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The last time I saw Disco Dave he was face down, passed out on the sidewalk in front of our house. My little sister, Brie, was standing about ten feet away, posing for her “first day of school” picture, in her little patent leather red shoes that she cried so hard about the manager of The Shoe Palace sold them to my mother for twenty percent off, just to get us out of the store. My sister could throw a tantrum the likes of which could be heard for blocks around, and our mother was no stranger to using this to her advantage. I’ve seen Mom get more discounts and free goods off Brie’s tantrums than I would care to think about, and Brie—she was always willing to do her part.
Mom was pissed when she got those pictures back. “Damn that asshole,” she said, referring to Dave, of course, not Brie, who, despite her nasty temperament, was my mother’s little angel who could do no wrong. “Leave it to that no-good drunk to ruin my baby’s first day of school picture.”
Mom was so upset she got up from the kitchen table and mixed herself a rum and coke even though it was only 9:30 in the morning and this was going to ruin our whole Saturday. [private]As she tossed the ice cubes into her glass and doused them with rum, I tried to mask my disappointment. Going to the beach would obviously be out of the question, and I already had my suit packed. “What?” Mom snapped at me, as if reading my mind, “What are you getting pissy about?”
After that picture was taken, and before Mom picked her film up from Rite Aid, a week went by without anyone commenting about Disco Dave’s disappearance. I noticed, because how could I not? Disco Dave had rented our basement for as long as I could remember, and even though he didn’t show himself much, it was hard to miss the musical notes wafting out of Dave’s open window as he spun track after track of 70s madness. I think Disco Dave was related to us somehow, a cousin’s cousin’s cousin—something vague and distant enough to be beyond my understanding but real enough that when my father would show up for his occasional weekend and bitch about the state of our house, and that damn drunk in the basement, Mom would growl, “Disco Dave is family, Frank, so you can take a flying fuck.” And then Dad would say, “That’s nice, Lisa, real nice way to talk in front of the girls.”
After Dad came by was usually when Mom started drinking her rum straight. No ice, no coke, just the Captain’s finest. Mom wasn’t an alcoholic, she told us, not like Disco Dave, or grandpa, who had to drive off the road five times before they finally took his license away for good. Mom drank because if she didn’t, she said, she would have a full-blown panic attack. “Have you ever seen a full-blown panic attack, Darcy?” Mom said, “Well, trust me. It ain’t pretty. They’ve got medication for it, sure, but that’s not natural. The Captain’s finest works just as good, and it’s plant-based.” Mom made money selling her own line of beauty care products—lotions and skin balms, crafted from herbs she grew in the back yard—so she considered herself to be a real aficionado when it came to what was natural, and what was not.
Every day that Disco Dave was gone did not go unnoticed by me. I was the only one in the house who really dug Dave’s tunes. Mom liked listening to 80s stuff—Prince, Depeche Mode, and Huey Lew and the News. Brie was too little to understand music—she mostly listened to Raffi. But I loved the disco, and would open my window and dance alone in my room to the sound of Dave’s music wafting in with the breeze. Dave and I also had more of a relationship because we agreed on some things. We both agreed that Brie was a spoiled brat, and that Mom was best avoided. If Dave was sober enough to make it to the door, we would sometimes play checkers and he would let me braid his hair. He would hold up an old cracked hand mirror and primp like girl and say, “Well, don’t I look lovely,” and we would both laugh.
Mom held up the offending picture, pinched between two fingers and distended from her body like a dirty menstrual pad, “God damn that fool! Dave!” she shouted, “Dave! Get your ass up here!”
I picked up my tablet and wrote mom a quick note.
“What’s this?” she said, “What do you mean Dave’s gone?”
I wrote another one.
“He’s been gone for a week?”
“Well, fuck a duck. Just like that bastard to disappear a week before rent’s due. Good thing I’m the one who cashes his social security check.”
