The Fiction

Opening Act

From the Christmas, 2011, issue 

(No. 27)

Art by Matthew Daley
Matthew Daley

On the top floor of the TexPark garage, at eight o’clock on a Friday night, Alexandra watches while Sam and Fallon share a bottle of vodka. They pass it back and forth, Fallon sipping, her gum stuck to the end of her index finger, Sam licking drops of vodka from the rim before tilting his head back. Fallon giggles and sticks the gum back into her mouth while she waits her turn.

“Are you sure you don’t want any? ” she asks Alexandra.

“Um, yeah,” says Alexandra.

Sam and Fallon sit on ground between two parked cars, one of which has a bumper sticker on the back that reads, “jesus is coming...look busy.” Fallon thinks this is hilarious. She leans against the wall, her bare legs stretched out from the tight black dress she has partially covered with a red plaid shirt, ankles laced into brand new shiny Doc Martens. Sam sits beside her in his holey jeans and T-shirt, knees pulled to his chest.

Alexandra stands. Above them, a single star glows in the sky, and she stares at it until it fades to a tiny spark.

“More for me,” says Fallon, shrugging. She glows tonight—she always glows, in a different way than other girls do. Alexandra wonders if it’s because she’s had sex. Something must change in you then, she thinks. Making things quieter inside. Especially if the sex you’ve had is with half the school.

“No way,” says Sam. “I get her share.” Sam has been drinking a lot lately. He thinks it makes him seem more like a troubled artist. If you asked him, though, he’d say it was because he is a troubled artist. There’s a difference.

“Awesome,” says Alexandra. “Another show missed with your head in the toilet.”

It’s not that Alexandra is so straight edge. She drinks with Sam sometimes, sitting in his parents’ basement on Saturday nights, mixing everything together from his dad’s liquor cabinet, then adding Coke. She just thinks drinking in public is stupid. She imagines Fallon is one of those girls who gets drunk fast, tries to stick her tongue down your throat, then starts to cry and passes out in the bathroom, vomit caked around her mouth, face streaked with mascara. It’s so boring. Oh, look at you, you’re a fucked-up teenager. Big deal. Who isn’t?

“Whatever,” says Fallon, waving her hand at Alexandra, the momentum knocking her over onto her elbow. “So,” she says to Sam. “I still say it’s Flea.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you were a bassist,” Sam says. “If you were a bassist, you’d know it was Les Claypool.”

“If I was a bassist,” Fallon says, leaning forward, grin on her face, “I’d kill myself.”

Sometimes on those Saturday nights at home, Alexandra and Sam talk, or watch a movie, or she lets him go down on her, his bony fingers pressing into the insides of her thighs, leaving bruises like fingerprints on her skin. But mostly, Sam just wants to play his bass. He’s in a band, Nietzsche’s Watering Can, with two kids from Summer Rock, Pete and Robbie, both twelfth graders from Halifax West who have a late-night punk show on CKDU and are obsessed with Star Trek. The band hasn’t had a show yet, but Robbie has been talking to the manager at Cafe Olé who thinks he might be able to get them into the Battle of the Bands.

“That’s so cool your boyfriend’s a guitarist,” Fallon said to Alexandra two weeks back, on the front steps of the school—the first words she had ever spoken to her, even though they had three classes together and rode the same bus. Alexandra was minding Sam’s bass while he ran back to his locker to get his math book. “My brother’s a guitarist. He plays with the Truth, have you heard of them? ”

“No,” said Alexandra, even though she thought she might have. “And it’s a bass, actually.”

“Oh, cool,” said Fallon, touching the top of the case with the tips of her fingers. “Cool.”

Four floors down from the TexPark, a car honks. Fallon jumps, and vodka sloshes over her arm. Sam takes her wrist and runs his tongue over the wet part.

Gross,” says Fallon, pulling her arm back and wiping her wrist on her shirt. But when she looks at Alexandra there’s light in her eyes.

Sam puts his arm around Alexandra. He is so skinny she can actually feel his ribs through the layers of both their clothes. She can’t understand it—he eats more than a human being could ever possibly eat.

“Why can’t you be vodka flavoured? ” he asks.

“Why can’t you be an actual human being? ” Alexandra shoots back.

“Too much work,” says Sam. Then his hand is in her hair, his hot breath in her face. While he kisses her, she looks past him to Fallon, staring into her eyes until they fade away.

They’d planned to sneak into the Double Deuce to see Eric’s Trip, recently signed to a Seattle label and now the new favourite band of every single person who lived in Halifax and the outlying areas. Including Fallon, apparently, whose brother’s girlfriend works the coat check at the Deuce and who was “totally” going to get them in. “For sure. No problem.”

