Alien Murmuration - A Masking Story - Chapter 12
I am neatly folding my t-shirts, one for each day I am going to be away. Mum walks in looking stressed, “Now honey are you sure you are going to be okay for the whole week?”
I take a breath to speak.
“You’ve never even been to a sleepover.”
I take another breath
“And this Dutch Rod? Have I even met him? How long have you known him?”
I take three long slow breaths.
“You can always ring me to come and get you.” She half-smiles, tilts her head a little and breathes out through a small mouth.
A Kaleidoscope is twisting and turning in my head. I try to decode the emotions on her face and slowly close my eyes. My breath synchronises with hers.
I guess old habits die hard.
“I’ll be fine mum” I softly exhale “We are going to play music and hang out.”
“Hang out?” she repeats in confused disbelief. She might be putting it on. I don’t know “My boy is going to hang out with friends.” Who knows who she is talking to?” She starts to mumble “Just like a . . . .
Her smile fades as she adds “No drinking!”
I Place my folded t-shirts into dad's old football bag on top of my other clothes.
Mum helps me pack my bag, my guitar and amp into the car. Her continued fussing is still driving me crazy but I can handle it. I think.
When I was younger mum always tried to organise parties for my birthday. Sometimes they were kind of fun. Other than that, though, she’s right, I haven't really ever been to one.
I never got invited to any. My heart swells in my chest and feels like it is constricting my throat. I look down and gently shake my head.
The week has been brilliant. We’ve had our gear set up in the basement. Jamming every day. Mostly it has been the three of us but occasionally mates of Rod and Manny have tried out as singer. Whitey has been the best so far but he screamed and snarled too much, losing the melody in his anger. I think he thinks he’s Johnny Rotten, but for me, he was a bit too similar. He kept looking at me, it put me off as he looked really angry. I can’t help but feel like he still wants to squish me underneath his foot. Like I am that Alien who has interrupted his life.
The others told me after that he was actually really impressed with my guitar playing.
Whitey came over the next couple of days too. We are playing at Rod’s party on Friday night and we need a singer. I think we are all a bit scared of Whitey so he got the gig.
After so many days playing we have started to sound okay. As terrified as I was about the party, I was kind of looking forward to performing. After our practice on Thursday, two of Rod’s mates came over Moggsie and Pete. They bought with them some dope for the party. Rod and Manny were really excited but I didn’t have much idea about what it was. I just thought we were going to get arrested.
I was jumpy and paranoid as soon as I heard about it. Before it had even arrived. The drug education videos at school said that paranoia was likely with drugs, I thought you had to take them first though.
In Rod’s front room, we sat and eagerly waited while Pete rolled a joint. He drew in a huge inhalation and slowly leant back. Closing his eyes. A strange smile spread across his face. He paused and took another drag before handing it to Moggsie.
I was going to pass of course. Say no. Just say no. The thing is though. This week I have started to feel different, part of something. I had never felt like this. I had never even understood why people wanted to have friends. They always seemed like such a responsibility. You had to put effort in, and sometimes they did mean things or got upset with you. It was too hard. Why would anyone want that? Let alone hang around with a few of them? Humans surely just lived in family groups or alone.
This week though, I had started to feel part of the group. I felt like an earthling. When people came and went they treated me like everyone else, and there were a lot of people coming and going. It was like I was supposed to be there. Pete was talking to me about Bob Dylan and the Stones. It wasn’t a chore, it wasn’t difficult. It was just another person to talk to. The thing is that it wasn’t just the people I didn’t know. People from school who know I am an alien were sort of normal towards me. I suppose I was normal to them too.
Well sort of.
The joint circled around and as I watched hypnotised by the smoke and the situation it eventually came to me. Moggsie nonchalantly passed it to me like he would pass it to anyone else. I took it with no hesitation, smoothly and calmly I raised it to my lips. Shooting Manny a look just to read the surprise on his face. I inhaled deeply, just like Pete had.
Then something happened.
My brain was scattered with a myriad of tiny explosions. It was like catches had been blown off. Catches holding everything down.
Everything was free.
Moggsie was telling a story. I passed the joint around. I felt like I was watching someone listening to someone listening to someone telling a story. All at once, I was observing this scene but also slap bang in the middle of Moggsie’s story. This was somewhere I have never been before. Then we started to laugh. Another joint went round. A few more catches blew off and we laughed some more.
Friday morning, my head is still foggy from the night before. My head has been filled with different all my life. I have heard so many times that I was weird. I accepted that I just think differently. My brain always felt sharp and spikey. All shining chrome and reflective edges.
Now though it was fuzzy, spongy . . . lumpy. This was genuinely weird for me. My sharp, rude intrusive thoughts were quiet. I wasn’t constantly second-guessing myself. Today My brain was just letting me be and it was liberating. I felt free. More importantly than that though I felt like everyone else that morning and everyone else felt like me.
I wanted more of this.
Friday’s jam was awesome. Well, it started off just about okay. We were all fuzzy in the head and probably nervous about playing in front of people that night. Then, something happened on Rod’s snare drum that made everything much much better. He rolled us another joint. After that, things were totally amazing. It was like all the notes were flowing out of me. Last night I had felt like we were all the same but today. Today was like we were all part of the same person. We hardly spoke for hours, we just played together. Working off each other. Exchanging notes riffs and rhythms. I have never felt anything even nearly like it. I have never felt so in tune with another person. We started to know when to change, who to follow during different parts of the music. In two days, I have gone from an alien from another planet to part of a loose-limbed being from the centre of this world.
Maybe I could navigate this party after all.
