‘Round Midnight (123. At the End of the Day)

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At the end of the day, I’m still alive.

They were waiting for us at the artists’ entrance. The Senator Tweet-stormed me all weekend. I had gone to ground and it was the duty of Americans far and wide to find me and bring me to justice.

Justice? For doing what exactly?

Sedition.

What?!

You are an enemy of the Republic.

For wearing tight clothing.

For baiting the Senator. That proposal quip. He didn’t like it one tiny bit. Now he’s stoking the President’s base.

As if the President had a moral leg to stand on.

Them’s the facts, ma’am.

Blown way out of proportion.

I left Alayne at the Cathedral. I didn’t want her to witness this mess. The police did their best to keep the two factions of the protest apart, but they surged forward as I arrived for rehearsal. I barely made it to the door. CBS, for its part, chose to back me, opting not to cancel my appearances this week.

I’m still at the theater. They have made some dummy runs to convince the protesters that I had left. The next one will be real. The building appears closed, like no one is here.

The right wing press took up the gauntlet today, posting salacious pictures of me with Asami, more physical contact between two women than is appropriate, especially in public. They chose to pick on Asami today, but there must be some with Akira in the works. I played at a gay club and was the only member of the band that wasn’t.

Akira has the legal team at her agency on top of it already.

Stephen and I agreed to keep the banter to a minimum, but he let it rip on the Senator with both barrels. There were a few interruptions to the show, as protesters were removed from the audience. The President, for his part, was guilty by association.

Akira left in one of the dummy runs, a blond body double in another. I sit in the relative dark in my dressing room, guarded outside by a limited detachment, so they don’t attract attention. I have my headphones on, listening to sad music, literally Musica Dolorosa by Peteris Vasks, a composer who I have come to love recently.

I have been listening to a lot of sad music lately.

Two knocks. It is time to go. Hood on. Out the door.

There are still a few anti-Cassie protesters out there shouting abuse, but it was much easier to get to the waiting car than it was getting into the building earlier. We speed away, taking a roundabout route to the Cathedral with a group of identical motorcade vehicles to put any followers off the scent.

Fortunately, Asami didn’t stay in the city. She left when things got hot, but she is being followed in Chicago.

At least the protesters shield me from potential snipers.

We stop in an alley, are shepherded into a garage, where another car waits, we delay several minutes, and then we are on the move again. Just to be safe, we enter the cathedral through a hidden passageway from one of the clerical offices.

Alayne stayed up to make certain I arrived safely. She reports it to the hive.

I didn’t realize they hive cared so much for me.

Why? You are the Queen bee.

I’m the founder of their race on this planet. I’m not needed anymore.

They need you more than you are aware.

It’s late. I’m going to bed.

That is easier said than done. In her time Amelia is probably being gassed with whatever it is that will cause her to lose her memory. That isn’t the case, since her time is not relative to this one.

Time is an intricate weave. We pass where the threads touch.

And I am … when? Future? Past? I look the same, but I feel old. I wander the streets of a big city, relatively modern. I’m Tamara. No, she is dead, but I’m not yet me.

I’m in between, the years between Tamara’s death, and my birth. Why? I’m just a spirit with nothing to gain here. Tamara lived in London. That must be where I am.

I am Truthy now. There is no difference between us in this state.

Baker Street. That’s what it says on the corner of the building. Marlebone Road is a large cross street. Why am I here? There are a group of students with instruments on the other side. They had a gig tonight, but have been celebrating in a pub. It’s closing time.

Do you see her? One of them says, pointing towards me. She’s got a boyfriend hanging on one shoulder, a French horn case on the other. It looks like they haven’t been getting on. He doesn’t like classical music, and he doesn’t like her friends, but he likes her, and likes having sex with her.

How could I tell all that from across the road?

Nobody sees me but her. They walk on. I follow. Obviously, she is the one I am here to see. She keeps looking back at me. They cross over to go into the Underground station. I follow them down onto the platform. They just missed a train. It could be as long as a half hour before the next one. The girl, about 20, a tall familiar-looking redhead, isn’t interested in her boyfriend’s advances, not in front of her friends. He’s had too much to drink, too.

I hang back away from them. I wait.

