Mid Tempo: A Short Story
I feel good about it, I feel as though I am where I need to be now. It was like after the horrors of my childhood, and then that first rush of success, things are calmer, mid-tempo. Decisions are sometimes hard, sometimes life is cruel so let that be a lesson, so when Emily texted me I should have been cold and yet all I felt was excited.
I had my first hit single in 2004 and the first one isn’t much, I mean, sure, there are one-hit wonders but that’s real mid-management stuff, and I knew that but I haven’t been off the charts in fourteen years and now I know I am very cool. My sound, the Oliver Boarder experience if you like, wasn’t based upon any genre but upon a stylization that left it beyond the reach of the soul, it took you and used you up. People liked it. It made them feel worthless. My longest girlfriend, I mean besides Emily which was something else, of course, Stephani liked it.. You know what happened after I broke up with Stephani? I just didn’t care. It was like three years ago. What happened? I went on tour because I noticed my funds were low, went around the world in 2016 and made $300M performing 125 shows, after paying everybody off including the Government, I had $200M for one year’s work and what I realized was, you know, I can do that more or less whenever I want. If I went on tour every four years, which is like sleepy time nowadays, people of my stature do it every year, every other year, all the fucking time they tour, so that was two years ago, I was fine and one of the big scariness, and let’s face facts, life can be terrifying, was over for me.
I’m a careful man, for a big star loved by millions and like that, I am very, very careful. Emily and me? We were in foster care together and then when she left, she came and got me, and then when she left again she disappeared and that was Emily, she slept through the cracks and learnt how to make money and protect herself, and she protected me, she found me and I escaped to her whenever I wanted and then when I was ready we became lovers… and I was just thirteen and I followed her and she kept me close and eventually we became lovers because for Emily it wasn’t so heavy and for me it was important so she even did that for me. She did everything. And everybody else was of no use to me at all. I have an agent, I let her negotiate for me but never make a single decision. and when she at first tried to give her opinion, I shut her down like that. I have a team of lawyers and accountants -and I need them, of course. Unless I was going to a public gathering, or on tour, I had no security. I also had no entourage at all. You think people will notice you and sometimes they do but mostly if you ‘re just being normal, like me… like Taylor Swift has all that blonde hair and paparazzi stalk her, and I am just as popular and I don’t get stalked. I don’t date famous people, I learnt fast and I went from fast tempo and slowly I slowed the wheels to a standstill. When I go to a show when I went to see David Byrne in Forest Hills, I didn’t have anyone call anyone for a seat, I just bought one and nobody knew I was there and nobody cared. When I die, my last image in my mind will be running between the bedroom to the kitchen: that moment itself encapsulates the world. You think being famous or anything matters, you think I matter. I don’t matter. I was left alone watching my Mom and Dad decaying. How much do I matte? That knowledge saves me now, I don’t believe anything said about me, to me, for me. All I believe in is streams and ticket sales.
The last time I saw Emily Sapid, she was an adult, 22, and I was in the rear window of her life because she was in the business of money and moving up that world. Dating older, richer, competitive men, and so she had to be careful… I got it because she had told me and I understood money. I did what I had to do as well, lots of things, sexual, petty theft, whatever,, same sorta scene, like Keanu Reeves in “My Own Private Idaho” and began writing songs, playing local clubs, forming bands… but I called her and told her I needed her and I called her to ask for help and she met me for lunch. It was different, she was different, and she didn’t discuss herself at all and her advise was useless. I was shocked and a little hurt, but she promised to walk me through, to be there for me. We were sitting near the dog park in Tompkins Square Park, eating empanadas, I went to hold her hand and she shrugged it off and then I went again and she kicked me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing, you’re suffocating me, move away”. So I did. “I’m sorry Oliver,” she said. “There’s a guy, a rich guy, not like the Sugar Daddy’s… he is serious and I need some space to work it out…” I understood. “It is time for me to stop being abandoned, Oliver. I have to build a family.”
“I’m your family.”
“Oh no, you’re still a kid, I have to take care of you and I want to be taken care of. I love you, I am always here for you, but I have to figure out Tony… this is something real and I need it. I will bring you with me once I get settled in.”
