This is a short story I wrote that was published by a literary magazine earlier this year. It has now gone into the publication’s archives, so I am free to share it with all of you, just in time for Keith Richards’ seventieth birthday, which I took as an omen that I should post it, although I’m a little hesitant to do so. It’s utterly lacking in my usual feeble attempts at humor – in fact, it’s a little weird and melodramatic. I was trying to capture the feeling of hedonism that the Stones so successfully convey in their music, while depicting some of the angst and confusion that people often experience at the age of the characters. I was also thinking how great it would be if when we are young, we had some way of seeing the ultimate destinations of the paths that we choose in life and thereby avoid their dangers.
To be honest, I was a little surprised that a literary magazine would want to publish a story of this style and genre – I wrote it as an experimentation with the “young adult” genre and submitted it on a whim, thinking it was a little sucky and probably wouldn’t get published. But what the heck do I know? Maybe the editor was a Stones fan, and that can pretty much outweigh every other possible consideration, as every true Stones fan knows. My groovy, hot stuff followers that have been reading my “musical memoirs” will recognize certain elements of this story, and a few aspects of the main character, “Angie”, will most definitely be familiar.
I’m going to link songs that were used as they appear throughout the story. It might be fun to listen to the songs as you read – that way you’ll be getting the full “Angie” experience. A note about the title – it’s a tongue in cheek reference to Gram Parsons’ album “Grievous Angel” and his influence on the Stones, particularly on Keith; also it is a reference to the Stones’ “Angie”, of course. My dear followers and fellow Stones fans, I hope you will enjoy “Grievous Angie”.
Angie crouched down, with some difficulty, in her tight green satin bell bottoms between a Camaro and a Mustang in the driveway. Squatting there, balanced on her platform shoes, she lit a cigarette and smoked it down as she waited for the Auld Lang Syne-ing, Happy New Year-ing, and midnight kissing to be over. Angie was not one to take a chance on being left out during the midnight kissing ritual, and the whole thing seemed ridiculously contrived anyway. Fortunately, no one discovered her hidden there and she re-entered the house to the sound of “Stayin’ Alive” with her dignity intact.
The house was full of invincible college freshmen home from their universities for the winter break. As she walked through the sea of Izod shirts, sparkling “New Year’s Eve” attire, and feathered hair searching for her friend Kate, Angie cringed at the shrill laughter of the sorority sisters and the loud, testosterone-driven crowing of the frat boys. She had graduated with these people and was part of their crowd, although while they had all gone to college in a mass exodus last fall, leaving Jackson for Ole Miss and Mississippi State, Angie was still living at home, selling make-up part-time at the mall and working on her drawings and paintings in her childhood bedroom. She had a stack of college applications and catalogs on her nightstand, and every night after leaving the mall, she went home, walked past the sounds of rage and sobbing coming from her parents’ bedroom, and sorted through them. She compared course requirements for art degrees and perused the pictures of students walking around campus and hanging out in dorm rooms, confident and beautiful, like young gods and goddesses cavorting about in their newfound realms.
Her dreams were strange and convoluted, full of fevered flashes of debauchery and ancient mythology mixed with images of LSU, Auburn, and Tulane from the catalogs. Night after night she went to sleep excited and hopeful, having made her final decision about which application to mail the next day. But every morning, the chosen application stayed on top of the stack on the nightstand, and she softly kissed her mother’s often red and swollen cheek on her way out of the door, promising to come straight home after work.
She made her way through the disco-thumping, inferno-burning, night-fevered rooms until she found Kate, stoned of course, giggling on the sofa in the basement with some like-minded Greeks, watching Monty Python and rubbing thighs with a smiling, dark-haired boy wearing mirrored sunglasses. It was quite a challenge to extract her from this warm, fuzzy cocoon, but Angie was persistent. Once she had Kate firmly in hand, the two girls shouldered and squeezed their way through the mass of sweating, disco-inflamed bodies and escaped through the kitchen door.
The night was clear and cold for Mississippi; the southern sky was lit by a heavy moon with a full complement of stars, and the girls’ breath came out in clouds of vapor and cigarette smoke. They got into Angie’s Olds 442 and sat shivering in their suede jackets, waiting for the car to warm up. When Kate started rummaging through the pile of eight track tapes on the floorboard, Angie quickly said, “Put in the Stones. I’ve got to get that disco crap out of my head.” This was a sore spot between the two. While Kate was being swept away with disco fever along with most of her sorority sisters up at Ole Miss, Angie was firmly in the “disco sucks” camp. Kate still dug the Stones, though, so she popped in “Black and Blue” without complaint.