Eventually, she comes to see me. I’m standing in the shadows. Do I know you? She asks.

Do you?

She shifts the strap of her horn case onto her other shoulder. I thought maybe I did. Why did you follow me?

Because you were the one I came to see.

Why did you come to see me?

I don’t know. I’m in a spot of bother, and it seems that you are the only one that can help me. (I sounded so English saying that.)

What sort of bother, other than that you don’t seem to have any cloths on?

You see me without clothes?

I’m d-d-dreaming. I have waking dreams from time to time. My friend, Jem, over there says I have a g-gift, but I don’t know what it is.

You see dead people?

S-Sometimes they are living. I can’t tell which you are. It hasn’t happened since I was a child.

Which am I? Tamara is dead, but I’m about to be born. It’s a few years away, I think. I may be both.

How can you be b-both? She asks.

I don’t know, but if you are who I think you are, I can’t tell you too much.

She is Gaia, I’m sure of it. Horn player? About the right age. London. All I know is that I need your help. I am in danger. There have already been two attempts on my life, but you may know what it is that is a more existential threat. When the time comes, you will be too young to remember me.

Too young? I have a b-brain like a sieve anyway. You’ll be lucky. 

You know instinctively what it is.

Is it what makes you look blue?

Is it? I look down at my arms, perhaps a slight blue tint, but it is dark in this shadow. She sees what she sees.

No. I don’t think so. Are you sure I don’t know you?

You haven’t met me … yet, but you have always known me. We are sisters.

You aren’t my sister.

That is the truth, yet I am more than your sister. I am both your mother and daughter, too. Jem is right, but it isn’t a gift. It is life.

She pauses. I can hear a train in the distance.

You need my help, but I don’t know what to say. Trust yourself. Trust your instinct. Find the Truth in yourself. 

I’m back in bed. She’s gone.

‘Round Midnight (115. You are here)

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The one thing that I miss when I am away from New York is this window. From it, I look between the skyscrapers and see the galaxy of light that is this city. I see myself everywhere, and me from everywhere.

The Truth is everywhere, you just need to look for it.

Alayne sleeps in her own bed on the far side of the room, away from the windows. Maria brought up a spare one from her apartment. Alayne is in full Cassie mode, still looking like my young twin 8 hours after our arrival. If her skin didn’t betray her youth, she could travel on my passport, drive on my license. She could be me.

In the aftermath of last night, she also awoke as my twin this morning, to Akira’s astonishment, both the shape and color of her eyes conforming to mine. The trauma had shaken her, and the adrenaline I released in our battle, even if only mental, had taken its toll on her. I had fought the hive and won, though at a cost. They cut her off, temporarily.

She had become too human and too close to me: a liability.

That adrenaline weakened the alien in me. That’s why I couldn’t lift Akira off me last night. She was the other casualty, becoming more alien than before and at the same time more compatible with me, and by extension, with them. I saw it in her eyes when she looked at me this morning. She sees things, feels things, differently than before. She senses the hive, even if she doesn’t understand it.

They will use her against me.

I was lucky that I was leaving. Akira will have until Wednesday to process this on her own. Alayne was back in the fold, chastened for her misbehavior. By the time we left for the airport, she looked and acted more like herself, enough that TSA only grumbled about her hair color.

Although the flight was smooth, Alayne was in tears all the way, but it was the accident in the taxi coming from Newark that was the most upsetting. It turned out to be minor, but it looked intentional. A truck ran us off the road. None of us were injured, just a little frazzled.  A few motorists stopped to make sure we were alright and helped us push the car out of the ditch. Not only did we have Alayne’s strength, mine had returned. We didn’t actually need much help.

Luckily, my trumpet didn’t sustain any damage.

We stayed around to give statements to the police. Of course, my perfect recall served well to remember the truck’s license plate, as well as the number on the back. “How’s my driving, call …”

I called. I hope he loses his license.

Why do I see so many of me tonight? The one that intrigues me most is the one directly across the street. I’m in an office full of people, well past midnight. Of course, they can’t see me, a good thing, since I am naked there. They have some kind of big presentation tomorrow, and there is a debate going on.

Some are advocating a misleading version of the truth. The fate of the company is at stake. Into the ear of someone who looks like they have authority and is wavering, I whisper, tell the truth. A lie could ruin everything.

