Do you know what is boring? Do you know what is really fucking boring?
Watching your high school boyfriend practice with his hardcore band in the basement of his mother’s hair salon. Your boyfriend plays bass and you think to yourself—why would anyone want to play bass? If I were in a band—if I had any musical talent whatsoever—I would probably want to play guitar or be the lead singer. But I guess they already have a guitar player and lead singer. Mick. Mick with the green mohawk and ripped black jeans and safety pins in his ears. Mick seems to be the boss of the band. He calls smoke breaks when he feels like it and everyone goes along and doesn’t ask for a smoke break until he says they can have one.
I’m getting the feeling my boyfriend is just in the band so the band can have a place to practice. He wasn’t in the band before. He’s the newest member. Him and Mick weren’t even friends before. I don’t think Mick even knew my boyfriend existed. They just sat near each other in math. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that my boyfriend’s mother’s hair salon is the perfect place to practice since Mick just got kicked out of the house and they can’t practice at his dad’s place anymore. Now Mick squats at the vacant building downtown or he stays at Megan’s house—his silent but faithfully devoted girlfriend.
My boyfriend asked if I would come and watch them practice because Megan always comes to watch Mick. Megan, with her brown bobbed hair and frosted pink lipstick, sits in the corner and watches them as if she’s really fucking interested. She stares so intently at her boyfriend, she hardly blinks.
How could she be so fucking interested? They are terrible. They are a terrible band. Okay, I admit I’m not hardcore fan to begin with, but this band doesn’t even know what they are doing. They don’t know how act or practice. Mick doesn’t seem to even know how to tune his guitar. Every time they start playing Mick says something doesn’t sound right and the drummer says—you need to tune your guitar and Mick says it’s not that and they go on like this for what seems like hours.
In an attempt to relieve my boredom, I try to start a conversation with Megan. We’re the girlfriends. We’re the girlfriends; therefore, we don’t exist unless they want one of us to run upstairs and get something like a beer or chips or a pick. I think this would be more fun if I was on acid or if I had some weed or if Megan had any kind of personality that I could work with. She just sits there staring. If I ask her a question, she gives me these one-word answers.
—What school do you go to? I ask
—Beal, she says.
—I go to Beal too. Are you in the art program? I ask.
—No, she says.
—What grade you are in?
—Tenth, she says.
Okay then. I’ll just fuck off over here to the other side of the room and let you continue to stare at your boyfriend.
Mick is starting to get really testy with the band mates. He wrote a song and apparently no one is playing it right. No one understands his artistic intentions. But the song is pretty terrible, if you ask me.
My boyfriend can tell I’m pissed. I’m trying not to let my feelings show on my face, but that’s pretty much near impossible for me. I can’t be fake and I can’t lie and when something is wrong everyone can tell by the look on my face. My boyfriend catches me rolling my eyes at something Mick says and he mouths “Don’t”. He has a kind of panicked look like he’s afraid of what I will say or do next or maybe he’s afraid of what Mick will do. I’m not sure.
There will not be a repeat performance of this. I can assure you. I will not be a prop. I thought it might be interesting to hear them play before I realized they were using my boyfriend and now it’s unbearable to watch the drama unfold. My boyfriend is just sitting on the couch with his bass in his hands pretending to tune it or something. They call him in for one song and then as soon as he starts playing Mick says: —No, no, no, no … don’t you even listen to our music?
—Sorry man, is all my boyfriend mutters and sits back down. Weak. He’s a weak bitch, my boyfriend. He doesn’t like confrontation. Doesn’t care if he wins a fight. Do you know how frustrating it is to fight with someone who won’t fight back? He’ll take the road of least conflict even if it takes him nowhere, even if he ends up going in circles. And he’ll defer to whoever has the more dominant personality—his mother, his sister, me, Mick. While I don’t want him running around beating everyone up like my dad did in high school, it would be nice if he stood up for himself once in awhile. I mean who joins a band and then doesn’t even get to play?
I would tell Mick to fuck off myself, but I’m not certain that Mick is the type of guy who draws the line at hitting a girl. There have been rumours about Mick. He was at the centre of a big fight after school where about three kids were hospitalized and ten got suspended. I can usually tell how far to push with someone. Like my father for instance. He can yell and topple tables and throw books across the room, but I know he’s never going to hit me, so I always fight back.
At one point while Mick and the other guys are conferring in the middle of the room, my boyfriend back on the couch like a punished child, I guess I let out a big sigh and then stretched out my leg and knocked over a beer bottle. I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to draw attention to myself like that, but Mick hears it and stops talking and looks over at me. He’s got a mean face.