They drove off to the sound of “Hot Stuff”, past the TG&Y parking lot where the jocks and cheerleaders were hanging out, past the Jitney Jungle parking lot where the band nerds and church kids were having their good, clean fun, and into the huge neighborhood of ranch houses where Angie lived. As usual, there was a party going on at Dion’s house, but tonight cars lined both sides of the street all the way to the stop sign. Dion was the undisputed leader of the local hoods and heads, and he supplied most of their pot. He was a couple of years older than the girls, so Angie and Kate had only admired him from a distance. However, they did have a connection. Kate’s older brother, Stan, was one of Dion’s lackeys, and his Chevelle was parked in the driveway. Fueled by the sexy, driving music, the mental image of Mick Jagger posturing on stage in his androgynous, erotic way, and their own young, warm blood, they slowed down to a crawl as they passed the house.
“Kate, I know what you’re thinking, but we can’t go in there.”
“Why not? Stan’s there. It’ll be okay.”
“No, it won’t. I don’t know those people and I’m not crashing their party. If you want to go, I’ll drop you off and Stan can take you home later.”
The argument went on like this while they slowly circled the block. For Angie, going to a party at Dion’s just didn’t seem doable, although the draw was almost irresistible. These were the kids who had parked their hot-rods behind the vo-tech building instead of in the main lot and smoked cigarettes behind the gym back in high school. They were the ones who had sat with arms folded during the pep rallies, sheets of long hair obscuring their expressionless faces. Angie had badly wanted to be one of them. She too had parked behind the vo-tech building and leaned against the gym wall during break, smoking Virginia Slims by herself while her own childhood friends hung out in the courtyard and flirted with the jocks. Despite her efforts, she never was able to break into their world. Pegged as a college-bound preppy, a characterization which she despised, she had given up on breaking into the group by graduation. However, she couldn’t see herself as a sorority sister like Kate either, and was therefore lost in the proverbial chasm between two worlds.
Kate ultimately won the argument. They parked the Olds on the street and approached Dion’s house. They could hear the Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” playing, growing stronger and louder as they drew closer. It was a house just like the others on the street – flat roofed and red bricked.
There was no need for Angie and Kate to knock at the door; it was standing open despite the coldness of the winter night. Through the doorway, they could just barely see people moving and dancing slowly in the murky, smoke-filled darkness. Angie hesitantly followed Kate out of the night air and into the crowded room.
Like the college party, a vague sense of abandon surrounded the revelers, but that’s where the similarity ended. The Izods and sparkles were replaced with concert tee-shirts. The bodies moved more slowly, the music was louder, and the air seemed thicker, filled with the sweet yet acrid smell of marijuana mixed with incense. Under the black lighting, colors seemed strange and unfamiliar. Long hair hid many faces and talking was subdued; Angie couldn’t make out what anyone was saying. What she had thought was a living room seemed to go on and on, or was she going in a circle? Holding fast to the back of Kate’s shirt, she scanned the crowd nervously. When next she glanced at her hand, it was empty and Kate had disappeared. She looked around, panic-stricken, for the bright pink fabric and blond hair that would mean Kate was nearby, but her search proved futile.
Pressed forward by the dense crowd and with no idea where she was going, she figured that if she just kept moving, she would find her friend or maybe wind up back at the door. With this thought, she turned and looked behind her for the door that she had entered only a few moments earlier, or had she been here longer than that? Although the door had stood open, with the cold night air blasting through unhindered, it was not visible from where she stood, nor did she feel the fresh air anymore. Only the steamy heat put off by the writhing bodies encompassed her.
It began to appear that the paneling was closing in on her and the shag carpeting under her feet was growing like grass, becoming longer, and starting to entwine itself about her ankles. The music had changed; it seemed to flow into “Gimme Shelter” with no break, and with no time to switch records or tapes. In fact, Angie had never heard music that sounded like this. It was almost as if the Stones were playing in the room, or all over the room, or were they playing in her head? With an effort, Angie pulled herself toward the paneled wall, thinking that maybe she could lean against it, catch her breath, and search the dark room for signs of Kate or the door through which she had entered.
