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Ed Peaco short story

Next Steps for Monte

by Ed Peaco

So many annoyances had piled up—so many bewildering medical documents, so many well-meaning but annoying people calling, texting, knocking. The speech was two days away, and Monte hadn’t written more than Hello, I’m Monte Thompson.

Recently he was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a form of dementia. In lieu of a cure, his neurologist prescribed many steps that might keep Monte’s brain staying on that plateau for as long as possible. One of the steps was to keep talking, to share his story at a meeting of the local association of The Memory Team.

Monte was nervous. His capacity for thinking and writing was slow these days, and his speech had become a bit halting. He found himself grasping for words that were just out of reach, feeling like a slug, a slug with cognitive difficulties. Anyway, it was worth a try. A few months ago, people called him a hero for what he did on his last day at work. He was proud of the job that he’d held for many years as a writer and editor, and the only person in the company who could provide voice-over narrations. It was a tough time. He couldn’t find the words he needed to talk to his doctor, or the guy who mowed his lawn, or a server at a restaurant. Who knew ordering tacos could be so hard? He was getting used to writing scripts for most conversations, face to face or on the phone. If he didn’t have a script, the outcome would be a mess. The presentation for The Memory Team group would take forever to write.

That day he began scribbling, slowly, and he decided on three topics: neurology, orthopedics and employment. Then he was disturbed by the thump of the back door. It was Cable, Monte’s nephew, bringing home two six-packs, chips and guacamole. He had the ability to distract Monte in small ways that caused big distractions. Cable lived with Monte because Cable didn’t like his father who lived in Los Angeles. Cable found a job as a bartender in the thriving city of Bristol Springs, Missouri. He kept reminding Monte what the neurologist said: Keep talking. Both of them were grappling with Monte’s dementia.

“Hey, Uncle, I got this idea for a way to write your speech. Start with the first thing that happened that day, then the next, then the next. You know what happened.”

Monte started with getting fired by the big boss, leading to an active-shooter incident and his big breakdown, all on the same day. He felt like he shouldn’t talk about certain workplace events; he didn’t know everything. He was running away, or hobbling away, on his finicky new titanium hip. He didn’t understand what the gunplay was all about. Monte led his team across the greenway to a wooded area beyond and over a fence to safety. They made it, with the help of his co-workers and his old rope ladders that he’d used at work for lunchtime workouts, back before his hip had acted up, eventually leading to pain and hip replacement last year. As he scribbled, he realized how much he’d been through in just the last year or so. What a mess! One good thing was that the hip felt better now, but the aphasia and other brain stuff were way messier.

Another interruption: Tori, Cable’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, hastened back to the house to fetch the phone attachment she needed for her customer-payment system. She was sharp-witted, a speed-walker, striding with a purpose. Her hairstyle was two-fold. On one side of her scalp, she had an undercut. Over the rest of her crown, she had long hair gathered in a ponytail with a streak of blue violet. Tori had originally worked with Monte at their old place of employment. He’d been fired and she opted to quit after the bullets whizzed by. Who could blame her? She had multiple part-time jobs now and was, in Monte’s opinion, too curious about his condition. She had unending questions. She and Cable seemed to want to mess with his business. She kept asking what he had.

“My brain is compromised due to dementia.”

“What kind?”


“What kind?”

“Primary progressive.”

“What’s that?”

“The kind where you can’t find words.”

Then she always wanted to talk about that horrific day at work.

“Do you have PTSD? Flashbacks? Nightmares?”

“No, no, and no.”

“I still think about it. Do you need help? What can I do?”

“Tori, you’re a nice person, but I’ve had enough. You’re an enterprising hustler in the gig economy, but you’re going on, chattering like a four-year-old.”

“Oh, sorry. I’d better get going.”

After he shooed Tori away, he went back to his speech. Monte liked Cable’s idea, and he ran with it, although it was slow going for the slug.

—   —   —

Monte was nervous as he entered the big room for the monthly meeting presented by The Memory Team. Tori told him that being nervous is good, up to a point. He glowered. After the preliminaries, Monte began with, “Forget Alzheimer’s or any kind of dementia. Just run your life the best you can, and do what you want as much as you can.”

Then somebody in the crowd shouted, “Easy for you to say.”

That ticked off Monte, all things considered. “Yeah, and I can say that, too.” He looked at the people in the chairs and continued to discuss his disorder. “FTD is an umbrella term for a number of brain disorders, not a bunch of florist shops,” which got a few snickers from the chairs. “Disorders like Alzheimer’s and Primary Progressive Aphasia.” He went on to explain that he was in the early stages of PPA, and he emphasized that he was thankful for this time when he could still do things almost as well as before, but more slowly and sometimes forgetfully.

“Whatever stage of your disorder, make the most of it, because you may lose what you have at any time,” he said. “Don’t mope!” That launched another laugh. Then he looked down at his pages with the three topics. Beginning again, he said, “And now, to the story of my strange and scary incident at work.”

After he described each part of the rush to safety, there was a swarm of questions about the exodus, and a heckler popped off, “You sound like a disgruntled employee, some sad sack who got the shitty end of the stick. Why are you talking about all this stuff that happened one day at work, and nobody got hurt except maybe the boss?”

“I don’t want to talk about that part of the incident,” Monte said.

“You sound like a fraud.”

“If you say so,” Monte said. Next, he summed up and finished with “Don’t mope!”

He hoped to break free from the gaggle at the podium and move to the refreshments, but he was caught. Cable gave him a thumbs up from across the room. Conversation covered short-term memory, difficulty with finding words, and spelling issues. As Monte was getting ready to leave, he saw a tall woman approaching, with a white mane of hair like spun candy.

She reached him with congratulations. “I like that title, ‘Forget Alzheimer’s.’”

“Thank you.”

“I wanted to say more, but I forgot. This is what I get for becoming a senior citizen.”

“I’m a senior citizen, too,” Monte said.

“I have more seniority than you, Mr. Thompson. Oh, I’m Nova Grimes, a writer who can’t write much anymore.”

“What kind of writing?”

“Novels of love, dissension and redemption—or revenge,” she said with a smirk.

“I used to write stuff for outdoor magazines. I’m the trail walker who can’t walk very far anymore, and I’m also the voice-over guy who can hardly talk.”

“You were reasonably fluent up there.”

“I had a script,” Monte said.

“How did you get here?” Nova asked.

“My nephew drove me.”

“My daughter Abbey and my granddaughter Celeste drive me around. Otherwise, I’m housebound.” She quickly thrust a business card into his hand. “Text me. Call me, please.”

Monte looked down at the cookie selection and when he looked back, she was gone.

—   —   —

For a few days, Monte examined Nova Grimes’ card, repeatedly. He thought about her being in the publishing world and himself a newly retired marketing scribe. What was it that she wanted from him?

