Well, maybe if I put the chord in second inversion, it then... no, wait, that'll screw up the phrasing in the basses... okay, but then I can just raise their harmony by a fifth here, but... no, damnit! Screw it, I'm getting nowhere. Move on to something else.
And with that, another twelve bars of Calvin's Sonata for Sahndra were reduced to empty staves. Her melody sang off the page with mediocrity, and the harmony was becoming just as obscure and forgettable with each new note. Progress had ceased long ago to make anything about Sahndra a lasting memory. Perhaps Theme and Variations on Samuel would yield better prospects tonight.
Alright, I can rewrite that later. Fine. But this phrase isn't right, either. The horns, maybe I can take their countermelody and put it in the bassoons too... yeah, that works, okay... no, now I can't hear the ostinato in the violas... wait, no, I need the bassoons for the reintroduction of Samuel's theme here... and I can use the clarinet for Sahndra's theme again... fuck, no, I can't. The meters are wrong. I don't have them in compatible meters? How the fuck did I manage that?!
Once again, Calvin highlighted a legion of bars and swiftly pressed Delete. Twenty four measures stared back at him now, their emptiness mocking him, a reminder his waning talent. This night was unusually counterproductive; he could usually write more than he deleted in an evening of work. To continue any further would undoubtedly result in deleting the entire project. He needed out.
"Forget it. I'm done. Fuck this; I'll deal with it in the morning. I... I just can't."
File, Save, Exit. No more. His laughable attempts at writing were more raucous with each night wasted in his studio. Fine, no more music for the night. What now? Calvin's inbox blinked its silent taunt, no doubt the producer again, demanding a status update, repeating a film deadline, restating contract bylaws, and more rhetoric that mattered not. No, the inbox and its incessant blink can be ignored. Start, Shut Down.
Writing film scores made sense five years ago. It gave Calvin a way to actually use his degree. Nobody can make a living from a composition otherwise. People don't commission symphonies, operas, concertos. The music industry had no room for creativity. The music business was an assembly line of faceless icons, shoved down the line as auto-tune assembled the various parts in to three minutes of airtime between commercials. But film? Sure, it is just another business, but at least it offers a chance for creativity, if it is only forgotten in the background to the moving pictures and partial nudity.
Calvin once had that creativity. The independent directors loved him for it. Calvin embellished the independence of the director's vision, the actors' talent. He had his outlet, and he had his paycheck. A month later, it was a new director, a new cast, and the same story told in a new way that was already old. But Calvin's music was always new, and creative, and independent. That's the word the industry tossed back to him with every rejection letter: independent. It was their way of reminding Calvin that, no, he will never be working for people with wealth.
Maybe if he looked like the rest of the corporate jack-offs someone would give him a chance. The trendy goatee and sideburns could go first, cleaning him up. Then he could go nuts, cutting off his ragged blonde hair to a short middle part. Ditch the gunmetal frames for contacts, trade T-shirts and boot cut jeans for dress shirts and khakis, finally buy shoes that cover his feet, and he'd be set; Calvin would be just another member of the faceless cast. Yeah, that's what holds him back: his looks, not his skill.
"Ugh, damn... when did I eat last?"
Noon? ...last Wednesday? Oh well, after a full day of rigorously writing a score, then rigorously deleting half of that score, perhaps a man does deserve a meal. Gino's has good chicken. Good wine, too. Except...
When the hell did midnight get here? Had Calvin really wasted twelve hours in his studio with that passionless sonata? Fine, whatever. No Gino's. No wonderful chicken. He should have stopped writing sooner. Much sooner. Not only would he have a stomach full of over-priced food, but there would be much more music that would have survived the holocaust of Calvin's self-criticism. Who the hell is open after midnight? Right, it's a Friday: Jonny B's. It will do. Food is food, and cheap beer is better than another night spent sober. Coat, cap, keys, and out the door.
Jonny B's served Calvin on many overworked nights and on many more underworked nights. The freelance lifestyle lets him live like a child lives every weekend: sleeping in, no need for any habits or routine. But the world doesn't operate on a freelance schedule. The shiny land of fluorescent lights and warehouse ceilings was forbidden territory. The realm of the suburban elite was taboo. But bars and nightclubs, those catered to Calvin's life, Jonny B's especially. Of all the bars in the city, it was the closest.
