"God fucking damn!" Diana said, pounding both hands down on the keyboard in a dis-chord that made the juices in the other musicians' stomachs curdle.
"Diana!" Reilly protested, clapping his hands over his ears.
"That really wasn't necessary, Di," Sam said.
"I'm just so fed up," Diana said. "Nothing seems to work these days."
"Yeah, but you're not the only one suffering from frustration," John the drummer said. "And even if you were, it wouldn't give you the right to torture our eardrums with those kinds of disharmonies in this small space."
The space certainly was small, and the egg cartons covering the walls reduced the available room to sardine-size. The five musicians had to compete with their instruments when they wanted to move around.
"Maybe we need a discussion session more than a jam session," Rick suggested with a timid air. Small and inconspicuous, Rick was a living incongruity as a lead guitar player, which may well have been why Diana was so fond of him. Two dominating personalities in a band frequently mean trouble, and Diana Archer was dominating. Taller than Rick, with exaggeratedly short, extravagantly henna red hair and rash movements, the immediate impression she made was one of temperamental energy. The intensity of her dark brown eyes tended to shock the unprepared, while the regal length of her nose made her look a leader. It made her look arrogant as well, as did the hand she had planted so imperiously on her hip.
Reilly for one seemed to object to both the look and the hand. "You're not the leader of the band, you know, Di," he said nonchalantly, taking the opportunity the forced interruption provided to check the tuning of his electric bass. Reilly was not timid, and he had sufficient bulk to compete with Diana's domineering energy out of sheer size. "We're all in this together," he added.
"But why is everything so flat these days?" Diana asked. She could feel the enthusiasm evaporating from the practice sessions during the past couple of months, and not even her own energy could combat the tendency.
"Does that include your voice?" Rick asked. They all laughed briefly.
"Probably," Diana replied. "I'm not immune to apathy."
"You could have fooled me," Sam said, shaking the spittle out of her flute.
"Maybe you're pushing too much, Di," John suggested, twirling slowly back and forth on his stool, a slight frown on his all-American face. John was a truly handsome guy, with only the freckles dusting his nose and cheeks to relieve the monotony of the regular features.
"It's hard to keep up the enthusiasm when there's no real goal to work towards," Rick said.
"That's the big problem," Diana complained. "We don't have a gig."
"We should at least have been able to get something for Halloween," Reilly said. "Everyone and his uncles and cousins are having a party on Halloween."
"Too late for that now."
"We could still try," Reilly argued.
"First we'd have to change our morale," Diana insisted.
"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Rick asked, rhetorically and uselessly.
"It's been like this for months now," Diana griped. "The summer low point should have been over long ago."
"Summer was our high point," Reilly pointed out.
"The beginning of summer," Diana said. "So now that everyone is through dashing off to parts known and unknown can't we finally get down to business?"
"Are you sure that's what everyone wants to do?" Sam asked. "I don't remember anyone asking me."
The other musicians looked at Sam with differing mixtures of astonishment and disappointment on their faces. "But Sam, aren't you interested in gigs anymore?" Diana asked. "I thought you liked to perform?"
"Sure I like to perform, but the band is so exhausting these days. And sometimes I think when people see me on stage, they assume we're a blues band," Sam said, tongue very definitely in cheek. She didn't want to make a public forum out of her personal problems.
"Most people probably think it's the evening news," Diana said in the same vein, trying to kid Sam back into a good mood.
Sam chuckled and leaned against a portion of the wall free of egg cartons. "True enough. But you have to admit lots of people think if you're a black female musician, you have to be a blues singer."
"Just think of all the expectations you're disappointing when you get up on stage and start playing a rock flute like Ian Anderson."
"Sure, it's great, Di," Sam said, somewhat lacking in enthusiasm, "but I'm beginning to doubt if it's worth the effort. No time, my dear."
