The following piece is an original written by Holly A. Phillips in 2007. It was based on the song “Valerie,” sung by the one, the only Amy Winehouse.
* * *
He unfolded a black chair and put the acoustic on his knee; he closed his eyes and ran his fingers across the strings. It was severely out of tune, warped from the weather. He tightened the strings and worked them back to life, the sound becoming sweet.
It was 9pm on a frigid Thursday in November. The cold garage floor awakened him. Old boxes of music he’d just uncovered surrounded Mark.
“Can’t you commit to anything?” she asked four nights ago.
“Val, three years is a commitment,” he pleaded. “I am committed to you.”
“Make it official,” she said. “We are in our thirties, Mark. I want children, let’s get this show on the road.”
But now, it was too late. Valerie was gone, took her show on the road, but left Mark behind. Mark had, and still did love her. He never noticed any real problems between the two of them, until Valerie would explode over a late night dinner or during a sports program. She always said the same thing:
“Hello, don’t you see I’m here, too?” or “Mark, I worked on this dinner all afternoon, can’t you at least be on time or call me?”
Mark didn’t understand trivial matters, like calling. After all, they lived together.
In the garage, he moved onto the sky blue Fender and plugged in the amp; reveling in its static start. Mark moved about the garage, laughing at the chords he remembered and the songs his fingers had memorized. It was college again, only this time, he was alone in his garage wearing boxers, which were bigger — to compensate the beer he drank in those days.
Valerie was never a music lover like Mark. He’d grown up in a house, always listening to jazz and the blues. He moved through stages of interest, but played some rock in college with three of his buddies. They mainly did open-mic nights and frat parties, but it was some of the most fun Mark had.
The phone rang. Mark listened through the garage door that led into the kitchen to hear the answering machine.
“You’ve reached Mark and Val, leave us a message and we’ll get back to you.”
“Hey… it’s me, again… Mark, if you’re there please answer. I know it was me who left, but please, I really want to talk to you.” Valerie sighed and then hung up.
Mark met Val in college; they had a few classes together. They were never close until after graduation; they kept running into each other at coffee shops. Then, Val was bubbly and spontaneous. She was a dream. She’d show up unannounced with a homemade casserole and a bottle of wine, which they always enjoyed over a game of Scrabble. They fit together. When Mark was out with Valerie, he felt he could take over the city.
The relationship moved quickly, but it was natural, until they moved in together. Valerie was so buttoned-up all the time. She never wanted to relax and was always bringing up lunch conversations she had with her married friends. Those talks ended in Val muttering something about “free milk” and thing she would shake her ring finger in his face. Mark had never lived with a girlfriend before.
Mark got back to his music. He cleared out boxes, finding different pedals he once used. Each one warped the sound in its own way. Occasionally, he would stand up and sing.
There was a knock on the garage door.
“Great,” Mark said to himself. “Someone’s pissed about the noise.”
Mark pulled up on the large door to see his friend and neighbor, Kyle, standing in the driveway, equipped with his black, triangular electric in his hand.
“Hey man! Wow… been awhile,” Mark said.
“I know,” Kyle said. “But it’s alright. I heard some familiar music coming from out here, so I thought I’d join…”
Mark motioned Kyle into the garage and pulled the door down behind him.
“Great, man. I ran into a little extra time on my hands and been digging up our old stuff,” Mark said.
“Yeah,” Kyle said. “I haven’t played this thing since ’95. Kim was a little agitated when she saw me leave the house with it.”
Mark laughed as he walked into the kitchen.
“I bet,” he said. “Women worry, you know. But you don’t have to stay late — although it feels good to hear it all again.”
Mark cracked a few beers and moved back into the garage.
“Man, you kept all our old stuff. I don’t even remember half of it,” Kyle said.
“I know, but once you hear it, it really comes back,” Mark said, smiling. “It’s great.”
Mark plugged his guitar into an amp and started tuning. Mark worked the Fender, plugged in a pedal, and went to it.
Check out “Valerie”, part II, right here, next Friday, August 28.