By Jason Jackson.
I’m shaving in the hotel bathroom when Keith Moon’s ghost shows up again.
‘Look at this,’ I say to him. ‘This aftershave.’
He looks at me, like – go on then, surprise me – but he doesn’t say anything. He’s never the most vocal of ghosts, which is weird, considering who he is. Was. Whatever.
‘It’s a disgrace,’ I say, not looking at him, but looking at the base of the little black box that the aftershave bottle came in. ‘Propylene glycol, linalool, ethylhexl methoxycinamate. And I’ve just put it all over my face.’
Keith Moon’s ghost hovers greyly next to the cracked mirror. He has a look, like – so there’s shit in the aftershave? Haven’t we got other stuff to worry about?
And, of course, he’s right.
So I put the little bottle of aftershave back into the little black box, and put the whole thing in the little metal bin under the sink.
‘I know,’ I say. ‘We’re almost there, and here I am worrying about aftershave.’
Keith Moon’s ghost just hovers.
‘Hey,’ I say, ‘You feeling ok? I mean, you look a bit,’ and I study him for a second, ‘well, a bit greyer since last time.’
He just looks at me, like – yeah? Well you don’t look to fucking great yourself.
I smile. ‘Guess it can’t be easy. All that being dead stuff. Then having to cope with me as well.’
He nods. It’s pretty hard to notice, but he definitely nods.
‘Right. Well. We’re off to see him tonight,’ I say. ‘We’re meeting him in a bar.’ I’m picking up my jacket while I say this. I’m putting on my shoes. I’m combing my hair. ‘He’s ready to sell,’ I say.
Keith Moon’s ghost looks weird for a second, and then I realise what it is.
‘Yeah, I know. At last, right?’ I say, smiling. ‘I’ll have the drumstick, and you can go back to being dead.’ I open the door. ‘Well, I know you’re dead all the time, but you know what I mean. You can be, like, left in peace, or whatever.’
We head out into the corridor, and make for the lift. I press the button, and we wait.
‘Hey,’ I say. ‘You seen my dad lately?’
Keith Moon’s ghost just raises his eyebrows.
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Tell me about it. I had twenty seven years of the fucker.’
Keith Moon’s ghost makes a face like – Yeah? Well, I’ve got a fucking eternity with him.
‘Don’t worry,’ I say, ‘Once we get the stick, he’ll leave you alone. He hasn’t got anything against you, really. You just threw it to the wrong man, that’s all.’
Keith Moon’s ghost is like – I have heard that so many times, and if I have to hear it one more time…
‘Okay, okay,’ I say, palm up, laughing. ‘Listen, I thought, after we get the stick, I might head on to a club to celebrate. You know, a little dancing, maybe a bit of female company?’ The light for the lift changes to green, there’s a ping, and the doors open. ‘So, what do you think of the aftershave? Too much?’ While I’m asking him, I’m bending my head so he can sniff my neck.
Keith Moon’s ghost doesn’t sniff my neck. He just looks at me like – you fucking serious?
‘You’re right,’ I say. ‘Too much.’ We get into the lift and the doors close. ‘What is ethylhexl methoxycinamate anyway?’ I say, but Keith Moon’s ghost isn’t listening. He’s hovering in the corner, greyer than ever.
I’m pretty sure ghosts don’t like lifts.
The bar is almost empty. There’s a couple of blokes watching the game on the big screen, a studenty couple smooching in the corner, a hard-faced nineteen year old barmaid who I would cut my right arm off to sleep with, and me. Keith Moon’s ghost disappeared in the lift, but I’m guessing he’ll be back. He wouldn’t miss this.
I told this John I’d be wearing a leather jacket and be reading a copy of Slaughterhouse 5, but I needn’t have bothered. No one else in here looks remotely like they might be in the market for Keith Moon’s last ever drumstick. So I’m not reading the book. I’m just looking at the barmaid.
‘Hey,’ says John. ‘You Will?’
I’m standing up, shaking his hand, grinning. ‘John, man!’ I say. ‘Good to see you.’
‘You want a drink?’ I say.
‘Nah. I’ll not be stopping,’ he says.
We both sit down, and I get a look at him. He’s older than me, maybe thirty-five, and the sort of a bloke who’d rather be in front of the TV than sat in an empty bar with a lunatic.
