Margot From Cleveland Nineteen Years Ago Last Month: New Fiction from Alon Preiss

The ballroom of the Ramada Inn was not an ideal place to hold a rock concert in 1985. During the British Invasion, when Eddie Holaster was at the top of the charts, he filled huge arenas, but now, long forgotten, he opened for Herman’s Hermits at tiny nostalgia-fests around the United States.

Margot’s seat was all the way on the right side of the room, and a post blocked her view. It was a nice room, but it was meant for Bar Mitzvah and wedding receptions held by the well-to-do. The small stage wasn’t suited for rock ‘n’ roll theatrics, and the management had set up uncomfortable plastic chairs for the audience. Chandeliers provided the light. Margot wanted to leave.

Men in faux tuxedos sold glasses of champagne in the back of the room, and a buffet consisted of reheated food in silver serving dishes, all neatly arranged on a white tablecloth. Margot bought a glass of champagne and returned to her seat. She gulped it down too fast, eager for at least a small attack of intoxication. It worked; her mind numbed slightly.

Seated around her were fat middle-aged men in faded Turtles t-shirts, and sagging women who looked as though they still dreamed of Jan and Dean every night. Margot was not one of them.

A DJ from some local station introduced Eddie, and most of the audience slowly made their way to their seats. Eddie dashed onto the stage, and there was scattered applause, vague recognition. It had been a long twenty years.

The band had changed since the sixties. The guitars were heavier, and synthesizers had been added, but the innocuous nature of the music was the same. Eddie bounded about the stage, sang like a teenager of big dates, holding hands and dances. Most people paid little attention.

But Margot stared intently. Eddie had changed little; he was still thin, still had all of his blond hair, and his handsome, innocently mischievous face was youthful. He had an earring in his left ear, and his clothing was genuine Elvis Costello, but she couldn’t blame him for his half-hearted attempt to pass himself off as something Today, something 1985, not a has-been’s has-been.

At one point in the show he took a huge risk. It had been a sure thing in the sixties; he would jump off the stage and run through the aisle, briefly stir up chaos when he touched young, love-sick girls on the hand. But today, they ignored him. No one wanted to touch him anymore.

And later he left the stage but, before the lethargic applause could die down, he ran back for an encore. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I was going to come back anyway.” Anyway? Margot wondered. Even if no one had applauded?

After about half an hour he had performed his few hits, plus a number of Beatles’ songs, and his set was over. Most of the audience got up from their chairs and shoved their way to the back of the ballroom for more champagne and food.

Margot wandered backstage, and eventually to Eddie’s dressing room, where a uniformed security guard stood watch. “Can I help you?” he asked, but the tone of his voice strongly implied that he had no desire to help.

“Tell Eddie it’s Margot,” she said. “Margot from Cleveland, nineteen years ago last month. Tell him for me, please.”

“You wait here,” the guard said, and went inside Eddie’s dressing room. He returned shortly and told her to go on in.

Margot walked into the dressing room. Eddie slumped in a chair, smoking a cigarette. He beamed. “Margot!” he called out, too charmingly, too Englishy. “Margot from Cleveland, nineteen years ago last month. Come in!”

Margot shut the door. “I wasn’t sure you’d remember me,” she said.

“How could I forget?” he said. “Sit down, sit down. You look great; still very young.”

“I’m only thirty-four,” Margot said.

Eddie blinked. “That would have made you —”

“Fifteen” she said. “You knew that.”

“Yeah,” he said soberly. “I’m sure I did.” He brightened. “But there’s been so much time in between. We must talk. Would you like to go out for a drink? There’s a bar right across the street. Or did you want to stick around to see the stars of the show?”

She shook her head. “I’m not interested in the Hermits,” she said. “Let’s go.”

He smiled warmly and stood. “Wise choice,” he said. “Did you know that Herman isn’t with them anymore? They still call themselves ‘Herman’s Hermits,’ but they haven’t even got Herman. He’s off starring in ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ and making flop solo albums. And the only reason those wankers top billing is because of Herman.”

“I was never even interested in Herman,” Margot said.

Eddie laughed in mild disbelief and slung an arm around her. They left.

.

It was a warm night, and the stars were out. Margot looked up at his face, illuminated by the moonlight, and she felt the chill his album covers now failed to give her.

