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Despite the insults aimed at her and her fellow patrons Roxanne was still completely in awe of him. His presence was something to behold, from his sharp, unsmiling face, to his tall and very thin frame, the way his plentiful dark hair contrasted with his creamy, pinkish complexion. Clamped in the strings of his guitar, below the headstock a lit cigarette smoked when there were no smoking signs all about the theatre. Roxanne could smell the smoke, which made her start craving one herself; she knew it would do her some good. She was now leaning against the front of the stage, Frank only standing mere feet away from her.
“You guys wanna her some music?” he inquired shifting his weight from one foot to the other as the crowd shouted louder yet. “Then shut the fuck up!”
Pulling the cigarette from the neck of his guitar Frank brought it to his mouth and took a long drag. His upper lip was completely concealed by his full moustache that grew down to cover it and much of the area around his mouth. His chin was hidden by the patch of black hair growing there, all of it combed perfectly into place. While he was doing that the audience began to calm down a little and he noticed it too, he seemed to notice everything Roxanne though. The band behind him seemed to be aware that anything could happen at any moment.
“Now that everyone has decided to be quiet, we’re gonna begin tonight’s show with a number called Trouble Everyday… I think you people here… in this city can relate with this one,” Frank said finishing his cigarette, dropping the still smoldering butt onstage and stamped on it.
Signaling to the band, stomping his foot Frank led the musicians behind him into the first song. Music filled the auditorium, bouncing harshly off all the hard surfaces, but it sounded almost as clear as it did on the album, just as tight. It was obvious that the band had spent hours rehearsing and were clear headed at the moment, they did not miss anything. Standing at Frank’s feet, Roxanne could feel the vibrations from the sound in her body, in the roots of her hair. Frank played guitar while Roy Estrada sang and played bass at the same time, standing toward the front of the stage near Frank. Behind the two drummers played, Jimmy Carl Black who had been with The Mothers along time and another man Roxanne had heard was named Arthur Tripp. Besides them there were half a dozen other musicians onstage, all playing off and on whenever they were needed and the music they produced was astounding, unlike any other concert she had ever witnessed.
When that song came to an end Frank announced another, Didja Get Any Onya? And the band continued playing. That was followed by Hungry Freaks Daddy, then A Pound for a Brown, Sleeping in a jar. It amazed Roxanne how well the songs sounded, comparable to a recording, yet became something new with solos a recording for an album could not accommodate. In some cases the music changed so much a song sounded completely different than it did on the record. Many of the positive things she had heard about Frank were proving to be true.
King Kong blew Roxanne away, midway through Frank lost himself in a guitar solo that was little short of ethereal, it elevated the song to a whole new level. At times it seemed even the band was surprised by some of the things he came up with on the spot. That was followed by Octandre, The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque, Undaunted the Band Plays on and Igor’s Boogie. Finally she was brought back to earth when Frank paused to introduce the band. During that time she had lost track of all time and really all that had been happening. It was as if she had fallen into a trance where there was only the music and Frank.
Brushing his sweat soaked bangs off his forehead he said, “Now it’s time to introduce our rockin’ teenage combo.”
While he was speaking he strolled over to a stack of speakers to the right of stage, Roxanne’s right. Standing beside them Frank took a drink of water from a glass standing atop of them and lit up another cigarette, his third one that show.
“That’s better,” Frank continued. “Now the members of our rockin’ teenage combo, Roy Estrada bass and vocals, Lowell George guitar and vocals, Motorhead Sherwood baritone saxophone, Don Preston key boards, Bunk Gardener tenor sax, Ian Underwood alto sax and keyboards, Buzz Gardener Trumpet, Arthur Tripp drums and the Indian of the group, Jimmy Carl Black on drums… And me, I’m Frank Zappa.”
As Frank introduced each of the band members they took a bow or played a short solo. The crowds filling the auditorium shouted and screamed, even Jenny who had been a bit apprehensive about the concert, no one had even been pulled on stage yet and nothing too weird had happened either. Beside her Mary was jumping around trying to get the attention of any of the band, if they could see her through the glare of the stage lights. Frank walked along the edge of the stage, hand to his brow in an attempt to see what was happening out in the sea of humanity before him.
“Okay, okay be quiet,” he said. “Be quiet! Before we start the second half of our show we’d like to have some fun and we need some of you people from the audience …do we have any volunteers or do we have to pull you up here against your will?”
Behind Roxanne there were a few people who were trying to get Frank’s attention, so was Mary who was screaming and waving her arms above her head, continuing to jump up and down. Despite the people trying to volunteer themselves, Frank overlooked them and chose people who clearly wanted to have no part in it.
“You, in the blue shirt!” he announced motioning for a blonde girl several rows back from Roxanne to come up on stage. “In the leather jacket, about eight rows back get up here!” The second person was a teenage boy with shaggy brown hair in a black leather motorcycle jacket, the cool type who did not like to be humiliated. “Okay, we need one more… Girl in the front roe, yellow sweater,” He said pointing right to Jenny, whose face flushed radish red.
A roadie helped the chosen onstage, while another wheeled a crate onstage. Roxanne could not help laughing, Jenny looked like she wanted to slip through a crack in the stage floor. Frank went up to the crate and opened the lid; from within he pulled several cans of Reddi Whip. He handed them to the first girl and told her to shake each of them.
Approaching the teenage boy he said, “So, you think you’re a real cool guy, don’t ya?”
“Yeah,” the boy answered curtly, Frank holding the microphone before him.
“And your name is…?”
“Okay Bruce, we want you to take your shoes off, here sit down in this chair,” Frank stated, pulling a chair from the side of the stage.
Bruce sat down and slipped off his black leather boots, while Jenny stood ill at ease off to one side of stage, her face still flushed. When Bruce had his shoes off Frank continued, “Take your socks off too.”
Bruce obliged, while the audience laughed at him, “Now put them on your hands,” Frank advised looking harshly at the boy. Apprehensively he cringed and slid the filthy white socks over his hands. “Alright, now lick your hands!” Frank ordered giving Bruce an even harder look.
If his eyes had been able to incinerate someone on the spot Bruce would have been a pile of ash on the seat of the chair. The audience roared with laughter, Roxanne doubling over, clenching her sides. Deliberately Bruce began licking his sock covered hands, looking like he was going to gag at any moment.
