Fiction: Backbeat by Joshua Jones

Photo credit: Martin Whitehead

Super-Fan knows all the words. He stands in front of the stacks and belts them out. Super-Fan says that’s the best place to stand, even if years of doing so have left him partially deaf, left him gyrating like he has an inner ear problem. Super-Fan tosses his head around and jerks his arms back and forth, elbows at right angles, hands balled into fists. His hips twist and thrust. Super-Fan calls this dancing.

You move nothing like him, consider yourself reasonably graceful. You’re self-conscious enough to know you should only rock back and forth and sway your shoulders. Your ex used to ask why you didn’t like to dance, and you said you loved to dance, just didn’t like swing dancing with someone who enjoyed showing off so much. He always liked to look superior next to you.

Super-Fan doesn’t care that the club is half-empty. Less than half-empty. He first saw the band in ‘79 when you were negative ten years old. Super-Fan wears a t-shirt from the band’s past tours, from when they filled small arenas. A faded black tee that’s too tight and reveals a pale ribbon of gut. Super-Fan doesn’t care.

Super-Fan ogles your tits through your black shirt dress. Your roommate’s actually. You suspect she knows you borrow her clothes, not that she’s complained. She treats you like a project, keeps trying to introduce you to guys she knows, or says she knows. Tobias is such a sweetheart, she’ll say. You and Lawrence would make a great couple. I swear I didn’t know Ray was married.

It’s okay, you tell her. You already have an R — Roger — and she laughs at that, laughs at your ridiculous game of dating one man per letter of the alphabet. Since your ex, you’ve gone out with sixteen different consonants and three vowels. I and U have been elusive. Q and Z, next to impossible.

You text your roommate a picture of Super-Fan: Think he might be a Quincy?

She’s quick to respond; she always is when she’s with her boyfriend. HE’S SEXY!!! she texts and appends a slew of emoticons in case you think she’s serious, in case you haven’t forgiven her for Karl, your lone K, who dyed his hair castaño negro and lied about not needing Viagra.

You take another picture: Super-Fan’s lank hair thrown back, the gray stained pink in the orbiting spotlights. The band churns through their songs, hands lazily strumming power chords. They look bored and old and tired. Someone in the small crowd yells You suck!

Your ex hates guitar bands. Too noisy, he’d always say, and you’d remind him that he likes loud music, likes those DJ sets with their Top 40 remixes, and he’d say But that’s not noise, and he’d raise his forefinger in a singular gesture as if holding his point in the air for all to see, and you’d notice how perfectly manicured his finger is, unlike your own ragged, bitten nails, and you’d want to grab it, right at the knuckle, and twist it until it breaks.

You sip your beer and sway your shoulders. The music washes over you, through you. It’s not so bad. No worse than the other bands you see here, night after night, set after set. The club begins to empty in twos until it’s just you, a dozen couples too drunk/bored to leave, and Super-Fan, now in the middle, now in front of the lead guitarist and throwing his arms about. He sees you watching and shouts They rock! You sip your beer.

Your ex would only drink cocktails, and then complain they were too watered down. He’d make elaborate concoctions at his condo’s wet bar, use terms like jigger and muddle, insist on infusing his own vodka. He never liked going to your place. Too small, too messy, always smelled of your roommate’s weed. You never told him the three foot bong belonged to you.

Super-Fan’s dancing falters. He sidles up to you, fresh beer in hand, bobbing his head with the kick drum. Super-Fan thinks he can talk to you since you and he are the only singletons left in the club. Super-Fan thinks talking to you means shouting at you over the frenzied drum solo. Super-Fan thinks getting to know you is shouting, within three inches of your ear, Where is your boyfriend. Super-Fan thinks spilling beer on your dress is astoundingly funny, and buying you another beer will make up for it.

When the lights come on, only Super-Fan shouts for an encore. The bandmates begin to break down their set. Nobody asks them for an autograph. Nobody talks to them at all. Outside, nicotine and exhaust cling to the air. Super-Fan says he lives a few blocks away.

Your roommate is asleep by now, her boyfriend wedged beside her. They are quiet lovers whenever you’re there, and you like to imagine them loud and unbridled in your absence. A fantasy, you know, but you feel better imagining them happy. You know your roommate feels the same about you.

Super-Fan likes to be on bottom, which suits you fine. The idea of him crushing you beneath his potbelly, beneath his bulk that smells of beer and sweat and something fried — onions? tofu? — makes it hard to focus. His apartment is cleaner than you expected but still filthy, still a bacteria trap. When you come, you’re relieved and surprised and grateful.

Now you lay your ear against his throat. His pulse fills the room with its liquid backbeat, drowns out the sounds of the traffic outside, the creaks of the bed, your breathing. You’ll wait for him to fall asleep before rising and finding your clothes. You won’t open his wallet, won’t look for an ID. Tomorrow you’ll tell your roommate his name was Zeke, and she’ll smile and say that’s a nice name.

Joshua Jones lives in Maryland where he works as an animator. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Necessary Fiction, The Tishman Review, Juked, Cleaver Magazine, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @jnjoneswriter.

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