It was raining when he left the house, pulling his coat on as he locked the door. 9:30 by the dashboard clock when Michael pulled out of the driveway.
Sleep was elusive, and he’d gotten into the habit of these late night drives, enjoying the lack of traffic on the roads and the way the darkness swallowed everything, reducing houses and passing cars to brief pools of light that quickly faded into the distance.
Pulling onto the highway, he wasn’t sure just where he’d decide to pull off. The impulse to drive didn’t give out easily, and exits and off-ramps passing by on the right as the speedometer ticked up to a little north of 100. That little familiar tug that signaled time to pull off the highway. Looked like it was downtown tonight, but still good to avoid the entertainment district, if there was a game on or something. Slowing down as the car rolled up the hill, Michael looked left and right; the light was red and he didn’t feel like stopping and waiting for it to change, even at this time of night. He pulled to a brief stop and rounded the corner before hitting the gas.
His friends had joked about his weird compulsion, but the motion of driving or going for a run at the late night helped his mind spool down a little, fingers tapping along on the steering wheel as he cruised along a line of old houses, little postage stamp front gardens on the hillside, many of them broken up into terraces. Actual corner stores, not something you saw outside of the older neighbourhoods any more.
It was always interesting to see what little shops were still open at this time of night. All night diners that would be soaking up the crowds as the city’s various bars and clubs disgorged their patrons into the night much later. He’d seen little grocery stores, hardware shops, all night coffee shops, on one memorable occasion a place that let you sit and drink tea and play board games into the small hours of the morning.
Michael slowed his car as he saw the narrow frontage, windows still lit, and a sign that in the sodium-yellow light looked like nothing so much as a full harvest moon but for the arm of a record player over top of it and a series of exaggerated grooves on the surface.
A record shop. The “Full Moon Late Nite Vinyl Bar” according to the sign. Bemused, Michael pulled to a stop. No need to feed the meter this late at night anyways. He almost forgot to lock the car and the little chirp as he clicked the fob with one foot on the curb wasn’t enough to distract him from the warm lights from inside. The rain was still falling and he darted through the door, almost surprised to find it open.
He had a strange sense of deja-vu as the little bell rang, one of those ones on a coil of metal that the door struck twice as it opened and closed. Had there been a news bit on this place? They liked running those human interest angles on the weekend when there’d be more people watching right?
It was quiet in the store. The front windows were filled by a pair of tables with record players. Two pairs of headphones hung on hooks on the sides, obviously intended to go with the turntable. There was a bar top that looked like it had been ripped out of an old milkshake and burger joint, more record players and headphones waiting next to them. The back wall of the store was a vast display of records, more sat in neat rows of wooden boxes with labels attached to, what else, more records dividing hither from thither.
He seemed to be alone for the moment, and he wandered towards the displays, hands itching to flip through the collection, in search of those.
“Can I help you?” The voice was cheerful, without the forced note of customer service politeness that always gave Michael a bit of the creeps. It belonged to a pretty, girl wasn’t right, woman then.
A very pretty woman. Her hair was a shocking shade of acid green, cut close along the side and combed over to show off the dark brown that the dye hadn’t touched. He wasn’t sure where she’d come from, he’d been certain the place was empty and couldn’t see any doors
The furtive look on his face must have been obvious. She smiled warmly.
“We’re open, until…” she glanced over her shoulder at the clock, shaped like a record naturally. “11 at least. Now, what’s your poison?” Michael gave a quick look up and down while her attention was elsewhere. He took in the loose, tanktop, worn, paint-stained jeans and dangling necklace, glittering disks of faux mother of pearl which all said one thing. The thick leather wristsbands and glittering studs, the virualant green hair and the edges of the tattoo peeking out from her cleavage and lastly a pair of heavy, scuffed black boots all said another thing. She was attractive, and despite everything there was a very genuine quality to her expressions and body language.
“I’m not exactly-“
She was stepping closer, taking him by the hand and leading him over to the collection of records. He stuttered a moment as she pulled him along, resembling a balloon on a string more than anything else.
“We sell records, but mostly people come in and listen. It’s nice to listen, right?”
She was flipping through one of the racks now, pulling out cardboard sleeves and handing them to Michael, who couldn’t seem to get a word in edgewise. Every time he attempted to speak, another cardboard sleeve would join the stack, and he’d have to try to hide the fact that he wasn’t paying attention to what she was giving him so much as he was the way she looked bent over the displays.
“We’ll let you try a little bit of everything, see if you find something you’d like to get lost in.” The woman’s approach to customer service seemed to be to bowl over anyone who found themselves in her path, and there wasn’t much to do but just go along with it.
“You look familiar, are you sure you haven’t been in here before?”
Michael started to shake his head no, but she cut him off again. “I never forget a pretty face. Let me just get one more. You want to sit up at the bar with me and get comfy?”
She let go of his wrist, looping her arm through his and escorting him to the far end of the bar, away from the door. The soft lighting above the space, opposed to the brighter track lights through the rest of the store, took off whatever lingering edge the night outside had left.
Taking the stack of records under one arm, she slipped the headphones off the hook and over his ears with practiced expertise. The stack of records sat nicely between the two record players, and the woman (her name tag said ‘Sharon’ he now realized, but then why had he been thinking it was something else?) She slid a record onto the smooth, padded surface of the turntable and lifted the arm over to the edge.
The music started to play, and she leaned on the counter, elbows and arms framing her chest enticingly, the pendant hanging there beneath hands propping up her chin. The low-key piano had a blues or jazz edge to it, it was mellow and smooth, and he found himself swaying a little with it, eyes closing momentarily as a particularly strident strain of the melody sent shivers down his back.
