Lost In the Cities, Alone In the Hills

Daniel DiFranco

“Her Majesty” blared out of a T-Top Camaro. The driver, a man, shirtless, revved the engine. The car screeched off as the light turned green. Two people, early thirties in business attire, crossed the street. One of them could be you or me or someone you know, but since this is a story, let’s say their names are Dave and Mary. Dave was divorced, and Mary went from supporting one struggling musician to another while working as a paralegal. We all have our shortcomings, and who’s to say where the fault lies?

The shirtless guy is Chuck, but he’s not important right now. We’ve all known a Chuck. You’re probably not a Chuck, so don’t worry: You’re still important.

Dave watched Chuck speed away and shook his head.

“That doesn’t seem right,” Dave said. “This early, anyway.”

“Chris Cornell died last night,” Mary said.

“Damn. That doesn’t seem right either.”

A newspaper blew down the avenue and wrapped itself around Mary’s leg. She turned a clumsy pirouette, shaking it off.

Dave tentatively reached out to help her. The image of a meet-cute flashed in his head: She falls, he catches. Small talk at the cooler. Happy hour. Boom. If life could be so easy.

“Did they say how?” Dave asked.

“Not yet,” Mary said, righting herself.

Dave spent the first part of the morning listening to Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Cornell’s solo work. He settled on a live version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and posted that to his Facebook wall. Then he remembered Mary used Twitter way more and he took down the Facebook post and put it on Twitter, and then went back to Facebook and edited the privacy settings so the tweet would repost there with its much cooler Twitter origin story.

Dave worked in accounting or sales or whatever they do on the eighth floor in your building. He didn’t see Mary much throughout the day. Sometimes they’d speak on the phone or IM each other. They were work friends and work friends were like regular friends, and regular friends could go out for a drink together. Innocent.

“Taphouse for happy hour?” Dave wrote.

And then to sweeten the pot, “It’s their BYOV night. I bet the bartender will have some Cornell on vinyl.”


Three minutes. Ten. Seventeen. Who’s counting?

Finally—“Sounds good.” And then, “See you there around 6:30?”

Dave got done with work at 5 and could be there by 5:15. He thought about waiting, pretending he got stuck at work. Then he could leave with Mary. Dave knew that you couldn’t force coincidence, that too much is left to chance, but it didn’t stop him from thinking up an excuse anyway.

“Sounds good,” he wrote back. Dave hated the expression “Sounds good.” He hated saying it, typing it, reading it. That’s not how he talked, but he wasn’t sure what else to say. (It’s okay if you use “sounds good.” Dave isn’t real, but you are, so do whatever you want.)

Dave didn’t know at the time there actually would be a mix-up with payroll and he’d have to spend an extra fifty-three minutes sorting out a clerical error. But there was, and when he was finished, he walked over to Mary’s department to find her chair empty, computer turned off.

Dave’s first thought was she was bailing on him. Then he admonished himself for always thinking the negative thing first. In couples counseling he’d said he was working on that. He thought he had worked enough, and yet here he was.

He left the building and made his way to the bar. Nothing was lost.

Mary wasn’t there. The thought of her bailing flashed again. He ordered a beer and did his best to avoid looking at the clock on his phone. There weren’t many people in the place. Most were seated at the bar, hunched over their pints and phones just like Dave—men and women absorbed in communal isolation.

Listen, by now you’re probably thinking Dave is kind of a dweeb. Maybe a touch neurotic? But, as I’ve said before, he’s not real. He’s just a fiction of a man whose life, maybe like yours, has started to lose the mystery. He’s waiting for the miracle. We all are.

The bartender changed records. Bowie. He’s dead too, Dave thought.

The bartender is Nick, but Dave could never remember that. The only thing Dave really knew about the bartender was that he brought in good music on vinyl night. He didn’t know that when the bartender wasn’t working he played in a band and had a helluva voice, and even though he was kind of a dick, he wrote pure, honest songs that people could relate to. Neither Dave nor the bartender didn’t know that within a year the bartender would be on tour, opening up for the Foo Fighters in Europe, but that’s not important for a few more months. Right then, Dave was sitting at the bar, consumed by the creations of his own orbit.

Mary entered the bar at 6:47.

“Hey,” she said to Dave. She was holding a square plastic bag.

Dave felt foolish for thinking she ditched him. “Hey,” he said.

