The following is an excerpt from Little Wonder, a microfiction novel by Kat Gardiner. Centered around the brief life of an Anacortes all-ages café and music venue in 2008, the book is a fractured and affecting take on marriage, friendship, trying to run a business during a recession, and the singular character of the town of Anacortes. Little Wonder will be released on Oct. 5, 2018 via Father Daughter Records. Spoiler alert: It is very, very good and we will be running a review of the book around the date of its release. Gardiner will be in Seattle for a live reading on Nov. 9 at Vermillion alongside performances from Whitney Ballen and Sarah Gavin.
The bags underneath my eyes were pulling my whole face down from the inside of my cheeks. I leaned my floured forearms on the back porch rail. The sun was soft on my neck.
On stage, Jesy, a dark-haired woman about my age, curled around her acoustic guitar. It was plugged into a board of pedals at her feet made of squall. The backyard was close to empty, but somehow it was ok. Everyone who was there mattered. The teenage boys who never heard a woman take control of sound like that. The Boomers who thought music died with John Lennon. The toddlers hearing music go beyond a 4/4 sunshine beat. Jesy’s father was in the audience, too, wet-cheeked from getting to see his daughter play outside of a bar. My husband and I put everything on pause to watch.
With a tap of her foot, she went from noise to melody, and when her voice cut through, it was like she was coming from somewhere far away, but still intimate. Close. Somewhere none of us had ever been before. Somewhere we’d always been.
Kyle Field’s back was bent over the piano. His fingers on the keys, his voice reflected off the warm wood. Above him, one fringed lampshade hid half its light from the room and turned the other into orange smoke.
His chords were simple and his voice, flawed. His flaws, a solvent that separated us into our elements. Bodies, huddled on the floor of the back room with the books. Minds following the twists of phrase, the soft cadences. Souls hidden somewhere among the ghosts in the rafters of that terrible wonderful place.
Kyle’s music was something that could bring us together. All of us. The stars and the starlight. The newcomers and the born bred. Those who belonged and the rest of us who didn’t, we all fragmented and reformed along side him because at that piano, he transformed, with us, as well.
Warble voice and piano strings. His hair, the sea, moved with its own sway. His fingers melted into the keys, became a part of them. His hands, arms, married their way through the ivory, past the felt hammers, all the way to the heartstrings themselves until he was gone and we were gone and all that was left was the world deconstructing around song.
The day Calvin Johnson dropped his salad, he looked at me with wide eyes from across the room, carnage of greens at his feet. It was Saturday of What the Heck Fest, and in that moment of mutual comprehension, while I steamed a chai and he looked aghast, three people stepped into the radicchio spring mix and trailed it across the room.
The day Calvin Johnson dropped his salad was the busiest day of the year and that salad was not on the menu. His mouth hung open a finger width, his lower lip glistened. He mouthed the word sorry and looking back now, I believe that he meant it. At the time, I wasn't so sure.
The day Calvin Johnson dropped his salad, he made me show him every ingredient we put into our dressing while the line grew long behind him, the line I was still dealing with when that bowl of lettuce fell. Olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, all organic. He spoke in a low, slow groove. “I'll have olive oil and lemon on the side, please.”
The day Calvin Johnson dropped his salad, I don't think he meant to do me harm, but I still cursed his name every time I found a wilting leaf on the floor in the weeks to come.
It was after the café closed, and a week before we left Anacortes for good. The recession is what finally ran us out, but the town itself had been waiting for us to leave for a while. Our café gone, no family or land to hold onto, it didn’t have a place for us.
My husband and I sat at the bar, and I ran my fingers over the scratched name surface, beer in my other hand. We faced Dave and Andrea on the stage. It would be the last time we’d see music in that town. The Gift Machine. Two parents from San Diego. Good people who could write great songs. They were one of those bands that if the world was a fair place, they would have been huge.
“I may be green, but I didn’t fall off the truck. Goodbye, goodbye, good luck.” Their words, harmonies, melodies cut into me and before I know what was happening I was falling over. Falling under. Gasping for breath and ugly crying in a way that normal people seem to be able to control in public, but I couldn’t. I knew the whole town was staring at me, wondering what was wrong, but I knew I didn’t give a fuck what any of them thought anymore.
When we’d first opened, a middle-aged man came into the café. “This town,” he said, “loves to see people move here, open businesses, close businesses.” He laughed and I wanted to tear his eyes out. I still do. But that last day at the bar with The Gift Machine, I mourned him. I mourned all of them. Surrounded by the ghosts of my past, I shed all the messy tears I had over people I knew would have never cried for me.
Calvin Johnson has shared "Like You Do," the second single from his upcoming Patrick Carney-produced album A Wonderful Beast
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