We’re in a meeting, a long, tedious, thorough meeting, the sort with breakout groups that never break out, and whoever isn’t paying attention gets the look. You text me a note, “We should be in a band,” and while making it look like I’m paying so much attention I’m actually taking notes, what I’m really doing is typing furiously, over and over, “Oh yeah oh hell yeah!”
I tell you about this guy I know who was terrified of success. Every time one of his bands started to click, he’d panic. The practices would get longer, and then he’d bring in more musicians, singers, dancers, light show dudes, etc. We eventually broke up when he tried to add this fifteen-year-old he met at some rave to play tambourine. “I’m not like that guy,” I say. “What sort of instrument do you play and please let it be drums.”
We practice and practice, recording everything and jamming until we’re able to do the same thing at the same time and then repeat that over and over. We take turns singing. We don’t give our band a name, we’re not ready for that part yet, and our songs aren’t really songs, just repeatable jams, half-spoken ideas, the musical equivalent of first dates that happen to go really well but nobody is saying love just yet.
You say, “There’s something I want to show you, I think you’re going to really like this,” and you take me to the arroyo. The riverbed is still damp, with a solid wet clay smell, and we fill several buckets full of earth, lugging them back to your truck one at a time. In your garage you turn on the heat lamps, but it’s still freezing.
“You still want to do this?” you ask.
When we’re done, after we’re both covered in mud and done shivering by the heat lamps just to dry, and we’re no longer ourselves, we come up with a song, about some dogs jumping through the fog, and how beautiful it is to watch the fog dancing around the dogs, and how the dogs can smell all of this, and their owners can’t, the dogs yipping in the fog, which is so much more than fog, that’s the bridge of our song, we’re still figuring it out. It might take a long time to figure it out, but we’re figuring it out.
The dirt smell underneath us, all around us; it’s durational, it’s so incredibly real, it’s a single note I’m hoping never stops, that it will keep going for days, slowly getting quieter, feeling that way. But when you make the song turn I’m there with you, I have ideas of my own, and somehow it brightens, forming chords. We disappear, our owners left wondering where we are.
This is a song about happiness.
Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found in Tiny Molecules, X-R-A-Y, Joyland, Jellyfish Review, Atticus Review, and PANK. His short story “Taylor Swift” won the 2015 Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast, and his story “Goodwill” was picked as one of the Wigleaf Top Fifty Very Short Fictions of 2018. A collection of prose poems and microfiction, Animal Children, was published by Nomadic Press in January, 2020. He teaches writing and literature at California College of the Arts.