Two and Four by Michael Galligan

David was tempted to just keep driving, leave the drums packed to the roof in the car. But routine. Or was it obligation? Or maybe those are the same thing? He parked just yards from a stack of cardboard next to a stolen shopping cart and lugged his drum cases across the cracked street to the door of The Dutchman. 

Sitting under the stiff cement fingers of the West Seattle Bridge, the Dutchman called to aspiring musicians: punk, grunge, noise, electronica, what-have-you. The rooms used by bands with over-wrought names like Upper Echelon or The Turn Down. A jail block of studios perfectly placed for raw pounding, and screeching feedback. Throw in some sweat, cheap beers and cigarette smoke and you get the picture. No neighbors to annoy; passing trucks, articulated buses, tired commuters would never hear. Ninety percent had no idea what went on in the gray stone building, anyway. Anonymous music.

Anonymity. This is what David felt behind the drum set after two years with Low Justice. Not a good anonymity, not like relief. Like a real nobody. Just a human drum machine smacking twos and fours behind repetitive guitars.

Low Justice practiced in the top room. And was there an elevator? Not in The Dutchman. Just up the damn stairs, step by step, and by the time the last case went thud in front of the metal door, David wished he were anywhere else, playing music for any other band. A polka band, a corny Dixieland jazz band. Anything.

Sweat beaded on his forehead. David lifted the lock away from the door – Brad gave him a key months before when David said he wanted to show up early to set up. An eager moment, then. Did he really feel like he cared? Was he more upbeat, pun intended? He slid the key in, tiny teeth meeting tiny teeth. A click and the bottom of the lock fell away from the upside-down U. 

The funk of the windowless room hit David’s nostrils. The shag carpet never once vacuumed as far as anyone knew, and there were the ridiculous walls, painted in a kaleidoscope of mismatch by previous groups. David pushed and pulled the cases through the door. Thumping came from the room below, one TWO, three FOUR, one TWO, three FOUR. He knew this was exactly what he was in for, a night of pulsing nothingness. Could he stand it? You can hit the two and four as hard as you want but it’s still just two and four. What was the point?

He unlatched a case and pulled out the shiny snare. The rims were cool, smooth, and solid, giving David a moment of pleasure. Then the tom cases. Sparkly blue Slingerlands with clear heads. Bass drum in pearl white next, mic hole cut into the black head with LOW JUSTICE in duct tape block letters. The spiked legs were released to the carpet to keep the big drum from scooting away. David unzipped the hardware bag and assembled: hi-hat stand, bass pedal, cymbal stands. This is the example of going through the motions, he thought. And when will a roadie do this for me? Never. He knew it like he knew he only had four singles in his wallet after putting gas in his piece-of-junk just to get here, a here which felt just like a loud nowhere.

Now the cymbal case – black, rigid plastic, not quite a circle. And Low Justice again, on a bumper sticker. Letters supposed to look aggressive, Brad’s design. David freed the cymbals from the case. 

He loved the feel the cold disks gave him. Something about the peace-destroying crash living inside the metal captivated David and had done so since he was little and saw the tall blue and gold man in the marching band with two cymbals that seemed part of his hands, first clapping them like clam shells then smashing them together and lifting them up and out. David told himself he saw the sound – it was alive in the air – and he walked home pretending he had cymbal hands, too. Now it helped that the cymbals could drown out Brad’s voice pretending to be a dead man singing or Endo’s uninspired bass lines. But much more, the cymbals made a sound that diminished but didn’t quite disappear. He always imagined the sound waves compressed into slivers allowing them to slip into other times, other worlds. He wanted that trait. He wanted to burst with a vibrating, spreading wash of color-sound reaching beyond the present and the here. This was his last clear desire.

David finished twisting the wingnuts when Brad came in with no instrument cases. He didn’t even have his stupid sunglasses he wore during gigs even in dark bars like The Old Town.

“David, I tried to call you.”

David’s cell phone was dead. He didn’t recharge it. His apartment had no land line. He did not care. He looked at Brad wearing as much black as a person could without disappearing. 

“Yeah?”

“David, we want to use a different drummer.”

David thought. The beat of a different drummer will be the same beat, dumbass. Your songs won’t change. One TWO three FOUR. That’s all there was to it. 

“I’m sorry. We just think it would be better…” Brad had to raise his voice above the promised screeching feedback from downstairs.