The music seemed familiar, he could swear he’d heard it somewhere before, but maybe it just sounded like a jingle. Truth be told past a certain point one pretty piece of piano music usually sounded the same as another to Michael. Sharon’s eyes seemed to be swimming in front of him when he opened his own again, deep and brown and warm. Had they always been so close? So big?
His glance dropped to her cleavage, the glittering eye-catching necklace there seeming too dark in the shadows cast by her as she leaned towards him.. Her lips quirked into another smile and she started to stroke his hand.
The track went silent for a moment and her thumb on the palm of his hand felt amazing. He went to pull the headphones from his head and found her hand holding his other one down. The next track started and he let his hand go limp again. More piano, but there was something more here. Synthesizer? Keyboard? The sound of the piano seemed to multiply, harmonies that moved from one ear to the other and felt like they were travelling through the middle of his head. His thoughts... skipped as the music moved, faded from left to right.
That drive had taken more out of him than he expected, Michael was having trouble keeping his eyes open, and that soothing way that Sharon was touching him certainly wasn’t convincing them to stay open. His eyes slipped shut again and he couldn’t tell how much time had passed. It felt like blinking, his thoughts skipped again, but Sharon wasn’t touching his hand anymore, and the track had changed to something more electronic, sounds that reminded him less of instruments and more of machines. Tones rather than notes.
Sharon was on the seat next to him, he could guess where she must be by the position of her hand on his back and the other running through his hair, beneath the padded band of the headphones. He couldn’t seem to muster the impulse to turn his head right now, his eyes were locked on the slow turn of the record around the spindle, the steady, rhythmic path of the needle through the groove, bouncing ever so slightly as it played. He could feel the tug of her hands in his hair, keeping him from sagging forward, could feel her lips at the nape of his neck. How had he gotten here?
And then his thoughts just… skipped.
The music wasn’t really there anymore. It was still playing now the notes slow and drawn out, somehow distant like whalesong, like a car driving into the distance, but Michael wasn’t listening anymore, not really.
The record was still turning but all it served to do was engage a sense, to occupy his hearing. It occupied that part of his mind the same as the movement of the record, if it was even the same record, occupied his eyes, the light glinting off of the glossy, black circle of the record and its label barely registering. He could feel the hot breath on his skin, the passage of Sharon’s fingers and nails over the same. They were the only sensation, the only thing that had any definition anymore. Still the music played, drawing him somewhere. He couldn’t tell when his shirt had opened, when his skin had started to feel so warm.
Sharon’s hands, the little touches on his head and neck, seemed to bleed into one another, the same as the tones of the music, overlapping, never giving him time to process one before the next would start. Never giving him a moment to recover before the next burst of sensation.
The needle was almost to the center of the record, into that little space where it would continue to spin on in silence. Near to the empty, glossy black label that seemed to drink the light, seemed to draw him forward, downwards. Sharon’s hands seemed to be the only thing holding him upright, the only thing capable of arresting that headlong fall into… something.
Michael knew, as soon as the music stopped, when the heavy, heavy headphones. came off, he’d stop too. It was just a fact. Like the tension against his pants, or the way Sharon’s kisses and little love bites seemed to short out parts of his brain. Distantly, he was amazed he was still able to hold this thin little train of thought, chugging along despite everything.
The music started to fade, to slow and at last it stopped.
And Michael stopped with it.
* * *
Michael couldn’t sleep. 9:30 by the dashboard clock when he pulled out of the driveway.
Pulling onto the highway, he wasn’t sure just where he’d decide to pull off. The impulse to drive didn’t give out easily, and exits and off-ramps passing by on the right as the speedometer ticked up to a little north of 100. He’d get wherever he was going faster that way. That little familiar tug that signaled time to pull off the highway. Looked like it was downtown tonight.
He pulled off the highway and soon found himself on side streets, cruising along between terraced gardens and cars parked to either side of the road. The neighbourhood was nice enough, but not really worth stopping for. His foot pressed down on the gas for just a moment before his eyes came to rest on a small, still lit bank of windows and the sign above them.
In the sodium-yellow light it looked like nothing so much as a full harvest moon, but for the arm of a record player over top of it and a series of exaggerated grooves on the surface.
A record shop. The “Full Moon Late Nite Vinyl Bar” according to the sign. Intrigued, Michael pulled to a stop. He didn’t bother to check for meters. He almost forgot to lock the car, and didn’t register the little chirp as he clicked the fob. For all he knew he might not have locked it, his eyes didn’t waver from the warm lights inside. The air outside was chill, it had been rainy all day and a fog had begun set in. He’d have to scrape the frost off in the morning, but that didn’t matter.
The woman behind the counter looked at him when the door chimed. The display tables of records in cardboard sleeves at the front held no interest for him once she started to smile. Michael found himself almost sleepwalking towards the flash of green hair behind the counter, and the pair of headphones she was holding up.
“Back again?” He heard her say before she slid the headphones over his ears. Her voice was warm, melodic and sweet. He saw the needle lift at the periphery of his vision, his eyes felt impossibly heavy but he couldn’t look away from Mistress (her name tag said her name was Sharon, but how could it be? How could she be anything else?). Her deep, warm brown eyes seemed to swim before him even as his own slipped shut.
“Yes Mistress. I can’t stay away.” His voice was muffled by the headphones but sounded even more distant than Michael could account for. The needle dropped, and Michael stopped.