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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
“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
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
Ignoring me, they stalked 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
them. They 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
“Mandy . . . .”
“I’ll be at my mom’s. Don’t
come after me.”
Her face was feral. Her eyes
“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
Story © 2006 Samantha Henderson. Print by Edmund Dulac.