Writer of original stories and novels

Editor of books and periodicals

Special projects

He googled her and found many pages of real work, but the references stopped three years ago. Monte decided he couldn’t lose anything but a few minutes of texting. She seemed to be a reasonable person. Nova replied, thanking him for contacting her and praising him on his talk and the way he handled that heckler. She asked Monte to call the next day, around two o’clock, if he were free to chat by voice, not fingers. Texting, they chatted about being retired, and Monte asked what more she wanted out of life. She replied, “I want good conversation, that’s all.” Before she logged off, she wrote, “I just want to expand my horizons.”

At the appointed time, he called and they chatted about horizons—beyond visits to church, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and Walmart. Abbey set strict rules for when Nova was alone in the house: Don’t use the stove, don’t use the space heater, don’t answer the doorbell, and don’t go outside, all so she wouldn’t get lost or burn the house down.

“It seems a bit much,” Monte said. “Are you on your own, ever?”

“They both work at the noodle company. Sometimes Celeste comes back for lunch. Abbey calls all the time to check on me. It drives me crazy.”

“And what about your writing and editing?”

“That’s a long story. Maybe we can meet and talk about it.”

“Or, how about an early afternoon movie?” Monte, thinking he could persuade Cable to do the driving to Nova’s house, then to the movie complex, and the reverse afterward. “Think of what you want to see.”

—   —   —

As Monte and Cable arrived, Nova, wearing a long velvet top, slim tie-cuff pants, and sandals, presented her choice: “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” Celeste offered to be the driver and chaperone, but Nova said that wasn’t necessary. Celeste could hold down the fort at home.

“Working around Abbey: That’s kinda adolescent, don’t you think?” Monty said. “All those rules?”

“I’ll tell you,” Celeste said. “One night when Gramma was still living alone, she went on a long walk and Mom couldn’t find her. Mom was scared then and she’s scared still. She doesn’t want her to be on her own.”

“Why not just text Abbey to let her know where we’re going?” Monte said.

“No, we’re going, and nobody else needs to know.”

At the enormous complex, Nova took Monte’s hand as he steered her out of foot traffic in the middle of the hall. He said, “Just to make sure, this isn’t a date, right?”

“No, not a date! I was holding your hand so I wouldn’t lose you, that’s all. Isn’t it great to go somewhere other than a doctor’s appointment?”

After another few paces, Nova paused at the women’s room. Monte said he’d wait for her if she wanted to stop in. As he loitered, he thought about the time that women used in the bathroom and his mood went from puzzled, to a little annoyed, to worried and then to terror-stricken. Feeling ridiculous, he stopped a woman about to enter the ladies room, and he asked the stranger to look for a tall, skinny, elderly woman with long white hair. Monte did not see the woman who he stopped, and he had not found Nova. He went through the building with growing panic. Then, in an explosive glimpse of puffy white hair, he saw Nova and went to her. Nova was whimpering and Monte was sweating, his heart pounding. They seized each other in a smothering clutch.

“Where were you?” Nova asked.

“What happened? Where did you go?”

“Going to the movies is harder than I thought it would be.”

“I think I know what happened,” he said. “There are two doors for the bathrooms. You went out the other door, and you expected me to be right there.”

“Really, two doors?”

“Keep holding my hand.”

They found the right screen with plenty of time to chat about losing and finding each other, and feeling small in the massive maze.

Monte said, “You know, back there at the ladies room, I wanted to shout out your name, but my brain hadn’t uploaded your name yet. That’s really bad. Sorry.”

“Hey, I get it. One time, I looked at my daughter, and I didn’t know who she was. It was for just a minute. She was really worked up about that. So was I. Since it happened once, it might happen again.”

They were silent through most of the film, until the scene where Billie is thrust off the stage and the police arrest her. Nova shouted “bastards!” Another voice yelled a refrain,cops!” At the end of the film, with Billie in a hospital with liver failure, Nova expelled a soft groan.

When they left the complex, Monte was getting fretful about Cable’s timing. They needed to get back before Abbey did. Grimacing, he said, “We could be late.”

“So what? Don’t worry about Abbey. I’m still the big mama in that house, even though I’m all messed up.”

When they arrived at Nova’s house, Abbey’s car was in the driveway. They approached the front door. Loud angry voices emanated from inside.

“That’s Abbey and Celeste,” Nova said.

“You OK?” Monte asked.

Nova nodded and told them, “Stay here!” But Monte got his foot in the door before Nova could shut it. 

They all entered and faced Abbey’s rage. “Hey, here you are, little miss delinquent with your juvenile shambles of an escort. Who’s that lunkhead, the wingman?” She glared at Cable and continued. “What were you doing? You could be one of those pathetic faces on the evening news. You could be wandering into another state. You could have been hurt!”

“Oh, Abbey, we went to a movie.”

Celeste was trying to say something. Abbey told her to shut up. Cable also was silenced. Monte looked back and forth as the women went at it.

“You shut up, Abbey,” Nova said. “Nothing happened. I’m not gonna sit here all day. Your rules are good for you, but not for me. I want more from the rest of my pitiful life.”

“All of these things that I’ve put into action—the security, the rules, my calls—are for your protection, Mom,” Abbey said. “Who’s your boyfriend? Don’t tell me.”

Nova sent out a peel of laughter. “I don’t have a boyfriend. Do you, my dear?”

Celeste barked, “Gramma can do what she wants!”

Abbey said, “Sure, she can, and I can scrape her off the pavement. And as for you, baby girl with the nose ring, you lied to me. You let Gramma out of the house with that baboon!” She paused for a moment to shove Monte and Cable out of the house.

Monte hopped into Cable’s pickup and they drove the short distance in silence until Cable slapped the steering wheel and said, “I really feel a whole lot better now that we’re outta that fuckin’ cat fight.”

“It was my idea,” Monte said, shaking his head.

“To get into a cat fight?”

“No! The movie. It was only a movie.”

—   —   —

The next day, Cable was supposed to pick up his dad at the airport, but he’d forgotten about it. Larry and Monte were brothers, though not particularly close. Larry was flying in from LA for a long weekend. Monte shook the car keys in Cable’s direction and told him that he might be late. “For what?” Cable asked. “Oh, shit, my dad! But I need to get to work!” The Error Code Bar was celebrating its grand re-opening after a year of being shuttered.

“Get your ass outta here. I’ll call for a limo for your dad. He’ll want first class.”

