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Lyonnesse

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December 2010

She was walking home from Boxhagener Platz, in the snow, when her phone rang.

"Hollis."

"I'm in London," Inchmale said. "The Swedes might still do it, just to let you know, but I haven't had a chance to get them on the phone. Kimbie are in, though. They did the best bootleg of 'Hard To Be One' from the leaked sessions, it's been trending on the blogs."

"Hello, Reg." The reissue bonus disc again, she assumed. Or, possibly, the festival he was curating, although not in the UK. "ATP?"

"Stage. ATP stage, but at Primavera. I'm still trying to pin down a headlining act. How's the beekeeping?"

"Gentrifying," she said, in the interest of honesty. "Multiple bohemian strata." The Deutsche Demokratische Republik's architectural remnants sandwiched between the layers, like ash from a cataclysmic volcanic event. She would have arrived here eventually, perhaps, even without Garreth as catalyst.

Inchmale had said, relative to the limited context conveyed by Heidi after the Bigend Incident, that Garreth's gig sounded more like Professor Moriarty and his sidekick Colonel Moran than Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson; in the scope and organizational principle of the enterprise as well as, strictly speaking, its illegality. This had been with a certain relish. Conan Doyle, according to Inchmale, had lacked the true Fortean's (read: Inchmale's) tolerance for liminality, despite his deep draw to and mastery of the weird, and this central tension was what raised the Canon above the level of mere procedural, although it did nothing for the author's inability – bafflingly archaic to digital natives of the early 21st century – to spot obviously manipulated photographs. Hollis supposed he meant that a high-tech-rifle-wielding Colonel Moran would never have been allowed to slip the bounds of villainous character, back in the day, let alone marry the heroine, but that the world was a stranger place now.

"Happens to the best of us," Inchmale said now, already sounding preoccupied. As if his opening statements had been a preliminary event.

"How's Angelina doing? Is Willy in school yet?"

"Yeah..."

The preoccupation turned to an anomalous pause. Hollis slowed, uncertain, before the walkway leading to her and Garreth's building, juggling her nylon shopping bags and turning her back to the wind.

"Reg? You there?"

"I wanted to talk to you in person," he said, "but flights into Tegel have been disrupted by the weather, as I'm sure you're aware."

"About the reissue?"

"About recording."

Recording.

She watched the snow fall for a long moment. A well-bundled young woman brushed past, maneuvring a large pram of oddly retro vibe with ease borne of practice. Not the nanny, she guessed, but the mother. That was characteristic of the neighbourhood. The retro design as well.

"Hollis?"

"Sorry," she said automatically. "Just – I'd never expected this conversation to happen."

But now that it was upon her, it seemed inevitable; necessary – regardless of her answer to Inchmale's unvoiced question – to someone else's abstract ideal of all-encompassing narrative. A narrative that had morphed in recent years, she knew, extruding chapters and epilogues that hadn't existed when they had sat for the last time, all four alive, around the same table.

"It surprised me too," Inchmale said. "When I realized."

"What about Heidi?"

"She's in Berlin already. On her own initiative, once I mentioned it."

"No."

"Propeller Island City Lodge."

"You did not," Hollis said.

 

+++

 

"Reg Inchmale's an asshole," Heidi said, by way of greeting.

"Always." Heidi was smoking, balefully, under a concrete overhang next to the unrepresentative front entrance of the Lodge, in apparently imminent danger of impalement from the icicles dangling therefrom. She straightened and fell into step at Hollis's approach, as if entering the building were a pre-agreed verboten option. Hollis steered them down the street, toward a dimly-recollected coffee-purveying establishment. "How's the room?"

"It's got extra beds in cages. With bars. Nice bathroom, though."

Two Lions. Hollis nodded: it was the most spacious of the Lodge's offerings, and she was partial to it, the cages conveying an air of melancholy rather than menace. Designed to hold the pets of a fallen aristocrat, perhaps, economically unfeasible to feed but stubbornly maintained in straitened circumstance. Plush red flooring, undisturbed by claws. Appearances to be kept up.

"Inchmale talked to me first," Heidi said. "That's him being careful. He wanted to know what kind of option he was presenting you with."

"And you said?"

"That I was back in the game to begin with. Drumming. Can't paint figurines forever. No more fucking touring, though, I'm done with that shit."