Fuck, really cold out. I need a better coat. And a warmer city. Oh, an actual career while we're at it, too. How about just a better life? Yeah, I should do the trick. Ugh.
Calvin never liked the cold. Who the hell would? It's so damn... cold. Florida beaches, tropical sunshine, unchanging climate. That was the way to live. Not this wind and ice shit. Why the hell did he move north? Oh, right, Cassandra. Now that was among his bigger mistakes. She liked the north. Her family was in the north. And he was dumb enough to follow her north. Eh, well, she was very persuasive. And she had the money. And she was hot. Those were reason enough after college; it's not like he had anywhere better to be. Oh, yeah, and the love thing. That too.
A cigarette. That would make life better, for two minutes. Click, ignite, breathe deep. Much better, and not as cold. Thinking about Cassandra always sucked less when he smoked. Maybe it's because she hated when Calvin smoked. Defying her, even after two years, still felt good. Bitter. That's a good word for it. But she left him. He earned it. Struggling artist is not as glamorous as she wanted to believe it to be. Finally, she gave up trying, love be damned. Financial stability carries more honor than a soul mate. At least that's the summary of her reasons why Todd was better suited for her attention and affection. Whatever.
Damn. Cigarette's gone. Flick aside, embers die. Just one block left, and Jonny B's could warm him up again. Maybe just the chicken fingers tonight. Cheap and filling. No, the trash fries. A pile of potato, cheese, and bacon. Calories would make him feel better. Empty, meaningless calories. And beer. And a shot. Two shots. Fuck, it's going to be one of those nights, isn't it?
At least the city is gorgeous. Calvin would always concede to that point. Crap may always pile up, but walking downtown seemed to glaze over the crap if he walked long enough. The city, like all others, had a soul, its own themes and harmony. But it was better here. The best that Calvin had known. So why the hell did it have to be so damn cold? Still, this city has much culture, and so much life. During the day, at least, there was life. The nights were still, calm, silent. Silence had special meaning for him. In a life of constant noise and sound, someone quickly learns how beautiful silence can be.
That could solve his problems. A score of silence. Sahndra and Samuel could court to Calvin's silent serenades. Print off empty staves, hand them to the producer, and profit.
"Hah! Awesome plan."
Meh, whatever. Ten feet away are the neon sign, the solid oak door, and the recorded jazz echoing in to the street: Jonny B's had arrived before him. Salvation for the night. Friday, though; he'd have to fight for a seat at the bar. Maybe a booth wasn't a bad idea, anyway. Then he could hide from the world, out in plain sight. No patron feels the need to share woes and troubles when Calvin tucks himself in to a booth. But the beer would take longer. After two blocks of cold wind and familiar depressions, beer now mattered more than food. Funny how that works. A seat at the bar it is, thankfully uncrowded as it was.
"Coors Light, a shot, and some trash fries, when you're free, James."
Soon enough, he would have his heavy buzz, full stomach, and ears full of the same recorded jazz tracks. The jazz was a comfort to Calvin. It was a reminder that some people still enjoyed real music. Not a lot of people, though. Just enough to matter. It was the art of improvisation, that's what hooked him. It was lost to Calvin. He tried, he studied, he practiced. He wasn't great on piano, but was better than most. Improvisation, though? Never. Could not do it. He lacked the creativity for it.
Hmph, now isn't that just the perfect picture for the night? Lacking creativity. It's why I'm here, and not in the studio writing. Not one original thought left. Nothing left but stealing old ideas. Eh, I could do that; recycle old scores. They'd never know it if I did. It's not like anyone ever sees these damn movies, let alone listens to the scores. Not a damn soul would know.
Except Calvin. He would know. Despite the beneficial ease of this master plan, he knew he couldn't do it. It's true: not a damn soul in the world would ever know that all the harmonies, the motifs, the themes were all the same as the fluff he wrote for Taking Back Solina, or the crap he orchestrated for Lost in the Twilight of Harvest. The director would love his originality in the sound, the producer would shout how much he loved it. But Calvin would know. He would know that it was not an original score. He would know that he had finally tapped his finite resources. He would know that there was nothing left of himself.
