The Gold Cure
The shame memories began early that day for Bennie, during the morning meeting, while he listened to one of his senior executives make a case for pulling the plug on Stop/Go, a sister band Bennie had signed to a three- record deal a couple of years back. Then, Stop/Go had seemed like an excellent bet; the sisters were young and adorable, their sound was gritty and simple and catchy (“Cyndi Lauper meets Chrissie Hynde” had been Bennie’s line early on), with a big gulping bass and some fun percussion— he recalled a cowbell. Plus they’d written decent songs; hell, they’d sold twelve thousand CDs off the stage before Bennie ever heard them play. A little time to develop potential singles, some clever marketing, and a decent video could put them over the top.
But the sisters were pushing thirty, his executive producer, Collette, informed Bennie now, and no longer credible as recent high school grads, especially since one of them had a nine- year- old daughter. Their band members were in law school. They’d fired two producers, and a third had quit. Still no album.
“Who’s managing them?” Bennie asked.
“Their father. I’ve got their new rough mix,” Collette said. “The vocals are buried under seven layers of guitar.”
It was then that the memory overcame Bennie (had the word “sisters” brought it on?): himself, squatting behind a nunnery in Westchester at sunrise after a night of partying— twenty years ago was it? More? Hearing waves of pure, ringing, spooky- sweet sound waft into the sky: cloistered nuns who saw no one but one another, who’d taken vows of silence, singing the Mass. Wet grass under his knees, its iridescence pulsing against his exhausted eyeballs. Even now, Bennie could hear the unearthly sweetness of those nuns’ voices echoing deep in his ears.
He’d set up a meeting with their Mother Superior— the only nun you could talk to— brought along a couple of girls from the office for camouflage, and waited in a kind of anteroom until the Mother Superior appeared behind a square opening in the wall like a window without glass. She wore all white, a cloth tightly encircling her face. Bennie remembered her laughing a lot, rosy cheeks lifting into swags, maybe from joy at the thought of bringing God into millions of homes, maybe at the novelty of an A and R guy in purple corduroy making his pitch. The deal was done in a matter of minutes.
He’d approached the cut-out square to say good- bye (here Bennie thrashed in his conference room chair, anticipating the moment it was all leading up to). The Mother Superior leaned forward slightly, tilting her head in a way that must have triggered something in Bennie, because he lurched across the sill and kissed her on the mouth: velvety skin-fuzz, an intimate, baby powder smell in the half second before the nun cried out and jerked away. Pulling back, grinning through his dread, seeing her appalled, injured face.
“Bennie?” Collette was standing in front of a console, holding the Stop/Go CD. Everyone seemed to be waiting. “You want to hear this?” But Bennie was caught in a loop from twenty years ago: lunging over the sill toward the Mother Superior like some haywire figure on a clock, again. Again. Again.
“No,” he groaned. He turned his sweating face into the rivery breeze that gusted through the windows of the old Tribeca coffee factory where Sow’s Ear Records had moved six years ago and occupied two floors. He’d never recorded the nuns. By the time he’d returned from the convent, a message had been waiting.
“I don’t,” he told Collette. “I don’t want to hear the mix.” He felt shaken, soiled. Bennie dropped artists all the time, sometimes three in a week, but now his own shame tinged the Stop/Go sisters’ failure, as if he were to blame. And that feeling was followed by a restless, opposing wish to recall what had first excited him about the sisters— to feel that excitement again. “Why don’t I visit them?” he said.
Collette looked startled, then suspicious, then worried, a succession that would have amused Bennie if he hadn’t been so rattled. “Really?” she asked.
“Sure. I’ll do it today, after I see my kid.”
Bennie’s assistant, Sasha, brought him coffee: cream and two sugars. He shimmied a tiny red enameled box from his pocket, popped the tricky latch, pinched a few gold flakes between his trembling fingers, and released them into his cup. He’d begun this regimen two months ago, after reading in a book on Aztec medicine that gold and coffee together were believed to ensure sexual potency. Bennie’s goal was more basic than potency: sex drive, his own having mysteriously expired. He wasn’t sure quite when or quite why this had happened: The divorce from Stephanie? The battle over Christopher? Having recently turned forty-four? The tender, circular burns on his left forearm, sustained at “The Party,” a recent debacle engineered by none other than Stephanie’s former boss, who was now doing jail time?
The gold landed on the coffee’s milky surface and spun wildly…