Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. AtU is Julie Taymor, lyrics are their respective owners, etc.
Notes: I should have gotten this to you months ago, I am very sorry. Life kind of got in the way. Well, name me a Beatles reference here and I'll try and think of a prize. Name them all, and you have too much time on your hands.
Thank-Yous: Nora (nleslie) was a lovely beta. She's a good writer as well - check out her fics sometime. :) This story owes a lot to some odd help I got from others, as well. So let's say I asked you "I need a body of water that a guy could rise out of and ask for the White Cliffs of Dover," or "What do you get when you combine pudding, cat food and the Eiffel Tower?" or something similar, you have my thanks, too.
It takes effort, but the best kind. It's the sort of behavior that might get a person committed, if she were anywhere but up on this stage. There's a lot of screaming, waving around the microphone stand and shouting things like, "Y'all wanna hear another one?" Her hair is in her eyes; she's caught in the thrill of it like there's no tomorrow.
She loves every minute of it. She loves exiting the stage to wild applause, then saying something to JoJo like, "Think I might've fucked up in the middle of 'Don't Let Me Down.'" He shakes his head and assures her she did fine, before they're back on for the last song. It must be well past midnight.
"This one's for Pru," she murmurs into the microphone, and meets Max's hard blue eyes in the crowd. She sings. She sings because she remembers Prudence's wavering love songs in the shower late at night. She sings because by now it feels like all she can do.
"When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide..."
The wind blows rain in her face, but Sadie doesn't shut the window. It's afternoon, and she's sitting beside JoJo on the old desk next to the fridge. He's got a notebook open, reading over lyrics while she finishes the stale coffee someone left in a mug on the counter. It tastes like mud, but after a few sleepless nights it's just what she needs. "Max's on the couch again."
JoJo grunts. "Better there than the floor." Crossing out a word in the notebook, he frowns at the page. "Or anywhere else," he adds, thoughtful.
She shakes the hair away from her face. The walls need repainting; down on the street, someone is playing a tambourine. She rests her feet on the back of a chair. Sadie's alright, she really is. It's been a week. It's been a week, and she'd like Prudence seated beside her; but then again, she'd also like another cup of coffee. She doesn't need to dwell or drown, and she doesn't need to test Max's theory that Prudence is hiding in the bottom of a beer bottle.
"Might be about time to offer him Prudence's room," JoJo muses slowly. She had been thinking just the same, but something holds her back.
The day after Pru left, Sadie sat against the door. Just sat there, elbows to her knees, songs spinning through her head. The cord from the window-shade was buried in her thick hair. Some maternal impulse kicked in, refusing to accept that these things happen. She could have parted with Prudence who wasn't prudent at all, Prudence whose hair was like butterfly wings. It would have been alright, if that Prudence needed to move on.
It's different, losing Prudence who didn't even smile when Max bounded through the door one day with a scream worthy of Sadie herself, and began to sing: "Oh, darling! Please relieve me...!"
So Sadie didn't move until JoJo, guitar at his back, put a hand on her shoulder and told her she was blocking the way out. It's not the first time the girl's gone missing, but it's the first time it's hit her this close.
"Just can't quite let go of her quite yet. She was Prudence, ya know? Thought I'd give it another day." Swinging down from the table, she tells him, "I'm gonna go out for a bit, see if that rain's still comin' down." Though her tone is casual, she's tense; the far-off sound of the tambourine beats the rhythm of her restlessness.
Glancing pointedly at the window through which rainwater is still clearly evident, JoJo shakes his head but doesn't challenge her. "Hang on." He runs a finger along the scribbled lyrics in the notebook. "I need a word that rhymes with 'weasel.'"
"Richard Nixon." She brushes a hand against his shoulder, and leaves with her usual slow-motion elegance.
She makes her way to the roof. The rain is really coming down up here; it makes her wet shirt cling to her skin, but even this much downpour isn't going to flatten her hair. The grey clouds look hard as rocks in the sky, water seeping down like thick drops of pure cloud. She leans over the side and looks down on the street, where everything is a mess of umbrellas and newspapers held over heads.
Prudence is off in that rain, maybe, or in someone's backroom hearing it drumming on the ground outside. Sadie inhales the rush of vertigo that comes from looking down over the street. "'M not her fuckin' mother," she says to herself, the words spilling out with too much venom.
It's the stinging resentment of a Sadie who had once stumbled happily from a circus tent with some exclamation like, "Look at you, sweetpea," to a Prudence whose joy was like a pinwheel.
With near-dancing hands, a tug against fingertips and the laugh of, "Oh – I want you to meet Rita – she's a contortionist," they were still within the kaleidoscope of that unlikely carnival. But a bit later, Prudence swung her arm around and said, "So you joined the trip after all..." They giggled amid the puppet hands and fading blue-people; and Sadie's hand would still be against that glossy hair while they lay in a field and the world was round.
So she could sing, now. She could. But if she opened her mouth, she might drown.
Max is engaged in a heated battle with the toaster. Sadie stands by and watches. Somewhere between a distracted band practice and the looks JoJo keeps getting like he sees right through her over the neck of his guitar, she's grateful to observe this combat with her back to the wall and one hand in her hair.
"Is my bread not good enough for you, you filthy little prick?" He slams the appliance against the counter.
"Wouldn't bother, if I was you. Desmond broke it last week."
