A Cry Baby wah-wah squealed over a Fender bass drone vibrating the tiles on the Hopetown’s lower façade. Rain fell from the awning to the street. The Valiant’s front wheel nudged the curb. The suspension croaked and a hubcap fell off. A sandwich board leaning under a window displayed a chalk picture of a rodent in a leather jacket with a loudhailer barking in stars and a speech bubble TONIGHT - BAND COMPETITION.

My band slow-clapped from the doorway.

I used the window handle to chisel my hickory drumsticks from the dashboard, sucked in a lungful of the gasoline fumes leaking from the trunk, pounded 27 triplets on my Levis, and charged from the Valiant.

The singer bowed her black hair through the rain curtain and caught the sticks in her left hand. A Nepalese shoulder bag concealed her right hand. “How’s your mum?” she said. “Had to fly the poor thing to hospital again?”

“What’s that on your nose?” said the bass player. He chewed his fringe and wormed over towards the singer.

“It’s a bandage.” The guitar player picked at the white skeletons on his grey Birthday Party T-shirt, which was older than his Scientists T-shirt, and then shook his fist in the sign of a telephone call at his baseball cap.

“What happened to your new skins?” The singer whacked the sticks into my right palm. “Keeping them for the solo album?”

The beer-drenched imitation Chinese rug, used on stage to keep things immobile, blocked the pub’s entrance. “What’s going on? Why are you all standing there like you’re at an intervention. Changing skins so soon before a gig would have been a disaster. Surely you don’t expect me to play with another man’s kit?”

Inside the doorway, an upturned chair straddled a desk holding a Seiko calculator, a dry stamp pad, and an empty cash tray. There was no guest list. On stage, an unknown band hung their heads over black boxes and laptop computers with tangled leads below strobe lights rigged up by wire coat hangers. Dark figures leaned on the bar and the scattered tables. The mixer glanced up from his knobs, tweaked his beard, and then looked away from me. I followed the singer to the toilets, hammering my sticks on the cubicles, until she told me to fuck off. Then I ducked my head under her door.

“Thumping mature skins sounds deeper than tickling virgins,” I shouted in a voice reminiscent of Jimmy Smith. “Some drummers prefer virgins because slapping them is gentle on the wrists and the tightness allows for easy stick twirling, but no real drummer, except Keith Moon, would ever raise his sticks above his shoulders unless going for a cymbal. Each divot in a mature skin tells a story like brail hammered out on a ribcage.”

Two bouncers came in and dragged me outside.

The bass player and the guitar player were slow-marching my road case towards the Valiant.

“I’ve been working on folk songs in Newtown,” said the bass player.

“Excellent.” The guitar player yawned and adjusted his cap with his shoulder. He deepened his voice when he saw me. “What did Hank ever contribute?”

“‘The Ballad of Mad Max’,” said the bass player.

“That’s right. No words. No melody. A dumb concept and a Russian strip beat. Instead of acting like a drummer he should have stuck to playing the drums.”

“He might get a gig with that leopard-skin prostitute.”

“Where’s Kay? What have you been telling her?”

They ignored me and lowered the road case into the trunk. I felt like a ghost watching my own funeral.

“Alright, I’ll use another man’s kit. What time are we on?” I kicked my floor tom and snare drum onto the back seat before jamming the rack tom between the road case and the fuel pipe. I stuffed the imitation Chinese rug behind the driver’s seat and rolled the bass drum in the back until the tuning pegs clawed the oxblood vinyl.

The guitar player thumped the roof. “She didn’t turn up, Hank. No one turned up. You saw the crowd. The manager slashed the playing time to finish early. I phoned your mum with our new slot. The restaurant line was busy.”

“Why didn’t you come and get me?”

“It’s fate,” said the bass player. “He was going to tell you last night, but you sent him on a guilt trip, so we decided to give you a swan song.”

“What the fuck is he talking about?”

“We’re worried about you, man.” The guitar player wiped his mouth. “You need professional care. You’re going to hurt yourself or someone else.”

“No one’s telling me how to look after my drums.”

The singer came out with my cymbals and fumbled them behind the road case. The tailor-made rips in her jeans revealed goose pimples and red skull panties and the spiky fragrance of marijuana and tea tree oil. She used to be in the Cockfighters and the Newtown Dolls, but her main interest now, according to her website, was irrelevant filmmaking. Her eyes were clear but the edges were red. “Are you coming with us to smoke a peace pipe or waiting here for your mystery woman?”

The bass player slammed the trunk. “We’ve already told him he’s out of the band.”


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