MELLY MOCKINGBIRD: Part Three

 
 
In the lightless glare of the enormous studio, his face was streaked with dust. Every bit of him from his oddly fine nose to his bandaged feet was juddering with exertion and reeked of something sharp and unholy—piss, or panic.

Lola said, “You can’t do it like this.”

“I’ll do it.”

“J., come on. Nightmare left hours ago.”

“I don’t give a shit what Nightmare did. Fuck Nightmare.” He leaned towards the microphone and said to the man in the booth, “Fuck him.”

“The vocal’s going to be shit.”

“Fuck you.”

“No, fuck you, man. Fuck you. You know why everybody’s gone, man, do you know that? You know why Christian’s gone, Nash’s gone, Sami’s gone, Nightmare’s gone, even fucking Grindle fucked off back to his hole or wherever the fuck he hides himself? You know why you’re the only one here except for that fucking asshole making triple overtime out of our recoupable, do you know why? Because it’s two o’clock in the fucking morning, Jumper. That’s why. And every single one of us was here at nine AM trying to make this fucking album something other than a fucking failure, that’s why. Except for you.”

They stood at opposite ends of the room. Jumper kept on vibrating. He said, “You can’t make it anything.”

Lola looked like he had been kicked in the nuts about half an hour ago and had spent the intervening time gulping down Everclear. “Sometimes I wish Mrs. Wilk had finished the job,” he said.

“If you ever mention her to me again,” Jumper said, “I’ll rip your head off.”

“No fear, Jasper,” Lola said. He turned and wobbled to the door, tripping over a sheaf of wires and momentarily losing his balance on his platform shoes. “No fucking fear.”

Jumper said to the sound man, “Start the fucking track.”

Everyone was nervous about Rag and Bone. The more beseiged Jumper felt, the more obsessive a tuner and tinkerer he became, until rather than improving the material he seemed to be standing on it and trying to tug it out from under his own feet. The rest of the band, worn out by his agonizing and resentful of the attention he received from the label and the press, was trying not to loathe him—though some of them weren’t trying very hard.

Without any preparation, Jumper screamed. He clenched his shaking hands and launched into the verse:

Even though you murdered me
I still believe in you
I believe in your holy presence
And your twisted point of view

He was doing this one in a hard, shallow rasp pitched high in his chest. Although he could sing in several different registers and styles, Delilah always had the impression that he was using his voice in exactly the wrong way. It seemed to be violently heaved up from some place the voice wasn’t supposed to reside and dragged or scraped through his lungs and throat, leaving both it and him the worse for wear.

The guy in the booth was a calm second engineer named Paul who was drinking espresso to keep himself awake. He beckoned Delilah inside and handed her a pair of headphones.

At the entrance to your temple
I laid my body down
You used me for your pleasure
Then you put me in the ground

“Long day?” he murmured as he moved a fader.

“What about you?” she said.

“I just work here,” Paul said. “You have to go home with him.”

The sun was up when they left the building. “Good morning, sir, miss,” said the hotel concierge when they came stumbling in, and buzzed the private elevator for them. “This place is a shithole,” Jumper muttered, slumped against the elevator’s glittering wall. “Can’t you get something else?” Delilah said nothing. He had been living at the Hotel Zéro for two months already and, besides, it was Kane who made all the arrangements.

The doors opened on his suite: polished walls, high ceilings, chrome floor lamps that arced six feet or more. All the furniture was red or black and reminded Delilah of the enameled boxes in which food was served at Japanese restaurants. Jumper threw himself onto the bed. At once he fell asleep, breathing in short, agitated rushes, the way Paulette’s cat did sometimes. The cat had been Delilah’s, until Paulette took him over because Delilah was never home.

Delilah removed her shoes, her crimson crinoline skirt, the pink fake-fur jacket, and a plum-colored tank top. It was April in L.A. Smog was low and the skies were limpid and bright. But she was seldom outside, these days, for longer than it took to walk from a doorway to a car, and she didn’t see the sun much anymore. She padded into the kitchenette and ate a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. There was no milk, so she used ginger ale instead.

The phone rang. It would be Kane, insomniac, thinking with dread of the thousands of dollars they had spent in the past twenty-four hours.

“Did he get anything down?”

“‘Daughter of Lies,’” Delilah said.

Kane groaned. “We have that already. We have three separate takes.”

“They weren’t good enough.”

“Why can’t he do overdubs? Every singer in the world does overdubs.”

“He doesn’t believe in them.” She drank some soda out of the bottle. “You know that.”

“This is hell,” Kane said. He paused. “Can you get him back there in the next couple of hours?”

“He needs to rest.”

“Well, I need this record.” His voice began to deepen in the way that meant he was dangerously overtaxed. Delilah had once seen him, in this state, leap on Jumper and wrestle him to the ground. Fifty pounds lighter and half a foot shorter than his manager, Jumper had merely lain there and said, “You want to fuck me?” “I did once,” Kane said, “but now I know where you’ve been.”

