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Jen Conley

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metalheadmarty.jpg

“Metalhead Marty in Love”

 

by Jen Conley

 

Yeah, Marty was into Metal. He loved it all: Priest, Scorpions, Maiden, Zeppelin, Metallica, Dio. The loud, violent music ruptured through his boom box before school, after school, the noise exploding in crackling dark beats and unending shouts and shrieks, taking Marty to dreamland, where he saw himself on an enormous stage, arms reaching out to him, voices begging for more.

In real life Marty Taylor had an electric guitar and a band that rehearsed in Phil Cone’s garage, even though Phil was a crap-musician himself, but Marty and the rest of the guys had nowhere else to go, so they put up with the kid. And because Marty was so into playing guitar, and because he had that real potential—the stuff only few people were born with—one of his mother’s boyfriends took him up to Old Bridge to hang out with Joe Palchak, an aging hippie-rocker dude, who’d been a roadie for Creedence and the Eagles, or so he claimed, and who had mad talent on every damn instrument he touched, and who played the bars in Asbury and Brighton Beach, and had jammed with Springsteen himself.

            “You’ll go far,” Joe Palchak said after a few sessions with the teenager. “Just don’t let a woman get in the way.”

            Women shouldn’t have been a problem. Marty wasn’t a handsome guy—he had long stringy hair like a true Metalhead, but his face was rectangular shaped with sharp angles, and he had a terrible long, crooked nose. He was tall, skeletal, and his back was hunched—the guy almost looked like Nosferatu, except his eyes were little and he didn’t have the same bushy black brows or fang teeth. So, yeah, if you were going on looks, he wasn’t ever going to be one of the favorites of the local girls. On top of that, Marty came from one of those tough, low-class North Jersey families who’d moved down to desolate Ocean County because it was cheap. He lived in a decrepit house with his mother who sometimes had boyfriends move in and a mean-ass sister who repeatedly told him how fucking ugly he was. But despite this, despite the fact that his family was dirtbag city, despite the fact that he looked like a creepy vampire, Marty wasn’t pissed off about it all, which meant he wasn’t a dickhead. He kept to himself, strumming his guitar, dreaming his dreams, and had a mad quiet crush on Megan Tolly since the tenth grade, when he first set eyes on her, when she had just moved down from Roselle Park.

And that’s the story here.

She drove him crazy. That long brown wavy hair, those pretty blue eyes, freckles on her nose, freckles on her chest, just enough curves, a shy smile—a total fantasy for a guy like Marty. Sophomore year she sat in front of him in Geometry and because she sucked at math, she often turned around and asked for help. Marty pulled straight A’s in that class because each night he took the book home and made sure he was on top of the next day’s lesson, just in case she turned around and asked for assistance.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she said over and over again. 

            He wrote songs about her but never had enough balls to bring them to the guys, so the words remained hidden in tattered notebooks under his mattress. And even though he said nothing to anyone about his crazy mad ache for Megan Tolly, pretty much everyone knew. Marty tried so hard not to watch when she crossed the lunchroom, tried so much not to help her each time her locker got stuck (they were across from one other), tried so much not to think about asking her out because he knew she’d shoot him down, like one of the local hunters sitting up in a tree, taking down a six-point buck.

            Besides, it wasn’t long before someone else noticed her. In the spring of sophomore year, Stuart Wade, a junior, started hanging around Megan’s locker and day after day, Marty came upon them, making out or just looking at each other, she gazing at the guy, him grinning like he’d won a dare. “I’ll call you tonight,” Stuart would say, and Marty, who just couldn’t take it anymore, finally pulled his shit out of his locker and moved in with his mean-ass sister on the other side of the school.

            “Why you gotta crowd me, ugly?” she said.

            “Shut up,” he told her.

 

            His mother’s boyfriend, the one who knew Joe Palchak, dropped out of the picture, but because Marty had a good after-school job at a gas station, he was able to buy a car and get up to Old Bridge to play with Joe. By the time Marty graduated high school, his band with Phil Cone and the rest of the guys had split up, and Marty was now a free agent. Joe put him in touch with some dudes from Howell and after a short audition, Marty was recruited to play lead guitar for the newly-formed Dark Beast.

