Road Closed Ahead

Janice Kathleen Jones

‘Hey…you alright?’

Ed’s back is turned, headphones on. Chris squeezes past the dusty Carlsbro amplifier and the old keyboard they liberated from a college music room over a decade ago, before they stopped taking crazy risks. Her top catches on a curled bass string, nearly toppling the guitar Ed sanded and painted for her 30th birthday. Loved bass. Still does. But after hearing a recording of her best riff a few years ago she gave up, crushed. Gave the bass back to him – she’d never be good enough either.

Distracted by the movement Ed glances at her, then turns back to the mixing desk.

‘Everything OK?’

She tugs the wire from her cotton dress. What the hell was I thinking. A yellow parrot in a bloody palm tree. Embarrassing.

Back home they’d hauled these black cabs and guitars, the keyboard and stands around beer-sticky working men’s clubs and dodgy college gigs for years. She’d dodged the flying boots and fists of punks and rugby-boys mid-brawl at front stage, daring them on. She’d loved gigging, but self-doubt devoured Ed. So here in the studio he could make things perfect. His own audience.

On the wall behind him, curling in the heat of their Australian home, is their only copy of an old photo – their best night. Free Trade Hall, Manchester: him skinny and wired, spiked hair collapsing over the studded biker jacket and her all fishnets and fuck-you bravado, laughing, holding out a can of Tennent’s Extra Strong in salute to the Buzzcocks. Their best gig. Support act.

‘Ed.’ She holds out crumpled receipts. ‘What’s this?’ The chair squeaks as he turns to face her. He pulls the headphones down to rest round his neck. She found the empty Codeine Linctus bottles when she was cleaning the car. Crumpled receipts. Different chemists, all with the same date. He’s still, eyes holding hers. The pinpoint gaze she knows. Please have a story she thinks. The room is falling away under her feet. She used to complain he spent too much time in the stuffy home-studio adjusting the same track, over and over. But he’d not shared anything new or asked her to sing lyrics for months now.

‘What’s going on?’ Dust particles float in the afternoon gold behind Ed’s greying hair. He smiles, stretching down lazily to chuck Angus the dog under one ear. When he looks back his eyes are guarded.  Under the table, Angus raises his broad triangle head, his white shape warm and curved, tail tapping the carpet.

‘Nothing la.’ Ed waves his hand dismissively, a memory of scally-smart Liverpool attitude. ‘Just…surfin’ chemists.’ His mouth shapes the lazy grin she once loved, but his eyes hold hers tight. ‘For my back pain.’

Once she’d have laughed, thrown aside the mic stand and slid herself over those narrow hips to made him forget the pain. The heat of a Brisbane afternoon seeps through the moment. He returns to stroking the dog’s head, half turned away, eyes veiled under long lashes.

‘How long have you been doing this shit?’ her voice is a whisper.

At the edge of her sight Angus’ head lifts in slow motion, ears flattening.

Outside the window at the bus-stop next to their Queenslander house a school bus engine groans and teenagers leap out laughing and shouting to sit under the purple shade of the Jacaranda. Lorikeets flash their rainbow lines across the cobalt triangle between red dust and sky. Her chest aches. All this. Their new life.

She flings the receipts to the carpet at his feet.

Angus, head lowered, scuttles from the room.

Author: Janice Jones is a Brisbane-based platform performer, artist and writer returning to a life of creativity after years of drudgery. She loves collaborating with other creatives and innovators. Janice is currently enjoying adventures in the BFA Creative Writing at QUT.

Artist: SaBelle Pobjoy-Sherriff is a third year visual arts student minoring in film. Her art practice has an in depth focus on ideas of narrative and mythology, and tends to border on the obscure. She utilises illustration and sculpture to create vibrant worlds and creatures. You can find more on her Instagram @SaBelleeee.