I am the angel sitting on his shoulder. It tipped the balance for him, but I’m not going to sit around and wait for the result. I don’t have a skin it this game. Is the truth the most ethical stance in this circumstance? I will leave it up to them.

Up on the observation deck of a nearby skyscraper, I look out at a sea of twinkling lights, and beyond them, into the darkness of the ocean, where I see a single light. I stand on the deck of a cruise-liner. As it quiets down for the night, couples are pairing off.

What happens on a cruise stays on a cruise.

A man stands alone by the railing, staring out to sea. What is he thinking? He’s at a crossroad in his life. Is he contemplating suicide?

I bet that water is freezing, I say.

He looks over at me. What does he see? Don’t worry, I don’t expect to find out. I’m just thinking. He’s handsome, and wearing a tux, his bow-tie untied around his neck. He has an English accent.

What are you thinking about?

I’ve been doing this for too long.

Doing what?

Playing in my string quartet. All we ever seem to get are cruise gigs. I just don’t find that particularly fulfilling. I don’t suppose you would understand. It’s regular work for a captive audience.

I do understand. I’m a musician, too. Where are you from?

York, in England.

I’ve never been there, but I have a gig there this summer at the NCEM, which seems like a strange place for a jazz concert.

They have jazz there all the time. It’s not a big venue, but intimate. I’ve played there at the Late Music Festival. I went to the university there. What do you play? 

Piano, trumpet. What do you play?

Cello. Have I heard of you?

Maybe. I don’t know. I like him. Casual, cool, relaxed, completely unaware of my nudity. The deck is lit, and couples stroll by. I shouldn’t tell him who I am. It could be awkward. So what are you thinking about, really?

I think I need to leave the quartet.

It sounds like you have made up your mind. What’s the problem?

I don’t know what I want to do. I might play a festival. They want to know like yesterday.

What is stopping you?

It seems like a step back.

Sometimes you need to take a step back to take two forward. What festival?

Aldeburgh.

Do it.

Why are you so sure about it?

I’m playing there, too. I shouldn’t have revealed that. He’s a little young for me. I would guess 25 or so. I’m revealing myself to him. Total honesty. The Truth.

At the festival?

I’m premiering my trumpet concerto at the Maltings and playing a jazz gig with my trio at somewhere called The Pump house.

Wait a second. He reaches for his briefcase, opens it, and pulls out some sheet music. It’s a part to my concerto. You aren’t Cassandra Sommer, are you?

I am.

That’s the concert they want me to play. What are you doing here on this cruise?

I’m not here. I’m over there, standing in the window of one of those buildings. My daughter is asleep on one of the beds. I’m standing and looking out the window, as I often do late at night.

How can you be talking to me, then?

It’s complicated. No, it’s simple, actually, but not exactly believable. What do you actually see?

A beautiful woman in a red satin evening dress.

I chuckle.

What?

You see me as you want to see me. A can’t remember the last time I wore an evening dress of any color. In the window, I’m wearing blue tartan PJ’s. Here, I’m wearing nothing at all.

Am I just imagining this?

There is only one way to find out. Play the festival. I can’t promise a red evening dress – I don’t own one. You are more likely to see me in a mini-skirt or a tight designer outfit, but I can do red, if you want. What’s your name?

Timothy Ireland.

I’ll come find you when I arrive at Snape.

This is too weird.

Give me your phone number.

He hesitates and then does.

Now look at your phone. The me in the apartment texted him a selfie of me in my PJ’s. Just for proof, I spin around and show him that I don’t have a phone on me.

Can I take a selfie of us?

I can’t guarantee I’ll be in it, but you can try. He puts an arm around me and holds his phone up. I’m there, in a red evening dress. He snaps and sends it to me. He still has an arm around me. I don’t mind. I like him. We stand arm in arm at the railing for a little while.

I should probably get to bed, I say, I have an early rehearsal tomorrow.

We embrace. I kiss him on the cheek. It will all work out. I let go of him and point. That’s me waving from that window there.

He couldn’t possibly see me there, but I’m no longer with him. I pick up my phone, look at the selfie of us. I’m wearing a dress I’ve never even seen. I look beautiful. We look happy together.

