Miss you again

A short story

B: Hey Sam.
S: Hey yourself.
B: I'm not stalking you - I promise.
S: I know that, dumbhead.
B: Geez. Now there's something I haven't heard in thirty years.
S: What?
B: "Dumbhead." You used to call me that back in the day. When you were mad at me.
S: Or teasing you.
B: Ha, ha. Indeed. So - everything good on your side?
S: Yes. Mostly. And no... That's life eh?
B: What's up?
S: Ah - it'd take too long to explain.
B: Give it a try.
S: You might not be a stalker Brandon Durie but you're still a pest, you know that? Okay, in short: Graeme annoyed the crap out of me today (again). Just the usual domestic stuff: not doing his fair share of the chores. Then there's our two boys, who won't listen to a thing I say... They take after their dad, surprise, surprise. So I've locked myself in my study and told them I've got an op-ed piece to finish by tomorrow. They'll have to arrange dinner themselves.
B: Will they?
S: Oh, I don't care. Well actually, yes I do. I'm starving. It'd better not be nachos. But whatever it is, they'd better save some for me. The problem is, I can't go out to check - not until I know I've won. I made sure to grab a muesli bar, but that's already gone and my stomach's starting to growl. All I have left is this cup of coffee I'm nursing. I'm wishing now that I'd put some sugar in it...
B: Ha, ha! I remember your stomach noises. Some things never  change. I also remember you getting "hangry". So typical!
S: Watch it mister - I'm already low on blood sugar and more than a little pissed off.
B: And on strike, by the sound of it.
S: You could say that. You're laughing aren't you? Well stop it! Tell me: have you turned out the same? Are you also a typical male nowadays?
B: You already know the answer to that question.
S: I guess I do. I can see you in my mind's eye right now - dishcloth over one shoulder, humming away as you stir something over the stove. Or maybe a peg in your mouth as you hang clothes on the line. God knows why you can't teach the rest of your gender a thing or two. Anyway, I'm just in a bad mood. If I don't let it go, I'll harp on about it all evening and you'll regret ever speaking with me. So let's change the subject. Tell me - how are things on your side?
B: Hm. About the same as on yours, but for different reasons. It's a public holiday here. And it's morning. So I'm just online wasting time until Claire and Anna wake. Given half a chance, they both prefer to sleep in. Well, "sleep in" for people who live in the country anyway.
S: Let's see... the twelve hour time difference means it's 5:12 a.m. What in the world are doing up this early? I bet it's cold and dark.
B: Yes to both. But you know I'm an early riser. To be truthful though, I just couldn't sleep so I thought I might as well do "stuff".
S: Something on your mind?
B: Yes. And no. See - two can play that game.
S: How droll. Okay, so what is it?
B: Ah - something I'd better not go into or you'll never get to eat those nachos your boys are no doubt preparing.
S: Shush! Now tell me. Please.
B: Seriously...
S: You made me tell you about my dramas, so now it's your turn. It's only fair. I'm not going anywhere until you do.
B: It's nothing. Really. First world issues.
S: As if my problems weren't! I swear - if I weren't on the other side of the planet I'd come over and smack you.
B: Ha, ha - I bet you would too.
S: And you'd crumple like you did in fifth grade!
B: Hey, I'll have you know I've changed a bit since then! Besides, it wasn't a girl who hit me in fifth grade, as you well know. It was Andrew Whitehead.
S: Or "Blackhead" as we called him. But it was a girl who saved you, wasn't it?
B: You're never going to let me live that down. Even after forty years.
S: Ha, ha! Remember how he slapped you?
B: It wasn't funny...
S: You went down like a sack of potatoes!
B: Thanks for the reminder.
S: Then I stepped in...
B: Yep. And punched him square in the face! Knocked out one of his teeth - I remember it whizzing past me. If I close my eyes I can still see it there, suspended on top of a few blades of buffalo grass, all jagged and dark on one end, the rest like ivory, glistening in watery blood.
S: Great memory. But you've probably forgotten it was a baby tooth that was already loose.
B: That's no defence counsellor.
S: I was defending you!
B: Ha, ha! So, you were. Geez, you were two inches taller than him too.
S: "Than he." I can't believe that after all this time, you're still making the same grammatical mistakes you used to make in high school. Didn't I teach you anything? All those late nights studying together...
B: Well what can I say: I was a bad student. And you were always the writer. Apparently you're also still a grammar Nazi.
S: Sad but true, I'll admit it. I drive Graeme crazy. I'm hard on Ben and James too: they never want me to check their school papers. Instead, they take them to their father who's an engineer. And we both know spelling and grammar aren't exactly an engineer's forte!
Getting back to fifth grade: do you remember how I was also two inches taller than you?
B: Sure. Lucky for me that changed once we got to high school.
