by Samantha Henderson


I only go out when it rains; they don’t like the rain, not our rain. They don’t like garlic or lavender, so I keep sprigs under the doors and windowsills and bulbs in jars.  The garlic smells, especially on hot rainless days when I have to keep the doors and windows closed and the blinds drawn.  But I’m used to it, and there’s no one else to mind, not since Mandy left.  

They don’t like rainy nights with streetlights pooling the dark, glistening sidewalks. 

But rainy nights love the blues. 

I fiddle best on rainy nights, when the damp air makes the strings howl like a cat in heat, but since I’m a slave to the weather I can’t book ahead.  So when the drizzle starts in earnest on these dusky nights I grab my case and wander down the street, three blocks down where the clubs start, and see if they've got a space.

Sometimes they make room when they see me in the doorway, violin case in hand, bumming a smoke from the bouncer, because they know when the night turns from sparkle to velvet and everyone’s ready to go home and coil around each other I can spill the chords that make them sit, make them stay, and buy a couple more drinks. 

Sometimes when it’s so late the night starts to crack I take mercy on the sleepy and the horny and the barmaids and let their music creep in.  It’s always there, under the surface, but mostly I’m stronger than it, especially on rainy nights.  Sometimes I can’t help but let it come out and play, and dance between the steel and horsehair and rosin.  People smile at first, because it’s strange and sweet, but soon they shake themselves like rabbits waking up and wander, two by two, out the door. 

And then, if it’s still raining, I’m safe.  If it’s cleared, I hurry home quickly, hunched over the canvas case, trying not to look at the graffiti.  Some of the spray paint swirls are not so innocent, and they’re always the most beautiful, and if I look too long they start to bulge.  That means they’re coming through, to claim their own. 

Make your own fucking art, I snarl at the ground, moving on.

*     *     *

The Violet Men were too much for Mandy.  After they came, I learned about the rain and the garlic and how not to look too close at the graffiti.  How to keep the music leashed.  By then it was too late for her.

I don’t write anymore.  Threw out all the notebooks after it happened.  Now I can only play what’s already in my head, or improv when the groove’s right, or their music when I let it out.  Loose sheets of paper seem to be safe; it’s the books they wanted.  The Histories.

I liked to write on rainy nights back then, while Mandy stretched in the watery light from the window and the hot air from the wall unit.  She liked the air warm and dry; I said it was bad for the instruments. 

I only have the one, now, my first five-string.  I sold the rest, since now I can’t rely on a permanent gig.

I always liked the cheap lined notebooks.  Maybe if I stuck to score sheets none of this would’ve happened.  But I never could keep track of all the parts if they weren’t bound together.  

I remember I was scoring the bass line for a blues track for the trio.  Percy James, Howard Neil on the ivories and Alice Grey, me, violin, viola, slide.  We would’ve hit it big, with patience, luck and time.  I don’t even know what the boys are doing now. 

I don’t even know where Mandy is.  I keep hoping to see her in the clubs, sipping a martini at a front table with her tiny ankles crossed and swinging a bit, looking at me with that sideways look and I wouldn’t play their music all night, no I wouldn’t.  I’d play my blues and make them all stay, the waitresses sleeping on their feet, the couples sprawled on the tables like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and only Mandy and me awake, looking at each other over fiddle and martini.

But you know she never shows.

So I was scoring the bass and hearing it in my head, like always, with Mandy doing her little cat-stretches, and I don’t know why, never did this before, but on the next page I start to doodle.  Not that I never doodled, you know.  Everybody doodles.

You might want to think about this next time you find yourself doodling.

Maybe it was because their music was creeping up on me, even then, though I never knew it.

I wasn’t thinking about it much, distracted by the rain and the bass line and the way the bones of Mandy’s neck dimpled the skin.  But when I looked down I had a page of...what?

Nothing that meant anything.  Doodles. Dots and sashes and sine curves, maybe here or there something that looked like a half note. 

“What?” said Mandy from a yoga puddle by the window, and I realized I’d laughed.  I showed her and she shook her head and unknotted herself, and I didn’t think much about doodles or the base line for the rest of the night. 

I slept in late; she had an early call.  I had breakfast for lunch and an afternoon gig in a quartet at a Ladies’ Tea, and that night I reached again for the notebook.  I almost ripped out the doodled page.  But there, in the middle, was a blank rectangle, framed by heavy lines.  I didn’t remember doing that. 

Something needed to be in the middle of that framed area.  I drew an irregular blob.  Then some dots.  Then a star in the corner.

It looked a little like a map. 

