Blameless


by Art Edwards

Josy's blue skirt clung to her hips, and whenever she wore it I always imagined how easily it could slide up, almost of its own accord.

Josy wasn't a rock and roll girl, despite being the girlfriend of Boyd, our tall comical drummer. This was 1988, and plenty of girls in Langley were creating hairspray sculptures on their heads, palling around with friends of older cousins, rolling into Red Eagle market to buy Boone's Farm and whipped cream. But not Josy. She was a serious girl with a real job in an office building, taking accounting classes at night. The only band she ever saw was ours, Question Mark, and only for practice. She wasn't old enough to go to any of the clubs we played.

"What do they do with whipped cream?" Rennie, our guitarist and singer, said. We were in the basement of the house Boyd rented, which was our practice room. For some reason, the cement floors had started shocking me through the rug, which made us stop. An Evangelical upbringing meant Rennie was a virgin, but he was petitioning for advancement.

"Chocolate pudding and whipped cream," Boyd said. He took a swig of beer. I'd been away to college for one semester and had come back to Langley with my tail between my legs. Getting kicked out for poor grades was one thing; not having sex once the whole time I was there was another. If my college experience had taught me anything, it was to grab what you can while you can because the world isn't going to grab you.

"You know what I did to Josy once?" Boyd sat up from the futon, smiled his big smile. "We were in bed, and I said, 'Bite my butt.' 'What?' 'Bite my butt.' So she goes down there and opens up and lays her teeth into my cheek, and I farted as loud as I could."

Rennie spit out beer.

"She must really love you," I said. I couldn't believe Josy put up with Boyd, and I sometimes felt the urge to steal her away from him. It was an urge I knew to resist. Not your band mate's girlfriend.

"I don't know." Boyd slid his boots along the floor. "We've broken up a million times. I don't think we're getting married or anything."

After our next practice, Josy followed me out of Boyd's. Our practices were as much like parties as anything else, and the usual cast of roustabouts was there. Lurch did little stand-up routines while we took breaks. Peaches came by to sell dope. Mitch, an old wrestling pal of Boyd's from high school, wore chain mail on his fists and pretended he wanted to fight me. It wasn't unusual for Josy to hang around too, ostensibly waiting for practice to end so she and Boyd could disappear.

She followed me as I took my bass out to my car, which was parked behind her blue Chevy Geo. She held a longneck by its lip, swinging it. I'd seen her open at least three that night. "Leaving?"

"Work tomorrow." I had to get up to give lessons to a few students, each of whom wanted to learn bass lines to metal songs I hadn't bothered to listen to yet.

Josy reached behind me, flipped my little flag of hair. "Why don't you braid your tail?"

"I braid it sometimes."

"When?"

  When someone braids it for me, I wanted to say, but I knew where that would get me. I put my bass in my back seat. "See you later," I said and went to open the driver's side door.

Josy slid in front of me, a sideways move that was both surprising and impressive. It was a move that said she didn't care if Boyd was back by the door watching at us. It was a move that said it's yours. I got around her, got in my car, drove off.

 

"I think Briane wants me," Rennie said. He drove us to the dam, where we'd split a fifteen pack. A gigless Friday night in Langley was no time to be sober. Briane was a cheerleader a few years below me. Rennie was still on our high school campus here and there with his A.V. job.

"You sure she's not teasing you?"

"No," Rennie said, giving me a sideways glance. "She's totally done it before. She told me about going down on John German last summer."

"Good for John German."

"She's babysitting her cousins at her aunt's house next weekend."

"You going over?"

Rennie smiled, then looked distraught. He could do this, get all excited about something only to seemingly talk himself out of it a moment later.

"Rennie, you're going to get laid."

Rennie swallowed.

I drove him to Briane's aunt's the night of her babysitting enterprise. Briane peeked out the window as we drove up. That glimpse of her was all I needed to know about how Rennie's night would go.