He sends me a text: It was a pleasure to meet you wherever you are.

I send him another selfie in my PJ’s. I’m pointing to the dot of light that is his cruise ship: You are here.

 

 

‘Round Midnight (101. Calm down, girl)

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I have a bond with the original Alayne. She woke up blond again this morning. None of her surrogates do that. I didn’t sleep well, and it was fortunate that the girls don’t snore. Having 5 snorers in the room would create quite a racket.

I wonder why they don’t expect me to wake up during the night.

Because they don’t.

They wake up once, to drag me to bed, and then they are out until 7 am. Two wake up and leave. The others are wrapped around me, until I awaken, usually pretty late. I’m not a good role model. Up till 3, sleep til 10. I’m a night owl.

I was so angry that I poured over it in my head most of the night. I’m so over it now. I think.

I understand a fury in your words
But not the words.

Rehearsal with Gus today was fabulous. I got to be myself again for the first time in over a week. I even dressed the part, a little. Red and tight. Devil girl! It was hot and sticky after yesterdays rain, so I dressed down, down as in minimalist. The boys surely didn’t mind. We all had dinner together before Gus and I went to a jazz club and sat in with a local band for a set. I haven’t played any standards in such a long time. They were capable, and Gus and I got a chance to jam together for a while.

I’m not a very good mother.

I left them to fend for themselves all evening. They do anyway, the 23 that aren’t with me. Yes, their numbers grew again today.

How am I going to enroll them in school when I get back to Chicago? If I’m lucky it will just be Alayne. Will Sarah come? I doubt it. She’ll need to be mother to the rest of them. I think Alayne will just have to be home-schooled. How do I do that? She has some musical talent. How could she use that? It could bring out the humanness in her.

She is with me again tonight, with Sarah.

It’s probably a good thing, too. I looked at my credit card balance tonight.

I want to meet everyone, I blurted out. My foul mood was back.

What? Alayne asked, trying to be discreet.

I want to see where all my money is going.

It was just a few things, Sarah insisted.

On a trip in which all my lodging and meals are covered, I’ve nearly maxed out my credit card. I want to meet all 25 of you. After dinner tomorrow. All at once. And any new ones you spawn tomorrow. I knew that could be as many as 10 more.

You know? Sarah asked.

Every last one of you. And the two in the bathroom can join us now.

But.

NOW!

CS7 and CA10 slipped sheepishly out of the bathroom, wearing pajamas identical to Sarah and Alayne.

We …

Don’t say anything! I shrieked. You think I’m more like you now. Well, I’m not at all like you. I hear you. I sense you. But I’m not like you! You don’t belong here! You are alien invaders! You …

I had gone too far. I love Alayne. She is more like me than the others.

You are all my daughters, I continued, after a deep breath. They all looked the same and mostly like me. They were unmistakably my daughters, and I couldn’t believe how much I had just hurt them.

All 25 would have felt my rage.

Sarah almost spoke. Alayne knew better.

If you are going to thrive here, we need to find a way to work together, to make it work. You are universes away from where you originate, and your instincts just won’t fit in here. We need to come to an accommodation. Firstly, you need to stop buying expensive clothes or I’ll cut you off. You get them from thrift stores, or you buy in bulk. Secondly, we need to work out the food situation and find a safe place for you all to stay.

And now for the bombshell …

I’m not staying in California past next week. Think hard about what you are going to do.

We’ll discuss income later. I didn’t have the heart to broach that subject on top of everything else. They’re all brilliant; maybe we could buy a factory somewhere in the middle of nowhere and start up the next Google or something – hundreds of identical employees that don’t exist. And we need to find a way to curb their reproduction.

It’s time for bed, I said, stifling any dissent.

Come not within the measure of my wrath.

‘Round Midnight (99. Me, myself, I, we … Modesty? Where?)

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It’s the eve of an amazing week professionally. Gus Ferrotte is in town, and we will open for Tower of Power at the Saban Theatre. Yes, I’ve opened for them before, but not at an important venue. We will play the charts from Gus’ album, and then I’ll sit in for some funk. They are letting me play lead trumpet on the set I’m playing.

They are the funkiest band on the planet.

