Ballad

Patrick Dacey
BALLAD

OK she’s gone let’s get setup amp cord guitar now this is romantic this is a gift D C G yep way out of tune needs a good tuning can’t remember how to tune just listen listen it all makes sense if you just listen that’s what Miles Davis once said I think maybe it was Mingus turn the keys thumb the E and A and OK we’re in tune music first then lyrics a mix of dark and light of high and low nothing too dark nothing too light it’s her birthday she doesn’t want a slit-your-wrists song and she doesn’t want some loopy gumball sing-along a ballad of course ballad in D too light, ballad in E minor too dark ballad in C C to F to D C to F to G something’s missing C to F to A minor to G that’s it that makes sense there’s a balance there OK C to F to A minor to G for a while and shit the kid’s squawking squawking and hiccupping and that cute-as-hell laugh can’t miss him laugh got to see that maybe take a picture if I time it right though he never seems to do it when I got the phone pointed at him guitar rest camera phone on hiccup and he stops altogether when I get to the doorway looks at me like I’m some creature from Mars wide-eyed scared shitless considering the size of his world for the past ten minutes little stuffed monkeys and parrots and lizards and then this giant indigenous freak from across the river comes stomping through the bush into his perfectly unreal world wanting to strip it bare take him away turn it into a resort which think about it little buddy think about living your first couple years in a beautiful resort no bugs or scary animals just people like your mother all there to serve you while you relax under an umbrella with the sun on your little toes doesn’t that sound nice sound like something you could appreciate later on in life if say you were to make a bunch of money and then lose a bunch of money at the point your future wife is five months pregnant surprise and already has you in a convertible crib on credit without considering the possibility of and we moved all the studio equipment into the garage where mommy says it should be anyway considering I haven’t recorded a thing since 1992 and what was that just a little number called I Do and I Don’t just a song that put her in the cream colored Mercedez she rides into Boston to have lunch with Karen and Odessa and Hilary like they’re the goddamn New England version of Sex and the City like they’re impressed by my twenty-year-old Benz she says I have to take the train in from Haverhill for christ’s sake well at least you have a car and you’re not some poor Mexican walking to work along Route 1 OK OK no sad time Daddy talk I get it come here spit up on my shoulder get rid of those hiccups OK I didn’t mean to bring you down let’s go out to the living room and you can help with mommy’s birthday present there you go buckle you into your little rocking chair and here’s your giraffe Sophie and your winkle and let’s clean the drool off your lip OK ready no don’t squeeze Sophie Sophie doesn’t have the right voice for this kind of song she’s more a Mezzo Soprano not what we’re looking for here OK squeeze Sophie we’ll work around her not like I haven’t had to deal with my share of aggressive background vocalists maybe I can cut her out of the master tape and that cough and that sneeze and don’t cry pal nothing to cry about I’m sure Sophie’s a good vocalist or maybe you’re just not interested in writing a song but if I could afford a present for mommy I’d get one though it wouldn’t even be a present more like a debt and she’d see it in the checking account probably return it claim it’s too extravagant just some earrings or a bracelet I don’t know something to make her feel pretty but what’s more important she’d say me looking pretty or some diapers for the boy yeah no brainer diapers but every once in a while something nice maybe and for the life of me I can’t imagine what we’d do if I didn’t lift your vitamins and formula and those stupid plastic toys well not lift as much as use the sweet Korean girl who runs the self-check line at Stop and Shop claim confusion with the machine tell her I like her green eyes and her hemp necklace but forty bucks for formula organic formula ‘cause it has to be organic or else what you might end up like OK let’s sort of cradle you take off the guitar strap OK get this underneath your butt and put your arms up here on the side and rest your chin there in the curve how’s that better feel better feel sleepy all right sleepy is good this is going to be sort of a sleepy song anyway now what was that chord progression G to no C to F to A minor right then G OK C C C C C fucking A buddy you almost fell out of the strap don’t make that face I know that face all right OK look at me look at daddy it’s smiley-time right isn’t it smiley-time do you even know what the hell smiley-time means it doesn’t mean anything that’s right that’s right keep smiling for smiley-time because smiley-time is a world that only exists in my mind and you won’t ever remember that you used to love smiley-time until you have a baby and then you’ll probably call it something different