“Are you ready to rock and roll!?”
Melanie’s voice boomed through the barn causing a group of pigeons to take flight from the dusty rafters. Moonglow raised her head back in annoyance and gave me the eye. As a flighty Arabian horse, she was never too impressed with Mel’s approach.
“I’m ready!” I hollered back and quickly finished brushing down Moonglow as she stood uneasily in the crossties, her weight shifting from one leg to the other.
In seconds, a boisterous Mel appeared beside me, a thin sheen of sweat on her dark brown forehead.
“How the hell could you even be riding in this weather?” she asked, words popping with energy. She was returning Moonglow’s wild-eyed look and I couldn’t help but snicker at their exchange. It was Mel versus horse and Mel usually won.
“I have to practice,” I reminded her, wiping the sweat from my face. I probably deposited a million white horse hairs in its place. Even though Mel was obviously bothered by the oppressive heat that swamped the Kittitas Valley in late July, she still looked insanely hip and bitchin’ (as she liked to say). Me, on the other hand, well let’s just say I looked like I belonged in a stable.
“I know you have to practice,” she said, tearing her eyes off my horse and ducking under the crossties, “but the concert starts in an hour and…you’re…”
She trailed off and gave me an unimpressed squint as she looked me up and down, deciding to finish her sentence by plucking a few strands of hay out of my unruly hair.
I snatched them out of her hand and flung them onto the concrete floor.
“I’m fine,” I told her quickly and gave Moonglow a few more quick brushes down her legs. I was going to put her away slightly sweaty which was never good, but Mel was right. I was a mess and I had a concert to cover. I’d always made a point of looking as natural and professional as possible at shows just so people wouldn’t think I was some groupie. Still, being covered in sweat and horse hair wasn’t a good look either, even for rock and roll.
“If you say so,” she said and crossed her arms. The movement pushed up her br**sts in her low-cut scarf top. Mel was totally tight with the whole groupie term. Then again, she wasn’t the one trying to make a career for herself in the music industry. She just loved rock—and its men—as much as I did and made one hell of a fine partner in crime for live shows.
I gave her a dismissive look and took Moonglow to her stall, locking her in just as a rumble of thunder shook the ground.
“It’s a bit early in the season for thunderstorms,” I noted as we made our way out of my father’s small barn. The air was ripe with electricity, and a mess of dark gray clouds loomed on the rolling horizon, spilling down the brown hills like dust bunnies.
She patted at her small afro. “As long as it doesn’t mess up my hair. Now aren’t you glad I got the car for tonight?”
I lived a bit outside of Ellensburg on a small cattle ranch, turned hay farm, turned waste of space, and a symbol of lost money. I never had a car and my dad crashed his truck into our neighbor’s fence earlier in the year, so it was either my three-speed bike, Moonglow, or my own two feet for getting around. Or Mel, when she managed to snatch her older brother’s car keys.
We called it the Dumpster. It was an ugly Gremlin, patched and peeling paint, and it constantly smelled like garbage. Its newest nickname was the Shaggin’ Wagon, based on the rotation of chicks her brother picked up in Seattle when he was there for school. Something about city chicks being easy. With Ryan, my ex, going there for college in the fall, the idea made me feel sick to my stomach.
Mel must have caught the look on my face as we crossed the narrow road of crumbling asphalt to the Gremlin, because her brows furrowed.
“Is Eric home?” she asked. Her voice always sounded small when she said his name.
I shook my head and looked back at the aging farmhouse, empty and terribly dark despite the evening light. It was Friday and my brother was finishing up summer school. He should have been home an hour ago, so I hoped he found some friends and was hanging out with them after class. As for my dad, he was out at the bar. At least I knew where he was.
Mel stopped and put her hands on my shoulders, peering up at me. I was tall for a girl, 5’9”, and she was a tiny little thing. I tried not to let many people boss me around, but she had a way about her. She leaned in close and peered into my eyes.
“Dawn, tell it to me straight. Are you okay? You don’t look okay.”
I gave her a quick smile. My lips tasted like sweat.
“I guess I’m just feeling overwhelmed,” I admitted.
She gave me a nod, reached into the open window of the Gremlin’s back seat, and pulled out a flask. She tossed it to me and I caught it with ease.
“Drink that,” she said. “Shut off your brain.”
I opened my mouth to protest but knew it would be useless. I tipped the flask back into my mouth and got a burst of warm whiskey as it poured into my throat. I swallowed it quickly and wiped my lips, trying not to cough.
“How about tonight you stop worrying about everything…and I do mean everything,” she said, emphasizing the last word, “and just enjoy the music for music. Don’t even take notes. Just be. I love you girl, but you’re trying too hard. It’s the f**king summer. You’re not even writing this piece for a paper, right? So take the time to live a little, you dig?”
