She was speaking of another of her sculptures. He listened, at first being careful to seem interested, then becoming actually intrigued. He had never heard of sculpture like this, all the materials she used: shoelaces, shards of glass, half-melted plastics of various colors. She claimed to have used thirty shades of enamel on this work of art, woodglue, pages from books, and pieces of limestone and brick. More.
“I hate monochramatic. I hate homogeneity,” she said. “You want to fascinate.”
She gazed at him with total assurance as she said these things to him. He believed in her: she had just begun as an artist, and that was what she was all about. Carterez thought, here is a woman who has found her truthful place in the world. He wanted to breathe through a thickness of her black hair. He wanted to scream to everyone that he was wrong, terribly wrong in what he had chosen for his own life.
All of the time their bodies came nearer, or it seemed that they became closer because the entertainment was ever more eminent. Carterez would be able to see straight down the front of her dress if he were to look. He could resist the temptation a few minutes longer, perhaps until the show began, when she would almost certainly be distracted. She would notice him looking anyway, he supposed, as he imagined women always did notice despite guys expertly fooling themselves that the women didn’t notice. Kimmy sweated more, making her scent stronger, her creamy kiwi perfume mixing with the tang of her sweat. She seemed to welcome his infringement on her space while fending off others by keeping her shoulders rigid. Words poured out of Kimmy, ideas about art. As the crowd contracted around them she spoke loudly of a trip she’d taken to Canada. He could not hear most of it, but she seemed to be comparing it to the United States. People had started to catcall and whistle, anxious to see Silas. Concerts always ran late, didn’t they? But wasn’t it only the headlining act who was supposed to be tardy?
He breathed in deeply through his nose. It had been four years since he had attended a stateside concert, but the drug that hit the air now was timeless, drizzling down over everything, making his little pocket in the crowd with Kimmy a very pleasant place. Facing rearward, now, to speak with Kimmy, he had an unwanted view of a stranger, from whom he tried to avert his line of sight. Now this man screamed, and the back of the his throat was exposed to view for a full second, making him seem brutally angry. A scream for what he was seeing.
There was Silas. He walked to the stool, a drummer behind him. With the rest of the crowd, Carterez jumped and screamed. He shouted “yeah” as loudly as he could, nonetheless failing to hear himself for the sudden noise. Kimmy clapped and cheered wildly. Carterez presumed it was for his sake that she did this, since she had barely known who Silas was. He wished that the guys from the unit could see this, him hooking up thanks to Silas, whom some of them had hated. He that Nicky were with him. He wished this with complete intensity, and it was the inarticulate love he possessed for his little brother. The singer took his place.
The crowd was wild with excitement. Perhaps Silas had gotten more airplay recently than Kimmy realized, or maybe the festival crowd was more excitable than average concertgoers would be. It could also be that most of them were Austinites and Silas was from Austin.
Silas held the burgundy acoustic-electric that Carterez knew from album covers. But now a bright shock of blonde hair came down over his face. He wore all black and a metal-studded belt of a kind Nicky might wear. Carterez had seen Silas in a grey suit, a black suit, and blue jeans and a t-shirt. The musician looked down, keeping his eyes on the stage even after taking his place on the stool, as if seeking among the floorboards for some kind of instruction.
A thin little guitar melody, which Carterez placed immediately as a version of “From the Far Line,” led into a bright, fast chord progression. The words in this song came right up front. The clapping simmered away as the chorus began.
Woke up with my face in the sun.
The lady beside me was awake already, Her eyes reflected a snoring bum. She had a regular, wonderful dream, The kind where crying comes undone.
He sang slowly, as if struggling. His voice was not gently furious as on the CDs, but a weak rasp. The guitar part was more intricate in a way, but it too was wispy, creeping instead of bounding. It was as if Silas were giving only half the effort he might. Voice and instrument, the two parts were balanced against each other with great delicacy, barely in harmony with each other. The drummer simply tapped a high hat.
