Suite: Woodstock—or, Without the Band

Catherine Carberry

1.  Without the band I become visible again. With the band, I am either invisible or benignly visible: the lead singer’s girlfriend, a girl in a string of girls. Not worth the breath to say, man-to-man, “this one’s nice.”

2.  Here is a typical night: one drummer tells me, “See that guy over there? He does all the music for a show I bet you’ve never seen.” The show is an adult cartoon and it’s true I’ve never seen it. Another drummer says good vibes apropos of nothing. My boyfriend orders a round on his tab. The third drummer talks about his last tour, how crazy it was to play at the Kremlin after Trump was elected. I take the straw out of my drink and begin to curl it around my finger, like a ring. “I hear you’re making a record” the second drummer says to my boyfriend. All these guys talk about recording as though they were throwing pottery, physically making something, changing the shape of one thing to become another thing. Sometimes, I want to say he’s recording a CD just to watch their faces contort, because we’re not supposed to talk about CDs or Spotify or illegal downloads. This is Woodstock, after all, so we’re supposed to pretend that Levon is still alive and that The Band is making a record at Big Pink, and that it will be sold on vinyl, and only vinyl. They are still talking about Radiohead. The sound engineer looks at me the way you look at a cat that’s dying and you don’t like cats. “You must be getting pretty bored,” he says. And before I say anything, the second drummer, the good vibes guy, looks at me, “Yeah we can switch it up for her. Let’s talk pedicures.”

3.  After leaving the bar by myself, I recite my CV in my head. I summon the names of every woman I can think of. Janis. Joni. Nina. Mimi. Cass. Not far from here, Eleanor Roosevelt had her own house built so she didn’t have to live with her husband.

4.  Outside the Station bar, a girl with bad teeth and great eyeliner tells me her boyfriend’s band is playing next. I want to hug her like a sister. I’m drunk and I say with vehemence, “It sucks dating musicians, spending all your time listening to men.” “Yeah,” she says, “but we love them.”

5.  My boyfriend is in the studio all day. I stay at home with the fireplace and the dog, and ostensibly I write. What I do instead of writing: smoke on the porch, watch Netflix, occasionally cook. The thing is, you have to write the truth or it’s worthless. You have to sit at the bottom of the ocean of yourself and wait for some rare spiny creature to swim by with its luminescent fins, and maybe it will lead you somewhere, like to a shipwreck where you can run your fingers over the artifacts of other people’s sunken lives, and maybe then you’ll have something worth saying. Until then, you clean the kitchen or something, you take the dog for a walk. When my boyfriend gets home he tells me what it’s like to sing with one of Bruce Springsteen’s background singers. “The way she moves, the way she smiles. Damn.” He asks if I want to go to the bar again tonight. I don’t but I also want to get out of the house. See #3, again, except this time, one of the drummers apologizes for all this music talk, and then keeps talking.

6.  If they asked, I would say Jackson C. Frank. I would say, did you know he only had one album, that Paul Simon produced it? That he dated Sandy Denny, that my favorite is “Blues Run The Game,” which has been covered by everyone and that I love the first verse the best: Catch a boat to England baby, Catch a boat to Spain, wherever I’ve been and gone the blues are all the same. How as a child he survived a fire that killed all his classmates, how his son died, how they found him wandering Riverside Park saying he knew Paul Simon. How no one believed him. How he wound up living here, in Woodstock, on couches.

7.  When I tell my boyfriend how it feels to be invisible, he says: but you’re a badass, and anyway it’s their loss. What I’m learning is that the men who tell you that you don’t need to prove yourself have never been required to prove themselves in this way, not even once.

8.  People come up here either en route to fame or to hide from it. There is little room for anyone else. What am I doing here? See #5.

9.  But there’s a legend about Woodstock that stretches from before the music, before the artist communes and utopias, before all those painters set up their canvases in front of cows. The story that interests me lies in the graveyard. They say in 1821, a young woman was beaten by her husband for a suspected infidelity. As she was dying, she told him to plant on her grave the rod with which he beat her. She said that if the branch took root over her body, it would prove her innocence. And of course now there is a grave spliced by an elm. Is this story true, or was it invented to explain the tree? Was it invented to explain the dead woman? How you answer that question will tell me everything I care to know.

Catherine Carberry lives in New York. Her fiction has appeared in The Open Bar, as well as in journals including Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Sou’wester, Greensboro Review, and The Collagist. She is a fiction reader for Guernica.