"No touring," Hollis agreed.

"He'd have a problem with it? Your fiancé."

"No. More a—" An unspoken balance at risk. "We're still figuring out civilian life at the moment. Him and me."

She remembered then that Heidi had tried civilian life, to an extent further than she or Inchmale had managed to contemplate thus far. But Heidi didn't seem inclined to bring up the fact. She was looking around at the blocks of post-war flats that extended around them, lips thinned in skepticism.

"This is bad," she said. "It's got nothing on Cornwall."

"I'm further east," Hollis said. "Friedrichshain."

"What?"

She sighed. "Coffee for now."

 

+++

 

Rough Trade, buoyed by the critical if mild financial success of the second Bollards record, and faced with the leadership vacuum left by the demise of The Curfew's American labels - all ghost brands now, Hollis supposed, tattered sails passing in the Pitchfork-NME night - had taken it upon themselves to remaster and reissue The Curfew's first, still-most-beloved-by-college-rock-radio album, with copious liner notes, b-sides, and postmortem remixes. Clinging to the spar of a moment, Inchmale said.  As one consequence, alternative studio takes of "Hard To Be One" had been unearthed - they'd recorded the album in L.A., but the single had been cut in London - and just as promptly leaked, to a slew of unauthorized dubstep re-edits of the acappella.  Of all things. 

The very young label rep had spoken over the phone, apologetically, of porousness. Not so much breaches of security as a molecular digestion of boundaries, in an era where the warp and woof of sensitive diplomatic correspondence were indistinguishable from those of pirated Lady Gaga singles. Curfew fans were the very demographic to believe that information wanted to be free, if rocks could be said to want to be downhill, and the spirit of indie rock lacked the budget and will to stand in their way. Hollis got the impression that this had been a stealth marketing initiative, at some sub-Bigend level, or an informal request for proposals.

Their sales had always been better on this side of the pond, anyway.

She hoped Bobby Chombo had not been invited to contribute. Though he'd never had the right profile, she guessed, even when he was active. Olduvai George was doing something, under a non-Bollard moniker, and she looked forward to hearing it. Had looked forward, two weeks ago. All of a sudden incidentals took on added significance.

Hadn't Inchmale been looking for a stage headliner?

She called Garreth from a Café Einstein on Kurfürstendamm, while Heidi was in the WC. "Bring her over," he said.

"Later, I think." She wasn't telling him, she noted. Withholding information. Possibly a bad sign, but self-knowledge said not. A sign of uncertainty, more likely. "Tomorrow."

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," he said. The smile apparent.

 

+++

 

"Inchmale has one of his places here," Heidi said later, stabbing at a slice of apple strudel with controlled motions of the wrist.  As if testing an opponent in a duel. "Checkpoint Charlie runs it.  The sound guy.  Remember Charlie?"

"How could I forget." With an aptronym like that.  "And yes.  I met him here, actually, a few months ago.  At a vernissage."

"I got the sense Inchmale's original plan was to show up and kidnap you.  Drag you off to the studio, see what happens.  All expenses paid.  I told him he was at eleven, turn the fucking Jedi mind tricks down to seven and we'd talk."

Hollis let her head fall, gently, against the heel of her hand.

"Are you working on a project, now?  Writing?"

Designing a kitchen, she thought.  "No.  Not as such, no, but that's not the point."

"You don't sing anymore."

She shook her head.

"Be a disaster if you start again?"

"For The Curfew?"

More fanciful rock writers had made the argument, not so easily dismissed as at first glance, that she'd never been singing in the first place.  Or that the singing had been incidental, her untrained ability to hit the right notes aside.  It was why she'd been able to stop.

Heidi looked up at that.  Then grinned, after a second, wolfishly wide, and went back to dismembering her strudel.  The experimental phase over.

"Knowing Reg Inchmale," she said, "which we do to our ever-fuck-lasting sorrow, what he has in mind at this point will turn out to be bullshit anyway.  That being said, remember the tracks we cut in '99? Mostly without Jimmy Carlyle?"

"Christ. Yes."

"The studio closed down. They were throwing out master tapes, the story goes, just wheeling them out in bins. Fucking industry, you know? Somebody spotted the label on those sessions and called somebody else who called Inchmale. He played part of it back for me."

"Sounded good?"

