,” he murmured to her, in the fey, artistic voice he once used for radio interviews. “I came out here to live by the Sound so I could do some serious composing. I was studying with Xenakis, when he was in residence at the retreat at Caramoor.” He wondered whether he should have said he was working on an album of children’s songs.

Everyone had gathered around the table. Teddy took a seat next to Shana. “I’ve often thought of all the people living here as just my family. It’s a fantastic house and I wanted to share it with other people,” he told her.

Steve had finished another blender drink and was telling a long story about some deal he was working on, dropping names no one had ever heard of. Teddy saw Shana shift in her chair. The Indian takeout was forgotten, tinfoil and chicken bones pushed to one side. “Let me move this, said Shana, suddenly, gathering up all the containers. “I’ll help you,” said Teddy.

She smiled for the first time at Teddy, and when they returned to the kitchen, paused to talk. “Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?”

Teddy flashed on the memory of being eight years old, lying on his stomach and watching television, mesmerized by Gary Glitter as he descended to a stage riding a gold lame crescent moon.

“Well, it’s like breathing,” he said, leaning over the counter, getting closer to her. Was it the idea of filling the house with guests that appealed to her? “Do you plan to have a lot of people come to visit you here?”

“Yes. When you come back from Japan you’re welcome to come back to visit here.” She smiled at him again. Teddy pictured living here with the Feynmans, having exhausted all his options, a permanent Lodger. He would be the musician in the attic, brought out for parties and other special occasions.

“I’m selling some stuff, upstairs,” he said. “Want to go see?” What did he hope to accomplish, getting her alone, upstairs?

She smiled again, a craven look, he decided. She probably thought he had Biedermeier stowed away up there, waiting for a best offer.

She climbed the stairs ahead of Teddy, leaving him eye level with her ass.

In the gable room were two bicycles, milk crates filled with vinyl albums, and stacks of old paperbacks. Shana picked up a dog-eared copy of Teddy’s college era edition of Herman Hesse and frowned again. She looked around the room, eyeing its proportions, and the gothic arched muntins of the gable window. “This would be a great guest room,” she said.

Teddy lounged in the doorway, blocking her exit from the room. “If you ever want to come over by yourself one weekday afternoon to, oh, I don’t know, measure for curtains or something, I could be here to let you in,” he said.

“Thanks,” said Shana. “There is so much to do.” The blandness of her reply confirmed Teddy’s hopes. “I’ll call you,” she said, looking up at him as she slid by him out of the room. “That’s really nice of you.”

“No worries,” said Teddy.

Downstairs, Kane had opened up the Feynmans’ champagne, and was pouring it into assorted tumblers, wine glasses and plastic party cups. “Yo, Teddy! I just talked to Benson, and he’s free! He said he can fly to New York on Wednesday! I got us some rehearsal space in Brooklyn.”

Jacq was moving around the edge of the crowd, her face knotted in anger. She spotted Teddy and blocked him at the foot of the stairs. He was relieved Shana was not behind him; she was wandering through the upstairs rooms, inspecting floors, looking in the closets, taking notes. “This is complete shite, Teddy. Why do you tell him this stuff?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, we all know you can’t be relied on. You are leading him down a path–”

“Are you saying I’m making shit up?” He tried his best to be outraged.

“No, of course not. What I mean is these things never pan out, and you know it, and you persist…God, it’s just like with that poor little thing, Laura–”

There was the sound of rattling plastic from the dining room and Kane shouting: “Who’s for some sledding? Bags going fast!”

Jacq rolled her eyes. “What fuckery is this?” She stomped away. “Kane, it’s dark outside and-” The guests were out the back door, flowing over the deck to the backyard, clutching trash bags and rolls of plastic drop cloths.

Steve Feynman was at the head of the group, walking backwards and demarcating a starting line, barking orders to everyone to line up evenly. Leave it to the corporate guy to turn it into a race, thought Teddy.

“I personally recommend the sheeting,” Kane shouted, taking garden shears to the plastic roll. “Totally boss.”

“Nitwits,” said Jacq.

“It’s fun,” said Teddy.

“I don’t see you clamoring.”

“I’m not that stupid.”

Shana came up behind him. “Hey, I want to try.”

Teddy found a bag and led her away from the others, to the shorter, steeper part of the hill. He held open the bag and they both wiggled into it. He had never tried to do this with another person, but decided it was a worthwhile experiment, especially in the dark. He placed Shana in front of him, and held her tightly; she was warm and soft, and her hair smelled of some expensive spicy shampoo. They shoved off, and the bag soon gathered a terrifying speed with the weight of two bodies in it. They hit something hard, and they tipped and then rolled over, skidding to a stop. Teddy was lying on his back, still holding onto Shana, who was giggling, when he heard a screech from the bottom of the hill. “Holy shit!” someone shouted.