Diana was getting a sick feeling in her stomach like at the loss of love. At its best, music provided her with a kind of exhilaration that could easily compete with that outworked emotion; when a song went well in their little practice room and the sound surrounded her, when they managed a clean break together or someone did an inspired solo, it made up for a lot of everyday frustration, and even some not-so-everyday. That was the way music should be. Only lately, Diana had to admit, it had provided more frustration of its own than relief. But Diana was stubborn, and she had a fatal weakness for kicking dead horses until she injured her own toes.
"Are you really thinking of quitting?" Diana asked, coming out from behind her Roland and putting a hand on Sam's shoulder.
"No need to waste your charm on me, Di."
"Charm?" John said teasingly.
"I'm playing with the idea," Sam continued, "but I don't think you can influence my decision."
"Don't play with it too long," Reilly said. "Maybe the rest of us would like to know where we stand."
"Can this be the end of Crimes of the Heart?" Rick asked melodramatically.
"Don't you wish," John said.
"Well, I don't," Diana said impatiently, warding off a creeping feeling of desperation. "Listen, you guys, I've got a new song to divert you from this breaking up business." She went to the PA and adjusted the levels to her liking.
"I hope you haven't turned yourself up so loud that you drown us all out," Reilly protested. "Or is this supposed to be a solo?"
"It's not a loud song," Diana said, trying to bridle her temper. "It's a kind of rock ballad a la Dire Straits."
"What's it about?" Rick asked.
"Disappointed love," Diana answered. "What else?"
Diana fished around in her black leather backpack and pulled out a stack of xeroxes of the lyrics and chords. "It's called The Web," she said, handing out copies to everyone.
"I can read," Reilly snapped.
"G-chord variations to start with," Diana continued, ignoring the bass player with effort. She punched in a simple piano sound on her Roland and played the first few notes. "How about a low, melancholy bass slide here at the beginning?" she asked Reilly with as much friendliness as she could muster. As the other musicians pitched in, Rick plucking his acoustic guitar and John contributing a reserved rhythm, Diana started to sing. The music swelled imperceptibly, and when Sam joined in on her flute, Diana felt high. This was the way it was supposed to be, exactly like this. Sensitive to the mood of the song and each other, the musicians backed off one by one until only acoustic guitar, keyboards and Diana's voice were left.
"I will never understand how you come up with such lyrical stuff sometimes," Reilly said, shaking his head with grudging admiration. The music had temporarily made him forget his little war.
"Why not?" Diana asked.
"I associate lyrical with sensitive," Reilly explained.
"Ah, ha," Diana retorted, folding her arms in mock affront.
"Let's call it a night," Sam suggested before the next storm burst.
"Want to go out for a beer?" Rick asked.
"Not me," Reilly said, putting his bass in its case and snapping it shut. The sound had something definitive about it, and Diana looked at Reilly critically.
"The one during the practice session was probably enough for me," Diana said. "Otherwise I might topple over at one of the intersections on the way home."
"I can drive you home," John offered.
"And my bike? Not much room for that in your Mustang."
"I would never ride my bike alone at night," Sam said.
"I only ride through well-populated areas," Diana said, shrugging. "Besides, not riding at night seems to me like giving up and admitting defeat."
"There are places in this city where I wouldn't ride at night either," Reilly said.
"Have you ever ridden a bike in this city?" Diana asked, looking pointedly at Reilly's stomach. Sam, John and Rick laughed, and Reilly grimaced. Maybe she shouldn't have said that, Diana thought, but as usual it was too late.
As everyone was turning off systems and putting away instruments, Diana went over to Sam and asked in as much of an undertone as she could manage, "Since we're not going out for a beer, do you want to come over to my place for a while, Sam?"
"I really am pretty tired, Di."
"Well then, why don't you come over tomorrow? You don't look too hot."
"I'm not." Sam considered a moment. "Okay. I need a break and we need to talk. I meant what I said back there about this getting to be too much for me."
"If things were going better in the band you wouldn't feel that way."
"Maybe not. But I doubt it. And they aren't."
John came over to them, shrugging his all-American shoulders into a faded denim jacket. "So, Di, are you going to be a spider for Halloween to go along with your song?"
"Of course not. I'm going to be a witch--what else?"