"But – my toast – " Max looks at the wall behind her, where they've hung an old painting of Jude's next to a broken clock and a picture someone took at one of her gigs a few years back. On the face of the Sadie in the photograph is that same passionate love for life that she can still feel inside her, beneath this landslide of Prudence's fading silhouette. Prudence: one more friend to evaporate and leave only a mark on the floor.
"Well," he finally says, "I shoulda known something would go wrong. Pru always made toast for me. I've never touched the goddamn thing." There is a pause. He steps away from the counter. "This is when I go all dramatic, huh?" Max clutches theatrically at his chest. "'She used to call me Maxy-Poo, I'll never see excrement in the same way again!' Well, I..."
He waves his arms violently in the air, looking forlornly down at the toaster. But he's always going to be Max, no matter what his affairs with a girl whose eyes reflected the clouds in the ceiling; and therefore it's not surprising that he tilts the toaster and lets the bread fall onto the counter, selflessly offering Sadie one piece while he shoves the other into his mouth.
"Nah, I..." She can't stay in here. The walls will throttle her, and she'll never breathe again. She can hardly breathe now. She has to keep breathing. "C'mon. We're going out."
"Should I not tell JoJo?" He waggles his eyebrows.
She snorts. "Never change, Maxwell."
He can't find a coat, and Sadie's in no mood to wait, so he throws his blue bathrobe over his clothes and off they go. The rain has died off, and the daylight sky is starting to turn. Max follows her into the subway while she checks her pockets for change.
She's getting so tired; she clutches the metal pole on the subway a bit too tightly; but he pretends not to notice. The last time Sadie came down here was with Prudence, Prudence who tried to pretend she wasn't trembling when an ex of hers strode past them with his gaze on her chest. Sadie kept an arm around the woman who had once escaped from this very man by climbing through a bathroom window. She muttered things like, "Ignore him, honey," until he was gone.
Prudence is off somewhere with that guy, now, maybe not even too many miles from here. There's no question about that. In her mind's eye she can see it: he with a hand raised, or something else, and Prudence trapped behind her every excuse and desperate smile
Sadie glances around. The worn sign on the door between compartments that once said 'No Through Passing' now reads 'No rough assing.' Max makes some smart comment about this that Sadie doesn't hear, swinging a bit, absentmindedly, watching the rattling darkness outside the window behind his head.
One time, when they come to a stop, he glances out ahead of him and starts with surprise. When Sadie turns to see what's startled him, the train has already pulled away. "Y'alright, babe? Ya look like you've just seen the ghost of Eddie Cochran."
Shaking his head, he laughs with a hint of disbelief. "Nah, I thought I... but never mind."
Max insists he'll wait for her outside. Maybe he's being polite, or maybe he's interested in that blond girl who's smoking under the telephone pole. But for whatever reason, "C'mon, Max. Jeremy owns the place, I bet he'll give you a free drink," has to be followed by, "Or maybe a few," to get him through the back door. It's dark and smoky inside the bar, but it feels like a homecoming.
She sees the beard first. It's longer and greyer, but the creased fingers that twirl it in thoughtful disinterest are still laden with tarnished rings. When he spots Sadie standing there, Max hopping from foot to foot beside her, Jeremy's smile shows all of his teeth. Before she can make any kind of greeting, he's loped toward her, cowboy boots clacking against the floor. He peers into her eyes before wrapping his arms around her, and she knows his hand on her ass is nothing more than friendly.
His touch numbs everything that's aching and screaming, everything that's been building up since she started to comprehend that Prudence wasn't coming back on her own. She never wants him to let go.
"You're lookin' good, Sexy Sadie," Jeremy says, stepping back and looking her over in a way that isn't really critical. His voice is such a strange lullaby. "It's been too long. And who might this one be?" He's caught sight of Max, who has his hands in the pockets of his tattered bathrobe, his fidgety stare flitting from a crack in a window to the flickering lightbulbs in the ceiling.
Raising his eyebrows, Max asserts, "I'm the lost disciple of the eggman."
Jeremy's beard grins along with him. "I like this kid."
Sadie smirks. "You're the only one." She laughs a bit at the playful kiss Max blows her way, shifting her shoulders as she gazes at the corner where a couple of seated figures are slumped against the wall, speaking and laughing, obscured by shadows and smoke.
"So," Max is asking Jeremy, "Why all those rings on your fingers?"
"These?" He lifts a hand; the fake jewels glitter. "Well, I couldn't fit 'em on my nose."
Sadie's half-listening, but is diverted as a hand clutching what looks like a cigarette waves aside the haze of smoke; faces appear in the corner and then are swallowed again. "'S that Sadie?" a voice asks, a female voice that sounds like a trainwreck. There's a bit more mumbling and laughter, and then two figures come forward, a girl nearly doubled over in mirth and a boy scowling enough to make up for it.
"Somethin' funny, Vera?" Sadie inquires with careless caution, most of her concentration bent on running the fringes of her shirt sleeve through her fingers.
Vera straightens and bites her lip in an aloof sort of way. She's gotten taller since Sadie last saw her, or her heels have. "No... Who's the housewife?" She motions toward Max.
"He's with the eggman," Jeremy informs her, with a bejeweled hand in his beard.
Max fiddles with the hem of his bathrobe. "Call me Max."
"That's my daughter Vera," Jeremy tells him, pointing to her with his thumb. "And that's Chuck, he's mine as well."