“Keep doing that,” Frank exclaimed, then went over to the girl with the whipped cream. “Now you come over here, I want you to spray stuff all over Bruce’s head. Don’t you think he need a bit of decoration? How many of you like malts?”
The audience shouted in response.
“Tonight we’re going to make Bruce into a malt into a malt. And I want you… what’s your name?”
“Cathy,” the girl replied.
“Cathy, go spray that stuff all over Bruce’s head, use all the cans.”
All the while Frank was talking Bruce continued to lick his hands, a look of both disgust and horror spreading over his face. Cathy, the blonde girl took the first of the cans of whipped cream and began spraying it onto Bruce’s head, covering his unkempt brown hair with the sticky, frothy, white substance. Frank was back beside the crate, digging through its depths in search of something else.
Standing back up Frank said, “ When you’re done, stick this on top. We couldn’t find any cherries, but this will work,” he held up what appeared to be a small tomato, then handed it to Cathy, who nodded. “Now for you,” Frank said strutting up to Jenny, who hid her face behind her hands. “What should we do with you… Let me go look in the band’s toy box.”
From the crate he lifted a very mangy, dirty looking stuff poodle that at one time use to be white and the head and torso of a baby doll, sans arms and legs. Carrying them under his arms he went back over by Jenny, “Now, you’re name is…?”
“Jenny,” she said as Frank held the microphone in front of her.
“Jenny, why don’t you lie down on stage right here,” he suggested.
Slowly Jenny lowered herself onto the stage, propped up on her elbows so she could see what was going on. Roxanne, with the rest of the people in the crowd continued to laugh uncontrollably, there were some people who kept on shouting and the acrid stench of pot smoke drifted on the air. Behind Frank the band jammed, providing background music for the mayhem unfurling onstage.
Still speaking to Jenny, Frank continued, “I would like you to imagine that you’re having a three way with these guys,” he set the limbless baby doll and the grubby stuffed dog on either side of her. “We would like you to pretend that you’re really enjoying it too… It’s pretend play time…give that poodle want he wants.”
Before doing anything Jenny stared out into the audience with a blank look on her face. Roxanne was sure she could not see anything, yet she knew everyone was looking right at her. Reluctantly she grabbed the poodle and began to act like she was making out with it. In her other arm she clutched the doll to her. For being as terrified as she was Jenny seemed to be doing a decent job. Cathy was still occupied covering Bruce with Reddi Whip, so much so that it was beginning to run down his head. He kept licking his sock covered hands, utterly humiliated.
“While our guests keep doing what they’re doing, we’re going to start the second half of our show. This next song is called Valarie,” Frank announced, slinging his guitar back over his shoulder. “You people will be able to leave when all of that whipped cream has been used up.”
A large guitar Roxanne noted, against his thin body it appeared humorously oversized; it looked really heavy as well. She wondered if wearing the thing night after night made his back sore. With Frank’s signal the band commenced playing, the audience filling the auditorium began making even more noise. Onstage jenny continued to pretend she was making love to a stuffed toy and a doll; she rolled about, pawing at both of the toys. By the time that song came to an end, Cathy was only starting in on the second can of whipped cream. The next song was Lonely, Lonely Nights, followed by Corrido Rock, then Bacon Fat. Cathy made it to the last of the whipped cream and blobs of it were sliding down Bruce’s head, over his face, onto his shoulders. The intense heat radiating from the lights only caused it to grow runnier. Before stepping back she crowned the heap of whipped cream with the tomato Frank had given her, while the crowd both laughed and cheered.
“Well… it looks like you can leave now,” Frank exclaimed, surveying Bruce, Cathy and Jenny a somewhat smug look coming over his face. “Bruce is now a malt and Jenny, the toys are pleased with you. Now you can go and enjoy the rest of the show. The Mothers thank you for your service.”
Of the three Jenny was the first to get off stage, she raced to the edge of stage and sat down and slid off. Next followed Cathy trailed by Bruce, who moved much more slowly, dripping melted whipped cream that ran down his back. Globs from his face fell into his face, the tomato and a decent portion of the while froth landed just at the foot of the stage as he climbed down. Jenny came back and joined Roxanne, but did not speak a word. If she had Roxanne was sure she would not have been able to hear anyway.
“We’re going to play one more number tonight, from an album a few of you might’ve heard about, it’s called Cruising With Ruben and The Jets… This particular number is called Cruising For Burgers,” Frank stated shifting his guitar strap on his shoulder.
Roy Estrada sang while Frank and the rest of the band played and Motorhead pranced around stage like a madman carrying around the poodle and the dismembered doll Jenny had been forced to make love to. As the song came to a close the band simply walked off stage in much the same manner as they had come on earlier in the night. Some of the audience stood still and continued to scream for more, Roxanne among them. After several moments, when it became clear there was not going to be any encores people began walking out.
This is when Jenny finally said something, “I’m sorry Roxanne, but I can’t stick around and go backstage with you. I just can’t after what happened on stage… And I have to work tomorrow too. That was- that was just too humiliating… Goodbye.”
With her face still violently scarlet she tried to make the most discreet exit she could. So that no one would notice her she pulled her collar up and left down one of the side isles. Soon it was only Roxanne and the others who remained, the auditorium of the theatre transformed into and empty, vast, cavernous space, where everything echoed, even the slightest of noises. It was rather unnerving thought Roxanne, staring up into the dark ceiling with crystal chandeliers strung with cobwebs and dust. During one point of its life the ceiling had been painted brilliant red, green, blue and gold but time had faded it and leaking roofs caused it to peel in places. Roadies had come out to pack things, cables, speakers, amps the drum sets.
“I think we should try and get backstage now,” Mary suggested, climbing from her seat.
“Okay,” Roxanne answered, standing, her heart racing.
The prospect of meeting Frank was sending her flying again. He was there, only behind a door and some walls. Earlier the thought of just seeing him on stage almost caused her heart to stop, but now there was this and it was happening. She followed Mary to a doorway beside stage, where who men stood talking, one of them middle aged, rather short and balding, the other in his early thirties, average sized with straight, longish brown hair.
“Hey Dave, can we come backstage tonight?” Mary asked the younger man.
“Hey Mary! I wouldn’t see why not, no one’s asked yet tonight either. But you know, if the band doesn’t want you around you’d better leave,” he said.