“You don’t believe I love you?” I whispered and I could myself crumbling, I knew that would never work on Emma but I wasn’t acting.
“Just stop, we’ve seen it all, we are as tough as nails.”
“Not with each other.”
She seemed to freeze me out in front of me, “Just stop, I am sick of it. You’re always slobbering or sniveling, I don’t need you in my life anymore. I have to move on.” Then she seemed to take pity on me and squeezed me hard, I should have known she was saying goodbye but I was young and I couldn’t believe it could happen twice in a lifetime. Emma promised to help me and the entire meet and greet was twenty minutes and Emma was gone. I called her maybe a month later to ask her for help renting an apartment and her cell was disconnected. I googled her but couldn’t find anything through the name, Emma Sapid, was unique enough but except for stuff about being a foster child, you know, Government shit, she was gone. Three years later and I was rich and famous and still no word, so I hired a detective and tracked her to London where she was married to Tony Campbell and had a daughter. I called her and there is a coldness about people when they’ve had enough of you. Emma’s voice was icy. “I told you about Tony, I warned you” That was debatable. “When I started with Tony and we got engaged we decided to cut off all ties to previous boyfriends and girlfriends and I know you might think that is stupid but that was our decision and it was final.”
“I don’t understand, so you ghosted me like I was a guy you met at a New Year’s Eve party and deeply regretted by New Year’s Day.”
“You made it at out alright,” she said and hung up on me.
I’ve got the skills for celebrityhood and I don’t mean as a songwriter or a rock star like stuff, but fame never turned my head at all. I have no ego because, well that’s the orphan thing and also… I don’t want you to think this is about something it isn’t but, I might as well get it over and anyway there have been like 20 unauthorized biographies and they all discuss it in detail: look, when I started I was a Conor Oberst type folk rocker type heartthrob (I went pop on the third album and hit the hybrid home run) and YA books were written about me AND THEY WROTE ABOUT IT! Though they missed Emily, those who knew Emily would never discuss her, she was that sort of woman. They didn’t get the male escort stuff and I was never arrested for anything though I had more than one close call, breaking and entering both men and apartments, I was so young and Emily and I teamed each other for money, for us together against the world. I did it till Emily left and music began to happen. The music was an easier way to turn a buck and getting easier by the day,. Still, the one story I haven’t told you… I bet you’ve guessed, right: I feel like I remember it like second for second but the truth is I don’t, I can’t, they are like memories of memories.
My parents were junkies and we lived in not squalor at all, the way you think, they must have been high functioning junkies. In memory: the apartment was like half a nursery and half an opium den. For me, and again how much memory and how much imagination and it is kinda hard to tell, but my main impression is that they slept a lot, but were very affectionate. And when they were sleeping I figured out how to make myself a sandwich. It really wasn’t that bad, they kept the fridge stocked and while maybe I should have begun my education and didn’t, still the quietness of them was comforting. then one day they fell asleep and didn’t wake up at all -the heroine was pure and they didn’t know it and OD’d. I spent five days alone with their corpses and they were in the living room and the food was in the kitchen, and I ran from the bedroom through the living room and I daren’t even look at them and sometimes I couldn’t help it. I peeked at them, crawled over and touched my Mom and she was stiff and cold… I kept running fast tempo Finally, I ran out of food, I can’t sort it out in my mind but the scars were very deep. When I first went to a foster home, I think they thought I was on the spectrum and I wandered out of the house and somebody called the police and well, yeah. I was five and Emily was eleven and she took me over.
So thirty years after I first met her and I was standing outside Emily’s home in London, England. Yes. England. I was thinking of a couple of recording sessions at Abbey Road and went over for a look: I wanted an update of UK glam rock, a Roxy Music sound, in the back of my brain, and, as long as I was there, negotiating a residency at “O2,” I wanted to do acoustic sets only, and me and my agent met with a booker, and we were trying to iron it out and, hysterically to my mind, they thought we would sell more tickets with a full band and I was not willing to get one together. I don’t know when Emily moved to the UK with Ton, but I knew Tony was English so I wasn’t shocked. and I had gotten that text the day before, real straight ahead, no regrets or anything though when you think about it maybe she should have had a few but she didn’t, just: “Hey Oliver, I see you’re in town. Come visit, early, 930, here’s the address…” So a little cold, a little matter of fact, but that’s Emily for you.