Finally, food and beer. Some of the last comforts left to Calvin. No matter how shitty the day had been, or how little work he had accomplished, a large plate of calorie-enriched food and a cold glass of alcohol could make the world a tranquil place once again. If only for fifteen minutes, the world surrendered to his senses, his desire. A handful of fries, a mouthful of beer. A quick shot of whiskey from James, and the real world would slip away very fast, but never fast enough for Calvin.
"Trying to forget about the world for a night?"
Who the hell is that? Who would be walking up behind him and – oh. Never mind. She can stay.
"Uh, yeah. Tonight... every night. Never quite works."
Food and beer suddenly matter a lot less. But not the whiskey; that was still important.
"Ouch, sounds bad. Need some company?"
Yes. Calvin badly needed some company, this company. She moved smoothly, silk through water, her long legs more fluid than flesh, heels clicking on the dusty floor. Not needing to wait for a verbal response, she quietly perched on the adjacent seat to Calvin, raising a hand and flashing a smile to James.
"Merlot." Not a common request in Jonny B's.
"So, what's her name?"
"Beg your pardon?"
"She must have been a hell of a woman to get you this upset, honey. So what's her name?"
Wow. Blunt, direct, honest. And wrong. Calvin didn't give a damn about Cassandra anymore. Not enough to drink about her, anyway. Silently bitch about her and resent her, sure, but not get drunk. That's done, over, and long gone. Todd the Paralegal was giving her everything she ever dreamed of owning since joining the real world. Good for her. No, his funk was all about that damn score, trying to find the melodic longing in Sahndra's voice... hah, it was a woman. Point for the mystery lady.
"Sahndra, I guess. Can't figure her out."
A cute giggle and a sip of wine. Thin red lips, darker than the Merlot, caressed the glass's edge, pulling back in to a subtle smile. Wide green eyes looked over her broad nose, their tint blending well with her olive skin. Wisps of auburn bangs - escaped refugees from her loose braid - danced among her eyelashes with each blink. Mediterranean, had to be. Italian, maybe.
"She sure sounds like a heartbreaker. How long has it been?"
"Just this afternoon. Can't quite find the notes to make her real."
That confusion is cute. A dark eyebrow raised, rounded chin pulled back slightly.
"She's a character in a movie. I write film scores."
"Oh, I see, I see. You're one of those 'struggling musicians' eh, honey?"
Laughter, and a sigh. Yeah, that description about covered it. Periodically negotiating with the landlord over late rent, student loans long unpaid and gaining interest, and a portfolio that would only grow thinner in time if Calvin couldn't find his creativity again: yes, he was a struggling musician, struggling in the death throes of a wasted career choice.
"That's a kind way of putting it."
Who was this woman? She's not a regular of Jonny B's. Calvin knew all of the frequent flyers escaping reality around him. He couldn't tell you their name or their drink, but he knew they found comfort in the smoky bar more than he did. But this woman was a fresh import, not typical domestic refuse. She didn't belong here. This was a place of old rock T-shirts and stained slacks, not a wrap-skirt and V-neck satin blouse under a wool jacket. The normal bar skanks all wore gaudy gold hoops and ridiculous pearl bracelets, reeking of some off-the-rack perfume. The apparition sitting beside Calvin adorned herself with a jade bead bracelet looped around her dainty wrists, matching jade studs in her round, tucked ears, and a light dusting of oleander scent in her aura. Yes, this woman was an oddity, a beautiful one.
"So, who are you, exactly? I'm Calvin, by the way, but you... you're someone new here."
"Calvin. Nice to meet you, honey. I'm Felicity."
A confident handshake, firm without squeezing. Soft skin, too. Her touch lingered a moment too long, the manicured burgundy nails lightly running along Calvin's palm. Strange, he just met Felicity – what an uncommon name – yet she was already waiting to leave with him. The Fates had smiled upon Calvin, and granted him salvation from his misery: a goddess meant for only him.
Hah, oh yeah, that's exactly it. A goddess from the Fates. Ugh, how does my brain come up with this stupid shit all the time? Eh, whatever. She's hot, and she's talking to me. No need to question it until it goes wrong, right?
After all, there's no reason to turn down a good thing. Since Cassandra left, Calvin hadn't spent any quality time with a woman, with all that can be interpreted from such a statement. No time for flirting, for foreplay, for fucking. People had lives, and Calvin spent his trying to survive in his scores. Sure, a few leers of lust were tossed his way on crowded nights at Johnny B's; it's not like he was a leper. Not one of them was worth second glance, though. Well, not one of them until tonight.