The same night I was to get drunk at Matty's mom's with Matty, Paul and Dejean, three friends from high school who had yet to admit defeat to remedial Algebra and sign up for the military. When I'd started playing bass, they were also musicians, but they'd all since traded in their instruments for Joe's Gym memberships and their pick of any girl in town.

Nothing much happened at Matty's that night. We drank beer, worked on a bottle of whiskey. I remember feeling like I'd run my course with my musclemen friends. Throughout high school, I'd looked up to them the way scrawny guys can look up to big guys. Now, with me falling harder for music, we had little common ground. You can only laugh at the same Richard Pryor joke so many times.

I left Matty's at midnight, ready to sleep off my buzz and be coherent for bass lessons the next day. When I came out, I saw Josy's Geo parked across the street.

I clapped my hands. That Josy felt compelled to follow me around town gave me a weird high. Melissa Kemp, a loud-mouthed volleyballer who'd graduated with Josy, lived over there. Josy'd somehow found out I was at Matty's and calculated her way into Melissa's.

I scurried across the street. The light from a television filled a large plate-glass window. I peeked through the sheer curtain. On a couch were two forms, what must've been Melissa and Josy. Something about the way they sat suggested they were encamped for the night, a movie on the tube, their feet pulled up underneath them. My theory made no sense if they didn't come to Matty's, and I had no way to know if they did. I brushed it off as coincidence.

Back home--I lived in the basement of a run-down Victorian mansion with eight other guys--I noticed movement out the dining room window. It was Boyd, his eyes big and scared. I motioned him to the door.

"If you're screwing Josy," he said, "I need you to say it."

"Huh?"

"I know you were with her tonight."

"No, I wasn't."

"Her car was parked right across the street." Oddly, Boyd didn't seem mad. I knew I had a strange power over Boyd and Rennie--maybe because I had a year on them--but I was glad to have it now. Boyd had six inches on me.

"I was at Matty's. There were no girls there."

"Why was her car outside?"

"I don't know."

Boyd put his hands on his head, walked in a circle in the dining room.

"Melissa lives across the street. Was Josy there?"

"Melissa Kemp?"

"Do they know each other?"

"Work together."

"Ah," I said. "Either way, it had nothing to do with me."

Boyd stared into the fireplace, which hadn't been used since I'd moved in. "You swear?"

"I swear. Now, if you don't mind, I have to be up in five hours to teach Skid Row songs to fifteen year olds."

 

The next week, Rennie got word that Question Mark would be allowed to record at the auditorium where he was janitor. The Langley Boys' Choir used it twice a week, but it was free the rest of the time. Rennie bought a four-track recorder. We would make our debut album.

On Friday night, the three of us met at the auditorium and made a ruckus until morning, hitting Record when it felt right. We listened back to the tracks with our feet dangling over the edge of the stage, the auditorium's wooden chairs rolling out like dominoes.

"It's too echo-y in here," Rennie said. To nurse his heartbreak over Briane--who hadn't returned his phone calls since his cherry-popping night--Rennie seemed to be throwing himself into the recording process, learning about things like ambient noise and timbre.

"It needs more separation," Boyd said. He'd heard Rennie say "separation" once and now everything needed more separation.

"We could record our parts one at a time," I said. 

The next Friday, we decided to record Boyd alone while playing one of our good takes in his headphones. Then Rennie and I would record on top of Boyd's track. It was hard to listen as Boyd played solo--weird, seemingly out-of-synch hits. I didn't think it was going to work, but I didn't have the heart to stop them. I got so annoyed I left.

The parking lot was almost empty, but Josy's car was parked next to mine. When she saw me she got out. The street lamps from the road barely had any effect, but I could tell she was done up for the night, the shadow of a skirt, the shimmer of earrings. There was something wanton about her, less good girl. It might've been the pumps. She was going boldly into the realm of women, damn the consequences. My heart broke a little.