I made myself turn the page and continued my original score, but the notes wouldn’t come right – not the melody, or the bass – that was in my head, clear as day.  All I needed to do was transcribe.  But black notes on cheap, lined paper stretched and became monstrous, and turned back into doodles: backwards; forwards; up and down. 

Later I found myself writing in the dark.  Mandy went to bed and I didn’t even notice.  Book was half full of stuff I didn’t understand, didn’t half remember writing.

Next day I left halfway through a gig.  Never happened before.  The music just wouldn’t come.  I don’t have to be inspired, just do my job.  Couldn’t even do that.

Wrote all night.  Mandy was worried.  Tried to make me come to bed.

Wrote all night.  Mandy brought me tea.  Went cold by my elbow.

Mandy looked at the book, heavy with scribbles and ink.  “It’s pretty,” she said.  “Like some graffiti.”  Should have paid more attention to that.

Wrote.  Then, done.

*     *     *

Mandy thumbed through it while I downed a jug of lemonade in the kitchen, feeling like a high summer fever just broke, leaving me drained and drenched and weak. My hands were sore.  I hadn’t played in a week. 

“Is this some kind of music?”  Mandy called from the living room.

Once I would’ve said that everything is music.  Now I didn’t know. 

“Glosses,” she said. 

“What?”  I wiped my mouth and leaned in the kitchen doorway.  She was sitting on the windowsill, the notebook propped open on her knees.

“Medieval glosses.  They’d have these books where the text was in the middle, and someone’d write notes all around it, and then someone else would write notes on the notes.  And footnotes, and little illustrations.  It looks like that.”

“Except it’s doodling.”

“It’s got maps.   And chapters.  It looks like a history.”

“I wasn’t good at history.”

She looked up at me, laughing, and I never know what she was just about to say because someone knocked at the door and about that time of night it could be any of three people, two of whom wanted stuff, one of whom would bring stuff, and I went to answer it and there were two men there.

I almost laughed.  Men in Black.  It was too precious.  Dark suits and sunglasses and all.

But there’s this color you see sometimes, when a neon light blinks at the edge of your vision, a sort of purple, a violet, that you shouldn’t be able to see at all.  A slippery color: you squint at it and it goes away, then flickers again, teasing.  They were that color, at the edges, where they couldn’t quite hold on to themselves, where they started to dissolve.  Like they were cut out of magazine paper, or up against a bluescreen.  They were that kind of violet.  Violet Men. 

But I wasn’t frightened until one of them spoke.  His voice was like a bunch of cut-up voices, like he’d recorded words off the radio and put them together to make sentences.  And his voice didn’t synch up with the way his lips moved.

“We need the book,” he said.  It took me a few seconds to understand, and he repeated it: dreadful; hodge-podge; out of synch -- little girls and old men.  “We need the book.”

I didn’t understand them, not right away.  But Mandy did.

Both of them looked past me.  I turned and she was backed against the window, clutching the notebook to her chest.  One of the Violet Men moved towards her.

"No,” I said, and grabbed his arm.  Because of Mandy, not the notebook – they could have a thousand notebooks and every fiddle I’d touched if they stayed away from her.  How could she not know that?   Why won’t she come?

He was cold and my fingers dug into something not fleshy.  Electric.  Like solidified static.  I couldn’t move.

I could breathe.  And see. But not move. 

Ignoring me, they stalked her, cornering her.

“It’s not yours,” she said.  I loved her so much at that moment, my brave dancer.  Let them have it, I tried to say, but my mouth was frozen too, half open.

“It is ours,” one said, and it was Mandy’s voice, recorded and slowed down so it was deeper, distorted so it squeaked at the end, but her voice. 

Cold sweat broke across my useless body.

She tried to run past them but one, the one who stole her voice, reached out casually and touched her shoulder and she froze too.  

The other reached out and carefully removed the notebook from the crook of her arm.  I saw her eyes glaze as he took it. 

He opened it and showed it to the other Violet Man.  He took it, nodded, and closed it with a snap.  It should’ve been funny. 

They passed close by me, and I tried to shrink away, tried to close my eyes when the one with the book spoke in that jagged crazy quilt voice.  He stopped beside me, peering into my face, and I could not shut him out.  

“This happens when we cannot . . . .”  He stopped and fumbled for a word. The other gestured at him and he waved him away, impatiently.  He held the book in front of me.  “We did not know what happened when the . . . .”  The word that followed was a burst of static.  “After the . . . .”  

And then he stopped, defeated by the need to explain, the impossibility thereof. He shrugged inexpertly.  The other gestured again, and this time he obeyed. 

