NEUTRAL SPACES

NEUTRAL

SPACES

Stream #08

2nd - 8th Mar 2019


- Cy Twombly



Dusk: a blade of honey between our shadows, draining.

― Ocean Vuong




* * *


"How many of you are ready to fucking ROCK?" I scream at the crowd. The feedback flares up like a threat. They respond as an undulating wave beyond the harsh lights, as a wall of hot breath.

Yao counts us off and I pull out a prop knife. I hold it so it glints just right. I slink up behind Ran as he hits the first chord, and I drag it across his throat.

The crowd screams, and Ran pretends to die. He slumps on the stage, his guitar hanging askew, head thrown back. They are loving it. Sidney starts up a chugging bass riff. The drums are deafening. By the end of the song, Ran will be resurrected as a bat, and the crowd will worship him. This is all part of the plan.

We continue playing to the breakdown where the lights on the stage fade on all the players but Ran—-a single spotlight claiming him like an abductee. In the darkness over tom triplets and growing feedback we start a three-part drone harmony.

Slowly, slowly. Very slowly.

His form shrinks.

He evaporates like so much fog from the machines.

His guitar slumps over, still plugged in, still squealing feedback--a prolonged death wail.

The crowd is silent.

And I notice that something has gone very, very wrong.

The bat comes, but it’s not moving. It flops onto the stage from a white flash of nowhere as only a corpse can. What is this? Too much noise, too much input. I strain my eyes to see the front row—-the darkness of the theatre is disorienting. I realize I’ve never truly looked into it before, questioned it. It makes me dizzy. It seems to be the darkness that is wailing rather than our instruments.

Yao doesn’t notice, just drills into the earth with a blast beat.

The hurricane does not raise the bat. The corpse a finality. The crowd starts to turn. Now that death has visited the stage we can’t sustain the entertainment, and they are beginning to sense our breach of this contract. The longer we play the more dishonest we look. This is my philosophical crisis, at least, until Sidney stands on the bass drum and begins to howl. As if this howl can add anything or redeem the avalanche we’ve set loose.

I think of Ran’s boy. Third grade. I think of scooping Ran into a shoebox, riding the bus across town with the shoebox in my lap. Handing the shoebox off to the boy for a backyard burial.

I think of trying to explain to Ran’s ex.

I see Ran's house, family portrait on a shelf in the sitting room, a streak of sunlight over where Ran stood the day it was taken. No theatrics, just another violent erasure. It sounds like this. The moment when the shades are pulled open and a scissor of photons bleaches his future out with a demon pulse and that high whine.

I try to shake it off but Yao won't let up on those goddamn drums.

I don't know how long I spend in my own head. At some point, Sid dismounts. Rushes me. Wraps the microphone around the back of my neck. He grips me by the shoulders, and we catamaran around half the stage until somehow the cord loses grip. I'm sweating, but Sid is somewhere else. He's got the thing wrapped around his neck still bellowing sounds so far outside his register that I'm only half-sure he's the one making them. I start coughing, and for the first time realize I've been screaming too.

The faces of our extended stage family I chance to catch sight of during the whiplash—-sound tech Teddy, for example, sipping a craft beer in the wings—-are impossibly placid. The glimpse is terrifying: it says, I am no ally. At least that’s what it says to me while also trying to comprehend the ramifications of the bat with Sid whipping me around, with Yao pummelling. Like sensing the bottom of the ocean yawning far beneath our vain attempts to remain afloat. Teddy is invested in our endurance, but seems not to have made any emotional connection. He simply exists, and waits. He has done the calculation. He has made whatever compromise. That, or he has no clue. How can he not? Look at the bat. Look at Ran.

Look at me struggling to breathe.

My head crashes to the floor. Everything reels. Feels taut. My legs paint shining leather arcs above me. A pain shoots up from my wrist to my shoulder. The night’s staccato mayhem flips off pause again when someone - a fan, I assume - collides with me on their way from stage left to center.

Forcing the walls 90 degrees to the floor, I barely manage to make out my assailant’s strobe-lit, aerial exit into the seething black-on-black. Waving or drowning, the crowd takes back one of their own as I land just outside the spotlight.

And that’s when I feel the heat.

I turn. Yao is seated before a wall of fire. The backdrop consumed. He’s drinking from a plastic bottle, replenishing spent fluids. The pentagram on his drum head suddenly seeming too close to home. He does not notice the inferno. How could he not? I look over. Teddy’s reading a flyer for some other other show. I need to leave. Get out. I take off my shirt and bundle Ran’s bat body into it and sprint offstage.

I run through the green room. Out to the loading zone. It’s quiet. Then a car drives by. “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt plays from the open window. The driver singing along. She passes. It’s quiet again. I look up at the yellow moon. Four bats fly through the moonlight.

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