a young girl, Laurie Meadowlark taught herself how to play the drums,
keyboards, and guitar. She's good at all three; when she plays gigs with
her mom and Terry, her brother, she's on keyboards. Two others are in
Meadowlark: Aaron, the bassist, and Knox, the drummer.
But trouble is simmering in the group; and Laurie, just seventeen and the youngest, is feeling increasingly unwanted by some of the others. On the verge of adulthood, she is wondering: Can she play the game of life too? Read on!
“Get out of my way!”
Terry pushed past her, large, spilling cardboard box in his grip, as he stumbled sightlessly towards the U-Haul. Jumping out the back, Meadowlark’s new drummer, Tex Lansing, threw her an indifferent nod as she made her way up the driveway to the front door, which was propped open by a barbell.
Mom, carrying another box, was coming down the stairs, this one neatly closed.
“He isn’t—?” Laurie began.
“Mister Keating is not allowed within a mile of this house,” she said, loud enough for Terry and Tex to hear, who shook their heads and disappeared around the end of the truck.
“Good,” said Laurie. “Should I bother helping, or will that start World War IV?”
“World War IV,” returned her mother over her shoulder as she hurried towards the moving truck.
At the front door, she stopped for a moment to gaze around. Terry’s bed frame was already down here; so too his chest of drawers, his clothes, which were all in a heap, and his desk.
Mom had kicked him out. He, Aaron, and Tex had, apparently, put a security deposit down on a crappy three-bedroom house in La Mesa before the Big Fight—World War III.
All this bullshit subterfuge and dishonesty. All so she’d get kicked out of the band, and Knox—and Mom.
“It’s MY band now!” Terry had roared to both of them just the day before yesterday. “MY band!”
Mom had kept her cool. “It is,” she replied quietly. Her black eye looked truly gruesome. Laurie couldn’t look at it for too long, knowing she was responsible for putting it there. “Which means I will play one more gig with you, but then I’m out, too.”
“FINE!” he raged. “THAT’S JUST FINE BY ME! NO ONE WANTS TO SEE SOME MIDDLE-AGED MOTHER FAKING ANN WILSON AND PRETENDING TO BE ALL HIP AND SHIT—AND FAILING MISERABLY AT IT! WE’RE BETTER OFF WITHOUT YOU!”
She couldn’t hide the hurt in her one good eye. Amazingly, she still refused to take the bait. “I’m sure you feel that way. The best of luck to you, son. I think you’re going to—”
But he elbowed his way past them towards the door. “This is such a waste of fuckin’ time ...” He slammed it, but not before throwing Laurie a look of deepest loathing.
“All of this was planned by the looks of it,” said Mom. “Dan’s appointment, your firing, getting rid of Knox ... And then,” she shook her head sadly, “and then me. He went about this in a very backhanded way.”
“He stabbed us in the back!”
“He stabbed us in the back. Which, if you want to know, is why I gave him the boot. He wants to fire us and take control of the band, fine. He wants to get rid of Knox, fine. I strongly disagree with those choices, but that wasn’t the deal breaker for me. Going behind my back was.”
“You’re far kinder than I am,” said Laurie. She glanced outside. “They’re coming back. I think I’ll go up to my room for a bit. Maybe practice. Loudly.”
Mom gave her forearm a pat. “That’s a good idea.”
Her face was grotesque. But the swelling was coming down, and the stitches were disappearing. She stood in her bathroom, leaned forward, and stared closely at her face. She could hear banging around downstairs, but nothing else—no conversation, and no yelling.
There was a time when she was close to Terry. Very close, in fact. She used to look up to him. He was the big, protective older brother. As much as Mom taught her to play guitar and keyboards, Terry was just as influential. When Mom suggested they start a band, it was Terry who insisted that Laurie join them; and it was Mom who resisted at first!
“I don’t relish the thought of you hanging around with the typical musician,” she had told her more than once.
After more convincing by Terry, she grudgingly allowed Laurie in.
Terry back then was the All-American clean-cut boy. His good looks, long, wavy brown hair, and easy smile were their own advertisements. Laurie was still in middle school then, but she remembered their first concert at his high school. It was a “battle of the bands” contest, and they played second to last. They covered the Guess Who’s classic “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature,” and won it. She remembered the girls going crazy up front. And she remembered the stars in his eyes after the curtains went down and they were called back for an encore, the only band to enjoy such a thing.
It was all supposed to be more or less a lark, at best temporary. Mom had found Knox Mulloy on Craigslist; Terry had recruited Aaron Keating. They went their separate ways after using the fifty dollar first-prize money to treat everyone at In N Out Burger. They laughed about it all. No biggie, they kept telling each other. Just some fun. We should do this again sometime.
It was Knox who called Laurie a week later and said, “So when is the next practice?”
He was a junior at a cross-town high school, a year younger than Terry.
But Mom wasn’t up for doing anything more. Same with Aaron and Terry. So Knox came over and together he and Laurie began “jamming” after school—first covers, mostly from the 60s and 70s, but then uneasy forays into actually composing their own songs. One day Mom, walking past her room, stopped and poked her head in. “Hey, that’s pretty good! Who is that—Zepp?”
Laurie smiled. “It’s ours.”
She came closer to the mirror. “Really.”
In a strong and valid sense, she thought, Meadowlark only existed because of her and Knox. Mom was busy with work and lawyers and the wrongful death lawsuit against Dad’s old company, one she would later win big, and her mind was only occasionally de-stressed enough to even consider playing.