"What about Dave?" Sadie almost doesn't want to say it.
Jeremy waves an arm in the direction of the deserted bar. "Sit down," he says. "I think we've got some catchin' up to do." He looks over at his children. "You guys can look after yourselves, right?"
They make noises of accord. Max looks apprehensive. He hasn't shaved in a few days, so his moustache is growing back in; the bottoms of his pants drag on the grimy floor. "I can, ah – "
"Come with us," Chuck asserts. "We'll show you around." That look on his face is wonderfully familiar. There was a time that she would have woken from where she'd passed out on the floor near Jeremy's couch, to the sound of a younger Chuck shouting something like, "Dad, there's another one blocking the door!" He's old enough at this point that he could get himself out of here, but she understands: his father is a difficult guy to leave.
Right now Jeremy is holding out an arm in the direction of the bar. His jacket is frayed at the wrist. It would be, because he's had it as long as she's known him. "After you," he says in that voice that always makes her feel like a queen, no matter how far she's been from it.
"How are you really?"
By now he can say this kind of thing, pouring their second glass of Jack Daniels as they sit on bar stools with his hand on her leg. A new guy is bartending tonight, and the various patrons who have trickled inside have been politely told that Jeremy is busy and they'd better leave him the fuck alone.
"I've been worse." Sadie inhales slowly. She loves the flavor of the air in this place, chill and sour as it is, filling her up and letting her taste the knowledge of how much she's changed since she first set foot here.
"Yeah, I know." He takes a swallow of his drink. "That wasn't the question. Something happen with that guitarist?"
"JoJo? Nah, he's fine." She stares down at her glass, then looks back at him. His thin lips are parted and he's no longer wearing those little silver earrings that have pervaded through her every memory of him. It shouldn't be surprising, how much older he looks, but it is. "Guess 'm a bit worried, is all," she plows on. "Friend of mine went missing last week. But you don' wanna hear 'bout – "
He shifts the hand on her leg, and she can feel its warmth. "'S what you came here for." That one's not a question.
"This girl Prudence." Sadie pushes the hair from her face and half-laughs. "Not well named. Her girlfriend left her a while back – scared off by that pusher she used to shack up with – " She stops.
"Ya still do that Hoyt Axton song, there? I used to love how you'd get inta that one."
As she half-sings, her voice has even more of a scratch than usual: "God damn the pusher man – I said God damn..." The song comes so easily, given how long it's been.
She can't read Jeremy's smile; there's nothing to do but reach for the hand on her leg and bury her fingers in his, and nothing to say but what nags at her mind. "I wanna be like you. I wanna tell her what ya said, 'The window's broken, and that shit ain't gonna put it back together.' But she's off somewhere with that guy, I don't even know where the fuck they are." She spits the words, each one too stressed. Her tone is drawing a couple attentive stares from the more sober clientele. Sadie's got to control herself. She's got to get her voice back to its usual drawl; she's got to stop shaking.
The re-emergence of Max's blond head in the doorway saves her; she downs the last of her drink and gets to her feet in a careless manner, both languid and rushed. "Was great seein' ya, Jeremy, really was. Take care."
Jeremy shouts something after her, but a drunk is laughing violently, yelling something to him like, "C'mere, Boob, I need to talk ta you," as Vera more than pecks a kiss on Max's lips and pulls her brother back to their corner. The door swings shut before Sadie is aware that she has left that smoky room behind. On closer inspection, Max is still wearing his bathrobe, but now with a suspicious lack of clothing underneath. His hair is singed.
Without all the restless purpose that drove her here, she can glance around now, almost idly. She remembers when she first reached this street, having gotten off a train not too long before. She was wearing shoes she could hardly walk in, and crossing her arms over her chest like she had the sun hidden away in there. At the time, Sadie didn't have much more to her name than some money in her pocket and a silver cross on a chain. She didn't keep either of those for long, but the shoes still sit in the closet. Pru used to borrow them. Max probably did, too.
"I take it you had fun?" Sadie finds that her lips can still curl upward.
Now Max's face crumples into laughter. "That blond girl outside? She's called Lady Madonna. And she's got a great – "
Sadie shakes her head. "Ya know what? Spare me, honey."
They've nearly gotten back, it's after midnight, and Max is starting to look almost as tense as Sadie feels. So when the sounds of familiar tambourines precede the Hare Krishnas around the corner, she can't linger, she's got to keep going and see JoJo, JoJo who always grounds her.
But Max has already darted off into the procession, stumbling over the hems of various robes. "Pru?" he shouts. "Hey, Pru!" He must have lost sight of the girl, because now he turns on the man with the tambourine. The music stops, and the ensuing silence is lined with Sadie's fraught tension. She raises a hand to adjust the neckline of her shirt.
"Prudence," Max says frantically, "Where's Prudence?"
"Ah, where is prudence indeed? Prudence implies tomorrow. And there is no tomorrow; there is only now," the man replies with utmost serenity, gazing imperially down upon a fuming Max.
Snorting in spite of herself, Sadie scans the crowd, searching for Prudence's thin face beneath the streetlights. It would make sense; the girl has run off with such people before.
Sadie hardly knows who she's looking for by now. It won't be Pru who climbed onto Max's back with her slim hands against his forehead and said that if he ran off to Montreal she'd sure as hell be coming. It's not going to be Pru with her wild circus costume, either, although it might be Pru who wandered through the front door last month with a bruise against her forehead and asked hazily what they were all staring at.