‘You got no idea how pleased I am to finally meet you,’ I say. ‘Well, to tell you the truth, there’s a couple of other people be a load more pleased about it.’
John just looks at me, like – is this something I should give a shit about?
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘This whole thing, it’s my dad’s idea.’
‘You want to see the stick?’ John says, looking at me.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ I say. I’m looking around me as I say this, because I was hoping that Keith Moon’s ghost might show up sometime around now. There’s no sign though.
John’s opening his rucksack, and he’s taking out a package: brown paper, wrapped with sellotape. He puts it on the table between us, and sits back. ‘There you go,’ he says. ‘The last drumstick Keith Moon ever used in concert.’
I look at the package. It’s brown, simple-looking. I don’t feel anything. ‘One of them,’ I say. ‘Remember, I already got the other one.’
‘Yeah,’ says John. Like he cares. ‘So, you got the money?’
I look up. ‘Oh, yeah. Course. Hold on.’ And I’m fishing in my pocket when I notice Keith Moon’s ghost over by the bar. ‘Hey!’ I shout. ‘Come over here! He’s got it!’
John turns to look, then looks back. ‘You know her?’
‘Who?’ I say. I’m watching Keith Moon’s ghost. He’s floating over slowly, but he keeps looking back over his shoulder at the barmaid.
‘That girl,’ says John.
‘Oh, no. Listen, John. This is going to be weird for you, man, but there’s something I’ve got to do.’
John’s got his hand on the package, and he’s looking all tensed up. ‘What d’you mean?’
‘Nah, nah. Nothing to worry about.’ I try to give him my best reassuring look, but I can see it’s not working. ‘Listen, man. I want to introduce you to someone.’ John half turns in his seat, but I reach out and touch him on the arm. ‘You aren’t going to be able to see him, but you need to trust me.’ John isn’t smiling. ‘Okay?’ I say.
Clearly, it’s not okay, but I’m pressing on. Keith Moon’s ghost is at the table now, hovering next to me. He’s looking at the package on the table. He has a look, like – Christ, is that it?
‘John, I say, waving a hand over my right shoulder, ‘I want to introduce you to Keith Moon’s ghost.’
‘John just looks at me. His hand is still on the package.
‘Listen,’ I say. ‘You can’t see him. Pretty much no one can but me.’ I’m speaking calmly, quietly. I’m the very picture of sanity. ‘But he’s kind of the reason I’m here. Well, him and my dad.’
John’s eye’s are moving from my face to where my hand was waving, then back again. He’s looking more and more like he wishes he hadn’t come.
‘John,’ I say. ‘Here’s the money.’ And I hand him the envelope.
He takes it quickly, stuffs it in his pocket. ‘Keith Moon’s ghost?’ he says.
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘How do you think I found you?’
‘Well,’ he says. ‘I was wondering, like. When you phoned. The wife, she said, how the fuck does he know you’ve got that stupid stick? It’s not a secret, I said. I thought you must’ve been a local. Just heard off someone.’ He looks quickly to the side of my head where Keith Moon’s ghost is hovering, grey and tired-looking. ‘But you’re not local, eh?’
‘Nah, mate. I found out you had the stick ‘cos of my dad, really. After he died, like.’
‘After he died?’ says John, looking around him. ‘He’s not here as well, is he?’
‘Nah,’ I say, laughing. John’s smiling, and it’s good to see. ‘What happened was, when your dad caught the stick, when Keith Moon threw them both into the crowd, well, my dad caught the other one.’
‘My dad always said he caught both of them, and some bastard nicked one out of his hand,’ says John.
‘Yeah, well. To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me,’ I say. ‘But my dad, he always said he caught the sticks, and that some bastard…’ I smiled at him. ‘Well, whatever.’
‘Ah,’ says John.
‘Ah, exactly,’ I say. ‘He said he wanted to give both sticks to me. But ‘cos someone else – your dad – got one of them instead, well my dad blamed a lot of things on that.’
‘How d’ya mean?’ John says.
‘Oh, you know,’ I say, but he obviously doesn’t, and it’s going to take too long to tell him, so I give him the short version. ‘Look. I’m a bit of a fuck up. Never lived up to the old man’s expectations. He had these dreams, see. Wanted me to be a musician, like him, wanted me to be in a band, like him. Wanted me to be successful.’