Monte understood the reasons for his visit: to be sure Cable was gainfully employed, and to check on Monte’s health. The only enjoyment Monte could see having his older brother around would be to make a few ridiculous remarks at his brother’s expense, like when they were kids. Monte always thought of Larry as a dull blowhard, bragging about his business and getting nosy about other people. He’d made it big in the tech world and seemed perpetually disappointed in Cable. Larry hadn’t been in contact much with Monte since the diagnosis, either. He expected a less-than-happy visit. He checked Larry’s flight; it was thirty minutes late.

Once he arrived, the peaceful lull was broken; Larry barged in, grousing non-stop about the flight. Monte toted his bags up to the spare room, noting no twinges from his hip, grateful for last year’s hip surgery. But what happened to traveling light? Next, Larry was asking for wine and something to eat.

“How about cheese and crackers? No wine. Cable might have a bottle of Jim Bean.”

“Where’s Cable?”


“So, that’s something anyway. Why didn’t you pick me up?”

“I don’t drive anymore,” Monte said. “Not for a couple of months now.”


“I probably could drive, but I don’t want to. If I get stopped by a cop, even for just a broken tail light, my speech might be blocked, and the cop might think I’m stoned or drunk.”

“Are you messing with me?” Larry asked.

“In a sense,” Monte said, enjoying Larry’s confusion.

“You said you had that aphasia thing.”

“Oh, yes, aphasia, she’s my girlfriend.”

“Why are you saying such idiotic things? Is it dementia or what?”

Monte laid out the jargon, the cognitive faculties that would be degrading over time, and that there was no cure. “Too bad you weren’t here for my speech.”

“Any clinical trials?” Larry asked.

“Yes, but somebody would have to drive me three-hundred miles every month to participate. If I want to go somewhere, it won’t be to a research center for scientists to gather data for five years, and for what?”

“What about your work trauma thing?” Larry asked. “Flashbacks, trouble sleeping? Also, have you thought about selling your house and moving into an independent living place? It’s a seller’s market, you know. ”

As Monte tried to keep up with Larry’s barrage of questions, Tori came in the back door, dragging a tote bag. She looked totally drained, sweaty and tired. She and Larry greeted each other. Monte forgot for a moment that they’d met last year.

“What happened to you, little lady?” Larry asked.

“Tori has four jobs, and this one’s in a branch bank,” Monte said.

“Yes, very busy,” Tori said, trudging back to her car. Returning, she transported her bounty of a big take-out carton from Wingin’ Chickin and placed it on the table.

“Thirty-six wings. Save some for Cable. I’m not sure when he’ll be home.” She found the beer and the Jim Beam and brought it all to the table. 

“Wonderful,” Larry said. “You really understand hospitality better than my brother. I really mean it.”

Larry ate twelve, Monte six, and Tori four.

Larry asked about her jobs and how she tracked her income and expenses.

She reported about personal shopping, pet sitting, balancing the books for food-truck owners, and working in a bank during off-hours. “I always get paid immediately because I have a card swiper on my phone that funnels my money direct to my bank account. Nobody can say, ‘Oh, I don’t have it on me right now.’”

“What do you do at the bank?” Larry asked.

“If you really must know, I scrub floors and toilets.”

Larry persisted in asking her about her resourceful approach toward work, droning on and on. Tori seemed to like the attention. Monte found it annoying.

Later in the evening, Monte didn’t want to listen to Larry, so he went to bed. After a few minutes, he was awakened by Cable’s entrance and the charged voices of both Larry and Cable. Monte could heard them arguing. It was a little after midnight. Larry had knocked back the rest of Cable’s bottle of Jim Beam, and there wasn’t much beer left, either. Cable was peeved and went upstairs, stomping hard; Tori followed, and their raised voices made sleep almost impossible.

—   —   —

Before breakfast, Tori told Monte that Cable found an old bottle of Percocet pills in Monte’s bedroom and was ready to help himself. That’s what the fight was about. She was still livid. “Opioids! He’s a likable guy, but he doesn’t have good judgment. He’s not for me.”

 “I’ll deal with that,” Monte said.

 “Don’t tell Larry. Cable has too much on his plate now.”

“My fault. I should have dumped those pills long ago. Those were from my hip surgery. Cable is really stressed about his dad and his new job, but no excuse.”

Later in the morning, Monte went with Cable to get groceries. They sat in the pickup and sorted out Cable’s problems in a way that made both feel good. Cable apologized and assured Monte that he would stay on track to help Monte with the things he couldn’t do anymore.

 When they returned they found Tori and Larry at Monte’s desk, pouring over his medical and financial documents, and looking up the value of his home according to Zillow. Larry was pontificating about the gig economy and advising Tori how to successfully move into the corporate economy. Monte was absolutely furious. 

“What the hell are you doing with my stuff?”

“We were only trying to help,” Tori said. She avoided Monte’s glare and had the grace to look a bit guilty.

“Is this the snooping economy? Whaddaya say, big brother? Hey, Tori, you know everything from Larry about the schmooze economy and the boot-licking economy. How about the go-away-and-don’t-come-back economy!” His hands shook as he tried to gather up various papers from the desk.

“Uncle, I don’t blame you, but just chill. Dad, why do you have to keep doing this shit?”  

Tori turned to Cable and said, “Larry has some good ideas for my employment.” She turned and left the room as Cable stood there shaking his head, not knowing what to say.

“This is fucked up. So, now what?” Monte asked.

“We really need to talk about things once you’re willing to listen,” Larry said. “Not that you ever will though. At least Tori gets what I’m saying.”

“I’ve listened long enough. You need to listen to me! I’m done with this.”     

Cable helped Monte collect his documents and put them in a briefcase. Then Cable suggested he and Monte take a walk around the pond at a nearby park to calm down a bit. Getting out of the house would be good.

When they returned, Larry’s luggage was gone and Tori’s belongings that she’d had in Cable’s room were gone, too. A short note was on the kitchen table propped up with a juice glass. In Tori’s handwriting, the note said, Taking UAL to LAX. We tried our best. Bye!

“What? Isn’t this weird? Larry and Tori? This makes no sense.” Monte said.

“Really screwy, for sure,” Cable said. “I get my dad; he’s been like that all the time. But Tori? Yeah, my fault. Anyway, I gotta go to work.”

Monte noticed a text from Larry: “Will call you soon.” He wanted to send a snarky reply, but that would start another dustup. He wouldn’t reply. He needed peace and quiet.

—   —   —

Monte tried to reach Nova every day for almost a week with no response. Cable told Monte that he was moping, and he agreed—moping about the crap from Larry, which Monte understood as issues that he needed to deal with, but it just bugged him that he couldn’t reach Nova. With a stroke of brilliance, he called Celeste. She told Monte that Nova was under the weather but she would be up for a visit any time, cleared by Abbey.

So, Monte asked Cable for a ride to Nova’s place, once again.

During the drive, Monte recalled some fragments of things Nova had said about losing parts of your brain and about which disease was worse: Alzheimer’s or word-loss disorder. Either way, you could end up in the same place.

