|Fish Out of Water Books
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We didn't see the falls or go to the lava fields. Maybe it was partly down to my enthusiasm about Hal's reputation as a performer, so that the man himself was motivated to do something to live up to it, or maybe for some other reason altogether, he decided he wanted to go back to the house and start work.
When we arrived back, Hal led me down into his basement where he had assembled a rehearsal space. It looked as if all of the equipment and instruments were brand new.
"This is pretty cool. How long have you had all of this?" I asked.
"When you said you would come over ... I went out and got some new stuff last week. I figured we wouldn't need much more than this."
He was right. There were two acoustic guitars, one electric guitar, a drum set, and a piano. I couldn't really play drums, but I guessed Hal would know someone. He'd also purchased an eighttrack recorder, which was fairly basic but would do the job in terms of laying down demo tracks.
"So ... why don't you show me what you got?" Hal asked.
I went to fetch my notebook which contained notes for the songs I'd intended to present to Hal.
"I think I'd like to work with you and see what we come up with, but I'll play you a few of mine that I think would work really well," I said upon my return.
I performed two or three of my songs for Hal. It must have been a pretty poor performance, as I was anxious to finish and hear what he thought of them. He nodded and smiled in a couple of places, but mostly he held an attentive but otherwise emotionless gaze.
"Okay," he said, once I'd finished. "Hmm."
"What do you think?" I said, anxious for a response.
"Yeah, could possibly work."
So after he'd learned how the songs went and practiced them a couple of times, we recorded a couple of performances to see how they would sound. There was a moment of surrealism as I let what was transpiring consciously invade my thoughts. Holy shit, I was jamming with Hal Granger! People would pay serious money to listen to this guy so close up, and here I was, working with him. People would give their right arm for this opportunity. What a privilege. I hoped being aware and appreciative would never leave me. I guessed that feeling that way in the moment was appreciation enough.
After we'd finished recording — and we must have spent a good four hours in there working — Hal said he was going to go and see what he could fix for dinner, saying we could always go to Lou's again. I guessed by that, he meant Murphy's.
I spent a little while longer in the basement, listening back to each song. It was work, sure, in the truest sense of the word, but it was pure indulgence listening back to these creations. Whenever I recorded my own versions of these songs, they would never quite sound as I had intended. There was always something missing. Regardless of that, I had this ownership over the songs I had written and this interpretation of how they should sound. Hal just blew me away with how he seemed to get the point of the lyrics. His intonation and inflection in certain parts of the songs, provided an essentially unquantifiable improvement. I loved it. I had never been more sure of anything being successful than those fledgling recordings.
As I returned to the kitchen, I wasn't really surprised to see that Hal wasn't cooking after all. Instead, there was a bottle of beer waiting for me on the table, along with a pizza flyer.
"I thought we might get some more work done. So how about we order in some food?"
I wasn't going to disagree.
Time got away from us and we finally called it a day well after midnight. I had hit the wall shortly after eating, but was so enthusiastic that I kept going. As the evening wore on, we began to write together, only verses, melodies, and fragments of songs, but more than enough to get excited about.
As we said our goodnights, Hal told me that he'd leave me to do some editing, as he had things to do the following morning. He'd be back in the afternoon and we could carry on working then, or he'd be happy to take me out somewhere.
So, the next morning, I took advantage and caught up on my sleep, finally rising around 9:30 a.m., and feeling a little guilty with it. Sure enough, Hal was gone. Breakfast, then, was leftover pizza. And I couldn't resist going back down and listening to the songs again. I found myself working to expand some of the fragments of songs we had worked on together. It wasn't as much fun alone, so I thought I'd leave it and wait until Hal returned.
I was growing a little restless, so left Hal a note, to let him know that I would be in town, and set off on a walk.
It was the first time I'd truly had time to gather my thoughts, and as I walked along the side of the quiet country road, carefully noting the lack of sidewalk, I thought more of the people back home and the situations I'd left behind. I didn't know if I was hoping that distance could somehow provide me with a greater clarity, but now, actively trying to confront those thoughts, I realised that they were as confusing as ever. This only confirmed to me that I was right to get away and that I wasn't quite yet ready to deal with everything.
My strongest pull was still to Ailie; a desire to talk to her and tell her what was happening; to share the excitement of my experiences over the last day. Really, that would have been a conversation for the old me and the old Ailie. That was one thing I'd have to get used to. Or, was the fact that my thoughts constantly seemed to return to Ailie something I would simply have to live with? Would I have to admit to myself that she was the one for me, face up to it, and try to win her back?
That was the way I was leaning, but it would mean total honesty. Total honesty would mean sharing the events of the days before I went away, after she left. Total honesty would mean facing up to my own truth. Total honesty would not facilitate the repair of our relationship. What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I have had some discipline, some restraint, for just a few days?