"I'm not talking about a fucking virtue, you asshole, I'm looking for my friend – I just saw her, where is she – "
There is another voice now, a soft female voice saying, "She is in the moment. We are all in the moment." It's Prudence; or, it is until Sadie gets a better look. It takes Max a bit longer to realize that this petite Asian girl is not the one who they would sing to a thousand times over, if only she were still hid away in that closet. He starts to say, "Dear God, Pru, you worried Sadie half to – " but then breaks off and makes a strange noise in his throat.
As though unaware this, the girl says delicately, "I like your robe..." and reaches a hand out to touch the fabric. As Max raises one of his own to stop her, the bathrobe slides off and he doesn't catch it until he's notified everyone present that Vera and Chuck must have stolen his underwear when they took the rest of his clothing.
"Do not be ashamed," the man with the tambourine proclaims calmly, "It is what Krishna gave you."
Sadie chooses this moment to intervene, to take Max by the shoulders and guide him gently away while he folds his arms across his chest, stuttering everything from, "I'm not ashamed of it, you fucker, I'm sure it's twice the size of yours," to, "But it should have been Pru, I could swear it was her on the subway..." He keeps trying to glance back at the procession, splitting himself from the ricocheting tambourine music with the energy of a string-puppet.
"Let it go," she says smoothly, not sure if she's more into laughing or crying at this point, steering him to the door and then letting her arms fall slowly back to her sides. "Let it go."
Once they've made their way upstairs, Sadie finds JoJo eating something out of an old takeaway food container in the main room. He holds it out to her, but she shakes her head and heads for one of the small potted palm trees in the corner. But the weed she normally hides back there is gone, and it's not behind any neighboring furniture either. When she turns back around, Max has a guilty look on his face, so it doesn't take a genius to name him as the thief.
She groans with frustration. "You've got your own, Maxwell."
"Well, you know what they say. The grass is always greener..."
It's going to be a touchy kind of day, she knows it. Sadie wouldn't be sure that day had come at all, except that as she's leaned up against the fire escape, starting on her third cigarette in a row, a nearby hobo mutters, "Here comes the sun." Sure enough, it's rising, sunrise making its way over the tops of buildings and approaching like a savior or a stormcloud.
"Good morning, good morning," the hobo announces to the street at large. He's got a surprising enthusiasm, inclining back against the building where he sits, sounding for all the puddles in the pavement around him as if he'd rather be nowhere else, as if he loves the sunlit city the way Sadie loves a lighted stage.
She's saved having to give an answer because JoJo comes up behind her, commenting that she's never up this early. He tries to kiss her but she turns her face aside. He makes some remark about how he's missed her, these past few nights, and their bed feels too big without her. She leans against his shoulder and wonders vaguely when she last slept, while he persists, "Finished with that last song. I got rid of the weasel, traded the president for a monkey. You wanna come give it a try?"
Back in their room, his playing is brilliant as ever, but she can't focus. "You ok, Sadie?" he finally asks, while she watches his fingers against the strings in spellbound apathy.
She sighs and says she is. It's not a lie, not really, because she's going to be alright as soon as Prudence wanders in on them and Sadie gets the pleasure of reminding her that this room is out-of-bounds. But somehow JoJo gets her singing, ambling around, throwing herself into the song because there's no better place to be. "The deeper you go, the higher you fly..."
"The higher you fly, the deeper you go..." There was a time when that lady across the street was always shouting at them to quiet down. No one shouts now, except for Sadie – "so come on, come on" – who could swear that the floor is rocking more than usual beneath her feet.
A knock comes on the door. She opens the shade and glances through the window; it's Desmond. His sunglasses are crooked. "There's a call for you, Sadie," he drones. He seems a bit edgy; he probably knows from experience it's not a great idea to bother her so early in the morning.
"Who is it?"
"I couldn't tell, there was some shouting in the background. A girl. Told her you were busy, but she said she'd be quick – "
Sadie's already made it to the phone, her hair following close behind. Her back rests against the wall; she rolls her head against it and feels the brick dig into her skull.
"Sadie?" The voice is small and sounds like lace and daisies.
"Yeah." Her breath catches in her throat. "Yeah, darlin', it's me." She doesn't need to ask who's talking. Desmond and Max are listening in, along with a couple others. Sadie makes a shooing motion but they don't back off.
Prudence is breathless. "Oh, God, Sadie – listen, he'll be gone tomorrow morning, could you meet me – " There're footsteps, then a clicking sound. The line goes dead.
It's a minute before she can bring herself to hang up. While Max pretends to be absorbed in his Captain Crunch, Desmond asks, "Hang on, was that..."
She thinks fast, which is hard because she can barely think at all. "Just a fan. Don' know how she got our number." They're all trying to catch her eyes, and she's in no mood to deal with it. "What're y'all lookin' at, huh?" As she strides off, her steps are too loud.
Once she gets back to JoJo and shuts the door, Sadie sinks into the nearest chair and rests her forehead in her hand, bracing herself. He's watching her closely. It's a minute before she can speak. "Sorry 'bout that." She gestures to his guitar. "Take it from the top?"