"We'd had good ideas.  Guess he saw a way back into them."  And Heidi, too, implied, though she'd always disclaimed any part in the band's creativity, with contempt.

"Re-make," Hollis said. "Re-model.  Like the Roxy song."

"Up for it?"

"Sounds like messing with someone else's work." But that, she suspected, was Inchmale's point, or part of it. She thought about buildings in East Berlin, her own fingertips catching on the taut shine of Garreth's scars. Adaptation to circumstance. "We've done really well, you know, Reg and I, as friends. Without going into the whole creative process."

And it had been tough, the process; always.  Tougher still to find her own way through it, later, after a decade of Inchmale's oblique strategies, his backtracking and false starts, the trust they'd demanded and rewarded from each other. What had been immeasurably worse, though, was getting to the end of the process with the others, diving into the sea and touching bottom, only to find nothing of worth awaiting her.

She'd never figured out what caused the stall. Was too honest, even, to develop facile answers to fend off the fans. Nothing seemed to have triggered it. There had been Jimmy, but that had been happening for years. So had Inchmale's disaffection with constraints, any constraint, even that of their four-piece, which she'd assumed would continue to be fruitful. It had been a shock to realize it would not. At the time she had been afraid that this was it, finally, what her mother had warned her about: growing up.

That was the prospect she didn't want to face again, with rightful cowardice, and said so.

"Fuck the process," said Heidi, not without feeling. "You want to hear this stuff?"

Hollis looked at her. Heidi retrieved her phone – an iPhone 4 – from her purse, tapped the screen a few times and handed it over. Hollis looked at what she realized after a moment was a list of folders in the Dropbox app, numbered by date:

1999-12-03
1999-12-05a
1999-12-05vilecalumny

The younger Inchmale's sense of humour, isolated from the too-easily-imagined marker-pen block printing he would have used on the tape sticker. Baseless, vile. Bass-less. She selected one of the other folders, tapped, held the phone to her ear.

And was filled with Jimmy Carlyle's youthful voice, resurrected Pan-like, hauntological, in a German café: "Jesus, Hyde, give a guy some warning!" A crash of cymbal, tape hiss.  Laughter.

Heidi's face, easy to read for once, through a sudden veil of stinging tears.

 

+++

 

They ended up back at the Lodge, in the room of the Two Lions, sitting on the monastic double beds pushed together and passing a bottle of Glenmorangie between souvenir shot glasses. Pointedly not looking at the cages.

"I've gotten offers to reunite, you know," Hollis said. "Coachella, Reading, you name it.  Reg's fended off more. Not worth the bother of discussion, he said. And the sums keep getting bigger. I always assumed at some point they'd get big enough that I'd be tempted, but I didn't think he would be."

Heidi sniffed.

"It's a thing now," she said. "Pixies started it. You went to those gigs?"

"Of course."

"Full of baby fans. Fertilized eggs in test tubes, all of them." She raised a hand, ticking off fingers.  "Mission of Burma. Pavement. My Bloody Fucking Valentine, for fuck's sake—"

"Blur—"

"Forget Blur. Pulp. Who the fuck is left?"

"The Smiths," said Hollis. "The Stone Roses."

"Who the flying fuck," Heidi said, "are the Stone Roses."

"It's like that's become part of the story now," Hollis said. "But it wasn't like that when we started, was it? We assumed it was too late for us. That nothing anyone did in the nineties could possibly matter, later, when everyone would be flying around in jetpacks."

Heidi, shrugging, poured herself a slug of single malt.

"Do you think that if Jimmy realized, if he—"

"Fuck," Heidi said. "No. Stop right the fuck there."

Hollis stopped.  Heidi drank, not making eye contact. After a moment Hollis let herself fall backward onto the bed, gazing up at the ceiling. It was a plain, daubed dark grey, like an overcast sky, contrasting with the warm woodwork and red carpet. What passed for normal, in the Propeller Island, with its flying bed-temples and question-mark walls.

"He was just as done as the three of us were," she said, "I know.  But the rest of it wasn't real to him." 

Drunk father, no mother, and a small town that knew it.  He'd never been held by an anchor, her Jimmy, and paradoxically because of this had never been more self-possessed, more reliably careless and lighthearted, than when he had been the most adrift.  Or so Hollis understood in hindsight.  In their twenties he had hardly seemed in any danger, whereas Inchmale could outsmart himself through sheer aesthetic appreciation for excess.

