The night before his disappearance, she had slept little. She had risen and gone into the central room of Hatfield’s portion of the duplex, the living room, where she took a seat upon a divan. She had carried a book with her from the little bedroom she was sleeping in, but she did not open it, just looked out the window into a seascape lit by half a moon. She was alone. She knew the little urn still held ash in that moment. She was alone and it was idle curiosity that made her do it, made Donna lift the lid of the urn and pinch a bit of the contents. It had the super light feel of ash, not sand.
She thought of their last meeting. He sat bandana-wrapped and glowering at his beer in the Red-Eyed fly. His bandana was so tight, she remembered, that his brow puffed out beneath it like the brow of some more muscular man. This last, barroom encounter of theirs took place long after Silas left the band. He slouched over his drink, alone and lost in it, as the bar exploded with life around him. It was strange she should have recognized him in the busy place, as nondescriptly clothed as he was, the bandana and dark clothing, the hood over the bandana and the felt jacket. He was not dressed for a night out. No, that wasn’t it; that had always been his strange way of dressing for a night out—and even for a night onstage, which had annoyed her about him.
What had caused her eyes to linger long enough to recognize him? The curve of his back, maybe. That curve had occupied her vision for hundreds of hours onstage, she playing behind him as she so often had. Yes, the back of him would have left its impression in her brain.
She had approached him with the plan that he and Hatfield could collaborate on something. It had been one of Silas’s songs, after all, that had hooked them their first record deal. Then he had left them. They had parted on a fairly amicable note, so since then everyone had discussed the idea, Hatfield and Silas making a song together. “We know we have ensemble,” she remembered Spring saying in the months after the split. “We know he could come up with something beautiful for us.”
That was why Donna approached him at the bar. He sat alone, turning his glass half-turns per second, staring down into it. He lifted whatever drink it was slowly to his lips in that room full of dancing bodies, a Thursday crowd in Austin. She knew clubs, and part of the memory, her last memory of him, is the feeling of the college crowd’s energy, its rising joy, building as it always did toward the weekend. He was a silhouette, then a sad sculpture, then an outline again, against the flashing, unilluminating light. It should have been Spring, not Donna, to go to him about the collaboration. But Spring never would. She and Silas were being Spring and Silas. Chuck should have gone to him, but this was when Chuck had been absent for several weeks. Donna, with a few drinks in her, had taken her opportunity, or at least tried to.
“If it ain’t the man himself,” she said. She shouted to be heard above the din. She didn’t seem to surprise him. He smiled, said hello; mumbled more that she could not hear for the cacophony of the bar.
She told him how things were going with the band. She talked about their new album and the release party, shouting. She knew it was a dumb idea, then, to speak at the Red Eyed Fly that evening of any kind of business. The bar was incredibly loud. Benjamin Burns, it had been.
“Lemme buy your next,” she said.
“I’m here with friends. I don’t want to get too far ahead of them.”
Because she felt awkwardness that he apparently did not, perhaps because of how loud it was, she told him to bring over his friends, she would buy their next round too.
He lifted a hand to point to the friends; raised his hand slowly in the beginnings of drunkenness. His fingers seemed, as ever, too meaty and ponderous to wrangle such sharp music from a guitar. His pals were a short-and-tall pair down the bar a ways. (The two boys were now in Hawaii with her.) The pair spoke of many things, drunken and jocular. They talked about their workplace, a fast food restaurant. She figured out that Silas worked there too, and that he was a little ashamed.
That night, she learned that she admired him, in a way. Because the fast food thing leveled him down for Donna, she realized she had been looking up to him. She had been a little jealous of him. She never brought up collaboration. Instead she laughed.
She laughed at him. He was always so averse to selling himself, to undermining his music, and then to end up in a fast food joint. . . . Oh, he had tried in the most obvious ways to pretend he was one of the team. But he let them know more subtly that he was precious. And his worship of the muse had brought him to Taco Bell. Donna laughed at him, and at all of life, perhaps. Whatever path ended up taking a person, it took him through some bullshit.
She should not feel guilty. It was he, after all, who had vouched for an exit—killed himself. But before that, he had created wildly popular music that contained some of the most beautiful melodies she had ever heard. She could understand his leaving the band. Buy why couldn’t he just let himself be part of something? Even if it just meant being a part of the world?
She had considered the suicide a few times, as she had considered the suicides of others. These analyses led inevitably to a thought experiment, that of putting herself in the place of the self-killer in his final moments. And the way she imagined it, playing out the steps, made the act seem both weak and stupid. Unless you were experiencing mind-bending pain, the kind caused by exposure to open flame, say, or cuts down to the bone and viscera—wasn’t there always another path open?
But when she thought of Silas in this way, she felt herself ignoring something.
And for a moment this night, she felt the truth. She had known him for a time at a deeper level, where the bass met the rhythm. He was in her brain, the now timeless shape of him looming before her onstage. So Donna touched the real suicidal knowledge before shoving the subject away entirely. For a second, it was clear to her that she only wanted to believe he was obstinate, that he had purchased too much of his own drama. She was exultantly horrified, if only for that second, by his absence from existence, by the fact of a planet deprived of a person she had known well.
Perhaps it was he who should laugh at her. He had been something she would never be. Maybe only some illogical, suicidal bastard like him could be so good at guitar. His music was born from the shit of life, out of deadening parts of life, like fast food work. He kept himself in hard places because their rules forced it out of him and into the world. His meaty fingers danced for life on their ladder, the frets of the guitar. Now he was nothing, just the ghost implied by an entourage of dive characters.
In certain Hawaiin moments, he leered at her dead on, revealing his child’s face, his small pretty eyes. He had a kind of extra youthful look, strangely retained behind the curtain of acne scars. She had stabbed Silas that last night with mentions of how sweet things were since he’d left: life on the road, traveling the country making music, partying every night for those who wanted to party.
She left the couch and lay in her bed, door open. She did not sleep again. Donna thought of Silas, of that last meeting. Then she considered all the work the band had to do to catch up when the disruption was over. She wondered whether Chuck would stay sober and steady for them. Also, how would this time off the tour impact their travel budget in the long run? Would Spring take any nights off from their shows, when they got back to the contiguous forty-eight states?
If Spring took nights off, would it help the old blonde, or would she keep crying for him every night? One was not allowed to judge someone for that kind of thing, Donna supposed; though it was not as if a sibling of Spring’s or even a parent had died, or even a husband. Donna knew Spring would cry just as often whether or not she took nights off, and Donna found she had no sympathy for her friend. Spring was her best friend, as they had been saying for a long time to each other.
She knew nobody had come or gone, for the little house’s doors had not opened or closed even once. . . .