by Fiona Smith
One of the symptoms of a heart attack is a looming sense of dread.
Fatigue, nausea, light headedness, tight-chestedness, shortness of breath, coldness of sweat. Having much in common with your common anxiety attack.
You wander in a pulsing daze. Periphery full of panic spots, nowhere to hide. Shaky at the Whiskey and hyperventilating by the Viper, you take shelter beneath the Mystery Pier Books sign. Better that than the Hollywood sign. That phantom ‘Land’ won’t fall off and crush you.
A band should be a gang, they say, full of swagger and mischief—not an anxious small-town androgyne drunkenly recruited by three dough-faced village idiots with a knack for an infectious rock tune. Two slow-sipped beers put in you with an acrid creeping dread are long gone. The crew are well on their way to shitfaced, aka Coolsville. Staying on the straight and narrow makes you more of a child in their eyes. Little do they know what you’ve taken in your time. When you don’t show, they’ll piss in your suitcase before they call the cops. No one has your mother’s number.
All the common havens of the anxiety-attacked—jacks, corridors, back rooms—are too dank and airless for this bout, too prone to noisy invasion. LA backstreets are too wide, too menacing, so you trip around, flipping through a paltry place-holding stash of confusing low-denomination green notes. You don’t know the whereabouts of what tour manager Roy drolly insists on calling your “motel-hotel.”
Here to play your treasured bass on a hallowed stage in your black vest and tight jeans, you’re a mess. If you survive this sick-fit to make the show, your only urge right now is to scrabble off into those fabled hills, curl up in a ball and expire.
Your 19th birthday passed unmarked on the plane. Maybe your mother has a record token in a card for you, propped up like an expectant patient on her mantelpiece. Maybe you’re tucked up in your own bed in the idle wilds of your own faraway West and this is a dream about to burst with the dawn chorus.
With every passerby, every nerve-shredding headlight, you feel the heavy-lidded eyes of the group therapy sessions upon you. Sat in silence, dropped off by Mammy, obscure band names and contempt written all over you.
They can tell you think you’re far too special and talented to be among them. Every fibre of your being screaming: My pain is less ordinary than yours.
Well, just look at you now, helplessly puking in the parking lot outside the hottest club in the hottest town on the planet.
A side door opens with a burst of heat and noise as someone exits, lights a cigarette.
Hey, he says.
Go away, you whimper into yourself.
Are you okay? he asks, soft, as you shudder, swallow and raise your head but look no further than his lapels. His leather jacket, brown shirt, blue jeans are clean yet they have a dry dusty aura of something long buried in sand.
You wipe your mouth, spit and glance as far as his chin.
Hundreds of sweating blank faces evaporate into the darkness.
Your synapses fire with recognition. You know that chin. You’ve seen it a dozen times or more via VCR and cathode ray.
Your pupils widen, light blazes in. Lids snap shut and green flashes pulsate.
Running on empty…
He radiates warmth in your direction, distant concern, blasé curiosity.
Stand by me…
Your eyes find that chin again and you know.
He is risen.
Okay, we are where we are—a lookalike, a surgical sculpting isn’t beyond the realms. An actor shooting a biopic of a fallen hero. An uncanny wannabe, showing up at this fateful spot to freak people out, pose for pictures, score free drinks, a walking talking point.
Another sad fame vulture.
One night in the life…
You glance over towards the Whiskey A Go Go. There’s a man in a chicken costume crossing the street and a girl outside in a Batman mask waving a slo-mo sparkler.
You wonder if you’ve been spiked. You think not yet you have the strangest feeling everyone is moving through a next-door dimension, and time is flowing back and forth through this boulevard like an unstoppable force.
Just breathe, it’ll pass, he says.
He breaks out a stick of gum, holds it out.
Peyote in the desert. Swimming upstream…
Slim slippery LA fairytale. Your American Dream.
Reaching through a dying starlight newborn universe, you take the gum and murmur half-apologies and don’t even try to explain that you’re from Ireland. You chew chew chew on this magical other-worldly gelatin.
Is this all a special gift from your misfiring brain?
You want to ask him about that night. But it seems so impolite—does he remember how it felt? Floating faces, flashing lights, torch-wielding paramedics, end-of-tunnel brain games? Or just nothingness. And then, what?
Taking in old haunts every night, elbows hovering over shot-soaked bars, fingers lingering on silent guitar strings? Appearing at sundown outside his favorite 7-Eleven as the pinks fade and the streetlights hum, pockets replenished with cigarettes and gum and the intoxicating favors of shady acquaintances?
You can’t say a word to his face, his fringe, downcast eyes and the plume of smoke from his evergreen lips. You just smile at the side of him, at that peach-fuzz half-grin of his. Zero in on a tiny scorch on his smoking finger you resist the urge to rub.
My slim slight slippery LA fairytale.
Swimming upstream… You jerk back to life, tongue spearing mint.
Your shadowboy is taking his leave, brushing by bouncers, dissolving inside.
You get the distinct impression that where he is going, you are not meant to follow.
You stand upright, brush yourself off, walk slowly back toward the Whiskey, toward that stage.
You can do this.