If the Good Lord’s Willing, Part Six

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Here’s the concluding episode of my latest short story.


A good time was had by all, Red amiably sharing the stage with Bobby Willard and the Unborn Calves, mixing and matching his songs with theirs, singing a little harmony when they ventured beyond his comfort level with some Skynyrd or Tom Petty.

Red could barely contain his pride where Andy was concerned. The atmosphere was perfect for him. He didn’t feel the pressure of living up to his father’s expectations. He blended into the band. It was seamless, where everything between Red and Andy had always seemed so convoluted. Red could never understand why what seemed so easy for him seemed so difficult for his son. Rather than being doomed by his insecurities and the pressure of satisfying his father, Andy thrived in the freewheeling ambience of the band. Where previously he had been obsessed with trying not to mess up, now he was able to use the creativity he had previously suppressed. Red could see it and did not hold himself blameless. Sometimes old men could still learn some lessons.

They ran late, yet still stopped prematurely. About half past eleven, a monstrous thunderstorm hit. Huey’s had a cathedral ceiling made up of tilting inclines that didn’t meet at the top. Between the two were a row of windows. When lightning flashed, it created a small strobe effect inside. Between songs, the drone of the rain pelting the roof could be easily heard. One of the bouncers walked up to the stage and said the place had to be cleared out by midnight. Red told him to let him do one more song, and he’d try to get the crowd headed to the exits.

“Start dimming the lights while the song’s playing,” Red said, leaning over to avoid the mic.

What to play? What’s a good song to send them home with? If it wasn’t raining so hard, they’d probably be heading out now. They’re pinned down. We are, too.

“Folks, ain’t no way y’all having as much fan as me and these boys are,” he said. “I can’t speak for them, but I ain’t had this much fun in, well, I really can’t remember when. We gotta get outta here, ‘less’n the po-lice put our asses under the jail. ‘Course, if we run out through there right now, we’ll be all right, y’know, because the cops don’t like to get wet no more than we do.

“We ain’t had no set list. We just been playing what we wanna, you know, and it seems like we done all right ‘cause y’all all seemed to enjoy it. So, naturally, I ain’t put no thought into what I’s gonna close with, and that there rain has kinda forced the issue. Let me ruminate here a few seconds.

“Okay, okay, I got it. I wrote this song about a gal I never spoke to. She was just standing with her boyfriend at the bar, and I was setting in a booth eating some chicken wings, and I started watching them standing there, drinking and talking, and I imagined what their relationship might be like. That old boy she was with might wind up curing cancer or bringing peace to the Middle East …

“… But that was not my impression. Song’s called ‘Stuck in a Rut.’”

He turned around. “Ah’ight, I’ll play the chord progression,” he said. “The chorus is a little different, but you’ll pick it up.”

She loves to roll socially / The sun comes up eventually / Watch it rise on the patio / Have a smoke and tumble off to sleep / A hardboiled egg / Piece of toast / NFL, coast to coast / Panthers lost / What the hell / Roll one up, don’t matter anyway.

She’s just stuck in a rut / Head in the sand / Refusing to deal with what she don’t understand / She’s just stuck in a rut without a plan / Trying to please her man.

            He’s kind of cute / His life’s a mess / Sells his weed / Keeps the best / Hair bunched up in a ponytail / Stares at himself in the mirror / The rent’s too high / Apartment stinks / But they ain’t got time to think / Smoke some weed / Drink some beer / Order out again for some pizza.

Red introduced the band, letting each of them do a short solo. But, first, the chorus again, because he had to find something for Bobby Willard, who didn’t play an instrument, to do.

“I reckon all these boys are from somewheres around here,” Hal said. “The lead singer of the Unborn, Mr. Bobby Willard! Bobby, sing this here chorus with me. Come on with me. … She’s just …”

Stuck in a rut / Head in the sand / Refusing to deal with what she don’t understand / She’s just stuck in a rut without a plan / Trying to please her man.

“Run us a little bass line, Joey, old boy …

“Now here’s Wade – I’m gon’ learn these boys’ last names here directly – on the drums …

“Now, here’s Todd to do some fine acoustic picking …

“Last but not least – least would be yours truly if you’re keeping a scorecard at home – here’s my brown-eyed, handsome boy, on the electric Fender Telecaster. Hit it, Andy!

“Ah’ight’en, boys, let’s bring her home.”

            A job is all he really needs / To find a place / To sell his weed / His daddy’s rich / Knows some folks / To keep his youngest boy out of trouble / As long as they don’t go too far / They’re probably stuck just where they are / Making love / Getting high / Sure beats the hell out of working.

She’s just stuck in a rut / Head in the sand / Refusing to deal with what she don’t understand / She’s just stuck in a rut without a plan / Trying to please her man.

She’s just stuck in a rut without a plaannn / Trying to please her maannn.

“Thank you all right kindly!” Red yelled. “Be careful on the way home! Don’t bust your ass in the parking lot. Come back to see us real soon!”

Recorded music switched on with the lights. Perfect song, Red thought. Tom T. Hall’s “The Old Side of Town.”

They all went back to the dressing room except Bobby and Red, both of whom walked up to the souvenir table to pose for some photos and sign some CDs.

“We damn sure can’t load up till this rain lets up,” Bobby said. “Of course, y’all can get on out of here.”

