Finding Something Forgotten
Pepper Baiij did not mind her job at Trinity Gardens Retirement Community. Most of the time, the nights were uneventful. She walked the hallways of the vast building and put notices on the bulletin boards. She performed a variety of clerical tasks. Sometimes a resident called her, often for a minor problem such as replacing a dying smoke alarm battery or opening a medication bottle. There were occasions when a resident didn’t make it to the toilet in time, and sometimes there were genuine emergencies.
Pepper tended to have a fair amount of downtime, and she liked it that way. She knew that her family was disappointed in her for having a job with so little status, but the job had a decent salary and perks beyond insurance benefits. One of Pepper’s favorite perks was access to the wellness center with its therapy pool.
Since Pepper worked nights, there was rarely anyone else in the wellness center when she arrived. She could play her CDs and work out in the warm water of the pool, dreaming about the stories she was writing or envisioning the exciting life that she’d never have.
Tonight, Pepper’s chosen CD was Red Zone Terminal by Mainline, one of her longtime favorite bands. She had once kept a close watch on all things Mainline, but over the years her attention became focused on the struggles of daily life, and, recently, on the resurgence of her dreamland drama with troubled actor Kris Rooiakker who had more than once promised her the moon and delivered an emotional black hole.
Pepper showered and dressed in scrubs for her shift. Kris kept invading her thoughts, but she decided to ignore him. When she finished her first set of rounds, which were, fortunately, uneventful, she decided to see what Mainline was up to these days. It had been a while since she’d checked on her old favorite band. Perhaps they had a new album coming out. Perhaps she’d finally take her now-grown children to see them.
Pepper’s search led to a picture of Mainline’s founder, Gerry Clifford. She was astounded by his appearance. At sixty-two years old, she didn’t expect him to look like the sweet-faced young man barely out of his teens whose picture she’d first seen back in the 1970s, but Gerry had aged drastically. He looked like a man in his eighties.
Delving deeper, Pepper discovered the reason for Gerry’s startling alteration. She wanted to cry, but the tears seemed to stick in her throat. She felt as if she might vomit. With trembling fingers, she dialed her son Quetzalcoatl’s number. Quetz tended to keep late hours, and if he were asleep, he wouldn’t notice the phone.
Quetzalcoatl was up playing video games and answered on the second ring.
“Hey, Ma, what’s up?” he asked.
Ain’t No Sunshine
“I just found out the most awful thing about someone who’s been really important to me for a lot of years,” Pepper revealed.
“Who?” her son asked.
“Gerry Clifford. He has dementia. He’s been put into a nursing home in Crouch End. The article said that his short-term memory is completely gone. I can’t believe it. I had no idea that he was this sick. This is going to sound awful, but I’d rather have found out he was dead. He’s a good person. He doesn’t deserve this.”
“No, he doesn’t. Fuck, that sucks.”
“I know there’s nothing you can do. I’m just kind of in shock. I needed to talk to somebody. I’m sorry if I bothered you.”
“Nah, it’s cool. I’m really sorry, Ma.”
“Thank you, Quetz. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Oh, Gerry,” Pepper sighed as she walked slowly through the halls. “Poor, sweet little Gerry. And poor Paul. This must be killing him. My poor babies. I wish I could put you in my pocket and keep you safe forever.”
A line from the Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black” sprang to Pepper’s mind.
“I could not foresee this thing happening to you.”
Pepper sang that song over and over after Mainline’s first frontman, Odinn Lacey, accidentally overdosed on Quaaludes and alcohol on New Year’s Day 1985. He was found unconscious in the bedroom of his on again off again girlfriend Julia “Blue Honey” Meyer’s London apartment at three in the morning when the festivities finally wrapped up.
Julia showered and was preparing to climb into bed with Odinn when she noticed that his lips were blue, and he was frothing at the mouth. Julia called for an ambulance, and Odinn was taken to the Queen O’er the Oceans Hospital in Crouch End, where he was placed on a ventilator. Doctors declared him brain-dead at five o’clock in the morning on January 2, and, per his heartbroken parents’ request, he was removed from life support and breathed his last at six A.M.
Pepper learned of Odinn’s passing at seven o’clock that night. Her family had just finished a dinner of salmon and vichyssoise and were sitting down to watch MacGyver. They were snacking on three-flavor popcorn from a tin, and divinity selected for them by Pepper’s newly adopted eight-year-old second cousin, Iñaki Oralee. The adoption had been finalized on Christmas Eve. Uncle Leon and Uncle August were thrilled to have been allowed to adopt Iñaki and were hoping to be able to adopt Ragnvaldr Þórgeirr, an eleven-year-old Norwegian boy who had been Iñaki’s good friend in the foster home where both boys were living.
