He hadn’t locked the door, I thought, hustling into the suite with my arms weighed down. Who doesn’t lock their door in Manhattan?
“Yo,” I heard from the living room. Grumpily, I pushed through the chic little black and white hallway to the source of the sound. “Carver? Carver, Jesus, I thought I told you to lock up.”
“Babs, baby, who’s gonna break in while I’m here?” he crooned, lounging sphinx-like in a plain black shirt and boxers on his expensive leather sofa. He looked too perfectly posed to be comfortable; I assumed he had heard my heels on the marble in the hall and suitably prepared himself.
“Fans, for one. Here—mail and your water.” I hefted the paper shopping bag in his direction, spilling envelopes. He snatched it from me, eager for his weekly ego-feed. I placed his hot water on the vintage glass side table. He always asked me to get it from Lalo’s on 83rd. When I reminded him he could boil his own, he told me the Lalo’s had ‘better water.’ And damn him, he could tell if I just filled it up in my own tap and stuck it in the microwave. His taste, I felt, ran less towards the flavor and more towards sending me out of my way.
I set my own iced chai on his vintage glass side table, and fished out my iPhone as he tore through the letters with no lapse in eagerness even after months of such adoration from his fans.
“We need you to re-do your rider for the Verizon Pavilion…how did the request for three virgin sacrifices get past me? And nobody wants to run the risk of serving you raw oysters and having you die on stage. Ask for something else.”
He looked up from the letters. His pupils, one permanently enlarged and uncontracting, focused on me. “I want raw oysters. And virgins,” he said simply.
“Too bad.” I circled the den. It was too designed, to chic to sit in; I preferred something a little more lived in. Something with a strand or two of cat hair on the upholstery, where you didn’t need to use coasters because the side tables already had water rings on them, and where you actually took the apples out of the fruit bowl to eat instead of look at.
“Rolling Stone wants an interview on the eighteenth, I told them to push it back a week, to coincide with the new album.” He opened his mouth, but I cut him off. “I already told them you were available.”
He shrugged, and started sorting through the mail again. The mild mid-afternoon rays of sun beaming in through the oversized plate glass windows gleamed on his peroxide blonde Mohawk, reflected from the chains running from his ears to his nose. The metal in his face, I knew, was supposed to be a manifestation of his ‘hardcore’ attitude—but when he walked, all I could think of was sleigh bells. I continued. “I was also talking to Randy about the European tour. He’s thinking for your openers, West Nile?”
“Black Hearse Motorcade?”
There was a pause. “Fuck no.”
“You have to having an opening act. Deal with it.”
Sullenly, he plucked at the corner of a pink envelope, tearing it open. “Fine. Maybe Blitzed.”
I tapped this into my phone. A little popup bounced around on the LCD screen, reminding me that I had an appointment at the OB/GYN next Tuesday. I’d have to cancel that—Carver was going to need help packing for the upcoming tour. Not that I was hovering, though. I just knew that in two weeks, somewhere in Germany, he would be launching a full-scale assault on my inbox, demanding to know where he left his sketchbook or 1950’s pinup portfolio or God only knows what else.
“Hey, cool!” he announced suddenly, brandishing something aloft. “Check this out!”
I pushed my glasses up my nose. “I struggle to contain my intrigue,” I told him flatly. I hoped it wasn’t another picture where somebody had tattooed “Caver” into their lower back.
“Some chick had a baby, and named him after me! She sent pictures. And some of his hair,” he said cheerfully, brandishing the lock. I grabbed for a tissue out of my purse. “Put that down, Carver! Jesus, what kind of freak sends a celebrity their baby’s hair?” I asked, snatching the offending object up with a kleenex. I trotted off towards the kitchen. “I dunno, I thought it was kind of cool,” he called after me.
The kitchen was spotless and chrome; I doubted if Carver had ever used it before. He was, after all, barely out of his teens. I deposited the offending object in the stainless steel trashcan, lifting the lid with a patent leather toe. The bag inside was full of old takeout boxes, and I sighed. I wondered when the last time was that he had eaten anything leafy and green. Every now and then, I wondered if perhaps I should bring him something—cooking for one (and sometimes, the cat) was dull. And very quiet. This instinct went ignored, however. I was already his go-fer, agent, and part-time manager. I’d be damned if I was going to take on another job in his life—if he wanted a meal, he’d have to hire a chef.
Deep strains of harmony blared from the other room; I turned back.
He was standing on the sofa now, the cord of his bass running to the amplifier in the corner. He pointed at me, smiling and sticking out his tongue, which a cosmetic surgeon had meticulously sewn back together after he had some tattoo artist and uncredited body modification ‘specialist’ chop it in half. He had texted me, still bleeding the day after, panicked when he realized his new ‘hardcore’ look affected his singing. I had fainted when I saw him open his bloody jaws and reveal two separately moving pieces of tongue; he drove us both to the plastic surgeon. He had thought it was funny, after the doctor had put him back together. I was less amused.
