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Ana Stanojevic

WHILE THERE’S MUSIC (DREAMING OF DRUMS)

He plays punk and rock in a band with no name. Sometimes he sings, but his voice is mostly doomed to harsh darkness behind the closed mouth, because we all know what drummers are for. He hides behind shiny round cymbals that echo the way he tells them to. That’s not bad, either; I think that, in the end, he’s achieved his dream. 

He’s got the rhythm so much in his fingers, wrists, elbows, stomach, he doesn’t even know when he’s doing it, on the steering wheel while driving, on my thighs, at the bar, he’s always playing, sometimes even while dreaming. He doesn’t dream with his eyelids, like other people; instead of eyelids, his fingers twitch. He dreams of drums. A castle of timpani, and inside, Count Bass Drum who, with his biting sound, enchants dreamers and they eternally roam the world in search of an elusive sound.

From him I learned much about the human voice. I reduced his wise words to this one important thing: we hear the color, but not the essence of a voice. What you are hearing, and I’m saying – that’s color. The essence is different, under layers, like when a woman takes off her make-up and there remains a surprise. 

He is so confident holding the drumsticks in his hands that it dangerously causes some unhealthy feeling of falling in love. This is similar to falling in love with your ice-skating instructor because the man knows what he is doing, and you don’t. You’re a newly walking Bambi on ice, you feel like all your legs are moving in four different directions, and you fall in love with a virtuoso who not only spins around like some frightful, dignified wind, flawlessly, without staggering, but is also talking to you in a safe, deep voice, telling you what to do, and you feel like your whole life could go without a fall only if you listen to him. 

The situation is probably the same with your shrink. And your masseuse. Such is the thing with drummers, too. They so goddamn well hold those goddamn sticks that you have a feeling they are the safest things in the world, that no one will tell them they are ugly, or stupid, no one will even look at them in a wrong way because they are safe as long as the music lasts, and there’ so much music around.

That night Sonia, Lola and I go to the Club where they always play the ‘80s. I usually listen to bands whose singers had either killed themselves or died young from some tragic event. I listen to dark words and that brings me joy. I think that is because I, in fact, don’t really hear the words. I listen to their color, and maybe even the essence (though he claims that is impossible), and such bands usually make music which is an unusual mix of tragic texts and cheerful notes. Music envelops me and I’m filled with happiness, which is sharpened by a maybe husky voice, mostly sexy, it seduces me, leads me to that happy state. Maybe I’m confusing happy with something else. Maybe this joyful feeling is too shallow an emotion for the world of music. In that world something else is going on, and it is certainly run by unordinary rules.

10 rules

1. Sleep with both men and women

2. Sleep with as many people as you can, don’t remember their faces

3. Cheat

4. Lie

5. Convince yourself you are not lying

6. Wander

7. Be always different from the rest

8. Pretend you’re not living according to a cliché

9. Don’t get attached

10. Insist on loneliness, believe that is the key

And the rule that is above all rules: don’t live according to rules (but don’t digress from these under any circumstance!) 

All right, I am bitter. 

That night Sonia, Lola and I go to the Club. The sound of Joy Division bounces off the walls (and the walls are pink). After three glasses of wine I start snapping my fingers, like in a children’s song. I’m happy. His band starts putting instruments on stage. The drums are on the stand. He’s chugging beer, rubbing hands over his stomach. Sonia says he has a big stomach – I don’t know what she’s talking about. To me, he’s handsome. He has soft skin on the upper side of his feet. The senses overlap; what is nice to touch, becomes nice in the part of the brain where images emerge. 

Another one of his ex’s (besides me) conquers the first row, ready to run me over – that’s how she watches me. Her curly hair is stuck to her head with golden hairpins. She’s cute. She dances well, it’s pretty how she twists her shoulders and twitches them to the rhythm of the song. He raises a beer bottle at her in a greeting.

The song Heart and soul. Great rhythm. Unimaginative but terribly exciting, drinkable and there’s never enough of it. I’d say the same thing about electronic music: unimaginative and drinkable, when you get used to it. 

