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Chapter 4

Storyteller

The Continuing Adventures of Meet The Blacks

Rhett awoke to a strange but very pleasant sensation and a fire in his belly that was quickly spreading downwards. He felt a familiar warmness below. He lifted up the covers to find a black mess of hair making Mr. Happy happy. Ah, Darla. Over the last two weeks the mighty steamroller had shut down. No band meetings, no rehearsals and very little contact. Rusty was on the mend but his hands were still tender and it hurt him to play. And then there was Jett. His older brother was going off the fucking rails. He had stopped by Jett’s house one sunny afternoon to find Jett’s van parked outside but the walk-up itself was dark with all the curtains drawn. He had knocked on the door for a minute or two but there was no answer. He put his ear up to the door and heard nothing.

As he was descending the stairs to the street level he bumped into old lady Grimaldi. Probably on her way back to the deli. He’d never been inside though. Jett had given him a few slices of different cheeses to try. Rhett took one sniff. No, not for me. She and the neighbours were worried about Jett. He was looking thin and he had started drinking. Always drinking. And on the street. In broad daylight. And then he would walk to the cemetery across the street. They would see him propped up against a tombstone with his bottle in a bag. When he’d finish his bottle he would weave back home, grab a fresh bottle and stagger back to the graveyard, bottle in bag. Mrs. Grimaldi pleaded with Rhett, don’t let anything bad happen to the nice boy. So Rhett had walked over to the graveyard but there was no sign of Jett. This was three days ago. He would call Jett later but right now he had to feed this filly. So Rhett went to work as only Rhett could.

After their lengthy session had ended, Rhett rolled over and poured himself a shot of Jameson’s. He had met Darla almost a week ago and they had been playing house ever since. This was highly unusual for Rhett and his revolving door policy. And he was starting to get tired of it. He got most of his chicks at the gigs or the ‘after parties’ as he liked to call them. Okay, Twisty’s. There was something about strippers in particular that attracted him. Oh sure, he loved them all but strippers just had that edge that appealed to him. Because he was the other edge of that razor. And he was built for more than just drumming. His prowess was legendary among the select women that managed to have him twice. But with the band at a standstill his little oasis was drying up. The Chicklicks were on the road and the talent at Twisty’s did nothing for him. One night last week he strolled into Larry’s Steakhouse. A goddamn steakhouse for christ’s sake. But the place had a reputation as a pick-up joint. “Steak market, meat market, steak market, me market.” Half humming, half whistling. He was pleased with himself. Hell, Jett wasn’t the only songwriter in the family.

After he finished his meal he started working on a beer. He was just finishing his second when he spotted a hot brunette walking towards the door. “Where are you going baby?” Rhett was always pushing buttons. “Home to my husband” she replied icily, without even turning around. Rhett, playing with fire now. “Are you sure you want to do that, baby?” He sugarcoated the hell out of that question and then frosted it. And she turned around. Thirty seconds later they were chatting like old friends, his devil horns and tail not yet showing. Now Darla was a nice lady with a big problem. A trucker for an old man who was almost always out of town. When he was in town he would take the belt to her. Or his fists. Or both. She tried to leave a few times but he would always find her and drag her back to that horrible trailer of his. Yeah, Al was a real prize. She didn’t get out much, she didn’t really know anyone. When she walked into Larry’s Steakhouse she had no idea it was a pick-up joint. She just had to get away.

The trailer park itself was on the outskirts of town, with their trailer being the last trailer on a dead-end dirt road. Apparently the road does not go on forever. Al owned his rig and hadn’t bothered to leave her the keys to the beat up old Chevy van parked in front. She was grateful for the lone corner grocery that seemed to carry everything she needed to get by until Al arrived home to drive her into town for a proper shop. It was about an hour’s walk into town but it was a nice afternoon. So she set off on foot. She spent the rest of the day window shopping, a big city Cinderella with little money and no glass slipper. When it started getting dark the streets got livelier and before she knew it she was caught up in the street’s life. And life was infectious. She was hungry when she spied Larry’s. She decided she would have a meal and then splurge on a cab ride home. Screw Al. She had planned on ordering a steak sandwich. But old habits die hard. Her cautious nature and tight pocketbook made her order a chef’s salad instead. She ate slowly, people watching. She loved watching people and envied each and every one of them. They had a life.

Now here she was. Next to Rhett. And hoping for her own little “redo” in a bit. Their time together had done wonders for her soul. And Al would be out of town for a few more weeks. She was about to ask him if he thought they might have a future together. Rhett answered the question with his next statement. “Listen babe, I’ve got a million things to do over the next few days. Why don’t you head on back to your place and I’ll call you in a week or two.” He was about to get out of bed and find her a city bus schedule. “Don’t bother,” she replied. Two minutes later she was out the door. By the time she crossed the street she was crying. So she walked for a bit and found a nice park bench nearest the archway to the cemetery. She was about to sit down when she spotted something glinting in the sunlight. Odd, right in front of a tombstone. She walked under the archway towards the shiny object and then bent to pick it up. A loud shout! “Hey … that’s mine!” With the kind of day she was having she broke down, right then and there. Started crying like a little girl trapped. And she really was.

