Little rose with midmorning. The air did not move, nor the bodies, lain prone with arms pinioned under slight bellies, their faces distorted by their pillows, the covers of which collected stains at the discretion of gaped mouths. The dress was yesterday’s.
One body stirred. He wavered to his feet, accompanied by the crack-pop reproach of a body resigned to the floor. He took a primitive gait, avoiding the entanglement of discarded limbs, and came upon the stairs, which went slowly. Pasty, bow-legs pegged from boxer shorts, and each accomplished step awarded a reprieve in which the shorts were rearranged.
Settling into his sea-legs, he made his way between the mattresses narrowing the room upstairs, and into the bathroom. Once relieved, he rinsed a glass in the sink of the butler’s kitchen beside the stairs, filled it with water, and returned downstairs to drool onto the Oriental rug.
By early afternoon, Lesan and James, who lay on the floor, had roused and repositioned. With their hands pillowing their heads against the hard floor, they looked over magic marker inscriptions that had been made on the plywood ceiling, the impressions of the rug withdrawing from their faces. Tike sprawled over the couch above them, his white sneakers descending towards the floor, sampling the stale taste of his mouth.
“What’s Will supposed to be?” James asked, pointing to a section of the adorned ceiling. “Is he an otter?”
“He’s a manatee,” Lesan said.
“But then what is Tike?”
“I’m a narwhal.”
Lesan looked proudly over at James.
“What time it is?” James asked, looking up to Tike but seeing only the dangling shoes.
“Hard to say,” Tike peeked through the black drapes behind him. “It must be late. The kids are out of school.”
The shirt pasted on his back, Lesan sat up and stretched for his feet that avoided him. Grains sprouted on his face, and he pulled at them with his fingertips.
“I think we’d better get to it then,” he said.
James groaned, and buried his face into the wilted floral rug.
“Let them have five more minutes,” he said.
“It’s the middle of the afternoon,” Lesan said. “You think they’d notice five minutes?”
Grinning, Lesan reclined and settled back onto his plaited hands.
“Then again, maybe the spirit of our benevolence will rouse them.”
A body shifted upstairs, upsetting the springs of a mattress.
“Jesus Christ,” said a throaty voice.
“See?” Lesan said.
A brief quiet followed, then the harrowing of another innerspring, and upstairs Ransor quietly, sleepily asked, “Did you piss yourself again?”
Nels lodged his shoe against the bass drum of his vintage club date kit, unknowingly smearing a fresco of Doublemint over the black-laquer. He pulled the fingers of one hand toward the back of his wrist, and then the other, the sounds of creative division pattering through the space around him. The back of his throat offered remnants of the evening, moiling in his soft belly, and prompting fumes into his mouth. He belched quietly.
Will had his hands over his face, palpating the bags under his eyes with his fingers.
“What exactly is the problem?” he asked.
“It’s not so much a problem, as it seems to be a difference in vision, really.”
Ransor paced the seedy carpet in front of the kit. His cord, which caught on the leg of the crash stand each time he passed, was relieved by Tike who periodically pocketed his horn against his side and disentangled it.
“How would you like us to see it?” Will asked.
“I can’t paint pictures for a blind man,” Ransor said.
“Ignoring that,” Will said and adjusted himself on the corner of the bass amp. “Can you please give us anything else to go on?”
“Needs more grove.”
“Ah, yes. That clears up all ambiguity,” Will said.
James abandoned the keyboard and collapsed into the pullout, its mattress influenced little by him, congealed into a thin surface, collecting dim impressions of bodies and food stains. He adjusted the closure of the shades behind him, the material saturated by the heat of afternoon.
“I think the B section should be less defined.”
“Can you even define what less defined means?” Will said.
Ransor rolled the toothpick in the crook of his mouth with his fingers.
“Now you’re just fucking with me.” he said.
“Really, only a little.”
Lesan switched off and joined James on the couch.
“Is it always like this?” James asked.
Lesan chewed on his lip, interrupted in his reply by an outburst by Ransor.
“It’s like, if I’m fucking a chick, I’m not gonna be like, hey sweetie, what you’re doing is real nice, but you think maybe you could try some syncopation?”
“Absolutely always,” he said.
