The blues festival would soon be under way. A woman with long, dyed red hair sat next to me in the auditorium. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her.
‘You don’t know who I am,’ she said, as if she had expected as much.
Was she someone I had once slept with? Was she someone I owed money to? ‘I’m sorry –’
She gave me a note written on an old scrap of paper. It was from a friend I had lost touch with years ago. In a tiny handwriting full of crossings out, there was a list of things that he had done for me and another list of things that I had done for him. The second list was much shorter.
‘Perhaps my old friend should pay more attention to his own shortcomings,’ I said to the woman. ‘He always said he would be a famous blues singer, but no one has heard of him.’
‘Just wait for the show to begin,’ she said. In her pale blue eyes (ill matched to the dyed red hair), was a glint I recognised.
The stage was huge, so I moved around as much as I could to stop it from looking so empty. I was singing Elvis to an audience in a park that stretched away as far as the eye could see. When I had done my turn, I went into the makeshift bar in a tent at the back of the stage. An old pal of mine -- who had kept his hair long from our heyday together, though it was now grey and straggly -- was getting drunk as usual. I tried to take the bottle from his hand, which everyone at the bar found both touching and uproarious. A true friend, one of them laughed.
There was a sudden stink of piss. A toilet had overflowed and piss was streaming into the tent. I was terrified of stepping into it on my way back to the stage for my second turn. My pal offered me a slug of his drink to steady my nerves. One drink led to another. By the time I got onto the stage, it was pitch black in the park, and everything had gone quiet. I had no idea if anyone was still out there to hear me sing songs into the night in a voice that was not my own.
Our American host invited us to join him for a steak in the restaurant on the top floor of the hotel. There was a great view over the bay and hills of the city, he told us. But a fat British man who had joined us said he knew of a better place where you could get sea bass fish.
‘I would prefer steak,’ I said. ‘I don’t much care for sea bass.’
‘You don’t much care for sea bass!’ he spluttered, looking me up and down with such contempt that I felt for a moment it was I who had committed the faux pas, not him.
‘Well, it’s not that I don’t like it,’ I said weakly. ‘It’s just that I think steak would be a better idea right now.’ I was hoping he would pick up on my hint that it would be a discourtesy to our American host to refuse his invitation.
In any case, none of the lifts of the hotel seemed to be working. One just went straight down to the underground floor, another went up a few feet only to shudder back down again to the floor where we were standing, while a third wouldn’t move at all. We were too frightened of doing ourselves an injury to try a fourth. The lifts acted as a kind of leveller and put an end to our quarrel.
I got a deal with him to write a script. He had produced Lassie and other famous films back in the 1940s. My wife came with me to meet him in a Hollywood café. We had to go through a field full of sheep guarded by a collie whose master had recently died. I knew she could turn nasty if you didn’t have the knack of handling her.
At the café we sat with the film producer and I began talking about my plans for the script. But instead of listening to me, he was soon flirting with my wife. She seemed quite happy to go along with him. I told them both to go to hell, tore up the contract I had been given to sign, and walked out.
The collie was waiting for me outside the café. My wife and the film producer would come to regret their behaviour when they saw how I could make her love me.
Ian Seed's latest collection of prose poems and short fiction is Identity Papers (Shearsman, 2016). His translation of Pierre Reverdy's Le Voleur de Talan will be published by Wakefield Press later in 2016. His "Four Short Prose Pieces" appeared in Issue #23; "Trick" and "Bright and Early" in Issue #42; "Travel," "A Life," and "Investment" in Issue #47; and "Three Stories" in Issue #55 of The Cafe Irreal.