People don’t know how to act around me, they are stuck between a weird sort of awe and a weird sort of anger. I was dating a girl when I was nineteen, Sydney, tall girl, my height, sweet enough and totally into fashion and I was broke at the time though not broke broke, and I was lead singer with a band called The Happening, sort of psychedelic rock meets funk with killer tunes (my M.O), sometimes I would play solo, I was figuring it all out. I wrote everything and we had released a coupla mix tapes and some singles and the majors and the indies were giving us the once over though when the time came I dumped the band (yes, the same way the world dumped me). So I was sitting with Sydney in Union Square on the steps near the subway and we were eating ice cream cones and she was telling me about this audition she was gonna have. I think the drummer Dustin was with us, and we were just eating ice cream and Sydney was talking and she had this odd effect on me, she made me sleepy. It wasn’t that she was boring, she was very pretty and was all very LA if LA was pale as a ghost, but really pretty, but she had a soft voice and no accent, and listening to her was almost like a lullaby. She had an audition and she was famous enough where she got recognized here and there and personally, I knew she wouldn’t be around much longer. So she’s talking about an audition for a shoot she had the next day. Yeah, it was a Sunday and the audition for the shoot was on the Monday and she is talking to us and I feel like a lazy cat licking ice cream in the sun and then she stops and I open my eyes and these two guys and a girl, around my age, and they are just staring at her and she is about as testy as she ever gets and whispers “What’s wrong? Are you wanting something?” and they smile and the guy says “Isn’t that the lead singer of The Happening?” and he points to me and… I am not social. Not just the after-effects from my parents’ death, but the entire foster home, home to home, the being like Sydney at an audition when we came up for adoption and I always messed shit up. I was a gorgeous kid, got touched up a number of times before I was old enough to get paid for it,, but I never got adopted because I showed a coldness like the exact opposite of a son vibe, so I put that on and they kinda looked at me and the girl was BITING HER NAILS IN EXCITEMENT! To see me, right? Nobody had ever looked at me that way and I didn’t know what to make of it. So blah, blah, blah, not interested very but I’m polite and straight away Sydney starts treating me different, with more respect, right? We were in bed that night and Sydney turns to me and she says “You were really different, you know…” I’ll leave out my replies … “It was as though you became remote, like as though they had to kneel to get close… it was sexy, I was more attracted to you than I had ever been.”
It happened that quick, three years later I was a pop star. Fast tempo. The tempo was very fast and I was capable because I was on edge and I didn’t trust anyone at all, no one, except Emily and I didn’t even trust her and so I leaned on the bell outside her heavy-duty London home and I was thinking, do I put on my orphan face, or my pop star face? Emily even knew my real face and she would know immediately what face I was putting on if I chose another. I couldn’t guess what Emily wanted but I knew it wasn’t a popstar thing, she didn’t want that Oliver, she wanted… what? Why now? And then the door opened and this girl, don’t know how old, early teens, opened the door and I knew who she was. Serves me right for not googling Emily before I got there, it must have been her daughter, she looked like the Emily I first knew, a little older, and she had a softness immediately apparent while Emily you had to own it, Emily and I were so alike, that’s why it hurt so much, because I knew what she was doing, to me, I do the same thing, like, if I wasn’t interested you were just a nuisance. Emily had black hair and the girl had blonde hair, same color as mine, there was something a little comforting about her, I bet she got it from her dad. Or maybe Emily had it as well, and it was part of Emily’s DNA, meanwhile, life robbed it from her and so when I saw it in her daughter I didn’t recognize it from the Mom. Or maybe… very early on and I was very quiet in the foster home that first day, this tiny little kid with blonde hair and big blue eyes like the poster boy for the Church choir, really angelic and scared and withdrawn and there was three other kids and me and Emily, and they were digging in and I just waited because I didn’t know how to feed myself and I was starving and they were all eating and I wanted to cry but I had cried after my parents died and nothing had happened so I didn’t bother. And then Emily was standing over me, she picked me up and sat in my chair, put me on her lap and put a plate in front of me and cut the food up into little pieces and she fed me. I started to cry, not waaaah cry, just tears trickling down my face and she didn’t say a word, she just smiled down at me. When I’d finished eating she hugged me and gave me a big kiss: “You’re mine now” she smiled. “Yes, I am” I replied. The hell of what had happened seemed to dissipate, it didn’t feel like that all the horror of the world was stuck on my little shoulders. I felt I guess, I think I was happy. I belonged to her. And I guess I could see Emily in her daughter, I could see it so clearly -that’s why I was there, I owed her daughter a performance. So I did my job and I put on my pop star face, but a touch kinder and I said: “Who are you?”
