God-Drum

By R.J. Barna

         We had no sympathy for the aching earth. Gravel and withered weeds ground to grey dust beneath the tired soles of our Chucks, Doc Martens and Vans, though our exposed skin was likewise brown and cracked, shriveled and speckled with flecks of white, salty crust. We trampled the bitch below us to the droning command of bass drum beats and tinny guitars. No doubt she was angry. We all were. And that’s why we danced.

         By noon, the sun had burned out the sky- an oppressive white-gold presence that surrounded the naked world. The aluminum stage-edge seared like the spikes, chains and safety pins clinging to the desiccated cloth, glowing with focused intensity of a sun that surrounded us, which we could not escape: the haunting shriek of life-hating heat paired nicely with amplifier feedback. Our like-mindedly unique clothing fought against us, stiff at odd angles like clumsy papier mache.

         We danced, huddled shoulder to shoulder in crackling leather and soiled work shirts that once belonged to filthy, oily men named Bruce, Jeep, and Manuel – their labors a part of us now. Their sweat was our sweat. Their blood, dried up in crusty, rust-colored stains would drink deeply from our own, if we had any left to spare. We’d long since spent our tears, blood, and whatever sweat that could be produced from Dixie cup servings of Yoo-Hoo.

          We’d lost Ron in the heart of the Big Wig pit, no sign of his gauze-thin “Katie Hates Me” t-shirt in the mass of Mohawks, furious fists, and stomping feet. I didn’t have time to worry about him, even if he was our ride; the look of Jeff’s face was unmistakable, his bloodshot eyes sunk low beneath red, swollen eyelids. He’d had enough.

         Without argument, the 6’7” giant collapsed forward at the waist, wrapped both arms around my sloped, bony shoulders, and let me lead him out of the crowd, back towards the merch stands, ducking elbows and a barrage of bottles raining down around us. It was the only rain that Buffalo had gotten all summer. I dropped Jeff to the ground in a pale plume of powder-fine dust against an orange plastic safety fence. He giggled and flashed his signature ogre smile, an under-bite with one misplaced tusk jutting out from his lower lip. Clearly, the man was in need of some more Yoo-Hoo.

          I collected two free servings from the pink-haired girl standing ankle deep in discarded bottles, plates, and cups beneath a faded yellow and blue canvas tent. An acidic trickle of anticipation pooled beneath my tongue as I rejoined my comrade at the edge of the assembly of anarchy. We tapped the flimsy paper cups together with a soft scuff of a toast and sipped the warm, chalky sludge gratefully.

         We didn’t really listen to the music, but we didn’t speak either. We shared a sort of ringing silence, surrounded on all sides by noise too loud to hear. My bare shoulder scraped against his ashy-sharp elbow as we watched the pit writhe and convulse like a singular, amorphous beast.

         Hundreds of punks, skins, and posers, still flailed together with unreasonable intensity, rebelling even against the exhaustion that had overcome twelve and sent them to the hospital already. We threw empty bottles at the EMTs that interrupted the Tour to warn us of dehydration. Like any of us had another five bucks for water. Fuck water anyway. We had free Yoo-Hoo.

          Big Wig finished their set and in the silence, the beast dissolved, its many disparate faces becoming individuals once again, and Ron’s was born from deep within its swarmy mass. “Junior,” he wheezed, taking what was left of my Yoo-Hoo. I stared at a thin crescent of dried blood around his nostril, and we shifted uneasily in the quiet that lingered between bands.

         Big Wig still haunted our eardrums like the touch of your first girl does your skin. It was gone. We thought we wanted it gone when we had it, but now we wanted it back. It was ours and we needed it back, even just for one last go. What we got was something new, something unexpected. A high-pitched twitter of a piccolo and the cheery whine of a fiddle drifted over the lot of us, still teeming around the sugary drink-stand like as many ants.

          Another band began to play, and before we had a chance to consider the alien sound of an unheard of Irish band, a steady bass drum replaced our minds and the possessed feet of a singular storm once more took to the Devil’s Dance Floor. It was a stampede, locked arm in arm, howling with crackling, failing voices torn from our chests.

         We ran faster and faster in a massive circle until the stage disappeared in a cyclonic brown haze, and then the sky. The sky had been consumed by the sun, but we the beast had blacked it out by worship to the god-drum. In the mighty cloud we had conjured, pressed between Ron’s shoulders in the black of it, all that I could see was a faceless grin beside me: Jeff’s crooked teeth, thick with mud born from dead earth and life-giving Yoo-Hoo.

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