Her father would be dead within the week. The doctor checked his watch, clicked his tongue, cleared his throat. It was Wednesday. She didn’t know if the doctor meant her father would die within a seven-day-period, or before (or during) Saturday. She didn’t want to seem like an idiot for asking the question, and she’d been in the room a minute too long. She got in her car and drove to the studio.
- - - - -
She’s a sound engineer, and a musician. The two go hand in hand for her; she doesn’t work on things that other people make unless it can pay her rent for a year. Her sound is mostly experimental, somewhat abrasive, certainly not mainstream. Her parents made children, five of them; she made music because her ovaries were barren. She had a better ear for production than a heart for motherhood in the first place. She made this comparison because when she came along (the third child of five) her parents seemed to stop having fun together. She hasn’t stopped having fun, even though her music is the last thing you’d associate that word with.
She put piano sounds and rave synth drops through compressors and mixers, and she turns them into crystal noise. They’d become part of a concept album. When her session for the day ends, she drives to her eldest brother’s house.
The album she’s making now is about motherhood, fatherhood, death, and family.
- - - - -
The second child is an accomplished writer; he wrote the liner notes to her first album (Lacunae, from Kranky Records, 200x). The first child, her eldest sister, is a graphic designer; less accomplished because she’s not ruthless, but talented and self-assured. She lives paycheck to paycheck and the current one comes from her sister’s album cover. She did the vinyl design for Lacunae (7.8 from Pitchfork Music, “…shades of early William Basinski…the execution is just shoddy in spots, but shows a groundswell of potential”), and she leads her portfolio with that work. It’s her proudest.
It wasn’t meant to become a family project, but the packaging and the liner notes get as many comments as the music itself. “All that great art and packaging and I guess the album’s pretty good,” one review went as far as to say.
“It’s almost done,” she tells her sister, and she wells up with tears. Her brother laughs: “The album, or the dad situation?”
They agree that it was a bad time to laugh.
- - - - -
There have been other bad times to laugh. Their mother died during the birth of the final sibling. The baby died, too. When the father heard the news, he paused, shut his eyes, went as far into his head as possible, and came to with: “I tried to create life. There were no survivors.”
That wasn’t true. He survived.
- - - - -
She’s the only one renting space in the studio right now, so she gets the lay of the land. Above the compressor bay, on a top shelf, easily visible from every point on the floor, is a printout of the last family picture where everyone is present. From left to right: father, embracing mother, embracing her, embracing eldest brother, embracing youngest brother, embracing eldest sister. Above them, she drew a little picture of a ghost. On the second track (“Van Gogh” — a Pitchfork Best New Track) from her third album (Bad News from Outer Space, from 4AD, 201x; Sputnikmusic Best of 201x #7) you can hear it rattling during a loud noise burst. Fans speculate as to the origin. She’ll never tell.
- - - - -
From oldest to youngest: Eileen (the designer), Roger (the writer), Laramie (the musician), Rick (whereabouts unknown), Buford (unborn, unnamed).
Everyone agreed Buford was a horrible name. The feeling was in the air in the waiting room, not far from where he was barely born and their mother didn’t survive. No one said it.
- - - - -
The family thinks, maybe all at the same time, about where Rick has gone. They all loved Rick. He had a quality none of them had save the father: he was roguish. He brought home women and didn’t care who was in the house. He brought home men and didn’t care who was in the house. Everyone else listened to their pretentious indie darling music and he shamelessly blasted top 40, or the indie darlings of five years ago, long out of vogue. They all loved their things genuinely, but Rick liked to be different. Rick would ask them why they liked what they liked, and often started fights on that account. Their dad never meddled in their interests. Rick liked to start fires under asses. He caught a few jabs in the arm, narrowly dodged a punch or two in the face. They all miss him. They miss him because, with him, and with their father, an entire quality of the family will disappear. They won’t be rogues anymore.
- - - - -
Laramie thought to herself, “Maybe the album is about disappearing, too.” And she decided she’d add that to the list, should it ever come up, from a fan or from a ballsy interviewer. Best yet, she wouldn’t be lying.
- - - - -
Reynolds Hoff is the now-dying dad. He lived his life as a jack of all trades. He wouldn’t live it any other way. They tried to make him. He always told the kids: “What I do isn’t something I recommend. Do one thing. Do it well. Imagine new things all the time.” After saying that, he’d take a pull from his pipe and cough a little bit. They’re all amazed he doesn’t have lung cancer. They’re amazed he never slid and fell during one of his morning runs. Before he ended up in the hospital, he was in tremendous shape, like people tend to be before an illness falls out of the sky like a cartoon anvil, bringing annihilation and loss of appetite.
In the hospital bed, since he was never much of a TV watcher (past HBO dramas, soccer, and the occasional high-stakes game show), he walks through memory. He drinks it in, for the first time in years; it’s hard to do when you’re working all the time.
He remembers his wife’s long blond hair. She let it grow and grow and it seemed like it would never end. He remembers it stained with blood during the non-birth of the final child. When they went to France, a trip they saved for, together, for years, French men asked to touch her hair. She had a tooth missing in her lower row of teeth, and was careful not to show it. When they kissed with tongue sometimes, he could feel it. A little secret alleyway in her heart and soul. Maybe it wasn’t secret. She joked about her many secret boyfriends. Maybe one or two weren’t a joke. Reynolds wouldn’t have cared. Laila made him whole, inside and out. So what if someone else got to experience that, once or twice or maybe more times than that? To say that he loved anyone else, or even thought of anyone else, was a blatant and outright lie. Early on, there was some of that, but it went away. It always went back to the waves of her air, the sound of her voice, usually that laugh that would get caught in her throat, and she’d touch her chest, in between her breasts, wave herself down, say something like oh mercy and then
- - - - - - - - - -
Time of death: 12:52am, a Saturday, 201x.
- - - - -
At 5pm on Friday, Laramie ran into the hospital with the first pressing under her arm. The cover wasn’t done yet: it was supposed to be a portrait divided into three sections and cross-cut — her face, her sister’s face, her favorite writer, Margaret Atwood’s chin as the third section. In spare type, the letters D E C A Y at the top. She wanted to make the name some celebration of life, but anything else would’ve been a lie.
When she ran in, everyone looked up. Her father was breathing, listening, popping in and out. She put the record on. It crackled to life, like a record does, and her voice cracked along with it. “I hope you like it,” she said, to no one in particular. The album rose to life slowly, a single classical piano chord from a classical piano she got on Craigslist, high, distended for all its worth. And then, another, the same chord, compressed, made shoddy. The next, moreso, turning into a canyon of white noise that filled the room. The next chord was the same as the first and the next was the same as the second and the next was as same as the third and the music came to life and her father nodded one nod, or seemed to.