            “Fucking A, you play good!” the drummer hooted. “Like Tony Iommi!”

            And it was true. Because when Marty played Metal music—with all that mentoring from Joe Palchak and practice, and with that raw true-blue talent—it was like magic from some rock underworld. Dark Beast was absolutely thrilled they’d found him.

            “You in a new band now?” his sister asked one night.

            Marty beamed, proud of himself. “Yep.”

            It was obvious she was rip-roaring jealous. The girl was out of school, too, and she had nothing going for her. “I bet you guys suck.”

            Marty flipped her the bird.

 

            After a few sessions with the guys, Marty got the nerve to pull out his songs about Megan Tolly. He wasn’t much of a singer, but he sang for the group anyway:

                        “Deep holy hell, my heart is broke

                         Deep holy hell, my heart is toked

                        Deep holy hell, can’t you see?

                        Oh, Baby, baby, you made a mess out of me.”

 

The lead singer of Dark Beast, a handsome guy named Carmine Sardone, loved the lyrics, and he loved the intense riff Marty played, and with the drummer adding his slow, pummeling beats, the bass player adding the rhythm, the song, Deep Holy Hell, became one of their flagship tunes, a favorite in the local bars they were playing gigs in.

            Carmine asked for more, and Marty played Witch with Dark Hair; Hung, Drawn and Quartered (a song about Stuart Wade); and a Metal ballad in the vein of Kiss’s Beth, but Marty called his Meg.

           

            Dark Beast was convinced they were going to hit the big time. It was 1988, the height of Metal, and they were just a gig away from being discovered. Local music critics were writing good things, the following was getting bigger, and one night in February, while playing the Fastlane in Asbury, Marty looked out into the crowd and there, standing off to the right with Angela Mazziotti, was Megan Tolly. Marty was stunned, rocked. He missed a beat, Carmine shot him the evil-eye, and Marty looked down at his guitar, pulled himself back from the brink, and put that woman out of his mind.

            After the show, when the band was outside loading up the van, before Marty could even search for them, Angela and Megan found him.

            Angela, a hot number with teased-out hair, big boobs, and heavy makeup, a girl who never spoke to Marty in school, ran up and hugged him, said she couldn’t believe he was in a band like Dark Beast, and could he introduce her to the lead singer? 

            “Damn, is he cute!” she squealed.

            Marty swallowed, nodded, said hello to Megan.

            “Hey, Marty,” Megan said shyly. She was dressed in a black tube skirt, a thin black lacy sweater, and black boots with tassels in the back. Her legs were bare and she was shivering from the cold, her teeth chattering, and Marty so much wanted to do something about it.

            “I got a long coat in my car, if you want,” he offered.

            “Oh, yeah?” she asked, her eyes brightening.

            “Sure, hold on.”

            But Angela grabbed him first. “I mean it. Introduce me to him.” She nodded towards Carmine, who was actually sneaking looks at her.

            “Sure,” he said impatiently, turning and calling out to Carmine, who smiled his sideways lead singer smile and strutted on over.

            After Marty introduced the two, Megan tapped Marty on the arm. “Could you get me that coat?”

            Marty nodded and ran in long lopes across the parking lot to his car. The coat was an old wool and gray tweed thing, something he’d found in the basement that had belonged to his dead grandfather, who, according to photographs, had also been tall, hunchbacked, and very thin.

            When Marty returned, he noticed Megan had moved away from Angela and Carmine and was standing alone, her arms wrapped around herself. She grinned when she saw him and when he got to her, he held the coat out like a gentleman and Megan slipped into it. The sleeves were too long and the shoulders too wide but within a minute, she seemed much warmer.

            “Thank you,” she said quietly. A streetlamp shone over them and in the fluorescent beam, Megan’s face was pale and ghostly, but ethereal, like she was in a Stevie Nicks video. Her lips were dark red, her long brown hair teased out a little, and she wore earrings in the shape of stars that glittered in the light.

            “It’s no problem,” Marty muttered, looking away. The van was packed up and the guys were standing around, talking to girls who’d strolled up from the club. Carmine was telling a story and Angela was smiling, nodding, her head titled flirtatiously. Marty glanced at Megan and noticed she was watching her friend and the lead singer. Marty looked back at Carmine and Angela, just in time to see them kiss.