“I don’t think they will mind,” answered the balding man. “I’m the band’s manager and they all seem in a great mood tonight.”
“Okay, thank you,” Mary smiled.
The two men stepped aside and let them pass, the doorway opened into a rather long hall that led into a large room behind the stage, with mirrors on the walls, a tattered old sofa against one wall and a table in the middle with a bunch of wooden chairs around it. Different members of the band were running about taking care of different things, packing instruments, having a beer, a smoke or a cup of coffee. Once again Roxanne was feeling lightheaded, a tingling sensation racing through her being. Mary had already gone and sat down on top of the table, Bev was talking to Roy Estrada and Motorhead was trying to get Debbie’s attention. Roxanne was just standing in the middle of the room, listening to her heart pounding, the blood coursing through her echoing in her ears.
“Excuse me miss” Bunk Gardener said as he walked past her, gently moving her aside by placing a light hand on her waist.
Just that caused her to come close to falling over. Roxanne needed to sit down, to get out of the way. Across the room the sofa was empty, she had to will herself to cross the room; but it was a relief to be able to sit down. Glancing about the room she watched all of her friends chat with the members of the band, getting autographs signed on records and posters; her records sat in her bag at her feet. Another thing she noticed was Frank was nowhere to be seen, he could not have left though, what looked to be his guitar was sitting on one end of the table in its case.
“Hello,” somebody said as they plopped down on the sofa beside her.
Jumping she turned to see who it was, it turned out to be the curly headed keyboard player Don Preston. “Hi,” she answered smiling a bit.
“You don’t mind if I sit here?” he questioned playing with one of his golden ringlets, appearing a bit nervous.
“No, go ahead. I’m the intruder,” Roxanne replied. After a moments silence and noticing the records at her feet she asked, “You wouldn’t mind signing these would you?” she held up the albums so Don could see them.
“No,” he responded as he took the albums from her.
Roxanne pulled her pen from her jacket, uncapped it and handed it to him. Don signed his name above his head on Mothermania on both her copies. When he finished he handed the pen back then the albums. Roxanne thanked him, just as one of the roadies called him to help pack up his keyboards. Again she was left alone, while her friends were still busy talking to different band members. Frank was still nowhere in sight. He had to come back sometime since his guitar was still on the table. Standing she figured she had better get the rest of the band’s autographs before they left.
First she went over to Bunk Gardener, his brother Buzz and Ian Underwood who were all standing in one corner of the room having a smoke and chatting. All of them agreed to sign her two copies of Mothermania. Both Motorhead and Jimmy Carl Black were flirting with Debbie, that would make getting their autographs easy. When she seen Roxanne she ushered her over.
“They want to meet you,” Debbie said.
“Okay…” Roxanne replied coming over to them. “You wouldn’t mind signing my albums?”
When she offered them her pen they both reached for it at the same time, Jimmy Carl Black let Motorhead have it first. Roxanne gave him both the albums.
While Motorhead was signing them Jimmy Carl attempted to start a conversation with her, “So, are you from around here?” he inquired.
“Err…yes, I’ve lived here since I was about ten,” Roxanne stammered biting her lip; she really did not want to talk to either of them right now. “So…do you know where Frank is?”
Jimmy Carl shrugged while Motorhead said, “I’m not sure, maybe he’s on the toilet.”
“No, he’s not in there,” Arthur Tripp answered coming from the hall that lead back to the loading doors, storage rooms and the bathroom. “I don’t think he would want to go in there either.”
Him saying that sent the guys in the room into peals of laughter, Roxanne and her friends as well.
“Maybe he’s outside having a smoke, although I don’t know why he would want to be out there, it’s freezing and his jacket is handing over there,” Arthur said motioning to a sheep skin jacket hanging on the coat rack on the back wall. “If he went out there without it we’re going to be thawing him out later.”
After a moment of silence Roxanne asked him if he would sign her albums, which he proudly did, then inquired her what was wrong with Detroit girls. He wished there were more of them around. Now she needed only three more autographs, Roy Estrada, Lowell George and Frank. The first two proved to be no problem, Bev was still talking to Roy and Lowell was with them listening and adding his own comments where he saw fit, a cup of coffee steaming in his hand. Of course neither of them knew where Frank was either.
“Well, he should be coming back, his guitar, jacket and bag are still here. He wouldn’t be goin’ anywhere without his stuff,” Roy added. “He’ll be back.”
Even with those words Roxanne felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she slunk back to the sofa, still standing empty. Frank was one of those things that seemed too good to be true. Albeit making it this far it would just figure that Frank would not show up while she was there. That was quite literally the story of her life she thought, there always seemed to be this dark cloud of bad luck following her wherever she went. Since she was about ten years old, following her parents divorce, it seemed no matter how hard she tried to reach something she desired ill fate befell her. The most recent things snatched from her were her college education, as she could not afford tuition and a string of various boyfriends; none of the relationships lasted. Her friend, now in England with a famous guitar player, had always been envious of her relationships; little did she know how difficult and tolling they could be Roxanne though. In many ways she was lucky not to have dealt with all that.
“Hey Roxanne, Motorhead wants to talk to you!” Debbie called.
She did not even look up; she just kept staring at the tattered hems of her jeans and her brown platform boots. Deep down she knew she should go talk to him, but she just did not want to. Roxanne was just too disappointed, although she knew it was best to keep positive and just make the most out of all of it. Before her friend left that past summer it never was an issue, some how the two of them fed off each other, Roxanne had always been able to keep an upbeat and sassy attitude about things. At least now she could have a cigarette, everyone else was smoking. From her pocket Roxanne pulled out one of the sticks of tobacco and her silver lighter, which glittered like a jewel in the dull light.
“Hey, could you share a light?” someone inquired settling down on the sofa beside her.
Gazing up she froze, just like a startled rabbit, it was Frank, he was sitting only inches away from her. With shaking hands she held her lighter out to him, she could not get out a single word, her throat was tight as if she were having a reaction to some type of lethal poison. In his hands, with fine, dark hair sprouting from their backs he grasped a battered pack of Winston cigarettes. It was nearly empty she noticed when he pulled a cigarette from it. Bringing it to his lips he flipped open the top and lit the end, sending a wispy plume of smoke into the air.
“Thanks,” he said handing it back to her.