It's all chaos in the main room of Sadie's apartment this afternoon, enough that she doesn't really have to think about much at all. It's liberating. Someone she doesn't recognize is standing on a metal chair, shouting a poem into a broken megaphone: "I told you about Strawberry Fields, you know the place where nothing is real..."
Meanwhile Desmond drums on the arm of his chair with a pair of chopsticks and speaks dynamically to a hippie who busily fills her hair with tiny braids that stick out awkwardly against the rest of her flat locks. "So," he's saying, "this guy is the worst guitarist you've never heard. I keep shouting, 'Where's one?' because he's so off-rhythm I don't even know how to get a beat going. He's all over the place. And he tells me, 'B flat' – "
Coming up behind JoJo, Sadie wraps her arms around him. It's partly out of affection and partly to keep herself on her feet. He seems to guess both aims.
"Well, here's another place you can go, where everything flows. Looking through the bent backed tulips..."
Desmond's listener has joined in with his drumming, using a fork against the wood floor while he continues: " – which isn't what I was asking, right? So finally I throw down the drumsticks and storm off – " Desmond does a theatrical drumroll with the chopsticks. " – but I trip over the cord of his mic, fall flat on my – "
Now Max joins JoJo and Sadie, pressing an overflowing mug of coffee into her hand. She raises it to him in thanks and takes a sip; it burns her throat and she takes another. "What'd you put in there?"
"Nothing much. Thought you could use it, you know."
She thanks him. The man with the poem has given up on his megaphone and is simply shouting at the top of his lungs. "...to see how the other half live!"
Sadie's head rests against one of JoJo's strong arms, and as he's not much taller than her this isn't the easiest thing to do. " – you don't seem your best today. If you wanted a night off, maybe one of the other guys could stand in."
There's no way to answer at first. But she's not losing her music, not like she lost Prudence: Prudence who would breathe in the city in much the same way she'd later breathe in that guy's lies and hold them close. Prudence who's most likely huddled on his couch while his eyes have no pupils and he's saying something like, "It was a mistake, ok? I wasn't tryin' to hit you, things just got so fucked up..." in this graveyard paradise of chipped plates of half-eaten food and Pru's old cheerleading uniform crumpled on the floor.
One day last year Pru put that same uniform on, and Rita got hold of a similar, and they launched into a cheerleading routine that featured lines like, "Maxwell High – Up in Smoke! Maxwell High – Pass the dope! S-M-O-K-E!" Max watched them, visibly living his greatest fantasy, until Rita winked at him and pulled Pru off into another room.
But now JoJo hasn't stopped talking. "Just don't want anything happenin' to you." He nods toward the bearded man in the corner who's now happily drumming his chopsticks against his friend's head. "Desmond's not the only one who can trip over a microphone chord."
Raising her eyebrows, Sadie sips her coffee mixture again. "If that's the worst that can go wrong, I'll be alright." His arm is so sturdy against her cheek. She wants to lose herself in it, and all the surrounding noise, just like she wants to lose the feeling that she's right back in that apartment a couple doors down from Jeremy's, coming down from the night before – and the night before that – and telling herself that she's one step closer to God.
But Sadie'd had Jeremy to pick up the pieces, and Pru just has that boyfriend who'll be hollering something like, "Hey, you lookin' at me or what? Still hung up on that bitch of yours? You go near her again, I swear to God I'll have you runnin' for your life."
Prudence ought to be in the middle of the blissful turmoil of Sadie's apartment, giddy and laughing, yelling at Desmond to quiet it down because she's trying to listen to the poetry. And Sadie would pick up those pieces and put it all right, if only she knew where she was.
"Looking through a glass onion." Finishing his poem, the man waves his useless megaphone wildly in the air, pretends to curtsy. One onlooker bursts into manic applause. "Thank you, thank you very much," the poet intones in a low voice, winking at his small audience as he promptly falls off his chair.
It's wrong to have told JoJo that she would be fine to sing tonight, and still make some excuse about having to talk with Bill so as to avoid him and the rest of the Po Boys beforehand. She knows this, just like they both know that Bill is on a business trip down south and won't be back for a few days. So she'll still have to be at Cafe Huh in an hour or so, but she's trusting they can set up on their own, and if need be, JoJo has proven he can do 'Oh Darling' without her. Each step is too much contact with her shoes; she wants to fly away and never hit the ground; she wants Prudence to ride up on horseback with her hair in those braids, and say something like, "What a thing to do."
She shouldn't feel like this. She hasn't in so long. There was a day, all those years ago, that Jeremy sat her down and said, "You keep this up, and you're goin' nowhere, man. You want to take that great voice of yours and give it all away to that pusher you keep singin' about?" He'd looked her in the eyes with that way of his.
One day, a week ago, Sadie said to Prudence, "You wanna talk for a minute, babe?" because she knew it was about time to have that same chat. Prudence gave a sort of grimace and said, sure, she just had to run out and grab some rolling papers, they could talk soon.
She didn't come back.
Sadie just needs to clear her head, that's all. She needs to clear her head because it feels too heavy on her shoulders, and she's filled up with aimlessness so that if she wasn't so familiar with Houston Street she might not know where she was. For that matter, it's lucky she knows her way around here, because if a road sign pointed to Hell, she might not know the difference.
But somehow she's avoided the traffic on FDR Drive and gotten this far, so maybe she's not doing all that bad. Really, she can just grab something to drink on her way back to Café Huh and she'll be all set. She might feel a bit dizzy at the moment, but she's really sure that she can pull herself together – so sure that she won't be sidetracked by anything, not even the head and shoulders of a person who seems to be rising out of the river.
