Sunday, April 22, 2012

Preview of Pandora's Box-The First Chapter

If anyone reads this and you actually like it, I can probably come off with chapters two and three. I don't think it is going to give too much away to do that since I have a bad feeling I might be crafting another monster here. I am going to try to avoid that but, as I said in the last post, altogether I've written up about eighty pages and that isn't the tip of the iceberg of this story. Never a good sign. I also want to go ahead and put out this disclaimer of sorts. The musicians that are the focal point of this story are completely made up in my head. They are not based on anyone in particular. I would hope that anyone who read Castles would know that if I want to write a fictional novel and put real famous people in it, that's what I do. This book starts during the grunge period of the early '90's and, though I don't give it a title like that, the two fictional bands and their music are a part of that scene and I do go on to mention in passing Pearl Jam and Candlebox (so far), but the bands and their members are made up figments of my imagination. So, without further ado, here is the first chapter. Please feel free to leave feedback and, again, if you read this and you want more, let me know and I'll post two more chapters. 

Before I met him I did not believe in adultery. In my line of work I met many wild men with wedding bands but nothing more than friendship ever came from it. I was a journalist, not a groupie. Being a woman in the world of rock music journalism almost demanded that one keep her legs closed where the talent was concerned if one wanted a respectable reputation. And my reputation in October of 1992 was as respectable as it got. When I was asked to go to a hotel in New York City that wasn’t far from my own apartment to interview the most famous musician of my generation, I thought that Sky Donaldson would be no different than all of the others. We would talk, he would give me his philosophical views on the music industry and the accusations that he had sold out, and if he wasn’t too high it might be a decent afternoon. The persona around him was one of contradictions and my hopes as I got on the elevator that would take me to the twelfth floor suite where Sky and his band were staying was that I could break through the persona a bit, get something no one else had, and I suppose in the end I did. But it was a hell of a lot more than I ever bargained for.

      I gave a fast rap on the door. It seemed to be the calling card of the journalist, this half-assed knock. We didn’t even think of it but during times of press conferences or group interviews we often discovered that we all did it. No one answered the door. I waited at least five minutes and still no one came. I thought I heard a voice telling me softly to come in and I hoped I was right as I twisted the doorknob. All I needed was to piss off the rock star just before an interview. Some of them were so high on the prima donna scale that it took very little to do.

      On the bed was the man I had only seen before on magazine covers and videos on MTV. For a moment when our eyes first met I thought that he was even more beautiful in person but I pushed the thought away. His marriage to a crazy wild woman who was notorious on the groupie circuit made nearly as many headlines as his music and the proof of that union was laying on the bed beside of him giggling softly as she pulled on her daddy’s blonde hair. “Hey! Are you that chick from Rockstar that’s coming to pick my brain?” His smile was warm and inviting and so I returned it with one that I hoped was just as warm.

     “Yeah, I’m…”

     “Jules Harris. Yeah, man, I know who you are. I asked for you. Last time I did an interview with Rockstar they sent some asshole that must have been a psychology major at one time. He kept asking me shit about my childhood, trying to put it together with my marriage to Chrissie…real corporate dick. There’s no room for guys like that in music, not for me. I heard you’re cool so when they wanted another interview before we go to Europe I told them I wanted you. Sit down. You are uptight.” He laughed softly taking the edge off of that dig. Uptight? Usually I only heard that when I refused to fuck someone. But in a way I guess he was right. My nerves had been a little frayed since the moment I saw him and the sweet little baby at his side. This wasn’t the guy I had heard about, the rock star that had a love affair with the needle. When I sat down in a chair across from him, Sky laughed his little boy laugh that was as charming as his smile. “No, man, come sit with us. I don’t like to talk loud. Unless you don’t like babies. And if you don’t…” He gestured toward the door like I was more than welcomed to let it hit me in the ass on the way out if my opinion of his child wasn’t a high one. For some reason that made me trust him.

