Manny Holdsworth watched as his phone lit up again with a call. He turned it face down atop his wallet, the vibrations absorbed into the leather. The network had been calling him for the past few hours. Once the special with his father got rolling, he received calls from journalists hoping to get an inside scoop. These people claimed to be his friends and colleagues but he had seen a sad truth ever since he had become a story; he was just fodder for other people’s ambition. And he would do the same – he had done before – and he would not feel remorse. He would expect that they would understand. Like this was all just some big game where nothing held any underlying value; they all just agreed to some rules and tried to have some fun. It was sad.
His phone lit up again. He checked it, despite himself; laughed wryly as he saw the smiling photo of Terry Handle, his agent. He lay the device back down, swearing he wouldn’t check it next time – she wasn’t going to call.
Manny was at Casper’s, an exclusive bar that he regularly frequented to drink without the interference of other drunks. Most people could contain themselves around famous personalities while sober, but after a few drinks they generally felt entitled to demand another show from their favourite TV monkey. Casper’s filtered out the muck. They also had a live jazz band on Sundays.
In an act of strength Manny turned his back to his phone and studied the musicians. He focused on the fingers of the bassist as he plucked away at the thick steel strings. His ears caught up and he started to feel the thick bassline resonate within him. Music had always been mesmerising. Patterned chaos; it was real. The media game’s had no foundation, they came from nowhere and that is the only place they could take you. But sound was a physical sensation, it was science. And music refined it into 12 notes with infinite capabilities.
The phone buzzed again, the monotonous grind interrupting the bass’s rhythm. Manny closed his eyes. He wanted to fight the urge but he knew it had already won. He believed against all odds that it was her. He swung around on the swivelling stool and lifted his phone. It was Angela, the girl from the studio who was always in a rush from the studio. They were getting desperate if they thought she could get through to him. He ordered another drink.
He turned back again, intent on engaging with the band. The pianist led with a solo dancing in the high octaves. His long wavy hair was strung out by a thin coating of sweat as he poured his heart into the solo. Manny tried to just listen but he was stung by an odd jealousy. This man was in pure bliss doing what he did. He wasn’t paid any fancy sums, he wasn’t famous and his audience would never reciprocate the love he put into his work. Manny was rich and famous and had fans throughout the world but he never felt the joy that the pianist was having. His phone vibrated again.
Manny swung around to check it before any strength could muster itself into discipline. It was Sarah, his wife. He stared at the screen for a moment, thrown by the unexpected caller. The fight he had had with Sarah hours earlier wasn’t pretty. She was passive at first, daring him to try and please her, to make her laugh. Obviously he would fail and inevitably have to ask her what was wrong. Then she would turn aggressive, questioning his last few weeks – the missed calls, the late nights, the emotional distance he was maintaining.
By that point he guessed that she more than suspected his infidelity, but he had to defend himself even if reasonable doubt was his last wall. Next she would explode, banish him from the house. But she never did explode. She just dropped her shoulders and with them, her act. She broke into tears. He tried to comfort her but she cradled into herself, no longer aware of his presence. He had spent what felt like an eternity trying to get through to her but she was shut off. He wanted to know what he could say, what magic password would turn the situation around. He told her he loved her and that she was his world. He barely knew if he meant it, he just hated that she thought he was the bad guy.
Eventually he had banished himself. He went to the bar to drink away some pain, but things only got worse when his father’s special came on. The calls flooding in. But he never expected Sarah to call. Even when she was wrong she was usually too stubborn to make the first move, and now she had every reason to never talk to him again. Manny felt physically ill. He put the phone back down.
It wasn’t her.
He looked back at the band. The drummer rapped lightly on his stripped back kit, the snare taking the majority of the hits. It was emptiness. The whole band and their song were suddenly so bland and contrived. The bass was too repetitive, the rhythm predictable; the piano too wild. The pianist looked like a hobo. He was a failure in his life. An idealist with no ambition. Probably had no social skills and thought his prodigious career would be the only way to communicate. But now he was isolated from reality, a clown who wasn’t that good anyway. Fuck him. Fucking hack. He’s a fucking lie. Everyone is a fucking lie in the end.