As she took it back from him her fingers brushed against the warm skin of his hand and she just about lost it. Roxanne could only sit there dumbfounded her own cigarette hanging from her mouth, the glowing, smoldering ash on the end growing, threatening to drop off and burn her. Noticing that she took it from her mouth and looked for a place to flick the ash. Seeing that the floor was wood she did not want it to land there.
“Here,” Frank offered grabbing a glass ashtray from the floor at his feet, bringing it to rest on his knee where Roxanne could reach it.
Carefully Roxanne tapped her cigarette in the small, glass bowl. She did not want to slip up and have the hot ash land on him as he was finally right beside her, so close that she could almost feel his warmth. She still could not bring herself to say anything to him either, although she wanted to very badly. Whenever Roxanne tried to open her mouth, her tongue lay limp; she could not will it to move.
Eventually she did manage to get out, “W-where were y-you?”
Hearing her speak Frank smiled crookedly and answered, “Well…I was on the phone trying to get my motel to deliver food to my room when I get back, but the kitchen is closed and they only have salad right now,” when he said the word salad he cringed visibly.
Roxanne nodded then looked at the records sitting on the sofa beside her, “Err…you wouldn’t mind signing these for me would you?”
“No, not at all,” he replied.
Picking them up she handed them to Frank, along with her pen, which she gave to him with the cap on; she trusted he knew that it twisted off. He did and on both albums he autographed his bare chest in the photo. Frank even impressed her by placing the cap back on her pen when he handed it back.
“Thank you,” Roxanne said finally managing a smile of her own.
“You’re welcome,” Frank responded. “Hey, you wouldn’t know where I could get something to eat around here?”
Peeking at her watch Roxanne saw that it was nearly eleven o’clock at night. In most bars in the area the kitchens closed at eight, probably just like Frank’s motel. There was a run down hole in the wall café several blocks away, but at this time at night it seemed to draw in customers most people wished to avoid. She knew she had been there a few times following the late shifts of night stocking at work. On her last visit she had almost been mugged sitting right at the counter. Then there was Denny’s, which was far from being appetizing, or at least the nearest one was, it had been shut down more than once for health violations.
“Err…there’s Denny’s and the Sunny Side Café, but if I were you I’d stay away from both. I live around here and I know things- Denny’s is disgusting and Sunny Side is full of drug dealers at this time of night. I don’t think there is too much…” she trailed off as an undiscovered thought came to mind. “I could make you something if you wanted to come home with me.”
For a moment Frank sat silent as if thinking his options over, his hand to his chin, “Won’t your parents be pissed off?”
“Err…no. I don’t live with them. I’m twenty-three, I have my own place,” she said hoping he would want to come with her.
Again he sat quietly pondering his options while combing his fingers though his loose bangs, straightening his ponytail in the back. To Roxanne he appeared tired and hungry, he looked a bit peeked, his eyes dark shadowed underneath. He looked in need of a filling meal and some serious sleep, which had to be hard to get while traveling to a new city each day. She was feeling sorry for him, yet she could not help it; she liked him and felt she was falling for him already. He was beautiful, Roxanne had always thought that, but in person it was only magnified; all of his raven black hair, that crooked smile, those deep, liquid brown eyes, his long slender body. She hardly knew him, but she wanted him, she wanted him really bad. Running her eyes down his body she wished to know what it felt like in her arms, her eyes coming to rest on his hands in his lap. She wondered what it would be like to hold those hands. Just the way he sat on the sofa was something to behold she thought.
“I think I’ll take you up on that offer. A home cooked meal sounds wonderful,” Frank said smiling at her. “Is there anything you need to do before leaving? Do you have to wait for them?” he said referring to Roxanne’s friends.
Shaking her head no, Roxanne answered, “No, I’m free to leave whenever I want. We can leave now if you want.”
“Okay, there are just a few things I need to do,” Frank said rising, stretching, rubbing the small of his back.
Before they left he said something to his road manager, packed up his guitar and grabbed a canvas shoulder bag that had been sitting on the counter below the mirror. He also pulled on the sheepskin jacket, which had been hanging on the coat rack. On the inside the fleece was left in tact, making it rather fluffy. On Frank it swallowed up his frame from his shoulders to just above his knees, leaving his lower legs sticking out like twigs. Roxanne had to admit it looked rather funny, but it was probably soft and wonderfully warm.
“So, are you parked nearby?” Frank inquired as they walked to the back door of the theatre.
“Yeah, just down the street a ways, in an empty lot,” she said stepping out the back door.
Outside it had grown even colder and it seemed the wind had died down, but again it could be the buildings blocking it. On the still air Frank’s hot breath hung glittering like a million tiny diamonds, minute droplets of condensation. As they walked around the theatre, back out to the sidewalk, Frank reached out and took hold of Roxanne’s hand. Normally it would have felt cold, but on a night as chilly as that is felt warm. The feeling of it made her shiver with ecstasy, her fingers brushed over its back felling the tendons, bones and fine hair. As they strolled past the front of the theatre they met up with Mary who was leaving with Motorhead and some of the roadies.
“You lucky dog!” Mary called.
Roxanne just stuck out her tongue, Frank smiling right beside her as they continued walking. To Frank she added, “He’d- Motorhead and the others- better be careful, Mary is a man eater. She chews them up and spits them out.”
“He needs it,” Frank grinned, squeezing her hand. “He gets off on girls who bite hard.”
The lot where Roxanne had parked now stood completely empty save for her yellow VW beetle, glinting in the tangerine glow from the street lamps. High in the sky hung, but its silvery light was over powered by those of the city, the ones man’s hand placed there. Digging through her bag with her free hand Roxanne felt her fingers come into contact with the cool steel of the keys.
“Here we are,” she said pulling them from her bag.
“Thankfully! It’s so friggin’ cold out here! Is it always so old here?” Frank added, huddling against the wind that had returned once they rounded the theatre.
“Most of the year,” she said unlocking the doors of her car. “From the end of September to about the middle of May… You know, in about three weeks there will be snow…sometime before Thanks Giving. Would you like to put that in the back?” She questioned referring to Frank’s guitar.
“Yes,” he answered.
