As soon as she got home, she slunk upstairs into the little nursery room they’d constructed out of an oversize walk-in closet with a window. She barely dared to breathe as she watched Linney sleeping, zipped into a fleece snuggle bag, sleeves turned down and tucked over her hands, wedged between two triangles of foam specially constructed to keep babies from committing the death-tempting act of sleeping on their stomachs. Linney was still breathing. She was not hot, not choking on spit up or going into febrile convulsions or covered with red dots. Nothing Malone feared, her fears so numerous and detailed that she couldn’t even be bothered to mentally catalogue them any longer, but simply bundled them like a series of operations in an algorithm, defined by x, and saw that x had not come to pass.
“Did you get someone to walk you to your car?” Nils called out from their bed. He’d fallen asleep with his computer open on the bed next to him. “Shhhh. Don’t wake her up,” she whispered, and lied, “Yes.”
“She won’t wake up,” he said. “Shh,” she said again, walking into their bedroom. “I’m serious. I need time to pump and get a shower. When did she eat?”
“Eleven,” he said, no more softly. “Six ounces.”
“Cool,” she said. “I’m going downstairs to pump. Get some sleep.”
He sat up and opened the computer instead. She went downstairs, sneaking a look at her email on the computer set up on the dining room table before she got the pumps working. There was one from Bebe, subject: Barry White sings Theme from the Beverly Hillbillies.
Bitch, she thought. They had a running joke over the years where they implanted cover songs into each other’s minds. It had to be a terrible song to start with, then sung by someone wildly inappropriate, to really work. This one was good. It was likely to cycle through her brain for days. The email read:
clear off first weekend in may, book’s coming out, Seth wants big release party at that sick new place he’s got that fucking republican fuck. I’ll talk to lee. I’ll try not to get shot. Except by you. Seen some proofs and your stuff is good. They did right. Be there I can’t deal without you two. Love bb
Clear off. Easy for her to say. She closed down the computer, washed her hands and got out the pumping apparatus. She took a bag of milk out of the freezer, filled a glass with warm water and set the milk bag inside to thaw, then settled herself at the kitchen table to pump. As she sat down and settled the pump funnels over her breasts, Malone felt the twinge she’d get every time she’d think about The Book. Or maybe it was just that her boobs were full. Everything made her threaten to spill over now—happiness, fear, nervousness. The book was a good thing, certainly for Bebe—she needed the bit of money but even more, the respect. It wouldn’t do Malone much good, except for her morale. It would do that a lot of good. She didn’t like to think about it, because deep inside, she was hoping it would do a lot more good than that. And that kind of thinking was foolish. A book like that wouldn’t get her any points with any of the people who ran her life nowadays. It was a project born in the days before everything fell apart and the money disappeared. She had hoped it might jump start something new for her work. Now it just seemed trivial, even a little embarrassing. And it meant dealing with Seth. She didn’t like admitting that she liked his reflected fame, but she still didn’t like the guy.
The book had been Seth’s idea, but the time was right. A publisher attached to a record label that had been subsumed by a big-ass conglomerate had gone along on his idea to make a book/CD vanity project about the early days of the Brashton music scene. That was where they had all met, and where Jackson had made his name and created a sound that changed everything, for about 10 years, and arguably forever. Malone’s photographs had chronicled much of it, and about a dozen were being used in the book, all except the ones of Jackson in drag, which Malone would shield from any eyes until her death. But then again, if Jackson ever realized she had them, he’d probably do something nuts like release them on the Internet, just to make some kind of statement.
None of them had had any idea the scene would get so big. Or that Jackson and Seth would get so big. Jackson’s band was just what you’d hear at the surf bar on 12th street in Brashton, just down the road from the smudge-gray, 1970s brutalist architecture of the beach town’s liberal arts college. Sure, they were great to dance to, and then you realized that they were more than that—handsome and strange and they gave you something to feel and think about. But all the same, Malone was more interested in her project shooting homeless teens living on the beach.