Her vision is getting narrower, hazier, but the man in the water appears to be asking directions. As he tries to gesture something to her, he flounders in an absurd manner while she leans against a nearby trashcan for support and can't understand a word that's said. Her voice is too croaky, though she tries to drag back the style and passion that has always shielded her and kept her sane. "You're gonna have to speak up – this is Manhattan, man!" But her own words are getting faint, a bit distorted, like she's hearing herself from the near-useless TV that Jude smashed up pretty bad a couple years back.
"So sorry!" This man's British accent is classier than Jude's. "I was hoping you could direct me to the White Cliffs of Dover."
She doesn't think it's a dream; she is starting to feel a little more alive, enough to keep talking, even when she's shouting down a tunnel and he's all the way at the end. "The White Cliffs of... Sure ya don't mean the Palisades, in Jersey? They're kinda cliffs... they look sorta white if you've been smokin' enough." Her feet feel like stilts beneath her.
"No, not the bloody Palisades! That's where the last one sent me! I don't mean to be impolite, but I've been swimming for such a long time; they told me I'd have to go to the East..."
"Well this is the East River, but I ain't never heard a no White Cliffs..." Her words are getting a bit slurred. "Unless you're lookin' for something to eat? There's the White Castle hamburger joint just around..." but the man had already disappeared without a splash, and the bit of flighty energy that had returned to her goes along with it. There's no sign that he was ever here at all.
She looks down at herself; her feet are getting less and less steady; she's suspecting that the guy in that murky river wasn't real; there's no music in her head. Passersby seem to be talking with each other, but everything is muted into murmurs, and maybe JoJo isn't real either, or Max.
Maybe she's still wearing those shoes, new in this city or on this planet. And she's just met a lot of people: her first street musician, a guy around her age with a passion for acoustic covers of the Dave Clark Five. Or "the mechanical man," some kind of stiff that stared down her shirt without bothering to grin, that held out its hand and said something romantic like, "You got a match?" But that wasn't the center of this love story.
And there were the rejections and the loneliness and the guy who gave her a little something to get her through, who found her a few places to sing. And for a while the music got better and the applause got louder and she had fallen in love with something or someone, or the idea that maybe heaven was inside her songs or her veins.
It was different, later. It was more, "What're you standin' around for, huh? You've done this before."
And maybe now she's not moved on at all, and maybe she's just going down. The street jitters with the hum of near-nothingness and with the passing of strangers who have eyes like pinup girls and marching bands. The cardboard cutout of Sadie makes it to Café Huh as though with broken wings on her boots, and as she gets inside she can swear she sees a submarine flying by.
They've been waiting for a while, it's clear; as she pushes her way through the antsy crowd, a great deal of shouting and clapping goes up. They're so glad to see her, and she submerges into the swamp of their applause, though she can hardly keep her balance as she clambers up beside JoJo. He gives her a concerned look, and her bassist mouths something at her like, "You ok?" to which she nods and takes the microphone from its stand.
The crowd goes wild, and it sounds more like the buzzing of mad bees than the kind of screaming exhilaration she so often wants to bury herself six feet into. She closes her eyes for just a second to keep their dim faces from swimming, and when she opens them again she's being given rapt and near-silent attention.
"I got a... ah, a new one... for you guys. 'S called 'Hey Bulldog'..."
The band seem a bit startled; they haven't practiced this one much; it wasn't what they'd planned. But no one's going to dispute her now.
So she sings. Each word takes too much effort. Her voice is breaking. She doubts she's much to look at, now, coughing out each word as if it's caught inside her throat, nearly sobbing into the microphone. But everyone loves it, she can tell because though none of them shout or clap, spellbound eyes embrace her, lit up with lasers of music and sound.
"You can talk to me, you can talk – can talk to me..."
She reaches for the ceiling like she's trying to drag it back down to the floor, in this weightless and unreal universe. She keeps switching the microphone from hand to hand.
"You can talk to me, if you're lonely you can talk to me, yeah..."
Sadie does her best. She screams and wails. She bends back with her hair like a raging waterfall. She swings her way up again. For a minute she thinks the microphone's broke, because no sound leaves her lips. Then the room has gone sideways, backwards, the floor of the stage is beside her or maybe overhead.
She can't be sure if all those noises are the Café Huh audience or if she's on that stage in the back of Jeremy's and someone's about to throw an empty bottle at her or laugh; but then there are hands on her and someone's beard prickling against her neck. It's definitely Jeremy's voice saying, "Sadie, Sadie you gotta wake up." It's confusing, because she can't remember a time he's ever come here before.
Then there's some more talking in the background and his beard has turned away and that same voice tells someone else, "Hey, back off, alright?" Everything is moving at the wrong speed, it's too fast or too slow or too real, and the strap of her bra is starting to slip off her shoulder but she can't lift a hand to push it back.
Next comes quite a bit of "What the fuck is going on?" and "Just calm it down" and "Well, is she getting up, or what?" It makes her want to laugh, but not as much as she wants to never open her eyes again, with all these lights seeping through her eyelids and the chipped black paint of the stage against her back.
But she can hear Jeremy again, and JoJo, and then there's one voice that she knows isn't really there at all. It's Prudence, and she's saying, "Sadie? Sadie, I just wanted you to..."
