Dedicated to Lance "Monty" Wright
Marty loves rock and roll. His mother Beverly is a blue-collar girl from a small
town with a fetish for guitar players. She meets Marty's father one night at a concert and they have sex in an alley behind the bar. She writes down her phone number in lipstick on a bar napkin. He calls her a few nights later.
Marty is ten years old when his rock and roll parents divorce. He cheats on her, she cheats on him, he uses drugs, and she drinks every day. Little Marty is a pawn. She makes breathy late night phone calls and threatens to cut his throat if he brings any women around her son. He destroys furniture and screams that he will take Marty and disappear. His father gives up custody for smaller support payment and moves out of town. He does not tell his son and never sees him again. Beverly marries another guitar player within a year. Dwayne. He hates Marty from the start.
Marty listens to music every day. It makes his chest swell and his leg bounce. The tempos and melodies sink into him like hooks and carry him away to another place. Sometimes, when he sits in front of his cassette player, he forgets about his mother and the stepfather who hates him. Bone-white beams of light stream from the speakers and envelop his body with their electric pulse. His favorite song is "Rosanna" from the band Toto. He hears it for the first time and immediately wants to be a drummer. Beverly does not want to hear it. She expects that her son will be a strapping, blonde haired guitar player. No other instrument will do.
“Mom, what if I wanted to play drums?”
Beverly frowns. “That’s stupid, drummers aren't anything.” She pauses. “Well, what I mean is that they usually aren't famous ‘cause they’re at the back of the stage and they’re usually pretty stupid too. You don’t wanna be stupid, do you, Marty?”
Marty’s eyes widen. “No, mom.”
“Then quit saying stupid things.”
She wants a budding stud, but what she ends up with is a soft and myopic little boy. At least he has blonde hair. She makes him wear it long and strong-arms him over his weight.
“Marty, don’t you wanna be like other kids? You should do more.”
“Mom…” His voice is bursting with bruises.
“Mom what? Marty, you’re too fat. You need some exercise or somethin’. Don’t you wanna ever have a girlfriend?”
“Mom, I’ve had girlfriends!”
“Who? I think you’re lyin’. Girls don’t like fat boys, Marty. Don’t come cryin’ to me later.”
She hates his music and it gives her another reason to scold him. She knows better. He does not know what real music is.
“Marty, you’re listenin’ to Toto? I taught you better than that.”
“God, mom, I like this song!” he whines.
Beverly snorts loudly. “It’s a crappy pop song. You wanna listen to some shit like that instead of good rock like The Stones?”
“I think it’s kinda cool. I wish you liked it.”
“Not in your wildest dreams, buddy-o.” Her expression freezes. “Fine, listen to your pop bullshit. I’m disappointed, my own son, gettin’ into shit like this.”
She leaves the room and slams the door behind here. Marty sighs and pushes the rewind button on the cassette player. He lowers the volume to avoid riling his mother and listens to the song again. The rowdy strains of The Rolling Stones song "Start Me Up" swells from the next room. Marty hears his mother singing along with a thin, reedy voice.
He will quit listening to Toto and start listening to The Rolling Stones. He will love his mom’s music and it will make her love him. She will see that he could be cool and that she can be proud to call him her son. He thinks it will work. A warm cloud of gold climbs from his stomach and fills his shoulders with light.
He walks into the next room and finds her cleaning while the music plays. She is oblivious to her son's presence and waits until the song ends before noticing him. When she does, she stops and frowns.
“Done listenin’ to your music? Then go out and play or somethin’, you can’t hang out in here right now, I’m cleanin’.”
“No, mom, I was wonderin' if I could borrow a couple of your Rolling Stones tapes.”
Her back arches with surprise. “You wanna borrow some Stones?”
“Yeah. I think they're pretty cool.”
“Pretty cool? They’re the greatest rock and roll band in the world, honey.”
“They are? Cool.”
“Lemme get you a couple of tapes.”
She leaves the room. She called me honey! She never does that! She returns with two cassette tapes and a paperback book in her hands. She keeps her grip on them when Marty reaches out to take them.