The young girl said: “I’m Emma and whom might you be?” Emma hadn’t opened the door wide to let me in but I knew she wasn’t wary, she seemed open to me and her accent, well, she was English so maybe accent is the wrong word… Emma had an English accent which I thought was very funny and cute and I smiled, “I’m a friend of your parents…”
Emma opened the door, she was quite tall for her age, maybe 5′ 6″ and she was dressed very casual and tomboy, sweatpants and sneakers and a wifebeater -which was a little incongruous. “I know who you are,” she replied. Her dad’s name was Tony (note the diminutive) Campbell, I didn’t know anything about him except that he was English and now I knew he was very rich as well. Which Emily had told me but everybody says that. I am very rich as well, I am wealthy, I can make a quarter of a billion dollars a year if I push myself. But I don’t smell money (I smell fame).
Look, there is something you never, ever do to an orphan. You never abandon them, they’ve been abandoned enough for one lifetime. Emily was everything to me like people say that all the time but they don’t say it the way I say it. When I first went to the foster home, Emily was mother father, best friend, she was my entire family and the only person I trusted. I was a cute kid, I’ve seen pictures of my parents when they were young. I was being hustled by an Uncle or something once I got rich, that’s when family always shows when there is money in it. I sent a bevy of lawyers and private detectives on it to track my roots and make all problems disappear, which they did, but I got some old pictures in return, and they were a good looking couple before the drugs kicked in, and I was a cute child. Emily loved me at first sight -she was only twelve herself and she needed to be a Mom, an authority, she needed somebody to belong to her, and that was me. The foster parents weren’t too creepy like they weren’t giving me baths in the middle of the night, but they had been through fostering quite a bit and had a professional veneer that no amount of hugs could shake. Fast forward fifteen years and Emily would disappear. And fifteen years later here we were.
I knew Emma knew who I was, I could see it in her eyes. And the Emma in front of me reminded me a little of the Emily I first knew, the hair was different, but the shading was the same and so were the eyes except Emma had a wide open look to her, Emily’s innocence had been crushed grapes of wrath, Emma’s was luminous and otherworldly, like a ghost or a wraith. Her sneakers made no sound as she moved across the carpet and waved me in after her, when she looked back at me she seemed to have a half smirk on her face. “I wasn’t expecting you,” she said. “Mom isn’t here and dad…”
I followed her into the home, it was large and a little sad, since it was the place of abode for a thriving family it seemed a touch mausoleum-like, there was something unlived here, something in mourning awaiting a fresh day. The huge living room was in partial darkness, light peeping out of curtains and Emma walked through it without pausing. “Daddy doesn’t live here,” she said, leading me into the kitchen. I looked around, it was too large a home not to have any help but as I walked in I could hear my boots clobber on the ground and echo through the house. “There is nobody here?” I asked.
“Nobody here,” she replied, and moved towards a Steinway piano, incongruously in a corner of the kitchen and beckoned me with her eyes, she sat down and played the intro to an old English hymn and then stood up and walked back to me, “One is one,” I said.
“I knew you’d recognize it, you’re a walking jukebox.”
