Sara Novo was parked at second beach. The flat grey sky, with its handful of stars reflected in a flat waveless sea; the moon behind a cloud. She had played at Stan's until after midnight and wasn't ready to go home. Home, could she call it that? She was tired but couldn't sleep, wide awake but unable to focus.
Back in the 90's Sara had a minor hit with an appropriately acerbic pop tune called “When Push Comes to Shove”. The album which followed did relatively well, but she was never able to chart another single. She made a descent living playing in clubs throughout New England and New York. She'd even appeared at Lilith Fair two years in a row. Back then she was in her late 20’s. Now she was thirty-nine.
Sara had spent 11 years with Adam, the bass players in her band, but like her career, the relationship never seemed to get off the ground. When the band broke up, so did the relationship. He had left her the small house they shared in Portsmouth nearly two years ago. Sara was tall and blond with blue eyes like sea glass, so there were men. But frankly, Sara was tired of men - bad boys who said they'd be good and good boys who only wanted to be bad. All of this was in her songs - the longing and the loss.
Sara was the kind of singer songwriter, had she appeared in 1970, would now be the subject of whole books. She'd be up there with Carol King and Joni Mitchell. This wasn’t exactly how she saw it but enough of her most loyal fans shared this sentiment. She used to sell her CD's in local record shops and after shows. Now she just gives them away. Without radio play or downloads she relies on playing live. Every quarter she gets a royalty check for her one hit and some of the songs off the album from the music streaming services. It’s usually enough for a cup of coffee.
When it comes to the pain of breaking up, no one is more articulate than Sara. Hell, she’d had the experience enough times. Her mother had always said that she didn’t know how to pick men. Her mother should talk. Her father was a musician too. Never made a record and barely made a living, but it seems that all rock stars have their groupies. First there was mom - that lasted nearly 10 years - he moved out when she was 9. Then there were others, pretty girls who kept an eye out for her when her dad was on stage and kept her awake making love when he was done for the night. Sara’s dad taught her to play guitar and some piano. She had a good ear and learned quickly. He was amazed every other weekend when they got together at how much she had progressed. Sara adored her dad as most girls did until they don’t or can’t.
Sara started writing songs almost as soon she could put two chords together. Her dad played her Beatles, Stones, Dylan, but her mom liked the girl groups from the sixties, the Shirelle’s, the Ronettes and the Supreme’s. “Tapestry” was a favorite of Sara’s, so much so that her mother forbid her to play it when she was around. She loved the Joni of “Blue”, “Court and Spark” and “Ladies of the Canyon”. Of course growing up in the 80’s was a challenge musically, but she liked Kate Bush and loved Elvis Costello. All these influences resulted in heartfelt clever songs, catchy, but complex. She was particularly good at writing a bridge. That’s the part of the song that links the chorus back to the verse. And, while she had a bright voice, like sunshine on a summer’s day, she was most comfortable with more autumnal tones, brandy or Irish Cream. This lower range was well suited for songs of reckless love and abandonment. Sara wasn’t a morose person. Her songs gave you the impression of a woman both smart and romantic in a world that appreciated neither. She might be hurt, but she was seldom the victim, and when she was, she chose redemption over self pity every time.
Oddly enough Sara lost track of her musical dad right around the time her career was getting started. The popularity of rap and grunge in the nineties left her dad playing smaller and smaller bars and traveling further away. Her mom still lived nearby. They saw each other from time to time for coffee or lunch. She used to go to the shows when Sara was on the island. This could be a challenge when her mom drank too much. So, it was a great relief when she stopped.
Sara had been thinking that maybe it was time to pack it in, to ditch the guitar and the band for some sort of real job before it was too late. The problem was that there had never been anything else she wanted to do. The moon appeared from behind a grey cloud shining silver over the still water. Cold now, Sara started the engine and turned the heat up high.
She hadn’t heard from Adam in months. He was living in Rutland, Vermont. Sara had gone up there six months after they had split to hear his new band and see if maybe they might surprise one another. But everything about the trip was the same, only the location was different. And besides, a bar is a bar and that bar could have been anywhere. Adam’s band was rough around the edges and the guys in it weren’t much better. Adam introduced her to the crowd, and accompanied her on her hit and a couple of other songs for an appreciative audience.
As always, there was some serious drinking going on. Things got tense when they went back to Adam’s. The lead singer, Brian, a tall long-haired dude with a foo manchu and a fascination with Eddie Vedder had been staring longingly at Sara throughout the evening. It was no secret that she and Adam had broken up, or that they might be testing the waters. But the fight that ensued between the two band mates lasted most of the night and by dawn everyone agreed that it would be best for the band for Sara to go.
The fight got her out of having to sleep with Adam. Something she thought she wanted almost as much as how glad she was that it didn’t happen. After an awkward breakfast at a seedy diner called Clem’s - Adam made some crack about the experience being at least good for a song. Sara thought that about summed up the whole eleven year relationship, but didn’t say it - they kissed good-bye.
Sara got on Route 4 and headed home. All the way through NH she kept thinking about the years with Adam. For all the good times and all the bad it seemed, more than anything, to be a convenient relationship. Adam was basically a good guy. She didn’t cheat on him and when he cheated on her, she forgave him. Maybe her mother was right, maybe that was the big mistake. But it seemed to Sara that over the years sex became more an occupational hazard than a lapse in morals. Between the booze, the pills and the coke, fucking was just another choice on the menu, a way to top off the meal. Sara had plenty of opportunities of her own. Sometimes she wished she hadn’t passed it up. But mostly she thought of it as a guy thing, something she thought Adam would tire of eventually. But then again her father never tired of it, did he?
Now, the moon was gone again. The small waves breaking white on the shore. It was nearly 1:00am and Sara was finally feeling tired. She had agreed to play some songs at a book reading for kids at the local bookstore in the morning. Just acoustic guitar. She put her 98 Honda Civic in reverse and headed for home.
The house was dark and cold. Too cold Sara thought, fearing that the furnace wasn’t working again. The answering machine's green light blinked on the kitchen counter. She had been meaning to get rid of the land line for a long time but kept putting it off. Anyone who really wanted to reach her usually called her cell. It was probably some telemarketer seeing if she wanted to refinance her house for the thousandth time. The furnace kicked on suddenly and with a sense of relief Sara clicked play on the answering machine.
“Hi Sara, it’s me, Summer. You were great tonight. Give me a call.” Beep.
“Sara, hi it’s Andrew from the bookstore. Just wanted to see if there was anything else you needed for tomorrow. I’ll be here by 8:00 if you could give me a call.” Beep.
“Hey, is this my little girl? Wasn’t sure if this number would still be working.” Sara froze. It was her father.
“Listen, sweetie I know it’s been a long time. I think of you every day, you know I do. Look, you’re old man’s not doing so hot. I’m sick sweetie…” There was a long pause and the sounds of her dad reaching for a glass, or a bottle and taking a long drink.
“I tried to reach your mother, but the number I had didn’t work and apparently she’s not listed. Jesus, I hope nothing’s happened to her. Sara, I don’t know if you’ll have me, and I know I’ve got no right, no right in the world to ask this. But, right now I’ve got nowhere to go. I want to, I would like to, I need to come home.” There was another long pause and then her father cleared his throat again to speak.
“I suppose you’re still writing and singing? Listen I’ll call you again tomorrow night, say 7:00. I’m at a neighbor’s, so it’s probably not best to call me here. I love you honey.”
Sara sat in the darkened kitchen lit only by the steady red light of the answering machine and thought about how you didn’t really know how far away something was until it came back.
If you missed the previous installment of Success Through Failure click here: