Light by Chris Green
‘Purple Haze was never Number 1,’ the girl at the bar says. ‘Nor was Strawberry Fields Forever. Odd for two such famous tunes, don’t you think?’
Matt is taken aback. It’s a strange way to open a conversation. Is she talking to him? He does not know her. He looks around to check that there is no one lurking in the background. The Lost Weekend is a small pub, and they are the only two anywhere near the bar. She must be addressing him. Still, it’s very odd. Women are not usually into rock mythology. Rock bores are nearly always men. Why is she so concerned about these old tunes? The pub doesn’t even play music, and this is 1993, not 1967. She would have been about three years old back then. Are the hippie tune references for his benefit because he is wearing a brightly coloured floral shirt with a black Fedora?
‘Yes, I suppose it is odd,’ he says, finally. ‘Considering they were both groundbreaking tracks in their day.’
‘Did you know that the intro to Purple Haze is an example of the Devil’s Interval?’ the girl says.
‘The Devil’s Interval?’ Matt says. ‘What’s that?’
‘It’s a pity The Lost Weekend doesn’t have a jukebox,’ she says. ‘Or I could take you through it. In a nutshell, the Devil’s Interval comprises a tritone, and because it spans three tones, the interval violates musical convention and sounds dissonant. Playing the note of C followed by F sharp, for instance, produces an unsettling feeling in the listener.’
‘I’ll take your word,’ Matt says.
‘In the Middle Ages, the Devil’s Interval was considered to be the essence of evil, and it was banned in case it summoned Lucifer,’ she says.
‘I see,’ Matt says. She seems a little crazy perhaps, but she seems to know her music theory, while he knows nothing about chords, intervals, scales, pitch, texture or dynamics. He just enjoys listening to music, preferably stoned.
‘Wagner uses the tritone in Götterdämmerung,’ she continues. ‘And Holst uses it in Mars, The Bringer of War,’
‘Used for dramatic effect, I imagine then.’
‘Exactly. Saint Saens uses it in Danse Macabre and Black Sabbath use it in the title track on the first album.’
‘I can hear it in my head now. I wonder if any of these musicians were aware of the connection.’
‘I imagine Wagner might have been, and Saint-Saëns, but I don’t know about Black Sabbath. Anyway, enough of that. I’m Saskia.’
‘I’m known around here as Matt the Hat.’
‘Matt the Hat? I wonder why that is. …. I like the hat, by the way.’
‘Can I buy you a drink, Saskia?’
‘That’s nice. I was hoping you would. I’ll have a pint of cider.’
Matt tells her he likes sixties music. He has a bootleg Beatles album which has several versions of Strawberry Fields on it, and he adores The Doors.
‘I know an artist who has just done a painting of Jim Morrison,’ Saskia says. ‘He’s called it The Lizard King. It’s part of his 27 Club series. I think he’s done a Jimi Hendrix one too.’
‘I haven’t seen you in here before,’ Matt says, hoping to gather some background information.
‘I don’t normally drink in here,’ Saskia says. ‘I don’t go to the pub a lot, but when I do, I usually go to The Pig and Whistle.’
Not wishing to admit he works at Prontaprint, Matt tells Saskia he is in publishing. After all, he photocopies one or two manuscripts for writers to send off to publishers, and prints off the occasional poetry collection. Saskia meanwhile does not have a job. Nor, she says, does she want one. She describes herself as a soon-to-be-divorced mother of two. She has a pair of teenage babysitters to help her with childcare, keen to take advantage of the free beer she offers, and explore her extensive record collection on her expensive hi-fi. She hopes to be able to hang on to this in the distribution of marital assets.
Saskia and Matt begin a casual relationship, although she continues to pursue other casual relationships, including one with Sebastian, the 27 Club portrait artist she referred to earlier. So that her lovers never meet, she manages her affairs carefully. She never takes Matt to The Pig and Whistle, for instance. And she does not take Sebastian to The Lost Weekend. Matt remains blissfully unaware of her two-timing and falls head-over-heels in love with her. She can do no wrong. She is perfection. And they even like the same kinds of music. How has he managed to be dating such a beautiful woman, he asks himself?
This is 1993 and along with Ecstasy, LSD has made a comeback. On her husband Keith’s weekends with the children, Saskia and Matt go off to rave parties in distant fields in her red Renault 5 to indulge in a psychoactive pot-pourri. They wear stars in their hair and skip a light fandango beneath a paper sun. Tripping doesn’t appear to inhibit Saskia’s driving. She still manages to propel the small car through the English countryside like an Abrams tank. Matt is nervous but says nothing. He cannot offer an alternative. As his job at Prontaprint doesn’t require him to have a licence, he has never learned to drive. He has never been the ambitious sort, preferring instead to go with the flow.