I sat in an armchair near the kitchen window and closed my eyes. I’d had a long night, hadn’t slept in a day, and I wasn’t sure why I was here at all. I am just not good with people, with family. When Emily and I were the first friends I had spent my infancy a distraction for my parents and like all kids in foster homes, a distraction for the fictional characters taking care of me. When I was six years old my first really clear memory, my parents’ death wasn’t a clear memory, it was a distracted memory, a memory of a memory. But that time, lying in Emily’s bunk bed, late at night, the house asleep, and her breath in my ear, lying down face to face under the covers of the night, she whispered her dreams of escape and I was not understanding what she was saying but reacting completely to her. A coupla years ago I was dating a girl and I would pick her up at her home because everybody wanted to see me, and the family would have a calm bickering sweetness to them. Nothing I could understand but something in the vibe reminded me of the early years with Emily. I felt then as though what Emily had done was not adopt me but take claim to me. There was another boy in the house, and he was the same age as Emily, so natural allies but no, I could see where Emily looked and she looked at me.
Emma put a cup of coffee beside me and ventured back to the cooking area. “You’re tired,” she said.
“Where’s your mom?” I replied.
“She will be here, she got called. She was chosen…”
Emma took two plates into the dining room, it could fit fifty. Apparently, Emily had come as far from her roots as I had… a different route, though. She placed the plates at the top and side of a table. I took a sip of coffee and a bite of bacon and eggs and another. So did Emma and we didn’t say anything. I was guessing by now that her Mom didn’t know I was here, perhaps with her parents’ divorce, Emma was playing matchmaker. She seemed unnaturally astute and she looked at me with a certain strength. “What was it like?” She inquired.
“No my mom and you, what was that like.”
I took another bite of the eggs and wondered how far deep to jump… well, she was…
“How old are you?” I asked
“14 last time I looked. I am precocious so you can speak to me as though I was a seventeen-year-old.” I laughed out loud at that but she wasn’t to be sidetracked. “So you and Mom, two unloved, unwashed, unneeded by life, right? God’s castoffs?”
“More or less… you shoulda seen me, I was so cute.”
” You didn’t look like a rock star.”
“I looked like Oliver Twist…”
“Wow, your Mommy, she was like an angel whose halo kept slipping off.” Emma took our dishes inside and I followed her… “Where are all the maids and stuff…”
“They’re in mourning…” She stopped back near the piano. “Are you gonna sing for me now…?”
When you get to a certain level of fame and you’re on the road, it isn’t like the beginning really. Especially not in 2018… it’s all executive jets and whispered room service and scheduled get-togethers with starlets and movie stars and TV actresses who are ready for their close up. Somewhere between my lousy relationship with Stephani and our break up I dated this popular theatre actress, she was in her 50s and had three tonys to her name, and we would lie in bed and I would have earbuds on and listening to music and she would have some play she was conning on and mouthing the words to herself. It was fascinating to watch her develop the material, fall into the character. I would watch her and it was all hand twitches, she’d act with her hands while she memorized the words… It is the same with people who meet me, they want me to be that me and I wear him and I turned to turn him on but Emma stopped me. “I’m not a fan, you know…”
I really couldn’t care less who loved me as long as enough folks did and I might have been abrupt in my reply just because it was an obnoxious thing to say but instead I left the shrug internal and said, “Well, I’m sorry to hear that but I can certainly understand… I am probably a little old for you.”
“You wouldn’t understand about that.”
“Who do you like,” I asked, and walked over to the piano.
“The Blue Nile,” she replied.
“You have no idea…”
I began playing “The Downtown Lights” and she responded a little, but I got a real sense, almost suddenly, that she didn’t much like me. Emma didn’t say anything then, she just sat down next to me and looked at my hands. “I’m worried about my Mum and Dad.” she said.
OK, that I could get,,, parents getting divorced, insecure, reads I’m in town, maybe her Mom had mentioned me, these things happen… “People break up all the time, it is painful for all parties and especially you.”
“What would you know? You don’t know anything, I know more than you, more than anyone… her voice began to come in gasps as though she was going to cry. “Nobody understands because it is so difficult to understand, poor Daddy, poor everyone one and…” Now she was crying and I held her as her body shook. “Why can’t I be like everybody else, like you…”
“You’d rather you have my life?”
