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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Take Another Road, Chapter 16--"Pacing the Cage"

It's time for Chapter 16 of "Take Another Road!"  Before we proceed, I recently have noted on Facebook that I'm undertaking a look at "Sweet Dreams:  Searching for Roy Buchanan." 

This is the book that my agency is pitching; it's time for a few changes, and true, some is based on the previous blog you'll find here. 

In any case, I keep at enjoy Chapter 16...


Chapter 16--Pacing the Cage

            Seated before her cards, Nanae turned the last one of her reading and examined the spread.  The afternoon was waning, and Asuka would be back later that evening.  She had received a phone call from her daughter that the trip had gone well, and that Kaldera would be giving everyone a ride home.  She was pleased that Asuka had had such a good time, and wanted to hear more about it.  For now, Nanae had another, more immediate concern at hand.

            She rose and went to the wall, which separated the room from Keru’s office.  Though she did not like to eavesdrop, what she had heard in a phone conversation from that room earlier in the day could not be ignored.  Keru evidently didn’t know she was there, or he would not have held the conversation in his typical voice. 

            “She is not returning until late,” Nanae had heard him say, “so we shall have to take it up tomorrow, or perhaps later in the week.  Thank you for your time, I will be in touch.  Good day.”

            The phone was replaced, and was no more speech from the office.  Returning to the table, Nanae sat and sipped her tea, and gazed again at the cards.  The reading held a number of cards from one particular suit, and their alignment was not a good one. 

            Nanae rose again; she stepped into the hall, through to the living room, then through the open glass doors to the patio.  The clouds, Nanae noted were starting to build; it would rain tonight.

            Nanae felt an anger rising in her; it was an emotion she did not wish to have, and she did not express it freely.  It did not come from the cards, for those merely confirmed what she’d suspected.

            She took a deep breath and returned inside, closing the doors behind her.  I will have to wait, the time is not right; there is more to this than the cards, or anything I have heard today.

            Sails lowered, Kaldera reversed the engine and expertly backed the Kudo into her slip.  He brought the bow around and set the boat parallel to the dock, with only the slightest squeaking of the hull against the fenders.

            Kaz and Minoru jumped to the dock, and caught the lines from Aimi and Asuka.  Quickly they pulled them taut, and began to wrap them about the huge stone cleats.  Kaldera shut down the engine, secured the wheel, then went forward to slide the gangway over. 

            “All ashore that’s going ashore!”  He called.  As the others laughed, he then went to help Kaz with the stern lines.  Aimi and Asuka came across the gangplank with armloads of gear, which they deposited on the dock.

            Kaldera checked to ensure the sails were properly lashed down and made a final inspection of the boat.  The others continued the load-off; as they did, they saw company coming.  Walking down from the road to the pier were Mei and Midori, both dressed for going out, and hand in hand.

            All detected this last detail immediately, and everyone but Kaldera stopped their activity. 

            “Well, well…”  Kaz commented to no one in particular.

            “I am not surprised,” Aimi added, and she smiled.  “Good for them.”  She watched how the two looked to each other as they walked, rather incongruous as they passed through a boatyard dressed as they were.  But they looked so happy, Aimi thought; she was pleased for them.

            The pair met the others at the slip, and got a big welcome home.  Kaldera joined them, and all repaired inside to get caught up.   Over drinks, the club regaled Mei and Midori with tales of the trip, but were also most interested in what had happened with the two absentees.  Seated together on the couch, Mei and Midori looked at one another, and the former said, “We are an item, gang.  I think we just built up to a place where we now know.”

            “That is really all there is to say,” Midori replied and the two kissed.

Everyone gave off a playful “Aww” as they did, and Aimi said, “You are both so cute like that!  I mean it.”

            “If you are,” Kaldera added, “you are.  No one here would begrudge you two your happiness.”

            “Never,” Aimi added and hugged Mei as she sat beside her.  “I love you both dearly, all of us do.”  Putting her hand out, she announced, “The Other Roads Club has spoken!”

            All put their hands forward and joined together.  “Now,” Kaldera said, “next time we’ll have all of you out there!”  Laughter filled the room, and, having no place special to go, the club sorted out their belongings and whiled away their remaining free time.

