A Musician, a Journalist, and a Burglary — A New Short Story from Andrew Pippos
FICTION: TIME TO GO, BY ANDREW PIPPOS
On assignment for a newspaper that she seldom read anymore, Nikki watched a musician perform and afterwards interviewed him for a 2000-word feature article. Nikki’s boyfriend was out of town that weekend. During the show she stood in the middle of the club, behind a group of men who appeared, she thought, as if groomed for a band photo in a music magazine. At the bar she made small talk with a young woman who eventually asked Nikki her age, and when Nikki said 35 the younger woman nodded in this way that meant yes, you look about that old. After the show, still inside the club, the musician told Nikki the room might be too noisy, and she agreed it wouldn’t do, she could hardly hear, and she suggested they finish the interview at her apartment. “It’s not far — a 10-minute walk,” Nikki said. She and the musician turned right at the next block, and crossed a footbridge, after which the way home was so many pastel terrace houses and red-brick apartment blocks. The decay of Nikki’s building was assured by an indifferent landlord who, the property manager explained, spent much of the year overseas and out of reach. Inside, the musician sat on the sofa and lit a cigarette. The flat looked untidy because Nikki and her boyfriend were both happy letting the mess go on for weeks, until their jackets swallowed the chairs and their shoes came to conspire in corners. “Nice place,” the musician said. Nikki asked a standard question about the musician’s old jobs, and he told a story about the years he worked as a gardener at Centennial Park, where he harvested psychotropic mushrooms every April, before Nikki noticed that a stereo speaker had been turned 180 degrees, its red wires showing. A second speaker had fallen on its side. There were two books on the carpet. Nikki never left books on the floor. She asked him two more questions. Then she looked away. “Hold on a second,” she said, peering inside the kitchen drawer where she kept passports, a folder of lease-related paperwork, and painkillers. “Some things are missing,” she told the musician. And the musician said, “Maybe your boyfriend’s left you?” Now Nikki asked her next question. “What is music for? Politically or in other ways, what’s music’s function, and I mean contemporary rock music of the four-minute-song kind.” She said this while checking the cupboards. “But shouldn’t you be writing this down; shouldn’t you be recording this?” said the musician. And the naked sound of drawers reeling and cupboards banging shut continued to gather in strength until Nikki understood what had happened. She said, “We’ve been burgled.” Her shoebox containing sentimental objects was no longer under the bed. Her laptop wasn’t in the spare room. All the Apple products had disappeared. The musician kept asking, “We’ll keep going with the interview, won’t we? See, I really need to promote my stuff.” Nikki shook her head: she hesitated between contempt and pity for the thieves — and for the musician too.
Years later, Nikki would tell this story in job interviews to illustrate why she disliked practising forms of journalism that were essentially promotional — publicising films and albums and tours and music festivals — and why she now wanted to work in public relations proper. It might feel more honest to be a publicist, she said. Nikki didn’t mention that her pay hadn’t changed in six years — she was ashamed of this fact — and she never gave the musician’s name, because it didn’t matter much in her telling, and he wasn’t well-known. Eventually she found a PR job. There were other consequences of the robbery. After the break-in, she and her boyfriend moved to a more secure building in a quieter part of the city, where they became friends with their neighbour upstairs, a man with what she considered an old-fashioned name: George. He guessed — correctly, as it turned out — that her name was short for Nikomachi: the winner of battles. She fell in love with George and married him, and he and Nikki had one child — a girl. The robbery, according to Nikki, was the very night that her life went off in this direction. When her daughter was 13 years old, suddenly curious about love, and came home from school asking Nikki to “give examples” of how two people might meet and marry each other, the story began with the break-in.
In another city, somewhere colder, the musician also remembered the night that Nikki abandoned their interview. It shouldn’t be complicated: for a few years he made music, he was concerned with little else, but for good reasons it became impossible to continue with a full heart. Then he did something else with the rest of his life. Nikki was the last person who asked him those questions about music, and it made him cringe to think of how he’d answered. As far as he knew, his children had never listened to his old CDs. He didn’t play anymore, not at all, telling himself the house was too small for ten-year-olds and teenagers and his old instruments, too small for the person he used to be. It needn’t be painful: he’d left music behind. After he found work as a paramedic, his youngest daughter began referring to him as “Ambulanceman,” as if he were another superhero who eliminated every problem. At night, driving home, the former musician pictured the lounge room of Nikki’s old flat: a stereo speaker turned awkwardly, a paperback flopped open on the floor; something was about to be discovered, and he’d soon be leaving.
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Andrew Pippos lives in Sydney, Australia. His fiction has appeared in N+1, Tin House, and Meanjin.