"You mind if I smoke?" she asks, cigarette bobbing, the paper sticking to her lips. Her thumb is already on the lighter, so I wave her the go-ahead. "Shit," she says looking sideways out the window, "I can't believe they want to put more taxes on." The pack is sitting between us, on the printed wood surface of the table. It's empty. The cellophane couldn't have been opened more than six hours ago.
There's a natural pause in the conversation as she drags. I notice that her face is starting to sag a little. The frown lines around her mouth crinkle like a sphincter as she purses her lips. She squints her eyes with a watershed of crow's feet and stares through the gray glass at the morning overcast. A fragile lock of ash blonde hair falls limply over her ear. It looks strange and unnatural in the morning light.
"I remember the night before we were supposed to sign the deal," she says, suddenly retraining her eyes on me. I play with the condensation on my glass of orange juice and return the gaze, trying to throw the ball back into her court. Her voice is gravelly. It sounds like soft icewater.
"The first thing we did was go shopping. Trevor took me into town, into a wig store. I was like, 'What are we doing here?' and he said, 'Listen, starting tomorrow, we can be anybody.' And so we went around the store looking at wigs. Black, brown, gray. Blonde. Hell, they had pink, and I turned to Trevor and said, 'I want the pink hair.' So we went and talked to the saleslady. I remember, she was real thin, face smooth like glass, perfect raven hair, cropped down. Like, I don't know, she must have been a model."
She stops to exhale. The smoke blows into my face and my juice. I unconsciously hold my breath. "Yeah," she continues, "a model. A wig model. She was probably undergoing chemotherapy or some shit, lost all her hair." She smirks and flicks some ash into the tray.
"Anyway, so I told her I just wanted the pink hair. But then Trevor says, 'we want the finest you've got' and she launches into this spiel about the treatments they give their wigs and how the color is imported from Indonesia or wherever, and we're like, 'listen, lady, tomorrow we will be able to buy ten or a thousand of these wigs, we don't care,' and she starts taking measurements of my head. Rings us up. Real expensive. Like, ... well, I don't remember how much it cost, but it was a lot. Two weeks or something to get it made, imported Indian dye, right? We left the store grinning like idiots.
"We were going to the car and all of a sudden Trevor's like, 'what do you suppose a rock star smells like?' and I said, 'I don't know!' and we went to this perfume shop that I always used to pass on the way to school, God, it's been in business eighty or a hundred years, which is a long time, and we went in. I must have been in there for an hour smelling their stuff. In the end we walked out of there with the sweetest smelling perfume. It was like everclear, you know? So intoxicating. Expensive, too. Like prom dress expensive. Wedding dress expensive. The lady wanted to know what the occasion was, so we told her that we had just inherited a zillion bucks and we were going to elope in Paris, and we wanted to be glamorous for it." She looks at me, stubs out the cigarette and dumps some non-dairy creamer into her coffee.
As she's speaking the smoke streams from her nose and batters down the steam from her coffee. It rises, ethereal, and envelopes her head, lingering over her hair like a wretched halo. I suddenly notice that none of the fans are turning, leaving this dark cloud of cheap smelling cigarette smoke to perch in the rafters. She stirs in two packets of Nutrasweet and looks at my tape recorder, its wheels turning, placed next to her crisp box of cigarettes.
"The deal," she resumes, watching the tape roll steadily onwards, "didn't happen. Of course. They weren't looking for a band like ours. They changed their minds at the last minute and said they wanted stability, and somebody who could do it consistently, they said. They actually told us they didn't want a band who had already shot their wad, because they don't get enough return on their investment. No one-hit-wonders, right? And they thought we were over before we had begun."
"Were you disappointed?"
"Shit, yes, we were devastated. I mean, Jesus Christ, there was nothing we wanted more, Trevor and I had worked so fucking hard for this ... you know, we had eight other people play for us? We had Andy on drums, then Tony, then Clayton, and finally Jaimee, just on drums, people kept leaving. Then we moved her to lead guitar and brought Dave in for bass, but Dave wanted to play Trevor's keyboard and just be a controlling asshole in general so we dumped him. A bunch of others, too. This constant stream of dreamers, you know, a whole crowd of them who just wanted to be rock stars, none of them serious, nobody who understood our vision, and in the end, that's why we didn't get the deal. There were only three of us ready to sign, nobody to play bass and our drummer was getting over mono when we recorded the demo tapes so we didn't even get a fair shot, and that fucking asshole saying, 'We need some people who pack punches, not sack lunches.'"
The usual sounds of the diner are foggy and distant and all I can hear are bad speakers softly singing "Shattered Dreams" by Johnny Hates Jazz. She rummages around in her purse and pulls out another pack of cigarettes, saying, "Fucking tax, vultures," then she breaks the cellophane, pulls out another smoke, lights it, and relaxes. "I'm sorry," she says, exhaling a lengthy plume of smoke. "I'm not usually this bitchy. You haven't touched your orange juice." I take a sip. She smokes. It wraps around her wrists and clings to her neck.
I think she needs a little prompting, so I begin. "So, say more about Trevor's-"
"You know what the worst thing is?" she asks all of a sudden, cutting me off, staring at me with sour, stale eyes, "they think there's more punk, more attitude, more rebellion and soul in these God-damned drum machines than there is in reality."