Rusty had another bad night and was relieved to see daylight. It seemed that every time he would go deep he would roll over and send a shockwave of pain through his hand. Both hands ached and throbbed constantly and no matter which side he tried to sleep on the results were always the same. He got out of bed carefully, not wanting to bump either hand. Now that he was clear-headed and on the mend he started to turn back into the Rusty of old. Nothing was going on at the band house. He had asked Beav why but Beav said it had nothing to do with him. It was just slow. One amazing result had just surfaced. And only the boys in the band house knew about it.

Their little television taping had gone national. Viewing went through the roof. Callers across the nation demanded to see the show (complete, nothing less) on their favourite stations six times a day. Every day. This had been going on for over a week. Channel 9 had been trying to reach Jett for the last few days. Finally a stage hand who was friendly with the band and had partied at the band house once or twice suggested someone call Beav. So they did. The three of them did a little dance around the room after Beav got off the phone. When Beav broke away to roll a joint for Dusty, Dusty and Rusty stood stock still in the middle of the room, hugging and crying. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to any of them, the feed was now viral on stations everywhere throughout the US.

So today, well today, was the perfect day for his mission. He smoked the joint (thanks, Beav) outside the door. His mission. During his outing he had lost the pocketknife his father had given him when he was younger. And it was his father’s father’s before that. And with things much clearer now he had a feeling where he would find it. He recalled trying to carve his initials into a pool cue. But his hands were shaking so badly he dropped the knife. Now, as he walked across the lawn to the headstone he saw someone bent over, picking up his pocketknife. “Hey! That’s mine” he shouted. And with those three little words the chains were broken. Cinderella slippers polished and handed over.

“I’m sorry” Rusty said as he bent down beside her. “I didn’t mean to scare you. And hey, I sure didn’t mean to make you cry.” She stopped crying long enough to look up at Rusty. And then she lost herself in his eyes. She was reminded of the first time she saw a picture of Jesus when she was a child. The first picture you see is always the best. That’s your personal Jesus. And the love that shone from his eyes was the same as the Jesus in the picture. Her Jesus. She handed him the pocketknife, her hand bumping his as she did so. He winced in pain and he couldn’t hide it in time. “You’re hurt, she said, let me help you up.”

She led him over to the bench and they sat down. Rusty told her about the pocketknife as she handed it back to him. And then about the band and the band house nearby. He finished up by saying ”Yeah, I live with my brother Dusty and our friend Beav. Our band’s called Meet The Blacks.” “I’ll have to check out your CD” she replied supportively. Then Rusty. “Um, we don’t have a CD out yet but we do have a live broadcast that just went national. There’s a copy at home we could watch. I could make dinner for us ..” he trailed off hopefully. She smiled at him teasingly. “You say you live in a band house. Is there really food there?” “Uh, no” was his shy sheepdog aw shucks reply. “Do you have any money? For food?” she asked. He carefully thrust his right hand into his jean pocket and pulled out the only bill there. A twenty dollar bill. He waved it back and forth in front of her face like a hypnotist with a watch. “That’ll do, mister” she said, teasing him even more with a lilt to her voice. “Do you like spaghetti?” He replied quickly, beaming … “why, I love spaghetti”. They stood up at the same time and as they walked arm in arm down the street she said “And one more thing Mr. Rusty Black. I’m doing the cooking.”

When they arrived at the band house they found it deserted but cozy. Before leaving, Beav and Dusty had given the band house a makeover. A proper Humes-Black makeover. And what they lacked in skill they made up for in heart. She gave the stove a proper wipe down and began creating the meal, her trusty sidekick Rusty helping as best he could. He felt like the dog in the western joke. I’m looking for the man who shot my paw. And well, if the band house didn’t take on a wonderful new aroma. Even the paint on the walls smiled at the delightful smells so foreign to them. The only real action the stove had seen were the hot knives on the burners. And only when the streets were raining hashish. After a cozy dinner they settled down to watch the video of the studio taping.

As soon as she saw him on the screen she almost died. Rhett was the drummer in the band! The Meet The Blacks band. Rusty pointed out all the members in the band. Brother. Friend. First cousin. Brother of the band leader. The guy with the white guitar. His brother. She felt sick for a moment. She watched the rest of the video by Rusty’s side, squeezing his arm every time Rusty appeared on the screen. And Rusty loved that. After the video ended she told Rusty everything. Nothing fazed him. Nothing shocked him. No look of disgust in his eyes. No condemnation in his voice. Just softness and care. Heartfelt questions. Tender observations. Finally she got around to mentioning Al and the fact that she was leaving him. Rusty’s next five words changed both of their lives forever. “You can stay with me”. Then they watched the video again. And again. With popcorn this time.

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