And Terry? His good looks didn’t require practice. They only required that he show up to school each day. He had actually expressed disappointment after the contest that the girls weren’t more gah-gah that they were—something Laurie had trouble even conceiving. But he had apparently expected them to be.
Music was hard work. At least—if you wanted to do something original or creative with it. He had laughingly suggested that they continue on as “some sort of cheesy cover band,” but all had dismissed that right away. Covers were easy. All the hard stuff had already been figured out.
“... already been figured out,” she whispered. She gingerly fingered the stitches. Those that hadn’t dissolved were beginning to itch. She fished for the Neosporin in the cabinet and carefully dabbed some on.
She stepped back to appraise herself. “Hideous. But improvable.”
She went into her room, pulled her guitar out of its case, and began practicing. Loudly.
Mom brought the big, steaming pot of Irish dinner over and ladled her up a bowl and set it before her.
“Thanks,” said Laurie. “It smells great.”
Mom served herself a bowl, sat, and sighed. Irish dinner was what, Laurie knew, she made when she needed comfort food, when she was sad or depressed about something. She’d cook that or baked macaroni and cheese.
After a second’s pause, mom grabbed the bottle of wine and poured herself a glass. “Want some?”
Laurie blinked. “Me? An underaged teenager? Mom!”
Mom went to put the bottle down, but Laurie, chuckling, said, “Oh no you don’t!” and stood and grabbed a wine glass and sat down. Mom filled it to halfway, put the bottle down, lifted her own glass, and waited.
Laurie lifted her glass, which Mom clinked gently on hers. “To my beautiful, beat-up daughter.”
Laurie grinned. “To my beautiful, beat-up mother.”
She had drunk wine before, but only on one or two other occasions. She sipped this—a Merlot, dark red. “This is really good.”
“Never spend a ton of money on wine,” said Mom after taking a sip from her own glass. “You can get a great bottle at the supermarket and spend only ten dollars or so.”
“Good to know,” said Laurie.
She knew Mom probably wasn’t in much of a mood to talk, so followed her example and began eating.
“This is really good,” she said after her fifth spoonful. She wiped her mouth.
“Thank you, honey.”
A long moment passed without conversation, just the settled sounds of eating. Mom, her glass nearly empty, took another sip and set it down. “I really thought I taught him better,” she said quietly.
“It’s not your fault. He’s an adult now. He’s got it in his head that fame and fortune are all. That—and girls. Girls, girls, girls.”
“It isn’t what it’s cracked up to be—fame. I saw a study. It’s really bad for your health. If you’re famous, you lose on average twenty years of life!”
“Do you really think he’ll get famous? That Meadowlark will?”
Mom shrugged. “Don’t know. Just the allure of it was enough for him to ... well, do what he did.”
“You know, you don’t have to play that last gig with them. You could just blow them off.”
Mom shook her head. “I’m not going to give him the satisfaction. They are practicing tomorrow afternoon; I’ll be there. There’s two more practices after that, and then the gig in two weeks. I want him to see me and deal with me. I want him and his band to feel completely awkward around me. We were once a very happy band—and family.”
Her eyes brightened with tears. One spilled. Laurie took her hand and squeezed.
The following morning, near noon, she heard the doorbell. Mom rose to get it. Laurie stayed put in the living room. She heard her open the door; heard her say, “Come on in.”
A large black woman, briefcase in hand, entered. She gave Laurie an impatient glance.
“Is your son around?” the woman asked, taking a seat on the sofa and opening her case and extracting papers. She hadn’t glanced up at either of them; she continued working, taking a moment to pull out her phone and tap on it several times before putting it back into her pocket.
“No. He isn’t,” said Mom.
The woman glanced up. “He was supposed to be. Where is he?”
“God knows where. He’s twenty—an adult. I’m no longer responsible for him.”
“I understand that, Ms. Meadowlark,” said the woman with practiced bureaucratic patience. “But he was involved in a domestic violence case concerning yourself and a minor.” She glanced at Laurie. “Are you the minor?”
She marked something on the paper. “And both of you required stitches at the hospital?”
“Yes,” they both answered.
“The law requires that if a minor is involved in a domestic violence case a caseworker from Child Protective Services must come and assess the home situation. The law requires your son ...” she flipped through a page “... Terry to be here. Why isn’t he here?”
She spoke before Mom did. “He believes it to be a waste of time.”
Mom didn’t say anything; instead she shrugged and sighed.
The woman glanced at her. “Is this true?”
“It is,” said Mom. “It’s also true that I kicked him out. He no longer lives here.”
The woman made a few marks on the documents in her lap, looked up. “Do you wish to file assault charges against him?”
Laurie winced at the sadness in Mom’s eyes. “No. I don’t.”
“Do you?” asked the woman, bringing her tired glare to Laurie.
She wasn’t as fast to respond. But—“No.”
The woman made more marks on the papers in her lap. As she wrote, she announced, “I’m going to have the case judge issue a bench warrant for Terry Meadowlark. He was required by law to be here; and frankly, I have run out of patience for people wasting my, and the court’s, time.” She gazed up at Mom, then at her. “Do you understand me?”
“We do, and we’re sorry,” said Mom. “I’ll be sure to let him know.”
The woman gathered the documents, placed them in her case, closed it, and stood. “I’ll show myself out.”
Mom followed her to the door anyway. Laurie heard her say, “Thank you for coming. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” She didn’t hear the woman respond. The door closed and Mom reappeared at the foot of the stairs. Her eyes were glistening again.
Laurie went to her and hugged her.