I didn't even want to check my phone, because I knew that, waiting there, would be a message I would feel the need to respond to. A phone call I would be obligated to make. But what would I say? Would it be wise to make a decision from this place, where I had a distinct lack of clarity? I was hesitant to do that for all the reasons, and selfishness, that got me here in the first place. What was the right thing to do? Our reconnection hadn't struck me as the universally accepted fate that I had once thought it would be. But was that to do with the guilt? Even if guilt had something to do with it, more strongly than that, it was a fear of being alone. There was a despondence in that; reuniting with Kaia once represented a closure, a natural conclusion to the torture which had been suffered in the meantime. But that wasn't the reality, and it strongly unsettled me to consider that my judgement on a matter so fundamental to my happiness in life was not right. But then, if that was so, if my judgement wasn't always right, then perhaps I ought to wait it out, amd not make any rash decisions. I was already in an emotionally difficult place, and once I had jumped some hurdles, who is to say I wouldn't start feeling like being with Kaia was the right thing? Did I really want to run the risk of losing her again in this period of ultimate indecision?
So, in the hesitancy, I felt it still better to keep quiet, not to do, or say anything I may later regret. I had already done that enough.
I wandered around the small town, though the stores didn't really have much in the way of appeal. I felt like a lemming, inevitably drawn to Murphy's, due to its familiarity. More importantly, the distraction that conversation promised to provide was something that would be very welcome.
On this early Saturday afternoon, there were already quite a few patrons in the bar, watching American football on the bigscreen TVs. Thankfully there was an open seat at the bar I was able to squeeze into.
Louise recognised me.
"Hey! Freddie! No Hal?"
"No, he's busy this morning. Or afternoon, I mean."
"Beer? Tall or short?"
"Yeah, a short one, please."
Louise poured the beer and handed it to me. As I reached toward my pocket for my wallet, she quickly looked around to make sure nobody else saw and shook her head, putting her hand on mine.
It was warming to see what Hal meant in action; the way Louise riffed with the regulars and the way they seemed to love her. Eventually, the bar began to empty as the games ended, aside from a few — like me — who were sticking around. I was on my third beer when I decided that it would be my last. I didn't want to take too much of an advantage and leave a bad impression for when Hal next came in.
Once it was quieter, Louise came over and stood at my end of the bar.
"So, it's really good of you to come all the way from England for Hal, y'know."
"No, not at all. Hal is amazing. And I hate to sound all clinical, but work is work. I don't often get the opportunity to travel to places as great as this," I replied.
Louise seemed surprised.
"As great as this? Honey, I love this town, but you obviously need to get out more!"
"No, not at all," I protested, "it's great here. There are so many things I want to see. The falls and the lava fields ... I can't wait to explore when I get the chance."
Just then, we were interrupted by the door opening and Louise's eyes being distracted.
"Hey, hun! Come over here. I got someone to introduce to you. Freddie — this is my daughter, Brooke ... Brooke, this is Freddie. He's working with Hal and he's here from England."
My immediate reaction when I turned toward Brooke was that she seemed far too young to be Louise's daughter. Not in any unkind way; simply, an immediate, honest conclusion. Brooke couldn't have been out of her teens and I'd figured Louise to be in her early fifties. Maybe she was careworn? Maybe I ought to stop jumping to conclusions. Brooke also looked like she'd walked right off the page of a high-end fashion magazine. I couldn't tell if she was trying too hard to be cool or not hard enough, with her platinum blonde hair up in a twisted bandana and denim ensemble, like some kind of modern, country Barbie.
"Hey," said Brooke, extending her free hand — the other held a bunch of bags. "Nice to meet you."
"You too," I replied.
"Hal's the coolest, ain't he?"
"Yeah, he's really great."
"So, what you been buying?" inquired Louise, prompting something of a fashion show from Brooke, displaying the various garments she'd bought.
Brooke and Louise attempted to keep me engaged in the conversation, talking about clothes shops back in England and asking if daughters did the same, spending all of their parents' money. I was able to confirm this was, indeed, a universal thing.
"Freddie was talking about going to the lava fields. Or the waterfalls. Did you wanna go with him, show him around?" Louise asked Brooke.
I felt an awkward insecurity. I was at the age where it felt like there was a generational fracture between me and Brooke; she, from the era of selfies and me, still only in my mid-twenties and yet still wondering whether social media was a positive or negative thing for mankind. Worse, I felt like a burden.
"Sure, no problem," Brooke responded immediately, breaking my train of thought. "Where do you wanna go?"
"I don't know. You choose. Whichever is easiest. And only if it's no bother. Honestly, I'm sure you've got better things to do."
"No, it'll be fun. So when do you wanna go? Now?"
"Oh, no!" I insisted. "Not now. I've got to get back. Hal will ... I was ... we're working on some new songs. Probably should be back there now. Don't want to cross the boss."
"How 'bout tomorrow, then?"