Silas continued to weep, hanging his long bangs and commiserating with the boards of the stage. Carterez was shoved this way and that, and he shoved back against every other blow. The crowd had their arms up, and half of the people sang along.
Kimmy touched his shoulder. She smiled and said something.
She might have asked Are you all right? He could barely hear her. She put a hand to his face, turned him, and he was no longer blinded by the spectacle. She held his elbows and twisted him gently, her motions a proposal that he dance with her. If she wanted him, it was because he was well traveled. “They like a man that's been all over the damned place,” he remembered Jensen saying. He started to dance with her, guided by the minute touch of her fingertips on his elbows.
Her sandy eyes disappeared behind the black mass of hair as she made him spin her. Kimmy pushed her body into his. He had once felt free, like she must feel, sculptor of angels that she was. He did not feel free any longer. Taken as a whole, the good of the Army outweighed the bad, and he wished he were still overseas. He preferred distant missions, even with their concomitant loneliness, over the worries of being home. The soundlessness of home made Carterez himself feel like a mute. He abhorred the deafening differences between himself and his little brother. He hated Dad’s quietude, the creeping silence of his father’s age.
“You should come with me,” Carterez said. He did not know whether she heard. But if he could get her on his bike. . . .
For the next song, the drummer started things off with a tap of the sticks. Silas launched into a crunching, metallic version of one of the unit’s favorites.
Carterez whispered into Kimmy’s ear a suggestion about his motorcycle.
“Right now? What about Synthoma? What about Silas?” she said.
He dreaded the idea of staying through this show. This was headbanging music of his brother’s kind. It was what Kimmy had come for, apparently. “We’ll come back. I just want you to see the bike.”
She struggled through the crowd; finally reached her friends, and spoke to them. The older girl she was talking to was a little suspicious but, Carterez saw, also a little amused. He and Kimmy joined hands. He was holding hands with a girl for the first time in years. He hustled the two of them back through the still-growing crowd to the parking area.
“A Honda Valkyrie,” Carterez said. “Let’s go for a ride.”
“Um. You mean later?”
“Yes, later, of course.” He smirked in a way that would often get a girl to do a thing. “Or maybe now.”
It took some reasoning with her, even an explicit insistence, before she threw a leg over the bike. They would be back soon, he said, and all the sooner if they left now.
“Do you have two helmets?” she said.
“Only one. You can wear it,” he said. He had given his passenger helmet to Nicky as a gift.
“You drive this everywhere?” she said. Carterez nodded.
“Jesus. Is it really worth risking your life for?” she said.
“Yes,” he said.
She said that he fascinated her. Fascination – I’ll take it, Carterez thought. Kimmy had never ridden a motorcycle. She said it was hard to stay balanced in a skirt and wearing a helmet that was way too big. Carterez cranked the bike and drowned the last of her words, told her that there was a first time for everything. “Now tuck your dress under your ass good so you don’t flash the world,” he said. He tapped the top of the helmet. Hold on, hold the hell on, he said.
Less than twenty minutes later, they were shooting down his favorite farm-to-market road. She clung to him tightly for the first ten miles or so, holding stiffly to him like some child afraid of the ocean. She loosened up some. They would go weightless for the briefest of moments coming up over a hill, then sink, blind. That was when she would squeeze him: when they sank, or when they hugged a curve or sailed over another hill. She reached under his shirt. Her small fingers played on his side muscles and ribs. He must keep fast to the bike, and stay attentive, and in control; for the life of his rider depended on him. His body was her safety.
In just a few days of riding his bike again, his susceptibility to the rush of the speed had gotten scarcer and scarcer, like the body got used to alcohol or pills. Now the sags of the road sucked him downward and turned his stomach again, and the phosphorescent lines glowed in his vision like they once had. Her light, clinging presence let him live the pleasure of the road again. At eighty MPH Kimmy’s laughter was run through with breaks like brittle candy, and was a meeting between pure joy and pure fear. Carterez gritted his teeth against the unusually strong pleasure of the speed, and against her small extra mass, focusing on keeping the two of them in a southbound lane.