—Excuse me, he says.
Everyone in the band looks at me except my boyfriend who keeps his eyes on his bass; he’s frozen, not wanting to look at me, not wanting to look at Mick. Even Megan looks my way like she’s seeing me in the room for the first time since we got here.
—Everything cool? he asks.
It’s a horrible situation. I’ve drawn attention to myself in the worst way possible and all I want to do is laugh.
I want to say something that could cause a shitshow but instead I just say quickly, —Yep, everything’s cool. Sorry.
Mick doesn’t acknowledge that I’ve spoken to him, and he turns his back to me and directs the band to start (finally) playing. He even has my boyfriend get in on this song. Apparently the song is for Megan and it’s about the time they almost broke up because she thought she was pregnant and then they got back together. Mick recounts the story to everyone in the room like he’s talking about a vacation they went on and not one of their most painful, private moments.
Privacy issues aside, it’s a not a very hardcore song, if you ask me. I know. No one is asking me.
Mick starts talking to everyone super nice like he’s been a good guy all along. Like he’s this great boyfriend and competent bandleader. He even says a few nice things to Megan who smiles like she’s been touched by a god.
I think to myself—I’m not sure how much longer I can take all this.
And then they play and they play and they play. And the music is terrible and my ears are ringing and there’s a musty smell in the room that is suddenly making me feel like I want to throw up, so I get up, cross the room, and start to head up the stairs to the salon where I can twirl in the stylist chairs and maybe run a brush through my hair or smell the shampoos.
As I climb a few steps, Mick stops the song he’s playing and says to me, —Hey, where you going?
—Upstairs, I say and take another step.
—We’re in the middle of a song. You can’t walk out in the middle of a song, he laughs in this exasperated but sort of lighthearted way that sounds like he’s being friendly but he’s actually being the opposite of friendly.
—Sorry. I just wanted to get a drink of water, I say and curl my hand around the metal handrail. My hand is damp and the metal cools my skin.
—Sit back down, Mick says as if he’s talking to an unruly puppy. Sit back down beside Megan.
The air in the room is suddenly stale and hot. I get a scratchy feeling in my throat and then a lump. The band mates are looking at the floor and so is Megan, but this time my boyfriend is looking right at me. He’s looking right at me and not saying a fucking thing. He’s not saying anything. But he doesn’t have to because I know what he wants. He wants me to shut the fuck up and sit by Megan. He wants me to sit there until we’re told by Mick that we can leave. Sit there like a good girl. Like a girlfriend whose job it is to watch her boyfriend play in a shitty band. My body temperature goes from hot to burning. My face is red. My temples are throbbing. I clutch the handrail tighter and the dampness from my hand causes my grip to slip. My legs are shaky and feel like they won’t hold me up anymore. I know I could save this moment. I know in one move I could dissolve all the tension in the room and the band will go on playing and everyone will pretend none of this happened—especially my boyfriend.
I stare at Mick directly in his eyes as if I am clear about who he is and what he is and isn’t capable of doing—even though I have no fucking idea.
—Sit down, he says again firmly.
In another universe my boyfriend would step in and tell Mick to fuck off and kick everyone out of his mother’s salon or the band mates would stand up to their leader or even Megan would come to my defense in some form of female solidarity or in this other, better, more perfect universe that doesn’t seem like it can or will ever exist, I would turn my back on Mick’s request, continue walking up the stairs, and go home.
But none of this happens.
Instead, I avert my eyes like the others and quietly say—Okay.
Then I release my grip on the handrail and walk back down the few steps I had managed to climb, and I go and sit down right the fuck beside Megan.
Mick nods and then shoots me a half-smile.
Megan and I sit in the same position—knees bent with our arms wrapped around them in a hug.
The band starts playing.
Megan nods along to the music. I sit very still, trying to maintain a neutral expression on my face.
Although the tension in the room seems to have disappeared, it somehow it finds its way directly into my body—my hands tremble and my heart beats faster than I thought it could.
—Your boyfriend is an asshole, I say to Megan without looking at her.
—I know, she says.
Kathryn Mockler is a writer, screenwriter, and poet. She is the author of the poetry books The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield Press, 2015), The Saddest Place on Earth (DC Books, 2012) and Onion Man (Tightrope Books, 2011). Her writing has been published in The Butter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Lemon Hound, and Geist. Currently, she is the Toronto Editor of Joyland and Publisher of The Rusty Toque