Roxanne slid her seat forward and allowed Frank to place his guitar case on the rear seat. Following that both of them climbed in the car, Frank continuing to shiver as his body settled into the black vinyl seat, which was cold as ice. He placed the bag he had been carrying on the floor between his feet. As she stared the car Roxanne observed Frank’s knees almost touched the dash, his legs were so long and slender.
“So, how far away from here do you live” he inquired once they were out on the street.
“Not far, just on the other side of down town. At this time of night it won’t take long to get there at all… I’m going to tell you now it’s not much, but it’s comfortable enough for one person.”
Starring straight ahead Frank nodded; with the light pouring passenger side window she could only see the silhouette of his profile. That of a lovely young man with a halo of soft black curls, a prominent chin and nose, a nose she had heard many call ugly but she did not mind. Roxanne found she liked him just the way he was.
“When was the last time you ate?” Roxanne asked him, not wanting to be over come by an awkward silence.
“Err… About noon, not long after I got here. I had a cheese burger at the motel café.”
“The Skyline?” Roxanne questioned, curious as to where he was staying.
He nodded again, “It’s a nice place, better than a Holiday Inn, although I haven’t been around there much.”
Momentarily his eyes met hers, full with that knowing look. A lightening bolt shot from her heart throughout her being all the way to her fingertips. Roxanne still had a difficult time believing that Frank was there, sitting in her car right next to her, that he was smiling at her. It was hard to tell if she were just dreaming, that she would wake up and it would be over. Frank’s hand on her arm brought her back into the physical world and alerted her again that this was in fact really quite real.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, “I was just thinking of some things.”
“That’s okay… Does your car have a heater?”
“Yeah, it’s on now, it just doesn’t work that good… I guess when you live here you just get use to the cold.”
Frank pulled his jacket more snugly about him, in vain to try and block out some of the chill. Little did her know they were almost to Roxanne’s apartment. It was only a block away; the street they were driving down was lined on both sides with brick and stone, turn of the century buildings. On the ground floors were shops; all of them closed, above them on the second, third and sometimes fourth floors lights were on in the windows where people resided. In the block Roxanne drove into the alley behind of those buildings and stopped the car.
“Here we are. I live on the third floor of this building,” she announced.
“Who’s on the second floor?” Frank asked stumbling from the tiny car.
“Office shmucks… It’s offices for the insurance company on the first floor,” she said. “I’m lucky enough not to have any neighbors. By the end of the day I’m so sick of people I could barf!”
Around the front of the building Roxanne led Frank through a heavy wood door with a frosted glass panel, on the outside it was painted red on the inside a natural dark brown. The door opened miniscule entryway, the green tile floor littered with leaves blown in from outside. That led up to a dark, narrow stairway that twisted in the middle at a landing and continued up. Roxanne began the ascent trailed by Frank, the soles of their platform shoes thudding resonantly on the wooden stairs, echoing harshly off all the hard surfaces the plaster walls with their yellow paint, the dark wainscoting waist high. At the top landing there stood two doors, one of which lead into Roxanne’s apartment, the other onto the roof of the neighboring building. With her keys she unlocked the doorknob and the two deadbolts.
“This is Detroit,” she noticed Frank seemed to be growing a little impatient waiting for her.
Unlocked the door swung into a velvety black room, the only light filtering though the diaphanous curtains. Feeling along the wall just inside Roxanne located the light switch and above their heads on came a light with a white glass shade. The surrounding room was bathed in the soft yellow essence of artificial light. It illuminated one large rectangular room; just to the left was the door into a small bathroom, the only other room in the apartment.
“As I told you, it’s not much,” Roxanne stated taking off her coat, hanging it on the rack by the door. “Feel free to make yourself at home.”
Glancing about Frank shrugged off his jacket and hung it next to Roxanne’s. Crouching down he untied his shoes then fell back on his bottom on the edge of the doormat so he could take them off. Roxanne went around the small apartment turning lights on, a silver art deco floor lamp in the front of the room with white glass shades with red tinting. There stood a tattered eggplant colored sofa and a brown corduroy armchair. In the center of the room was a double bed with an iron frame painted off white, a chenille quilt draped over it, yellow with red and orange flowers on it. At the foot a large yellow cat slumbered peacefully, unfazed by his owners return and her guest. Located at the back of the room was the kitchen, most of it taken up by a drop leaf table with an enamel top and wood legs, surrounded by mismatched chairs.
“Would you like to have dinner now?” she questioned opening the door of the fulsome white refrigerator, a 1940s affair with a massive chrome latch. “If you want you can take a bath now. I don’t have a shower, just a bathtub.”
“Lets eat now. I’m starving,” Frank said climbing to his feet coming into the kitchen, sitting down at the table in a chair with a white wooden frame and a padded black vinyl seat.
“Is there anything that you would like?” she questioned still standing with the refrigerator door open.
He shrugged, coughing into his wrist. The whole evening he had been coughing off and on, not a smoker’s cough but the sort that came with a cold and a heavy chest. The fit of coughing was followed by him wiping his nose on the back of his wrist. He seemed to be developing or getting over a cold. “Excuse me,” he said. “I just can’t seem to get over this cold.”
Roxanne nodded staring into the bare refrigerator; she had forgotten she had not bought groceries that week. Tonight she had finally received and cashed her check and finally had the money to do so. Inside there was only some pickles, a block of cheddar cheese, cartons of milk and orange juice, mustard, ketchup, butter and a bottle of hot sauce, not much. “Would grilled cheese sandwiches be okay?”
“Sure, I don’t mind. The cheese will probably help clear up my shits,” Frank said, a grin spreading across his rosy lips. “May I have a apple while I’m waiting?”
“Go ahead,” Roxanne answered. “They’re fresh, right off the tree.”
From the blue, glass bowl at the center of the table Frank took a green apple and rubbed it on the front of his overalls to remove the dirt. As he bit into it the large yellow cat who was sleeping on the bed awoke, stretched and jumped down onto the floor. He slunk over by Frank and began rubbing against his legs, stopping every once and awhile to look up at that stranger and meow. When the cat tired of that he hopped up on the table and began sniffing the apple Frank held in his hand, most of its smooth, green skin chewed away.
Turning away from the stove, Roxanne shouted, “Tweezer! Get down! I’m sorry, he always does that when someone has food, he has to go check it out even if it’s something he doesn’t like.”
Deterred by Roxanne’s loud voice Tweezer the cat jumped off the table and hid beneath a chair. From underneath he peeked, waiting for an opportunity when he felt it was safe to come out.