“Wow, that’s really depressing,” Cable said.

“Well, it’s my world now,” said Monte. “Just trying to get a handle on things.”

Once they arrived, Cable announced he would stay in the pickup.

“Hey, Abbey’s just protective,” Monte said. “OK, that ‘wingman’ comment probably still stings. So stay here. I’ll be out soon.”

Abbey’s door-bell camera sounded Monte’s arrival. When he stepped into the living room, Abbey gripped his shoulder and apologized for her previous outburst. “I’m glad you came, but take it easy.”

With a gentle knock, Monte entered Nova’s room. He found Nova in a chair with a book in her lap, possibly sleeping. “Hey, Nova,” Monte whispered. “How are you?”


“What are you reading today?”

“Sorry, I’m not grasping who you are.”

“Oh, I was with you when you yelled ‘bastards!’ in a full theater.”

“I did?” Nova said. “I did!” She looked up at him and grinned. “Monte!”

“Yes, it’s me!” 

“Now Abbey will let me go places with people we know, if I keep in touch. Juvie stuff, but better than nothing. She decided you’re OK.”

“How did that happen?” Monte asked.

“Celeste bombarded her with all the good stuff she found about you online, those outdoors articles and the speech at The Memory Team.”

“How does Celeste make it from the doghouse to the penthouse so quickly?”

“She’s smart.”

He sat next to the bed as they chatted about the movie. She did seem pretty wiped out. When he went back to the living room, Abbey asked him how Nova looked.

“I’m not sure, she might have just been tired,” Monte said. “Anyway, she had a laugh.”

Back in the pickup, he told Cable about his visit.

“So, what you’re saying is, it was good, but maybe watch movies at home,” Cable said.

—   —   —

Next morning, Monte made a protein breakfast of eggs and sausages. He asked Cable to take him to the beginning of the rail trail. It was a great day for a hike and he wanted to make the most of it. Cable said he could drop him off, but he couldn’t pick him up until later. The bar was changing its decor and Cable would have to work a double shift. Monte was OK with that; he had packed plenty of water and a few energy bars. The day was sunny and his hip wasn’t giving him any trouble. It was so calming, being outside. After a while, he went off the trail onto a hilly path, just to see where it went. In no time, he ran into a guy riding an ATV. He hopped off his four wheeler and accosted Monte with a threatening stance. He told Monte that he was standing on his land and he needed to leave. Spontaneous conversations were the worst for Monte. He was jittery as he hoped words would pop out. He started to talk but every lane of speech was blocked. There wasn’t any script for this! He made an about-face and went back to the trail, shaken by the encounter. He hoped he wouldn’t see that guy again.

Monte didn’t check his phone until lunch, when he found a long text from Larry telling him that he and Tori would come back later that day, and apologized about the invasion of Monte’s documents. Tori also sent voicemail apologies.

“We went to LA for a little fun and I ended up getting a job there in mobile banking, thanks to Larry,” she said. “I got just a week to pack, fly and find a place to live. Isn’t that great!”

At first, Monte was annoyed with Larry, then thought he should learn to be more amicable. After all, Nova was working through family issues; he could, too.

As he finished his hike, he called Cable to see when he would be able to pick him up.

“Not yet. Stay at the trailhead and hang,” Cable said.

Monte sat on a stump for a while, then strolled around the area, noting a stream, a run-down house, and a highway sign decorated with bullet holes. Weirdly, a stretch limo rolled slowly up to the trailhead. The doors opened and piling out of the vehicle came Larry, Cable, and Tori. They seemed excited to see him.

“Hey, we’re on our way to the restaurant of a great country club, Three Sycamores,” Larry said. “We’re all going.”

Monte was sizing up Larry, wondering how he could so easily help Tori but not his son or brother. What was going on? At least Larry came back. Maybe he was going to be reasonable after all.

“Hey, how’s the hip?” Cable asked. “I took a long dinner hour. I brought you clean clothes. You can shower at the clubhouse. You’re really ripe.”

“Monte, smile, OK?” Tori said. “What did you see on your walk?”

“A grumpy guy. I tried to talk to him. It wasn’t pretty.”

“Well, keep talking,” she said. “I looked up aphasia.”

“Yeah, I know about that, too,” Monte said, as they climbed into the limo.


Ed Peaco is a writer of short stories and a freelance writer of articles about music. His work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Alabama Literary Review, Santa Fe Contest, and other journals. During the COVID years when musicians were locked out, Peaco had very little to write about for an article. However, music can be funneled into the short story, such as Langston Hughes’s “Dance.”


The Punk of Spring or The Rite of Punk 

By Ed Peaco

According to Amazon, the score of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring cost $14.93 in paperback. This discovery delighted guitarist Franko Tucker, a self-branded prog-punk musician who was hipped to Stravinsky by Hermes Agee, a young Franko fan and fellow guitarist, though classically trained. From their friendship, they decided to make a punk version of The Rite of Spring for Franko’s band, Franko and the Futile. Franko had just turned 30 and wondering what he’d accomplished in life, and he realized he needed Hermy’s conservatory expertise to pull it off.

Franko, a tattooed stick figure of a man whose main nutrition came from bar food or what could be eaten quickly from a can, was squabbling with The Futile over whether to work up The Rite of Spring or play covers of songs people liked and knew. The Futile (prematurely balding drummer Merk Moskwa with his fedora, and Fletcher Harrington on bass with a heavy keychain slung over his hip) weren’t getting how cool The Rite of Spring could be. Franko settled the matter when Hermy, back from Berklee for the summer, insisted on Stravinsky and insisted to be there to avoid total collapse.

Hermy, currently wearing a man bun and a vintage sport jacket with elbow patches, had enlisted two players from his former high-school group, the Teen Strings, to make the effort sound more or less like Stravinsky. He demonstrated on his tablet with a music keyboard.

While Hermy was a necessity, Franko sometimes found him arrogant, an egghead type, irksome. However, he worked well with The Futile. They came around when Hermy told them their roles would be mostly the same — Fletch’s fuzz-bass throb, Merk’s double-bass kick-drum machine-gun approach. Better for The Futile, Hermy wrote a couple of raucous punk pieces for them — “Punk Prelude” and “Pots and Pans” — despite his mother’s preference that he stay on a strictly classical path.

Franko sported a colorful sleeve of tattoos on one arm, a scene of slithering creatures emerging from jungle greenery. He had a good fan base, at least in the sprawling city of Bristol Springs, Missouri. But some of his old friends from high school were the kind of folks he’d now normally avoid, as they were excelling in their careers and starting families.

He made an exception for Olivia Ellis, who he remembered from concert band.

