From “The End of Music,” Chapter One
The woman across the aisle is watching. They’ve landed in Gander and lurched to a halt. Herb Carter is on his feet, pawing at the overhead bin, raised arms shielding his face. He pretends not to notice the woman, her pupils full. Biting her bottom lip. He sneaks a look as she draws dark lipstick across her mouth. She catches his eye.

“It is you!” The woman reaches as if to touch him, but they aren’t close enough. “That band!” she says, still reaching with long glossy nails. “I loved that band!” A smile crinkles her eyes, the lids folding to obscure her gaze.

“Thank you.” Carter sucks in his stomach and tugs his carry-on free from the bin. The little tube of a commuter plane has him hunched like a Neanderthal.

“We saw you play at Grossman’s, like, a million times. My girlfriend and me.” Her voice carries through the cabin, too loud now that the shuddering grind of the propellers has let up.

She’s short and square. Built like a hotel-room fridge. Must have been a fine-looking girl back in the nineties, red mouth singing along and face deathly pale under the gelled lights that spilled into the crowd. Most of the kids pushed towards the middle, drawn to Leah at the lip of the stage, catching the sweat that dripped from her as she leaned into the microphone. A few might stand apart, watching Carter make his simple chords, riding the reverb. They were usually boys, taut and serious. Sometimes they closed their eyes and bucked their knees in time with the song. One summer there was a kid who followed the band to several festivals, where he would respond to the unrelenting drone by draping over the stage and pounding it with his fists.

Everyone’s in the aisle now, and sunlight streams through the windows like there’s a breach in the aircraft. A grey-haired man in a tank top comes between them, wrestling an oversized bag. Carter’s head still aches from the propeller din and the recycled greasy-coffee air. He imagines himself as a boy on the wide-open tarmac, unfolding and stretching under blue sky.

The woman shimmies into the aisle, where her bulging shoulder bag nudges the tank-top man aside. “Are you here for the gerontology conference?”

“No.” Ten years he spent with Leah, pulling and coaxing the music from her. He had nothing left when they were done.

“But of course you’re from here. We were so proud of you back then, you know. Two bay girls from Newfoundland, and you were one of ours! We were so lonely in our smelly little apartment off Borden. We went to every show at Grossman’s.”

“There weren’t many of you,” says Carter. The band slogged through countless dreary nights at Grossman’s. In his recollection it’s always a drizzly Tuesday. The room smelling of dishwater. The crowd sparse, but hanging on every phrase. Every note. Even on a poor night there’d be a ring of kids who came to them with a kind of yearning, and the band could feed off it, forging ahead with showy confidence. Music raged in Carter back then, as innocent and dumb as a tornado.

“Do you still play?” the woman asks. The plane wobbles as the doors release and open.

“No, not anymore.”

“I know what you mean. I hear music now and it’s like, oh, that’s a nice song. But it’s not the same. Nothing feels like it did back then.” She looks away when she says this, embarrassed by their shared disappointment. People are moving, and a teenaged girl coughs loudly because they’re holding up the line. The tank-top guy is on his phone, in agitated conversation. “Well, what time did you leave Burin?” he asks, and sighs.

“Oh!” The woman gasps, and grabs Carter’s arm to stop his turn. “Remember that cd you did? The one with the sparkly cover?” A strand of salt-and-pepper hair has escaped her ponytail, trailing into the open collar of a white blouse. She’s blushing from the neck down. “Remember?”

“Of course,” says Carter. His bent posture directs his eyes to the open collar and the grip on his bare arm.

“Oh my God.” She looks to the ceiling, offering the perfect pink of her throat. “I think that album saved my life. The kid I was back then.”