Colloquia Grindel Cheyenne
CHEY AND MANDY
Grey waves lapped lethargically against the earthen dyke as Cheyenne grinned with delight at what he saw before him. All lined up along the edge of the levee were an unlikely trio: an electric kettle, a pyramid of cookie boxes and a mandolin. Carefully setting his paper bag-shrouded bottles on the ground, he immediately reached for the mandolin and plucked the strings. It was perfectly in tune.
It had been decades since he’d touched a mandy, as his father called them. In their three-child household, his father, Harvey Squareaway, did all the naming: of children in order of appearance (Colloquia, Grindl, Cheyenne), pets (Cluster, Fleabag, Syphil), nicknames (Grumpy, Chunk, Wendy, Madame Roo), automobiles (Oater, Brother Buick, Tart), musical instruments (mandys, guitys and banjys). Anything that required recognition with naming fell into Harvey’s purview including the family band – the Spoon-fed Springalong String Band.
Despite decades of a serious ether addiction, Cheyenne’s fingers remembered the steps to their dance across the mandolin strings for “Kittens in the Cat,” an old bluegrass tune. The sliding and climbing notes wafted across the open water of the bay, grey and dead from the sewage and effluence of the city.
As the melody swept across the water, its drab, dangerous colour began to change to a slightly blue hue, as if part of the sky was being blended in. By the second chorus, there was a definite blueness spreading in all directions from Chey. The murkiness cleared, replaced with a luxurious turquoise colour. Blue-greens and emeralds washed against the levee, each small wave whispering along with the melody.
Just like when he was a boy Chey began having lucid thoughts, ideas flooded into his mind as the mandy chimed – their message, always and ever, be joyful. An almost unbearable effervescence of joy welled up in Chey, numinous feelings of gratitude and love pervaded his being. He felt the secret joy embedded in the music.
It was for this reason Harvey told his son, “You and mandy are symbiotic. You create each other. You inspire each other. The mandy is a perfect way for you to express all the sweetness that lives inside of you, your guileless ease as you hold the instrument, the bit of white froth that forms at the edges of your mouth after you have played her for a time. Beautiful. A perfect union.” Harvey was always frank with his son.
Cheyenne gamboled along the dyke, his fingers a blur against the almond-shape of the mandolin, the blue bay echoing with his music. A flock of inert-white terns cast reflections against the sun, their sharp cries crisp over the azure water. Chey squinted and smiled across the sky.
Ether addiction was hobo code for unrelenting reliance on one or two dreadful bottled elixirs that fall vaguely into the category of “wine.” Chey’s gullet was familiar like family with Cisco, MD (Mogen David) 20/20, Wild Irish Rose and Thunderbird and his mind on muttering terms with their deleterious effects. Chey’s current favourite got him on the train every day and took him away swiftly, directly and assuredly. All aboard the Night Train Express. A ticket costs $2.79 for 32 ounces.
Let your palate imagine the delights of a combination of cherry Kool-Aid and Clorox and you will begin to approximate the unforgettable taste experience of Night Train Express.
While its palate is barely palatable and its bouquet grimace inducing, its effect is guaranteed. It will get you to the click. And what a click it is! A weariness that feels like it is about to overtake you turns to drowsiness, detachment and eventual sleep. Don’t let the peaceful sound of this lull you into thinking it is pleasant. This sleep offers the polar opposite of rest. The dreams that erupt in Night Train Express-induced sleep are long, horrific and exhausting. The nightmares are often prolonged because the “wine” shrouds you in an immobile condition from which awakening is extremely difficult.
As you boil in the heat of the terrorizing dreams and your body tries to deal with the poisonous sway of the brew, reeking sweat pours out of you. You have rapid hot and cold flashes from the perspiration evaporating so quickly. Your bowels loosen and nervous facial tics develop, often taking days to disappear. All this in Night Train sleep.
When you do awaken, usually 12 to 15 hours after draining the bottle, your body feels utterly dried out, every cell parched and painful as it cries out for fluid. Your stomach is a tumult. At the very thought of drinking water, nausea rages though your meat and your mind. Someone is pounding nails into the back of your head. That’s just the brutal hangover headache, another of the Train’s less than desirous consequences.
Ultimately and obviously, the cure is always and only more Night Train Express. Once he stabilizes himself enough to function adequate to his needs, the cycle and Chey’s day begins anew.
Every day everything succumbs to the dreary faithfulness of Chey’s pursuit of enough panhandled cash or petty crime to score a quart of Train. Today was different. It had come together easily through luck and chance, no fuss, no bother, no crime. He found a five-dollar bill at a bus stop and a lady gave him a dollar. By ten that morning Chey had enough cash in hand to buy two Train tickets to the end of the line, which he did immediately then proceeded toward the dyke to get aboard.
Finding the mandy overwhelmed Chey’s attention and for a few moments replaced his cellular craving with a faded memory made fresh again by music. In the Spoon-fed Springalong String Band, the mandy had been his instrument, his baby. Colloquia on guity, Grindl on banjy and Chey on mandy. Just eighteen strings between them but what a glorious twang they could produce!
Add in three vocals. They all sang. Colloquia’s voice was like the old folk veteran Elizabeth Cotten, a little reedy but convincingly painful. Grindl’s range spanned four octaves in a truly undisciplined fashion that always bordered on improvisation. Yma Sumac was her inspiration. Chey wailed in his rich baritone, infilling and grounding the aural ballet of his sisters. Their harmonies often made the hair along the spine of Syphil, the family cat, stand on end.
The repertoire of the Spoon-fed Springalong String Band consisted mainly of original material written by one of the children or their parents. Their songs sounded like ancient folk songs, field hollers or old blues numbers but in fact had recently been conjured from the imagination of one or another family member.
Chey stepped lightly, almost soberly, along the grassy edge of the dyke, dancing to his own music. Every time he plucked the strings of the mandy, a ripple shivered away from him in all directions. In the distance, he heard a train share two echoey, mournful whistles, overhead the shrill shrieks of gulls.
Tiny orange fishes kissed the surface of the glistening blue water, their bulging eyes like bright red pills. In a flash, they were gone, replaced by a school of electric green leaves or so it seemed to Chey. He smiled out across the newly blue lagoon.
The train whistle was suddenly distinct and nearing rapidly, overwhelming the mandy’s suddenly puny strings. Chey looked around for the tracks but there were none, just the lapping blue water and the turning gulls. In a headlong gust of wind, the train whistle breezed past him, lifting his long hair and loose jacket to flutter like a flag around his thin frame. For a moment he experienced himself as a mere shimmer, a vertical thought manifest as water through which the roaring train passed. Silent mandolin drooping from his chest, he stood and stared in the direction the train whistle went. There was nothing there.
The sky was a grey smudge over the skyline. The water around Chey suddenly turned the colour of bilge, sickly and foul smelling. He felt a wrenching loss, something once accessible and comforting now permanently gone. He wavered at the edge of the dyke, rebuked by his inner life for wasting away in vomit-stained clothes.
The Train coursing through his veins began to gain on Chey again. Woozy and faltering, stretching his neck and crooking his head as if listening for some distant train song, Chey took on the birdlike qualities of the ether addict. With his gaunt frame weaving against the grey sky and his legs melting beneath him, Chey slowly became a drowsy, disheveled pile of humanity.
The water was silent. Gulls gone. The mandy became a grocery bag full of fortunes from fortune cookies. Chey picked a thin strip of paper from the bag. It read,
“You can never go home again.”