      He moved over so I could sit on the edge of the bed and I grinned when his daughter grabbed for my fingers. She had her father’s gorgeous eyes, his blonde hair, and his easy smile. She seemed happy enough especially when one thought of the life she had been born into. A groupie for a mom, a rocker for a dad, a band serving as her extended family, and drugs serving as reality for everyone in charge of her. I wondered how long it would last, her obvious joy for the world. Such innocence to be found in childhood but how long before it was shattered for her? “I like babies well enough. I must admit I have little experience with them but how could you not love a baby?”

      “You would be surprised…So you don’t have any kids?”

     “No. My life is busy, you know, and I don’t even have a boyfriend. When I have kids I want to do it right.”

      Looking serious for the first time since I came in, he replied softly but firmly, “If you wait to do it right, you might end up never doing it at all. What is the right way to have a kid? A perfect marriage can fail, a perfect life can fail, perfect people fuck up. There isn’t a right way to do this. You just do it. So are we going to work?” Suddenly he sat up holding his child in his lap. I had a camera with me of course. They always expected me to have the necessities and what good was an interview without pictures? I wished I had taken a shot of him on the bed being himself because I feared that glimpse into the man had now passed me by.

      Reaching into the large leather bag that served as my purse and my briefcase, I pulled out a tape recorder and a legal pad and pen. “Before we start, is there anything you don’t want to talk about?”

     “Why? Do you need help coming up with questions? I know how this goes. You guys figure out the shit we don’t want to talk about and then you try to invent ways to get us to talk about all of it.”

     “That’s not how I work, Mr. Donaldson. If you don’t want me to ask about something I won’t. You know, they told me you are shy. I’m having trouble buying that right now.”

      He chuckled and came back with, “It’s Sky. And they told me you were cool. I think we both got jipped, man.”

     Looking up at him, I tried not to smile as I said, “Alright, smart ass, let’s start this.” Pressing record on the tape recorder, I looked down at the questions I had prepared and I started with the least personal of them all. “With your third album coming out next week, what are your expectations about the way it will be received?”

     “By whom? The fans and the critics don’t always see eye to eye on music, especially ours. I assume it will be like the other albums. The fans will love it, critics will hate it, and everyone will have something to say about it. Next question.”

     We talked about the new songs, about the upcoming world tour, about his favorite bands and his famous friends. But the questions about his life, the ones I had been so intent on getting when I agreed to take the job, went unasked. The one that the magazine wanted answered most of all was the one I refused to ask. Because with it, there were two options; he could lie or he could tell the truth. I didn’t want to feed my readers lies but the truth could destroy the life of the little girl that was now half-sleeping in his lap and, though I knew her life was bound to be turned upside down eventually, I would not be the woman who did that. “I need a few more questions to fill up the article. Give me a minute to come up with something.”

     “Why don’t you ask what you really want to know, Miss Harris? Why don’t you ask about the meth, the heroin, the coke, the parties…isn’t that what your bosses want to know about? Isn’t that what they send all of you here to ask me about? You are really nice and yeah, I guess Andy was right…you’re cool enough. But you are still a journalist and it’s your fucking job to try to get the story no one else has. So go on…ask me what you came to ask.”

      Shutting off the tape recorder, I decided, in the name of honesty, to lay it out to him the best way I could. Somehow in the span of the forty-five minutes or so that I had been in that room with him, we had managed to form a very shaky foundation for some kind of friendship. Actually, I felt more like we had been friends for centuries…we just had to meet up in this life to pick up where we left off. So I was going to give it to him straight in a way that I had never done before in my entire career. “Sky, I don’t have to ask about it. If you wanted to keep it a secret you shouldn’t have worn a tee shirt. Unless you got into one hell of a fight with a phlebotomist, it’s obvious you’ve been shooting up and judging by the look of that one,” I pointed at the place on the main vein of his right arm that was quite fresh, “you probably did it right before I came up. But if I put that in this article for the whole fucking world to read, you risk losing your child. I love my job and I’ve done a lot of shit for it but I won’t do that. She looks happy, healthy, and it might be wrong but I can’t out you to the world like that, especially at the expense of a baby. I could tell you to clean up your fucking life but it would be a waste of time. Still, even you have to know that the day will come when her smile’s not as bright and it’s clear you love her very much. So maybe you should do something about that. Now, if you give me a minute…”

     He had been listening to me, truly listening, and I had been so wrapped up in what I was saying that neither of us heard the door opening until we heard the belligerent shouting coming from the other side of the room. “What the fuck is this, huh? Is the cunt threatening you? Is she threatening our fucking kid?”