“I got that feeling,” James said. He reposed his head on the failing upholstery and nodded toward the drawings on the ceiling. “So, why isn’t Will’s sister up there?”
“She’s around a lot, isn’t she? Why isn’t she up there anywhere?”
“I don’t know,” Lesan said. “I guess I wouldn’t know how to draw her.”
“I get the feeling she’s kind of a handful.”
“Sometimes,” Lesan said. “I think she’s got a lot going on in her head though.”
“Not just like that though. Though, I’m sure there’s plenty of that too.” He thought for a moment. “It’s like, I think she can’t decide who she is supposed to be.”
“So she drinks a fifth of bourbon and screws the entire band to make things are crystal clear?”
“She is fucking gorgeous, though,” James said.
“Yeah, get in line.”
A sigh passed deliberately over Nels’ slack mouth. He lowered his feet on the ground and arranged his coiffure as best as could be done with the back of his hand.
“ How about we take it just before the B section, and I’ll switch something up? See if you can fit in with it.”
“At least that way we can get somewhere,” Ransor said, and noticing that he was stuck, he pulled on his cord. Nels caught the crash stand on its way to the floor.
After fingering some knobs on his pedalboard, Ransor broadened his legs, his center of balance converging somewhere between his pelvis and his Les Paul. He looked down his nose, then askew at Lesan and James on the pullout.
“You ladies want to play some music or what?”
Ransor urged purple-green wads into the flaccid end of a cigarette, and wiggled deeper into the couch. He lit up and offered greens to Will and Lesan, then to Tike who also declined.
The front door opened and pulleyed their heads. Billowed cheeks expelled a plume of smoke once the shape silhouetting the glare from the entry focused into familiarity. Brightness and the chirping of girlish voices buckled around doorframe and washed over the lax, wan faces panelling the couch. Apple stood close to Mel as she always did so that she could feel her words on her face, sometimes touching the warmth it left on her cheek, as she did just then, idling in the doorway. Mel narrowed her eyes, and the shapes on the couch squared into bodies and faces that she recognized. She squeezed Apple under her arm.
“Are you guys done rehearsing?” she asked.
“God, I hope so,” Will said.
Ransor peeled himself from the couch, and received them with an unapologetic once-over, fingering the hem of Mel’s dress.
“Is it still okay if I work here for a bit?” she asked.
“For sure,” Will said.
Ransor let go of her dress.
“You’re working here?” he asked, and remembering himself, offered the spliff to her. She shook her head.
“She doesn’t,” Will said.
“I don’t,” she confirmed.
Pinching it in his lips, Ransor grinned around it, shaping fissures in the corners of his mouth.
“Yeah, I know. One of these days though, you’re gonna fold. And I’m going to be there when it happens.”
“I’m working on something for her,” Mel said, playing with the blunt hair on the back of Apple’s head. Apple watched Tike, curious, and turned quickly around when he noticed her and made a face. Mel settled her things behind the couch, and slumped into the space beside her brother.
“Of course,” she said. “I couldn’t possibly do any work right this instant.”
“It’d be far too industrious of you,” Will said.
“Indolence is the stain of true genius, brother dear.”
“You’ve got powdered sugar on your nose.”
Her arms cruciform across her chest, Apple stepped gingerly through thicket of cables and cords, rough, velvety boxes and guitars, and lingered over the upright piano.
“No, the place on Third,” Mel said. “They do pâte à choux on Saturdays.”
Will growled and rubbed his stomach.
“Where’s everybody else?” she asked.
“Out,” he said.
“You always sound so bitter when they’re gone. They are allowed to do that.”
“I want to see what you’re working on,” Lesan said and reached for her things. She was quickly on him.
“Don’t you dare,” she said. “It’s not finished.”
“I won’t hold it against you.”
“That’s not the point.”
“You shouldn’t be so sensitive,” he said.
“At the very least, but alas.”
A yellowed piano key plunged below the others, submitting to the will of a thin brown finger, her hand idling over the keys before being hid behind her back. Apple looked directly up at them and changed color. The room smiled and Tike joined her over the piano.
“You should show her something,” Mel called to Tike. “She’s always too scared to ask.”
“I really do want to see it,” Lesan said.
“Then you’ll really have to wait,” she said. “It’s not ready.”
“Nothing’s ever finished. Doesn’t always mean it’s not ready.”
