Out of Time
by David W. Landrum
Sossity Chandler sat in the green room of the studio and watched TV monitor on the wall. One of the staff brought her a glass of wine. Todd, her drummer, came in through another door. He carried a mini bagel wrapped in a napkin and spread with cream cheese.
“They set up a snack table in the other room,” he explained. “Everybody’s back there feeding their faces.”
Sossity was not hungry. The phone call from Brett last night had disheartened her. She had not eaten at breakfast or lunch. Cheryl had been at a school function and would call her this afternoon. She took a swallow of wine. Todd sat down next to her. She had confided to him that morning how much the tone of her son’s voice had upset her.
“You still look down,” he commented. “I was going to try and cheer you up by saying ‘Things will get better,’ but then I remembered that Far Side cartoon we were laughing at last week where the two guys are in hell and the one says to the other, ‘No, things are not going to get better.’”
They laughed. The talk show host, a bubbly woman Sossity thought was the most shallow-minded person on the face of God’s earth, danced in and told them they would go on after the first guests. She asked which song they planned to do.
“I’m going to do a cover.”
The woman’s face quavered a bit. “You’re not going to do one of your hits?”
“I wrote that in as an option when I signed the contract. I don’t have to do my hits; I can do any song I want.”
“The agent who gave the okay on that one must not have known much about music.”
She planned to do a blues song for the first piece.
“I’ll play ‘Cloud Shadows’ for the second number. Your audience will be expecting it.”
The host nodded and hurried back on to the set for the opening. Sossity could tell she was upset that the band would not start out with one of its hits and was not doing her signature song until the second part of the show. The others in her band—Jergen, Jennifer, and Lydia—tumbled into the lounge, laughing and joking. They asked her where she got the wine. She pointed to the young woman who had delivered it. Jergen went over and asked her to bring them all a glass.
The dust had settled on Sossity’s divorce. Her lawyer had appealed. The appeal was turned down. He had tried every legal maneuver he could think of, but nothing had worked. The settlement stood. David, her ex-husband, got the children six months out of the year at three-month intervals. Sossity had them the rest of the time. It seemed impossible—a legal travesty—yet it had stood in court. During the times David had the children, she was allowed to see them one weekend a month and talk on the telephone with them every weekend. The judge had made special arrangements for holidays.
She trembled at the mere remembrance of it. Not the time, she told herself, to let it get to her. Not before a performance. Sossity knew it was up to her to lead the band she had formed, but the trial and the failure of her legal team to challenge the settlement had made her morose. Her lethargy was not helping things. Even Lydia, her closest friend, someone she had known long before this band had formed, seemed impatient with her of late. And why shouldn’t she be? Sossity thought. She accepted a second glass of wine.
Her behavior the last six months had not helped. When she found out her husband had been having an affair with one of her best friends and her suite mate from college, she dissolved in grief and anger. Not long after finding out, she almost drank herself to death. Lydia was staying with her and found her passed out on the floor, barely breathing. The ER doctor said they had started her heart once. Alcohol poisoning, the papers reported. Sossity stopped drinking for three months, but the stress of what she found herself going through drew her to the bottle again. The police picked her up for a DUI. She spent a night in jail. She was arrested for drunk driving again and had her license suspended for a year.
Internet mavens plastered her mug shot all over the web. Stand-up comics made jokes about her drinking. Watching the Tonight Show last week she had heard a prominent female comedienne say, “Sossity Chandler is in real trouble. Her doctor found traces of blood in her alcohol stream.” When the verdict came in the custody hearing, she jumped to her feet in rage, shouted, cursed, and lunged at the judge. Two burly sheriff’s deputies caught her. The judge fined her $30,000.00 for contempt of court and told her if she said one more word, she would go to jail. Her legal team managed to get her out of the courtroom before she could say anything further. More fodder for the scandal sheets.
Since then she had got her drinking under control, apologized to Judge Grinelle and to her fans for her immaturity, and gotten her career back on track. She had a new best-selling album and a number-one selling song. She had enough new cuts for a follow-up album. Still, she felt almost unendurable shame for her childish behavior.
Sossity sipped her wine. The first set of guests had come on. She watched as they joked, laughed, and made glib talk about irrelevant subjects. Such was the legacy of daytime TV. The guests’ flighty talk bored her. The glib prompts of the host struck her as inane. What a raft of shit, she thought. She wondered what the host would ask her when, after they had performed their first song, she would go on as a guest. As she watched, though, she wondered about herself. What kind of raft was she floating to other people? If David watched the show, what would he hear her say? He would hear the same tired euphemisms, stage talk, platitudes, and laborious explanations of why her life had spun out of control. She longed to say something true, something about how she really felt. Convention stopped her.