One day, in Walmart, he was wearing his LeBron James number 23 jersey and shorts. He thought he spotted her in Produce, but he could have been wrong. He remembered Olivia as a gangly girl with long, shiny dark hair, strong minded, prickly, with few friends. He recalled she was married to a guy named Bob. But 12 years later, she looked filled-out, curvy. Her hair was short now, with a long shock that fell over her right eye. He had to say hello.

“Wow, you’ve put on a whole lot of ink since I saw you last — maybe since school?” she said.

“It’s on my fingering arm, to keep peoples’ eyes on me,” he said. “I’m making enough cash with my music these days: casinos, private parties, exhibition halls.” Thankfully, he wouldn’t have to talk about meeting quotas in call centers or busting down boxes at loading docks.

“Cool,” Olivia said. She talked about her work in real estate. “Did you know I’m working on a new development on the Central Square? Didn’t you say you lived there, on the west side of the square?”

“Yes, I heard something about that.” He had received numerous booklets and updates in the mail about the project, and consistently ignored them.

“The plans are for mixed use. You might end up where you are, but nicer — elevator, no more stairs.”

“How’s Bob?”

“Who, Shithead? His real name can’t be used,” she said with a clenched fist.

“I get the gist.”

“No, you don’t,” she said with piercing, dark eyes. “There’s more. I got a great attorney and the house.” Then Olivia launched into a story of being screwed at the real estate office where she worked. “I coddled a bunch of investors over a month or more,” she said. “I wiped their asses! Then the boss took me off the project. I don’t care anymore.”

They made plans for lunch after he returned from a two-week mini-tour of Russellville, St. Joseph, Ottumwa, Marshalltown, Kirksville and La Crosse.


After the overnight haul from La Crosse, the first thing Franko did was hit Aunt Millie’s for a pancake breakfast. Then he went to his fourth-floor walkup, but he found that fencing, blockades and huge wrecking machines were in place.

He bawled like a cow as he remembered he forgot about the demolition. He fell to his knees and bawled again, loud enough to be heard on the other side of the square. Franko had meant to look at the information before he left for the mini-tour, but as usual, he blew it off.

Now he was panicking, sweating in his armpits and crotch. He thought about Olivia Ellis. He couldn’t find her phone number at first, then he found it in his contacts.

Thankfully, she picked up. He tried to speak to her, but he was slobbering: “Help. I fucked up! Really fucked! Forgot. What to do, help me, help me. Help!”

“What’s going on?” she asked, trying to extract what Franko’s trouble was. He hadn’t removed his belongings from his studio apartment. “Stay where you are. I’ll meet you there. Franko, just breathe.”

When she arrived downtown, people were standing around, watching the setup for tear-down activities.

“All of this probably happened a day or two after the band headed out on the tour,” he said.

“Did you really leave all your shit in the building and go away for two weeks?”

“’Fraid so, but I did have some stuff with me.”

She swept into action, grabbed some city official in a suit, tie and orange plastic hard hat. He said they had a lost-and-found in the Public Works building, just a few blocks off the square. The plastic-hard-hat fellow told Franko to go there immediately.

“Could I take a quick look in my place before everything falls apart?” Franko asked.

The hard-hat’s reply: “No.”

At Public Works, Franko was grateful to find some of his belongings: boxed-up documents, a plastic tub including random things like dishes and a few books, a skateboard, spare guitar and keyboard, but not his laptop. He felt foolish but pleased to be with Olivia. He asked about his ancient MacBook laptop, but it was not among his effects.

Franko thanked the official and stood awkwardly, then skulked away. He returned to the square, where the crowd had expanded. Olivia drove home in her 370Z two-seater. She promised to return shortly with her spacious Chrysler 300 she kept for tooling around with clients. Well-to-do people in the crowd were cheering, and a few activists flew black flags indicating contempt over the destruction of longstanding structures.

Franko felt like flying a black flag, too, but he spent time avoiding people he recognized. After a time of sinking hope, Olivia returned. They filled the back seat and the trunk with Franko’s diminished chattel. He asked about the two upscale rides. “They’re used. You know, impression is everything in the real estate game,” she said.

—   —   —

Franko’s items actually amounted to a fairly substantial heap. They unloaded his crap into a spare room at the back part of her house, where Olivia made a place for Franko to work and sleep until he could find a place of his own.

“Have you checked with your insurance people?” Olivia asked.

“Who?” he asked, “No,” not wanting to admit he thought renter’s insurance was a big waste.

“You might get a check for some of your losses.”

Franko said, “My laptop is all I really want. It has all my music — all the tracks for The Rite of Spring. I had to break down and redo what Stravinsky did. I thought I was being brilliant by leaving the laptop behind so it wouldn’t be lost on the tour.”

“Have you heard of a memory stick, or even better: the Cloud?” He sat on an ottoman and hung his head between his knees. “I have a Mac. It’s got GarageBand. Use mine,” she said.

“Will I bother you staying here?”

“No, nice to have you here instead of Shithead.”

After dinner, Hermy came over to Olivia’s place to work on The Rite of Spring with Franko. Hermy plugged in and messed around with some intricate chord changes for a few minutes and immediately blew Franko’s mind.

“You have more talent in one broken fingernail than all the gray matter in my little tiny cranium,” Franko said.

“Have you actually looked at what Igor did?”

“Yes, that’s why I’m freaking out. I’m inputting chunks of The Rite of Spring in ways that will make sense for a six-piece. Franko and The Futile is just a simple garage band. What did I get myself into? Can we loop some of this?”

“No, folks will think it’s canned, and they’ll be right. We’ll just have to do the best we can.”

“One bar of 3/4, next one bar of 5/4, to a bar of 7/4, and, for a breather, three bars of 6/4, and back to 5/4. That’s why I’m getting ready for these screwy rhythms. And that’s why Merk and Fletch need something they can handle. Igor has made it really hard.”

Franko cued the second “episode” of The Rite of Spring on Spotify, then he gyrated and lurched from the abrupt directions of the piece. “We need a different title: The Punk of Spring or The Rite of Punk. Or both!

By now it was midnight, and Olivia was sleeping. Franko and Hermy decided to take a walk around the block. It was a mild evening. Halfway around, Franko was bathed in a sweet scent of something. He advanced toward the scent; he didn’t really know where it came from — flowering shrubs? He stepped onto the springy grass, seeking a more intense aroma.

“Hey, you better stay off people’s lawns. They don’t like that,” Hermy said.

At that moment, Franko detonated a ringing alarm, along with several flashes from the front-door area. A clumsily moving figure dashed out with a huge flashlight. The alarm stopped. The scowling man’s unruly hair became gauzy in the back-lit spotlight.