“He was okay,” Frank said taking another bite from his apple, licking his upper lip hidden behind his thick mustache.
“Well… I’ve been trying to teach him to stay down and he just doesn’t seen to get it,” Roxanne said as she sliced up cheese for the sandwiches. “Do you want more than one sandwich?”
“Err… I think I could eat two,” Frank answered leaning down so Tweezer could sniff his hand.
Seeing that the stranger meant no harm he crept from beneath the chair and came to rub against the palm of Frank’s hand. Frank stroked the cat’s back and he arched against his hand, purring wanting more. Becoming so relaxed Tweezer flopped down on his side and Frank scratched his ears and chin.
“Do you have a cat at home?” she questioned, getting the dishes from the tall white cabinet with panes of glass in the doors on the left side of the kitchen.
“Yeah, an ill tempered Siamese named Gorgonzola, called Gorgo for short,” Frank answered then finished the last of his apple. “But…I love her nonetheless.”
“Aww, Gorgonzola!” she laughed setting a pale green plate before Frank along with a napkin with a green paisley print on it.
“It’s from a music I was writing… Gorgonzola was one of the characters,” he replied as Tweezer continued to purr and buff against his ankles. “The movie was going to be called Captain Beefheart Versus The Grunt People, but like most everything else I do, no one took any interest.”
“That’s too bad.”
“You don’t need to feel bad… I’ve moved on to other things,” he sighed bringing his chin to rest in his hand.
“Do you know what you want to drink? I have water, orange juice and milk, I’m sorry I don’t have anything else.”
“Orange juice will be fine, I’m trying to get over this fuckin’ cold,” he said coughing again.
Hearing the way he was wheezing she was feeling sorry for him again, she wished she had some soup to make for him. At that thought she remembered there could be a can of stashed away in the cabinet. Getting down on her knees Roxanne opened the bottom doors of the cabinet and shuffled through the few cans sitting on the shelf. Several of them were peas and corn then in the back corner a can of chicken soup with a peeling label.
“Would you like some soup too? I have a can of it here and it might make you feel better,” Roxanne questioned holding up the can.
“Sure,” he answered wiping his nose on his wrist again.
Opening the can she poured it in a pot and lit another burner on the stove. After adding the water and stirring it she put it on the stove, then went to the bathroom to get a box of tissues for Frank. Him wiping his nose on his wrist like a child was really beginning to bother her. All the while she was out of the room he continued to cough, loudly, almost sonorously.
“Here,” she said dropping the box of tissues on the table beside him.
As she walked away she ran a hand over his broad shoulders, her fingers coming into contact with his long black ponytail hanging down in the back. She could feel his warmth through his thermal top, this silky strands of hair sent chills through her body. He shot her those knowing eyes once more as she made her way to the stove to check the soup and sandwiches. It did not take long for her to make the sandwiches or for the soup to cook. When both were finished she put the sandwiches on Frank’s and her plates and pulled two jade green bowls form the cupboard and filled them with soup.
“Thank you,” Frank said as she set the bowl before him.
“I’m sorry I didn’t have anything better,” Roxanne said filling two glasses with orange juice. “I just got paid today and still have to get groceries… After I pay the rent. I’m sure the food at the motel is much better than this.”
“It’s fine. Anyway if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have eaten tonight. I probably would’ve been able to eat again until noon tomorrow. I seem to sleep through breakfast every morning I don’t have to be up early.”
“Okay,” Roxanne sighed, settling down in the chair nearest to Frank, to the right of the head of the table. “I guess something is better than nothing…especially when you’re getting over being sick.”
Frank gnawed his way through both his sandwiches ravenously, only pausing for a sip of orange juice now and then. Roxanne had cut them across diagonally and each half seemed to disappear quite promptly behind Frank’s mustache. As she quietly ate her own sandwich she wondered how he could eat with than thing on his face. His mustache grew down to completely concealing his upper lip and was dragged through any food he placed in his mouth; at the moment there were fine strands of melted cheese and breadcrumbs trapped in it. Only when he liberally wiped his mouth with his napkin did it remove any of the detritus. He was interesting to watch as well Roxanne observed, when he chewed his thin face was filled out by the food in his mouth. His hands were gorgeous; she watched them as he lifted his sandwich up for another bite and while he held his spoon eating his soup. They were long, slender and graceful, the nails tripped to the quick, but neatly so. Fine black hair grew on his wrists over the backs of his hands and fingers, in the strong light from the lamp overhead it shown.
There was something really exotic about him Roxanne though, glancing from him to the hibiscus sitting in the bay window on the other end of the apartment. It was in full bloom, filled with vivid flowers as red as molten iron. Hibiscuses were more exotic than roses, although roses seemed to be more favored. Frank was a hibiscus among men, of a different sort of beauty, one that was not as widely favored as others.
As she had noticed earlier his lovely black hair contrasted sharply with his light skin, during the summer if he spent sometime in the sun he could become quite swarthy; but now he was a real soft rosy pink. His eyes were of otherworldly beauty, large, golden brown, they had the ability to go from icy cold to warm and innocent, she had witnessed both that evening. They were fringed with black extravagantly long lashes; above he had heavy black eyebrows. All of it, framed by the stray dark curls of his bangs and those to short or come loose from his ponytail created a lovely image.
“So, what do you do? I don’t think I’ve asked yet, have I?” Frank had slowed down eating, he had moved onto his soup.
Sighing, setting down her spoon Roxanne said, “I work in a department store, at the makeup and jewellery counter.”
Nodding Frank said, “I take it that you don’t like it, do you?”
“I hate it!” Roxanne exclaimed. “I hate what I do, I hate my boss, I hate the customers. Before I didn’t have a high opinion of the human race, not it’s even lower… Wow, twenty-three and already jaded.”
“Hey, I don’t blame you. I think it’s a good thing to know how fuckin’ stupid people are. The younger you are when you know that the better. It seems this city has its share of stupid people,” Frank said, afterward slurping up some soup and noodles. “Did all those riots a few years ago get anyone anywhere?”
Roxanne shook her head, “No, a load of people were killed and half the city burned.”
“And you had to pay for it with your taxes. That civil disobedience gets society nowhere. So, what do you really want to do?”