S: Yeah - but only by the end of our third year! Even then it was a toss-up as to who was taller!
B: Um, it was the end of our second year. Anyway, I was a late developer - so what?
S: I notice that you're still avoiding the question Bran.
B: What question?
S: Oh stop it! What was on your mind last night? Come on - spill the beans.
B: Okay then. Boyup Brook.
S: What about it? You mean the town or the music festival? Don't tell me you're in the music festival?
B: Why would that be so surprising? I've been playing there for years now.
S: You're kidding! Wow, that's awesome! I thought you were just teaching music...
B: I do that. But I play too.
S: Country music?
B: It's the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival. What else would I be playing?
S: You just made my coffee come up through my nose!
B: And you wondered why I wasn't going to spill the beans...
S: Sorry. I just sort of thought you'd keep going with jazz. Or maybe go the other way: heavy metal or something.
B: As it happens, I did some gigging with a pub rock band in the early nineties while I was teaching up in Perth. I guess thought I might become like Sting - move from teaching straight into a world of rock 'n roll fame and fortune. It wasn't to be. As you know, I'm still teaching - music to high school students down here in Tannup - our old school.
S: Do any of your students go to your gigs?
B: Actually, they usually turn up to the festival. I hear them cheering: "Go Mr. Durie!" They're great about it. We have fun.
S: Sorry... I just can't stop giggling. Country music? Seriously?
B: Well... it's more like folk really, but I guess you could call it country. Some bluegrass.
S: What instruments are you playing now?
B: You know: acoustic guitar mostly. But I also play the mandolin. Of course I still have my upright bass with me - the one I had back in high school.
S: I remember how it used to make you look so tiny - until you finally sprouted like a bean plant.
B: Yes - Mr. Hitchens used to laugh at me in first year.
S: Hang on a second, I've just remembered: the Boyup Brook Festival isn't till February. We're only in September. What's made you get up so early? You can't be worried about something that far away.
B: Yeah well... I was writing a song for the festival. Recording it, actually.
S: Recording? Where?
B: I built a small studio on the property.
S: Are we talking your folks' old farm?
B: It's not a farm anymore. They sold off most of the land years ago. There's just a couple of acres left where the house stands. You remember the old barn?
S: Yes... Of course.
B: The ground floor is my music studio now. Cold as a bloody ice bucket, but hey. I've put up sound insulation, built a little vocals booth. Mostly I like the reverb, so I record straight under the mezzanine.
S: Is that where you are now?
B: Yep. It's where my computer lives. And I'm far enough from the house not to wake anyone.
S: ...
B: You still there?
S: Yes. Just thinking.
B: About?
S: Remembering.
B: The barn?
S: What else, dumbhead.
B: You can take a girl out of Germany, but you can't take the German out of her.
S: What's that supposed to mean?
B: Come on Samantha Bauer - your parents might have given you an English first name, but "dumbhead"... heck, it's a direct translation of "dummkopf"!
S: Now that you mention it, my mum used to say "dumbhead" a lot - in her accent. I copied her, obviously. I just hadn't thought about it before.
B: Words are a journalist's bread and butter - it shouldn't take a music teacher to point out the obvious.
S: ...
B: I take it you're still around. Don't mind me. I'm just sitting here, staring up at the mezzanine.
S: Is it the same?
B: No. But if you squint just a bit your mind can still make out the old weatherboards and their gaps, the exposed timber and the rusted tin roof... Otherwise, the walls and ceiling have all been sealed, insulated and painted. The floor isn't dirt, it's polished concrete. It's what they call a "barn conversion".
S: What's in the mezzanine now?
B: Not spare timber planks and old rusted tools, that's for sure! We've turned it into a room for guests. It has its own ensuite and a gable window where the skylight used to be. The only part visible from the ground floor is the bit where you look up from the entrance. It's become a sort of lounge.
S: That's where...
B: ...
S: Bran? Have I scared you off?
B: You're breaking the rules.
S: I know. But I'm hungry. Angry. Hangry, as you call it. And I don't care. We haven't "spoken" in thirty years. I'm allowed to reminisce. So are you, by the way.
B: Careful now Sam.
S: Oh, careful can go and fuck itself! Do you remember that afternoon?
B: Of course. How could I forget.
S: ...
B: When did we go from best mates to...?
S: I don't know.
B: Because it wasn't that afternoon.
S: No. It was a week before. Australia Day 1984. Before the start of our final year of school.
B: Why that day?
S: Because we were coming back from the oval where they held the fireworks and you took my hand, remember?
B: It was dark.
S: Oh please.
B: Fair enough then: we'll say it was Australia Day. But truthfully, for me it started way before...
S: Me too...
B: I remember how your hand felt all sweaty and hot. I still didn't want to let go.