“Your’s, Mom’s, everyone… you’re a whiny baby Oliver, you’re Oliver twisted alone with your ghosts, alone with your…” She didn’t complete the thought but went quiet and she looked quiet, quiet sad and almost ageless. “My dad was, I guess now, I don’t know then if… he was always happy, always singing and dancing and hugging me, I loved him so much and Mom, when she came around she’d just… just so moody.’
“You don’t know the life your Mom had, when she was younger than you she was…” In my mind’s eye I could see Emily standing over me, I could hear her voice with a sharp lovingness, “She have to bath or else you’ll be smelly and nobody…” And then it was gone, “She was everything, she liked handled a situation, Emma, I can’t even explain how tough she had to be… I could tell you…” Rape, child prostitution, beatings, theft, fights, me and her running away, police behind us, running free down Houston Street, running and…
“I wish I didn’t know, I wish wish wish I could never understand, Oliver. I know my Mom, I know what’s buried by Dad could never fix it and now nothing will ever fix it again.”
I sat back down at the piano and began to tap out “Chopstixks” and then Emma pushed me over and we played it side by side, faster, faster, Emma was faster than I was, her hands a blur, her concentration complete a, and it was me who stopped first. “you’re good,” I said. “It’s a knack we have,:” she said. then she began too play a little Mozart and I wondered if that was why she was here because the kid could sure play. “You can sure play” I said. I started up an old English Dancehall tune, “Any Old Iron” and Emma knew that as well, I didn’t want to play my own stuff but Emma started and what the hell, it is the cost of admission, right?
“When did you realize you could play?” Emma asked me.
A home, me and Emily off the grid, an older guy in his 60s, Emily was 14 and she had been gone a month and had promised me she’d show up for me and she did. Nobody noticed I had left, not the foster parents who when they did notice made absolutely certain not to remind children’s services, not the other kids in the home, nobody, I was just gone till I reappeared when I was 18, by which time I was an adult and nobody cared. So, I went with Emily to the old guys house and he would be all over Emily and I would sit at this big piano and plunk and after awhile the man grew tired of my tuneless plunking and taught me the rudiments and that’s what I did while they were upstairs. Emily taught me reading and writing and the rudimental but it wasn’t until my early 20s when I began to get a real education… When I was 15 I sucked a man off and he bought me a second hand guitar. Sex, for me and Emily, sex was the currency of childhood, hustle hustle huistle.
I said, “Some guy in a foster home showed me how it was done.”
“A friend of Mom?”
“Yes… How did you learn?”
“I didn’t at first, I was a normal kid. Like, as normal as an only child can be.”
“It’s not like being an orphan.”
“No, no, but now it is more like being an orphan… more like you.”
“How do you mean?”
“With you everyone was dead and you were alive, like that.”
“Your parents divorcing isn’t death…”
“Isn’t death… I had a best friend, I had four best friends but one was better than the other… and a boyfriend, he was cute and I kissed him…. “He tried to feel me up and there was no me to feel… Wanna play cards…”
I looked at my phone, it was five o’clock. “I think your Mom didn’t invite me, you do.”
“Is that what you think?”
“Why did you invite me over?.”
“My Mum is really beautiful now, you know?”
“I don’t doubt it, but we didn’t end on the best of terms.”
“That was a long time ago…”
“The thing about orphans…”
“Orphans suck at being abandoned, I can feel Mum blaming me everyday…”
“That’s why I am a loner, that’s why, your Mom and I, we don’t deal well with people. We keep to ourselves. That thing with families, we don’t understand it. I just understand one thing, theat when I needed someone she was the only person there and when I wanted to love her later she disappeared. I’,m sorry if that’s rude, I know your young, I understand what you’re trying . The thing is my life is…
We went back into the living room and she turned on an 80 foot television and we sat together on the sofa. Emily came closer and used my knees as a pillow. “You’re wrong, Oliver.”
“How am I wrong?”
“I do like you, I like you a lot. You would have made me a good daddy. Daddy started drinking and it all went downhill from that.”
“That’s why they broke up?’