Her lawyers had warned her about denouncing her ex-husband in public. If she said anything inflammatory, they cautioned, he could use it as grounds to sue her. She had all the money. She had ruthlessly stripped him of most of what he owned because when they were married they had bought nearly everything through her production company. The company owned their house, his car, the very clothes he wore. And, of course, she was the president and owner of the company.
He had challenged her repossession of the property twice and lost. And she could spend her income freely on lawyers. He was living off his salary now—off of what he and Kathy made with their teaching jobs. She got a certain amount of pleasure out of his fall from luxury living to the necessity of budgeting. Still, she wanted to denounce him, to send a message to him, to say in a public platform how she detested him for what he had done to her. She did not know how to do it safely.
The conversation on TV turned to something that caught her interest. They started talking about reading and their favorite novels.
Sossity read to pass the time on flights to and from concerts and during the long periods of waiting that made up big sections of her life as a celebrity. One of the guests had just finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which she had read and liked. The host was reading a motivational book, which did not surprise her. The second guest had been listening to a recording of a book read by the author herself.
“Is it a good recording?” the host asked.
“Actually, it stinks.” This, naturally, got a laugh from the audience and the woman behind the desk hammed it up. When the silliness subsided, the woman guest clarified her point.
“She’s the author, and she knows the meaning of what she wrote, but she’s a lousy reader. I’ve encountered that a lot because I listen to recordings quite a bit. Authors express themselves through writing. A lot of times, they are not good speakers just because of that. They express themselves through the written word. So when they read or lecture, a lot of times they’re not really good. They’re better when they write.”
She lost the train of the conversation as she sunk into thought. She glanced up at the red digits of the clock in the room backstage. Ten minutes before a commercial and the band’s call up to stage.
“Guys” she said quietly, motioning for them to gather. Wondering what was up, they formed a half-circle around her. “We were going to do that Robert Johnson song, but I’ve changed my mind. Are we good to do ‘Out of Time’?”
“Out of Time” was an old Rolling Stones song. Jergen spread his hands.
“No problem. We nailed it this morning.”
“Are you all okay with the switch?” she asked everyone. They nodded. “Good. We’ll do it like the studio cut—no changes.” They nodded, looking puzzled, but not dismayed that Sossity planned to include the song their in current concert program.
The clock ticked off. The commercial passed. They gathered by the curtain stage right. When they were announced, they came out to applause and took up their instruments. Sossity gave no introduction. She nodded and they went into the piece, doing it pretty much like the Rolling Stones had done it except that Lydia did the vibraphone part on piano. Sossity sang the first stanza:
You don’t know what’s going on
You’ve been away for far too long
You can’t come back and think you are still mine
You’re out of touch, my baby
My poor discarded baby
I said, baby, baby, baby, you’re out of time
Well, baby, baby, baby, you’re out of time
I said, baby, baby, baby, you’re out of time
You are all left out
Out of there without a doubt
Cause baby, baby, baby, you’re out of time
Sossity was a long-time, hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool Rolling Stones fan and often did their early songs as covers. In London two years ago she had jammed with Keith Richard and opened for the band a few times on their last US tour. She sang the song with verve and with a hard look in her eyes and her face set. The second verse she modified to make it fit a woman’s perspective:
You thought I’d be your little girl
And fit into your social whirl
But you can’t come back and be the first in line, oh no
You’re obsolete my baby
My poor old-fashioned baby
I said baby, baby, baby you’re out of time
After that came the chorus again and the part of the song she loved, when, before the reprise of the chorus, she got to say, “Sing a song now” and the Jergen and Lydia took the odd fourths-dominated harmony part. She joined in on the second line. The band played perfectly and with the smooth, easy energy the song required. They ended to thunderous applause.
The band went backstage. Sossity took a bow and sat down by in a chair next to the host’s desk. There, in front of cameras and audience, she smiled blew a kiss to everyone watching her—no doubt, her son and daughter, and David and Kathy. The applause slowly diminished. The talk show host turned to her.
“Nice piece of music. You wouldn’t have had anyone in mind when you sang that song, would you?”
Sossity gave a sly smile. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Come on now, level with me and with the audience. You were thinking of someone.”
“A man you knew very well for . . . what was it? Six years?”
That was how long she and David had been married.
“I’m not going to say. Draw your own conclusions. Singing songs is how I express myself, so if you want to know how I feel, listen to what I sing.”
The conversation continued. Sossity would not name David, directly or indirectly. She would not give him an opportunity to sue her. And coming at him this way would be more satisfying. Last week she had written a song called “Two-Timer.” Tonya counseled not to release it. She decided she would release it. At no place did the song specifically name her ex-husband.
After more pointless chit-chat, Sossity took another bow, smiled at the audience, and joined her band to do her first big hit.