“To Tio Don, Tia Honour, Cousin James and Cosin Pepper,” the hand-drawn card read. “Happy Crismas greeting from Red Bluff. It is very pretty here and I hope you soon visit. I com from city of Los Angeles but first from Spain. I am hopin my Daddys will soon adopt Hermano Ragni from foster home to live with us. I hope you will like this candy. It is my favorite. Love and Marry Crismas from You Cousin Iñaki Oralee Poland-Tlalli.”
Leon Michel Poland was Pepper’s mother’s cousin. He was a social worker turned author. August was an activist whom he’d met at a Pride festival in Los Angeles in 1975. The men had been together for ten years. Although Pepper’s father was always polite to them when they visited, he did not approve of their union and felt that gay couples should not be allowed to adopt. Pepper argued that Iñaki was going to be raised by two people who really loved him and said that she hoped that August and Leon would be able to adopt Ragnvaldr too.
Fortunately, Don did not seem inclined to broach the subject again, at least not now. Pepper hoped that the evening would continue peacefully so she could add it to her good memories. She was in her last year of high school and praying that life was on an upward trend.
Pepper’s brother James, who was four years her junior, tossed a piece of popcorn at her and she tried to catch it in her mouth. Their mother admonished them not to make a mess. A news bulletin alert flashed across the screen and Pepper briefly wondered if the hawks at the Pentagon had finally talked Reagan into starting World War III.
Peter Jennings announced that “Irish rock musician Odell Rollins Lacey died in London’s Queen O’er the Oceans Hospital at six o’clock A.M. Lacey was found unresponsive by his girlfriend early on New Year’s morning. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was placed on life support. The singer’s family authorized removal from life support when no brain activity was found.”
Pepper stood up and walked silently to her bedroom, feeling as though she was falling through space. She closed the door and sank down on her bed weeping. She heard a soft knock and quickly dried her eyes.
“Yes, what?” Pepper inquired. She didn’t want to explain to her parents why she was grieving over someone whom she had never met in life. They had made it clear that they felt her obsession with Mainline and particularly with Odinn was foolish and unhealthy.
“Pep, it’s Jimmy.”
“Okay, come in.”
James entered the room and closed the door. He sat down on the end of the bed.
“I’m really sorry, Pep. It sucks. He was a cool guy.”
“Yeah, it sucks big bouncy bull balls. Let’s go watch MacGyver. Odinn would want us to.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. I’ll make orange floats, and we can do a toast to him.”
You’re Lost Little Girl
People at school talked about how Odinn got what he deserved for partying too hard. Pepper told them that they were judgmental assholes and walked away. She lit a cigarette as soon as she was across the street from the school. She decided to skip class and go to the Record Barn. She wished that her friend Charlie McNamara still worked there. She wished that her best friend, his sister Ursula, was still alive. She wondered how the other guys in the band were holding up.
“People always said such awful things about you guys,” the now forty-seven-year-old Pepper mused to the absent Gerry Clifford as she meandered through the halls of Trinity Gardens Retirement Community. “I don’t know how people can call themselves Christians and be so filled with hate. They spout that Jesus is love, but their actions are hateful. I always wished that I could know you, Gerry. There was something so forlorn and lost about you.”
Pepper saw Mary the security guard sitting at the front desk on the main floor. She liked talking to Mary, but tonight she wanted to be alone with her thoughts, so she waved and kept going. It looked like Mary was watching a movie anyway.
Pepper tried to push the thought of taking Gerry in her arms from her mind. She’d always found him attractive but because he was married, he was off-limits. In fairness, she had always found all the members of the band attractive. In better days, she’d joked to her brother James that Mainline was the perfect band for her because all of them were cute, and between their present and past lineup, there were six guys, one for every day except Sunday.
“’Cause I’ve gotta have one day to rest and hang out with my buds and my dumbass little brother, right?” Pepper chuckled.
“You’re gross,” James retorted.
“Nope, I’m right. They’re all super cute. Look at them!”
“They’re all goofy-looking fuckers,” James teased.
James gave the members of Mainline silly nicknames. Odinn became Oh Dumb Spacy. Former bassist Chuck Bennett became Chuck Roast. New bassist Cuchulainn Agnus-Dei became Koo-Koo The Gnu. Drummer Freddie Paries became Freddie Pair of Pants. Gerry Clifford became Hairy Spifford, “because his hair is always hanging in his face and he’s trying to look spiffy.” Paul Clifford became Small Spifford because of his diminutive size and because he was the younger brother.
Pepper knew that her brother’s teasing was all in fun. They listened to the band’s records together and James tolerated Pepper’s fantasies of one day meeting the band and having Odinn Lacey fall madly in love with her. James bought Pepper Mainline memorabilia and drew her a silly comic about the band.
“They’re stick figures because I can’t draw people,” James said.
Pepper would have hugged her brother, but since that would have been too mushy, she simply said “thanks, Jimmy, it’s really cool,” and suggested that they go to the park.