“I am smarter than you think I am,” Emma claimed, turning the volume down. ” I sort of figured things out but I had to have because we become so aware, right? I had a best friend and a boyfriend and school was okay, except for the shitty uniforms. Sometimes I think Mum resented me. I was pretty in a clearer way then Mom, I didn’t have that shadiness, and whatever was bad is like yeah but everybody has that. We weren’t unhappy, dad loved mum, even if she didn’t love Daddy the way you think, she found him useful and pleasant. Like, imagine if you worked for a billionaire and they had a dog and when the billionaire died she left all her money to the doctor and you were the caretaker and you liked the dog fine, like that.
“For me, it wasn’t like you Oliver. You remember being poor?” I remembered it too well, I remembered her Mom fucking to buy me new clothes and good food and I remember us going out and breaking into windows in first floor apartment, I was this little kid and it was like something out of the movies. I’d scurry like a little rat and open the door and we knew there was a secret alarm being tripped and me and Emily and a coupla guys we hung with, we were in and out with a precise indifference. You’d think jewelry but we didn’t know how to fence, so we went for cash and clothes (and I always checked the fridge before we dashed back out). “I don’t know from poverty even slightly, I was spoiled by Daddy and all I knew was this,” Emma said, her hand in a sweeping motion like a model at a car show. “Me and dad, we were the same and we didn’t know from going hungry or anything like that and Mummy did and it kept her a little outside. I never had with Mummy the closeness you had, I hadn’t suffered so to a certain degree I had no opinion that mattered. I know it sounds resentful but it honestly wasn’t, she was happy I was having a happy childhood.
“And I was, well, except I begged Mum to get in touch with you when I realized you were friends but she refused point blank. I lied earlier, I was a huge fan, you know. Like, you’ve been a big star as long as I can remember and Mum had mentioned that she went to a foster home with you, and one day I was snooping… adults wardrobes… Mum’s was deep and mysterious and there was no one home and the door was locked but that was a gift I got from Mummy and I broke it, and the smell, it was her makeup and clothes, and a distilled ether of the past…”
“Is that not the word? You know what I mean.” I just nodded. “And there were all these old pictures. Faded a little, dated on the back, “Oliver’s Birthday, 1989″ and I turned it over and it was obviously you and you were so young and Mummy had that Mummy look, she was holding you close and you had some toy car or something, and you were dangling off Mum’s lap and smiling and Mum was kissing you, and you looked taken by surprise…. ” Emma jumped up, was gone for a moment, I couldn’t tell where she went, I didn’t hear her feet trampling upstairs but then it was a big hut. She was back and she handed me the picture, and I took in my breath, I wouldn’t have remembered it if I hadn’t seen the picture and now I felt flooded by the Familiar. That little toy car, greatest gift I have ever gotten, it was bigger, a bigger ache in my heart, then the night Emily had taken my virginity. Sex was mechanical for kids like us, it was a tool to be used, and Emily had excised my virginity in a manner not dissimilar to the way she had excised me from her life to pave the road for Tony, and, yes, for Emma: I was too close to her to make the move with her to this world. It is just Emily’s misfortunate that I became a big star.
When people criticize my music, at least in the early days, they would claim it was all style and no soul, as though I wasn’t revealing myself. From the very beginning, from the very first time I noticed I was working on a melody I had never heard on the piano, I knew I wanted to do something not as art, or artistry, the artistry for me, and for Emily, was the art of survival: we wanted money, we wanted the freedom only money could give. I don’t know if Emily stopped loving me, or if I stopped being the Oliver she had loved, or whether I was just a sacrificial lamb, but I know that I was sacrificed and thrown away because of Tony and it was something I would have trouble ever forgiving.
The picture, I will never really be able to get away from that boy. Now, I can count the people who have gotten close to me on one hand, on finger: Emily Sapid. Or I guess I mean Emily Campbell. Nobody else, When I was first popular, like a rock star, and figuring out the ins and outs of the business without getting ripped off, and suddenly people wanted to be my friend. I could have laughed in their face… They couldn’t play, I have no… I have a soul maybe, but I am heartless because I have zero doubt as to what people would do to me. They’d already done it.
Emma brought me back with a tug on my sleeve. “I knew if I could find you, you would be interested in me because of Mum. The rest of the world might have problems getting through to you but I had the magic key, I had that picture and it proved to me that I was even born close to you.”