     I recognized the train wreck as soon as I saw her. Smeared lipstick, ripped dress, and a prominent burn on her lip showed that Sky’s delightful wife had been out having herself a good time in the city and it wasn’t the sights she had been interested in. The baby started to cry as soon as she heard Chrissie’s voice and it was to her father that she looked for a way out. Cradling her protectively, Sky replied simply, “She wasn’t threatening anyone. You’re scaring Lucy, alright? Knock it off.”

     “Don’t fucking tell me what to do! You don’t fucking own me! You are such an asshole! So what is this shit? Did you tell her how your wife was out getting high, fucking your friends, while poor little innocent Sky sits here with the baby being a fucking saint? Huh? I mean, did you at least get your blow job in the bathroom so Lucy didn’t see that shit? Let me tell you something about poor little Sky…” I had heard enough and apparently so had Chrissie’s husband because we stood up at about the same time, him all but pushing his wife out of our way. Lucy was screaming now, her face red as the tears poured from her pretty little eyes.

     “Did you bring a car? I’ll walk you to your car. This city isn’t safe for a young woman on her own, you know?” He said as he held the baby up against his shoulder to comfort her.

     “No, I walked but…”

      “I’ll walk you home. Just let me grab a blanket and a coat for lovely Lucy. Do you mind holding her? She’s pretty upset.”

      I took her from him assuming that she was going to really freak when her dad walked away. But she didn’t. In fact, she looked up at me with her big blue eyes, her cheeks stained with tears, and she blinked. It appeared as if this baby, not quite two years old, was sizing me up. I laughed at the thought and when I touched her cheek she smiled. She was certainly one of the prettiest babies I had ever seen and I was able to chalk this up to the fact that she had not one trace of her mother in her anywhere. No, this child was her father’s daughter right down to her questioning expression and her easy going nature. “The world is a crazy place, huh? The bigger you get, the crazier it looks.” She laughed at me as she tugged on my bottom lip and responded with a flurry of toddler speak that required a translator for even the most dedicated parent.

      “She likes you.” Sky announced. I jumped. I hadn’t even realized he was standing there. “And you like her. I think you two will be great friends. What do you say, Lucky Lucy? Was Uncle Andy right? Is Jules cool enough for us?” Again she giggled as he took her gently from my arms and blew on her belly. “She says you are.” He informed me as he put the baby’s coat on her and wrapped her, bundled her actually, into a blanket made for someone much larger.

      “Aren’t you worried she might get hot? It’s only October.” I said with a smile.

     “No, man. She’s like me. Stays cold a lot. So where the hell are we going?”

      “East 5th Avenue.” I replied walking quickly in the way I had become accustomed to since moving to New York City.

      He whistled at the name of the street. “Swanky shit you got there. They pay you that well to sit and talk to people?”

      “Not nearly as well as they pay you to stand there and sing to people. Didn’t you just buy a five bedroom house in Eureka, complete with four bathrooms? Who needs four bathrooms?” I asked with a laugh.

      Tongue in cheek he replied, “Someone with friends. I’ll bet you only have one bathroom in your fancy apartment, huh?”
     “It’s a small apartment.” I answered simply.

     He laughed which set off a chain reaction with Lucy giggling sweetly and me laughing at them both. For a block or so we walked in silence until suddenly Sky said, “You know, she’s not usually like that. Chrissie I mean. I know that the papers say a lot of shit about her but…she isn’t usually like that.”

