Episode 1: The Pumpkin Thieves
Episode 1: The Pumpkin Thieves
Jo’s new band was in the process of stealing every one of the round, ripe pumpkins vine-nestled in their former drummer’s backyard garden. The group had been making some changes to their line-up.
It had been six weeks since the Bukowski Brothers, in search of a lead guitarist, had plucked Jo from one of the local musicians-for-hire websites. Since then, she’d joined them for thirteen rehearsals and had gotten along quite well with the now-scorned percussionist in question.
Now, on the night of her first show with the band, she found herself waiting in the shadows of his back alley in the passenger seat of their getaway vehicle. Beside her, the driver was having a panic attack, as she’d been assured he would.
Aaron Brzezinski, the band’s once-and-future drummer, had been reluctantly restored to his rightful drum throne as of yesterday. He did not cope well with stressful situations.
“Why did he have to go and fuck everything up?” he mumbled—rhetorically, Jo assumed—into the steering wheel, his freckled forehead pressed against the curved polyurethane. “Everything was going fine. He’s a better drummer than me. Answering emails—that’s my thing. Managing the band account. That’s a thing I can do.”
“You’re doing a good job?” Jo tried. She’d been introduced to Aaron less than half an hour ago and unofficially delegated to the position of band therapist within minutes.
She wondered absently how the other two Bukowskis were doing with the pumpkins; the drummer must have produced quite a collection of them, judging by the size of the empty crates Jaymie and Rex had disappeared through the gate with.
“This is a terrible idea. We shouldn’t be doing this,” Aaron muttered.
“Well, you know it wasn’t my idea.” Jo tried to keep the accusation out of her tone, reminding herself that Aaron couldn’t be held responsible for the whims of his mad twin. He didn’t respond. Outside, the alley was dark and silent. The occasional snatch of conversation floated to them from the street, where people wandered to and from Friday night events, unaware of the robbery occurring just beyond the fence.
Jo settled into her seat and started investigating the glove compartment for CD options. Aaron, faithful to the customs of drummers, began a compulsive rhythmic tapping on the wheel, without any awareness of what he was doing, and stared out the window.
Jo had been in unconventional bands before. Most good bands were unconventional by nature, or else they probably played boring garage rock in front of boring audiences, as far as she was concerned. She was determined to take Aaron’s eccentricities as a positive sign.
A dog barked twice and she glanced up from a handful of CD cases that had almost certainly all been collected at local DIY shows—The BMI Babies, Shifty Principals, Gunt—but concluded that the sound came from too far away to have been provoked by her bandmates’ indiscretions.
“Oh my god, holy shit, we gotta go.” Aaron was steadily working himself into a state of great agitation, and Jo felt a pang of alarm. She sat up straighter and checked once more that the alley was empty, before reminding herself not to get caught up in the energy of his fear. She’d always found that being a little stoned made her more susceptible to catching other people’s vibes.
“Don’t worry, it’s down the street. I’m sure Jaymie and Rex are almost done by now.” She tried to inject her voice with enough warmth and reassurance to bolster the both of them, though she was not particularly experienced with this aspect of band life.
“No, we have to… I’m afraid of dogs,” Aaron admitted, a thin sheen of sweat beginning to threaten at the edges of his pale face.
“Oh. Well, it’s outside the car…”
Jo wasn’t sure how to help. Jaymie’s instructions had been simple: “Aaron, this is Jo. Jo, Aaron! He has a panic disorder! So, stay here? You guys do something… calming. Remember, this is fun!” And then, pointlessly, “We’re all a band now! Yay…” He’d trailed off happily and, with the kind of sparkling wink characteristic only of cartoon characters and Jaymie Brzezinski, hefted a few empty pumpkin boxes into his arms and darted after Rex into the darkness of the unfortunate gardener’s yard.
“Want me to drive?” Jo asked.
Aaron sized her up. “Are you still high?” he asked.
For a moment he seemed to be weighing the risks of trusting a stoned driver compared to the strain of having to focus on the road while dealing with the grim knowledge that dogs exist. Finally, he said, “Yes. Please.”
Jo undid her seatbelt and leaned for the door handle.
“Ohmygod don’t open the door! There’s a dog out there!” Aaron yelped.
Jo was at a loss. She closed her eyes and pictured, in that strange corner of the imagination employed in audiation, the contrapuntal synth and guitar lines that began the first track on the new EP, the hook that had charmed her into this band and had made her excited to show up for her first practice. She moved her fingers in the shape of the sweep that finished the guitar part, and a comforting contour of the melody hung before the darkness of her closed lids—a colourful shape rising and falling like a curve on a graph.
She forced herself back to the situation at hand. “Should we… just… switch?” she asked helplessly. Aaron drummed his palms on the wheel, calculating and accurately assessing Jo’s hips to be wider than his own, her body to be more unwieldy.
“You just hop over the middle here,” he instructed. “I’ll go overtop.” He pushed the driver’s seat back as far as it would go and climbed onto the dashboard, turning around to nimbly fold his slight form between the dash and windshield. His legs stretched out over the gear shift in the gap between the two front seats, giving Jo a slightly higher barrier to traverse.
“You didn’t want to just climb into the back seat for a minute?” she asked.
“It’s too late for that now.”
Grumbling, Jo pulled her feet up onto the seat, then swung her left sneaker over Aaron’s knees. She hoisted her hips over his shins. A thigh cramp caused her a temporary retreat; a satisfying pop in her hip joint got her back on track. Her sneaker caught briefly in the loose seatbelt, resulting in another moment of awkward fumbling.
“If you just—”
“Here, I’ll slide over.”
“Ow, just wait, I’m almost there!”
“Ok move your foot. Not like—never mind!”
And she was free, about to descend gracefully into the driver’s seat, when a tap on the passenger side window startled Aaron into a headlong sprawl against her chest. Two bearded and beer-toting Friday-nighters hailed them through the window.
“Never seen it done that way before,” one of them commented.
“Sorry to interrupt,” said the other. “But there’s a big house party three blocks down, number two-seventy-one.” He gestured down the alley. “Sick band playing. We’re trying to get lots of people out. So. When you guys are all finished…” He raised his eyebrows at them conspiratorially. “Also, not a great alley for this. Lots of foot traffic.”
Jo, still stoned enough to be vulnerable to a bit of hazy paranoia, suddenly tensed, thinking he knew about the theft occurring a few feet across the fence, but then remembered she was sitting in the dark with her feet splayed across the dash and a headlights-frozen deer of a man in her lap. She relaxed and stifled a laugh. Marijuana could be a roller-coaster sometimes, no matter how many years you spent getting used to it.
“No judgement! Maybe you guys are into that. So, later? Two-seventy-one. You’ll hear it. See you there, yeah?” He set off after the other man, grinning and cheers-ing his twelve-pack in their direction as Jo gave a bland grin and Aaron nodded dumbly in her arms.
Jo decided that her new bandmate might take some getting used to. But then, they all took some getting used to. She deposited him in his seat and pulled her right foot over the stick shift, settling into place.
“Feel better?” she asked.
“Distractions always help,” Aaron responded dully.
A moment later they heard the click of the trunk opening and felt the soft shudder of the car accepting several heavy pumpkin crates. Into the back seat tumbled a triumphant Jaymie Brzezinski, and seventeen-year-old Rex, the youngest member of the Bukowski Brothers’ Broken Family Band, who smiled placidly at them.
Jaymie leaned into the front, his arms circling Jo and Aaron’s seats, his freckles dancing exuberantly in the dim light of the alley, his face a fuller, healthier, crooked-smiling version of Aaron’s.
“We got our merch,” he beamed. “You boys ready to play a house show?”
Joanna Connors was Rex’s new favourite thing about band practices, because Joanna Connors was terrifying. She was exactly the type of woman Rex would have wanted to grow up to be in five or ten years (Jo could be anywhere between twenty and thirty-five, as far as Rex could tell), if Rex still wanted to grow up to be a woman, which Rex did not.
At six-foot-one, Jo was taller than any of the three Brzezinski siblings, and with her shining black hair and unshakable poise, Rex was fairly certain she was also handsomer. Fortunately, Rex wasn’t interested in comparing themself to Jo; the inevitable and emotionally-crippling period each person goes through, when they measure themself against every other person they know, was a phase Rex had gotten out of their system at a rate faster than the average teenager.
What really delighted Rex was Jo’s bizarrely angular, chord-heavy fingerstyle lead guitar playing. Rex loved to have something interesting to lay a bassline under. As far as Rex was concerned, Jo was a monster on her instrument and she was a wonder to behold performing and she was too high most of the time for them to have had a real conversation with her, but that just added to her allure even more.
They had made it out of the garden with no altercations, driven back to the jam space for their band van and gear, and still had time to draw thirty-six BBBFB logos in black sharpie on thirty-six stolen pumpkins before heading to the party at number 271.