‘Not like him?’ says John.
‘There you go!’ I say.
‘So what’s with the ghost stuff?’
‘Oh,’ I say, and I look to my right, where Keith Moon’s ghost is hovering, greyly staring at the barmaid. ‘When Dad died, he was still convinced that whoever nicked the other drumstick off him fucked up my chances of being famous.’ I shrug, smiling. I’ve told this story so many times it feels normal now.
‘You’re dad sounds like a real pain in the arse, if you don’t mind me saying,’ says John.
Keith Moon’s ghost gives a sigh, like – tell me about, and I laugh. ‘You’re not wrong, mate. Anyway, three days after the funeral, Keith Moon’s ghost turns up.’
John’s smiling. He’s got his money. He’s weighed things up, and he knows he could take me if needs be, so he’s quite happy to indulge me. ‘And Keith Moon’s ghost helped you find the sticks, right?’
‘Again, there you go!’ I say, and I down my drink. ‘Apparently, my dad got over the other side and started hassling old drummer-boy over here,’ and I point at the greying ghost of Keith moon hovering to my left. ‘So much so that he turns up at my place. He pulled some strings, did some ghostly shenanigans, and eventually comes up with your phone number.’
‘And here you both are?’ says John.
‘And here we both are!’ I say.
‘So how come your dad’s a no-show?’
‘Ah,’ I say. ‘Wanted to, but apparently only those who’ve been dead a long time can last down here.’ I look at Keith Moon’s ghost, who shrugs his shoulders, like – them’s the rules.
John takes a long look at me. ‘Listen,’ he says. ‘I’d love to stay and chat, but you got the stick, I got the money. I think I’ll leave the two of you alone.’ He stands up, but he doesn’t look at Keith Moon’s ghost.
‘No worries, mate,’ I say. ‘Thanks for coming down.’
‘Enjoy the stick,’ he says. ‘It never did fuck all for me.’
‘You a musician?’ I say.
‘Nah. I drive a bus,’ he says, and he’s gone, down the steps, out the door, and there’s just me and Keith Moon’s ghost left.
‘Well’ I say, and he gives me a look, like – is that it, now?
I open up the package, and there it is. It’s just another stick. I reach inside my jacket, pull out the other stick, and I do a little roll on the table, nothing fancy, but clean and sharp, then I finish with the cymbal, which is actually my empty pint glass. I just used Keith Moon’s last ever drumsticks; it doesn’t feel like my life is changing anytime soon.
I look at Keith Moon’s ghost, who’s looking over at the bar, and I smile. ‘That barmaid, eh?’ I say.
Keith Moon’s ghost turns and gives me this look, like – you’re not wrong, man.
‘What d’ya reckon my chances are?’ I say, and I swear Keith Moon’s ghost laughs.
‘Oh, okay,’ I say. ‘A fucking challenge, is it?’ And I stand up. I stuff the drumstick into my jacket pocket. ‘You can tell my dad to leave you the fuck alone now. We got the sticks.’
Keith Moon’s ghost just gives me this look, like – so, can I go now?
‘Tell him,’ I say, but then I have to stop. I’m thinking that this is probably the last time I’m going to get to pass a message on to him. Keith Moon’s ghost doesn’t look like he’s up to many more trips back to the realm of the flesh. ‘Tell him, thanks,’ I say.
Keith Moon’s ghost just gives me this look, like – ahh, you’re breaking my heart. But I swear that just before he disappears, he smiles at me.
I’m straight over to the bar. I can hear the sticks in my pocket, clicking together, and I’m thinking, maybe. I’m thinking, you never know. ‘Hey,’ I say to the barmaid and she gives me a look that I can’t read at all. ‘Come here a sec.’
She struts over. ‘Yeah,’ she says.
I bend my head a little to the left. ‘What do you think of this aftershave?’ I say. ‘Too much?’
# # # # #
JJ: Drumsticks came from a lifelong love of The Who, from being a father, and from reading the packaging that comes with aftershave. The first two things are great, the third I wouldn’t advise.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Jackson has been writing for four years, and has had stories and poems published on line and in print. For the last two years he has been a member of Alex Keegan’s Bootcamp, an online writing collective. He hopes to find the time to continue writing.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, August 6th, 2007.