“Nah,” Red said, “Least as far as tonight was concerned, it was all our equipment. We’ll hole up here till it quits and we’ll help you. You reckon ol’ Hubert’s gonna run us out?”

“Ol’ Hubert’s my uncle,” Bobby said. “I’ll get the keys from him and drop ‘em by his place tomorrow. He don’t mind letting me lock up.”

“Good,” Red said. “I think we need to talk some bidness.”

It rained solid for another hour. Bobby turned all the lights off except the spotlights in the roof, and everyone gathered in the green room, which, of course, wasn’t green. Or was it? Andy, Todd, Wade, Joey, and, yes, Andy, were all passing around a joint when Bobby and Red walked in.

They all looked at Red. “Ain’t nobody to say nothing,” Bobby said.

“There’s an old Tom T. Hall song,” Red said. “I can’t remember exactly how it goes. Something like ‘if you just want some strokin,’ keep right on smoking, if you don’t mind if we just hang in with our beer.’

Red reached into the big cooler where still there was ample beer. He pulled out a Bud Light and took a big swallow.

“Aw, hell,” he said. “Pass that sumbitch over here.”

Damned if I ain’t smokin’ weed with my boy.

He took a right good pull, chased it with another swallow of Bud Light, exhaled after the beer went down.

“Mr. Hawthorn, I don’t reckon that’s the first toke which you ever partook.”

“Nope,” Red said. “Just not lately.”

Andy looked so happy, he might have been eight years old on Christmas morning.

“I don’t suppose you boys want to do this again?” Red asked.

Bobby looked around. “Not no more than three or four times a week,” he said.

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Red laughed and took another hit.

“Most times I exaggerate when I talk to the audience,” Red said, “but I wasn’t lying tonight. That was fun, boys. We oughtta play gigs. Maybe not all the time. I might play a coffeehouse here and there. Y’all might want to keep some fairly regular gigs you got, but I think we can make a go of this thing.

“Y’all got a place to get together and practice.”

“On Lake Murray,” Bobby said. “Todd’s family’s got a lake house. Ain’t nobody there but us during the week. It’s kind of a family place on weekends.”

“It’s kind of a pot-smoking place during the week,” Todd said.

“What you got for traveling?”

“We got a trailer.”

“That thing make it to Nashville?” Red asked.

“I’d say so if it was hooked up to a better pickup than the one we got,” Bobby said.

“My Silverado’ll fill that bill,” Red said. “Now, look, if you want to go with me, I gotta do some songwriting business up there. I can get us some gigs, but I’m gonna tell you right now, we’ll make more money around here. Nashville’s a shopper’s market, boys. You play in Nashville, it’s shifts around the clock, but most of ‘em’s just playing for tips. It might not be no more than gas money once we start dividing it up.

“But, it’s a place where you might be seen.”

“It can’t hurt to be playing behind you,” Wade said.

“No,” Red said, “but it might not help as much as you think.”

“Don’t matter,” Bobby said. “We’re there.”

“Ah’ight,” Red said. “When can you get loose? What say, Thursday week, early in the morning? You bring the trailer up to my house – I’ll give you the address, here’s a few of my cards – we’ll hook up my truck. When you boys got to be back? Sunday night?”

They all exchanged glances. “That’ll work,” Bobby said.

Hal pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket. He counted out a hundred apiece for the four band members and Andy.

“That don’t leave you nothing,” Todd observed.

“Ah, don’t worry about me,” Hal said. “I made a little money off the CDs and tee shirts.

“I got a booking agent in Columbia. I’ll put him to work on getting us gigs around these parts. In the meantime, when y’all wanna practice?”

“How ‘bout Wednesday, eight o’clock?”

“Me and Andy’ll be there,” Red said. He looked at his son. “That suit you?”

Andy hadn’t said a word, quite possibly because he was stoned.

“Cool,” he said. “Shit, yeah.”

The storm finally ran its course. Fortunately, the parking lot was paved, but there was standing water to tiptoe through. They got the Unborn Calves’ equipment loaded without much trouble. Working up a little sweat wasn’t a bad thing for any of them.

Hal slipped behind the wheel of the Silverado, which is when it occurred to him that a trip to Nashville was going to require two vehicles. The boys in the band could follow him and Andy in his old Honda. Hal made a mental note to get it serviced and check the tires. He didn’t have much to say, just thought things through, till they got back to the Interstate.

Andy lit a cigarette and cracked the window.

“Mind if I bum one? I always did like a cigarette when I was a high.”

Andy handed him the pack and the lighter.

Red took a draw on the cigarette. “Andy, how many text messages you got from your mama?”

He looked at his cell. “Five.”

“I got three,” Hal said. “I reckon me and you better start angling toward you staying at my place.”

“Cool,” he said. “I was just thinking. This was kind of a magic night.”

“Ah, sometimes it works. Sometimes it don’t. Last time I’s feeling this good about a band, I damn near got arrested ‘cause the steel player got busted in Mobile, Alabama, ‘cause he left a bunch of pain pills laying around in the dressing room. Hell, I didn’t know he was no pillhead. He got ‘em out while he and the rest of them was taking a break, me out onstage playing alone.

“There went that. They seem like some good boys, Bobby and them, but you don’t know. If the good Lord’s willing …”

“And the creek don’t rise,” Andy said.




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