            Saki sat across from the man before her, as she nursed a bourbon on the rocks.  Part of her job at Tanaka’s, especially in the hostess bar section was to drink with the customers, something she did not like to do.  As a result, Saki did not “keep up” with those who wished to drink with an attractive, though modern geisha.  As manager of the establishment, Saki could invoke a sort of executive privilege.

            She’d heard just about everything come out of the mouths of the men that passed through here.  Often a geisha in such circumstances had to contend with a great deal of abuse, most of which was the customer venting frustration, and was not meant to be taken personally.  Listening was a large part of making the customer feel welcome, especially when they were in a bad mood.

            Saki however knew the fellow seated before her, and did not feel the need to put up a front.  He was dressed casually but well, his taste as always impeccable.  Yet this man was not himself today; his customarily well-styled hair was askew, and he was getting drunk, which also was not like him.

            “That’s where I stand,” Daisuke slurred.  “I don’t know what he’s got in mind, but everything’s coming to a head, and fast.  I’m afraid of what will happen.”

            Saki nodded.  “Keru is planning to make a bold move,” she replied.

            “Yes,” Daisuke mumbled.  He finished off the drink and signaled the waitress for another.  “I am caught in the middle; Keru is my boss, and he is my friend.  He and my father worked together in building this business, and I took his place after he died.  I have always prided myself on playing it straight, but now…”  

            He waited for the waitress to set down the large glass and take the empty one away.  Daisuke nodded his thanks to the woman, and took a gulp of the fresh one.  “You know how much I care for Asuka.”

            “You do,” Saki replied.  “I care for her, too; but it is you have looked out for her, and her best interests over the years.”

            Daisuke took a deep breath, and seemed to regain some of his composure.  “As she has gotten older,” he continued, “I have seen her grow, and transform from a girl to a young lady.  She still did not know what she would face; of late however, I think she is finally learning these things.  Kaldera, the others, yes, they are helping.  I have tried to be a big brother to Asuka, and I want to protect her, but not so much that it hurts her.”

            Saki said nothing, but sipped her own drink and thought about Daisuke’s words.  “Keru,” she said at length, “is a man who knows what he wants.  He sets goals, he works hard to achieve them, and does not like to take no for an answer.  Unfortunately, Keru also expects everyone else to fall in line with that philosophy.”   

            Daisuke nodded.  “I fear that something more is coming; there will be trouble, and I fear it will split this family.  I know things,” he added, his agitation growing with each word, “that you do not, and that many do not know.  Keru could, in his efforts to secure what he considers the best for Asuka, destroy them.  Asuka, Nanae, and…”  He stopped again, then downed his drink.  “I’ve spoken too freely, Saki,” he finished, “I’m sorry to have brought you into it.”

            Saki reached out and took his hand, and held it down on the table.  “Do not be sorry,” she replied, “I am here to listen, and you are my friend.  You are in a difficult position, but you are not in the right mind to take action.”  She stood up and smoothed her short, silken dress and added, “You are also not driving home, Daisuke; I will take you.”

            Daisuke slowly got to his feet and produced his keys.  Handing them to Saki, he also threw down a stack of notes in payment.  He leaned on the chair, not caring that others in the bar were watching him.  He looked over his shades as he watched Saki walk away in those killer stiletto heels to get her coat.

            “Who is that?”

            Kaz motioned with his head at the woman who was walking down the pier.  He and the others had seen Mei and Midori off a short time before.  The rest had returned to the boat to ensure the lines held the Kudo securely and that everything else was battened down.  The wind was coming up, and a light rain had begun to fall with the evening. 

            Aimi stepped to Kaz’s side and looked.  She was a small woman, but her look and

bearing showed she was not local.  She was black and dressed all in black, from her

her jeans to her leather biker jacket and boots.  Her hair too was black, in long

dreadlocks which were tied behind her.  The woman was carrying a guitar case, and

held a slip of paper in her hand.  She appeared to not know where she was.

Minoru stepped down from the gangplank and approached her.  “May I help you?”  He asked politely in English.  “You appear to be lost.”

