I did take a second to scroll through my recents. Nothing from Jonathan. Both my relief and disappointment were palpable. Then the phone dinged and buzzed in my hand.
—I’m calling you now. Answer.—
Oh, wasn’t that just a juicy command? Answer the phone. Spread your legs. What was the difference?
When my cell rang, I rejected the call and sent a text.
—I have to go to Culver City. I can’t talk—
—Let’s talk about it again. I’ll use different words—
He was no one to me, really. If I never saw him again, my life would be no different than it had been a month ago. No, that wasn’t true. My life would be the same in all the surface ways. I’d live in the same house and have the same friends. But somehow I’d changed. He’d woken me from a dreamless sleep, and I couldn’t roll over and close my eyes, because in my wakefulness, I’d started dreaming.
I read his text again. I could think about what he said, but I couldn’t answer him. I couldn’t be who he thought I was, but if I couldn’t be that, then who would I be? I couldn’t go backward, and somehow, in such a short time, he’d become the conductor of my forward motion.
I am not submissive.
I am not submissive
I am not submissive
I chanted the mantra all the way to Culver City, deaf to the buzzing phone and any thought for where I was headed or what I was to do there.
I didn’t get my head back until I parked the car.
My name is Monica, and I am not submissive. I stand six feet tall in heels. I am descended from one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. I can sing like an angel, and growl like a lion. I am not owned. I am music.
DownDawg Studios wasn’t some little grunge house with egg-carton Styrofoam on the walls. It didn’t smell of tobacco and fast food, and it most certainly wasn’t a place we could have afforded on our own. There were three in Los Angeles. Burbank, which spent a lot of time servicing Disney, Santa Monica—home base for rich kids and middle-class rappers of the west side—and Culver City, where Sony did their ADR and apparently where WDE had their scratch cuts done.
The building was on Washington, in downtown Culver City. The renovated industrial box had the original casement windows in the front half, where they matched the three-ton metal-frame door. The back half was bricked in, a windowless green box with orange trim, the perfect modernist nonsensical combo.
A valet parked my car. A receptionist with more earrings than a Tiffany window pillow guided me to the back. I was seven minutes late. My excuse was the venue change. Right.
I opened the door and entered the engineering room with its bank of dials and window looking into the sound room. A man about my age with sandy hair and a linen shirt with the tails hanging below his sweater spoke to a guy with dark skin and a stiff-brimmed Lakers cap.
Sandy Hair held out his hand. “I’m Holden, your producer. This is Deshaun.”
Deshaun offered a hand. “Sound engineer. My lady heard you play Thelonius a few weeks back. Said good things.”
“Oh, thanks.” I blushed a little. “Seems like ages ago.”
“You got the song?” Holden asked. “What do you think?”
I thought it was a piece of shit, but honesty would get me nowhere. “We have a couple of takes on it. Gabby’s on her way.”
Holden got off the stool and threw himself on the couch. “Tell me how you’re doing it.”
I clutched my song sheet. I could do this. I could talk about the music. I knew what I had to do, and I was good at it, but the conversation with Jonathan had infected my mind, and I kept talking to Holden and Deshaun about dynamics and harmonies while thinking they somehow knew I was submissive. They were going to walk all over me and tell me how to sing the notes, how to breathe, how to open my mouth wide enough to take a cock. I knew they weren’t laughing at me and my pretensions of vocal control, but I also knew they were.
Holden glanced at the clock. “It’s getting late.”
“Let me text Gabby,” I said, slipping my phone out of my pocket. “She’s probably in the parking lot.”
—Where the f**k are you?—
—With Jerry, waiting for you—
I started getting a really bad feeling in my guts. I turned to Holden. “You know a guy named Jerry?”
“He does some production at the Burbank studio.”
“Does he know Eugene Testarossa?”
“Yeah. Works with him all the time.”
I typed fast. —There’s been a mixup, I’m in Culver City—
There wasn’t a text for a minute or more. “She’s up in Burbank. She’ll never make it here on time.” I glanced toward the sound studio. A keyboard was already set up in there.
As if reading my mind, Holden said, “If you play, we’re a go.”
I did play. I generally didn’t have to bother because of Gabby, but I played piano just fine. My phone blooped.
—It’s not a mixup it’s a f**king set-up Jerry never got an engineer and he’s been talking about the f**king weather do you have an engineer there?—
I glanced at Deshaun, who was tapping away at his phone. I didn’t know what to do. If I played, she’d never forgive me, and if I didn’t, I was a back-bending little sheep who walked out with nothing. A nobody. A disappointment.
“We have time for a few takes,” I said, turning off my phone and stepping into the sound room.
The sun was dipping below the skyline when I got back in the car and turned on my phone. There was no use pretending I didn’t see Gabby’s messages, and there was no use listening to them. I just called her.
“Mooooooniiiiiicaaaaaa…..” She was drunk. The white noise whipped like wind cut with the sound of music and laughter.
“Gabby, where are you?”
“I’m with Lord Theodore at the Santa Monica Pier. We’re on the Ferris wheel.”
“Are you okay?”
“You do the scratch cut?”
I rubbed the bottom of the steering wheel and stared at the building as if it could exonerate me, but the big green cube did nothing besides look squat and hip. “Yeah.”
“We were set up, you know. I was. He don’t want me, so they made it so you did the cut without me. You know that, right?”
She seemed okay with it, but she was wasted and on a Ferris wheel, so I couldn’t take her forgiveness for granted. “Don’t assume it was malicious, Gab.”