He thumbed the bass lovingly, a vintage Fender. I stopped, irritated. “I also need to know-“
He cut me off, hissing his latest track into an invisible microphone. “Tie me up with your obsession, make me bleed out this depression-“
“…I can deal with your aggression, baby make me your possession-“
“Mind fuck me, yeah, mindfuck me, yeah, yeah, fuck me up!”
I unplugged the amplifier, and the cord fell to the floor like a flattened snake on the highway. His face fell into a comical pout. “You don’t like it?” he asked, leaping off the sofa.
“You’re giving me gray hairs, you know that? I’m not even thirty five. I found one last night,” I sighed.
“Drapes or curtains?” he grinned, the sides of his thin pale lips curving like horns. I swatted at him.
“Seriously, though,” I said, settling uncomfortably on the sofa that he had recently abdicated. He dropped onto the floor cross legged, scooting his guitar under the table. Indian-style they called it in grade school, although I wasn’t sure if that was politically correct. A stray frond of his Mohawk fell to the side, and I almost smiled. He looked up at me with those eerie pale mismatched eyes.
“Another woman has come forward…she says she’s your mother.” The air of little-boy like charm that had accompanied his sitting form suddenly vanished, and his face was drawn in mask of sneering disgust. “Tell her to go fuck herself.”
“She’s offering DNA. I thought you might want to know.”
“Tell that dumb bitch to get in line. My mom’s dead.”
This lady had emailed me two nights ago, calling herself Sarah Grangier. She claimed she was Carver’s mother, that he was taken away from her by child protective services after she had spent some time in jail for drugs.
It was true that Carver didn’t know who his mother was; he had drifted through the foster care system until he was eighteen. Plenty of gossip rags and websites had tried to ferret out his real family, to no avail. After Carver released his album and hit single “Trash Boy” last year, at least a half dozen people had come forward claiming to be relatives. We had stopped doing DNA testing after the seventh ‘mother’ to appear.
I wanted to scream at those women. They disgusted me. They were hurting a vulnerable man, again and again. But I would simply smile and take the messages from their attorneys and promise to pass on the ‘good news’ to Carver.
“My mother is dead,” he repeated slowly. He peeled back a hangnail on his thumb, and put it in his mouth when it started to bleed. I couldn’t tell if he knew this for a fact somehow, or was simply using it to avoid further conversation. I took the hint. Unfortunately, I had nothing positive to move on to.
“We’re being sued,” I told him as he settled back down. This didn’t seem to disturb him as much. “The Horowitz family.”
I sighed. My heels were starting to burn the pads of my feet. It looked like I would be retiring these stilettos soon. Why did I even bother wearing them anyway? Oh, yes; they looked professional. And shaped my calves.
“Apparently, their kid, Sam Horowitz, took a gun and tried to shoot a few kids at his school. Then he killed himself. His parents are trying to blame it on your music, claiming that your lyrics ‘brought out the violence’ in their boy or something crazy. I’ve already contacted Tony Guiseppe to sort this out.”
He looked at me as though I had started speaking out of my ears. “What?”
Didn’t this kid ever check the news? “Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “We may need to make a court appearance if they won’t settle—and that’s just if a judge doesn’t throw the whole thing out first. I just wanted you to be aware of the situation.”
“Yeah,” he said slowly. He stood up and turned away, towards his thick mahogany desk that was the only clashing element in the neatly designed room. I made a mistake in telling him, I realized; I didn’t know how he would take this. But then again, how should I know? Nobody knew anything when it came to Carver’s moods.
I wasn’t worried myself. I knew cases like this might come up with the content of Carver’s music. But all of his albums had a parental warning: Tony could tear the parents apart, claiming that they negligently allowed their son to purchase music that was inappropriate for his obviously already unstable mental condition. I sighed, wondering if the family would reach for anyone else to blame for the sins of their son. Video games, perhaps? You never could guess how children would turn out. This uncertainty was part of the reason I never had any. I always need a guarantee.
He hunched over the desk. His dark silhouette seemed tired and elderly, incongruous with the youthful haircut and bizarre metal in his head and ears. “Don’t worry,” I told him again. I tried to be soothing. He didn’t face me. Was he still listening? Or was his mind too busy bouncing around the inside of his skull?
Suddenly frantic, he began pushing around piles of paper, chains jangling. Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, jingle all the way…
“Do you want to see my sketch for the new album?”
He was changing the topic. I let him. The shooting would go away soon; that’s what the label paid Tony Guiseppe for.
“Tada,” he announced proudly, holding out his moleskine sketchbook. I had bought if for him last Christmas, telling him irritably to stop scribbling on spare receipts and napkins because he always lost them, and would then involve me in a dramatic search for his latest masterpiece. I was glad he was using it. “It’s the last page,” he told me, moving behind the sofa so he could look over my shoulder.