     “Yes she is.” I said, looking at him. I was no longer concerned about offending him. Although we had just met I somehow felt that we were beyond the point of me watching the things I said. “Listen, you don’t have to explain anything to me. It’s your life and your marriage. I am sure if it was unbearable, you would leave. However she is typically is none of my business.”

      “We are going to finish this interview of ours, though. I can come by your place tomorrow if that’s cool and we’ll do it there so there are no interruptions.”

     “Are you going to bring Lucy?” I asked. I could see my apartment just up the street and I mentally chided myself for wishing I had more time with him. That train of thought was foolish and I had no right entertaining it. I was also confused by it, by everything I had felt since I first walked into his hotel room, actually. At any rate, I wanted to get the interview finished and never see him again because thinking such thoughts about a married musician could not only end in disaster, it could be career suicide.

     “Do you want me to bring her?” He asked in return as the child in question watched him like she was hanging on his every word.

     “Of course I do. A wise man once told me that she and I were going to be great friends. So it’s not fair if you come and you don’t bring her along.” I stopped because we were in front of my building and I smiled at them both. It had been a bizarre experience, my time with him. “This is my place. Do you want to come up?”

       “No, man. I better get back. But I’ll be here tomorrow. Three sound alright?” I nodded. He smiled as he simply turned around and began walking back the way we had come without a goodbye.

      When I went inside I heard the television I had left on in the front room. Aside from that there were no noises within, no traces of life without me. That was how I lived my life and I had been content with that since coming to New York City at sixteen. My life before that had been crazy. I had a hippie for a mother who skipped the social consciousness of the ‘60’s and went straight to the smoking and fucking of the day. She couldn’t remember who my father was and instead of attempting to right that wrong by settling down with a man I could have had as a father figure, she bounced around from city to city, bed to bed my whole life. We had lived just about everywhere in the United States until she finally moved to Chicago and stayed put for a little while. Unfortunately the reason she stayed put was her rapist boyfriend at the time. One night she came home to him abusing me in the most horrific way possible and immediately she got me out of there. “Where the hell am I going?” I had asked, afraid of everything at that point. To soothe my nerves she had given me a line of heroin and I was numb from it all.

      “New York. I have a friend there, a guy I’ve known since before you were born. His name is Bob D’Amato. He owns a magazine or something. He said he’ll take you in. He’s a good guy. He comes off like a prick because of his smart mouth, but he’s a good guy.” My mother, if you could call her that, had assured me. I only nodded. I didn’t believe her. Everything from forced prostitution to some weird arranged marriage went through my mind as I traveled from Chicago to New York City on a train.

      Bob knew me as soon as I got off the train. This confused me. I had never heard this man’s name before but he knew what I looked like? Immediately I began to wonder if he was my real father, especially when he shook his head and said, “You poor fucking kid!” and he hugged me to him. The guy had money. That was obvious by his expensive suit and coat. I knew enough of the world to know money when I saw it. The fact that he led me to his Porsche wasn’t a surprise to me. “The rat bastard that did this to you is going to pay for it, Julianne. I promise you that. My brother’s own daughter…”

      “What?” I asked, practically rounding on him like a boxer.

      “Well, that’s what I think anyway. Always have. We all came from the same neighborhood, you know, and when your mom split for California in ’67 she kept in touch, she’s come back now and then, and nine months after the last time she came and stayed with us she had you. My brother’s dead now and your mom won’t say anything except that she don’t know…and I believe her. I remember your mother. I’m sure there were many. But she sent me pictures over the years, told me how youse was getting along. Anyway, that bastard will pay. And I don’t care if it pisses her off. She knew what would happen when she called me.” He said all of this as if he were telling me about breakfast.

     “Are you in the fucking mob?” I asked. Italian, New Yorker, hell bent on revenge…wearing a suit that cost about two grand and a coat that was worth double that… Only in passing did I think of the fact that, until that moment, I had no idea where my mother had come from.

      “What? What the fuck would give you such an idea? I own a music magazine. You might have heard of it. Rock Star? Perfectly legitimate business I’m in, thanks.”