She smiled and pushed him gently.
“You’re full of shit,” she said.
“But it sounds good.”
Tike sat down at the piano. His hands loitered on the keys, his knuckles scuffed from being habitually shoved into his pockets. He made room for Apple to sit beside him on the bench, but she shook her head, her hands still clutched behind her back. Tike jested himself and turned back to his hands. He played four notes and looked at her, blushed again, and finished the phrase. She smiled when she recognized it and sat down with him.
The day was gathering itself together to recede into sea, the air turning cool so that the breeze whet the dampness on their backs. Ransor whispered to Mel, and she laughed over the deliberate clinks of piano keys.
Apple fiddled with her fingers while she watched Tike play, then pressed her hands in the lap of her dress and clasped them between her knees so that might might sit still. Her dress was one of Mel’s, and it fell just above her ankles and the thick, plastic sandals that hung off her small feet. She wore a yellow camisole under the dress with twisted straps that rouged her shoulders, and the sleeve of Tike’s T-shirt tickled her arm but she didn’t move.
Mel grabbed Tike by the shoulders.
“I want to show you something now,” she said.
“Let him be, Rosy,” Will said, contorting his position on the couch. “He sounds pretty good.”
“Oh, calm down,” she said.
She led Tike away from the piano and opposite herself, cursorily clearing the floor with her feet while holding onto his arms.
She looked up at him.
“You afraid of me?”
“And will you dance with me?”
“Yes, ma’am. I will.” He laughed slightly. “I’m afraid I might be a tragedy, though.”
She brought roses to the room on the rounds of her cheeks, and gave him her hands, then looked at her brother.
“Piano’s not going to play itself, sweetheart.”
Tike’s hands were damp, so she wiped them over the skirt of her dress, hunching him forward. She toyed with the arrangement of her mouth, arresting his hands again under hers, and whispering something that loosened his shoulders.
Will settled himself on the piano bench, shook the hair from his eyes, and reacquainted his hands with the arrangement of the world. He straightened moderately then lowered his hands over the keys, nudging Apple who had spun around to watch the dancing. She twisted back and played her notes, which Will sustained, scooting closer to the piano, and continued.
“You know you’re her favorite, don’t you?” Mel said.
Tike looked up from her hands, trying to memorize them.
“You’re starting to get it. Now just look up. It’s easier if you look up. I promise.”
Lesan rose from the couch, moving carefully through the flight of audacity and negligent limbs, and grabbed his guitar.
Apple forgot the piano, and giggled unabashedly, clapping her hands together when they did something she liked. She heeded no notice of Will’s attempts for her attention when the section she knew came around, and he fought with a smile, forgiving the disregard of a girl because of the nearness of her.
Tike’s white tennis shoes began to move more easily, and gradually he looked up from them, drawing his eyes down only to hide the red on his face. Mel’s face flushed also, but mostly from the blood in her head and the flask tucked with her things behind the couch.
She bowed at the end of the song, and left Tike briefly to kiss the back of her brother’s head.
“Can you play another one like that?” she whispered.
She wrestled with Apple to peel her off the piano bench, and finally getting her to her feet, she kept her locked in her arms.
“Now you’re going to teach her, all right?” Mel said.
She kissed Apple’s cheek roughly.
“Don’t be a wimp,” she said to her, and Apple scowled as best she could.
Mel sat down on the stairs and pressed her face between the posts of the handrail, creasing her cheeks, and smiling in spite of it.
Tike and Apple smeared the floor with wide, uneasy steps, and their chins planted into their chests. Apple held on to his wrists, the hands too far apart, and Mel bit her thumb to keep from laughing.
“Now if nothing ever changed,” she said to herself.
“Hey, Rans. You want a go?” Will asked.
Ransor nodded. He killed the spliff and ground it into the ashtray, then walked over to the piano.
“All right, get up.” Will fetched his sister from the foot of the stairs.
She followed him to the center of the room.
“Oh, don’t give me that face,” he said. “You’re not the only one mom made do this stupid dance.”
“I would have never thought you remembered it,” she laughed.
“That’s your problem, you know,” He twirled her. “You convince everybody else that you’re the only person that knows how to dance, so nobody ever asks you.”
“You’re doing that part wrong.”