He turned his back on the band that had only just recently been his escape. He looked up at the TV above the bar and sipped his drink. The kid from the blog, Hippy Skip or Flip or something was breaking news with a riot out the front of the Royal Plaza. Manny had just been there only two nights earlier. He had been with her. Now she had run off with Walter Wallace. It didn’t make any fucking sense. Shouldn’t this kid be arrested? He had practically inspired an act of terrorism. Manny felt the strain across his forehead as he stared at the TV.
“Fuck.” He exhaled in disbelief, though he wasn’t sure why he should feel that way. He suddenly noticed himself feeling very tipsy. He felt like another drink. “Hey,” he called out to the barman, “Hey, Nick. Another one, yeah?”
It had been a while since he had called someone Nick, his common name for all his inferiors. It was a tasteless habit he had picked up from his father; one that Sarah had frowned upon; one that he had only dropped after seeing Walter take the time to learn everybody’s name in the studio within a few days.
He put his head in his hands and took a deep breath, like he had just gotten out of bed. He heard the glass knock on the wooden bar top as the barman put the drink down. He gave a single nod of recognition. He sipped, more aggressively now. He checked his phone in case he had missed a call. Nothing. Then it buzzed in his hands. His father was calling him. He wasn’t sure why but he answered.
“Manny?” his father’s voice came through.
“Dad?” Manny replied, borrowing his father’s inclination. He hadn’t planned to mock his father but perhaps this would be fun.
“Manny, are you OK? They said they have been trying to call you. I was hoping to get you out in the field, we are stretched with the stories today.”
“Nah. I’m holding out for the Walter Wallace Tour. We’ll be back up and running soon.” His father remained silent on the other end. He seemed to have caught on to Manny’s direction. Manny wanted him to say something but the silence held. For lack of a better idea he repeated himself, at least as best as he could remember, “I said I’m waiting for the tour to get back on track. Me, Walt, The Broad and about twenty Nicks, right?”
“Are you drunk, Manny?”
Manny scoffed. The fucking hypocrite. “Yeah I’m drinking to your success, Dad, just like you did to mine.”
“-Don’t worry, Dad, I’m not planning any hospital bound media circuses – circuses? Circ-i? Anyway, I wouldn’t want to give you the ego boost of thinking that your affairs bear any weight on my mental state.”
“It’s not my affairs that concern me.” Tony replied, unable to contain his anger. Manny scoffed again, but this time he had nothing to say. “Go back to Sarah, Manny. Go home. Go back to your family.”
“Fuck you! What do you know, you old fuck?”
“Something else that would not flatter my ego would be to see you do to Sarah and Emily and Kara what I did to you and your mother.”
“Don’t you fucking dare!” Manny hissed. He hung up, his whole body was boiling with anger. He picked up his drink with an unsteady hand. He gulped at it messily and put it back down. “Don’t you dare,” he said, just above his breath. He looked back at his phone, still in his hand, and searched his contacts. He found her name and dialled. The words “Lucy Blues” stretched across the screen. The call went to a dead dial tone without ringing. He dialled again. It went to the same tone. Again he dialled; again the dull beeping answered him. “Fuck!”
He took another swig from his glass. And another. His phone buzzed, this time with a message. He opened it.
‘Manny, come home please. I need you. Sarah’
Manny’s heart dropped. He felt his throat tighten up. He put his hand to his mouth to try control himself but his eyes were already welling up. He remembered distinct moments from his childhood where his mother had pleaded with his father to come home. After all she had been put through she still felt that she needed him. Manny never understood, he had hated his father for doing that to Mum. And now he was doing the same. He was part of the same sick line of scum.
He had his hands in his head again as the barman approached. “Manny, I’ve called a cab. I think you should go home.”
He tried to maintain some dignity as he spoke, “Well they say things come in threes, right?” he joked. He stood up and looked at the barman and then down at his name badge.
“Troy,” the barmen said.
“Troy,” Manny nodded, “Troy.” He left the bar, fumbling with the buttons on his phone before finally managing to switch it off.