            The woman regarded the young man before her, then grinned and displayed two rows of large teeth, yellowed by smoking or some other abuse.  “Someone speaks my language, cool,” she said, her voice husky for a female and a little ragged in its intonation.  “Yeah, I’m looking for Kaldera’s place.”

            “You have found it,” Minoru replied, as Aimi, Kaz and Asuka came down.  “We’re friends of his.”  Minoru introduced them around, and then asked, “Perchance, is your name Marlie?”

            She grinned again.  “That’s what people call me, among other things,” she replied.  “I guess Kaldera told you I was coming.”

            “He did,” Aimi replied and the group walked toward the boathouse.  “I understand you are friends.”

            Old friends,” Marlie said.  “I haven’t seen him in years, but I’m touring over here, and I hoped to catch up with him.  How…is he, by the way?”

            The way Marlie asked the question was odd, and Kaz asked, “How do you mean?”

            Marlie shrugged as the mounted the steps.  “Kaldera was in a pretty bad way, the last time I saw him,” she explained.  “Sorry, I guess I shouldn’t say; I oughta see him first.” 

            As they stepped onto the porch, they could hear a guitar playing.  Before Minoru could get the door, Marlie stayed his hand. 

            “Wait,” she said quietly, “let’s listen.”

            The four looked at one another.  Marlie’s expression was one of concern, but also sadness, as they did so.

“Sunset is an angel weeping

Holding out a bloody sword

No matter how I squint I cannot

Make out what it’s pointing toward

Sometimes you feel like you’ve lived too long

The days drift slowly on the page

(And you catch yourself)

Pacing the cage…”

            Marlie set her guitar case on end and leaned on it.  They could tell she was listening, with a deeper intent.  They did the same as Kaldera sang in a plaintive vocal, over a series of basic chords.  None of them had ever heard this song before, but Marlie obviously knew it.

“I never knew what you all wanted

So I gave you everything

All that I could pillage

All the spells that I could sing

It’s as if the thing were written

In the constitution of the age

(Sooner or later)

You wind up pacing the cage…”

            The song soon ended, and there was a silence.  Kaldera then moved off into some noodling on his acoustic.  The rain was starting to pick up, but Marlie remained in her spot. 

            “Same old Michael,” she said, almost ruefully, “but he sounds a lot better, that’s good.”

            “Michael?”  Aimi had asked the question in surprise, and her friends all directed their quizzical expressions toward Marlie.

            Marlie smiled.  “That’s his first name,” she replied, “gather he didn’t tell you that.  Not surprised, he usually just goes by his last.  Listen,” she added as she addressed them, her face now serious, “you didn’t hear me say this, but it’s clear you guys are good friends with him.”

            They nodded, and Kaz replied, “We have been for a while.  He’s been teaching Minoru and me, and he’s really brought us together as friends, and more.”

            Marlie nodded.  “Good,” she said, “now I’ll ask you guys a favor:  don’t do anything you wouldn’t normally do for him.  I know that Kaldera needs you as his friends just as much.  Be that for him,” she told them, “he needs you more than you’ll ever know.”  She nodded to the door.  “I’m ready if you all are.”

            Minoru slid the door back and allowed Marlie to pass through first.  As she did, the guitar playing stopped, and they watched Kaldera get to his feet.  He regarded Marlie with a genuine, welcoming grin, but Aimi noted he also stood before her and bowed in great respect.  “It’s been too long, Marlie,” he finally said.

            Marlie put her case down and went to Kaldera, and the two embraced.  “Too long, buddy,” she replied.  “Your friends found me wandering around out there.”

            Kaldera chuckled.  “I see you’ve all met, then.  Everyone, this is the famous Marlie Jones I spoke of.”

            Marlie laughed.  “Please,” she countered, “there’s nothing famous about me!  A one-hit wonder is not famous, but notorious!”

            All sat down in the living room, as Kaldera and Marlie got caught up.  Aimi noticed most were in silence as the two old friends reconnected.  Then Marlie brought out a gorgeous rosewood acoustic guitar from her case; Kaldera picked up the Martin he’d been playing earlier, and he urged Kaz and Minoru to join them as well.