We? David only saw Brad. Where were the others? But it didn’t really matter. David knew it had to come to this. It had been building like Brad’s favorite song. The one Brad thought should be a hit and kept asking why it didn’t get radio play. The one with the crescendo way too drawn out, the lyrics checking all the boxes of trying too hard. 

The mess of noise from below continued. 

“Well, OK.”

“You’ve done a good job. We just don’t think your heart is in it anymore.”

David looked at his drums poised. All ready for nothing. At least he hadn’t opened the stick bag.

“I’ll need the key back.” 

Of course. David tossed over the key, harder than necessary. Brad picked it up from the shag.

“Do you want some help loading out?” Brad asked.

“No, that’s OK. I got it.”

“Alright. Thanks again.”

“Thanks?”

“Yeah, you know, for understanding.”

Across the narrow hall from Low Justice’s practice room was another door. Emergency Exit. It led to the roof of the Dutchman, three stories from the streets that crisscrossed the once nascent industrial district. Sometimes the band would take a break and smoke on the roof, have a beer, look out over warehouses and the huge cranes on the waterfront in the near distance. 

David remembered it only took a few long strides to get to the edge of the roof. He shouldered past his now ex-bandmate. He understood, but not what Brad thought. What he now understood came more along the lines of what it takes to break out, to explode from a launch pad, to escape. He understood what the moment, the now, needed. He understood how sitting behind the band for so long keeping the beat had, in the end, served no one, least of all himself. 

David kicked open the door to the exit, to the white noise of bridge traffic. No alarm sounded. No real emergency, anyway. Not yet. 

Back to the practice room he grabbed the bass drum with two hands and dragged it over the festering carpet and out of the practice room, past Brad’s black jeans in the hall, and out onto the Dutchman’s derelict roof.

“What are you doing?” Brad asked.

David didn’t answer. He returned to the cell and dragged the rest of his drums and stands and his throne through the door to the wash-gray afternoon. 

One time, on a particularly unforgiving summer day when the heat made the practice room stink like warm vomit, the band escaped to the roof for an unplugged session. Brad seemed to think they were in a music video. This was not that. This was more real. This made more sense.

David stepped to the edge hoisting the sparkling bass drum over his head. Brad looked like a nervous black fly. “David? What -” 

David let go. The bass drum plummeted. The wooden explosion satisfied David, but only some.

“Jesus. David!” 

The circles of toms and the shiny snare fell next. Down. Beats smashed into the pavement. Syncopated rhythms flying in all directions. No two and four anymore. It was one, two, three, four – all of it.

Last, the precious cymbals still attached to their stands. This would be it. Glorious cacophony on impact. David reveled in the ringing.

“Holy shit!” Brad yelled. He turned in a circle, not knowing where to go, then returned to look down to the street with David.

Shattered percussion littered First Avenue. A tom rim rolled on its side like a lost hubcap, across the street to the southbound lane. Two northbound cars stopped, drivers unwilling to drive over the jetsam. One of the cymbals was spinning in place upside down. A driver stood outside his car and looked up.

“Why did you do that?” Brad asked. “You could have killed someone.” 

Kill someone indeed. For an instant David contemplated joining his instruments over the edge. And all-black Brad stood within reach and leaning, too. He would just be a crow dropping to the pavement. Music is supposed to mean something, isn’t it? When it stops having meaning, then what? Would it help to be gone? To have Brad gone?  

“What the hell?” a voice from the street, angry.

“Sorry, sorry,” Brad whined back. 

A horn blared, then another. David left Brad alone in his magnificent confusion and jumped down the stairs, three and four steps at a time. Some other lame band droned away, oblivious to what just happened outside. He pushed through the front doors that used to welcome businessmen on overnight trips. Or was it tricks and prostitutes? No matter. He ran to his car and it started – barely as always. 

David gunned the wheels, gravel spattering the AWOL shopping cart, accelerated into the left lane going the wrong way, turned onto First Avenue and drove into the debris. No square beats, just cracks, thuds, and snaps. He laughed – the last time his drum set played would be the most beautiful. 

He aimed for a chunk of bass drum, snowplowed it. A cymbal stand got stuck under the bumper, sparks flying for a hundred yards or so. It broke away and spiraled to the curb. David straightened out to avoid a head-on with a bewildered driver. He rolled down his window and kept going, accelerating, accelerating. No place in mind, just a slim wave slipping through dimensions. 

Michael Galligan is a teacher and drummer writing fiction and poetry from his home on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. 

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