Ageless Rock Star
Alan sat up on the edge of the hotel room bed. Remembered what day it was. And cradled his head in his hands.
He sat like that for a good long while. But there was no point. His thoughts wouldn't chase away the date. He looked round at the bed; a young woman, naked apart from the slivering silk of sheets, lay across it, her long black hair tumbled and tangled. He sat a bit longer, and just watched her breathe. Always, on the last night, he picked one. He didn't recall her name; she was fast asleep, and he wouldn't rouse her. He remembered the time he'd picked some lunatic who'd wanted to cut to the chase. His minder had saved him - but what for?
Alan got up. Their clothes lay mixed together in a mess on the floor, but he saw her Gallous Naif tee-shirt in amongst it, his own face looking back up at him from the print. He headed for the shower.
Standing there naked, sweaty, dirty, helpless, staring into the shower unit, unable to turn on and step in - an urge troubled him. He tried to push it away. He couldn't help it. He went back into the bedroom, glimpsed the nude outline of the girl still-out-for-the-count, found his phone, and stepped back into the bathroom. He pressed the dial.
The phone rang out. She wasn't answering...she wasn't answering...she answered.
"Alan? How are you?"
"I'm all right...considering." Alan paused. He wanted to say something needful, but the thoughts and words were sticky. The pause grew into a silence. He wasn't sure she was still there. Until..."
"Alan. Why did you phone me? Today of all days."
"You're my wife."
"Jeezus, Alan. I haven't been your wife for four years. Remember?" Jane paused. Then hesitantly, uncertainly... "You do remember. Don't you?"
"Of course I remember."
"Because you might not. Maybe something's lost."
"Nothing is lost. I remember everything - I think. You were with me the first few times this happened. You stood by me, then. Jane, I still..."
"Alan! Don't say anything more."
"I just want to say..."
"Alan! Why did you phone me? Why'd you phone here? I have to protect William. Did you know he's got his bedroom walls plastered in your posters?"
"Can I speak to him?"
"God no! You can't speak to him. You can't ever speak to him. It's not you! You're not Alan. William's father is gone. It's not you."
Jane hung up.
"Goodbye," said Alan.
Alan opened his hotel room door. Maxwell, big-shouldered, black-suited, stood outside like a soldier on sentry duty.
"Ready, sir?" His minders always called Alan the impersonal 'sir' on the last night of the World Tour.
Alan looked one final time into the room; the girl still lay fast asleep. "Can you make sure she gets home safe?"
"I think she's going to the concert. You gave her a complementary ticket last night."
"Uh. Yes. I remember. Well, can you see she gets to the concert then?"
"Certainly, sir. I'll see that someone does so."
"And, Max, please, please, stop being so formal!"
"I'm afraid I can't help it, today."
"Afraid? I'm the one who's afraid. Today!"
"A drive out in the countryside will relax you. It always does."
"Why should this time be any different? Sneak me out then."
They'd stopped off at the botanical park on the way out of the city. There was a fishpond in the greenhouse - into which Alan stared, almost mesmerised. The water seemed to deepen and darken, even as the light from the glass-distorted sky reflected moving clouds across its surface; and under that surface, in the deeps, moved languid carp in shades of black, white, brown, and reddish gold, swimming slowly among the locks of water weeds. Alan felt the clawing deja vu of childhood memory, close and distant, of some lost pool of long ago in which long dead fish still swam indifferent to his stare. He felt he was being watched - by some fan, or his own reflection - breaking the enthrallment of memory. He followed Maxwell back to the car.
Alan sat in the back. It was Maxwell's own car, but sitting in the back was a habit from the black limo.
Alan watched the countryside drift by, the roads narrowing away from the city as they drove out into the hills. Conifer woods passed by, and then an odd wood of monkey-puzzles probably planted by some long-gone Victorian. Sure enough, Alan glimpsed in the semi-distance a vacant stately house, built in the manner of a many-towered castle, falling into ruin, rooflessly gaping at the sky. As they drove past, the monkey puzzles gave way to an infestation of purple rhododendrons, until the vista opened and Alan beheld the hills, ancient mountains worn down by time. Locked inside those hills were rocks even older than the vanished mountains, making an insentient mockery of human longevity. But being away from the urban press of people lifted Alan's mood. It always did.
Alan saw Maxwell glance at the time. Shortly, the car made a turn back to the city. Alan's mood fell with the turn.
Shug Ra Dork met Alan in the so-called rehearsal room, a weird space crammed under the main stage, doubling as a dusty storeroom, sound muffling peeling away from dirty white walls. Really just somewhere final to hang out, as they waited to take the stage. The room was supposed to be soundproof, but he could hear the thudding beat of the last warm-up act from above. Shug Ra Dork was a class bass player, but a real dork. Shug Ra Dork winked at Alan, and mumbled some salutation.
"If you take that thing out of your mouth, I might be able to hear what you just said."
"Oh, come on, man. Lighten up. I'm only having a suck on my favourite tit."
At least Shug Ra Dork's words weren't entirely literal. Shug Ra Dork had been sucking on a dummy tit - a prosthetic rubbery thing, which felt a little too much like a real nipple (Alan had tried one, only once), yielding a flow of his current soft drug of choice.