“I can’t believe they’re actually coming here,” Fallon had said to Alexandra that afternoon in math class, her boots clunking against Alexandra’s desk. “Did you see them mentioned in Sassy? ”

“Holy fucking shit,” thought Alexandra. “Someone actually still reads Sassy.”

“Alexandra? ” Fallon poked her shoulder with the blunt end of her pen. It was fat, one of those ones with the four different coloured push-down tips—blue, green, pink, purple. Alexandra would bet money Fallon always used pink. “Can you believe they’re coming here? ”

Alexandra dug the tip of her own ballpoint pen into her desk, where she had spent the better part of the year carving an elaborate replica of a Descendents album cover into the wood.

“Yes, actually, I can,” she said, without looking up. What she really couldn’t believe was that she was actually going to go see Eric’s Trip with Fallon the poser and her posse of brain-dead, flannel-wearing stoners. The type who go to shows just to stand around in the alley and get high, or fling their hair around in the mosh pit, all arms and legs and complete lack of any semblance of self-control. But Sam was going, and that meant Alexandra was going too.

“Hey,” said Fallon, scratching the tip of her pen into the back of Alexandra’s desk. (Purple. Close enough.) “You spelled ‘Descendants’ wrong.”

For a moment Alexandra ignored her. But she couldn’t stand Fallon thinking she was smarter than her. “That’s how they spell it,” she said.

“Oh,” said Fallon. She wrote “Descendents” on her hand. “Are they good? ”

“Yeah,” said Alexandra. Then, unable to resist, “I saw them at Camaro’s a couple of months ago.” Camaro’s was an all-ages venue in an old furniture store that opened up after the Casino, a similar club in an old movie theatre, had closed. But Fallon wouldn’t know any of this. Up until three weeks ago, Fallon was on the fucking cheerleading squad.

“She was an ironic cheerleader,” Sam said later, while they were walking home. “You know, like the ones in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video.”

“They weren’t ironic,” Alexandra said, shifting her backpack on her shoulders. “They were anarchists.”

“Whatever,” said Sam. “She’s cool. She’s going to get us into the show.”

“Yeah,” said Alexandra. “She’s cool.”

“You just don’t like her because of that time we went to Wendy’s.”

Sam and Fallon and two of her moronic little minions had gone on a free period. They all shared one small Frosty and got kicked out for making fun of the retarded kid who cleaned the trays. When Alexandra heard about it, she freaked out on Sam. She was all for making fun of people on even footing—but then again, maybe Fallon and the retarded kid were on an even footing. None of it had anything to do with the fact Fallon had bigger breasts than Alexandra, or that she did this thing where she said a person’s name ten million times in a conversation: “Hey, Sam, what did you get on that history test, Sam? Oh, God, Sam, I think I totally failed it, Sam, Sam, I am such a dunce sometimes, Sam, you know what I mean Sam? Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam.” None of it had anything to do with the fact she thought she could just walk into Alexandra’s world and own it.

“Yes,” Alexandra said, walking faster, her hands slung under the straps of her backpack, her sneakers silent on the concrete. “That is the bajillionth reason why I don’t like her. Number bajillion and one is that she’s a dirty skank.”

She waited for a reaction, but when she turned around Sam wasn’t even listening. He was in the process of trying to take down a gig poster from the telephone pole in front of them.

“Can you help me? ” he asked. “I don’t want to rip the top part.”

“You’re doing it wrong,” Alexandra said, swatting his hand away. “Let me.”

She slid her hand into the gap on the sides between the wood and the thin paper, and gently pulled upward, the gummy tape globing together on her fingers.

“You don’t even like Bubaiskull,” she said, examining the poster as it peeled away from the telephone pole.

“They’re O.K.,” said Sam, looking away.

“Holy fuck,” said Alexandra, letting the poster fall to the ground. “Is she, like, your new music guru or something? ”

Sam bent down and picked up the poster. Alexandra could still feel the weight of it in her hands, the stickiness that was left behind on her fingers.

On the way to the Double Deuce, they stop at Blowers Street PaperChase for chocolate. Alexandra and Sam get Wunderbars, as usual. Fallon buys Junior Mints.

“I like your hair,” the guy behind the counter says to Fallon, pointing to the pink streak that had appeared amongst the blond a couple of days earlier.

“Thanks,” says Fallon. “I did it with a Magic Marker.” She stands on her tiptoes and props herself up over the counter. “Feel it! It doesn’t even come off.”

The counter guy tentatively fingers the strand. “Cool,” he says. Fallon’s knee bumps against the box of Aero bars and they fall to the floor.

Alexandra moves through the racks of magazines toward the door.

“Are we going to have to wait for her to blow him? ” she asks Sam. Sam shakes his head and takes a bite of his Wunderbar.

“You’re such a bitch,” he says. It comes out sounding like “Mmmmphummmmp,” but Alexandra understands him.