Drawing closer to the wall, she noticed that ivy leaves covered much of the paneling. She sunk her hands and face into the leaves, inhaling their alluring scent. Soothed and comforted, she pressed further into the foliage, as if trying to hide herself from the cacophony and confusion behind her, and marveled at the thickness of the ivy. She couldn’t reach the end of it; the wall itself seemed to be made of green, fragrant leaves. What she had thought was paneling seemed to actually be thickly woven branches and vines. Soon, she was becoming entangled in the living wall, which got thicker and woodier as she tried to extricate herself. Fat, purple grapes appeared, hanging heavily from the boughs as sweet smelling honeysuckle brushed her face and anointed her hair with its nectar. The vines were densely intertwined, preventing any further progress forward or backward, and Angie was trapped, helpless and bound by the verdant green prison which held her captive.
Despite her bondage, she had no fear and was mesmerized by the beauty around her. When she tried to move, the tendrils tightened about her thighs and waist, ripping away the clothing that she had so carefully chosen for the evening, replacing it with leaves and honeysuckle, and covering her as if she were in the Garden of Eden. Having thus transformed her, the foliage began to recede slightly, and Angie could see beyond it into another room, or was it a clearing in a forest? A towering male figure, partially obscured by the foliage, appeared just beyond the perimeter of the vines, and reaching forward with gentle hands, he tenderly released her from her confinement, brushing away the last tendrils that were holding on to her greedily, as if they were jealous and could not bear to let her go.
As she came closer to the tall, slender figure, she could see him more clearly. He was dressed in a coat of fox fur that reached the ground and a wreath of leaves encircled his untamed copper curls. His clear blue eyes were heavily lined with kohl, a long tiger’s tooth hung from his ear, and silver bracelets and rings adorned his elegant arms and hands. His skin was pale and smooth, and his slim fingers were graceful; they touched her face carefully, as to not scratch her with his long, black nails. Then he said, in a soft, low voice, “Welcome to my party, sweetheart”.
At this, laughter rang out from the edges of the clearing, or was it a room? Startled, Angie looked around quickly. Reposed upon the green grass/carpet were other lovely girls, arrayed in flowers and vines like her, and handsome young men, wearing animal skins. One of the girls shouted out joyfully, “It’s Angie!” Angie looked carefully at her face. Astonished, she realized that this was Mae, who was one of the girls that had smoked against the gym wall during high school and had ignored her when she attempted to join her group. Mae jumped up, and smiling, embraced Angie, saying, “I knew we would see you here one day. I knew that Dion would want you”.
Dion watched her closely as she looked around in amazement at all of the familiar faces. All those people from high school, the ones that she had so badly wanted to join, were smiling and welcoming her with upraised goblets of dark red wine. She suddenly realized that the music had changed again; hypnotic percussion and Jagger’s wild, animalistic screeches signaled the beginning of “Sympathy for the Devil”. The beautiful ones on the ground were instantly up and twining around each other as the vines, speaking seductively in an unfamiliar language, and mimicking the cries and calls of wild animals, with their lips stained red from the wine. Where once there had been a sullen lack of expression, there was now animation and life. Where once there had been acne and greasy hair, there were now clear, glowing faces and thick tresses that curled and flowed down their strong, perfect backs.
Angie felt a touch on her wrist, and Dion handed her a crystal goblet of the dark wine. Dazed, she raised it to her lips and drank deeply. She had never tasted such wine; it was smooth and warm, as if it had been squeezed directly from grapes lying hot in the sun, still on the vine. As it flowed down her throat, its power forced her to close her eyes. Standing with eyes shut, she felt his gentle hand take the precious liquid from her, and place bracelets on her wrists and rings on her fingers. Then he pulled her inside the fur coat to his body, where the smell and feel of him, honey, wine, and fierce heat, overwhelmed her with dreamlike images and sensations. Suddenly a searing image flashed in her head, nearly knocking her to the ground.
She saw herself in a strange bed alone, waiting for him to join her. She heard his voice on the phone, and picking up the extension in the bedroom, heard him talking to another woman, saying the things she desperately wanted to hear herself.
Angie, with pupils dilated and breathing shallowly, was too disoriented to acknowledge the vision; it was just part of the party. Dion was kissing her neck, then kissing her mouth with his soft, honey-flavored lips.
She saw herself on her knees, begging him not to leave. Then she was asleep on the floor by an unfamiliar door, like a pet dog, waiting for him to come home.
No longer in a crowd, she was alone with Dion. He gently pulled her to the ground, and she was consumed by him entirely; there was nothing left but his body and the music that surrounded them. Looking around her, she could see only him, and beyond him there was darkness. But a shadow fell over his stunning face and it began to change; the beautiful eyes became deeply hooded and dark. The music became distorted and echoed bizarrely all around them.