The only thing that turns me on
Is when I hear a soulful song
I like soul with a capital ‘S’
Soul with a capital ‘S’

I’m pumped! I just can’t wait to boogie again. (I’ve got just the outfit for it, and maybe my red wig.)

I’m leading a masterclass at UCLA tomorrow and am featured with one of their jazz ensembles in the evening. We’ll play a big band arrangement of The Honest Truth, and Maynard’s Primal Scream. I haven’t played that since I was a freshman in college.

I spent the day practicing and composing on campus, as well as talking to students, since I couldn’t help but draw a crowd. A couple of them actually knew who I was.

I got the chop
I can’t be stopped
I’ll never get popped
I got the chop, hey now

I possess the keenest mind
Perhaps of all mankind
My cranium do contain
Undoubtedly the greatest brain

Modesty? Where?

The girls spent the day on the beach. Obviously. There are only five more of them now. It was a little cooler than optimal.

But my credit card is melting.

And my bed was warm. Some of them have been sleeping here during the day.

Part of me wishes they would just come clean.

And what part is that?

The human part, strangely. I feel more human today. I was on campus on my own. Now, the others are asleep. Neither are originals, but Sarah hides in the bathroom with one of the other Alaynes. The other baker’s dozen is on the beach.

By the window, I’ll be undisturbed. Is that me standing outside?

Is that me looking out the hotel window?

I dare not look down. I’m 13 stories up and standing on … nothing. It’s a cool humid night. I think it will rain tomorrow. Don’t look down.

Look down.

Why? I’m terrified.

You need to train yourself not to fear heights, to be different from them. You need to learn to let that fear pass right through you.

I can float in the void, and the middle of a vast nothingness.

Or a nothingness the size of a singularity. Look down, dip-shit!

When did I get blue tartan PJ’s?

Concentrate. Alayne bought them for you today. Look fuckin’ down!

I look down. A mortal fear possesses me. I can’t look. Why do I feel like jumping?

That’s typical. You won’t fall. Even if you jump. We’ve got this.

I have to let myself fall. That’s the only way of beating it.

Then let yourself fall, but keep your eyes open.

Shit! I’m falling, accelerating towards the ground. Halfway there.

Void. A naked representation of me just went splat in the drive of the hotel.

Or didn’t. We’re here, aren’t we.

If my body is in a plane, and it goes down. Can I come here?

Yes, and no. Your body has to be somewhere. We will be here, but when you return there, you will be newly born.

So what did we just do?

We tested your mortality.

I’m mortal. Am I dead?

No, but that is what would have happened had you died on the pavement. We return to the void. Gaia returns to her multiverse. The other creators choose not to live in their universes, so they don’t experience death. That’s why you and Gaia have a mutual affinity. You dance an eternal dance.

Is that all there is to death?

For us, yes. It’s different for others. What have you learned?

You, I, we are different from all other beings.

And …

If I die, I continue. I have nothing to fear.

Not entirely. Gaia won’t thank you for corrupting her universe.

I better clean up my mess before I leave then.

Wait! Why come back here?

I’m standing outside my hotel window again. On the pavement below is my lifeless body oozing blood. Nobody notices. I’m not there. I’m standing on a floor inside the hotel room 10 feet away from me, wearing blue tartan PJ’s and staring at myself outside. One of the girls, tonight’s Alayne, gets up out of bed, takes a tentative step towards the window, stops, pleads for me to come to bed. I join her and Sarah in my bed. The other two wait a safe interval, and then emerge from the bathroom and slip into the other bed, unaware that I stand out here watching them. I look down again at that lifeless body.

Remember that.

I remember everything.

‘Round Midnight (28. Zombie Armageddon)

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Concert blacks tonight.

Gus phoned while I was on the treadmill this morning. He needed me for a concert at Northwestern tonight. Normally, I don’t work on Mondays, but it’s a short gig with no rehearsals. Just a sound check. Joey Richards, his regular pianist, is indisposed again. The pay is decent, but universities are notorious for taking a long time to pay.

It’s a faculty concert, and not particularly well attended, about 3/4 full. I’m sightreading about half of it. Gus isn’t one to go on flights of fancy like O’Leary, and in front of a mostly student audience, Cassie can’t really be Cassie.

