She followed the dull thudding bass upstairs. The sound led to a door just down the hall from her bedroom. It was an ordinary plain fronted door. In spite of its noisy clamouring, the door appeared so inconspicuous, that it could have been mistaken for a closet.
"Funny closet," said Ebony folding her arms defensively. She eyed the blank painted door with its muffled emanations suspiciously. The beat changed abruptly. The bass thumped heavily into a slide guitar, peeling off a set of shrill whistles.
She began folding her hands nervously. Ebony tussled between curiosity and shyness, pacing the hallway outside. Eventually she sniffed up the courage and was about to knock, when the tempo exploded into a frenzied instrumental.
"Who would be playing that sort of music in this house anyway?"
Uncertain of her next move, she shifted from one foot to other. Behind the door lay an acoustic battlefield. There was no way a polite knock would be heard.
Eventually Ebony pushed the door ajar, just enough to peek through. She took a moment to adjust to the assaulting noise and darkness. It was difficult to survey the scene inside as the room was dim, lit only by the sickly hue from the computer screen blinking at her from the corner. The floor was strewn with magazines and crawling power leads. It was only a small room, but it was a real mess. Ebony stepped into the debris. Her foot crunched against an empty coke. She gasped. A strange smell wafted on the dank air. The battering of her eardrums continued. The orchestration changed up a beat rattling to a crescendo.
Ebony moved cautiously into the domain, through the darkness and under the cover of thrash music. With the curtains drawn the littered floor navigation was difficult. The walls were plastered with peeling posters of bands bearing names like Crimson Lizard Guts, The Whorl, Tripping Hillbillies and others she'd never heard of before. An assortment of sound equipment, amplifiers and keyboards interrupted the sprawl. Red and green graph light, danced up and down on a synthesiser. She stood mesmerised, her adrenalin pumping with the beat.
On a mattress in the middle of the room was the producer of this musical orgy. She spotted him in the same moment she spied the empty wrappers of something that was surely forbidden in Gran house. Strewn recklessly on the floor by his mattress were several empty packets of chips.
The culprit was sitting cross-legged on the makeshift bed, pulled together with a purple tasselled cover. He looked about seventeen. Wearing a black metallic t-shirt and worn-out jeans. Unaware of Ebony's presence, he was completely into his guitar, gently quivering the strings. His eyes closed in concentration, fingering intricate motions that. belied the noise.
Ebony swayed before him, trying to keep her head above the waves of each crashing beat. He just sat there swooning to his own rhythm, his mouth hung slightly open. His skin was a pasty pale against his dark hair. She waited, watching his profile, willing him to responded to her presence.
Eventually he turned to face her, exposing his half shaven scalp. Ebony winced. He made no attempt to cut the stereo. He stared straight through her, moving only to his own tempo, his eyes sunken, dark and expressionless.
She grew defiant. "Who do you think you are in my Gran's house anyway?" She muttered clasping her hands over her ears. "This is unbearable." Her nerves prickled until and snapped. She lost her head and bellowed, "Shut uuuuup."
Her roar barely made an impact over the percussion. He wasn't going to let up. He merely lifted his gaze toward her and continued quivering the strings with exaggerated flair. The graph lights on the synthesiser were going berserk. Ebony plugged her fingers in her ears for better protection and scanned the room, to search out his vital equipment. She found the red off button on his amp and pushed it.
The silence was exquisite. Ebony saw his face drop and smiled meekly.
"Hi!" she said giving him a stupid little wave.
For what seemed a long time, the guitarist gave no reaction. The two stared at each other, the silence stretching til the atmosphere grew breathlessly thin.
Eventually his voice cracked. "Heewwhaadjudo thafor?"
"I'm sorry," Ebony gaped sincerely. "I just couldn't stand the noise any more."
"Whadjya mean you couldn't stand it, it's roolly cool."
"Who are you anyway?" She said, slightly annoyed.
"Me, Oh, -the name's Jesus." He held out his hand.
"Pardon?" She shook his limp grip tentatively. "Did you say Jesus?"
"That's right, Jesus by name, Jesus by fame," he crowed.
Ebony put her hands on her hips. "So what - are you preparing for a Christmas comeback or something, Jesus?"
"A lady with a sense of humour. I like it. Jeremy Sussex is my name; my friends just call me Jesus. Jez for short."
"I'm Ebony," She smiled. "I live here."
"Aarrhh right, yeah, I know. You and your sister Flo'." He shifted his guitar to one side and began to unfold himself from the floor.
"Glad to see you at last. It's weird huh, we live in the same house and it's taken all this time to run into each other."
"Excuse me?" she frowned." So why the big secret? Why didn't anybody tell me?"
"About me you mean," he grinned, amused by her frustration. "I guess they forgot."
"Forgot!" She leaned against his desk for support. Jez cleared a space in the mess to make room for her.
"I keep odd hours you see," he nodded for her to sit. "I'm like the phantom."
"The Phantom - oh ghost who walks." He used a deep spooky voice.
"Your probably not the only ghost in this house." Ebony sulked.
"Yeah right," he gestured gallantly. "Here take a seat."
Ebony appeared self absorbed, but plonked herself onto the mattress beside him.
" I know Flo is forgetful but you'd think that Gran or Pop would mentioned you." She pouted. "We may as well have been living on different planets as sharing the same house."
Jez put his guitar on its stand. "Speaking of which, I've met your sister. She's full on. Your nothing like her."
"Thanks." Ebony huffed. She looked uncomfortable and not just because the mattress was thin. Jez grabbed his remote control.