            Both were rather reluctant, as what they heard became almost a clinic on singing and musicianship, from two people who communicated to one another in a most remarkable way.

            Marlie’s voice was that of a blues woman, though no one could really tie her to anyone in comparison.  Her finger picking style of guitar was done just with the elongated nails of her right hand, and her dexterity matched Kaldera’s note for note.  They played like they had never been away from one another.

            The songs were more of a folk-blues vein, a couple that were familiar through the cover versions all had heard Japanese musicians do, but quite a few others, many of them by the guest.  Aimi found herself enthralled by the woman, especially as she appeared so unflappable over whatever success she’d had in America.

            There was plenty of talk, too--the pair traded “war stories,” as they called them.  While Aimi and the others got occasional questions in, they were content to just sit and listen.  She also noted that Kaldera was changing again:  always relaxed, he seemed even more so, delighted to be with this friend of his one more time.

            Then Kaldera began to play “Street of the Broken Dreams.”  Marlie’s eyes widened at the opening chords; she had been surprised, Aimi thought, no, shocked was more the word.  But Marlie quickly picked up a second guitar line, an as Kaldera sang, Kaz and Minoru each added their musical colors.  Aimi and Asuka both began to sing the chorus as well; they’d heard it enough to know.

“But sometimes life doesn’t go the way you want it to

It’s a crowded place, the street of the broken dreams…”

            There was a silence after the song’s end.  Kaldera then turned to Marlie and gave a sad smile.  “Surprised, are you?” He asked.

            “I never thought I’d hear you do that song again.” Seeing that Kaldera was reaching for his cigarettes, Marlie reached into the pocket of her blouse and pulled out a short, thin cigar.  As she lit up, she added, “Have you told your friends about that one?”

            Kaldera shook his head.  “No,” he replied, “but I can, now.”  He looked around, and asked, “You heard me play this at the club.  It is one of my better songs, I feel, and one that has been recorded a few times.  It’s the one song from the very deepest parts of my soul, but you don’t know the full portent of it.”

            “It did,” Asuka replied, “sound like something very personal.  You don’t have to share it if you don’t wish to, Kaldera.”

            “No, I must.”  Kaldera smiled.  “I appreciate your courtesy, all of you; but you have become dear friends, and as we’ve become a ‘club,’ I don’t think there’s a need for secrecy.  Add to that, it is time to explain.

            ‘The song is about me,” Kaldera went on as he took a deep drag of his smoke.  “It is also about a woman; my former wife, Alicia.  She was my dearest friend, and to put a fine point upon it, my biggest fan.”

            “Alicia was my roommate in college,” Marlie said as she took up the story.  “We went to see a band Kaldera was in, and they hit it off like a house on fire.”

            Kaldera chuckled.  “That is so.  She was with me many years, though we did not get married for some time after that.  Alicia was to me a woman of vivacity and beauty.  She had a great, powerful zest for life.  After I began to tour and have some success in bands, she was my constant companion.”

            They watched as Kaldera’s face began to change, as the memories of the past returned.  “She stood by me for a long time, even when things got difficult.  Then it became too much for her.”

            Kaldera fell silent.  Marlie explained, “We all went off the deep end in those days, and we were just three of the many.  I was off doing my own music, my own thing, but with the money we made came a lot of other things.”
            “Drugs?”  Kaz asked, with some hesitancy.

            “Drugs, booze, anything you can imagine.”  Kaldera had leaned back on the couch, his guitar held loosely on his lap.  “I was an addict; I didn’t know a person who wasn’t.  We took and used everything that came along, and we even made up a few new ones in the era before designer drugs.  Money came in, and we spent it just as fast, all the while on the road, touring, recording and somehow still coming up with music that people wanted to hear.”

            “Alicia,” Marlie said, looking to Kaldera with a certain nervousness, “went even deeper.  The drugs brought a dark side out of her, one I’d never seen.”

            Kaldera nodded.  “Alicia had dark periods,” he explained, his voice beginning to waver.  “She would explode into these violent rages, and I knew what it was.  I couldn’t cope with it.  I tried everything I could think of--I did drugs with her, I didn’t do them with her, I ignored her.  Finally several years ago, I gave up on her.”