Jackson’s band had started out calling themselves Seaward, a lame Beavis and Butthead joke. They’d switched to the less-offensive Seawall when someone called them that by mistake on a marquee, and that was how the word usually came out in Jackson’s slurry delivery anyhow. And by then there were some 20 other bands trying to sound like them, playing up and down the surf strip, and four other bands who didn’t sound like them, and who ended up in New York and Los Angeles, almost as big as Seawall themselves. Fliers plastered the buildings and the tarry telephone polls and blew down the sandy streets. Their black and white names filled Brashton’s smudgy alternative newspaper, and before long, fanzines and alternative newspapers up and down the East Coast, then all over, even in Europe, some of them:
The Privilege List
Ovalteens (who after their first LP and the letter threatening legal action became…)
Cabana Boy Beatdown
Louche Surf (which of course everyone pronounced to rhyme with “couch surf”)
Your Mama’s Chaps
The Early Bird Demons
If the names had a certain family resemblance, they came by it honestly: Bebe had come up with about half the name in town, and her grandmother’s tipsy ramblings were behind a few more.
Some of them ended up in L.A. or Portland or Seattle or New York; some of them ended up quitting and getting a real job. And there were those who stayed right there in Brashton but were rarely heard from after the scene died out, ones who people who knew said were better bands, and as few who rode it into a living as producers or session players. And one of these was Lee. She kept trying, like a moth beating against a screen door, and kept falling.
Even though no one had expected it, when Jackson and later Seth got so big, it then started to seem strange, sort of shameful, that the rest of them stayed so small.
Bebe had tracked the whole surprising rise, with her stack of demo cassettes and piles of old posters and fliers and original pressings. She was getting some writing work on the book as well, and maybe that would help her at the newspaper where she worked, maybe, even though she’d been passed over twice for promotions, as young dudes had leapt past her and she’d been given more and more obscure music to cover, and finally, in the last year and in the biggest indignity, local “arts and culture” features to write.
It wouldn’t help Malone any, she reminded herself. Her work now was shooting kitchens and bathrooms and the occasional portrait of someone famous-for-DC for the city’s glossy magazine. They wouldn’t care about rock and roll from down south two decades ago, though they might be interested in Seth, she thought, checking the levels on the bottles as they filled. Because the magazine did like people with money, and Seth made money.
Seth came along after Jackson had exploded and entrenched. Jackson had just started his company-unfriendly behavior patterns—refusing to tour, refusing to leave Brashton, protesting ticket-selling practices, refusing to put his name or picture on CDs. Seth, with his handsome face and hulking form, with his true Welsh baritone, appeared one day in Brashton as if the suits had Frankensteined themselves up a newer, better Jackson, a Jackson 2.0, hell, a Jackson 6.4.
Later, when they found out Seth could speak in more than tortured mumbles and metaphors, it was even better. And better still: Seth liked money, and he liked business and technology as much as he did music. And the music was hooky and far easier to take than the increasingly obscure noodlings Jackson had begun to indulge in. Everyone excused Seth’s right-wing leanings as libertarianism; his gun-rights and anti-tax lines began to look daring, even revolutionary. Like the angry white men in power, he could claim persecution, a stance often profitable in rock and roll. Jackson began, by comparison, to look weedy, his voice to sound reedy, his explorations to be suspect. When he had been younger, Jackson looked pretty in the right light (like Dylan), he touched enough on the topical to make him easy for media to parse when needed (like Dylan), he wrote melodies moms could love, especially when they were sung by the long-haired lovelies of his day (like Dylan). But he had the nerve to see something bigger, and worse, to pursue it, losing market share and breaking hearts and growing, she had to admit it, unlistenable (like Dylan).
But by that point, Jackson had gotten into film production, and his work there had gone a lot better than Dylan’s ever did. He captured the share of the indie dollars and minds that had abandoned his music, and kept him solvent enough to afford putting out music no one bought. He also found a sideline in supporting clean water rights for developing countries, and was well on his way to comfy marginalization in tribute shows and as a figurehead environmental ambassador, if he would just behave.
The pump sobbed and sighed, pulling at her breasts. If Malone’s luck held, Lynnie would sleep until five, even six; so with 10 minutes in the shower, she was looking at three hours of sleep in a worst case, four or five at the best. Not bad. She’d have the thawed milk in the refrigerator if she hadn’t built up enough when she woke up. Or she’d bring it along in case if the schedule didn’t work by the time she had to do the shoot tomorrow afternoon. But then she might miss a nursing opportunity, which meant either being too full or risking running dry. It was always a gamble to thaw one of the freezer packages; the stuff was like liquid gold. You couldn’t refreeze breast milk, and it was taboo to throw it away—unless it was full of nicotine and alcohol, she sighed, as she watched thin streams spurt into the bottles from her nipples, being stretched and released, stretched and released. She tugged the copy of Spin from across the table and skimmed an article about Outkast, stretching one hand out carefully to hold the pumps in place when she had to turn a page. She fought off sleep as her breasts got softer, emptier, the milk spurts less forceful. Thirty minutes, four hours, four a.m., every three hours, every four hours, shoot at 4 p.m., four hours sleep, three poops a day for Lynnie, eat, play, sleep, eat, play, sleep, eat, play, sleep, eat, bath, sleep, sleep, she thought, continued on page 147, and snapped back awake. Turn the pump off, put the thawed milk in the refrigerator, clean the pump, shower, oh my god I want to sleep. Please Lynnie please stay asleep. Please never get sick. Please gods five hours. Five hours would be so good. Come on. We can do this, baby. We can sleep.
