She waited for him in the ER waiting room, a big, glass-fronted space. It looked onto a sidewalk that led up to the big front doors of the hospital from Red River Street, which was where Silas appeared, having walked the several blocks from Sixth.
She recognized him by his gait. The style of clothing he wore was unfamiliar to her, and he was with someone she did not recognize. The person who walked with him, it developed, was a boy of eighteen or so, completely in black. Silas had mentioned no friends coming. Halfway up the curve of the hospital walkway, the boy in black turned, left Silas alone, who seemed not to notice the absence, and whose lips even kept moving after the boy was gone. The boy jogged back in the direction of the revelry—just some stranger Silas had met at the festival?
The festival would be declining for the night, but Spring knew that some manner of debauchery would continue till it began anew the next day. Some people would stay up the week straight. Silas could be one of them. Once she had stayed up with him nearly as long for the festival. Of course, she could never tell her father about doing that. He knew about the festival, knew what it was. But in the day of his youth, there had not been such unbridled fun, had there? It was some other world back then, some other kind of existence.
Silas lurked up like some humble vampire, wearing this long black overcoat with lapels that reached for the sky; it was spring in Texas yet he wore this. He had on one of his stupid-looking bandanas, a fluorescent orange one that bore the usual black and white abstractions, which Silas had once called “my Texas paisley.” He stared at the sidewalk, counting his thoughts on his steps. He grew nearer carrying a ukelele a little longer than his forearm. Silas’s eyes seemed small, and would do till he came near, when their remarkable blueness could be appreciated. Silas was one of the best songwriters she personally knew. She was sure of it now, though she had often come in and out of the opinion that he was so great at it. His music was too haunting and crystalline to win much notice at large, but it was amazing. He was probably one of the best rock composers in town; yet this night she could have mistaken him for a schizoid streetwalker, how he stared at the pavement, keeping his words to himself like a spell. He wore an actual cravat. Silas now wore earrings of the kind that opened a hole in the lobe, the type that her father had once said “made his skin crawl.” Silas was such a rare thing that it made her stomach clench. She wanted to be so rare herself, though she did not necessarily want to touch him ever again. He worked in some great beyond that was too tiring a place for her to visit. She wondered again who the kid in black had been, for Sixth was a long way off to walk the distance with a stranger. Spring had slept with plenty of guys since Sy had left for Los Angeles; “L.A.” She wondered why she had not thought to call one of those other men tonight.
She hurried back toward her father’s curtained-off corner of the ER, to tell Daddy she was leaving to take care of his truck. But the whole department looked the same, plaintive and sterile, off-white tile, Vaseline- and paper-smelling, so she got lost. She realized that there were two halves to the emergency area and that she was in the wrong one; was just beginning to orient herself when she came face to face with Silas.
“I was searching for it and I found it. The perfect thing to say when I saw you,” he said.
“That right?” she said.
He broke into falsetto song, strumming the uke: “‘We can catch up, when we’re on the same side of the street again. Full of our favorite times, we’ll take the old town for a spin.’ “ The lyrics were from “Clemency,” a song that Spring had written.
She was surprised to feel the blood rush to her face. She felt flattered, and she could not allow him to see it. “Don’t you belong in this city?” she said.
“You come at the right time of year and anyone’s gonna feel that.” He let loose the smirk, which quickly grew into an uncontrollable grin. His whole face animated to pull lips backward and reveal crooked teeth. He was taller than before, or seemed taller because sturdier, solider through the chest and arms.
“Oh brother,” she said. She hugged him because she had to; because the flesh-and-blood fact of him betrayed how small the phone calls allowed her to keep him, as if those routine, boring discussions of royalties were a proper fit for him.
He smelled of smoke and a hint of beer. Of course a little sweat, too; not body odor, just salty water with a bit of human to it—and a difficult-to-identify other component underlying all of that. It was like mothballs crossed with a box of matches. Spring would finally define its source as the residue in the air, on the walls and ceiling, of any venue that used a fog machine once in a while. The places where she played now were usually rural, and their owners would not hear of using a fog machine. These were the places her father booked Hatfield. This scent dug deep into the cotton of clothing and so was harder to wash out even than cigarette smoke. It was subtler than anything else you soaked up in clubs. When she smelled the fuel for fog she would always think of Silas, and Austin’s downtown clubs. He asked where the Colonel was. In his voice there was gravity, a little surprising because Spring had not feel it for herself since Dad had been unloaded from the ambulance. She tried to formulate a plan as they made their way to the Colonel in the ER; failed, but it turned out not to matter. He had been moved.
“Let’s get up there,” Silas said.
Spring told him to wait downstairs, but he said he would go.
She tried to say why Silas shouldn’t go. He seemed genuine in his cause, so she could not.
She walked the halls of the hospital with Silas and his high lapels, and his slapping, clicking soles. The coat was not all black after all. It had stripes all up the middle of the back, a broad strip each of green, orange, and blue. They ran to a “Candylicious Dongs” emblem smack in the middle of the jacket’s torso, a penis shape ornately bound by embroidered gold. When a nurse stepped into the elevator, Spring retreated to the corner farthest from Silas and his jacket. The nurse looked up and down the length of Silas. After a moment the nurse said, in a nasal voice that had a smoker’s texture,
“You must be a musician.” Silas grinned and strummed an affirmative major chord on his uke.
Spring took him, his bootheels clacking—they were western boots, she saw now, and also added to his height—to the door of her father’s room. She said, just a minute.
She went in and closed the door. She told her father hello, and asked if he needed anything. There was nothing . . . oh, an iced tea if the cafeteria was open, and if not, a can of it from a vending machine. Spring put down things she was carrying and stepped quietly back outside.
“He’s sleeping. We should let him rest a while,” she said.“OK. I’m waiting,” he said.
“Why are you so intent on seeing him?” she said.
He said he was not so intent. Just wanted to visit. She swept her hand through the air and told him that this answer made no sense. She told him to wait for her in the lobby. And Silas said, all right. They left in different directions.