            “Shit,” Megan said, letting out a deep breath. “Now I’ll never get home.”

            “I guess she drove you?” Marty asked.

“Yeah. She’s not gonna leave now. Shit.”

            Marty braced himself. Megan was stranded. This was his moment.

            “I can take you home.”

            Megan turned to him, relieved. “I would really, really appreciate that. Let me tell Angela.” And with that, she darted over to the kissing couple.

            In another moment, Marty and Megan were walking across the parking lot, Marty so wrecked with horror, so overwhelmed with joy, he couldn’t speak. He remembered to open the door for her and apologized for any mess in the car, which there really wasn’t. The car was a tank—a ’76 gold Oldsmobile Cutlass—but it was in decent shape. As he walked around to the driver’s side, he told himself he had to talk to her. He had to say something clever, amazing, something that might make her do this again.

            “Are you hungry?” he asked when he started up the car.

            “Yes.”

            As they drove, he asked her about math because she said she was attending OCC, Ocean County College, and she said she was bombing it like always. They went to a diner and he opened the glass door for her, let her walk in front of him when the waitress led them to their booth, helped her take off the coat.

            They talked about what they wanted to eat—both wanted pancakes—and after the waitress took their order, a demon silence crawled up between them that Marty didn’t know how to slay. What could he ask her now? Sure, the most normal person could come up with something but Marty was so nervous, he couldn’t think of anything but: Are you still with Stuart?

            And believe it or not, that’s what he said.

            Megan sighed. “He’s up at Rutgers and he didn’t bother with me much over Christmas break. So I drove to his house on New Year’s Day because I didn’t see him New Year’s Eve. He’s twenty-one now and he can go out to the bars, and I’m still twenty, so I can’t. Anyway, he said he was hung over and he’d call me.Which he hasn’t.”

            Marty nodded, because that’s all he could manage.

            Megan went on: “So now it’s been almost a month. I guess he broke up with me.”

            “Maybe something happened.”

            “Like what? He got hit on the head and doesn’t remember who he is? Shit. That may be a good thing.”

Marty nodded again.

“Hell,” she muttered, staring through the diner window. “I don’t really care.” Then she looked at him and he had to look away because his heart was flooded with hope.

            “So your band is pretty good,” she said. “I liked that song, Meg.

            Marty desperately didn’t want her to know the truth about the song, so he quickly kicked out a lie: “Yeah, Carmine used to have a girlfriend named Michelle but he didn’t want her to know he wrote a song about her so he changed the girl’s name to Meg.”

            Megan said, “Oh.”

            The pancakes arrived.

Later, after he pulled up in front of her house, she held out her hand to shake his. “Thanks.”

            He watched her run up the walkway to her front door, turn and wave before entering the house. Marty waved back, saw her go inside, then switched on the overhead light and peered into the rearview mirror. He looked okay, he thought. He was no Stuart Wade, with good looks and athleticism, or Carmine Sardone, with ego and lead singer sex appeal, but he could be a contender. He told himself that if Megan hadn’t liked him even a little bit, meaning if she hated his guts, she would’ve called her dad or a neighbor to come pick her up and take her home. And she certainly wouldn’t have eaten pancakes with him.

 

            The good thing about Angela, according to Carmine, was that she knew how to screw. “She don’t just lie there, you know?” This kept the lead singer happy and made Angela and Megan regular fans, not groupies, something more, classier. The girls came to every show, and at the end, Marty would take Megan to a diner and then he’d take her home. It became easier to talk to her and because she was so interested in his music, she asked him questions about how he wrote songs. One night, in the beginning of March, right in the diner, he came up with a tune and some lyrics and composed one right there.

            “Wonderful!” she cried out and clapped.

            Later, standing in front of his car, she stood up on her toes and kissed him. It was short and gentle, but a real kiss. He couldn’t believe this was happening—his band was on the road to stardom, his dream girl was actually into him.The winter night was mild and Megan’s top was low cut. They stood under a streetlamp and he placed his hand on the rim of her shirt, up towards her shoulders, but he stared at her freckled chest. He wanted to look into her eyes because he could feel her staring at him, but just couldn’t.