My black slacks hang a little loose, showing how much weight I’ve lost, just in the few weeks since I last wore them at the opera. I hate wearing a jacket over my silk halter, but the hall is a little colder than I like. I find a jacket restricting at the best of times.

We play some standards, as well as a few charts off Gus’ last album, and one off the new one. It’s a low key gig with a short intermission. Gus is a Stan Getz type player with a conservative mellow sound. I do my best to stay in his head and not wander into Cassie-ness.

Except that is what he wants.

I know more of the charts on the second half, so I assure him that I’ll play more relaxed.

Why am I not relaxed? Lack of sleep and a general low mood. I didn’t nod off until Asami left to go teach this morning. I worked out with Aoki at the gym, and then shopped for food. I’ve got to eat more, she says. Or stop going to the gym. I’m not keeping up with the calories I’m burning.

Forgiveness.

That’s the tune we’re playing. It’s one of the ones we recorded, a ballad, but also a chance for me to wander a bit during my solo. That’s more like it, Gus smiles at me. The others have been doing their own thing, but that woke them up a little.

Wake up!

That’s what Gus wants. It’s why he recorded with me instead of his usual quartet. I think he felt his band was getting stale. They’re the ensemble-in-residence, so he can’t make changes until their contract expires, but it won’t be me that he adds. Our regular gigs conflict, and my touring schedule will make it impossible.

Not that I wouldn’t like to teach at Northwestern.

I won’t have much time to teach at all. Not even my current position. One lesson a month isn’t in the interests of my students. The Institute puts up with it because of my popularity. The students love me, but a vocal group of faculty don’t like it. Some love me. Many hate me. Is that jealousy?

Erg! Time to shed the jacket.

I just can’t handle all this strict formality. I’ve got a free piano intro into the last piece. Armageddon. I’ll give him Cassiemageddon. I have to be careful, since I’ve not played it before, but I can be Cassie in my intro, at least. So chromatic, almost atonal – you have to be inside my brain to know where the tonality is.

Believe me, that’s not a place you want to go.

Don’t worry, I’ll find my way to the tune, as long as Gus doesn’t stop me early. He doesn’t. He’s actually gone offstage. Donnie, the bassist, and Patrick, the drummer, look at me expectantly – like, what are you going to do next? Hopefully not, will you finish already, I’ve got to get home to my kids tonight. I’m not stopping until Gus is back. I can go all night, if need be. There he is, let’s go! He gives the cue for the head. Gus’ solo is inspired, almost O’Leary-esque, and Donnie plays a tasty solo. Back to the head.

I don’t know what I would have done without you tonight, Gus whispers in my ear at the end. There’s a reception afterwards, and Gus is surrounded by his students. Donnie hangs around briefly, and Patrick packs up and leaves.

Gus’ quartet is dead.

They are hardly speaking to each other these days. I’m sorry. They were good once.

Gus Ferrotte and the Zombies.

I enjoyed your playing, a tall African-American woman says to me. I can’t remember her name. She’s the Dean of the music school. She doesn’t remember me from the days I played in the prep department big band. Of course, I was playing lead trumpet then, not piano. I don’t look all that different now. I was a skinny waif then, too. She chats about nothing in particular for a while and then goes to congratulate Gus.

I should be honored that she spoke to me at all, I guess.

A couple of shy students shake my hand. Where’s Aoki? She was going to drop me off at home afterwards. I check my phone. She couldn’t come after all. It’s OK, I can walk home without any problem. Thank Gus. Parka and boots on.

Head out into the night.

Please take me dancing tonight I’ve been all on my own
You promised one day we could, its what you said on the phone
I’m just a prisoner of love always hid from the light
Take me dancing, please take me dancing tonight

It’s snowing again, heavily. Central Evanston is eerily quiet. Few are out. There’s a siren in the distance. A Metra train slows to a stop at the Davis St Station, pauses and drives on. The Doppler shift hangs cool in the night air. The streets have packed with snow and the sidewalks need clearing. I trudge on, the sound of my boots echoing in the empty streets. No dancing tonight.

I really shouldn’t be out walking on my own this late, but only fools would be out in this weather.

I guess I’m a fool.