Steve Feynman and his bag had hit the bottom of the hill and gone over the stone embankment. The chain link fence stopped him from flying onto the train tracks. When the guests ran down the hill, they saw Steve slowly getting to his feet. He took someone’s hand and limped up the embankment.

“Wow, how did he get that kind of speed?” Kane said, coming up to Teddy. “That’s a hell of a running start.”

“Dude needs to win.”

As Steve was helped into the house, the others stood in small groups in the backyard, quiet. The embers from Teddy’s grill glowed, and the night air was filled with ash. Teddy knew his clothes would stink tomorrow, but for now he loved the smell, and stood closer to the grill, watching the coals.

Jacq stomped past him up to Kane. “You are a fucking idiot. You almost got him killed,” she said.

“He’s the idiot. You didn’t see anyone else wiping out.”

“It was pitch black, and he didn’t know where he was going.”

“Why are you such a non-stop buzz kill? No one else is having a problem.”

Teddy stared deeper into the fire. He’d witnessed fights between Kane and Jacq before, and waited for it to pass, like a cloudburst.

“And why did you call Benson before talking it over with me? You can’t just piss off like this, and for what? This is bullshit–”

“I don’t need your permission to do things.”

“No, because you are a selfish arsehole.”

What disappointed Teddy was the unrelenting sameness of such fights. They never came up with, say, a truly creative insult, or an exceptionally well-aimed cheap shot. They used such blunt weapons. Perhaps on purpose.

“You are such a cunt,” said Kane. “This is my life.” Jacq hurled a plastic cup at his head, then another. People stopped talking and looked up at the deck to watch. Teddy ducked the plastic cups and headed into the house. There was a peculiar lightness in his chest. The fight about the tour made it seem real. In Kane’s mind it was real, unless Teddy told him otherwise. Only then would it cease to be real.

In the kitchen, Shana was dabbing Steve’s chin with a damp paper towel and asking him if he was all right, if he needed to go to the ER. “I think I have a splinter,” he moaned. “What the fuck is with those sign posts?”

Steve’s glasses were on the counter, the bridge snapped in two. Teddy found a bit of electrical tape in a kitchen drawer and started taping the frame back together.

“Steve didn’t get hurt on the rocks. He hit one of the signs,” Shana explained.

“I think he ran over the girls from Pussy Riot,” said Teddy.

Kane wandered in, and, seeing the tape, muttered: “Hey man, any more of that stuff? I need it to bind and gag Jacq …she’s gotta go in the trunk so I can make the ride home to Massapequa.”

“I heard that,” said Jacq, following him into the room. “I think we should stay here. We’ve all had far too much to drink. And Ted’s got plenty of space, haven’t you, Ted?”

With the drama of the evening over, many of the guests started to slip away. Steve Feynman, glasses held together with electrical tape, announced that he, also, was too fucked up to drive. Teddy noticed that Shana did not volunteer.

* * *

In the dim light of six am, Teddy padded down the stairs and into the kitchen. He walked past snoring guests in beds, sofas, and on floors. He saw Shana, curled up on the sofa with her shoes off, tucked under Steve’s arm. A few hours before, he had seen her here, and watched her gently extricate herself, from the same arm, in the same position, to follow Teddy to his room.

The floor was littered with squashed plastic cups and chicken bones. Uneaten jambalaya smeared everywhere. The dogs must have got into the garbage when everyone was sleeping. “Where there is chicken,” he said to the dogs, as they stood looking up at him in sad-eyed guilt. “Right on.”

Teddy sat down at the kitchen table and looked at his blinking phone. There was a text from an unfamiliar number with an “81” country code.

Hey Ted
You remember me
1989 Oz and Phl?
Heard yr talking to SMASH
Call me 1st

The future might make it another day, and then maybe another. In the meantime, he was happy to leave Gertrude to the Feynmans. They belonged here. He saw them years in the future, their perfect children sledding down the hill in the winter. Shana watching them in a fur-trimmed parka. He could see the parka, the dark fur against her blonde hair.

And he would be somewhere, anywhere else. This morning, the future looked like an antique map of the New World, the North American coastline dissolving into blank space; it occurred to him now, sitting at the kitchen table, the actual had inverted and had become potential, like one of those ink blot tests- do you see two profiles or a vase? He tried to see the coastline, but he could not follow its contours. The closer he looked, the less he could see of its shape. Like magnifying fractals, the pattern receded as he got closer, taking new shapes, revealing yet another pattern. And that pattern melted into new shapes….Whether he had studied at Caramoor, or gigged in the jungles of Borneo, it did not much matter. It all dissolved and disappeared, leaving no starting point. Teddy could step off the map into his own, unknown life.


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