The Red Shoe Blues
When Dave texted, Skinny Mae responded. She should have been locked in her room, with her ears plugged shut with wax, like her physician instructed.
But Dave promised her music again, and though she knew she shouldn’t go, Skinny Mae went.
She found Dave sprawled in a swivel chair, in jeans and unlaced, sparkly purple high-tops and a net shirt. Louche, lazy, come-hither. He had one speaker of a high-end set of Bose headphones clamped to his ear.
She tried to repress her desire but, as always, it got the better of her.
“What you listenin’ to Dave?’
‘Bit o’ garage, yeah?’
‘Like, what kind?’
‘UK speed garage,’ he said, grinning. ‘Like, you know, 187 Lockdown, Ground Control, bands like that.’
‘Same mob, different name,’ said Skinny Mae, who knew her history. The roll call, the beats, the chord progression were still in her blood. ‘Danny Harrison, yeah? And Julian wassit.’
‘Jonah. Julian Jonah.’
‘The producer. Yeah, but those two ere 187 Lockdown, then Gant, then Ground Control. Few more names after that. Like that Monty Python sketch about Dead Salmon.’
A musical bloodline remembered in her blood, despite everything.
Dave, the bastard, removed the cushioned speaker from his ear and held it out to Skinny Mae. ‘Have a taste.’
‘You forget something, Dave?’
‘I haven’t forgotten.’ Dave waggled the headphones at her. ‘You miss it, but.’
Damnit, she did.
‘If I do this,’ said Skinny Mae out loud, for herself just as much as Dave, ‘It’ll wake up the infection. Red Shoes will take me over. All in my blood and body, I won’t hear nothin’ but the music. Won’t speak nothin’ but the song. Won’t move except to dance to it. I’ll live the music till I die of it.
Some cruel nerd with a vicious sense of irony had cooked up the infamous Neuro-Aural-Obsession Virus, but those who caught it called it Red Shoes. It hotwired the brain to take music and drown in it. The whole history of each song, each genre, each musician, unspooled and colonised that soft grey matter.
Mae Donnelly, singer, pianist, violinist, had begun half consumed by the music in her life. Then an incautious tab of E at a post-Festival rave turned out to be a vector for the Red Shoes Virus and she became a slave to the rhythm. She’d forgotten to sleep, to drink, to eat for so long that she nearly died.
Three years in rehab, recovering, learning how to eat instead of falling under the thrall of music. She emerged with a new moniker and medical advice that music would never be hers again. It could kill her.
God, she missed it.
‘What a way to go, eh?’ wheedled Dave, still holding out the headphones.
Dave had a point. Living without music was only life after a fashion. Mae had undergone years of retraining so that she even walked without establishing any kind of rhythm, in case it set off the obsessive pathways again.
Mae poked in her ear with a finger, dislodged the plug that blocked out all the music. She put her hand out for the headphones. Pressed the soft vinyl of one speaker to her ear.
Dave’s head was nodding along with an absent beat.
‘Aw, Dave,’ she said sadly. ‘You did it.’
‘I did,’ he confessed, waving his arms in the air like he just didn’t care. ‘I got the music in me, Mae-by Baby.’
‘It’ll kill you, Dave.’
‘Nah. I’m invincible!’ Dave lurched out his chair, sending it spinning, and danced, hips gyrating, feet flashing.
Mae couldn’t hear the song in Dave’s neurological pathways, but the virus in her cells called to her.
Instead of plugging her ears, instead of returning to her tuneless, heartless life, Skinny Mae took Dave’s hands in hers and began to dance.
What a way to go.