“I was going to film school at a local university but I was forced to quit because I couldn’t afford tuition. My mom is one of those backwards people who thinks girls don’t need an education, they can just become a secretary or do what I’m doing now, by the way she thinks I should be married too,” She said rolling her eyes. “Anyway the reason I have this shitty job is to save up money so I can go back to school next fall. I hope to become a producer or a writer someday, but there are a lot of people out there who don’t think I can do it because I’m a girl. I made my first film last spring, at the end of my first year. Ironically enough it’s about stupid people. I went around campus and around the city and filmed them… The best is drunk guy barfing on a car.”
Listening attentively Frank asked, “Could you show it to me?”
“I’m sorry, I wish I could, but I don’t have a projector,” Roxanne replied. “I have the film right on my bookshelf… You know, I wish I could afford my own camera and editing equipment right now… Maybe I should just save up for that instead of school, you don’t need a degree to make films… I don’t know.”
“Whatever you decide I’m sure you are gonna do it,” Frank said giving her those knowing eyes again, smiling slightly. After that he finished the last of his soup, drinking it right from the bowl. “Thank you,” he added.
“You’re welcome. I’m glad I was able to help you out. Would you like a cup of coffee and some cookies?” Roxanne questioned climbing to her feet, clearing the dishes from the table putting them in the sink.
“Yes, I would,” Frank answered standing and stretching. “Although I think the cookies can wait. My stomach needs to settle.”
He went over to his coat hanging on the rack by the door and pulled his pack of cigarettes from the pocket. On this way back to the kitchen table he paused and looked at some pictures adorning the front of the white refrigerator and a small bulletin board that sat atop a small cupboard. They were photos that had been sent to Roxanne by a friend and various photos Roxanne had taken herself.
“Who’s the girl?” asked Frank leaning into take a closer look at some of them. “She looks like she’s in London.”
“That’s my best friend Lori, she moved to England towards the end of this past summer. She met Jimmy Page, fell in love and ran away with him. He’s from Led Zeppelin you know,” Roxanne said as she started the coffee on the burner of the stove.
Frank nodded, “I’ve heard of Led Zeppelin, but I don’t know much about them or Jimmy Page. She must really like him though.
“She loves him… She’s such a lucky girl.”
“She wasn’t part of that group of girls backstage tonight, was she?”
“No, not really, the only way she knows them is through me,” Roxanne said getting cups and saucers out of the cupboard. “You know, the last time I talked to her was nearly three months ago, when she was in New York the night before she left. We write letters back and forth all the time and send pictures so we can see each other and what’s going on.”
“You know, now that I think about it, Jimmy Page was hanging around my place last year and was after Miss Pamela one of the GTOs… I’m sure you know who they are,” Frank answered. “I never talked to him at all, but the girls seemed to like Jimmy.”
“Yeah, I know who the GTOs are, Mary the tall redhead who was there tonight talks about them all the time,” she said checking on the coffee. “If you don’t mind, I would like to take some pictures of you sometime.”
“I don’t care,” Frank settled back down on the chair at the table and pulled the last cigarette from the package he held. “I don’t even understand why anyone would want a picture of me… I’m ugly.”
“No you’re not! I think you are quite the opposite,” Roxanne stated mustering up the bravery to run a hand over his cheek.
Her fingers landed above his cheekbone and followed the curve of his cheek down, brushing against one of his sideburns, the five o’clock shadow making itself present. Her thumb came into contact with his chin, rubbing the patch of black hair growing there. All the while her heart pounding in her ears, when his eyes met hers Roxanne began feeling faint, the breath sucked from her chest. Frank’s hand came to rest on her arm and his eyes closed. She wanted to run a finger over his fringe of black lashes but could not bring herself to do it, yet. Parting Frank smiled slightly, a pleasant smile, half of his moustache lifting on one side. Stepping back Roxanne noticed that the coffee was more than finished, she turned off the burner and set the pot on the table. She also went and grabbed her cigarettes and lighter from her bag.
“Err…would you like any sugar or milk in your coffee? I don’t have any cream at the moment,” she inquired trying to overcome the slight awkwardness of the preceding moment.
“A little sugar would be fine,” Frank confirmed.
Taking the sugar from the back of the cabinet Roxanne said, “I’m just going to put this on the table.”
Sitting back down she poured herself a cup of coffee and lit up a cigarette of her own. Frank helped himself, blowing out a cloud of smoke, examining it as it swirled and looped in the light above the table. From under the bed Tweezer padded softly, he rubbed against Frank’s ankles then jumped onto one of the empty chairs around the table. Outside the apartment everything was silent, no distant sirens or trains thundering down the nearby tracks. According to the clock on the stove it was half past midnight.
Frank became the first to disrupt the almost deafening quiescence, “You wouldn’t mind if we went and sat on the sofa? I can’t feel my ass anymore and my back hurts.”
“No, not at all,” Roxanne answered, rising gathering up her cup of coffee, the coffee pot and her pack of cigarettes.
She had to admit to herself that sitting on the sofa did sound great, it sounded wonderful. Leaving the kitchen she switched off the light above the table, plunging half of the apartment into darkness. With the darkness she realized how tired she actually was, she had been up since seven o’clock and had worked all day. She also wondered about Frank, would he want to go back to his motel or would he spend the night there. There was no way of predicting what he would want. He had already settled down on the far end of the tattered purple sofa and was finishing his cup of coffee.
“Would you like some more?” she questioned sitting down beside him.
“Yes please… This is really good coffee by the way,” he said setting his cup on the table so she could refill it with more of the back liquid. “Thank you,” he added before bring it back up to his mouth.
Tweezer jumped on the back of the sofa, starting to purr all over again. He lied down behind their heads and made an attempt at grooming Roxanne’s straight dark hair like he always did. Tiring of that he went over to examine the stranger who had come into his house. Inching his way along the back Tweezer buried his muzzle in Frank’s hair and tried to groom him, but the long hairs only became caught on his pink ribbon of a sandpaper tongue. Reaching behind his head, Frank scratched the cat’s ears, smiling slightly. That intrigued Tweezer enough to decide he liked his intruder and he slipped down on Frank’s shoulders.
Jumping up Roxanne went and grabbed her camera out of the tall, dark oak wardrobe that stood opposite of the foot of the bed, “you don’t mind if I take a picture of Tweezer and you, do you?”