Now, as Rex maneuvered their bass amp through a kitchen packed full of stylish twenty-somethings, they were especially grateful for Jo’s formidable presence ahead of them. Jo carved a wide path with a Fender Reverb amp, hard-shell guitar case, and a suitcase containing her extensive effects pedal collection, all of which she seemed to have no trouble carrying in a single trip. Rex estimated that the pumpkin endeavor might have gone in half the time with Jo’s help, but knew that Jaymie was trying to be considerate about the amount of illegal activity they involved their newest bandmate in.
Rex’s best friend, Maggie, appeared at their side with Rex’s soft bass case on her back; she’d no doubt encountered their van on her way in.
“What a bunch of hipsters,” Maggie muttered into Rex’s ear. “Kill me if I’m dressed like that at twenty-five.” She jerked her chin derisively in the direction of a woman wearing a sleeveless orange onesie and ten thousand bangles. Maggie was barely sixteen, but Maggie had Lived.
“Your mom let you come out!” said Rex, instantly more at ease.
“She had nothing to do with it. And since when have I ever missed a Bukowski show?”
They set the gear down in the living room, a carpeted space devoid of furniture. The walls were covered in colourful show posters and pencil-drawn art depicting strange cartoonish people with too many eyes and noses and their anatomy all out of proportion—the type of decor that screamed “artist house”. Rex felt a swell of excitement at the dingy glamour of the place.
“So, I heard Aaron’s back in the band? Didn’t he, like, bail on the band and swear never to play another show or something? And Jaymie un-twinned with him and then they weren’t best-friends-slash-brothers anymore? What’s the deal?”
Maggie knew everything. Maggie being out of the loop on band gossip was unthinkable; Rex knew she was just looking for Rex’s take on the drama. Unfortunately, Rex didn’t have time to give her any details because they had thirty-six pumpkins to set up at the merch table.
“Want to help set up?” Rex asked, but Maggie conveniently caught the eye of one of the few other teenagers with enough cred to know about the show, and waved him over.
“Who is this band, anyway?” asked Maggie’s new conquest. A red toque pulled low over his forehead vaguely identified him to Rex as a student in their AP English class.
“You don’t know?” Maggie asked, as though being unfamiliar with an on-again-off-again local indie band were the most appalling thing in the world.
Rex smiled, gave a teenaged yet tasteful roll of their eyes, and set off to find the merch table as Maggie zeroed in on her victim. Behind them, Maggie’s voice was swallowed by the din as she said, “Well, I’ll tell you.”
The BBBFB had been formed approximately three years ago by Jaymes, Ayryn, and Rybecca Brzezinski, who had been born, in that order, to serve as sidemen in their mother’s various musical projects. A celebrated jazz musician, Leonora McLeod had need of a reliable backing band who would not require payment. Such were the times for professional musicians.
The training of Leonora’s band had proven to take longer than anticipated, and in the meantime she’d taken on a semi-permanent gig with an ongoing jazz-themed Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, which kept her away from her family for much—perhaps too much—of each year. The siblings, unable to eschew the inner urges of their intended destiny, had maintained regular rehearsals, which were mostly directionless bebop jams until the day the eldest Brzezinski had commandeered the band to his own ends.
Of the identical Jaymes and Ayryn, only Jaymie had inherited his mother’s passion for the performing life; Aaron was having none of it.
He grudgingly set up his drum kit on the stained carpet of the living room, in a house tastelessly decorated in grim homemade art and filled with people who were mostly drunk and unnecessarily loud. He adjusted the cymbal height a few times. He dutifully made sure the snare was off so it wouldn’t bother Jaymie during the stupid five-minute soliloquy that began their set. He made sure a stash of drumsticks was easily accessible, hanging from the floor tom, for when he inevitably dropped or flung the ones he started with (he tended to get shaky hands when nervous).
He went to see if Rex had finished setting up their new band merch at the front table, only to find that all thirty-six pumpkins had disappeared, and the man who’d been charging cover at the door was slumped over the cash box, his tiny, circular glasses askew, quite dead.
Aaron’s pulse quickened. He felt the too-familiar pressure in his chest, like his ribcage was one of those rooms in sci-fi movies, where the Jenga-block walls start folding in piece by piece until his lungs and heart could either agree to work together to solve some kind of depraved puzzle and escape, or be crushed to death. He wished, not for the first time, that he had more control over his body’s adrenal impulses.
He exhaled harshly, ran his damp hands through his hair, and tried to steady his breathing. Situations like this were exactly why he’d quit the band in the first place.