"Um ... yeah, sure. When's best?"
"I can pick you up at Hal's. How about, say, eleven?"
"Yeah, okay ... thanks. Sounds good."
I had grown rather too comfortable in the seat I was in and had to make a bit of a groan to get off of it. I thanked Louise for her generosity and hospitality, and she told me to send her love to Hal.
"See you tomorrow then," Brooke said.
"Great! Yeah ... thank you. I look forward to it," I replied, before leaving.
When I arrived back at Hal's, I noticed that his car was back in the driveway. At first, I didn't know whether or not to knock on the front door. I did, but received no response, so I gently pushed on the door. It swung open. Only then did I realise I had the keys anyway, so surely, I could have walked in without any of the fuss and procrastination.
"Hi! Hal! I'm back," I called out, to no response. Hal wasn't in the living room, nor the kitchen. I eventually found him out on the back porch, looking as if he was waiting for the sun to set.
"Hey," I said, walking out toward him.
"Hey, kid! Good day?"
"I was actually just at Murphy's. Louise sends her love."
"Yeah, and her daughter ... Brooke?"— I mentioned with that quizzical intonation —"she's offered to take me to see the waterfalls tomorrow ... if that's okay?"
"Yeah, sure. No worries. We got time."
"So, I was thinking," I said. "How do you think it went last night. Are you happy with how we're working?"
"Yeah ... sure. It's all good, right?"
"Yeah, but you have to be enjoying it. If something isn't working, we can change it."
"Nah, I'm good," Hal replied, nonchalantly.
"I have to say, Hal, I've listened back to some of the stuff. I love it! It sounds brilliant. I mean, not my involvement, but ... even as a demo, it has that earthy, lo-fi quality to it. I almost don't want to polish it."
"That good, eh, kid?" Hal sounded vaguely impressed, but also slightly distracted.
"Yeah ... I ..." I began to feel as though I was imposing. "I'm going to take a shower, if that's okay? And then we can do a little more work?"
"Maybe not tonight, son. It's Saturday night. We can get back to it tomorrow."
After I'd showered and changed, I went back downstairs only to discover that Hal had left the house again.
I went into the kitchen where I saw a note. "Gone to Lou's."
I thought of going back there, but decided against it. I'm sure that nobody would have minded, but there wasn't an invitation on the note. I didn't want to encroach on Hal's personal time. I was still trying to distinguish between what was work and what was pleasure, a line blurred by the fact I was staying with Hal.
Instead, I went to the basement and got one of the guitars to play out on the porch. If I couldn't find inspiration there, where would I? Instantly I found myself humming something new which I was into. The melody was strong and the ideas I had for lyrics could have formed a thousand verses; whenever I had a good idea, it was like that, until I'd written the first two lines, and then the field would narrow, and the creative options would suddenly become far more limited. I wasn't ready to part with the creativity just yet, and so I just played, and played, without writing anything down.
My phone rang. It took me by surprise.
I looked. It was after two in the morning back home.
"Hey ... Kaia ... you okay?"
"Yeah, fine ... was just thinking about you ... wanted to hear your voice."
"Are you drunk?" I thought I'd better prepare for that kind of conversation on a Saturday night.
"No ... no, I haven't been out ... just ... can't sleep."
"Oh ... okay."
"Freddie. Why aren't you messaging me? Or calling?"
"I'm sorry. I'm just ... I'm still getting used to this. You know, when you're at work, I'm asleep, when I'm working, that's when you have your free time and when I'm chilling out, you're asleep. Usually."
"Have you been working today?"
"No, but ... not really ... you know."
"No ... actually, I don't."
"Don't be like that, Kaia. Please. You know I've been going through some stuff ... it's not easy. We're good. I just don't need any of the ..."
"Any of the what, exactly?"
"What I mean is, don't be sad. If you think I'm not thinking about you, I am. I'm always thinking about you."
"Okay ... well that ... that makes me feel better. It's just that it's really hard being away from you."
"I don't mean to sound uncaring, but, you know, it's not easy for me either. But I need to be in a good place. I can't be feeling negative. Things are good. I'll try to call and text more. Promise."
"Okay. So ... what's it like out there?"
"It's really good ... you know ... you go places on holiday and imagine living there. It's like that. But I suppose I'm used to that feeling. Or I used to be."
"What do you mean?"
It dawned on me that my nomadic side had only really been born after Kaia and I went our separate ways. I had travelled around so much, so often, and grown so comfortable in my own skin — not to say I was always at ease with who I was, but, I grew to tolerate my own company. It was a conversation I'd really only ever had with Ailie and made me realise there was so much that Kaia didn't know about me. Not that I was concealing anything, and not even a white lie kind of mistruth, simply, the various facets of growing as an adult that do not immediately come to mind.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Peach"
Copyright © 2019 Wayne Barton.
Excerpted by permission of Fish Out of Water Books.
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