      Of course I had heard of it. I had loved that magazine since I was little. The only thing I had in common with the woman that had given birth to me was an intense love for music. At one point, when I was little and The Runaways had been big in the circles mom ran with, I had wanted to be just like Joan Jett and Cherie Curry. I even sang a little for my mother’s friends. At fourteen I would do a couple of lines of cocaine and go out on the small stage of the club that one of mom’s boyfriends ran in Seattle wearing the fishnet stockings and the black corsets of my childhood idol and I would be a real rock star for about an hour. It didn’t matter that I was technically still a child. No one seemed to mind. “Yeah, I know all about Rock Star Magazine.”

      “That’s good because as soon as you get settled I’m putting your little ass to work. Can you write?”

      And that had been the beginning of it all. Bob and his wife Gina had given me a good home for the first time in my life. He got me off the drugs, even the heroin that I had loved so much for the three years leading up to my arrival in their lives, and he started me out as a gofer in the newsroom before working me up to where I was when I met Sky. I had been very fortunate, something I had never thought I would be able to say when I was a kid. And Bob, for his hard ass exterior, had indeed been the good guy my mother had claimed he was. Now I had a good life, busy but simple, and I had worked hard for it. Bob only got me in the door. He would have never made anything easy for me. That would not have built integrity and he was hell bent on me having that, if nothing else. He never bothered to get DNA to see if he was in fact my uncle telling me, the one time I mentioned it, that it didn’t fucking matter. I was his family. And he was mine…the only family I felt like I had at that time.

       When the phone rang I thought it was Bob calling to see how the interview had gone. But when I answered it was Andy, the pal of mine who had so highly recommended me to Sky, that was on the other end. “So how did everything go? Are you in love with him yet? Every woman falls in love with the prick eventually.”

      “I am not like other women. No, I’m not in love with him. And we didn’t get to finish it tonight because that fucking wretch he’s married to came in high as a kite accusing me of blowing him in the bathroom.” I replied, picking at the chipped polish on my index finger.

      “Ah, that bitch! I would kill her myself but I can’t remember the protocol for destroying a succubus. I don’t understand why he hasn’t filed the fucking papers yet…”

       “He’s planning to divorce her?” I asked, refusing to admit to myself how excited that thought made me.

      “I am not discussing this with you, Jules, especially when you are in the middle of writing up an interview with him. I never know when you might cross the line of the enemy in a desperate moment. Besides, what do you care? You’re not like most women, remember?” He replied, no doubt amused that I had even asked.

      “You are such a dick. I don’t understand why I speak to you.” I said with a laugh.

      “Because you fucking adore me. And somewhere inside your apartment I believe you have a shrine to my penis. One day, my friend, one day I will make your horny dreams come true. I’m in fucking Tokyo right now and this call is costing me enough to run a small country for a year. So I have to go. But just…be kind of nice to him, ok? He’s going through a hard time right now. If you two get along alright he could use a pal. And I know how great you are at being a pal. Later, Harris.”

      I hung up the phone thinking of his last words. I would be nice to Sky. I had no reason not to be. I liked him. But I would not be his friend…not while he remained married. I had many friends in the music world that were married and it wasn’t a problem. But with Sky? It would be a problem. I would never instigate infidelity but he might and if he did…I had an uneasy night ahead of me. I knew that as soon as Sky had walked away and Andy’s words did nothing to soothe my mind.

      Three p.m. came fast for me. I had cleaned my apartment and opened the windows to the nice October day and I was just finishing my makeup when I heard a knock at my door. As I went to answer it, I heard a series of small knocks coming from tiny fists and I smiled as I opened the door. The two of them looked at me with identical smiles and when I ushered them in, Lucy seemed impatient to get down and explore. “Do you mind?” Sky asked as she all but lunged from his arms.

      “No. I would love to know what she thinks of the place.”

      “She’s known for breaking things.” He warned me. He seemed so serious about this and I could only assume that by ‘things’ he meant his own. I chuckled.