some inane phrase that gets stuck in your head and you’re walking around thinking about a world where people have smiley-time at some point during the day standing still wherever we are smiling at each other and not with some condescending coffee house how-you-doing smile but a real genuine smile that can crush your heart the way it does when you see true happiness on a person’s face like when they’re on a rollercoaster or sledding down a hill whatever it is that makes them forget about themselves for a few minutes maybe not a good idea to have you resting your head on the wood so back in the rocker OK now let’s get to work take mommy into the past ‘cause that’s what a good song does takes you back in time sets you down next to old friends and lovers well hopefully not her old lovers especially not that Australian dude the two of them out in the wild looking at kangaroos taking peyote can hear that stupid accent in my head picture Greg Norman with mommy’s face in his lap while he keeps saying ‘oy ‘oy ‘oy but what’re you going to do that’s the risk you take with a good song a good song brings you back in time a great song brings you to a place you’ve never been and you feel good being there you Jesus you little bugger you were so relaxed there during smiley-time you went ahead and dropped a load right as I was about to reach the nexus of this song for your mother how it has something to do with our past and present and future and how they can all work so perfectly together if you never think about time at all if you erase the concept of time from your being and just be OK that’s ripe here we go put the guitar down gently diaper wipes a bunch of wipes and all right it’s up your back Jesus how long has it been since you took a dump your mother never keeps me in the loop on your dump cycle we need a dump calendar or an eraser board guess we’ll have to get you in the tub the tub is a good thinking place I’ve gotten a lot of thinking done in the tub over the years of course a lot of that thinking got lost once I got out of the tub because I never remembered to bring a pen and pad into the bathroom with me so let’s clean you up and get a pen and pad and run the water and start thinking of lyrics for mommy’s song all right listen to the sound of the water listen to everything around you that’s music everything’s music have to make sure it’s not too hot too hot and you’ll get that pumpkin head screaming like a cat caught on fire all right me first got you up Jesus I hate the tub I look like a washed-up seal what a body no wonder mommy turns off the lights and my nuts cauterized forty-seven years old don’t want to risk another well not a mistake no you’re not a mistake but well we weren’t planning on doesn’t matter you’re here you’re beautiful you ready for the tub ready for the water OK here we go legs first yeah feels good doesn’t it now your back and your arms don’t worry I got your head I won’t let you go under we’ll just float you around OK it’s warm isn’t it you’re gonna love the ocean maybe you’ll be a surfer or maybe you’ll build sailboats or maybe you’ll be one of those guys who fishes in the summer and smokes dope in the winter and never really minds what happens around him because he’s generally satisfied with his life and doesn’t expect too much and never gets his hopes up and hasn’t a clue why everyone’s always arguing about what’s fair and what isn’t come on pal not in the tub well at least it’s clear means you’re healthy and you’re smiling because you think you got away with something well OK we should get out of the tub not much thinking done after all but it’ll come to us I mean you can’t stop yourself from thinking it’s impossible even wrapping you up in the towel and the tag says MADE IN CHINA and where in China it’s so damn big though you have to think some factory where they’re pumping out towel after towel all day it’s towels or it’s clocks or it’s Elvis Presley key chains whole factories producing Elvis crap and not one of those Chinese kids probably knows who Elvis is or was or how if he didn’t stop in at that little recording studio in Memphis or if he didn’t shake his hips on the Ed Sullivan show or die on the toilet or have this myth about him still being alive and all these whackos visiting Graceland like it’s some kind of church then none of the Chinese kids would even be working the Elvis factory and it might be the only factory in their town so without Elvis they might’ve lived a happier life working a farm or fishing doing something outdoors where the air is clean and no one’s breathing down your neck about printing a thousand of those Jailhouse Rock T-shirts by noon your skin’s soft too soft maybe hasn’t had to take a blow yet except that time you tumbled out of your little rocker but you knew to keep rolling and finally pressed up against the TV stand what’s this spot on your belly spider bite do we have spiders fuck I hope not it hurts when I press no good that’s good probably bitten a few days ago spiders crawling all over the house can’t see ‘em maybe they hide until night come out in packs crawl into our bed down our throats that’s why