The plan is to walk right up to the door of the Double Deuce like it was their regular weekend activity.

“Just be confident,” Fallon whispers into Alexandra’s ear, her words slurring together, breath all mint and chocolate. “Bouncers are like bees. They can smell fear.”

“I don’t know if that’s true,” Alexandra says. She looks at Fallon. “I thought your brother’s girlfriend was going to get us in? ”

Fallon doesn’t answer, just skips ahead and links her arm into Sam’s.

“Hurry up,” she says over her shoulder. “I don’t want to miss the opening act.” She turns back to Sam. “Wait, who’s the opening act? ”

“You’re the opening act,” says Sam. “Hurry up, you’re going to be late.”

Fallon stops, laughing, and holds her hand over her diaphragm, singing, “Mi mi mi mi mi mi” in a fake operatic voice. Sam mimes applause.

“That’s actually pretty good,” he says. “You should sing for Nietzsche’s Watering Can.”

Alexandra now wishes she had shared the vodka with them, so she would have an excuse for crying. She thinks about the first time she met Sam, at a Thrush Hermit show at the Flamingo. They had snuck into the over-nineteen section to get to the front of the stage. There they danced side by side, their bodies pressing into each other under the crushing weight of the crowd, until Sam motioned upward, mouthed “Do you want to? ” and without even waiting for a response, bent down and grabbed her foot, guiding her upward until the crowd lifted her, until she was floating over everything—blinding lights and the feeling of a million hands on her body. Floating until eventually the floor came up beneath her and she was set down hard, her legs jarring in her sneakers, suddenly back in the all-ages section. She could see Sam making his way back through the crowd, even though he could have stayed up front. When he reached her, he put his hand on her hip. That was all. His hand on her hip. A million hands on her body and the only one she really felt was his.

“I can’t go in there,” she says suddenly.

“Huh? ” says Sam.

Instantly, Fallon is at her side, her hands cradling Alexandra’s face.

“Yes, you can,” she says. Her hands are hot, like little irons pressing Alexandra’s cheeks. “You’re amazing. You can do anything.”

“No,” says Alexandra. “I can’t do this.”

“Come on, babe,” Sam says, taking her hand. “You love Eric’s Trip.”

“Yeah, I know,” says Alexandra. “They’re my favourite band.”

They really were, from the very beginning. It was so stupid. She can’t believe she’s even wearing the fucking T-shirt.

“Mine too!” Fallon says, knocking her forehead against Alexandra’s. “They’re the best,” she whispers. “Right, Sam? ”

“Right.”

He smiles at her, trying to be reassuring. He still thinks she is worried about getting into the bar.

Alexandra holds Sam’s hand very tightly. She hopes he can feel it, can feel something.

Fallon drags her fingers down Alexandra’s cheeks and then lets her arms fall to her sides.

“You’re so beautiful,” Fallon says. She lowers her eyelids and for a second. Alexandra thinks she is going to kiss her. Then Fallon slumps forward and vomits on Alexandra’s shoes.

“Awesome,” says Alexandra.

“Oh, fuck,” says Sam.

“It’s O.K.,” says Fallon, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Then she vomits again, off to the side, half-chewed Junior Mints spraying across the sidewalk. On the other side of the street, a group of kids start cheering. Fallon hiccups. Then she starts to cry.

Their route home takes them past the Double Deuce. Fallon’s wailing, having softened to a whimper, reignites when she sees the bar.

“I want to go in,” she says.

“No,” says Alexandra, studying Fallon’s face. “You really don’t.”

Fallon sits down on the curb and drops her head between her knees. Sam leans back against the building next to the bar, hands in his pockets. He’s trying to pull it together, but Alexandra can see that he’s still drunk. She stands next to him. A car drives by, some kind of country music blaring out the windows. The doors to the bar are closed, and there are no people outside, but the building pulses. Alexandra can feel it.

“I’m hungry,” says Sam.

“You’re always hungry,” says Alexandra.

On the curb, Fallon lets out a moan.

“I suppose this is one bajillion and two,” says Sam.

“No,” says Alexandra. She looks at Fallon. “This was already covered.”

Sam tilts his head to the side and rests it on Alexandra’s shoulder. His eyes are heavy, tired. Alexandra wants to tell him something, her body throbs with it. But she’s not even sure what it is.

Sam lifts his head briefly, then lets it fall again.

“I can sort of hear them,” he says.

“No, you can’t,” Alexandra says. She looks up, trying to find the glowing star.

Amy Jones lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and recently published her debut novel, We’re All in This Together. She was the winner of the 2006 CBC Literary Award, and her first collection, What Boys Like, won the 2008–2009 Metcalf-Rooke Award and was short-listed for the 2010 ReLit Award. Last updated winter, 2016–2017.
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