Franko, remaining stone-cadaverous still, saw that the approaching figure was wearing pajamas and a bathrobe. The garment slunk at an angle, with one side drooping. Then a big dog, growling and barking, appeared beside the man.

“Good morning, gentlemen. I’m Pleetus Ambercrombie,” he said, glaring at Franko. “And who, the fuck, are you?”

Then another fellow emerged from a home across the street and moved toward the others.

Pleetus looked over at the emerging neighbor. “Take it easy, Gibby,” Pleetus said. “I got Adolf here. He’s got a good bark that makes folks take notice.”

“But you might want to straighten up your britches,” Gibby told Pleetus. “These guys don’t look like much of a threat to me.”

Franko attempted to engage Pleetus, but the scruffy homeowner put his hand up like a traffic cop giving the stop signal.

“No trespassing,” Pleetus said.

Franko noticed that Pleetus had a chin beard about eight inches long, decorated with short stacks of beads.

Glaring at Franko, Pleetus thrust his hand into the pocket in the drooping side of his pajama bottoms and said, “Don’t approach me.”

Franko backed up. “Sorry, I just wanted to smell the shrubs. We’re just out for a walk. I’m staying around the corner.”

Pleetus busted out in an eruption of chuckling. “You’re a shrub smeller, ay?”

The big dog closed in on Franko, who tried to move away. It was making a muttering sound and did a half-circle to get behind Franko. Adolf was busy: nuzzling, growling and nipping. Then Franko felt something. “Hey, that dog bit me! Call him off!”

Pleetus said, “Adolf won’t hurt you. Nothing to worry about.” Gibby looked on, eyes darting from Pleetus to the two interlopers. “Go back to your house, Gibby,” Pleetus said. Then he focused on Franko and patted the drooping pocket of his pajamas. Pleetus called the dog, and it reluctantly returned to his master.

Franko pulled out his phone shakily and made a call. Luckily, Olivia picked up.

“Who’s yer callin’?” Pleetus asked.

“Our friend Olivia. She lives around the block,” Franko said.

“Oh, L’il’ Olive Oyl,” Pleetus said. “Just keep in mind, I got access.”

“To what?” Franko asked.

“I got access to use a firearm. Don’t approach me. Just think about what ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ means to you in your situation.” Pleetus patted his bulky pajama pocket, causing the bottoms to droop to his knees before he could hoist them up.

Franko had a little nervous titter over that, and Hermy whispered to him to shut up.

A vehicle arrived and parked two houses down the street. Olivia emerged. “Hey, I’m looking at you. Yes, you, Pleetus, the Barney Fife bum-fuck of the block,” she said. “You know the police have blown you off.”

“No trespassing,” Pleetus said.

“You are a pathetic old man. Just go back to bed with your dog,” Olivia said, as Adolf resumed barking.

Olivia corralled Franko and Hermy and brought them away from the fray. As they packed themselves into the 370Z, she explained that people have door-bell cameras for security. “I wish I’d told you all of this before I fell asleep,” she said. “Pleetus’s system is on a really sensitive trigger, and the lens is really powerful. He’s known as a local nut job.”


Franko stayed up that night, recreating the score on Olivia’s Mac. While taking a break, he found old-west memes on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the neighborhood website, portraying Olivia, Hermy and Franko as bandits. He recognized the photos all doctored up. Damn, the geezer had pretty good social-media skills, Franko thought.

When he woke up, Olivia was out. He hoped she wouldn’t see the pictures yet. Each mugshot was cast as an old-time sepia frame. Wording at the top of the image was One Way or Another, probably because Pleetus had enough social-media savvy not to use Dead or Alive.

Later in the morning, the two other perpetrator/victims of Pleetus’s digital onslaught found out. Hermy phoned Franko to whine about his mother’s nagging him for staying out late.

Olivia texted to Franko, “messed up last night. shudda stayed away”

Franko: “gonna blow over”

Olivia: “pleetus can be toxic”

Merk and Fletcher found out, too, and they thought the photos were fantastic. The only thing they didn’t like was that they weren’t included.

—   —   —

That evening at rehearsal, Hermy focused on the business of The Futile not being able to deal with five, seven, and such. “Not judging, just sayin’.”

Franko nodded toward The Futile and said, “Listen up.”

Hermy introduced Brianna and Bethany, twins from the Teen Strings, and handed out some sheets. “They’re known as The B’s.”

“Who’s who?” Merk asked.

“It’s easy to tell them apart,” Hermy said. “Bri plays the violin and has one side of her head shaved. Beth plays cello and has really long hair.” Then he launched into some notes. “The B’s will play the main dance melodies — ”

“ — if you can call them melodies with those brutal changing time signatures,” Bri said. “I had to add 13 new time sigs into my software. I haven’t feared time so dreadfully.”

“I wrote a short piece in four that will sound Rite of Spring-ish, or call it something else. It’s something you guys can riff on when we need it. Everything will be integrated,” Hermy said.

“Hold up,” Beth said. “This is the coolest — the really bitchin’est stuff — we’ll play until college. Hey, Bri, are you saying we should water down this stuff just for convenience?”

Bri swiveled toward her sister: “It’s a score for a ballet. How can dancers step to all this tangled rhythm? Some of that pounding at the end could just as well be in three or four.”

“Igor didn’t want to make it easy, but we can if we want to,” Hermy said. “Franko and The Futile will play over the B’s in 4/4 or just go orgasmic.”

“Or like a three-year-old?” Fletcher asked.

“Same for me?” Merk asked. “Noise ahoy! That’s ‘Pots and Pans,’ right?”

“Let’s carve out a chunk of the score so each player gets a solo. Do whatever we can,” Beth said. “There’s a lot of momentous shit for all of us.”

“I’ll point when we want explosives,” Hermy said. “Then I’ll give the throat-cut sign to back off. Don’t worry, Bri, the strings will be amped up just like everything else.”

“Hey, Hermy,” Beth said. “If it’s OK with you, let the B’s name thing go by the wayside? This will be our first professional gig.”

“So, how do you want to be called?” Hermy asked.

“By our names.”


Franko had two T-shirts for gigs, the prog choice, showing Frank Zappa’s album, “Hot Rats”; or the punk selection with a smiling skeleton holding a cocktail with “Holiday in Cambodia” by the Dead Kennedys. Zappa was the choice for his prog show of all prog shows.

The B’s showed up at the Error Code Bar, each wearing a Teen Strings hoodie.

Before set-up, Franko wanted to give a pep talk, but he couldn’t get anyone’s attention. Instead, he just chatted with Merk and Fletcher, while the B’s whispered between themselves about Hermy.

Merk interrupted the B’s, seeking another review of who’s who. Then Hermy went over some rough places and how he’ll cue them. The two string players tuned up, then they switched instruments and tuned again.

