The Passenger

A backtrack. A rewind. Not too far. Just a taste.

A moon curve lit my way. Punk kids were hanging outside an all-ages warehouse, sucking the edges of their blankets, with bleeding fireworks going up their spinal cords. In their wake were sparks shooting to their fingers and the soles of their feet. They knew more about their bodies now than they did sober, and what they learned scared them, so they sucked their blankets. Some were once yellow, and some were once pink.

Before Royann knew I was back to town, I met with her in secret, in an aural land of phone calls late at night. She didn’t know I was calling from across the river. The water lapped. It brushed against piers. It touched the fur of muskrats and fish died in it, suffocated by sewage, damaged by prescription drugs flushed down toilets. I couldn’t hear the river, couldn’t feel it, but I knew it gave me some protection. I didn’t want to see her in person.

I called from a phone booth outside a Dollar Tree. The phone book was torn off the plastic holder, except for one page, on which I wrote fragments of our conversation with a pencil stolen from a bar. I put my finger in the metal slot, searching for extra coins.

“The electric guitar is not an instrument on its own,” I said. “It’s a relationship with the amp. If you plug it in straight, it’s boring and flat. It has to be loud enough so the strings resonate, so there’s a sympathetic vibration. You’re never going to get anywhere with Connor if he has guitarists with a clean sound.”

“No, he’s moving away from that. He’s got a new approach. He’s a dick, but I think he’s going somewhere. Danny quit.”

“What’s he going to do now? He has no life.”

“He’ll figure out something. They weren’t talking toward the end. It was time.”

“But you liked him,” I said.

“We only slept together once,” she said.

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