"You should be careful walking around this house on your own, you never know what you might find." He said.
Ebony squirmed suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
Jez was flippant again. "Hang around here long enough Eb, and you just might find yourself." He laughed. "So you wanna hear some music?"
"Um, maybe something quiet, I've got an earache," She lied.
"Let's try the radio then." He aimed his remote. "I've programmed this with all my favourite stations. All I have to do is select the code and…"
Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep, the sound pitched mercilessly. Ebony shrank from the brain piercing noise. Jez merely frowned and punched another number.
I closed my eyes, and entered the space between my stinging eardrums. In that darkness, my mind travelled, soaked with the sound. The squeal subsides into a monotonous rhythm of windscreen wipers, slapping and squelching in a squeaky routine. I am travelling in a car. I do not know who I am, or where I am going, but sense I have been here before. I am too empty to speak. I stare outside, into the wet darkness.
Water streams in patterns against the glass. I gaze into it. Beyond, the night is splashed with the flash of headlights and luminous street signs. Pondering the dance of intermittent light upon the watery design, I feel part of its flow. Perhaps I am crying. Perhaps it is only the rain outside. The wipers continue to squeak.
"Ebony," the voice beside me speaks. He gently pushed my elbow.
"Do you want to change frequency?"
The radio screams. The colour washes from Ebony's face. She looks stunned and out of place in Jez's bedroom.
. "What?" She stares, trying to shake the numbness from my head.
Change frequency," he calls above the wailing pitch.
"Here, you find a station." He thrusts the remote into her hand and crawls toward his CD collection.
The words can barely be deciphered through the bleeping transmission.
"You beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep got
to …beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep and get beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee."
Jez growls impatiently. "Damn public radio," he swears. "Censorship is so bad, they won't even let us hear the latest songs."
"Who are 'they'?" Ebony asks vaguely. Jez does not answer.
"So much for freedom of speech!" he grumbles, rattling through his selection.
"I tell you Eb, if you want to hear any decent music these days you have to make it yourself."
Ebony flinched back to life, clearly in no mood for another one of his slam bam melodies. Fortunately, Jez' attention was firmly entrenched in his CD rack, away from his instruments.
"Here's one for you." He retrieved a classical disc.
Ebony was dubious. "You like classical music too?"
"Sure, I listen to almost anything now. Gran likes me to broaden my musical horizons."
"Yeah!" and he added fondly, "She's pretty cool your Gran."
For a moment Ebony brightened and smiled proudly. "You think so?"
Jez grinned at her. "Sure. Now listen," he said, drawing her attention back to the music, "this is flamenco; hows this for guitar work."
The strings loosened Ebony's tension. For a while she began to relax, despite Jez prodding her for conversation. "Hey, what about this fretwork? Isn't it fantastic?"
It was hard to ignore his enthusiasm.
"Yeah, it's nice."
"Nice!" he yapped and recoiled.
"What's wrong?" She got defensive
"I hate that word, nice. It rhymes with mice."
"It's just not a cool thing to say."
"Oh yeah?" She sneered sarcastically.
"Yeah! Nice-is a blerwk word."
She gave him a measured look; he clicked his fingers and rolled his hips.
"Get it, try cool. Cool is the rule."
"Sure, it rhymes with fool."
"Heeeyy!" He pretended to be hurt. "You've been hanging around Gran too much."
"So just how long have you been here?"
"That my dear is a very deep question. Do any of us really know?"
"Um excuse me." She grew cynically. "I think you've been around Gran too long."
He laughed. "Yeah I know. She rubs off on you."
"So how did you come to live here?."
He sat down beside "That's a long story."
"How long then?."
"About a year - I'm almost part of the furniture."
"I meant the story."
"Yeah, time flies." He ignored her puzzled face. "You see I spend a lot of nights working a rave gig."
"What do you mean... like you talk all night"
"No sweetheart," he crooned, his mouth flexed open like a rubber band. "I'm the DJ," he spilled. "I spin the discs, drop the hits, I'm king of the hip-hop, dance non stop, play the music till they drop."
He was a real mover, completely over the top.
"I know what a rave is." She snapped.
"Most times I don't get home till dawn, which explains why you haven't run into me."
"You go to sleep when we get up."
"Why our paths have not crossed." Jez grew serious and looked at her intently.
Ebony avoided his gaze and started studying some magazines on the floor.
"You're lucky you've got Gran and Pop to look after you." He insisted. " They're kinda awesome in an odd sort of way." He began fixing the balance on his stereo. "Believe me, you could do a lot worse in your situation."
Ebony went on alert. "What situation?"
He looked up, kind of surprised. "You know, being split from your folks."
It was a struggle to sound casual "Oh that… well it's been pretty weird… but…"
"Ebony, you don't have to pretend."
"What do you mean," She said flatly, swallowing the lump in her throat.
"Don't tell me your not cut up about being dumped here."
Her face crumpled.
"I bet they didn't even give you a proper explanation." Jez purveyed a combination of bitterness and concern.
Ebony stiffened, not wanting to be pitied.
Jez didn't relent. "Well, were you?," he said, his vitriol rising.
Ebony faltered, looking for an excuse. "Well Dad's always so busy -his work is…" . She searched the floor for an out.
"Yeah right!" Jez' voice stung with sarcasm.
"I gotta go." Ebony started to get up.
" There's no point running away Ebony." He grabbed her arm gently and cornered her by the door. " I know how it hurts."
"What would you know?" She hissed, like a wild cat.
© Gail Galloway 2000
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© Jonathan Sturm 2001