I had never known Dave to skip out on his rent, so Mom’s accusation seemed especially unfair. He had been living in our basement forever, and had never done anything wrong besides having the nerve to pass out on the sidewalk in Brie’s first day of school picture. But trying to argue with Mom had become impossible ever since I took my vow of silence. During this time, I just tended to give up—which was a relief, actually. When I was still speaking, her illogic used to make me half crazed with frustration, but now that I wasn’t speaking, a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. No longer was it my duty to prove to Mom the errors in her thinking. Mom thought what she thought, and I thought what I thought, and that was just the end of it.
“When was the last time you saw him?” Mom said.
I pointed to the picture, then wrote her another note.
“The police?” Mom wadded up my note and tossed it on the ground. My notes were wadded up all over the place. Once a month, Mom made me pick them up as payment for being such a pain in the ass. If I tried to pick them up as I went, I would get in trouble. Mom wanted a real build-up of notes so I could understand the stress I was putting her through. “Darcy, if there’s one thing Disco Dave can do, it’s take care of himself. And I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, if nothing is on fire, and no one is being raped, there’s just no need to get the cops over here and breathing down our necks.”
Mom grew up in and out of foster care, and her older brother, Mick—the schizophrenic—was shot by a police officer when he was only twenty-two years old, so she had a real aversion to law enforcement. “You see flashing lights,” she always told us, “You run the other way.”
But I had been watching a lot of police shows on the TV, and it seemed to me that even though the police might shoot you by accident sometimes, they were real good at solving mysteries, and if there was one thing we had on our hands, it was a mystery alright. The problem I was facing was this—how the hell do you go about enlisting the help of the police when you have taken a vow of silence that you take very, very seriously? I could imagine the uproar I would cause if I were to show up at a police station and try to communicate on my paper pad that Disco Dave, the drunk who lived in my basement, had been missing for a week, and no one even cared to notice until he had the nerve to ruin my baby sister’s first day of kindergarten. No, I would have to find help elsewhere—preferably the help of a rational, cognizant, sober adult. Therein lay the challenge. My first thought was to ask Dad. He would be picking us up for a weekend of misery at his place in just a couple of days, but Dad hated Disco Dave, and rarely seemed to care about anything but himself and his Camero, which he was re-tooling himself and which we spent Saturday and Sunday watching his re-tool. I felt pretty sure if I told Dad that Disco Dave was missing, he would just shrug his shoulders and ask me to hand him his wrench.
I decided to start with the neighbors. Mom and Brie were at Brie’s ballet lesson, so I was free to do what I wanted without being questioned. During this period of time, Mom and Brie were frequently off doing things. Once Brie turned five, she really started catching people’s attention, and Mom had it in her head that Brie could make it as a model, be on a reality TV show, or doing beauty pageants, so she had Brie taking all kinds of classes—ballet, gymnastics, swimming. Every time Dad came over to pick us up, Mom would be after him for money for Brie’s lessons, and he would get pissed and ruffle my hair and say, “Thank God we’ve only got one looker in the family, because we sure as shit couldn’t afford two.”
Disco Dave told me that not everyone can be beautiful, and that it’s important to work on your other strengths, because beauty always betrays you in the end anyway, which is what my vow of silence was all about—working on my strengths. If I could do this, I figured I could do pretty much anything, and I couldn’t much see the point of talking in a world where no one listens to you anyway.
The first person I asked about Disco Dave was Mary Anne from next door. Mary Anne sometimes brought Dave soup, and sometimes they would lend each other books, so I knew that she could see past the part of Dave the rest of the world saw, to the part of him that really meant something. Mary Anne answered her door in a bathrobe and slippers. I knew her house pretty well because when Mom was in a pinch, Mary Anne would babysit me—but not Brie, because Brie had too many temper tantrums for Mary Anne’s tastes. I knew that Mary Anne had a Japanese fighter fish on her kitchen counter that came to the side of the bowl if Mary Anne used a special kind of whistle, and that the fat bald monk jar next to the fish bowl almost always had cookies in it. I liked Mary Anne’s house, and used to visit a lot, until Mary Anne got a boyfriend and then she told me I had to call first, which is a real obstacle when you can’t speak.