JoJo is curled up beside Sadie, kissing her neck. She can feel his callused fingers against her face, and she'd like to kiss him back but she just lies there. Then she knows she must be back in her apartment, because that woman across the street, without any loud music to nag about, is yelling at pigeons instead.
But though she's not sure of quite when he leaves, pretty soon his voice is singing in the next room. "Sexy Sadie, what have you done? You made a fool of everyone."
It's Jeremy's answering, like he used to for her when she wrote some of her earlier songs, sitting on the edge of the stage and throwing out rhymes at odd times of day. He never claimed to be a singer, but now he croons, "You made a fool of everyone..." and he's almost on key.
Then there's a few embellished chords on the guitar, and she can hear both men laugh. It sounds like the warmest sort of thunder. There's more talking, and then things have quieted down for a bit before she realizes that Jeremy is peeking through the doorway. He's turning to leave when she calls over to him.
"Jeremy?" She can hear her own smile, even when she's not really sure it's on her lips. The room around him is a bit rumpled, but he shines through in all his bearded glory.
"How're you doing?" he asks though unbalanced lips.
She can feel her head brushing against the wall, and her arms are hanging over the side of the bed. "'M... sorry." She takes a breath. "Things shouldn't a gone like that. I don' even see how you knew to come, of all days..."
He twirls his beard with two fingers. "Well, when you're drownin', you don't say, 'I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,' you just... scream."
"'M not the only one screaming." She might be talking about Prudence, or about a world that sometimes feels like an endless chorus of angry cats. "I'm sure as hell not the loudest."
Jeremy adjusts one of the rings on his fingers and leans against the wall with his ankles crossed. "My son Dave... you'll remember him. Bright kid. But he spent a bit too much time in his thoughts – well, you know."
She nods a bit. There is a fragment of wire keeping his glasses in one piece. At the moment, it feels like she doesn't have much more than that holding her together.
"He ran off one morning, just like that. The note he left, it said he didn't know where he was goin' to, but... it didn't say what you'd expect, findin' his mother or his soulmate or himself. He didn't have to say it, because I just knew he could feel the world waitin' for him. That's how it goes, when you know someone..." He blinks. His eyelashes seem fewer than they used to be. "Hey, I'm talkin' too much, you need more sleep. But come see me anytime now, ya hear?"
"...and then the Buddha girl tore all my clothes off." Max paces dizzyingly around Desmond, waving his beer can in the air for emphasis.
Sadie, buttoning her shirt as she makes her way toward the front door, doesn't correct him. If they notice her, they might try to stop her from leaving, which could make things difficult. And though she's still a bit drained, it's not like anyone's coming out of the kitchen sink and asking directions to Liverpool.
In the background, Max is still sauntering around. "I hung with some Buddhists once," Desmond tells him. "They kicked me out, though. I flipped off a monk."
It's hard for Sadie to keep from rattling the beads that hang across one doorway. Luckily, the apartment is pretty empty this morning. She doesn't like having to sneak out of the place like this.
"Why'd you do that?"
"No choice, man. I'd taken a vow of silence."
Then she's left them behind and there's so much purpose inside her that she is down the stairs in no time, the decorations on her boots clinking gently as she is greeted by someone on the street whose name she doesn't know. She hopes to God she's right about all this. If she guessed the time wrong, or the place, it might be her last chance at tracking down Prudence.
But she gets off the subway at the stop where Max didn't see the ghost of Eddie Cochran, and makes for the nearby head shop that's the only place nearby which might fit with Pru's parting words. Sure enough, there's a girl coming out of the alleyway down the street, hair pushed behind her ears, wearing those same tall boots but now with one heel splitting off. Prudence doesn't seem to notice Sadie, or much of anything, arms folded, gaze fixed straight ahead.
"Rolling papers, huh?"
At first Pru looks like she might keep on walking, but then she comes to a stop, leaning one shoulder against the nearest building and staring at her feet in a shy way that ought to be replaced by a new and vibrant variation on, "Yeah, they took me in – I don't sleep with them anymore."
"He loves me," Prudence says instead, sounding too tired to be defensive.
"I know, hon. We all do."
Prudence exhales in a faltering way, like she's scared she'll never get to take another breath. "It's just whatever gets you through the night, you know? Sometimes it's like, he could give me the world..."
Sadie gets it. She was that girl once, too, the girl terrified at the sheer beauty of such a thing, that it could all come so natural. Now she just wants the crash of symbols, a sky all full up of lightening. She gets the rumbling of a passing dumptruck, and Prudence's thin arms around her neck. The girl doesn't say anything, or need to, but then a passing stranger whistles and shouts at them something like, "Looks like a meeting of Lesbians Anonymous!"
They break apart. Pru bites her lip, seeming a little rueful. "That used to be just what I wanted," she says, her voice like a runaway siren. "With you. I used to hope we could just drive off somewhere where this shit can't come crashing in. Me, and you." She emphasizes the last word with an intensity that shows she's really Prudence. "I just don't want – to let you go." Her eyes are like hollow clock towers against smudged makeup.
"You don't have to... We're all waitin' for ya, back at my place. Max is a hopeless case without you. Some girl set his hair on fire, and he got in quite a scrape with the toaster, can't even seem to feed himself." She doesn't mention that she can't, either.
