Art by Mark Evan Walker
by Joyce Carol Oates
The women friends met for lunch at the Purple Onion Cafe as they’d done frequently for nearly twenty years. As usual, Francine, the elder by seven months, arrived first, and secured their preferred table, outdoors on the terrace, in a corner farthest from the street. There, she could see Sylvie approach before Sylvie was likely to see her.
It was just noon. By quick degrees the popular vegetarian restaurant, recently reopened after an extensive renovation, would fill up with customers on this balmy September day.
Not because each was the other’s closest friend, though it was true, they’d met as four-year-olds in the Montessori preschool, but because each was, to the other, crucial: This fact, if it was a fact, bound the women together. Closer than sisters!—because chosen, as sisters are not. Closer than husbands, for of course husbands could not be trusted. And closer than children, that goes without saying, for children, regardless of their ages, must be protected (by their mothers) from the most fundamental truths of existence.
Today was the first day Francine had driven anywhere alone following her surgery the previous week. It had been minor surgery (she was quick to explain) performed at the outpatient Women’s Clinic, from which she was recovering steadily—she’d experienced some pain and nausea, insomnia, and a curious mild dislocation regarding time: minutes passed with excruciating slowness, like a column of poisoned ants, while entire days rushed past like empty freight cars rattling in an interminable train.
Francine smiled, thinking how she would make this droll observation to Sylvie, the only person she knew who could understand and appreciate her mordant humor. Francine’s husband would usually frown at her perplexed, if indeed he heard her at all, while her children rolled their eyes rudely—Oh, Mom! Please. Anything uttered by Francine that called attention to her as a distinct, idiosyncratic person was mortifying to her family, as if she’d suddenly torn off her clothes and cried, Look at me!
But with Sylvie, everything was altered. What was important, if unvoiced, to Francine, was important to her friend, too. If in the night Francine lay awake pondering her life as mysterious to her as graffiti scrawled on a wall she could measure herself against Sylvie, and feel immediate relief. For, if she could speak of it to her dear friend, it could not be so bad. Nothing fully happened to Francine until she transformed it into an entertaining little story for Sylvie, who was likely to exclaim, Oh, I’ve felt exactly that way, too.
But where was Sylvie?—Francine saw that her friend was eight minutes late.
Nadia, the locally famous owner of the Purple Onion, brought two menus to Francine’s table. Recommended specialties du jour, peach-watermelon gazpacho, kale and cranberry salad, grilled tofu with Balinese sambal, portobello and Brie, nongluten nut bread, mango juice, iced Bengal tea . . . READ MORE
Art by Jason C. Eckhardt
by Doug Allyn
I hate dying, though the way my life’s been going, I’d better get used to it. Stay in the game long enough, and it’ll happen, sooner or later. Hell, Bob Dylan at his peak got booed at Newport; Nickelback tanked in Portugal. A Scottish singer literally got killed at Swansea. Electrocuted when he touched a mike.
But most often, dying is your own damned fault. You draw up a lame playlist, or get bored in the middle of a set and call out a weak jam off the top of your head, one you regret while you’re playing the first four bars.
You can feel the energy draining out of the room, and sense the subauditory rustling of your audience shifting in their seats, getting restless, checking the exits. And when your lame call ends in almost dead silence . . . ?
Welcome to hell. You’re dying onstage.
Naturally, you panic, go into scramble mode trying to save the night. Tell a joke or a story, then try to win the crowd back with a hard-rock rouser, if you have any left.
Some nights it works, and you’re golden. Other nights? You could juggle baboons with their asses on fire and you wouldn’t get a hand. You’ve hit the wrong town on the wrong night with the wrong tunes. And when that happens, all you can do is suck it up, play the strongest set you can, and get the hell off.
I’ve always thought dying onstage was the absolute rock-bottom pits. I was wrong.
Dying for real is worse.
It was a magical night. Maybe not better than sex, but not far from it. I was onstage with my band, Murph and the Kurve at Detroit’s Club Ponytail, a retro-rock joint with a late-eighties vibe, kicking out our handful of hits, five wild-haired rockers playing balls to the walls heavy metal to a swaying sea of faces that stretched from the footlights to the raised tiers around the main floor.
A few dozen hard-core fans up front were totally into us, applauding every solo, chanting the choruses with the band, a rock ’n’ roll family, bonded by the love of the music and shared memories, if only for a few hours.
It was a rare happening for us, but for one righteous night, for this single show, the Kurve owned this freakin’ building and every soul in it.
Hard-rock magic. I couldn’t stop grinning at my bandmates. We all felt it, and so did the crowd. A buzz beyond price at this stage of our fading careers.
And then, in the space of a single backbeat, the night crashed.
I glimpsed a flicker of light forty yards back in the crowd, once, twice. Thought it was a camera flash, but then caught the puffs of grey smoke—
Damn it! Some idiot was touching off firecrackers. Every now and again some mouth-breather will sneak ’em past security, then fire ’em up and toss ’em into the air. Or worse, hurl them toward the stage. READ MORE