All along their inner margin, Kary’s arms ached. Breathing came shallow. How could he possibly know about watching Big Bird with your warm child enfolded in your lap?
“…the mother of my child.” Andrew’s voice trailed off with the last note. On the giant monitor, he looked up, out, as if he expected to see his true love on the other side of the camera’s window to the world. Longing battled desolation in his intelligent eyes. He blinked, woken from the dream; the camera focus zoomed out to show the band.
Kary shuddered, took her first deep breath in hours.
Applause shattered the audience’s idolatrous hush. Security personnel edged closer.
He jumped up, a different person. “And that’s all I’m saying about that!”
It has to be an act.
He tossed the stool to a stage-hand, traded the guitar for an electric one. Mike in hand, he challenged them, “Listen up—I’ll be wanting every last one of you on the chorus!”
The cheering continued.
He shook the guitar by its skinny neck. “This one’s for all ye dancers!” The band fed him power, lightning to a rod, broke into a foot-stomping Irish country ballad that set the audience clapping, and more than one girl dancing crazily in the aisles.
Invisible tendrils uncoiled themselves from Kary’s heart and vaporized as if cauterized. Her foot shared the beat. This she’d expect of a rock band.
After three frenzied verses he yelled, “I can’t hear you!” until the cheering fans encored the refrain, “You love ‘em, you leave ‘em/You never get to keep ‘em,” to his full satisfaction—it took three tries.
Lays it on with a backhoe! This territory she could visit safely; she blocked out the other. Good for him! Shaking her head at the profligate expenditure of energy, she couldn’t avoid grinning. Now, if she could only bottle the excess…
Andrew twanged a last discord, laughed out loud at the catcalls and whistling, signalled ‘Cut!’, waited for relative calm.
“My true-blue session mates.” His wide smile said he reveled in sharing the accolades.
“Casey Collins! We fought over the same girls in school. I won.” Andrew smirked. “But he got the drums. Damn!” Casey skimmed his sticks over drums and cymbals.
“Sean O’Neill! That bass is mine—Lord knows whose bed he left his under. Plays mean Uilleann pipes.” Sean beamed.
“Barry FitzGerald on keyboards and Ganley flute. He’s new—I don’t know anything bad about him—yet!”
“And last and worst, George Cosgrave! Half the songs are his fault.” He shook his fist at the increase in the pandemonium. “Our first guitars were rubber bands stretched ‘cross shoe boxes. We were lads of five.” George riffed the bass, returned the fist salute.
King of the hill, Andrew’s affection seemed genuine. And why not?
The monitor cut to commercial, Kary’s gaze shifted to the man on the soundstage. A stagehand brought him a towel, retrieved it when he finished wiping his face and neck. What was that verse, Jeremiah 13? Would that cloth ever be laundered again?
Andrew regained the dais at ‘Thirty seconds!’ He cocked his eyebrows at Kary, plunked down into the center seat she’d vacated. He drained a bottle of Evian. Faint odor of damp wool, man-sweat.
‘On air’ lit.
Dana went for the jugular. “Kary, what’s your biggest fear as a writer?”
Kary was caught off guard. Me first? She found a raspy version of her voice. “Appearing ridiculous. Farce instead of drama.” Clearing her throat—have to remove that annoying habit—steadied her. “My first drafts read like soap operas.”
“And you eliminate melodrama how?”
“When I’m successful, you mean?” Someone clapped; Kary glanced toward the audience, back to Dana. “By digging deeper into the characters, asking ‘why’ over and over. Characters are never as simple they first appear.”
“Do all your characters come from you?”
“If I had grown up them.” Why didn’t I pick an easier fear? She was aware of Andrew’s intent gaze. “I end up with these huge backstories.”
Andrew chuckled in sympathy.
Dana, piranha-ready, swung toward the sound. “You’re basically in the same business, right? Your reputation says you’re almost obsessive about your preparation.”
Dana gave him a sly look. “Tell us something new about Roland.”
He drew in breath, released it in a whoosh. “All right, then.” He paused in the far-off stare of one remembering. “Sometimes, when the scientists, they dig up old human bones,” his voice was an intimate rumble, “they find calluses, where the muscles stressed the bones, strengthened them—”
“Like an archer—” Kary froze, as in one well-oiled movement Andrew’s head swiveled until his vivid blue eyes were focused quizzically on hers. She hadn’t meant to voice the thought.
“Like a blacksmith?” Dana’s louder voice drew Andrew’s attention back to his host.
Kary dared a glance while Andrew’s gaze remained politely on Dana: thick biceps bulged his fisherman’s sweater. Earned, then, not a gym; he was proud of them.
“Aye. Josh practiced me on the crossbow ‘til I’d be hitting the target at two hundred yards, worked me with the broadsword, you know? If I died now, me bones’d pass for a warrior’s. Boggles the mind, eh?”
A burst of applause.
“It does—” Dana responded to a throat-cutting gesture from her producer. “And we’re out of time. Best wishes to both of you, at either end of the same war.”
Dana raised her chin, faced her audience, quieted them with open palms until she could finish. “For info on Andrew and the Deadly Nightshades in concert, and to keep track of where he’s filming, check out http://www.aocorner.ie.com. Great website.” She nodded toward Andrew.
He echoed the nod. “Couple of good fans back home—do a fantastic job.”
Dana thanked him, turned to Kary. “In stores and Amazon Friday.” Dana lifted her copy of Yorktown Harbor, cover forward. “And Thunder at Creek Station is coming out in paperback…?”
Kary relaxed in relief. “This month.” It’s over. A fizz of elation: she’d survived.
But Dana hadn’t finished. She addressed the audience again, linking her words to Kary by a wide sweep of her hand. “If you’re always exhausted, and your brain doesn’t work, and everything hurts—there are CFS links on our website, at http://www.wmrcnow.com/CFS, and operators standing by the 800 number hotline on your screens.”
Every eye seemed directed at Kary, immobilizing her, poster child for a disease. “Look at the freak lady, mommy!” Skewered, marginalized, classified—discounted. Forever marked down, not a woman but a symbol. “Poor dear—she writes such interesting books, considering…”
On camera, oblivious Dana got the last word. “Thanks to our guests, writer K. Beth Winter, and actor Andrew O’Connell and his band, the Deadly Nightshades.” Her royal wave released her viewers. “Good night, New York!” Behind her, the monitor rolled credits over panned images of the applauding audience.
Dana meant so well. Kary carved a smile out of ice.
For a few minutes I was almost normal.
~ ~ ~
[Table of contents]
Copyrighted material by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt.