Song of the Week: Big Black Car by Gregory Alan Isakov
I got chills last Friday night. It was a quiet one. The common room was fairly empty, just myself and a couple of friends gathered around the coffee table making art together. It was around 10 or maybe 11pm. On the coffee table there were two candles (don’t tell Campus Safety) and a couple of water bottles sitting amidst our art supplies and snacks. We had the string lights on above our heads, and an old lamp with little beads hanging from the shade on the window sill behind me that felt like it had always been there. I want to say it was snowing.
I’d brought out my big pack of markers and tin of colored pencils, and a basket of paints and tiny canvases, but I wasn’t using any of them. I had just started a friendship bracelet. I picked out the color palette of three pieces of embroidery floss at some event months ago, but never used them. That night, I finally pulled them down from my shelf and taped them to my water bottle. I was sitting on the floor, the bottle on the edge of the coffee table, with each string fanned out across my lap, making a simple chevron pattern. Every row or two popped a Starburst into my mouth that I’d gotten from SAASHA’s Valentine’s day events.
You were a phonograph, I was a kid, I sat with an ear close just listening.
The friend to my left was sitting on the couch. He was drawing something, with markers and colored pencils, on a sheet of paper someone had given him. Periodically, one of us would ask to see it, and he’d reveal the page with a new portion colored in. The one I remember is a winding dark road, with the dotted yellow line curving down the middle and off into the distance, and I think some bushes off to the side, or maybe they were clouds.
To my right, my friend and loftmate was working on a journal. They’d gotten a little journal-making kit in the mail that day, full of little slips of paper with intricate designs and illustrations. She pasted them into the journal and onto the cover, along with a polaroid she’d taken. I watched him lie down on his stomach and stretch his arms over his head to snap the photo. It took two tries, but the final one was perfect. Later in the night, they were writing in the journal, occasionally lifting their head to look around at us. We’d meet eyes and smile at each other, giving a little finger wave.
Well you were a dancer and I was a rag, the song in my head it was all that I had.
Across from me, on the other side of the candles, was my roommate. He had someone’s guitar, a purple one with little stickers on it, and he plucked something soft, humming a melody or singing a few words off the top of his head. If I could, I’d make that the song of the week, but Gregory will do just fine.
My roommate had arrived somewhat later in the night, after the rest of us had been working out there for an hour or two, and around the time a couple other of our friends went to bed. Before then, we didn’t have any music, and I kept wanting to ask someone to play something but didn’t know what I wanted. Once he settled in on the floor, though, I realized that was the perfect soundtrack.
I picture this tableaux in my head now like one of our paintings, and I get chills. Looking around at the three of them seated around that low table, creating. The faint smell of the candles that would waft my way sporadically. The soft cut of the threads in my hands as I hooked my fingers through them. The bend of heads and the slope of shoulders deep in focus and thought. The sound of his voice and the chords beneath it. Tasting Starburst on my tongue and letting it gradually melt in my mouth as I started another row.
Well you were a magazine, I was a Plain Jane, just walking the sidewalks all covered in rain. I’d love to just get into some of your stories, me in all of my Plain Jane glory.