I had a piece of binder paper with me that said: Have you seen this person? With a picture of Disco Dave that I took with my Polaroid camera after I gave him a particularly wild hairstyle with a bandana and some turkey feathers I found on the side of the road. In the picture, Dave had a half empty bottle in one hand, and he was grinning like he loved his new hairstyle as much as I did. Mary Anne looked at the paper and said, “That’s an amazing hairdo.” I just looked at her. “Still not talking?” Which was what she always said during that time, as if just because I was a kid, I couldn’t stick with something for any length of time. “Well, I haven’t seen Disco Dave for about, hmmm, let me think.” She crossed her arms and rubbed at her chin, “A week maybe? Must have been the first day of school, because I remember going out to get the paper and your mom was snapping a picture of that little she-devil sister of yours, and your mom said, it’s Brie’s first day of kindergarten, isn’t she darling. And I said, yah, sure she is, and then I saw Dave was passed out on the sidewalk, and I figured he would be in that picture and I had a good laugh about that. But I haven’t seen him since. You worried?” I nodded. “Well, let’s go have a look in his place. I have a key for emergencies.”
Standing at Disco Dave’s front door, a chill passed through me. When Mary Anne pushed the door open, cool air swept over us the way I imagined air would escape from a crypt. “Dave?” Mary Anne called out, and then she cautiously pushed the door open, and stepped inside. “Are you here?” There was no answer.
I sat on the edge of the couch while Mary Anne poked her nose in the bathroom, just in case, but no Dave. She came and sat beside me on the couch, and put her hand on my knee. “Dave is lucky to have a friend like you, Darcy,” she said. I didn’t answer. “I’m going to make some calls, and I’ll let you know what I find, OK?” I nodded. “Should we lock up then?” I shook my head. Mary Anne sat next to me for a few minutes in silence, and then she slipped the key into my hand. “Alright, I’m going back to my place to make some calls, you lock up when you’re ready, OK?” I nodded.
After Mary Anne left I lay down on Disco Dave’s couch, and looked at his record collection, counting them with my eyes. There were so many, each carefully sheathed, dusted, alphabetized—Disco Dave took better care of his records then he did of himself. Just like my dad did his Camero. One record was lying on the carpet—the cover, easily a foot away. I don’t know why I didn’t see it right away, probably because I was so petrified that we would discover Dave’s rotting body. Sly and the Family Stone. One of Disco Dave’s favorites. That’s when I knew. Disco Dave would never leave his album lying on the floor like that. I didn’t need Mary Anne to tell me, though she would, eventually, after finding Dave’s unmarked body in the morgue.
That night Mom sat at the kitchen table, drinking Captain Morgan and sobbing inconsolably. I made Brie and I a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and we sat together on the couch. Brie leaned up against me, which was unusual as she had never really admired me the way I thought younger siblings should admire the oldest. I put my arm around her and we sat like that for awhile, listening to Mom cry. “Why did Disco Dave die?” Brie wanted to know, “Was he dead in my first day of school picture?” She seemed genuinely concerned about this, and her lower lip quivered.
The details were sketchy. No one really knew what happened, how he managed to get from lying in front of the house to the place he was found, over three miles away, underneath the overpass. Disco Dave was mysterious, so I guess it made sense that he would die mysteriously, at least that’s what Mary Anne said the next day when she brought Brie and me a pizza because Mom was not herself, and wouldn’t be for some time. But I could see why Brie was upset by the idea of Dave being dead in her picture—especially seeing as Mom had pinned it to the bulletin board next to the phone, with a pin shooting directly through Dave’s apparently lifeless body. My relationship with Brie had suffered because of my vow of silence. I could see this now, what with me not talking, and Brie too young to read, our relationship had pretty much degenerated into a series of kicks, pinches, dramatic eye rolls, and silence.
“I wish you would say something,” Brie whispered. And I wanted to. I wanted to so bad. But somehow I just couldn’t. [/private]