She saw herself crying out in pain as he slapped her hard across the face before walking out the door, again. And yet, she felt the same old intense yearning and desire for him that no amount of pain or humiliation seemed to destroy.
He was kissing her still, deeply and passionately, but the honey had turned bitter. There was a strange, pungent smell in the air, like the rotting flesh of animals. She felt that she could scarcely breathe; all was plunged into blackness. The music had become a reflection of madness as all of the songs from the night blended into one dissonant, orgiastic symphony.
She saw herself in a big room with expensive looking furnishings, holding a broken wine bottle in her hand. Her face was lined and tired. She walked up to the still beautiful figure of the sleeping man and plunged the broken bottle deep into his neck. Dark, red blood, like wine, flowed from the wound and covered her ageing body as she sliced her wrists with the same bottle, and lay down beside him.
The darkness that had surrounded her gradually faded as the light of dawn dimly illuminated the silent room. Farrah Faucette beamed down beneficently from the wall with her mega-watt smile upon Angie, who was lying on a bed in a typical 1970s bedroom, complete with lava lamp and psychedelic posters. Next to her was Dion, the cool leader of the hoods and heads in her suburban home town. Mae and others that she remembered from high school, the vo-tech-parkers and gym-wall-smokers, were asleep on the floor, dressed in the usual uniform of concert tees and jeans. She turned to look at the sleeping Dion, who was without any signs of eye liner or long black nails. She was amazed by his intense beauty; a beauty that was almost too perfect and ethereal to be possessed by a mere mortal man. She felt an overwhelming, almost painful desire and longing for him and was filled with joy at the thought that he had chosen her. Struggling to understand all that had happened the night before, she thought that maybe somebody had slipped her some acid and was relieved that everything looked so normal now.
Quietly, she got out of the bed, tiptoed around the comatose revelers, and made her way down the hall to the bathroom where she splashed her face with water from the tap. Looking up, she caught a glimpse of green in the reflection of the mirror. She whirled around, and there on the floor by the tub was a wreath of vine leaves.
The sight of this startling relic caused fragments of her visions from the night before to begin flashing powerfully through her mind. Leaving the bathroom and walking numbly down the hall toward the bedroom where her god was sleeping amongst his followers, she now noticed that there were ivy leaves and stray grapes lying on the dark green shag carpeting. She saw a twitching, budding vine extending from the paneling on the wall. There was an empty wine bottle lying on the carpeting, and when she tried to pick it up, the carpet began to wrap itself around it, as if protecting its master from potential danger. She pulled the bottle away from the carpet, strode purposefully back into the bathroom, and slammed it down hard on the porcelain tub, transforming it into a deadly, jagged weapon.
Carrying the broken bottle back to the bedroom and approaching the side of the bed, she looked down at Dion’s exquisite face and body for a long time. Finally, she leaned over and whispered softly into his ear, “I have to let you live, you beautiful son of a bitch, and you have to let me do the same”. She threw the broken bottle on the bed, and put on her somehow still-intact green satin bell bottoms, sparkly shirt, and platform shoes. Dion was still and silent, but his blue eyes, clouded with rage and tears, followed her as she walked out of the room.
Angie walked back into the living room, where people were passed out, including Kate and her brother. Although the front door still stood open, the room was as sticky hot as if it was a mid-summer day. Somewhere in the house a transistor radio was playing softly, and she could just barely hear the familiar melody of “Wild Horses”. The volume increased and the music seemed to come alive, as it had the night before, commanding her to return to the bedroom she had just abandoned. She covered her ears with her hands and with great effort ran across the floor, where the shag carpeting was undulating as if blown by a breeze, and past the reaching vines that were growing rapidly from the walls. The door was closing quickly, but Angie was able to squeeze through just before it furiously slammed shut.
She walked down the suburban street in the cold, early morning light, got in the Olds 442 and cranked it up. The Stones tape was still playing on the eight track and the music burst forth loudly. Suddenly aware of something bulky in her pocket, she reached in and pulled out a collection of silver rings and bracelets. After contemplating them for a moment, she rolled down the window and tossed them into the street. Then she ripped the tape out of the player and pitched it out too. She threw the Olds into gear and peeled out toward home. There were applications to be finished and mailed; time would not wait. Down from above, as if from Mount Olympus itself, the Stones’ “Bitch” thundered throughout the sleepy neighborhood, drawing residents out of their homes to stare wild-eyed into the sky, like the trumps of heaven had sounded.
Dedicated to Rock’s Hedonist Extraordinaire on His 70th Birthday…
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