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Leaving Chelsea

fantasy by Dean Wells

Gavin drifts through the Lower West Side slowly and with great effort, carrying the weight of the world in a guitar case of worn brown leather and a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

A warehouse not far from the pier looms before him, its heavy doors etched in frost. A bus is parked in front, a tangle of cables and equipment on the sidewalk, roadies hustling about. He looks up the impossibly tall stoop to the warehouse doors and feels every hope and dream he’s ever known collapse under the weight of the guitar case. He stops, uncertain, winter cold stabbing through the soles of his sneakers.

“Hey, Danko. You coming up or not?”

Gavin looks through icy mist from the river. Arlo sits cross-legged at the top of the stoop, plucking out a riff on the acoustic bass that’s balanced on his thigh, a smoke dangling from the side of his mouth.

Gavin stares. “You aren’t supposed to be here,” he says, taking in the incongruity of the moment.

Arlo shrugs. “Yeah, well you aren’t either.” The pavement beneath the stoop is littered with cigarette butts. He’s been there a long while.

Gavin sets his bundles down and the sidewalk threatens to crack under the crushing weight. “I have to do this, Arlo.”

“Let her go, man. Let all of it go.” Arlo waves a hand at the endless brick apartment buildings and the elevated freight rails that hold back the sky. “You belong somewhere else.”

“I can’t leave her.”

“Bullshit. She left you.”

“Chelsea’s dead, Arlo. The Clamour is dead. Everybody in that fucking car is dead. I should’ve been there.”

“Oh, please. Spare me the self-righteous existentialism.” Arlo sets his bass down and hops off the stoop, ice crunching under his boots. “Mitch held you back, Gavin. You were the one who kept us together, not him. Two fucking years, man, or were

you trying for three?”

“The band was more important than me,” Gavin says. “And Chelsea –” His voice trails off, allowing Arlo to finish the thread.

“ — and Chelsea was more important than everything.”

The Clamour had been Mitch’s from the beginning. He was the front man, lead guitar and vocals, a whirlwind of balls-out bravado. Arlo on bass, Chelsea Goff on back-up vocals and percussion. “Chelsea from Chelsea,” she would say, and they’d smile every time. But it was Gavin Danko on rhythm guitar who took the band forward with his driving chord progressions and transcendent harmonics. And there he remained, invisible, one year through the next, subtly layering his riffs with grand-master techniques while everyone’s eyes were on everyone else but him.

Until the gig at Opus 22, when the singer from Paradigm Shift approached Gavin with an offer: lead guitar, and a tour that was leaving for the West Coast in less than a month.

Chaotic imagery now: a rave in Jersey that Mitch insisted they attend, Gavin bowing out to meet with the new band, sirens at the massive Art Deco portals of the Lincoln Tunnel. Fire and twisted metal, the stink of burning flesh and gasoline.

Everyone dead —

“I should’ve been there,” Gavin says again, the sidewalk threatening to rush up and smack him in the face. “I should’ve told you the truth. Mitch —  God, I loved him.”

“So did she.”

Sweat trickles down Gavin’s sides, and his eyes sting with tears. “Fuck you.”

“She was going down on him when she died, man. You know that’s true.”

“Fuck you!”

“We were amped up on speed. I was in the back, Chelsea up front with Mitch. She starts tonguing her way into his pants. He hits the gas, the car spins on the ice and plows head first into the center portal on the Lincoln Tunnel Expressway.” Arlo turns and looks out over the lifeless post-industrial gloom towering over them and lights another cigarette. “Dying’s a bitch, man. I don’t recommend it.”

And then Arlo, who is not really Arlo at all, looks back at Gavin with profound understanding.

“I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.”

Gavin nods in tiny, rapid jerks, his eyes tightly shut.

“I know — I’ve always known.” He wipes his nose on his jacket sleeve and tries to breathe. The winter air tastes like metal. “God, I really fucked up.”

“So why am I here?” asks Arlo. “This is your epiphany, not mine.”

“I never said goodbye,” Gavin says, accepting the truth

even as his tears continue to fall. “Not to you, not to her. Jesus, two fucking years and I never told her anything. I don’t know, maybe the life I needed to say goodbye to the most was my own.”

The slashes in Gavin’s wrist are still vivid and bone-deep. He bled out long ago, or so it seems, naked in his loft with a bottle of Jack and The Clamour in his ears, his life pulsing in silent rhythm down a rusty bathtub drain.

“You sure about this?” asks Arlo.

Gavin nods. The Manhattan skyline is already starting to fade, city noise muffled by the cold of the grave. He looks down at his damp sneakers. “I’ll miss you,” he says, suddenly embarrassed.

“Don’t sweat it, man. I get to jam with Elvis.”

“Hey, Danko. You coming up or not?”

Gavin looks through icy mist from the river. Chelsea stands at the top of the stoop, white light streaming through the open doorway, from a place where clocks and calendars no longer have meaning. She smiles, regret and hope offered in her timeless eyes.

“Yeah,” he says, smiling as well, and he wipes the last of the tears from his face. “I’ll be right there.”

Two years, and counting to infinity. Gavin picks up his guitar case as if it weighs nothing at all.

copyright July 2011 by Dean Wells

Dean Wells lives in California. His short stories have appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Ideomancer, Demensions and ShadowKeep. He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

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