"One of these day's you'll walk on stage with a rubber tit still stuck in your mouth."
"Lighten up, it's not the end of the world."
"Shut up Shug." That was Gallagher, their keyboard sorcerer.
"Oh, come on, take a suck, and you won't care."
Alan remembered the feel in his mouth of the fleshy intrusion of the girl last night. Once his wife had comforted him in a last erotic affectionate lullaby wet with tears. Not anymore.
Alan walked out of the rehearsal room, back to his dressing room. He slammed the door, slumped on a chair, put his head back in his hands. Then he heard a perfunctory knock, and the door opening and closing. Alan looked up to see Gallagher. Gallagher pulled a chair up, and sat down opposite.
"You know. You don't have to go on stage. If you don't want too," Gallagher said.
"And start a riot?"
"Maybe that would be a good thing."
"They'll storm backstage."
"Go on the run, until things blow over."
"What with? The trust owns everything. I get a salary, expenses. But the trust's run by the record company. They'll not let me run."
"They're not that bad."
"They're in cahoots with the people who want me dead again. Over and over."
"Look. I know you're under a lot of stress. God knows, you must be. But, frankly, I think you're being a wee bit paranoid."
"Paranoid? I'm some stupid rock star that gets offered, free, the age-arrestment treatment, cloning, and the total memory backup deal only trillionaires can afford. I get killed by some nut job fan on the last night of my first world tour after that. And my killing, and supposed resurrection, become a staple icon. While trillionaires live on in uninterrupted peace. I'm the phoney target that proves there's no point killing those rich bastards, they'll only get resurrected like me. Meanwhile, my ex-wife thinks I'm not me. And I don't know if she's right or wrong."
"Alan. I know you. You're just the same as ever. Only..."
"You seem more tired each time."
"Tired? Well, that's one way of putting it. More like dead done. But, still. Sod it all. Open the curtain on a cliche. The show must go on!"
They played sleazey rock, they played dirty blues, they played hot metal, and they played blast fusion. The audience howled and bayed, heaving and jumping in unison, a wave of flesh and bone crashing toward the stage like one multi-headed beast with thirty thousand arms clutching, grabbing, groping - and reaching, at the front, over the stage at Alan singing and playing guitar just out of grasp. If the band gave it everything, maybe this time the audience would be sated, and everyone just drift home.
They climaxed a heavy medley, and the crowd roared. Alan let them shout themselves out, until the hall filled with a hush of anticipation. Alan leaned into the microphone; but before a word came out, the audience screamed with laughter. He saw the people at the front, looking toward Shug Ra Dork. Alan turned. Shug Ra Dork had the dummy tit in, his face beaming. Alan turned round. Shug Ra Dork's dummy tit face filled the big screen. Shug Ra Dork pulled out the tit, and threw it into the crowd. Hands clutched for it, then a scramble on the floor.
Alan smiled - as if he'd been in on the joke all along - knowing he'd now be close-upped on the screen behind them. He waited for the return of the hushed silence before speaking.
"We're going to slow things down for a while."
They began their ballad sequence. Soon Alan was singing:
"Where was the future, it never came
Where comes the past, it's always gone
Where is the present, it's always here
Is it for a moment, or is it forever
I don't know, I don't know - I'm here..."
The audience were utterly quiet, hardly moving. Among the crowd, Alan recognised a familiar face near the front. Couldn't they ban him! He could see the sleaze ball lips mouthing: "You're a god, man. In the jar. In the jar. Formaldehyde forever. You're in the jar, you god, man."
Alan saw other faces, of jealousy, hunger and anger, of unsated desire. Elsewhere he glimpsed faces of sympathy and sorrow - too few - one looked like the girl from last night. But she could have been someone else. He didn't remember her that well. Then he spotted Jane. He stared at her. But no. It wasn't her.
Alan staggered out the stage door. The screaming crowd pushing and pressing the gauntlet of black-suited minders. At the end of the heaving, constricting human passage, he saw his newly glaring-colour-screaming-sixties-psychedelic-spray-job limousine. The limousine, door open, always waiting, never reached.
His head shouted 'no' - even as it drowned in the aural nerve overload of feedback shouts and bellows - but now his legs seemed to remember their old game, and thrust him forward. Maybe this time he'd make it. Law of Probability said it had to happen sometime. Giddy in the sweat and pheromone haze, he charged forward, but the limo only seemed to recede, telescoping farther away as the crowd pressed in.
His minders held against the press. A moment longer, he'd reached the door. He got his hand on the car, above the door, steadying himself to duck inside. Then the thin black line broke; and greedy hands pulled him away. Tumbling round, he saw him. Formaldehyde Man - laughing, whooping. Alan saw the blade come at him. Then an odd lack of fear. It didn't matter, it had all happened before, it would all happen again. Grounded, he flinched as the knife stuck through his ribcage.
Alan's minders lifted his body, bearing it aloft on a pall of arms. The crowd cheered their fallen idol.
He woke up one morning. Woke up alone, in fresh linen. A new-born. His name was Alan, he remembered. A new-born with a long set of memories. He remembered too, that night before.
A new-born with a year, or so, of lifespan ahead of him. An ageless rock star. The hotel room door opened.
"Good morning, Alan," Maxwell said. "Good to see you again."