He sits at his throne, watching me with his watery eyes – blue, but the color’s not important. That’s not the essence. He got insulted once when I insinuated that his essence was, as far as I was concerned, between his legs. At that time I’d already sensed the end approaching. You’re lame if you think I’m all about that, he said. 

But I’m all about that, I wanted to say. Instead, I blushed. 

The gig is starting, people are screaming, the singer is fantastic, my drummer even better, it’s nice. I shiver like Danube when the wind is blowing. The ex is spreading her legs and making grimaces, she’d straddle the stage if she were big enough. He told me all sorts of ugly things about her, that she was hysterical, that he never loved her. The only photo he has on his bedroom wall is a picture of him and her, hugging, her curls spread all over the picture, disrupting the emptiness. 

I don’t know what he’d told her about me. As much as I think about it, I can’t find more than two of my minuses (I’d collect more of those if I’d been given more time) – that I cry when I get drunk, and that my breath smells bad when I wake up. His doesn’t, I could kiss him for hours, but he’s not about that. He’s about calling every girl babe, and when I mention that it goes well with his image, he gets offended I’m suggesting he has something as lame as an image.

I wish I could be like Lola and always say the right thing. A woman pushes her in passing, and Lola stops her with a freezing voice, Go ahead, lady, keep pushing. The woman is mad, she hisses, You’ve got a problem, wanna get rough? and Lola returns a: Thank you, that is your upbringing, not mine. She’s my Cyrano; a lot of her thoughts ended up on his cell phone display, so it’s not out of the question that perhaps he’s afraid of my split personality. 

I wish I could be like Sonia, too; to have men spontaneously kiss my hand when every other girl only gets a hello. And no one finds that strange. She’s simply a girl whose hand gets kissed.

He’d like to be Jim Morrison, because, as he says, he’d like to make people happy. I don’t know which version of Morrison’s life he’s heard. 

And when I was three, I wanted to be the wife of my brother, a chamois or an extraterrestrial. How magical everything was back then.

 

Frankly, D’s band with no name is a tragic attempt at striving to reach the stars, but the mass loves them. Not so much their off-key sound (if we don’t count him – the only person who knows what he’s doing), as much as their enthusiasm and readiness to be clowns on stage. Especially the singer who puts his hair up like The Cure’s Robert Smith. Once he appeared on stage in a tight, flashy white costume with red stripes, like the one Freddy Mercury used to wear.

Sonia is hot for the bass player who’s barely 25 and looks even younger. Eyebrow piercing, and such things. She thinks he’s her secret love, and the whole Club is keeping her secret. The bass player, Mike, only smiles in her direction, somewhere around her ears, above her head, never looking her in the eye. His girlfriend usually sits in a cloud of smoke in some corner and never misses an opportunity to pinch my drummer’s butt every time he passes by her during breaks. I think that in one of those breaks they had a five minute affair. 

The night was like any other night, even the booze smelled like the ones from last week. Maybe those were the remains. The mood was stale, as if it was also bottled for a week, then set free. There was less and less fresh sound, I don’t even know what sounds good anymore. Sonia is trying to dance with me, we rub our hips together but that is not sexy at all because we’re off-key.

Come to the toilet with me. 

I fix my make-up there, she tells me I’m sugar, that all men are idiots. Such conversations never become boring, and they sound especially interesting when we’re drunk. They get extra consonants, they easily roll off my tongue and I’m amazed by the transformation of words from the place where they are thought up, to the place they sound. I go back to the table where Lola is hissing at the waiter who didn’t bring her a glass of water. After her lecture, the waiter becomes even more slimy, he’d kiss everyone’s hand, not just Sonia’s. 

Guys, I love you so much. I love you 9 – mom and dad are 10, and you’re right behind them. Sonia and Lola laugh and hug me. 

 Now begins a fast, frenetic thing, he demands the impossible from the drumsticks, everyone sings aloud  Dance! Dance! Dance!  and his ex breaks into trance, her hair is a mess and sticky from sweat. I’d love to talk to her, but once when I politely said hi when I met her downtown, she blew me away. She stuck her nose in her pretzel with sesame seed and passed by me like I was air.

Now I start approaching her. I pretend I’m just dancing. She looks at me dangerously. 

Hi, what’s up. She raises her eyebrows in disbelief.