Going with the flow seems to work. Through the summer, they attend raves, and they have a wild time in their chemical experimentation. Once more, Matt has to pinch himself. How can he have ended up with such an exciting and beautiful woman? Now and then, though, that old Dr Hook song finds a way into his consciousness. Everybody wants her. Everybody loves her. Everybody wants to take his baby home.
On the odd nights he spends at Saskia’s, Matt notices signs that another man may have been staying on the nights he does not see her. Small signs at first, like new shaving gear or an extra toothbrush in the bathroom. Saskia does not smoke Marlboro yet there is an empty packet in the bedroom on his side of the bed. Matt avoids tackling her outright about it, in case she reacts badly, so for the time being, he lets it go. It seems unlikely, but perhaps there is an innocent explanation. But the more you become aware of something, the more you notice. A chunky jacket appears in the hall, along with a man’s sweatshirt in the laundry basket. Saskia’s bedding seems to always be hanging on the washing line when he visits. He dare not think the worst.
Matt decides it is time to do a little detective work. He thinks a visit to The Pig and Whistle might be a good starting point to see what, if anything, is going on. The first two times he drops in, there is no sign of Saskia. Nor does he know any of the people there. On his third visit, on a warm August evening, he finds her sitting with a group of people in the garden area, nearly all of them male. His heart sinks. But, catching sight of him, Saskia comes over and greets him with a warm embrace. She introduces him to her friends.
‘This is Matt the Hat,’ she says.
He breathes a sigh of relief. Perhaps there is nothing to worry about after all.
Sebastian asks Matt if his hat is a Borsalino, knowing full well that it is not.
Matt says he doesn’t know.
‘What are you doing with a man who doesn’t know what hat he’s wearing, Saskia?’ says Paddy the Poet.
‘Well, Matt, it’s not a sombrero, is it?’ Sebastian says.
Don and Gina chuckle. They are fully aware of the situation. Saskia has been coming here with Sebastian for months, and they see Matt as an interloper.
‘It’s not a crash helmet, Matt,’ is it?’ says Biker Dennis.
‘And it’s not a leopard skin pill box hat,’ the guy who used to be in The Manic Street Preachers, whose name Matt didn’t catch says.
Unaware of their rivalry, Matt and Sebastian find some common ground in The Doors. Sebastian mentions his Lizard King painting.
‘’They did some great songs,’ he says. ‘Riders on the Storm is my favourite. And I like The End.’
‘Did you know Jim had an IQ of 149,’ Matt says?
‘No,’ Sebastian says. ‘Clever guy, then.’
‘Or, that his favourite singer was Elvis Presley?’
‘I did not, Matt.’
The conversation drifts from music to films, from spies to mystics, from wormholes to windmills. Biker Dennis wants to talk about his new Norton. It is a 2014 Commando 961 in black, and it goes like the clappers. 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye. This brings the conversation around to the sleek black car with blacked-out windows that several of them have seen in the area. No one is able to identify the make or model. Someone suggests it may have had a badge saying Hyperion, but no one has heard of Hyperion. Matt wonders if this is the car he saw cruising up and down the road on the way to the pub. Had he imagined it, or did it slow down to take a look at him? Being preoccupied at the time, he hadn’t taken too much notice.
Although they seem to be getting along, Matt is aware that Sebastian is the artist that Saskia referred to in earlier conversations, and the pair are more than a little friendly with one another. But it is not the suspicion that they are having an affair that bothers him. He can’t put his finger on what exactly it is, but Sebastian is not like the rest of the gathering. He may not be who he says he is. He doesn’t belong here. He seems sinister, deviant, alien.
Saskia realises that while Sebastian may not be bothered one way or the other, Matt will be mortified if she doesn’t leave with him at the end of the evening. She has not exactly encouraged it, but he has become quite possessive. Leaving together represents by far the easiest course of action for her. To save further embarrassment, the sooner, the better. She can pick it up with Sebastian another time. With little ceremony, during a conversation about conspiracy theories, she gives Matt the signal, and they bid their farewells. They leave just in time, it seems, to catch the mysterious black car’s drive-by. Why is it slowing down? Why is it stopping?
Copyright © Chris Green 2021: All rights reserved
Light is a prequel to Dark, which can be found in my collection, Light Fandango or on my website at: