“Dad, I’m not going to discuss this with you while you’re wearing your chain mail codpiece.”
Bobby Dagger crossed his tattooed arms and leaned against his changing room’s door frame. He tossed his black feathered hair over his shoulder and did his best to appear paternal. “Kid, near as I can figure it, this isn’t up for discussion. When I get done with this show those applications better be filled out.”
“I don’t see why I have to do them right n-…”
“Hey Brett.” Bobby waved his manager over, and pointed squarely at Colin. “He doesn’t go home till those are filled out, alright?”
“Got it. You sure you good for the encore? You need some water or somethin’?”
“Nah, brother, I’m good. Alright,” he turned to Colin. “I love ya, kid. I’ll see you for breakfast. Tell your mom hey for me.”
Bobby Dagger’s chain mail codpiece jingled to a degree those in close proximity considered disconcerting. In less than a minute Bobby would shake it with both hands in the faces of thousands of screaming teenagers. They would consider it a nearly sacred experience. Sweat dripping from his abs would spatter them in a shock rock baptism.
Brett dropped his favorite pen on the counter next to Colin. “You heard yer Pops. Get to writin’, kid.”
Colin groaned and leaned forward, the front legs of his chair thumping against the vinyl floor. “I don’t even see the point in this,” he whined. “I’m already good enough to get certified. I could get a job in a garage the week after I graduate.”
“So go to school to make sure of it then.” Brett shrugged. “C’mon. Your dad’s footin’ the bill. What’s the hurt? You goof off for a year, you get some extra paper sayin’ you know what you’re doin’. Win-win, right?”
Colin shrugged. “I guess.”
“Don’t be so glum. You know your mom would just have you fill ’em out soon as you get home tonight. Oh, hey, that reminds me. You gettin’ a ride from me tonight? Or is that girl a’yours pickin’ ya up?”
“Nah, uh…she thinks we need to cool it. You know, now that school’s over an’ all.”
“Damn, kid. Sorry to hear that.”
“No girl, no job, locked in my dad’s changing room. 1989 is a banner fuckin’ year.”
“Language. C’mon, kid, you know I’d catch hell from your Ma if she found out I let you talk like that.”
Brett fingered his wedding band whenever he talked about Colin’s mom.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“He’s just doing this cuz he loves ya.”
Colin signed the first application and started working on the second. His dad had written up a list of technical schools with the best mechanic certification programs he could find. Ever since he got clean college was all he talked about. Colin wondered if he’d just replaced one addiction with the other.
“So you drivin’ home with me tonight, then?”
“Unless you and Ma finally got me a car.”
“Ha! Dream big, kid. Once you get certified you can just build your own car, right?”
“You’re so magnanimous.”
“I am at that, whatever the fuck that means.” Brett ran his hands through the pockets of his jeans. “Don’t tell yer Ma I said that. She’d make me sleep in the garage. You want somethin’ to drink?”
Colin was seated in the bowels of what the Moral Majority had taken to calling a Den of Depravity. His dad was clean, but there was an unmistakable odor of weed if you walked past the crowd. More than a few tabs of X would be swept up by the janitors come morning.
“Maybe some apple juice.”
“One apple juice, comin’ up.” Brett tossed his leather jacket on the couch and walked down the hall to the vending machines. On the back of his black tank were white words: DONT FUCKIN TALK TO ME
The walls shook as Eric Ripper tore into his drums. The bass guitar made the drywall seem like it was chanting. Colin couldn’t make out the words, but he could hear his dad’s rusted, knife-edge voice gnashing at the crowd. And beyond, the fans. No voice, no words, just sound. A wailing, orgiastic evangelical congregation. Pumping fists, thrown panties, lost tops. The stage was a pulpit, the mosh pit the pews. It was a church of the living.
Colin, the dutiful acolyte, signed the third application.
By 5:00 am the crew was cursing as they tore down the stage rigging. A horde of grumbling assholes with push brooms swept away the crushed cigarettes and used condoms littering the floor. Brett had long since taken Colin home.
Bobby Dagger, known by those who loved him as Arthur Harris, lied on the sofa and stared at Colin’s applications. His boots and codpiece were kicked into a corner. He wore soft flannel pajama pants and a thin bathrobe, the fraying edges of the lapels thrown loosely across his tattooed chest. He wanted a cigarette but drank organic carrot juice instead.
Half an hour after his shower, he was still shaking from adrenaline and exhaustion. The forms in his hand wavered as he read. These thin slips of paper were a buttress, for the days when the crowds at the shows would thin, when he would get too old to party, when whatever damage the pills had done finally came a’knockin’. The money was good for now but it could always run out. Isn’t that what money always did? Always dumped your ass when you needed it most.
His kid could fix things. That was good. Meant he’d keep life running smooth, if he paid attention.
He’d called Colin’s mom once the encores had finally ended. “Hey,” he’d told the machine, “he filled out those forms. Credit for getting it done goes fully to his stepdad. Thanks for letting him come out tonight. I’ll pick him up for breakfast around nine. You and Brett are welcome to join in. ‘Night.”
He set the forms on an end table and guzzled his carrot juice. The show, the way it always did, had drained him. The screaming crowd had clawed out of him anything that could feel. Now, gutted, he could finally rest, in these quiet hours before the urge to snarl into a mike would hit again.
Bobby Dagger lied still, in the eye of the storm, and where the exhaustion had left him empty, there was now the creeping flood of a father’s love.