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I decide to hold a music festival at my parents’ house. My ex is invited. Her band's slated for this afternoon, and she's nervous. Omigod, she says, pointing at the posters I had printed up at the copy shop. I didn’t realize we were playing the same day as So-and-so band-I've-never-heard-of (that’s the name of the band). She makes it sound like an intimidating proposition. I'm being supportive and not-gross, because we used to be in love and have sex with one another but now neither of those things are true.
      A blues combo is playing on the Basement stage (my parents’ unfinished basement). Four gray-haired white men really laying it down beneath the unshaded light of fluorescent tubes. They do a sort of electrified, four-on-the-floor, non-swinging rock 'n roll blues. There's only one guy watching but he's into it, smiling a connoisseur's smile. I go upstairs to check on things. I am, after all, the one in charge here.
      Meanwhile, other bands are arriving. Their vehicles roar down Old Milburnie Road and up my parents’ gravel driveway. One is a huge silver-bullet-shaped thing on wheels. The band’s so excited they hop out acrobatically and shake their fists and do high kicks at the air. Another group shows up in a huge contraption which is less a van and more of a giant, multi-colored robot. I’m handing them their laminates that read ARTIST when a commotion starts in the basement.
      One of the guitarists in the blues band, I'm told, has killed the other blues-band guitarist. Stabbed him in the middle of a song and fled. The two remaining bluesmen are shouting at each other. Their one fan stands there, shell-shocked, amid the gathering onlookers. I look at everyone, at the bloodied white bluesman sprawled out on the ground, and wonder briefly if my ex is safe. I delegate calling the cops to someone else, as I am in charge and that's what people do when they're in charge, delegate.
      Where did the murderer go? I wonder.
      I search the surrounding woods on my parents’ acre-and-a-half for an hour, maybe more. Peering up at the treetops, inside hollow logs, under piles of leaves. The murderer has disappeared. I go back to the house. Are the police here yet? I ask anyone who'll listen. Where are the police? Didn't someone call the police?
      More unlikely vehicles arrive, bands and attendees alike, all giddy and happy-go-lucky, totally unawares. There is a killer on the loose. I don't know what to do.
      Then I remember I haven’t eaten all day so I head to the kitchen for some lunch. These caterers make a damn good hot dog. I sit and eat and, without really trying or even intending to, I imagine my ex’s new boyfriend. I’ve not met the guy; he may not even exist. In my mind he’s ten feet tall, he wears Diadora sneakers and a thick herringbone necklace of purest silver. His jaw is literally, geometrically square, perfect 90º angles all around. He speaks fluent French, and nothing else.
      It’s not till I finish the hot dog that I hear applause coming from downstairs and it hits me: in all the hubbub I missed my ex’s band.
      I run into her near the basement door as she’s loading out. I try not to look at her laminate that reads ARTIST or notice the tantalizing way it hangs over her cleavage as I give her a hand with her amp, a heavy hunk of junk with a giant horn like an old-timey phonograph.
      What did you think? she asks.
      You were great, I say, sweating. Gotta go!
      It’s nearly time for the main event, the headliner on the Backyard stage: So-and-so band-I’ve-never-heard-of.
      Their diehard fans—young, poor posture, etiolated complexions—are milling about the grassy area in front of the stage, between the magnolia and my dad’s tomato plants. Roadies wheel out two clear plastic tubes, of the sort equipped with jets of air to blow furious swarms of dollar bills. Inside them are two frightened-looking, knock-kneed go-go dancers. A smoke machine sprays the stage in one loud spurt, and out of the fog the famous identical-twin duo appears. Devin stands stock-still at the mic, silent, while Kevin frowns and nods at his laptop, face illumined by screen-glow. The music begins: a flat and ominous low-register noise, fading in little by little to a disconcerting volume level. All around me pairs of youngsters have started kissing, ecstatic little tongues darting in and out of each other’s mouths, meshing perfectly with the music as if their spastic lingual movements were the origin of the sound like helicopter blades now pulsing from the speakers. I sense something, things yet unclear to me. Vague whispers, hinting of a deeper level, of some shuddering mystery just beyond the reach of human reason. Watching from a distance, I understand all at once why my ex sounded so intimidated by these guys: they fucking rock!
      The first song finishes, no fade out or flourish; the music breaks off, and there is silence. No one applauds.
      Instead, it begins to rain. I’m indignant. I checked the forecast for this weekend, there was no mention of rain! But already the ground is saturated and puddles form like bowls of chocolate milk at the concert-goers’ feet.
      The next song begins, more of Kevin’s depressing gray clangor, punctuated by Devin’s nasal party slogans. The dancers move their arms inside the tubes, a narcotized flailing. A minute into this new song, the stage is lit in flashing blue. The cops have shown up, as if on cue, a phalanx of ill-fitting uniforms led by a plainclothes detective with a short-sleeved button-up shirt and tie, big belly, shifty eyes.
      Somebody report a murder? he asks, shouting over the noise.
      Oh, right! Someone remembered to call the police!
      Yes, I say.
Actually, no! shouts another voice.
      A few yards away, leaning against their rickety Volkswagen bus are the gray-haired bluesmen, all four of them, including the guitarist who was supposedly stabbed, and the one who did the supposed stabbing.
      We thought he was dead, they say. But he’s fine.
      The not-dead guitarist waves. I’m fine, he says.
      But by that point, the cops have already waded into the crowd, batons a-flutter this way and that like machetes through bamboo. The fans slip and slide, some trying to escape, some trying to fight back. Shadows splash and struggle in the calf-deep mud. No screams can be heard over the rumbling din devoid of all pitch or rhythm or harmony.
      Damn it, all I wanted was to organize something nice for the community (and yes, for myself).Where was all this fucked energy coming from? Who or what have I invited into my (parents’) home?
      Again, the music stops cold. The cops freeze, batons held aloft. The concert-goers pick themselves up off the ground and wipe the blood from their faces. Their heads turn away from the stage in unison. I hear thunderous footfalls, Diadoras slamming into soggy earth, as the razor-sharp, grotesquely square jaw of my ex’s imaginary new boyfriend emerges over the treetops.
      Salut, he roars. Ça va bien?
      Everyone—band, dancers, cops and fans—erupts into applause. And despite all appearances, despite everything, I am not hugging myself tight, defensive, scared shitless. I am reaching both hands around my body. I am giving myself a well-deserved pat on the back, one after the other, in rhythm.

© 2022 NM Whitley

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