Susan half-smiled to herself after reading Stan’s story, and rested her hands on her lap while she stretched her neck, rolling her neck back and forth in a semicircle. She knew how Stan had suffered. She had seen the plastic cases for ‘The Best of Wings’ and ‘Flaming Pie’ on the kitchen table.
There was no sound of life in the house other than the indistinct chattering
from the television downstairs. Susan considered staying online for a while,
but could not really think of any place else she cared to visit. The web
could be so boring. Almost as bad as television. Worse than television,
really, the way it beckoned for you to participate, without ever really
paying out. Millions of worldwide channels and still nothing to see.
Stan was probably the best possible guy possible for her, Susan thought. Yeah. She walked downstairs and watched him a while, stretched out and sleeping in his recliner. His chest barely moved, but she could see his eyes twitching rapidly beneath their lids, and she wondered what sort of dreams were happening in there. He claimed he rarely dreamed…
Asleep watching CNN? She could understand how that could put a person to
sleep, but it certainly wasn’t the sort of thing Stan tended to watch. She
coughed twice, hesitated, and then coughed louder. No movement from the
chair. And it was still so early in the evening…
Instead, she set the timers on the coffee maker and the radio, muted the television, covered him up with an afghan, and walked on down the street towards the little town. She passed not a soul in the few minutes it took her to reach Union Street. She paused on the sidewalk in front of her old apartment, but the emptiness repelled her , and she continued on the three blocks to the DownUnder. It looked as though it was nearly empty, too.
Susan had been with Stan for such a long time. Since the eighties, years now, back to the time when he was living with her older sister, Sonia. Stan and Sonia would take Susan with them to the greatest parties back in those days, even though she was younger than either by several years. She would accompany them everywhere. They would get so wasted. Often they would go to these wonderful rock shows - The Cramps, Bad Brains, Sonic Youth - where Stan Keaton and his entourage were warmly welcomed backstage.
Susan was thinking back to the time when her sister and Stan had split. It
had worked out well for her. Sonia was looking for more commitment, or so
she had insinuated, by gesture or aside. Stan was equally flippant. Bye bye,
and that was it. Susan had apparently been the only one to get upset over
the breakup. One Saturday morning, in what had seemed to Susan a rash
decision, Sonia had ridden off with a twenty-six year old Air Force major in
a jet black Plymouth Barracuda.
For quite a while, Susan had kept an apartment just a few blocks away from Stan, even though most of her things had gradually gravitated to Stan's house. Her apartment was symbolically important to her, a representation of her independence, and Stan had never asked her to give it up. Eventually, though, it had become an inconvenience.
Susan ordered a Bacardi and Coke, and chatted quietly with the bartender, Cindy, whom she had known for three or four years now. Local girl. They made small talk, that’s all Susan wanted right now. Susan had left her cigarettes by the side of Stan’s computer, and Cindy fronted her a pack of Marlboros.
Stan was certainly a weird bird - she couldn’t deny that - as demonstrated by the dichotomy between his mode of literary and social communications. He lived a lot in his head. Stan was one of the most acerbic people that she had ever met, at least on paper. His writing cracked her up, particularly on the frequent occasions when he would go into one of his self-righteous, hipper than thou routines. These bits would buzz around the subject while rarely landing on it, and end up miles away from where they had started. They were hilarious. Even when she was amongst the shadow targets held up for ridicule in one of his rants, they were still pretty damn funny.
At times, Stan seemed almost embarrassed by his work. He didn’t give himself much credit for his writing, and would always discount his own work, no matter what sort of outrageous things had poured out of his keyboard. He would be like "Hey, it's just words, I'm just a typist. Who cares what I say, it doesn't really mean that much to me." Perhaps it didn’t.
Stan wasn't nearly as amusing in the real world, although at times he could be quite a dynamic guy, particularly when he was on that perfect edge between clarity and abandon. Most of the time, though, he chose to remain on the quiet side, a good listener, observing things, soaking it all in. He could become a bit obsessive when he latched onto a topic, but he kept most of the mania inside, locked behind his eyes. Susan guessed that this was an occupational hazard, since his obsession de jour would eventually boil over onto the printed page.
Watching reflections in the Guinness mirror, Susan saw a burly man that she instantly recognized walk through the door. She had seen Stan talking to him before, but had never been introduced. Not that she minded – he looked like a lumberjack. Stan had much more affinity for these salt of the earth types than she did. ‘Don’t sit near me’, she thought forcefully. Bowing her head down, she pretended not to notice him, much preferring to watch the smoke curl up from the tip of her cigarette. She wanted to be around people tonight, but she didn’t want to have to talk to them.
Susan was always encouraged to be the star whenever she and Stan were
together in public, and she had grown to appreciate the arrangement even
more than he did. She got to do most of the talking and make all the bold
moves. Stan didn’t want the attention any longer.
Susan sometimes felt that Stan's choice of targets made him seem a little
too old and cranky. He was always going on about the Gen-Xer this or the
thirty-something that, the yuppie or the old hippie, whatever group that
caught his attention that Stan felt had been unable to acquire or sustain
sufficient hipness. She sometimes wished that Stan were a little younger.
However you wanted to define it, he seemed to be a charter member of the
last generation on earth to feel that hipness was a particularly important
attribute to posses.
Susan orders another drink, and Cindy asks if she’s feeling okay. Cindy has
very rarely seen Susan out alone, and has never seen her sit this quietly.
She’s not what you would call a reflective girl.
Susan realized that she and Stan had gotten married right around the time
that he was starting to feel burned out with the rock and roll lifestyle. He
had ‘settled down’. It had been a few years now, but the timing seemed
correct in retrospect. Stan had never achieved the full-blown, unadulterated
pop star mode of existence that he felt he so richly deserved, but he had
spent plenty of years living around the fringes. Like most critics, Stan had
always been involved in projects aside from his writing. He used to repeat
the old saw that the writing paid the rent, but his true destiny was to be
written about. He never said that anymore.
Susan wondered if her sister had ever really been serious about, or whether
she had simply been caught up in the excitement that used to surround him.
Sonia had seen the best of his times, but Susan certainly remembered when
Stan’s world was anything but sedate. Perhaps, she thought, it had never
been that much fun for Sonia.
Susan wished that Stan were a little younger.
Oh, he looked okay. He looked pretty good, actually, a little like the older Bowie might look like if he couldn’t afford to keep a stylist on retainer. He kept his hair dyed a dark blond and pushed back in a space age pompadour of his own design. It was only now starting to get a little thin in the back. Stan had stayed in good shape, skinny and muscular, going through spurts of workouts and diets. His brown eyes were curious and alive.
Susan thought about what her life would be like if Stan were younger than her. It would be interesting, would it not? She would have so many different options to choose from. Maybe she would. She would be able to help mold his personality in the same ways that he had helped mold hers. She could try out different paths and attitudes.
Was she shallow? She didn't know. She just wished that Stan were a little younger.