The phone was ringing, the room was dark, and nothing near five hours had passed.
Malone grabbed and fumbled, furious at whoever could be behind a sound that would wake the baby. The phone was neatly on its hook all the way across the room, on top of the TV set.
She hit the button to answer before even looking at the number, just to shut the thing up. She heard fast breathing, and Bebe. “Is that you? Mal?”
“What?” Malone hissed angrily. “What the fuck is up.”
“The fuck!” Bebe said. “Yes! Jackson’s in jail! That’s what the fuck.”
“What are you talking about? Look. Wait. I have to listen.” She covered the phone with her hands and listened for any baby sounds. Then for any Nils sounds. He sat up for a second, looked pissed, said “what” and lay back down. Of course he said it out loud, not whispering. Fuck. She’d hear.
“What do you mean?” Malone said softly, into the phone. “Busted how?”
“You’ll never believe it. It’s got to be fucked up. I don’t fucking believe it.”
“He doesn’t even smoke weed,” Malone whispered, still confused and half-asleep. “What happened?”
“They’re saying—it’s so fucked up—they said child abuse.”
“He doesn’t have a child,” Malone said. “What are you talking about? Are you sure it’s him?”
“No, I mean, it’s child porn,” she said. “Yes, Gordo got a call—“ a photographer they knew—“saying be outside the Reginald, someone famous was going to get busted, and he got shots, he’s in cuffs and the cops have a laptop and it’s completely fucking fucked up.”
“You just know that didn’t happen.”
“No, of course it’s not true. Someone is fucking with him. Jesus. Jackson’s practically like a mushroom. He doesn’t fuck anyone hardly. I mean I know he probably likes guys more than girls, that’s kind of an open secret. Probably why things have sucked for him the last few years. Well, that and the music. Those little girls aren’t going to listen to listen to a big ol’ gay sing one note over a treated bassline for a half hour, or even a big straight for all that…”
Malone, whose memory of Jackson’s inclinations differed somewhat, let her run on. It sounded like someone had dipped into the stock of Vic already. That made her remember, and she cut in.
“Does Lee know? Is she OK?”
“Her brother showed up after the show and she went home with him. Maybe Jackson could use him.” Lee’s brother was an intellectual property lawyer with a big McMansion in Virginia, where Lee often stayed. “Who could be that big an asshole? Not her brother, I mean. I mean whoever did that to him.”
“Maybe it’s political,” Malone sighed. “Maybe it’s just a mistake.”
“This is going to be terrible. It’s bad enough for him already. His records are tanking, he’s giving them away anyway. He’ll be like PeeWee Herman or something!”
Malone heard a little yap and growl from the other room. “Whoa. Linney’s awake. I gotta go. I’ll call you when it’s normal.”
“Never again,” said Bebe. “Oh shit. Oh god.” There were snorts and huffs from the other end, and Malone thought she might be sobbing.“Candyman. I can’t help it,” she laughed and coughed. “Candyman, covered by Eddie Vedder.”
“I’m fucking hanging up.”
Nils groaned from the bed. “Don’t cuss so much around the baby,” he said.
Malone opened her mouth to shout FUCK’S SAKE NILS, thought better of it. She went into the baby’s room and picked up Linney, who was making little pre-cry squeaks and pops. She cuddled her into her shoulder and took her over to the changing table. The small room was toasty, so the baby didn’t mind it when Malone zipped down her fleece sleeper and lifted her legs out, pushing the sleeper aside. She took off the sopping diaper and Linney kicked delightedly, ready to play as always at 4 a.m. Just in time—the pee hadn’t soaked the sleeper. Malone wiped her down, dried her with a clean baby washcloth, and kissed her tummy and hands a little as the baby cooed. Then she gave her a fresh diaper and zipped her up again, picked her up and walked her back to her parents’ big bed.