It was so loud. The noise was rattling through my brain. Walking back and forth between the lounge and the kitchen. Breathing deep and slow. Manny is in the lounge being his usual effortlessly charming self. I am being spikey, jittery and awkward... My usual self too. If I just keep moving then maybe people won’t notice me.
Trouble is people have noticed me. I can see that they are talking about me. Looking at me while trying to look like they are not looking at me. They are wondering why I am here. Yesterday I felt different but today I am back to being Alien again.
I am asking myself why I am here too.
Suddenly I feel a whack in my back. It feels like it is going to put me through the wall but I just stumble forward a little.
“Alright Alien mate!” I hear behind me. “Get this down you my son, social lubricant they call it. It’ll help you relax.”
I turn to see whitey trusting a can into my hand. I sort of smile and sort of look at the can.
“It's just a beer mate, enjoy it” He looks at me weirdly and then struts off towards the lounge and Manny.
I stand still and watch him walk off. A bit stunned. A Deer in the headlights. I open the beer and take a big swig. It tastes disgusting. My first instinct is to find somewhere to put it down, but people really like this stuff don’t they? I mean really like it. There must be something in it. I take another swig. A bigger one this time. The funny thing is, although I don’t like it, I do feel a little more relaxed. Just holding the can gives me something to do. It’s one step away from just standing there. Or just walking about. I look at people standing smoking and talking.
Next thing I know, Manny is dragging me into the lounge screaming “FUCKING PERFUME MATE, PARIS ANGELS!!”. You are going to love this tune. I feebly counter his enthusiasm by mumbling under my breath that I don’t really like dance music. This is nowhere near enough to stop a Manny in full flight. Whitey leans over and hands me a joint and then… we are dancing. I think. I look around. Everyone is dancing. I take a deep drag on the joint and try to see what they are doing. Really what it looks like is that you kind of throw your arms around while stepping from one foot to another. All in time with the music. I can do that. I nod my head and start to move. Pulling hard on the joint. Dancing. It feels good.
The music is surrounding me. Swirling through my brain. It is so loud but I can hardly make it out. It feels like it is distorting like it is sucking in and out of itself. If it were a shape it would be a double helix.I pass the join to someone and close my eyes. This is incredible, is it the music or the beer or the joint. I have never felt anything like this before. I am totally lost in the music. It is pulling me one way and then the other. Floating and flying on the squelching bass and jangly guitar. Eventually, it releases its grip on me and delivers me back to the land of the living.
Momentarily anything. I am picked straight back up again by the pulsing phased intro to Move any Mountain by the Shamen. I’ve heard this song a few time and never rated it. Now, however it sounds amazing. People around me are cheering and jumping up and down. As the drums roll in Manny hands me another joint and Whitey another beer. We all continue to dance together. My eyes are closing. I look around and notice that no-one else is doing the same so I try not to. Here we are, all dancing together.
The jack won’t go into my guitar. I have had too many. Staggering a little, I look over at Manny as he throws his bass strap over his head. I obviously look a bit worried because he smiles and cheerfully makes a Bill and Ted style air guitar thing at me. I laugh and slide the jack plug into my guitar. Ready to go.
As we step up to play the whole party kind of stops. Whitey sort of snarls, sort of smiles “Hi we are …” Whitey turns to us and says “hey what are we called?...” I panic and blurt out “Murmuration??” Whitey looks over to me as if this was the last place he was expecting the answer to come from. He nods at me slowly and turns back to the furtive waiting crowd. “We are..” he repeats “Murmuration” The crowd cheer a little. More because they feel like they should rather than anything else. Mani starts to pound out the bass intro to I Wanna Be Adored.
I miss my cue to come in. I feel panic. Rising up inside me. I lose total track of what is going on. I feel like I am floating away from this. All connection is failing.
Rod and Whitey are staring at me. Rod is looking for his cue and Whitey is just wondering what is going on. Whitey looks pissed off and the panic strengthens as raises in my chest stopping my breathing. The disconnect takes over and I am almost gone.
My fingers peeling off the fretboard.
I feel like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future when his family are disappearing.
“You got this Alien” Whitey says to me loudly. Kind of kindly. But with an undercurrent of you had better got this. I catch on to Manny’s bassline again and ignore the uncomfortable looking crowd. I know this is up to me.
Back to your home planet or stepping over the welcome mat.
A pivotal moment in my life.
My fingers back on the fretboard I pick up the scale and things are feeling right again. As I finish the intro scale part rod slams in the drums. Things are right. Our groove is wrapping itself around me and reconnecting me. I am floating and swirling around our loose baggy groove. Then Whitey growls in with the first verse.
The crowd start to move. Heads down and grooving along with us. They are enjoying it. People are into it. As we move through our set I start to feel okay. I even believe for a moment or two that I am supposed to do this. The panic and stress have subsided back to my guts. At one point during ‘What difference Does it Make’ I laugh as Flints and his mate Phill stand right in front of Manny and try to put him off. He barely has room to move his hands over his guitar and cannot look away from the two people only inches from his face. As I laugh, I cannot feel my stomach anymore. For moments during those few minutes, the knot in my stomach has disappeared. This would be the first time this has happened since… well since dad.
Our whole set runs with no more issues. I missed a few notes here and there and lost my place once or twice. I didn’t care though. Well not nearly as much as usual. Maybe Manny was right and we were bang on with our groove, despite our mistakes. The crowd seemed to enjoy it and we even did an encore. Well we played a couple of songs again and sort of jammed over the end.
I woke up the next day, my head was pounding and my mouth was dry. . .