            “Kiss me back, Marty,” she whispered.

            He hesitated, almost choked.

“Marty?”

Finally, with a push from the gods, he leaned down and kissed her.

                       

Marty never told Megan he loved her—never the right moment, too nervous, always putting it off to the next time.

He did ask her about Stuart, though. “Do you think he knows about us?”

“Maybe,” Megan said quietly. They were in a motel room off of Route 35. Her head was resting under his chin, his left hand running up and down her bare arm.

“Have you talked to him?”

“No.” She kissed his chest, then lifted her head and looked at Marty. “I’m going to give you some advice, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Just watch your back.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Just in case he needs an excuse to beat someone up.”

“He’s like that?”

She sighed. “He could be.”

 

            The momentum of Dark Beast was in fifth gear now, like doing a hundred over the Seaside Bridge. Any day, any second, a man in a suit would come down from the city, flash a fancy New York contract, and sign them with a golden pen. “It’s gonna happen,” Carmine promised. “And you know this by the number of groupies that are waiting for you at the end of the night.”

There were a lot of girls, and Carmine, being so handsome, couldn’t turn down an easy blowjob. Angela stopped attending the shows but Megan didn’t, making Marty sure of their relationship. With her in the crowd, every note sparked from his electric guitar, and the euphoric energy he put forth drove the rest of the guys to give it their all and the people cheered, especially when Marty leaned forward, played wildly, channeling Hendrix. Afterwards, girls would be waiting, offering to take each guy to the bathroom or to a dark corner, but Marty turned them down, knowing he had something better. And there she’d be: leaning against the wall, hands in her jacket pockets, tight short skirt, a leg crossed over another, wearing her tasseled boots, grinning.

“Kiss me, baby,” she’d say, looking up at him.

Marry me, he wanted to say back, but never did.

           

            In June, the romance suddenly fizzled. First, she said she couldn’t come to a show. Had to take her mom somewhere. She went to the next one, but she was weird, claiming she had cramps and he had to drive her straight home after the gig.

            “It’s okay,” Marty said, kissing her forehead before she got out of the car. “Get some rest.”

            “Thanks.”

            He watched her run up to her house, the moon wide and bright, shining on her figure as she went.

           

            She wouldn’t take his calls. He was sick, his guts tortured with pain, the grief ripping through his soul. What had he done? Why wouldn’t she talk to him? The heartbreak showed up in his playing. He missed notes, the fire in his solos wasn’t there, and Carmine pulled him aside.

            “I know your girl ain’t around no more, but you still have your music, man. For Christ’s sake, get it fucking together!”

            Marty got back on track. Carmine didn’t shoot him the evil eye on stage, the riffs blew up again, but inside, Marty was destroyed. Each time Dark Beast played, Marty peered out into the crowd, hoping he’d seen her pretty face, hoping she would come back to him.

           

            In July, they showed up after a gig in Toms River—Stuart Wade and two other idiots from school, Lou Eversham, who was a bulk of muscle, and John Kolowski, more muscle. With the band long gone, Marty had been alone in his car, writing lyrics about heartache, when Stuart and his guys banged on the window and ordered Marty outside.

            Marty didn’t move.

Stuart glared at him through the glass. “Be a man, asshole!”

Marty stepped out of the car. The parking lot was deserted, the bar shut for the night. It was a sight to see under the streetlamp—hunched-backed Marty with his long, stringy hair towering over the three muscle-heads like an anemic willow tree.

Stuart was piss-mad. He said he’d never broken up with Megan and when he ran into Marty’s sister at the 7-Eleven the other night, he’d been surprised to find out that ugly Marty Taylor was banging his girlfriend.

            “What do you have to say for yourself, dickweed?”

            Marty didn’t know how to answer. He shrugged, looked at the ground, looked back up at Stuart, decided to take the best way out—apologize. “I’m sorry, man. I thought you two had split. Honestly.”

            “She tell you that?”

            Not wanting to betray Megan, not wanting to explain that she had said she didn’t give a shit about Stuart and that she was single and free to be with whomever she wanted, that she had said that to Marty after that first kiss, because he’d asked her that night, right before he took her to the motel, and she said so—but Marty told Stuart no. “I never asked her. I just assumed.”