And she knew she looked good; she had kept herself beautiful and slim, and really, she had done it for him, for this night. Some women let themselves deteriorate once they were married, but she had kept hoping, thinking of Eddie, even when years went by without any news of him at all. She imagined that he and the Troggs, Davey Jones, Donovan and Billy J. Kramer were all in the same boat, but someday Eddie alone would jump overboard and swim for shore. She had such faith in him.

“The new band and I,” he said, and he took a sip of beer. “We’ve just finished up a new album. We’ve got no company yet to distribute it, but I know there are some hits in there somewhere. It’s just a matter of time, Love, before my little old face is grinning at you again from the pages of Sixteen Magazine.

“I hope so,” she said. “I really hope so. I’ve missed you.”

“Didn’t you think,” Eddie went on, “that we were tight up there? Didn’t you think that we were just as professional as ever?”

She paused, stared thoughtfully at her drink. After a few moments fled by, he demanded, impatiently, “Well?”

“You know,” she said, “I never liked your music. It was you I liked.”

He said nothing. He gulped down the rest of his beer and lit up a cigarette.

“I want to be with you on your return trip to the top, Eddie,” she said. “Or even on your way back down. It doesn’t matter. Do you remember what you said to me in Cleveland when I left to go home?”

“No,” he said irritably. “How the hell do you expect me to remember what I said to you in Cleveland twenty years ago?”

“Eddie!” she exclaimed. “Aren’t you listening to me? I believe in you entirely. And ever since what you said to me when I went to go home … well, I’ve waited to see you again. I took a husband, of course, just in case I never ran into you again — ”

He grinned ironically. “You really took being a groupie seriously, didn’t you?”

“No, it was more. After what you said to me in Cleveland — ”

He stood up. “Love me, love my music,” he said. “All I care about is the music thing, don’t you understand? I made a mint when I was on the top, don’t you see? I don’t need to play little shit engagements like this one. I have the money. But I love the audiences a hell of a lot more than they love me.” He grabbed her hand. “Come on,” he said. “You think my music sucks? I’ll give you a sneak preview of the new Eddie Holaster LP.”

.

Back in the dressing room, Eddie stuck a cassette tape into his stereo. Margot sat and listened obediently. Eddie had done his homework, and his music was once again the sum of his influences; now, however, the Beatles were gone, and there were pale imitations of the Clash, Michael Jackson, David Bowie. She thought it was terrible. But it might catch on.

“Well?” he said smugly, forty-five minutes later.

“I can imagine that getting played,” she said. “But I don’t like it.”

“What the hell can I do to please you?” he muttered, and he sank back into his chair. “Why do I even matter to you?”

“I saw you in Cleveland,” she said, “as a favor to a friend of mine. I didn’t even have any of your records. I didn’t love your music. But I loved you. You treated me nicely. I bought all your albums after that evening so I could hear your voice and look at your face. But I never liked your songs. I’m sorry.”

He sighed and shook his head. “It’s all right, I suppose,” he said. “Of course, back in Cleveland, Margot, I thought….”

He gestured absently, he strained for the right thing to say. He gave up, and he stared at the floor.

“What did you think?” she asked. “Tell me what you were thinking about me. I want to know.”

Now he looked defeated and old.

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I can’t possibly say.” He looked up at her, stared at her face now, trying to remember.

“Why did you wait so long?” he asked.

She laughed, embarrassed.

“For a few years, I couldn’t get in to see you,” she said. “You were too famous. The crowds were too big. The girls were too beautiful. Then you were gone. Nursing your wounds, probably. I figured, closed off to the world. Probably bitter, drunk. Not reachable. I needed to wait. For years, as it turned out. Now you are….”

“Attainable?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I suppose.”

“I suppose so, too,” he agreed.

“Do you even remember me at all?” she asked.

He smiled gently. “Probably some of my memories are of you,” he replied. “I’m not sure. I know I’ll remember you now. You’re a very unusual groupie. You weren’t in love with the fame, or the music, but with me.”

“So?”

“So,” he said. He played around with the idea. “You weren’t in love with the fame, or the music,” he said again. “You were just in love with me.”

For a moment, he was quiet. On stage, the Hermits sang “Henry the Eighth.” A man and a woman laughed.

Eddie thought, and Margot waited.  

“You love me,” he said. “You really love me.”

Margot nodded.

“So?” she asked again.

“So,” Eddie said, with a tight smile. “That’s not enough.”

^^^

Alon Preiss writes fiction set in the 1980s. He is the author of In Love With Alice (2017). Available NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or from ANY BOOKSTORE IN ANY TOWN OR CITY IN AMERICA

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