mommy’s coughing at night coughing on spider legs and what if they’re pregnant what if they’re delivering baby spiders inside us oh god OK let’s zap those spiders out of our minds OK zap no more spiders get the diaper on your onesy your little sweats and how about one of these sweatshirts a little chilly in here right can’t turn the heat up past 64 heat’s expensive if we hugged each other all day wouldn’t need heat at all zip you up looks like you’re ready to get back to work are you ready to get back to work good little smile stick your tongue out make that fart sound all right buddy ballad in C for your mother haven’t written a song a real song since I don’t know when tried to get the band back together but Dan’s a financial consultant and Randy works a farm in Montana and Caesar’s been cleaning toilets at Logan guessing drugs brought him there or maybe he’s off the drugs and that’s why he’s cleaning toilets maybe he’ll be ready to join up again in a year you only really need two founding members who am I kidding you won’t ever know your father the rock star you’ll probably see me as some old know-nothing like I saw my father until I got older and got interested in what his life was like before he started wheezing and coughing all the time and we needed to hook him up to an oxygen tank ‘cause all I knew of him was that he was a finish carpenter he’d talk about staircases and mantles and window trim whatever but later he told me how he dropped out of high school and flew to Madrid and from there trekked through western and eastern Europe and to Egypt and down to South Africa and over to Chile up through Southern America Panama Guatemala Mexico basically travelled the world except Asia said he wished he could get to Asia and I asked him why there were no photographs from his travels and he said because it’s all in my mind it’s for me not for anyone else and I came to respect my father more than I ever had before and then well he died died before he got a chance to see you or even known you were coming said how he wished he had a grandchild all the men in our family, since the dawn of time failing like it’s a birthright to dream big and touch greatness and then crash hard I’m not sure your grandfather ever even went to the places he claimed to visit maybe he was dreaming up a more adventurous past for himself maybe I should too who am I who was I who should I have been for you going to that dark place again try to stay away from the dark if we can so what was the point of right well you’ll see videos of me when I had long hair and purple suits and you’ll think where’s that guy he was famous he was weird he was cool but things change buddy people change and you’re my world now and maybe I dream of getting the band back dream of me and Caesar at the Paradise but I know that’s not going to happen too many mistakes band’s got a bad name I got a bad name put down the booze and coke put up all that dough in a vegetarian restaurant called ROOTS which your mother said was a terrible name and I went with it despite her thinking if it stuck with me then it’d stick with others but it wasn’t the name no one was willing to pay fourteen ninety five for a plate of raw vegetables and even after selling the house and most of my old guitars and pumping the rest of our savings into a self-published memoir printing off fifty-thousand copies and only selling about twenty mostly to your mother’s family with her thinking I didn’t know and a few to collectors of one hit wonders and becoming sort of a laughing stock on the local news during a where are they now segment claiming to have a connection with the spiritual world which I don’t but I thought it might drum up some interest in my music again and maybe kids’ll look up your last name find out who your father was make fun of how I used to look the music I played but you take out the synthesizers and you have some pretty lovely anyway it won’t matter shouldn’t matter ‘cause unlike their fathers and very much like my own father I went for it and I did it and no one can take that away from me just like they can’t take it away from you and I know sometimes I talk down about your mother but she’s been with me through it all rich and poor and she deserves some slack deserves a break and she’s a good mother to you and good woman and she’s still the only girl I know knows how to give a decent foot massage and maybe that sounds like it’s not a lot but trust me it’s hard to meet a woman you can love all your life and when you arrived it seemed to make us love each other even more and I guess that’s the point why it’s so hard to write a song I don’t have any songs left maybe you were my last song and maybe all your mother wants is a deep kiss and a warm bath and to be here with us a family our own little world just beginning.


Patrick-DaceyPatrick Dacey’s stories have appeared in Bomb Magazine, The Greensboro Review, Guernica, Salt Hill, and Zoetrope: All-Story, among other publications. He has recently completed his first collection of short fiction.

Image credit: Liz Davenport on Flickr

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