            “So you never thought to say, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’”

            “No. I’m sorry man.”

            Stuart looked at his dudes and shook his head. “You’re a fucking asshole.”

            And with that, Stuart lunged forward, swung, hit, knocked Marty against his car, battered his face with two more punches. Marty slipped to the ground, his tall skeletal body no match for the strength Stuart possessed.

            Stuart watched Marty as he coiled up in pain.

“You’re such a fucking idiot!” Stuart barked. “You think she really wanted you? As soon as I called her, she came running back.”

            Marty stared up at Stuart, finally comprehending why Megan disappeared from his life. “So you called her in June, right?”

            Stuart said yes. “Then I drove to her house and she jumped in my car, dickhead.”

Marty nodded, let his head come to rest on the ground. His face was sore from the punches, but it was his heart and ego that ached more.

Then this happened: suddenly, out of nowhere, Lou Eversham grunted, stepped forward, and kicked the poor guy in the stomach. Marty rolled over, moaned, begged for it to stop, his left hand swinging out for a moment, slapping against the blacktop. It lay out there, waiting, and Lou delivered the final blow—he lifted his booted right foot and stomped on Marty’s left hand, crushing the finger bones like they were sticks.

            For a brief moment, Stuart watched Marty cradle his broken hand, groan in pain and sadness, and you had to believe something in that boy understood he’d done bad.

 

            Marty didn’t have health insurance so he didn’t get the best care. And it turned out, Marty had a disease that caused brittle bones—which made the injury catastrophic. His fingers were mangled and crushed, the thumb wrecked. The doctors had no choice but to amputate everything and leave nothing but a nub.

            For three months, Dark Beast held out for a miracle, the guys coming to the hospital, visiting Marty at home, cheering him on, saying he’d play again, just look at Rick Allen of Def Leppard, who after his accident, was playing the drums with one arm! Even Tony Iommi, who’d had the tops of his fingers cut off in a sheet metal accident, could still play guitar. But Marty’s situation was much worse. The amputation, they all knew, signaled that this was the end, the end of Marty’s career, the end of Dark Beast.

            Megan moved away. Her parents sold their house and she went with them. Virginia or North Carolina, Marty’s mean-ass sister said.

            “I’m so sorry I told Stuart about you and Megan,” she whined. “I thought he knew.”

            Marty, sitting in a lawn chair on his patio, sipped a beer and shrugged, then told her to fuck off.

            It didn’t matter, he thought, looking up into a gray sky. The world was useless, the gods were cruel.

            Rain fell on his face.

 

            Years later, when there is Google and Facebook, a reflective Megan, divorced with two kids, looks for Marty Taylor, just to see how he is doing, or so she tells herself. These days, the memories of him bounce around her head, and the more she thinks of him, the more she compares him to Stuart, to the other guys who came after him, to her ex-husband, to the men who followed her divorce. But Marty is nowhere to be found. She sends Carmine Sardone a Facebook message. He doesn’t reply. So she writes Marty’s sister, but the guy’s whereabouts are a mystery. “We haven’t heard from him in years,” answers the sister. “He could be dead for all we know.”

And one evening, while sitting on her deck, sipping her Pinot, watching the last of the lightening bugs fade out, her pretty face growing old, Megan finally realizes that the only man who would ever love her like Marty Taylor did, was Marty Taylor. Most men, although they wanted love—claimed they’d climb mountains and fight giants for a taste—didn’t have it in them to love one woman, solely, faithfully, heart, gut, mind, like Marty loved Megan. She realizes it had been a gift, a treasure from the gods, a comet, a mermaid, a Pegasus. Oh, how she wants it back.

Oh, how her soul hurts.

 

           

            Jen Conley’s stories have been published in Thuglit, Needle, Beat to a Pulp, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Big Pulp, Talking River Review, SNM Horror, the anthology, Bonded By Blood II: A Romance in Red, and others. She was nominated for a 2011 Best of the Web Spinetingler Award which was really awesome. Visit her at jen-conley.blogspot.com or follow her on twitter, @jenconley45.

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