S: My hand was sweaty? That was yours!
B: Your memory was never very good.
S: Isn't this where you're meant to put in an emoticon - with a wink or something?
B: Yes, I suppose. But I can't stand the things.
S: Good. We agree on something at least. I keep telling the boys that emoticons are a poor substitute for written expression.
B: I think they're called "emojis" now.
S: What would a teacher and country music player know about current pop culture?
B: ...
S: Did I offend you?
B: Don't be silly. I'm just thinking. Actually, I'm stalking. I'm looking at all your pictures on Facebook. Wondering where the years went.
S: I've done that too since we connected. More than a dozen times.
B: But we only got in touch a week ago...
S: Yes. I know.
B: Well since we're confessing, I've done the same: gone through your photos pretty much every day since you pressed that "Friend" button.
S: You were so sweet with your first email. It read like a nineteenth century letter: "To whom it may concern: I am trying to re-establish contact with a long-lost friend, blah, blah." Ha, ha!
B: I did not write it like that!
S: You so did. Do you want me to cut and paste it?
B: No thanks. Go on and laugh at me. The sun's coming up here by the way. I think I can hear Claire in the kitchen.
S: Claire also teaches at the school?
B: Yes. Maths.
S: And Anna?
B: In year eleven. Same school. Don't know what we'll do when she goes to uni. We'll have to get used to being empty-nesters.
S: ...
B: Why so quiet now?
S: I can't see the keyboard properly.
B: Why?
S: I'm crying, dumbhead.
B: ...
S: Tell me: you didn't sleep at all last night, did you?
B: No. Not a wink. Up all night. Writing, then recording - just acoustic guitar and vocals. Claire is going to be pissed off. She hates it when I don't come to bed.
S: And I'm supposedly the one who hasn't changed. What's your song about anyway?
B: Us.
S: What about us?
B: You know. The barn.
S: Your song is pornographic?
B: As if! I have students coming to the festival remember? No - it's about the very last time we were here. When we came down from Perth during the uni break.
S: Oh...
B: It's a double-edged sword isn't it - remembering this place? It's where we got together. And where we broke up.
S: ...
B: Say something please.
S: What did you write in your song?
B: I wrote how you came down to my folks' place that night. How you took my hand and walked with me across the field to almost exactly where I'm sitting now. How you told me you got that scholarship to Harvard...
S: What do you call it - the song?
B: "Miss you again".
S: Why that?
B: It's from the chorus: "When that old town falls asleep, when the moon has gone to ground, when the quiet of this place fades the smile from my face, I think of you and miss you again."
S: Someone is knocking. I'll have to hide my red, puffy eyes. Thanks for that, you idiot.
B: I think you mean "dumbhead".
S: Stop it now. Seriously. I have to go.
B: I know.
S: Will you do something for me?
B: Sure.
S: Send me the song please?
B: https://goo.gl/upzNhK
S: That quick?
B: I uploaded it to SoundCloud about an hour ago.
S: Oh. Okay - I'll listen to it later. On headphones.
B: ...
S: Bran?
B: Go on - your nachos will get cold. Besides, Claire's staring out the kitchen window. Glaring, actually.
S: Tell me really: are you happy? I so want you to be happy.
B: Yes, I'm happy Sam. Unfairly so. I can tell from your pictures that we're both lucky that way.
S: Any regrets?
B: No. It's been a great life.
S: Likewise. It's just a shame we only get one...
B: I say something similar in my song...
S: Will you do something else for me? Will you give Claire and Anna a kiss?
B: Sure. But you'll forgive me if I don't say who it's from.
S: It's been good speaking with you Bran. I've...
B: I know. ;) Till next time, eh?
S: ...

*                     *                     *

Miss you again

So many years have passed us by
here I am wondering why.
Maybe instead of the road to the left
I should have gone down to the right.
Mostly I keep all these feelings at bay
so they’ll never get into my head

When that old town falls asleep,
when the moon has gone to ground,
when the quiet of this place
fades the smile from my face,
I think of you and miss you again.

We walked through the field
I was holding your hand
It feels like it was yesterday.
You came to my house
by the light of the moon
to say you were going away.
Mostly I try to keep out of my mind
all the things I could have done or said


Maybe instead of the road to the left
I should have gone down to the right.
Now all that’s left is the road in my mind
I go down, down, down, down, down.

Sitting on the porch in the late afternoon
watching the young children run.
It’s been a good life in so many ways
but why do we only get one?
Mostly I don’t let my thoughts further stray
as I go to get into my bed

When that old town falls asleep,
when the moon has gone to ground,
when the quiet of this place
fades the smile from my face,
I think of you and miss you again.

Author's note:
This is a story based on a song I recorded back in 2011. For more on that song, see The writing and recording of "Miss you again".

Copyright © 2007-2017 Dejan Djurdjevic