Prudence shakes her head. There's a bruise forming at her hairline. "I, um. I gotta get back. He – he'll be home in a couple minutes."
There's no forcing this. There's just her hand brushing against Prudence's shoulder while she searches the sky for a battle plan and sees the corners of rooftops instead. "Our door is open, darlin', that I can promise. Ya know right where we are – " she gestures – "just a moment away."
Pru bites at her lip. "Thank you," she says, more timid than coy. "You were – that was all I ever..."
Sadie doesn't stick around to see her walk away, just long enough to see how well Prudence matches her own translucent reflection in a nearby window.
It's Max singing, as she opens the door of the apartment. It's the theatrical singing of a distraught blond who gazes sadly from the empty box of Captain Crunch in his hands down to the heaps of cereal that have spilled all over the floor. "I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm..." He draws out each word in a solemn baritone, serenading the bygone breakfast food with such honest sincerity.
Desmond notices Sadie first; she raises her eyebrows to ask what's going on, and he shakes his head. During the next few lines of the song, she takes a look at her near-ghost in a nearby mirror and doesn't see Prudence there, just herself with her hand at her hip and her shirt inside-out.
"Hey, that's no way to say goodbye – " Max breaks off because he's caught sight of her. "Chairman Mao's holy balls!" He winces with something like embarrassment, but brushes it aside. "Where've you been, Sadie?"
She raises her eyebrows at the expletive and gestures vaguely into the headlights of his stare. "Ah... just went out for a bit. 'S a really great day – "
"A great day to what, huh? Pull a Prudence on us?" His concern for her seems to override that for his fallen cereal, in such a way that she's almost abashed, and might be intimidated if he were a little less skinny.
Desmond intervenes. "Sadie can look after herself, man. She looks after you, too, and you know it."
She's thinking of interrupting them and doing just that, but Max says, "Words of wisdom from the Scourge of Toasters," and turns back to her with a look that's almost motherly. He takes her arm in one of his scrawny ones and does his best and crudest imitation of her: "C'mon, darlin' – time ta sleep – perchance ta dream 'bout you and me, huh?"
Sadie more laughs than scowls, as they pass the picture of a mechanical Pinocchio sketched onto the wall, and the lamp built out of a wooden shoe. When he knocks on the door to her room and a shirtless JoJo peers out, Max puts on his most businesslike expression to ask sharply, "Excuse me, Sir, do you know this woman?"
She's handed over like a package. JoJo doesn't question her; he's not the type; but when she glides into the room with almost as much grace as a rickety bulldozer, his hands are at her shoulders and hers are around the back of his head, and she takes in his warmth with the blinding surety that he is her music. It's the surety that she'd better lie down now, but that things aren't slipping away as much as she'd thought, and she needs him beside her.
In the background, Max has started singing Leonard Cohen again, and she can imagine him picking his cereal up off the floor, piece by piece.
Up on the roof, Sadie sits in the lawn chair that's lived here longer than she has. The sky dyes the ground with its smoggy blue, while she lounges on the battered plastic and Max gets her attention by shouting, "Hey sweetheart – come a little closer."
She grimaces in vague annoyance; it's too early in the evening to deal with what Max Carrigan considers comedy. "Still a fuckin' frat boy at heart." She's maybe a little exasperated, but more basking in the lightbulb of the sun. "How much'll it take to smoke that shit outta you?"
"I guess I..." He shrugs, fumbling to save himself. "I took you for a pushover."
He knows her too well. Delivering the immortal words of Etta James will always get him back into her good books. She stares him down anyway. "Ya know the rules, Maxwell. We don't quote Etta unless we mean it."
He makes a noncommittal noise and then keeps silent for a minute. "That Prudence," he says at last, wistfully, kicking at the ground. "She was really something. She could turn water into wine, I swear... well, she could pour wine, anyway." He shakes his head. "Where d'you think she is?"
She could tell the truth. But Prudence is going to get out of this. It's really going to happen.
And so Sadie just breathes a laugh and looks out over the edge of the roof, all the people and peace signs on brick walls. There's so much color around here, color like her wildest dreams; graffiti and paint are everywhere, and even the fire escapes aren't spared. "Ya want your own room here again?" A pause. "Pru's bed is free for now. And she may just want an eggman's disciple waiting there for her when she gets home."
Sadie leans into the music, letting the heavy drumbeat cradle her. Time has gone on; by now it's been months since she last saw Prudence; still songs pour from Sadie's lips like she's staring Judgment Day in the face. Nowshe's content to watch JoJo making love to his guitar until it's time to tighten her grip on the microphone and let loose.
"Look out! Helter skelter..."
But there's a face off to the side of the crowd, outlined in black hair like blue sky. It's the face of a girl with the light of a keyhole in her eyes. Prudence is caught between a stranger and the wall, but she's got a beautiful look like she's not standing on the floor at all.
With a nod toward JoJo and a raised hand, Sadie gestures up the guitar. "Helter skelter," she screeches and sings, but it's not a song for them; it's for another path up to another carnival; it's for Prudence beneath an exit sign, with Sadie unleashing the crisscrossing colors of "You know she's comin' down fast - c'mon, after me, now – down, down, down, down, down."
When she holds the microphone out toward them, the audience joins in. And she can't tell if Prudence's lips are moving, she's not sure if she can hear the girl's hesitant voice in the raucous choir of "Down, down, down, down, down."