Normally, Pepper used her coveted downtime to write, listen to music, do Tarot readings, and catch naps. But tonight, she could think of little except for Gerry Clifford and what he’d meant to her over the years.
Pepper possessed clairvoyant and clairsentient abilities. She supposed that she could technically be considered a medium, although she shied away from describing herself as such. Most of the time, she sensed emotions rather than hard facts. However, she had seen more than one full-torso apparition during her time working at Trinity Gardens. The sixty-year-old building had more than its fair share of ghosts.
Pepper had seen Mainline in concert four times. Shy Gerry generally lurked by the drum riser and let his guitar do the talking while his brother Paul strode onstage cool and slow to the bluesy strains of the band’s 1975 classic, “Real Business,” wearing a full business suit or tuxedo complete with a snazzy hat. By the time the show was done, Paul was down to a pair of wildly colorful boxers, slinging sweat everywhere as his honey-colored curls flew about his face. Gerry was still fully clothed, his shaggy bangs hanging down like a thick, dark curtain in front of his unconventionally handsome face and striking eyes.
While cheeky Paul often flashed some cheek prior to exiting the stage, Gerry would flash the audience an uncertain smile and lift his guitar aloft. Mainline’s 2007 song “Guitar Hero” was not written for Gerry to brag about his musical abilities as those who loved to hate Mainline claimed. Gerry would be more likely to strip off during a show than he would be to brag about himself, and the chances of him stripping off were slim and none with slim being out of town. The lyrics were about Gerry’s guitar.
He’s got the rhythm you know
He’s got the blues
He’s got your back
He’s got what you need
When you don’t know what you need
Maybe you need a good talking to
Take a page
Take a note
Take a listen
Cause he knows what’s best, it’s true
Listen and he’ll see you through
Gerry’s eyes were blue-gray with flecks of green and a light golden ring encircling the pupil. Pepper referred to them as rainbow eyes, harking to a favorite song written by the late Ronnie James Dio. From her experience working with dementia patients, she knew that the light would fade from Gerry’s beautiful eyes as the disease process destroyed his mind.
After completing her rounds, Pepper was alone in the laundry and maintenance corridor on the ground floor. She grabbed a blanket and made her way to the employee lounge. If there were no calls from needful residents, she was unlikely to be disturbed. Pepper sat down on the couch and put her phone, pager, and keys on the end table.
“Oh, Gerry, how could this happen to you?” she whispered, tears filling her eyes.
Pepper turned out the lights and lay down on the not particularly comfortable couch, pulling the blanket over herself. She had become leery of issuing invitations to hungry ghosts to visit her after ending up hurt many times by betrayals both real and imagined, but Gerry Clifford was honorable and honest. In any case, he was married and, surely, such a beautiful man could not possibly feel any desire for a homely creature such as herself.
“Gerry, you can come to me any time you need,” Pepper invited. “I can’t do anything to heal your illness, but I can listen. I’m here for you. I can’t believe this is happening to you. You’ve had it harder than people realize. We’re two of a kind in some ways, although you managed to take adversity and turn it into triumph while I’ve just failed at everything. I wish I could have known you, but maybe it’s better that I didn’t. I might have ended up wanting to drown in your beautiful rainbow eyes.”
Summer nights are colder now
They’ve taken down the faire
And all the lights have died somehow
Or were they ever there?
No sighs or mysteries
He lay golden in the sun
No broken harmonies
But I’ve lost my way
He had rainbow eyes
As Pepper dozed, a small spark glowed on her brow. It floated upwards, paused for a moment, then swiftly sped away like a dandelion clock blown into a strong wind by a hopeful wish-maker.
“A dream is a wish the heart makes when you are fast asleep, and I wish that wishes could come true,” the spark sang before exploding into millions more sparks and rushing away through time and space.
Sorrow is a song written by David Gilmour and performed by Pink Floyd. It appears on the band’s 1987 album “A Momentary Lapse of Reason.”
Ain’t No Sunshine is a song written by Bill Withers. It appears on his 1971 album, “Just as I Am.”
Paint It Black is a song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and performed by The Rolling Stones. It appears on the band’s 1966 album “Aftermath.”
You’re Lost Little Girl is a song written and performed by The Doors. It appears on the band’s 1967 album “Strange Days.”
Blues Power is a song written by Eric Clapton and Leon Russell. It appears on Eric Clapton’s eponymous 1970 album.
Rainbow Eyes is a song written by Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio and performed by Rainbow. It appears on the band’s 1978 album Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll.
A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes is a song written by Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston. It appeared in the 1950 Walt Disney Studios movie Cinderella and was performed by Ilene Woods.
Submitted to https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/ on 9 February 2021 for the Start your story with a major news event breaking — one that will change the world forever prompt. This chapter was also inspired by the Write about an elderly character who was part of a historic movement years ago and Write about a child witnessing a major historical event prompt.