"Like I was saying, you don't look like a regular here, and James sure didn't recognize you. What brings you here?"
"Oh no, honey, one thing at a time. We're still talking about you."
What's with the 'honey' stuff? He just met her, and she's already using pet names? Weird woman.
"Tell me, Cal, all about the life of a struggling musician."
A shrug, another shot. "Not much to tell. After leaving college with my composition degree, I found that it was harder to find a job than I wanted to believe. Luckily, I had enough connections to find some work doing independent films. In a business that's already word-of-mouth, people talked about me, and I kept getting jobs."
"Why is that? Just what makes you so special, honey?"
"Uh, I don't know. All the directors and producers just said I had a creative independence, something that complimented their... independent visions."
"So why not use your independent creativity to bring Sahndra to life, hm?"
Yeah, why not do that? After all, it's just that easy, right? He could go back to his studio right now, crack open an energy drink and spend all night pouring his creativity on to the staves, until morning pushed its way through his closed curtains and the sound of Sahndra was music unlike anything other. Yeah, that would be awesome. Now if only Calvin could find that talent and inspiration he so happened to misplace. Just that easy.
"Too many films pulling on my resources, I suppose. Five years of work and I'm all out of ideas. Somewhere down the road, I lost my muse. Anyway, you want another Merlot? On me."
"Mm, yes please. Thank you, honey."
Eh, who gives a damn about talent and work right now anyway? Felicity wants another drink. She's letting Calvin buy her another drink. For once, things are going damn well. Maybe another glass after this second, and another shot for Calvin, and his studio apartment would be filled to double the standard occupancy for the night. Shit, why didn't he do laundry a week ago?
"Okay, Felicity. One thing at a time. Your turn."
"Oh, we taking charge now, honey?"
Yes. Calvin would not be going home alone. Pleasant conversation is ambiguous and misleading. A playful question coupled with a half-smirk and knowing eyes is not.
"Sure, sounds good to me. But seriously, back to my question: just who are you, and how did you find a place like this?"
A sip from her refreshed glass, and a quick pause to collect her thoughts.
"My turn then. I am Felicity, a traveling marketing consultant, bouncing across the country to help my company's clients. My work brings me to this beautiful city this week, and the search for a quiet drink brought me here."
Irony. It's everywhere. Marketing consultant. The title sounds so bland, so boring, yet in the hands Felicity such a corporate bore is livened to a prestigious status amongst the rich and powerful. A private jet and a new city every week, elaborate board rooms with solid mahogany tables, to do so little as sell a mission statement. All play and no work. Yet Calvin, the man pouring art in to the audience's ears with his work, living as a bachelor musician with no sense of a nine-to-five world is the actual bore. The creativity long drained from his digital quill, and a bank account dwindling to oblivion. All work and no life.
"Sounds like you have a pretty sweet gig, Felicity. Sure beats my current rut."
"The grass is always greener, honey. I have my high-class life, and my expense account, and that life is quite green. But you've got something more, something very few can even understand."
"That so, huh? What do I have?"
Leaning in, nyloned calves against his denim, and her palm resting on his heart. Wow, this was getting intense really fast. His pulse just doubled. Did she feel it? This is no longer just s flirtatious games. This was serious. Her eyes sought his out, trapping Calvin.
"You can hear the soul of the world. You speak in melodies. Music is the language of the Gods, Calvin. Not many can translate like you can, honey. Life on my side may be lush and green, but your gift is the key to the Emerald City."
It's rude to laugh at such a lofty accolade, but its application to him just made it too humorous. That's certainly the first time Calvin ever heard his life phrased quite like that. Or his talents called a gift. Language of the Gods? Key to the Emerald City? Music is just a job. When it was time for college, it was all he knew. Some bored guidance counselor said "hey, you're good at music... why don't you do that for a degree?" So he did. It's not like he had any single other redeeming ability in his skill set.
And college was fun enough. When your whole life is at a university going to music classes, writing music for assignments, and attending musical performances, it's quite easily to believe you live in a world where music is still quite important. They give you a cap and gown, walk you across a stage to a half-handshake, and you're given your degree. Congratulations, you have become a professional of music. Now, welcome to the real world. Enjoy your regret, jackass.