I flipped though soft pages. He was talented. Almost as talented as he was with any number of the instruments he could play. Each page was coated in gore and the disturbed mental processes of an artist who intended to appall his audience: a half formed female android devouring a bloody heart, a pack of dogs tearing a peacock to shreds, a tree pulsating with human organs. As I turned each sheet, graphite smudged on my hands; I wiped them on my black pencil skirt, hoping it would blend in. The last picture of the set appeared to be an angel of sorts, sweating and bloody, serving a severed penis to three crones who were brandishing silverware. The top read, in gothic font, Saints and Sinners.
“Pleasant,” I told him, dropping it on the coffee table. I reached for my chai that I had forgotten earlier. I took a sip; it had gotten watery. I noticed, with some exasperation, that he hadn’t touched his water yet. It was probably cold now.
“What do you think?” he asked eagerly. I didn’t turn to look at him. He was waiting for shock, an exclamation of horror, and I wouldn’t give it to him. This was the way you handled Carver.
“It’s not going on the new album cover,” I told him flatly, still sipping my drink. “Walmart and a dozen other stores won’t even think about selling anything with that cover.”
“I don’t care,” he said. He was pouting because I didn’t give him the reaction he wanted. Well, good.
“You like your fancy flat? You like your new BMW? Then you can’t pull your merchandise from some of the biggest sellers.” I felt him deflate behind me.
I wanted to tell him that he was selfish. That he couldn’t always get what he wanted. For a moment, I opened my mouth, but then I closed it. For eighteen years, until he had been discovered, Carver hadn’t gotten anything that he wanted. He’d been a piece of the system. Was it really so odd for him to push the boundaries of what he could and couldn’t get now that he was a star?
“Look at me?” he pleaded suddenly. He sounded oddly pained.
“No,” I said, staring forward, suddenly full of resolve. He was not going to use this chance to control me.
Suddenly, he grabbed my shoulders and pushed his pelvis to the back of my head, grinding it against my hair. “Jesus, Carver, what-“ I pulled away, but his spindly pale fingers pressed harder. “I’m going to fuck your skull, fuck your brains. I’m going to mindfuck you,” he told me, voice suddenly very deep, breath in my ear, hips moving faster. I shuddered and jerked my torso hard, out of his reach. I spun around breathless.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I snarled, flattening my hair against my skull. He smiled at me, tongue hanging out like a mutt waiting for its owner to throw a tennis ball.
“I was worried. I thought I couldn’t surprise you anymore,” he grinned lasciviously. My face was burning, all the way up to my ears. Every time, every time I thought that maybe I could see a little into him, just a little, he went and did something crazy. Something that he knew would make me angry. This was the reason I was his agent, the only agent who would stay with him, and why Carver’s manager dumped all of the face-to-face business on me. They knew I would put up with his shit. God, I was such a doormat.
“You know what? I don’t even know why I bother coming over here anymore. Christ. Every other agent just does this through Skype. I’ve let our relationship get too weird, Carver. This is too fucking weird for me. I don’t want to see you again unless it’s backstage or through a computer screen.” My calves were throbbing; when I got home, I would through these fucking shoes in the trash and be done with them.
“I’ll fire you.” His eyes narrowed, the smile gone. His pupils were almost equal in size now, the normal one expanding as the less and less light reached it.
“Do it, Carver. See if you can find somebody to take this shit like I have,” I hissed. I felt a sudden lightness about my head and neck, like I’d just cut off a Rapunzel-length amount of hair.
Suddenly, he was in front of me, that one blown pupil now staring me down. He grabbed at me, and I shied away, snatching my purse up and heading for the door.
Why did I feel like I was turning my back on an animal in a muddy ditch? I turned towards him.
“Babs, I’m sorry. You know I’m sorry.” His thin face seemed even slimmer with the light at this angle, his eyes larger and wetter. The chains seemed to weigh him down. “I wouldn’t fire you. You’re the best. You understand my art.” He looked down.
I wished he hadn’t—he was making this personal. So personal it twisted up my insides with hurt. He wasn’t even pleading now. I could tell what he was doing. He wouldn’t force me with those eyes. It would be up to me, and he wanted me to know that. Bastard.
I sighed. Some day, we both would have to move on. Yet that point was so intangible right now. “Carver,” I sighed helplessly, and he hugged me, hunching so that he was pressing his face into my collarbone.
The pressure was so sudden and warm, and it startled me. I let him stay there, buried in my neck, although I didn’t put my arms around him. I thought of the strange little boy with his head on my chest, of the teenager I had found in his subsidized apartment with a gun to his head when I opened his door to meet for our first appointment. He had been waiting for me to show up that day—had been desperate for somebody to tell him to put the pistol away, even if it was just a stranger from a label company. Waiting for somebody to tell him that he was worth something.
I felt the cold metal of his chains though my turtleneck. There was nothing to be done, now. I couldn’t keep him waiting anymore.