They left, closing the door carefully, even respectfully, behind them.

I still couldn’t move.  It was like one of those waking dreams, where you’re paralyzed, eyes open, while creatures of your imagination flicker about your bed.  Outside the window behind Mandy’s head, I could see the stars crawling across the sky.  She was frozen, too – one arm still crooked to hold the notebook, the other stretched out before her defensively.  In the hallway I could hear people running up and down the stairs, giggling, arguing.  Somebody stumped from the floor beneath us to the floor above, whistling one lonely phrase over and over again.

We couldn’t speak.  We couldn’t blink.  For about an hour we looked into each other’s eyes.  Do that long enough and your eyeballs become hot and dry in your head.

People shouldn’t do that, even people in love. 

Finally I saw she was moving her head, rotating it slowly as if it would break off if she did it too quick.  I tried it.  My neck was stiff, but slowly – like a slow thaw – I could move again. 

I staggered towards Mandy.

“No!”  She sidestepped me, and I leaned against the sill.

“Mandy . . . .” I couldn’t move as fast as she could.  She backed up as if I’d lunged at her, circling around me to the door, never turning her back.  As if I’d strike her.  As if.

The car keys were hanging on a hook beside the door, and she reached for them.

“Mandy,” I said again.  This is what a dog must feel like when it gets hit unexpectedly.   “Why?”

She got the keys and opened the door, still facing me.  “It’s too much, Ally.”

“It wasn’t my fault!”

“I don’t know what you wrote, but it brought them.  You took something that belonged to themThey were just taking it back.  How do I know that won’t happen again?”  She was trembling.  “I couldn’t move.  Hours.  I couldn’t move.  Looking at you . . . ."

Looking at me looking at her.  Watching the fear in her eyes change into something I pretended wasn’t hate.

“Mandy . . . .”

“I’ll be at my mom’s.  Don’t come after me.”

Her face was feral.  Her eyes looked bruised.

“I wouldn’t . . . .”

She was gone.

It was her car, anyway.

*     *     *

Afterwards – God.  What?  I don’t remember.  I do remember I cried, propped against the toilet, fighting a hot lump of nothing in my throat.  Cried for hours.  For Mandy, or the notebook?  Both, maybe.

I called her mother.  Nice lady, lives uptown.  One of the cashmere set, with a station wagon and a Jag and lots of money to pay for Mandy’s ballet lessons.  Always nice to me, if a little cool.  I think she thought I was a stage Mandy was going through.

No, Mandy wasn’t there.  Yes, she’d be in later.  Yes, she’d pass on the message. No . . . then a pause . . . no, it wasn’t the best time for me to come over.  Perhaps I’d better wait. After a few days, I knew she wouldn't call back.

Soon I learned.  I listened to the children’s games, I listened to their music trying to creep into my head; I listened to the crazy guys reciting poetry to the crack whores on the corner.  I listened to the bag ladies pushing their shopping carts.  I listened to the second hand books at the magazine stand outside the weekly-rate motel.

I learned what sign to scratch into the spruce on the underside of my violin, so I could control their music.  I learned about the garlic and the lavender, and the rain.  I learned not to look too closely at the graffiti, or at certain paintings.         

That bass line beginning is the introduction to one of their histories, you see.  Mandy was right.  Maps, glosses.  Why the . . . after the . . . a secret history.  I’m woven into them.  And I wonder if that’s why the skin of the world’s becoming so thin to me, tearing apart like an old man’s hands.  Why the graffiti the boys hang upside down from Suicide Bridge to spray—they make them hang there, don’t they?—flutters sometimes, why Crazy Paul’s muttering at the corner before the Mission opens on Thursdays is beginning to make sense.  I’m in them, sideways, like they’re in the world.

One day I’m going to throw away the garlic and the lavender, one hot bright day in the middle of summer.  I’m going to take out the violin and the bow and play their music, until the sky cracks and the roof of this slumlord’s dream breaks open and my room fractures like an eggshell and they can take me. I’ll be their whore, their fiddle-bitch and they can have me anyway they like.

In the meantime, I only go out when it rains.  They don’t like the rain. Not our rain.

And rain loves the blues.



About the Author:

Samantha Henderson lives in Southern California with her family and assorted fauna.  Her fiction has been published in Strange Horizons, Chizine, Fantasy: Best of 2005 and Lone Star Storie, and is upcoming in Fantasy and Realms of Fantasy.  For more information, see her website at www.samanthahenderson.com.


Story © 2006 Samantha Henderson.  Print by Edmund Dulac.