I wanted to argue with Mel about needing to keep going, about buckling down and trying harder. Being a music journalist in Ellensburg, Washington, home of a big rodeo and miles of Timothy hay, was difficult. Being a female music journalist was almost impossible. But I knew complaining to Mel would do me no good. She was black and she had her own share of prejudices and obstacles to deal with, even in a field like nursing. Even in everyday life.
I smiled just as another roll of thunder crashed across the waving fields. Goosebumps prickled up my arms, despite the sweat and waning sunshine.
“I’ll try to have fun,” I joked. “So are we ready to go?”
She took a small sip of the flask then handed it back to me, nodding at it. “Almost.”
I sighed and took one more chug of the burning liquid. The baloney sandwich I made myself for dinner hadn’t protected me in the slightest and I was already feeling buzzed. I tossed the flask back into the car and gave Mel an expectant look.
She took a pair of Jackie-O sunglasses out of her snug denim shorts and placed them on her face. She grinned, her white teeth flashing like lightning against a cocoa sky.
“Getting there,” she said and opened the driver’s door. That smell of garbage wafted out and we both tried not to gag.
“Seriously,” I said as I eased myself onto the passenger’s seat. “Does he haul trash around in here or what? You know, maybe he’s living out of his car in Seattle, ever think of that?”
“Oh, I’ve thought of that.” She started the car and it chugged to life. Within seconds we were roaring down the country road, windows open, Alice Cooper’s “Hello Hooray” blaring from the radio. The breeze wasn’t doing anything to get out the smell or cool down the car. My jeans stuck to the seat. Dust and heat blasted my face.
“Are you worried Ryan’s going to start picking up trash once he goes?” she asked as she whipped the car violently onto the main road.
I would have laughed at that but it hit a little close to home.
She looked at me beneath her shades. “You know you have to give up on him, girl.”
I shrugged and started paying attention to the way the wind was tangling my long, curly hair. I was going to end up at the show with a rust-colored rat’s nest.
“We could make it work,” I said with quiet determination.
“You mad? I mean, I love the dude like I love my brothers, but you know this fairytale ain’t having a happy ending here. He was good for sloppy kisses and cherry popping and looking slammin’ at our prom, but you guys have been dullsville ever since…well, ever since you started school.”
This was all true, so I couldn’t argue. Ryan was my first steady boyfriend in high school and we were the envy of everyone there. At least, I told myself that. We looked good, both of us tall and very athletic, both of us competed in the rodeo every year (me in barrel racing, him in calf roping), and we were one of those tongue wrestling in public, sickening couples. Since I grew up towering over most of the girls and was predisposed to muscles and a small chest (and therefore a plethora of teasing), I always felt that Ryan’s love for me was like an award for staying alive or something. It definitely helped the high school years go down a lot easier. But after we graduated, everything changed—as it should, I guess.
“I don’t know, Mel,” I said, wanting to change the subject. It was making me feel hotter, dizzier. “We broke up but it doesn’t mean the end. You never know where the future will lead us.”
She snorted then shot me an apologetic look. “Hey, I just don’t want to see you spend the rest of the summer pining over him when you’ll probably get hurt in the end. Dude was a creep for dumping your white ass anyway.”
I leaned over and slapped my thigh. “And it’s a good ass too.”
“You can bet on it.”
I grinned at her and looked to the dry, quaint streets of downtown Ellensburg as they came into view. I had to get Ryan out of my head. There were more important things to worry about, like the shitty run I had with Moonglow that afternoon, or the rock concert we were about to infiltrate.
The venue was this small club near the university called The Ripper. It was one of the few places in town that played all ages shows, which was awesome when I was underage, but now that I had turned twenty-one and was a lot more serious about music, competing with teenyboppers for the best spot in the house was always a full contact sport. Tonight’s band, PASTE, featured Terry Black, the extremely foxy lead singer who screamed better than he sung—and that wasn’t saying much. I had reviewed the band’s debut album earlier this year for the college paper and called it “mediocre and malicious,” but still secretly hoped I could score an interview with him before or after the show. The band was popular-city.
Yup, part of me dreamed that an interview with Terry Black could be my big break. I had been writing articles, interviews, and show reviews all summer long and sending them to Seattle and Spokane papers hoping to be picked up. Last year I wrote for a few community newspapers, highlighting up-and-coming bands such as Boys N Snakes, and my current obsession, Hybrid. This June I got my biggest break when the Seattle Times published a review I did of a Bad Company show. No one had really heard of the band, despite having the all-mighty Paul Rodgers from Free in it, so somehow my review got attention. It also got me a big fat check—which I promptly spent on groceries for the house and a bottle of Wild Turkey for my dad. Ever since then though, I’d had no bites. I was hoping Black would fix the slump and maybe get me enough cash to buy a new saddle for Moonglow. Continuing on with my wishful thinking, I was hoping Big Ears, the music section of CWU’s paper, would make me editor and I could finally write about the bands I wanted to without hearing “but you’re a woman, let the men handle the noise.”