“Don’t lose this stuff. Lose it and your ass is mine.”
“I won’t lose any of it, mom.”
Her eyes focus on him and her eyebrow arches. "Let me tell you about this book. It's called Up and Down with The Rolling Stones. A guy named Spanish Tony wrote it about the guitarist Keith Richards. It tells a lot about the band. Read it and tell me what you think."
He takes the book and cassettes from her, walks into his bedroom, and puts the tape in. The blue razor slashes of the song "Brown Sugar" rip open a jagged scar on his brain. It is too raw and the steamy volume of the music fazes him. He will pretend to like it though. He will act as if it is the greatest music he has ever heard. He will read this book and act as if he loves every word. He will do it all and she will love him in the end.
He reads the book on the school bus over the next few days. It is largely about drugs and sex. It depicts a world utterly alien to Marty's experience and is slightly repellant. He finishes the book just before he gets home in the afternoon. In a hurry to get off the bus, he stuffs the book into his back pocket and rushes off the bus. No one is home. Marty watches television for a hour before his mom comes home.
“Hi, mom. I finished that book on the way home from school today!”
She sits down and runs her fingers through her hair. She looks down at the floor and a heavy sigh causes her body to convulse. She lights a cigarette and puffs on it with frequent jerks of her hand.
“Really? That’s quick. What’d ya think of it?”
“I loved it! It was fun to read. Especially those stories about Keith and all his guns!”
She smiles. “Yeah, lots of rock stars carry guns. They probably should considerin’ what happened to John Lennon.”
“What happened to John Lennon?”
“He was shot by a crazy fan. You really liked the book?”
“Yeah, mom, it was cool!”
She smiles again. “That’s great! Come here and give me a hug!”
He is propelling headlong into a dream and rushes towards his mother. He gives her a long, tight hug and drives his head into her chest. When he looks up and sees her smiling at him, it knocks the air out of him.
“Okay, honey, where's the book?"
He reaches towards his back pocket and finds nothing. A heavy fist pounds inside his chest. I lost it! He cannot look at his mother and stares at the floor. The carpet collapses and an inky cavity yawns at his feet.
"I... don't know, mom. I don't know. I had it in my back pocket..."
“I think I lost it, mom.”
“How? Where? Jesus fucking Christ…”
“I finished readin’ it on the bus this afternoon and when I got off, I stuck it in my backpack and ran off the bus in a hurry so I could come in and tell you…”
“That’s it, right there! You didn’t make sure you had the book really inside the backpack and it felt out alongside the road!”
Marty was on the verge of tears. “I think so… mom.”
“DON’T YOU MOM ME, MOTHERFUCKER! DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT BOOK WAS TO FIND?” She takes a deep breath and her eyes narrow. “No, ‘course you don’t. You wouldn’t know. Everything’s about you and nothin’ else.”
“It’s not true! It was an accident and I’m sorry!”
“Everythin’ is an accident with you. Just accident all around. When you gonna take some responsibility for yourself? You ain’t gonna be a kid forever.” She glared at him intensely. “I thought you were my friend. Guess I was wrong. You’re just my kid.”
A salty stream of tears makes his eyes sticky and he rocks back and forth on his toes. “Mom, that… that’s not true. I’m your friend. I love you.”
Beverly is unmoved by his tears. She snorts and waves her hand backward. “Save it. I don’t wanna hear it. You know, you’re like Spanish Tony. Keith trusted him with his secrets and he wrote a book. I trusted you with my copy of the book and you disappointed me. Get outta here. I wanna be alone. Go to your room."
Marty back-peddles into his bedroom. The click when Beverly slams the door shut sounds like a cracking whip. He turns around slowly and lunges towards the cassette tape player. The sound of "Rosanna" playing once again helps him stop shaking and slows his steady tears. He is an orphan and the facts of his birth are incidental. There are no toys here or posters on the wall. There are no pictures or bright colors. There is only a stereo playing a pop song, a small bed, and a bicycle with a flat tire and missing chain. There is only a little boy alone in his room staring out the window at his back yard. He presses his fingers against the glass and cries.