“I need this record. The marketing department needs this record. The goddamn merchandisers need this record. They’re packing T-shirts into boxes, okay? How the fuck can we go on a forty-city tour if we don’t have a goddamn record to support?”

She peered down the suite into the bedroom. Jumper’s gauze-wound feet, spasmodically curling and uncurling, were the only visible part of him. “He’s exhausted, Kane. He needs to sleep.”

“Do me a favor.” His voice had dropped so low she could almost feel it shuddering through the phone. “Don’t tell me what he needs or doesn’t need. I don’t care if you fuck him, blow him, or shoot him full of speed, just get him to Hollywood by ten or you’ll be spreading your legs for a boy band in San Bernadino the next time I see you, bitch.”

Delilah hung up, but Kane had hung up first. She put a hand over her face. She thought of her cat—Paulette’s cat—his small hard skull, the lively butt-end of his tail, the transparent globes of his eyes. They had named him Clementine because he was orange. She wished he was here. She wished Paulette hadn’t taken him over. She wished that she didn’t know some of the things she knew, or that she didn’t mind.

* * * * *

Sleeping with Jumper, you got drenched. He sweated out a sour, alkaline dampness that pooled on Dee’s skin, ate through the sheets and stained the mattress. (“Es feo,” one of the maids had pointed out to her, “y no es higiénico, ¿no?”) He also ejaculated in his sleep and had once wet the bed. When she first started spending a lot of time with Jumper, shortly after they met, the band’s lawyer had come to her with a confidentiality agreement that she refused to sign. She was unable to explain how deeply offended she was, but Kane understood. “Drop it, Mitch,” he’d said. “She’s as good as gold.” That memory afflicted her now, and she tossed, unable to rid herself of it.

She felt something coarse between her toes: the loose end of one of his bandages. She could smell the humid, septic odor of his cuts under the sharper smell of sweat. Yesterday afternoon, pissed off at something in the paper, he’d put his foot through one of the Zéro’s glass coffee tables. Delilah was struggling up to reach for the disinfectant when he said in a dazed, guttural voice, “Dee.”

She turned around. He was twisted towards her and breathing hard, eyes open without seeing her. He took her hand and put it on his half-erect cock. “I can’t sleep,” he said hoarsely.

“You’ve been sleeping,” Delilah said. But she did it for him. He flopped onto his back, obliging her to change position. Whether because of this or Kane or her fatigue she wasn’t careful enough, and the back of her hand brushed some of the calcified striations, as random as runs in a stocking, that climbed the inside of his thighs. At once his fist sprang out and caught her full in the face. She shrieked and hit back, but he had already swung his upper body away and was kicking her with bloody feet, shouting, “You fuck, you fuck, you fuck.” Then he reared up and began stabbing at her with his long nails. “You motherfucking fuck!” he said.

Covering herself with her arms, she rolled off the bed. “I’m sorry,” she said from the floor. “Jumper, I’m sorry!” She was afraid he would leap on top of her. Instead, after a moment’s silence, he started hurling things from the nightstand: pill vials, silverware, handcuffs, a paperback, and a pint of Southern Comfort that hit the floor a foot away from Delilah and exploded. A mist of alcohol stung her eyes. “Stop it!” she yelled.

He rose up on his knees, a torn white T-shirt raked up over the line of hair down his belly and his cock still hanging out. On his head stiff bunches of hair pointed in all directions. “Stupid slag,” he said. He had passed from his involuntary spasm of fear into the vicious, punishing mood that always followed it. “All your brains are in your twat. It’s so big and loose in there, they’re just rolling around like grapes.”

“Stop it,” she said again. She got to her feet.

“Every time you get fucked, they get mashed up and smeared all over. No wonder you’re such an idiot.”

Delilah pointed at him. Her arm was shaking, and her finger jerked from spot to spot. “Don’t do that. Don’t do that to me.”

“You’re a clown,” Jumper said.

“Times are hard, everybody has to kick me in the head, I understand. But don’t you pull that shit on me. Don’t do that, because you know me. You know who I am.”

Jumper yanked up his pants and lay down with his back to her. Dee went into the living room and turned on the TV. She watched music videos for an hour, during which she saw two Rara Avis videos: the gory clip for “Ava” that had made Jumper famous and the Singapore performance of “A Small Pile of Rags.” She made some tea with honey. She called her father, who always got up early.

“Oh, Dee,” he said. He sounded startled, possibly because she hadn’t called in six months. “Where are you?”

“With Jumper.”

“That’s that—the—?”

“The singer. You know, in Rara Avis.”

“Oh,” her father said. “Oh, yes. I think Barbara has his album.”

“Barbara?” Delilah’s oldest sister was forty-one and a financial planner. “I doubt it.”

“Maybe she bought it to, you know, learn more about your life.”

“Oh, Dad. I really don’t think so.”

“You probably would be surprised to learn how much time we spend thinking about you,” her father said.

When she got back into bed, Jumper said without moving, “So what are you saying—I’m not entitled to kick my own groupie in the head?”

“Fuck you.”

She lay and thought about her cat. On the bedside table, the phone began to ring.