The Bright Side

Kurt rested back in the teak wood porch chair and cracked a smile recalling the previous night’s shenanigans. Krist had been kicking the phone some four weeks to get him to go, he only really went to please him. The night had passed glad-handing balding ex-somethings and joking how that was the same thing they thought of him. He’d given the thank you speech hunched in behind the podium like it might hide him from view. He was sure the stage lights would pick out the wrinkles setting in and pre-empted with a joke about getting ready to play Iggy in a biopic someday. He wasn’t going to say he still couldn’t stomach much beyond macaroni cheese and strawberry milkshakes. Out front on leaving, a few cameras still hanging around sparkling, some wise-cracking fan had hollered “Kurt! Hey Kurt! What keeps you rocking out?” He was proud of rustling up the answer; “a healthy lifestyle,” before ducking his head under the lintel of the SUV and getting well gone of the whole scene.

His arm had pinpricks of heat like a kid was snatching the sun through a magnifying glass. He knew where each ray landed, he’d long since studied the precise dots of scarring. At least he’d stopped shooting before he hit his early thirties and grew those Keith Richard folds, he’d upset the Universal PR team with some line about “Keith’s been modelling his own Keith Richard’s Halloween masks for thirty years.” They’d already lost it seeing he’d hacked his hair short again — they’d been handing out glossies of the trademark shoulder-length blonde, the photographer had only been out a week back. They should have been grateful he hadn’t dyed it for spite.

They tolerated each other; Kurt and Universal. The rumours would circle the house every few years — that he had crated tapes mounted up in the bathroom, in the basement. The money still flowed, anniversary releases, a live disc or two, the greatest hits that was their way of telling him they didn’t see any difference between inactive and broken up — either way he was on their list of missing in action, presumed near dead. He was quietly proud that his artwork was selling steadily even as his other voices told him it was on name alone. He tended not to invite anyone to the openings if he knew they were the sort to gush at him how great it all was. The songs had more or less dried up but each year brought a little fresh material letting him replay expressions of the same old vocabulary and keep enough pieces out there people knew he existed.

He kept the guns around mostly from habit. The nearby range frightened him if only because it reminded him some of his neighbours were those back-to-nature-weekenders on break to cook barbecue food, pose rugged and blast off guns with ear protectors on before fleeing back to the city. Fright of his life two summers back; a meaty carcass he’d hauled up into the woods and strung from the branches, he’d been lining up a shot on it, had kept back-stepping until his confidence of a hit was stretched taunt, necessary to give some challenge. The gentle twirl and swing of the flesh — elbow against the ground, barrel balanced and breathing steadied — he was near mesmerised by the swaying pink lump. A split second more he would have fired. Instead some nervous fawn of a sixteen year old pushed out through shaking branches and gave the meat a tentative poke with the end of a thick hunk of wood, then a more determined thwack that set it jiggling on the rope. He’d shouted over and the kid took off, still every time he got back down to take the shot he couldn’t clear that image of another timid victim sitting hidden beyond the crosshairs. He gave up and stashed the gun back in its beige nylon bag, wedged it in the cubbyhole in the closet for another day that hadn’t yet come round to dawning.

The view from the porch went only so far, out into a riot of border vegetation marking the fence round the Carnation property. Frances might visit this weekend. Then again, she had a habit of not showing — he couldn’t resent the selfishness, it maybe was his own fault. He couldn’t see himself playing the disciplinarian, she was too used to playing her parents against one another and all he could do was tell her over and again he wished it all wasn’t so. The last time he’d tried refusing her she’d stuck the knife in by calling him Don all day. He screwed his eyes up at the sun and just wished she’d show up and play nice that weekend, stop playing with her make-up long enough to say a few words to him. It wasn’t her fault. She blamed both of them for taking her happy childhood — he assumed she wanted even or…He should get round to moving that dead tree, it’d been there as long as he had, blotting the view. He shielded his eyes and peered at it. Far too familiar a sight, such a bore.

The TV had replayed some backstage interview during the footage of the other night’s ceremony. Mic crackling with crowd noise and venue buzz of crew motion and post-gig adrenalin, he still winced at some of what he came out with. He told himself he hadn’t been that bad, it didn’t matter, but still that needling sense that he was letting himself off easy. The darkness was a memory of someone else. For the moment he rested his sun-closed eyes, set his bare feet up on the porch railing while remembering boys funning around igniting cigarettes between one another’s toes.


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