Inchmale, the only one of them to have a sibling by blood, had once assured Hollis that the stereotype was off: none of the relationships between the four of them – he insisted – was anything like, or a replacement for, that which existed between brothers and sisters who had grown up together. That they were lucky, in any case, to be free of the distortions of birth order on character (Inchmale's brother had still been in grade school, or whatever they called it over there, when Inchmale had sailed across the Western Sea in search of manifest destiny). Hollis felt the untruth of this deeply. For one, she knew she conducted her life as if they – Inchmale, Heidi, the now-absence of Jimmy – had always been part of it, or potentially so. The post-Curfew Hollis was a purposeful distancing, but also a self, and a work in progress; the pre-Curfew Hollis was an abstraction.

For another, she'd wanted siblings as a child, some nebulous ideal of the thing derived from books. The tough older sister, the dreamy little brother.  Had never spoken of it aloud.  But then she'd moved to New York City, and met them.

There must have been a point, she thought, after their first meeting – Heidi had been the last of several provisory drummers, and intimidating in the obvious ways – when they'd grown into what they were now to each other.  What Hollis called friendship, for lack of a better word, and Inchmale refused to call family, to avoid its devaluation into the commonplace.  After their first practices, their first gigs in the East Village.  After their first hotel rooms, perhaps.  Hollis had welcomed the redress in gender balance, more in the audience's gaze than in the internal workings of the band, as the only gender Heidi represented was herself. When they'd shared two doubles Heidi would create a ten-foot blast radius of scattered possessions around her bed – not unlike what Hollis was reclining in now – a sort of roc's nest to which she brought boys, and sometimes girls, as if they were prizes to be laid out and inspected.  They had gone to the four-room format as soon as they could afford it, which had been quickly, in those heady days.

Certainly it had happened before that one incident, on a boat, during which Hollis had been drunk, and Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots importunate.  Heidi had taken him by the ankles and pitched him overboard.

Heidi sighed and flopped back onto the other bed, bottle dangling from one hand. 

"Jimmy," she said, "didn't want to see ahead. There was always going to be an after. Just like there was a before, you know? They're good at that here, in Europe. Just keep building over things, refurbishing them, because there's nowhere else to go. But that was Jimmy's problem. Start in a cornfield and run out of land. Fuck, I need a smoke."

Hollis thought about asking Heidi if she remembered these things – the boat, her protectiveness, the boys and the girls – but didn't. Turned her head instead, safely wound in golden threads of whisky, so that she could feel the warmth radiating from Heidi's shoulder.

"Tell me about where he is now," she said.

"Cornwall?"

Cornwall, it turned out, had impressed Heidi, though not through any obvious sense of the picturesque. The people didn't fuck around much, she said. Some red tape involved in her unusual request, but nothing that couldn't be handled. There was coastline, which her OC-native mother would have appreciated, and which she had assumed to be integral to Jimmy's wishes as well; drawn as he had been to edges, places where continents of certainty fell into flux. Nothingness. Not even ruins. She had emulated him, pushing as far as she could, westward. Truro, Penzance, St. Ives, Land's End. There were trains.

Hollis derived a sense of how Heidi must have come across, to the half-hearted wielders of red tape: implacable, confounding, driven by mission. Like one of the old saints out of the sea.  She fell asleep, listening, to the rise and fall of Heidi's voice:

And dreamt of dinghys, carried on plush red waves, turning at length to railcars that sped away along the horizon.  Skirting the Celtic Sea, under an overcast grey sky.  Jimmy's laugh, dopplering into fallen lands.

 

+++

 

She was woken up by her phone, ringing.

"Inchmale," he said.  "Sorry about this, but there's been a leak."

"What?"

"The '99 sessions.  Someone at the old studio, probably.  Not the best ones, but they picked the tracks without Jimmy, so there's a lot of confusion in the blogosphere right now.  The assumption is that we're cutting them right now, in secret."

"You're kidding," she said.  Felt Heidi stir and sit up.

"I just got a call from the NME asking for an exclusive.  They want to send a videographer."

"I'm going to kill you, Reg."

"Don't look," he said, "but we may be trending on Twitter."

Behind her, Heidi  began to laugh.