The B’s had a good laugh while others were confused, not getting the twins’ humor.

It was hit time, but few people were in the place yet. Two tables were occupied by girlfriends and the father of the B’s. Hoping to lure sidewalk traffic, Franko kept the front door open and continued to call for numerous unnecessary sound checks. After a while, the musicians got bored with the sound checks and dispersed.

Bri played magic tricks to pass the time. Beth fidgeted through all the sound checks and chewed gum to bother her sister. They decided to lose the hoodies; they’d be too hot on stage.

The open door brought in a few people. However, the tactic lured a police officer in as well. In a professional tone, the officer told Mike, the proprietor, that the loud music coming out of the open door was disturbing the patrons of the restaurant next door who were dining al fresco.

Mike told Franko, “Never prop the front door open ever again, and never do anything that would cause a cop to enter the building.”

Then eight young women barged in and told Franko, who was sitting on a bar stool, that they were on a bachelorette scavenger hunt. They assumed Franko was the owner. After a little banter with the women, he sent them to Mike. They had a large list, including something soft and something hard — “Could be from the same guy,” said the ring leader. After this quip, massive merriment burst out among the squad. Mike poured complimentary shots of cheap vodka all around and handed out beer coasters as business cards. Franko wished he were the owner and could have poured free shots for eight women.

The scavengers left after a disorderly chat with Mike, and in a short time, the room was beginning to fill up. The band assembled again. Olivia arrived and hopped onto the stage and collared Franko. “Hey, remember, if you make anything from your show, it goes to mortgage and food.”

Once Franko sent Olivia off the stage and the musicians assembled, they made a last and genuine sound check. He greeted the crowd, which was big for Franko and The Futile. They began to play The Punk of Spring or The Rite of Punk, with a two-part overture, “Pots and Pans” melting into the “Prelude to The Punk of Spring,” both by the trio of The Futile. Then the strings and Hermy executed some Stravinsky time fracturing.

Twenty minutes or so into the performance, in Episode Four, “Spring Rounds,” Franko thought he was seeing something around the front door. As people were moving toward the stage, he could make out an elderly bearded fellow wearing a black full-dress tailcoat tux and a stovetop hat. He was speaking into a bullhorn and scurrying table to table. During a quiet passage, the bullhorn overtook the music.

Franko thought it was some kind of fire alarm or tornado thing. He couldn’t hear the music. The bullhorn sounded like puking in his head. Then he could hear, and he heard words:

“Stop! You must stop!”

“You’re destroying America!”

“Degenerate music! Europe syrup!”

The crowd booed the intruder, but Franko still didn’t know what was up. He turned to the band and called for more “Pots and Pans.” Then he jumped off the stage, where he could more clearly hear the spew of the bullhorn.

“Degenerate intellectuals!”

“Horseface cosmopolitan!”

“A total botch-job sleaze!”

Franko realized that the asshole with the bullhorn was none other than Pleetus and his intricate chin beard. Adolph the dog was by his side.

Franko found a security guy. “Where were you?” Franko asked. “He needs to leave!”

“I thought it was part of the show. Sorry, boss.”

“The dog goes too,” Franko said.

“Dog? I thought it was one of them comfort critters. We’ll get it, chief.”

Bereft of his bullhorn, Pleetus could still bellow. On his trip toward the sidewalk, he had one more chant: “No trespassing!”

Franko hopped back on stage for the end of “Pots and Pans.” The crowd cheered.

The string players launched into the last episode of “Part 1, The Adoration of the Earth,” which sounded like a different kind of chaos. A ferocious, extended roar came from the audience. The plan was to have an intermission, but they played through instead.

After the show, Franko said, “It seemed to go really well until Pleetus got in the way. Even when he pulled out the bullhorn, it was OK. Did you see him getting the boot?”

“We couldn’t see it,” Hermy said. “I think the audience thought he was part of the show!”

Olivia came up to compliment the band. Franko said he couldn’t find her until he came down to deal with the mess that Pleetus was making.

“I was sitting with the B’s father, and we were comforting Adolf. He was whimpering under the table because the music was so loud, poor thing,” Olivia said.

“Anyway, ‘Pots and Pans’ was fun, the ‘Prelude’ sounded like a real tune, I mean something better than the stuff I write. And the actual Igor parts blew my mind,” Franko said.

“For me, the douche with the bullhorn was the height of my evening,” Merk said.

“Hell no!” Hermy said. “The B’s were killin’ it.”

“Joke!” Merk said. “You B’s were great!”

Beth was about to say something, but Bri hushed her sister. “Don’t get worked up about people calling us B’s. Come on, just be cool. We got our names in the flier.” Bri approached Hermy, cuffed him on the upper arm and congratulated him on his solo: “The shit!”

Beth did a curtsy before Fletcher and said, “The first distorted electric-bass solo on a piece by Igor Stravinsky. Well done!”

“It wasn’t distorted, it was fuzzed. I like the ZVex fuzz pedal,” Fletcher said. 

“Well, oh, anyway, Igor should be here.”

Merk caught Fletcher and asked him, “Hey, about what Franko calls us, ‘The Futile.’ We aren’t futile anymore. How about ‘Franko and the Funktones’?”

“No, we must own our futility!” Fletcher shouted.

“Well, I’m not going on tour being called futile,” Merk said.


Franko never read the paper except when somebody tells him he’s in it. This time, Merk was the one to tell him. The fussy performing arts freelancer really slammed The Punk of Spring or The Rite of Punk. They got a good laugh.

Desecration of a hallowed imperative of the canon, not to be smeared with excrement by barbarians. “Pots and Pans”? Disgusting!

Hermy wrote in a text: “kinda like Pleetus, different POV”

Fletch weighed in: “excrement, cool!”

Normally, Franko ignored phone calls from people he didn’t know. A few minutes later, he listened to the voicemail. It was Jane Zhah, the music director of the Bristol Springs Symphony. He thought, another nasty review? I’m up for it! Franko immediately called back.

Zhah said she was in the Error Code Bar for The Punk of Spring or the Rite of Punk. After Franko’s sputtering, Zhah told Franko the symphony is always looking for innovative music from local and regional composers whose work could be arranged for the whole orchestra.

“We have a ‘Best of Bristol Springs’ evening every season. This process would require a great deal of work for you and your ensemble, me, and our concertmaster. I hadn’t made up my mind about next season,” she said, “but after last Friday night, I’m all in for The Punk of Spring or the Rite of Punk. How about you?”

—   —   —

Olivia, at her cubical, called Franko, still energized by his conversation with Jane Zhah. Olivia asked him to come downtown for lunch. “Pleetus is parked next to the office. He has a huge banner on the side of his pickup with our faces like those Instagrams. Everybody in the office can see it.” She sounded a little jittery.

