Author’s Notes: This is another excerpt from my novel in progress. It introduces Katherine’s estranged daughter, whom she hasn’t seen in two years. Chloe has been mentioned in the story but very little has been revealed about her situation.
It was a Monday evening, which meant absolutely nothing to Chloe Nielsen. Monday evening was just like Sunday evening, or Friday evening or Saturday evening. No better, no worse.
At seven o’clock there was lingering daylight and in Nashville it was still relatively warm. Chloe preferred the anonymity that the night provided, but she knew there were dangers; that others used the same dark cloak to hide their acts of depravity. It was a lesson she had learned firsthand.
She pulled her two-wheeled shopping cart behind her as she made her way down Seventh Street, past the vacant storefronts, the check-cashing service with its thick, bullet-resistant glass, past the liquor store. There were others who looked like Chloe, the ragged people looking for dope or sex or drink. There were also more than a few, who, like Chloe, never drank, did drugs, or provided sex for money.
They were there because they had nowhere else to go, or no one else wanted anything to do with them, or like Chloe, they lived in a world that had little to do with reality. Some she knew, and they acknowledged each other without so much as a nod of the head, but rather with a moment of eye contact. No words were spoken.
On an old wooden bench that served as a bus stop, a man with bloodshot eyes watched Chloe as she approached, then let loose a slurred hey as she walked by. Chloe shook her head and kept walking. At the corner of Washington and Seventh was a three-story brick building, its windows covered in plywood with pictures of musicians plastered all over. Some were old, from another era; others were hip, cool and edgy. The sign over the plywood read Seventh Street Studio.
The front door was locked. The front door was always locked. Chloe knew this and didn’t even try. She turned the corner on Washington Avenue and walked to the rear of the building where the back door faced a small parking lot. Three cars and a red pickup were in the lot. The red pickup belonged to Brad McNear.
There was an old picnic table tucked in close to the building that was used for lunch breaks, dinner breaks, summer jam sessions and sometimes hard drinking at the end of a day. An empty plastic pop bottle lay sideways at one end. Chloe wheeled her buggy to the table and took out the thin blanket that covered the rest of her possessions and laid it beside the plastic pop bottle. Below the blanket and on top of a layer of spare clothes was a bottle of water that she had refilled dozens of times and an assortment of modest treasures. A brightly-colored ceramic mug, a book of Robert Frost poetry, a collection of CDs that people had given her over the years, and an old, brass, magnetic compass. Nestled between the side of the buggy and her clothes, always cloaked and out of sight was a keyboard.
Behind the Seventh Street Studio, she felt safe. She pulled out the keyboard, an expensive Yamaha with special effects that Chloe would never use, and placed it on the table. She powered it up and began to touch the keys.
She played a C-major chord with her left hand. Then an F. Then a G. Her right hand played a melody. Though her left hand and right hand were precisely coordinated and accurately recreated a song that was popular many years before, they moved methodically, without rhythm, without nuance, without feeling. She played two verses, then the bridge, then the final verse, while the lyrics sang in her head. When the song was through, she sat silently for a moment, then started softly humming another tune.
A minor key.
She found the notes on the keyboard, her left hand first, then the right hand. A bluesy, jazzy rhythm. A run up and down the keyboard. She continued to hum, but as she played, words and fragmented thoughts escaped as she started to sing.
Love. To be with you. To feel your touch. Crying.
She went on for several minutes as the subtleties of the song evolved into haunting beauty. Then even more complexity. But after a couple of minutes, the rhythms started to break down; the chords didn’t quite match up with the tune. Her words had come together to touchingly tell the story of a lost love, but as Chloe played on, the lyrics grew more obtuse. And finally, her music was nothing more than a cacophony of noise and gibberish.
She stopped playing. The music didn’t reconstitute, it didn’t find its natural conclusion. She just stopped playing.
She picked up her bottle of water and took a long drink. The door of the studio opened and she turned to look.
She didn’t know the first two men. Young guys, long hair and skinny, carrying guitar cases.
They hesitated in their steps when they saw her, then moved toward their cars. A woman came out next. Youthful as well, with long red hair and a quick smile that Chloe returned.
“Hi, Genna,” Chloe said.
“Haven’t seen you in a while, Chloe. You doing ok?”
Chloe looked down. She couldn’t hold the gaze of Genna.
“I don’t know how I am.”
“I just mean are you eating well? You’re not sick or anything like that,
“I ate breakfast at the Union Mission. I had lunch at St. Mark’s. I suppose I’ll eat supper at Jericho House. And I feel fine.”
Genna nodded and smiled. “Been writing any music?”
“I can’t write music,” Chloe said.
“You might not know how to put it down on paper, but believe me, you write music. Do you have any new songs?”
“Yes. But I don’t remember them.”
The back studio door opened again with a creak.
“Hi, Chloe.” It was Brad McNear.
“Brad,” Chloe said as she turned toward him and smiled.
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Genna,” Brad said. “Good session tonight. We’re making progress. Hopefully we can finish up the basic tracks tomorrow night.”
“Looking forward to it,” she said. “See you, Chloe.”
Brad leaned his guitar case against the table and sat down beside Chloe, put his arm around her and kissed her forehead.
“Play some music for me, girl,” he said.
Chloe fidgeted, tilted her head and put her fingers on the keyboard, then dropped them to her side. Again she raised them to the white keys, hesitated, then willed her left hand to play a C chord. Then the F, then the G, then the same mechanical tune she had played ten minutes earlier.
“Good, good,” McNear said. “Keep going.” He opened his guitar case and turned around so the Martin rested across his lap. At first he strummed along, playing the same chords as Chloe, but on the second verse, he started playing in the minor key and Chloe followed his lead, taking the song in a different direction. Her fingers loosened a little and as she relaxed, the expression on her face changed ever so slightly. By the end of the second verse, McNear was toying with the rhythm and by the time they hit the bridge, Chloe had left the song entirely and was hearing new music, her own sweet spot of jazzy blues that could seduce the soul. McNear reached over and hit the record button on the keyboard and continued to strum his guitar softly.
Chloe was humming, then singing.
You leave me crying.
You leave me loving.
To feel your arms around me.
To have your love embrace me.
And I would cry no more.
She started to lose her timing and her pitch was off a little. McNear hummed a little louder, strummed a little stronger, trying to draw out more of her genius. He took over the melody and gave her the freedom to explore. Her eyes were closed and her fingers began to dance up and down the keyboard. Her voice, a mix between a moan and cry, echoed the notes she played in a scat that was all her own. She went on for another couple of minutes before bringing her soaring song back to earth. She ended as she had started. C. F. G. The end.
McNear’s hands were trembling as he fumbled in his pocket for a flash drive.
“Chloe, that was amazing.” He slipped the drive into the keyboard slot and downloaded the music. “Do you care if I make a master of this in the studio tomorrow? I think you have something really special here.”
“I was just playing around,” she said.
“May I?” he asked again.
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll get you some fried chicken and take you back to Jericho House.”