“And so you pretended to be your Mummy and…”
“Nothing so stupid. I did nothing, I figured it was deep stuff and I didn’t want to disturb it…”
“But you did because now daddy has gone from the home?”
Emma was sitting opposite me now, her feet on my knees, her blonde hair straight and still tangled, the blonde edging towards brown at the top. “I wish it was that simple. Mum was bored and dad bought her a coupla clothing shops to manage, retail outlets to keep her busy, and she did well, she had a good fashion sense and a good business sense this was two years ago I guess. I was paying attention, the way kids do, you know, it was filtering through that there was something not quite right. dad would have been happier with failure… and after awhile I figured out that Daddy was really starting to drink a lot, he was always drunk. I noticed it growing from a drink with dinner to a drink with lunch, he would be asleep when I got home from school and I couldn’t wake him. I got embarrassed, I stopped asking friends home. And, it was like I was an apex of a triangle, my Mom was never around, working late, who knows what. I mean, I know now what, she was sleeping with a kid she employed at the shop. Dad knew or guessed or if he didn’t know who, he knew what. And Dad was out of control, he was a mess and he needed help and between the two of them, I had no idea what to do. I started acting out bad, I started fights, I was just bad news and then three months ago it came to a head….
“You got arrested?”
“Ha, I wish. it was worse than that…”
“How much worse?”
“Much worse, as worse can be, Oliver. It was the worst.” I could feel the hairs on my neck raise and I looked down into her blue eyes and there was an infinity there, not of sorrow, of time. It was absolutely ageless and somehow I knew, had a feel, a sense, as to what was going to happen and I felt paralyzed to stop it. Emily moved closer and sat back, her head on my shoulder, her arm around my neck. “You see, now you have to save Mummy.”
“No, no, no…”
“Yes you do. I had been acting up and I got in a fight with Fatty Patty. She’d always been trying to bully me and I never let her get away with it and she was an easy way for me to get my anger out and I started a fight at lunch. It was me, my fault… if I’d known… but you don’t till it’s too late. She was bigger than me and she hit me and I fell to the ground and I could hear my arm go CRACK, like a shot from a gun and it was like the entire world went silent and I screamed in pain. The rest is a blur though I picked up the facts later. The school called Mum and Mum called Dad and Dad… Daddy had been drinking all day. She knew the instant she heard his voice. but unfortunately it was too late, she’d already told him I’d been injured. they fought, it was a race to get to me first, and Mum wasn’t thinking. She should have called the school first and told them not to release me but she didn’t and Dad arrived first and he seemed OK at first but as soon as we walked to the car I knew he was in bad shape. He was muttering beneath his breath and wobbling a little, we got to the car and I can remember thinking to myself, “Emma don’t get in, don’t get in…” I wanted the story to stop right there, I could see where it was going and I didn’t want it to go there and I couldn’t see how it could go there and I couldn’t stop Emma from telling me. “I got in and so did he and he gunned the car and floored it before I knew what was happening, my broken arm banged about the car and I couldn’t reach the seatbelt and I was scared and Dad was scary and angry and was grumbling and throwing his palm at the stick shift as he swerved through the London traffic, roaring through red lights till he ran through one too many and a car hit us right at the side, it jolted dad and he fell out of the car, he has been out of the hospital about a week now.
“I didn’t know what hit me but it was essentially instantaneous.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes, you do understand Oliver. I died. Don’t be scared, I’m not in pain, I’m not afraid. I am just sorry for all the pain my parents feel and you can help Mum, she was there for you and it is your turn to save her. She’ll be here in five minutes, leave, ring the bell, tell her you heard, tell her you are sorry, tell her you care. She needs you.” And then Emma was gone.
I walked out of the house and stood there looking up, thinking, thinking about death and about orphans and how you never, ever, ever abandon them. I was left through my parents selfish death and left again by Emily’s selfishness and here I was, at 36 years of age, with money, fame, nothing to harm me, nothing to reach me. Midtempo. I began walking away towards the West End and Emily was walking towards me, her head down, walking as sadly as a person ever can . I walked past and I kept walking away , slowly, with all the cruelty life can amass in one man. Sometimes life is cruel so let that be a lesson…