When Franko showed up at the restaurant, he found her, elbows on the table, head in her hands. “Everybody in the office was looking out the big windows, snickering, shooting weird glances at me. I just want to unload a lot of crap from certain people making my life miserable.”

After a few minutes, she stood up and led the way out, emphasizing her need for a drink. “What’s this, a liquid lunch?” Franko asked. When they sat down at a nearby bar, Franko saw that Olivia was trying not to cry, and he decided not to hug her or touch her hand.

They cozied into a booth, and she ordered a double of Maker’s Mark. She was furious, tearing up a cocktail napkin into little balls.

“My boss fired me with a text. It said he couldn’t have bad publicity, ‘people like you here.’ Can you believe it?”

“You’ll be OK. You always wanted to be your own boss.” Franko was doing his level best not to look happy or say anything about the symphony thing.

“I would have laughed except for the humiliation, but instead I almost lost it,” she said.

He asked for a club soda with lime, and the server asked Olivia if she wanted another. Franko was surprised that she was already ready for another.

“One thing, maybe a strange thing to say: Wish my picture on the banner wasn’t so bad,” she said.

“It’s OK.”

“No, it really sucks!” She laughed.

After a third and a fourth and maybe more, Franko suggested they leave. He was concerned about what she might do next.

She said, “Well, what the fuck, screw them all!”

Later, back at the house, she calmed down. He insisted that she drink some water and eat something. Her mood soured even more.

“Mr. Franko Tucker, what did you do this fine day?” she said with a sneer.

“I ran into some friction with The Futile. They were disappointed that they didn’t get their pictures up on the banner. But I like mine.”

“You like it, do ya? I’m the only one who’s getting crapped on for this. All because of you!”

“How’s that?”

“Think about it,” she said, throwing Franko’s favorite coffee mug across the room, making a gash in the wall and scattering pieces on the floor. “I got fired, terminated, dumped — do you understand any one of those?”

“OK, OK, OK. My bad.” He moved toward her in hopes that he could prevent her from destroying something else.

Sitting on the carpet, she pulled her knees up to her chin. She said, “One good thing: You’ve been in the house for a whole week and you haven’t screamed and threatened me yet. That’s 1,000 percent better than Shithead.”

“I know it was all my fault. What can I do for you?”

“When I get some clients, you can clean homes before I put them on the market,” she said. “And sorry I smashed that mug. Oh, and Public Works found your laptop.”


Franko got busy that Thursday morning when he heard Olivia pounding stakes for a real-estate sign: Open House: Sunday 2-4. He started in the master bathroom where he expected the worst scum. It was his first cleaning job. The tub looked OK, basic white, but with every squirt of chlorine-based cleaner and each swipe of the non-abrasive scour pad, the tub got more gleaming than before. One problem about this project was that the vicious fumes irritated his eyes and throat. It wasn’t all that bad, but his fingers, palms and wrists were on fire. He wondered how his new side job would affect his guitar work.

At least he could listen to The Rite of Spring on Spotify blaring from his phone.

Franko was still working on the tub as his stomach suggested lunchtime. Thankfully, Olivia arrived just then with sandwiches. His hands had turned a rosy brilliancy.

“No gloves, no knee pads, no safety glasses?” she said. “I told you to go to Harbor Freight and get some gear. I even gave you cash to do that!”

“I didn’t think I needed gear, but I guess so.”

“Yeah, your hands are melting!”

“Not really.”

She scrounged through her bag. “Here, it’s shea butter. Spread some on and work it in.”

“Nice,” he said, but he didn’t like the smell of women’s stuff on him.

They went to the store and Olivia outfitted Franko with a pair of PVC-coated rubber gloves and construction-grade knee pads with foam padding.

“You’re treating me like a kid,” he said.

“No, I’m treating you like an adult, which you do not do for yourself,” she said. “Do you still have those five twenties?” Olivia selected the gear and placed it on the checkout counter, and Franko delivered the cash.

Back at the house, she gave Franko a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew for the afternoon. Hermy dropped in to see the place and to see what Franko was doing. Olivia gave Hermy a tour that wrapped up in the master bathroom.

“Franko’s working hard, and so am I,” she said. “I got my LLC from the state and the crap from the IRS. I sold the 370Z. Boo-hoo! But I needed quick cash.”

Hermy announced to Olivia that they were doing The Punk of Spring project again in the fall and next year with the symphony.

“Yeah, that’s all I hear from Franko,” she said.

Franko had little to say. For the first time, he had a chance to simply enjoy her presence. Her shampoo or cologne reminded him of the scent of the shrubs on Pleetus’s lawn. The association made him feel good and bad at the same time. He understood this mess had been the best thing that ever happened and the worst, tied up in a series of unlikely events.

She said she’d be visiting a few people who might want to list their homes with her. She told Franko his job was to finish cleaning the house by the end of the next afternoon, in time for the open house.

After Olivia left, Hermy sat down. They jawed about music and women, and Hermy complained about his mom.

“True, but you’re suffering from whiny-baby syndrome,” Franko said. “And you’ll be going back to school soon.”

“And isn’t it bliss without any crap from Pleetus since the show — nothing!” Hermy said.

While Franko finished the bathroom, Hermy remarked on Olivia’s beauty and her excellent lawn signs that made her look even better. “She looks like Kylie Jenner.”

“Really?” Franko said: “No, she’s older and she’s an actual person.” Then he wandered into daydreaming. He took pride in not doing something stupid, such as making a move on her. He felt like he was somehow being a grown-up, and it felt weird.

When Olivia returned, she was at first annoyed to see Hermy still there, but she eased up when she saw that Franko had made progress. “So, you really do have some useful skills — beyond the guitar,” she said.

“That wasn’t very nice, but I can live with that,” Franko said. “What about Hermy: Shouldn’t he be held accountable, too? He was there at the beginning of the whole Pleetus episode.”

“You, Hermy: You’re just an accessory,” she said. Then she turned her attention back to Franko with a guarded frown. “You’re the guy doing community service.”


Ed Peaco wrote numerous short stories in the ’80s, ’90s and early aughts. Then he took a different path as a writer for the regional newspaper where he lives, focusing on local music. This story fuses his interests in short fiction and music. He continues to write short fiction where he lives in Springfield, Missouri.
A few notes —
• Another story by Peaco is scheduled to be published in 2021: “Additional Guests” in The MacGuffin.
• “Systematic Desensitization”: Alabama Literary Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1991; and Santa Fe Writers Project fiction contest, 2002, posting among the best 65 entries
• “The Precarious Limb”: River Oak Review, Winter 2000-Spring ’01; and a reading of the piece, June 2002, Evanston (Ill.) Public Library
• Book reviews for the Antioch Review, 1996-2004