Frank shook his head no; as he leaned down to knock his cigarette on the overflowing green ashtray, carefully balancing the cat on his shoulders as he did so. Yet the large yellow cat did not like that and slid from Frank’s shoulders like a sack of beans, dropping onto the sofa beside him. Disappointed Roxanne came back to the sofa and sat back down. She thought about springing the question, now was just as good a time than any other. It would help settle some of the nerves stirring in the pit of her stomach, or so she thought. A simple question, did he care to stay for the night or return to his motel. He had received what he had originally come for, or so it seemed to her.
“Err… So, would you like to go back to your motel or… or would you like to spend the night here?” Roxanne inquired, biting her lip; glad she had been able to get all the words out. They flowed from her lips like crystal water in a stream trickling over rocks.
Making eyes with her, he licked his lips, a flash of wet pink tongue, getting ready to speak. The look in his eyes was the same one he had been giving her all night, it was knowing with a devious glint, innocent but not, in all hard to read. Inside the electric tingling that had plagued her all day was raging, radiating from the center of her chest all the way to her fingertips. It was a feeling that was hard to place, hard to name, a mix of emotions accompanied by a physical sensation. The emotion she experienced was nameless as well. Frank was holding Tweezer in his lap listening to her and watching her intently.
“I’d like to stay,” he replied smiling, a large grin of crooked white teeth, cuddling Tweezer against his chest. “If you don’t mind that is.”
“I don’t at all, I was secretly wishing you’d want to,” Roxanne said being overcome by overwhelming waves of excitement.
“Well… It does get lonely on the road,” he added. “And I really liked it when you put your hand on my face,” he stroked Tweezer’s back causing the large yellow cat to purr. “Of course I want to stay, you don’t look like a toad like the girl was after me in Chicago!”
Laughing Roxanne aimed her camera and snapped a photo of Frank cuddling with her cat. If it turned out it would make a nice picture, one worthy of sending to her friend. Tweezer squirmed free of Frank’s grasp and bounded across the room, taking shelter beneath a potted fern beside the blocked and long unused fireplace, which now was home to Roxanne’s TV.
“So, the girl really did look like a toad?” she giggled.
“Uhh huh,” Frank smiled pulling his feet up on the sofa, folding his legs in front of him. “She had warts all over her face, bugged out eyes and a mouth like this,” he said grabbing his cheeks, stretching out his mouth opening his eyes freakishly wide, a horrid looking face.
Roxanne started laughing so hard she was almost choking. When Frank added a ridiculous voice to it she doubled over, almost falling off the sofa.
“Hi! I’m Janice! I’m like your biggest fan! Would you sign my tits! Will you pretty please take me back to your motel room, I really need to fuck someone!” he screeched in a high nasal voice. Then is face went serious, “I’m sure she was on something, she was really fucked up. Or she was really that stupid…who knows? I signed her tits though, then the roadies got their hands on her.”
“Wow!” Roxanne laughed.
“I run into those sorts of people nearly everyday, but hey, at least its cheap and entertaining,” he said. “They can give you inspiration as well.”
When her laugher subsided Roxanne asked, “So, would you like some cookies now…now that all the coffee is gone? Sorry I didn’t ask sooner. They’re snicker doodles.”
“Yes, I would,” he answered. “Come here a moment,” he added.
Scooting nearer to Frank, he placed an arm about her then leaned in close, his nose only mere millimeters from her cheek. Roxanne could feel his hot breath on her face. Lightly his lips met hers; she could feel his mustache tickling her face. Before parting he lingered awhile, his hand creeping up her back meeting with her long hair. Leaning back he smiled and shot her those eyes. Roxanne did not know how to even respond, she grinned dumbfoundedly then rose to get the cookies from the kitchen.
Returning she carried a plate wrapped in tin foil. As it was removed it revealed a small heap of light brown cookies topped with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar. Frank helped himself to three of them, Roxanne grabbed two.
Sitting back down she yawned, “I don’t know about you, but after this I need to go to bed. I’m just going to take a bath in the morning. You don’t want one do you?”
Taking a bite from one of the cookies Frank shook his head no, “I need to get to bed too,” he said. “A bath can wait… By the way these cookies are amazing. I haven’t had snicker doodles in a long time.”
“Thank you,” she answered. “So, do you want to sleep on the sofa or in the bed? I don’t even know why the hell I’m asking.”
Frank winked and continued to munch on his cookies. Underneath the hibiscus plant Tweezer seemed to be attempting to climb in the pot, or trying to get something out of it. Out of the corner of her eye Roxanne saw him and jumped up, if left to his own devices Tweezer would have surely tipped the plant over ruining it. Roxanne snatched the squirming cat up and set him atop the back of the sofa behind Frank’s head. Yet in that process one of the vibrant red blooms was knocked from the plant. Gingerly Roxanne picked up the fallen flower.
“Sorry,” she apologized as she passed Frank, stopping to tuck the bloom amongst his jet curls. “Tweezer can be a butt sometimes.”
Without words he screwed up his face trying to see the hibiscus Roxanne had placed in his hair. Lifting his hand, his fingers met it, then his face took on a look of pure disgust, “What’s with this hippy shit?”
“Oh no… Don’t take it out!” Roxanne exclaimed focusing her camera on Frank. “Don’t think of it as hippy. Think of it as tropical or something, you’re a hula girl.”
Quickly she snapped several photos of him hopping one of them captured the smirk that appeared on his face only momentarily.
“Okay, you can take it out.”
Frank pulled the flower from his curls and tossed it on the table in front of the sofa; a large spool that wire had once been wrapped around. Roxanne’s last boyfriend had taken from a construction sight and when they broke up and she moved out of his apartment, she took it along with all the furniture, which was hers to begin with. Smiling again Frank slipped an arm around Roxanne’s shoulders and pulled her tight against him. She could easily feel the warmth of his body against her own. Thinking of her ex made her wish Frank could stay with her forever, then maybe the world would not be such a terrible place. Her eyes traveling up to his face she took in his features, his well defined, rather angular features. She also noticed there were strings of melted cheese and crumbs stuck in his moustache.
“Here, you have something here,” Roxanne said picking the bits of food out of his moustache.
“It has a tendency to pick things up like that,” Frank answered running his fingers over it, smoothing it down. “Thank you though.”