D and I are not together anymore. I blurt out. 

So? she asks like she doesn’t give a shit.

You don’t have to hate me anymore, I say. 

What makes you think that, if you two are not together, I don’t have to hate you? 

Good point. 

I turn around and go back to my seat. I look over my shoulder and see how the ex is already retelling our conversation to some elongated dude who is removing imaginary cobwebs from her with his elongated fingers, watching her protectively.

D is nearing ecstasy in the song Transmission, my favorite. He’s passed the deadline for suicide, he’ll never become a legend because of an early death. He knows he’s not that fatal. 

We broke up because he’d slept with some German girl. Two weeks before that he told me that he wanted to spend every night in the following 75 years next to me. I’d kissed him the first time because he said he really really liked me, and because when I asked him a stupid question whether he’d rather be with 1) a very pretty girl who’s terrible in bed, 2) a very ugly girl who’s great in bed, 3) a mediocre girl who’s mediocre at everything or 4) with a girl in a wheelchair who’s perfect to talk to, he replied without hesitation: with a girl who’s perfect to talk to. I immediately saw myself in his vision of the right girl for him, almost wishing I was crippled.

I think that he even made an effort in the beginning. He met mom and dad. Maybe this is irrelevant now, but, my dad makes these munchy sounds when he eats and he talks the whole time so the food falls out of his mouth sometimes. I don’t mind, but sometimes I have company, and it’s embarrassing. Dad saw D only twice, once when he slept over and tried to sneak out in the morning, but dad saw him, waved at him with a fork he previously stuck in a can of tuna, and munching, he said: Rock ‘n’ roll still lives! D was a little puzzled and only said: Always…! And left. Maybe that’s the moment he realized it wasn’t his thing to make an effort.

The music stops for a short break. D says hi in passing, but doesn’t stop at our table. Too bad, Lola’s in the mood to tell him lots of things. D goes straight to the pretty boy in white shirt and red tie who’s all bent from swaying out of rhythm. D is now whispering in his ear, putting his hand in the guy’s pocket, leaving a piece of paper, maybe his phone number or an invitation. This image carves into my mind and for days afterwards keeps playing in my vision, in front of dirty windows of endless buses. This image awakens me and for the first time I see D for what he is: a promiscuous man without something I call “emotions”.  

For days – the same image on bus windows. I’ve listened to all the CD’s I have, it’s time I buy an mp3 player and burn 60 years of music. Life spent in buses, I know every smell of the line 18. I know the smell of a flat tire and the sound of broken doors and the repertoire of the driver’s swearing. Their salary is twice as big as mine, which either says a lot about this country or about my job. 

I don’t underestimate drivers. That is a very responsible job. Two weeks ago a bus driver in Prague crippled my friend and put her boyfriend to sleep. The boy is still in a coma. He’ll probably never wake up. I never come close to death in my job.

That is life: on the road, where destiny rolls with great speed and in a second changes its course. And this, in the smoke and drunken words that don’t mean anything, this is a dream. A castle of drunken words and Count Drunk who is making me feel love, and I feel it until it becomes painful and I can’t stop.

I ask D to dream the same dream but he misses my portal every time and goes out to dream of the Exit Festival. The masses throw vegetables at him because he plays too slowly, so slowly that his drumstick never even touches the shiny cymbal.

The break is over, the second round of music is starting, and my cornea keeps an image of a piece of paper with D’s phone number, worn out form all those pockets and fingers that move it around, try it out, and suggest it to the next lucky person. I lose myself in the masses, then I find and grab myself and I hear Lola’s voice: Run away from this, this is not you, and as much as I wanted that to be me, as much as I’d tried to be without rules and limits and jealousy and emotions, it didn’t work.

Too bad, because, where will I found a similar sound in this chaos…? We even look alike, with those round bellies and giggles and soft fingertips. We are the same in our loneliness, he because he chose it, and I, because I gave in. The music stops here, it seems I overslept the last round, silence is now better. D leaves with a red tie around his neck thinking he’s the stars’ protege. For a month or two I’ll keep seeing him in every gray Toyota. At concerts. Then comes the fall, and… who knows. Maybe I’ll find I’ve outgrown rock and punk.

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