“I got held up at the record store. It was madness in there. Lots of sad people talking about Cornell. Seemed like the place people needed to be today.”
Dave noticed the record. He thought he should have gone to the record store.

“No worries,” he said. “What’d you get?”

The bartender walked down the length of bar. He tossed a coaster that landed in front of Mary. “Ooohhh, fresh vinyl,” he said and rubbed his hands.

Mary pulled out the record. The Singles soundtrack 25th anniversary double LP.

“Badass,” the bartender said. “Give me.” He put his hands out.

Mary passed him the record.

* * *

Chuck had just gotten off the night shift at a bakery. If you work the night shift anywhere, you probably know a Chuck, but I promise you, the fact that you’re reading this, you’re probably not a Chuck.

He spilled bleach on his shirt while cleaning up and put the shirt in a paper bag and stuck it in the trunk of his car. The local rock station played three songs by The Beatles every morning. They’d been playing Cornell since the news broke a few hours earlier and would continue to do so after The Beatles’ songs. Chuck could soundtrack every important event in his life to a song by Cornell and his various bands. First kiss—“Hunger Strike.” First time getting laid—“Jesus Christ Pose.” First wife—“Black Hole Sun.” First time he thought Gwyneth Paltrow was hot—“Sunshower.”

Chuck would go home and drink and listen to records. He wouldn’t stop except for the few hours he would pass out after smoking a joint. He’d wake up late in the afternoon and finish the six-pack of reserve Rolling Rock ponies he kept in the crisper. He’d drive to the beer distributor and get another case and break into that while driving around with the local rock station cranked. He would get into an accident that would shut down the road Mary had parked her car on. Mary would stay at the bar for over an hour after Dave left, chatting with the bartender while waiting for a cab. She was finding her center though only dimly aware of it at the moment. Have you ever been a Mary?

* * *

Rock history time. The secret is all around us:

“Her Majesty” was never intended to be included in the final version of Abbey Road. It isn’t even listed on the jacket sleeve. Some people say it’s an early example of a hidden track since the grooves on the record give nothing away—you’d never see it coming until the notes rang. Paul McCartney later said it was an accident how the song starts and ends, that it was “typical Beatles”—a coincidence.

* * *

Dave went home that night. He thought he had made romantic progress with Mary, but the next day she was different—as if a light had been replaced. A position in The Netherlands opened up and Dave applied. He figured he was young enough to start over.

He got the job, and one night, three months later, at a little cafe tucked on the edge of a canal, “I Am the Highway” came on the house system.

Dave was struck with the thought that he would leave nothing behind, that most people don’t. An eternal sadness rolled through Dave, sand pulling away from under your feet, through your toes on the edge of a shore. He began to weep. He wept for himself and for his ex-wife and for Mary and for Chris Cornell. He wept for the dog he found out he wasn’t allowed to bring when he moved and for the broken piano in his mother’s living room he never learned to play. His coworker—someone Dave would eventually become good friends with and be a godparent to his firstborn—asked him what was wrong. Dave laughed and wiped his face. “Sorry, nothing,” he said. “Nothing.” We’ve all lied and meant it.

* * *

A few months later, Dave and Mary would be at the same Foo Fighters concert in The Hague and not know it. The next day they’d have a brief back and forth on social media after seeing each other’s posts. “You were there too!?” “Free to grab a drink while you’re in town?” “Already headed to Paris!” “Next time!”

The road would continue, long and weary, and they would never see each other again. Millions of miles under their heels, laughing under the autumn moon, crying, being. Dave would meet a woman from his hometown who was also stationed in Haarlem—they would marry and a new orbit would begin, never again intersecting with You or Mary or Nick or Chuck or the other countless orbits left behind, spiraling out and out. But, sometimes, the lightning or wind or mystery of song would transmit a signal from that alternate universe—an interference, a brief communication—a ping of sorrow and pity, of longing and acceptance, of moving on in ever widening circles.


Daniel DiFranco lives in Philadelphia. He is an Arcadia University MFA alum. His novel, Panic Years, will be published in August 2018 by Tailwinds Press. His short stories can be found in Smokelong Quarterly, LitroNY, Drunk Monkeys, and others. Full list of pubs and miscellany can be found at danieldifranco.com, and on Twitter at @danieldifranco.

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