“Map. Map.” The baby rooted against her stomach as she took the flaps down on her nursing bra. She wasn’t sure how much she’d have, but it would settle her down for another hour or two even if she was almost empty. Linney looked up with a big-eyed smile, then coughed and cried out before Malone could settle her into position and quiet her.
Nils sat up. “What’s, is she hungry? Are you feeding her? What are you doing?”
“Composing a symphony,” Malone said, adjusting the baby’s latch. “You?”
“Bebe.” She sighed. She’d have to tell him eventually. “Something really fu—weird happened,” she said.
“What do you mean? Is she OK?” Nils always said Bebe annoyed him, but Malone thought he had a little thing for her. Who didn’t? He hadn’t objected to her naming their child after her two best friends—Brandy Belinda, who hated her southern name and quickly abbreviated herself to B.B. in print, Bebe to her friends, and Lee, of course. The Velvets reference—to the song about being out on the corner, waitin’ for my Linda Lee—had escaped their families.
“She’s fine. We’re both just—in shock a little. You know Jackson?”
He nodded, stroking the baby’s head with one finger.
“Yes, you are a sweet girl,” Malone sing-songed softly to the baby. “Such a good lil baby girly … Well, he was at the club last night, at Lee’s show, and he was acting even weirder than usual. Really distant. But that doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she said quickly, immediately regretting having said anything. She had to watch every word around Nils. He’d seemed to have picked up from his sisters the suspicion of that strange dark woman he married, and where he was once on her side in everything, he now seemed ready to pounce on anything she said or did as being potentially harmful to Linney. As with Malone, the birth and the attacks combined had made a protective spirit run wild, turning the world into hostile territory.
“So what happened?” he said irritably.
“Well, she called to say he got arrested,” Malone said. Linney’s eyes were barely open and her sucking had slowed almost to a halt.
“Arrested? What, for drugs? DWI?”
“No—it’s got to be a mistake, or someone is trying to fu—mess with him. Something political, you know. Bebe said they arrested him for child porn. That they took him out of his hotel with his computer.”
“What, was there a kid in the room?” Nils said loudly, shocking Linney awake and into a Moray reflex reaction, flinging her arms out and whapping Malone softly in the chest.
“No, of course not, it was just something on his computer!” Malone said, although she knew she was just making an assumption herself, and didn’t know for sure about anything, really. She tugged a cloth off the bedside table and put it on her shoulder, then lifted Linney up to burp her. “Come on, someone’s trying to fuck him up, you know that,” ignoring Nils’ look. “You know Jackson, really!”
“I don’t know him as well as you do,” he said.
“Well, then, you see? You think I’d ever be mixed up with someone like that?”
“Jesus Nils, not that much! Come on!” She bounced the baby gently, patting her back, rocking her slightly against her collarbone and shoulder to massage the burp out. That was her best method. “It’s some fu—stupid Republican trying to mess with him, you know that. Some fan, even, some crazy fan or something.”
“Were you hanging out with him?”
“Last night? Of course I was hanging out with him! He’s an old friend, what am I supposed to do?”
“We need to stay away from him until they get to the bottom of this situation,” Nils said. She stared at him over Linney’s head, anger building “You never know,” he continued, studiously. “We have more than just what we want to think about now, you know.”
“What, do you think I’m going to take her down to the DC jail to visit him?” Malone said.
Nils would have laughed at that once. He wouldn’t even look at her, now. “That is not funny. I don’t want you anywhere near him.”
“Seeing as how I’ve only seen him once in the past six years, that shouldn’t be too damn hard, Nils. It’s not like he’s ringing the doorbell every day.”
He sighed furiously. “Will you agree.”
“Everything about this is ridiculous.”
“Will you agree.”
“I’m not going to see him! I never planned to see him! He just showed up, for god’s sake!” She rocked the baby back and forth slowly.
“And don’t get near him with the baby.”
She leaned forward, ready to carefully get out of bed and rock and whisper Linney back into her crib, tucked between her baby wedges, another technique she’d perfected to put her down without cries. “I wish you hadn’t spent all that time in asshole training,” she said. “I liked you better before you turned pro.” She softly and slowly waltz-stepped out of the room. “I liked everyone better before we turned pro,” she whispered to Linney as she tucked her little sausage body between the foam wedges and folded the ends of her sleeves, like mittens, back over her fists, to keep her from scratching herself by accident. “I love a little girl,” she whisper-sang. “You just do what you do and it’s always just right, baby, baby, sweet lil baby girl…”