"What's up?" I said.

"Stage Lights," which was a teen club in town. "I need to drop off Boyd's house key."

"He's in there."

"Where are you going?"

I didn't know, but I didn't want to give her that window. "Matty's."

She came closer to me. She had on some kind of short leather jacket. It smelled new. "Maybe I could go to Melissa's."

"Yeah, and maybe Boyd could punch my lights out."

"I swear I didn't know you were there that night."

"I know," I said, not sure if I believed her.

"He always makes a scene."

"The guy loves you."

Something subtle happened with one of her legs, a cocked movement, almost like she was spinning on a display. "Maybe I don't love him." She eased towards me, ran her hand across my midriff.

Little sparks flew, ones I knew to put out immediately. "Have fun tonight," I said and got in my car.

I didn't see any of them for a week or two until Rennie stopped by to drop off a cassette, the best tracks he could piece together from our recordings. We listened in my car.

"Sounds better than I thought it would," I said.

"The auditorium was all wrong. We'd be better off in Boyd's basement."

"Maybe," I said, but I knew it wouldn't get that far. The band was over as far as I was concerned. I needed to stay away from Josy.

 

A few months later, after I signed up for junior college, Rennie called me. "Boyd and Josy broke up."

"What?"

"All they do is fight. Boyd's glad it's over."

"Too bad," I said, but I felt something ungainly open inside me.

"So, Boyd's ready to dedicate more time to the band."

"I don't know." Josy worked in an accounting office out by the mall. I'd purposefully driven by a few times to see if her car was there.

"Just think about it."

"I'll call you," I said and hung up.

I grabbed my keys, headed for my car. The natural course of things had won out, and I was blameless. I drove to her office complex, found her Geo in the lot. It was four o'clock, maybe an hour before she'd be off. I parked, waited. I saw her once through the window, dropping something in someone's inbox, sharing what seemed a quick joke. She was wearing her blue skirt.

I started to imagine how the night might go. She'd come out, see me, be flattered. We'd talk, about Boyd, about her and Boyd. Then I'd ask if she had plans. The end was always the same: back to my place, that skirt sliding up.

At a quarter to five, Josy emerged, her purse slung over her shoulder. I got out of my car. She looked surprised to see me. "Did Boyd send you here?" she said.

"No."

"Good, because I'm not going to go through that again."

"Was it hard?"

"It was necessary."

"Necessary?"

"I like...someone else."

"Really?" I said. "That's interesting because I like someone else too."

"Huh?"

"I'm just saying I'm glad you like...someone else."

"Why would you be glad?"

The doors of the building opened, and out came Melissa Kemp. She was taller than Josy, and she wore a white dress shirt with the collar up. Her blond hair was different than I remembered it from high school: short, slicked back with a kind of gel. She put her arm around Josy, kissed the top of her head. "What are you doing here?" she said.

It made no sense, then it did. What I was doing here suddenly became a great question. "I just heard about Josy and Boyd, and-"

"A long time coming," Melissa said, "and probably good under the circumstances, don't you think?"

"Probably."

"We're getting something to eat," Josy said. "You want to come?"

"No, I gotta go."

The two strolled away. Josy glanced once over her shoulder at me, and Melissa corralled her in a half-hug half-headlock. Then they climbed into what must've been Melissa's car and drove off.

As the taillights disappeared, I smiled, shook my head. "It was you. All because of you."




BIO: Art Edwards's third novel, Badge (unpublished), was named a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's Literary Contest for 2011. His second novel, Ghost Notes, released on his own imprint Defunct Press in 2008, won the 2009 PODBRAM Award for best work of contemporary fiction. His first novel, Stuck Outside of Phoenix, is being made into a feature film, which will debut in the fall of 2012. His shorter work has appeared in The Writer, Writers' JournalWord Riot, The Collagist, elimae, PANK, JMWW, The RumpusPear Noir! and The Nervous Breakdown.