[Originally published May 1, 2000.]
She’s never been to Hamburg. They say don’t ever go, good Christ don’t go there. She giggles. She recognizes all these names she’s used in her work, everywhere around her, in the streets, on the shingles hanging above shoe stores, pubs, hi-fi dealers: Dudley’s, Ruby’s, Parker’s. But the Cavern is something else. The Cavern is like something she wouldn’t dream up to punish terrible people she knows, a place she wouldn’t even be surprised to be murdered in, built of bricks and gray rain.
She’s never been here, either. She despises the weather, asks them how on earth they can stand it. Never known anything else, one of them tells her, and they all nod. All that water clings to her coat. She can’t shake it off. That morning, down near the docks, she watched a motorcyclist take a turn too fast and flip in the air. He landed on his back and the cycle actually caught fire. It gave her an idea for a story. She wonders if she still smells like cod from her walk that morning in the rain but doesn’t dare ask.
She asks why they didn’t play “My Bonnie.” Paul says Pete hasn’t learned it yet. She asks why they didn’t play “Cry for a Shadow.” John says, piss off, we haven’t played that number since last year. Paul says, oi, mind your manners around the bird. She’s far older than anyone within earshot, but she likes being called bird and blushes. Stu catches her eye and smiles. She asks why they didn’t play “Be-Bop-A-Lu-La,” a song from back home. Stu, drunk, says they haven’t rehearsed it in a while so quit asking for it then.
She gets on with Stu’s girl, who’s far younger than she is. Stu, she thinks but doesn’t say, is quite dashing. He’s only got a few months left on earth, his brain a ticking bomb, but nobody knows it tonight. She doesn’t have it nearly so bad, by that unseen measure; her malady, dormant again, won’t seize her until months after they’ve already landed in America to conquer Ed Sullivan, to clown around in Miami with Harry Benson and Cassius Clay.
You can’t be any poorer than dead, John says, thumbing through the book. She smiles and waits for it. John says, Title’s dead awful, that is. Rude, says John’s girl, elbowing him, and she stands up from the table, heads to the stairs of the Cavern for another drink. John protests: Cynthia, I’m saying I’d read it, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just got a rather grotty title, that’s all I’m saying to her! But she smiles and says nothing; it’s long been published, to wide acclaim; it’s safe, safe. John says everything that rises must converge, and he grins up at her. What’s going on in there, my little friend? he says, tapping her forehead gently, and they both grin. John says a good man is hard to find, and Stu’s girl leans over to her and whispers, truer words will never be spoken, and the two of them laugh together, with their heads tipped all the way back.