Should he find he couldn’t work it there would still be time enough.
—Henry James, The Wings of the Dove
The grumblings of their stomachs were intertwined and unassignable.
“Was that you or was that me?” KC would ask in bed, and Dench would say, “I’m not sure.” They lay there in the mornings, their legs moving at angles toward each other, not unlike the ashes she could see through the window outside, the high branches nuzzling in the late March breeze, speaking tree to tree of the thrilling weather. Her dreams of eating meals full of meat, which caused her teeth to gnash in the night—surely a sign of spring—left the insides of her cheeks bloody and chewed, one saliva gland now swelled to the size of a raisin.
Shouldn’t they be up and about already? Morning sun shot across the ceiling in a white stripe of paint. She and Dench were both too young and too old for this close, late-morning, bed-bound life, but their scuttled careers—the band, the two CDs, the newsletter (turned e-letter turned abandoned cyber litter) on how to simplify your life (be broke!), the driving, the touring, the scrambling, the foraging in parks for chives and dandelions, the charging up of credit cards, the taking pictures of clothes and selling them on eBay (“Wake up!” she used to exclaim to him in the middle of the night, sitting up in bed, “wake up and listen to my IDEAS!”)—had led them here, to a six-month sublet that allowed pets. Still in their thirties, but barely, they had bought themselves a little time. So what if her investments these days were in pennies, wine corks, and sheets of self-adhesive Liberty stamps. These would go up in value, unlike everything else. Beneath her bed was a shoe box of dwindling cash from their last gig, where they’d gotten only a quarter of the door. She could always cut her long, almost Asian hair again, as she had two years ago, and sell it for a thousand dollars.
Now, as she often did when contemplating wrong turns, she sometimes thought back to when it was she had first laid eyes on Dench, that Friday long ago when he had approached her at an afternoon sound check in some downtown or other, his undulating tresses not product-free, a demeanor of arrangement and premeditation that gussied up something more chaotic. Although it was winter, he wore mirrored sunglasses and a thin leather jacket with the collar turned up: 150 percent jerk. Perhaps it was his strategy to improve people’s opinions of him right away, to catch an upward momentum and make it sail, so when the sunglasses came off and then the jacket, and he began to play a song he had not written himself, he was on his way. He lunged onto one knee and raced through a bludgeoning bass solo. At the drums he pressed the stick into the cymbal and circled it, making a high-pitched celestial note, like a finger going round the edge of a wineglass. He smacked the tambourine against his head and against the snare, back and forth. When he then approached the piano, she stopped him. “Not the piano,” she said quietly. “The piano’s mine.”
“Okay,” he said. “I just wanted to show you everything I can do.” And he picked up an acoustic guitar.
Would it be impossible not to love him? Would not wisdom intervene?
Later, to the rest of the band, whose skepticism toward Dench was edged with polite dismay, she said, “I don’t understand why the phrase ‘like an orchestra tuning up’ is considered a criticism. I love an orchestra when it is tuning up. Especially then.”
From the beginning, however, she could not see how Dench had ever earned a living. He knew two Ryan Adams songs and played guitar fairly well. But he had never done so professionally. Or done anything professionally that she could discern. Early on he claimed to be waiting for money, and she wasn’t sure, when he smiled, whether this was a joke. “From whom? Your mother?” and he only smiled. Which made her think, yes indeed, his mother.
But no. His mother had died when he was a teenager. His father had disappeared years before that, and thereafter for Dench there was much moving with his sisters: from Ohio to Indiana to California and back again. First with his mom, then with an aunt. There was apparently in his life a lot of dropping in and out of college and unexplained years. There had been a foreshortened stint in the Peace Corps. In Swaziland. “I’d just be waiting at a village bus stop, reading a book, and women would pretend to want to borrow it to read but in truth they just wanted a few pages for toilet paper. Or the guys they had me working with? They would stick their hands in the Porta-Potties, as soon as we got them off the trucks: they wanted the fragrant blue palms. I had to get out of there, man, I didn’t really understand the commitment I had made, and so my uncle got a congressman to pull some strings.” How did Dench pay his bills?