            Running his hand over his face, Kaldera explained, “We were living in Nashville at the time.  I was sick, very sick; I was determined to get myself clean after years of abuse.  I wanted Alicia to do it too, but she wouldn’t hear of it.  She continued to believe that she was fine, and that everyone else was mad.  I walked out, and never went back.  I checked myself into a rehabilitation clinic in Florida, near where Marlie lived at the time.”

            “I’d gotten clean about a year before,” she said, “and I told Kaldera that it would work, if he was willing to make the effort.  I bought him the plane ticket down and got him in there.”

            “I thought the 30 days I spent drying out would be the worst time in my life,” Kaldera admitted, “and it was hard.  I didn’t sleep for nearly three weeks as my body cleansed itself.  All I did was meditate, play guitar and go to my daily meetings with a counselor, and the group I was assigned to.  Toward the end, I began to feel progress was being made.  Then,” he added, as his voice trailed off, “I got a phone call.”

            Kaldera fell silent, and looked to Marlie.  “Can I?”  She asked.  When Kaldera nodded, she continued, “It was from the Nashville police.  Alicia had been found dead in her apartment.  It was an overdose of a bunch of drugs.”

            Aimi saw the shock, or at least the stunned looks on the other’s faces.  Kaldera was looking at the floor, his head resting on his guitar.  “I wasn’t there,” he said quietly.  “I know, I was not responsible for her actions, but their deaths were on my head.”

            Their deaths?”  Minoru asked.  His voice reflected the shock of those in the room.  “You mean--”

            “--yes.”  Kaldera raised his head.  He looked very old now, and Aimi could see the lines in his face in the dim light.  “Alicia was pregnant.  She was not far advanced; I didn’t know, she probably didn’t, either.  I know I was the father, because the one thing Alicia never did to me was cheat on me.”

            Kaldera rubbed his eyes and put his guitar aside.  “I wrote that song for her while I was still in rehab,” he said.  “I never recorded it myself, but friends who heard it did.  I had to somehow get the guilt out of myself.  Writing is therapy, they say--it is, and I just hope that people who hear the song know it is not an anti-drug song.  It is a song about loss, but also hope--hope that you can get out of tragedy and carry on with life.”

            Aimi watched as Marlie pulled Kaldera to her, and the others pondered what they had just heard.  Minoru finally spoke:  “Kaldera, you have just gone further than anyone I know in letting yourself go.  When my mother died, I never thought I could let her memory go.  There was always something there to hold onto.”

            “It’s all right to hold onto some things,” Kaldera said as he sat upright again, “but you cannot live like a person who has passed is still here, still alive.  Their spirit is always with us, and Alicia had the greatest, strongest spirit of any woman, any person I knew.  I now know that while she and our child are not here, they are here.  They are still with me.  That is why I do what I do; I find the way to live for myself, but also to assist others on whatever path they choose.  That’s why I’m here.”

            Everyone was aware that it had begun to rain harder; the drops struck the roof with force, and there was a rumble of thunder.  Kaldera took his guitar up again.  “If I may,” he went on, “there is a song I wrote recently.  I think it is about all of us, why we’re here.”

“Welcome to our story

As strange as you’ll hear

Yet between the words I speak

You may find it clear

It’s gone through many rewrites

And through the editor’s hands

And the story remains unfinished

But I’m sure you’ll understand…”

            Aimi looked around as all sat and thought of what they‘d heard, plus the lyrics of Kaldera‘s song.  We are all here for a reason, in this place, in this moment.  As sad a tale as this, we all needed to hear it, in order to understand Kaldera, but also ourselves.

“We all share a common thread

That binds us as one

Frayed at the edges in some places

But the ties, they remain strong

We were cut from different cloths

Not one of us the same

But we are a common thread

A common thread, the same…”


(Notes:  "Pacing the Cage" was written by Bruce Cockburn, and appears on The Charity of Night CD, 1996.

"Common Thread" was written by me; it has not been recorded.


Well, there you have it!  I welcome your thoughts...

1 comment:

  1. ahhh... much tighter than some other readings! AND pretty damn good structure... :o}