Only an orphan could have written a song like that. Your father quotes Nature Boy by eden ahbez in a toast at your sister’s wedding: the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love. Your father dances with the bride across the banquet hall, his jaw against her porcelain forehead. Tonight they’ll sink their teeth into steak in Romulus.
Eden ahbez, ahbe, played at the Eutropheon in Laurel Canyon in the sixties. He slept under the first L of the Hollywood sign. He spent his childhood in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and died in his eighties, hit by a car in LA. At least, you think this is so.
You try not to smoke. Years of anxiety have left you skinny, but now you suffer from restless legs and tachycardia.
People don’t know these things. Nature Boy is just a sad and corny song about the gravity of love. Half a century after eden wrote it, your father pulls words from Nature Boy at your sister’s wedding, and a skinned puma wears a party hat. And you have one cigarette out in the cold behind the banquet hall. In the dark trees, deer shiver.
Songs are mostly about romantic love, though some are about your father. Sometimes he’s sitting in the driver’s seat of an old car years ago. A winter night in 1993. The line of his hair that makes you think of Jesus. His fists on the wheel. The ache in your throat, in your bones inside your down vest.
This was never going to be a gentle song. Your sister sniffed paint to erase her head. Suburban sprinklers fitzed the asphalt on Wilderness Drive. This song is about the predator weight of love.
More signs and wonders. Soon love is forty and deaf in one ear. Your little sister will be a good mom. Everyone says so. You might have been, but you might not have. Bones and teeth corrode away in time like magnetic tape.
Maybe you’ll never learn how to do this. You eat a steak sandwich in LAX. You ride a motorcycle that pounds a big animal heart under your leg and pulls you down with speed. One night you brake on the side of the road, drop the kickstand and cut the engine, just to stand in the chaparral looking at the Hollywood sign.
The memory of love is short. Sometimes it gets confused, whispers to you the purr of unzipped feathers. The hush of a highway: I am here. It’s now. You go to your sister’s wedding in Romulus.
Ahbe stands in the neon light outside the Eutropheon. A winter night, smoke in the Hollywood Hills. He’s just finished playing his gig and rolled a jay, and he stands alone now, holds the red spark of it in his hand.
Ahbe watches an animal running away through the night toward Lookout Mountain. He sees the streak of an elongated body in the headlights on Laurel Canyon Boulevard: a mountain lion hunting deer in the Canyon. He takes a breath to slow his orphan train heart. Songs fall on him sometimes like this. As if to shake or kill, or draw him to the edge of a cliff. This is love.
He’ll remember this Eden, this wilderness, long after it goes. The moonless night, the smoke. The chaparral beyond the guardrail shivering. Hot scent of an animal already gone as its breath hangs in the air. All of it sharp and true and flooding with his high.
Could he skin himself of twenty years and his denim jacket, run naked to that animal? Could he touch the downy belly and the cartilage of its throat, hard as a brick, before it bites?
By now he’s learned, a song does not care if you have been hurt. It only sees the offering of you, and how much more you have to give. How much you want to go.
Ahbe stubs the joint and saves the rest for later. The cold rings against his ruptured eardrum. The sky spreads out red over the canyon. A dog barks and trashcans tip over up the street. He walks on under the lights of the signs that shiver, all along Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
Ashley Mayne’s work has appeared in Fence, Post Road, Juked, Peripheries, Blight Podcast, Metambesen, and elsewhere. She is one of the creators of Crystal Radio and edits fiction for Fence.