      “I don’t own anything that can’t be replaced. Let her go.”

      She ran toward the living room leaving us older people trailing behind her. “I talked to Andy last night. He said he talked to you.” Sky said as we sat down.

     “He talks to me a lot.” I replied. “You want something to drink?”

      “Do you have any Sprite?” He asked, his eyes fixed on Lucy who was trying to investigate one of the three bookshelves in the room.
     “I have Dr. Pepper and coffee.” I offered with a smile.

      “Dr. Pepper is fine.” He said and as I walked the short distance to my kitchen he asked, “So…are you and Andy…involved?”

     Returning with the can of pop, I laughed. “No, we are not involved.”

     “He seems really fond of you, though.”
     I sat down next to him and grinned. “I’m really fond of him too. He’s probably my best friend, as sad as that is. I met him almost three years ago when you guys all burst onto the scene with your damned debuts. Because there were a collection of you guys and you all seemed to come from out of nowhere at once, we were sort of divided up when it came to interviews. I had worked there about three years but I had only been a writer there for one. Still, I was kind of getting a reputation as the one who could handle difficult people. Andy was a real pain in the ass with the other writers so they sent me in. We got along great…after I told him to go straight to hell and I threw a milkshake in his face.” Even now the memory made me laugh. “And we’ve been best friends since then. I am the only person he will talk to even now at the magazine which has been a blessing and a curse. I think I remember more about the tours the band has been on than they do. I know secrets about all of the guys that would give my boss an instant aneurism if he realized the many things that I leave out of my interviews and articles for the sake of friendship. But it’s worth it. The day I feel like I have to sacrifice friendship for a story is the day that I will quit. Andy knows that. That is why he loves me so much.”

     We were both silent for a while as we watched Lucy ‘read’ a book she had managed to snag from the shelf. She was absolutely adorable in her Levi bibs with the book in her lap jabbering on about a dog, a bird, and a kitty that said ‘meow’. The fact that it was a novel about the Manson Family did nothing to hinder the happy story that the child was creating. “So did you think of more questions?” Sky asked suddenly.

     “I don’t know what not to ask you about besides the drugs so I went with the usual boring shit about songwriting and inspiration. You ready to start?” He nodded and I reached for my trusty legal pad and the tape recorder.

     He was light hearted for the rest of the interview, telling me about the first song he wrote at the tender age of seven about Kermit the Frog and the struggles that the band went through to get signed to their record label. He told me about the absurdity of people thinking that he was moody and depressed because of fame when he didn’t even feel famous, how he had stopped listening to the radio after their first single went to number one and he couldn’t seem to escape it, and how Lucy preferred listening to Andy’s band over her own father’s. On the subject of his own friendship with the hard ass front man, he said only that they had known each other a long time, that he, Andy, and James, Sky’s bass player, had a long history together. He wouldn’t elaborate beyond that and I wouldn’t push. At the end of it I was able to get some really great pictures of him with Lucy and one of him by himself sitting on my window ledge that turned out beautiful when it was developed in black and white by the geniuses at the magazine in charge of such things. At the end of it, he rounded up Lucy who was hesitant to say goodbye and he thanked me for a good day. “Hey, listen, I know how your boss likes to send people to bug the shit out of us while we’re on tour so if he does, do you mind if I ask for you again?”

     “No, I don’t mind.” I replied, though that was hardly true. I minded very much. I had meant to never see him again, after all, and I had a feeling that if Bob did call and Sky did ask for me, it was going to end up being much like the situation with Andy where I was the one who was called to do all of the interviews with Pandora’s Box, Sky’s band, from that point on. While I enjoyed this with Andy and his band, having a fucking blast with him each time the magazine found a reason to interview him, I could already see that the relationship would never be the same between Sky and me.

      “Cool.” He replied as he turned to walk away.

      “Don’t you ever say goodbye?” I asked before he could get too far.

     “No. Not to people I like and I think I like you, Jules Harris.” And with that he took off with Lucy waving at me over his shoulder. 

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