The Laurel Leaf, Part 5: Purpose Is No Country You Can Find

When Arthur and Kessler entered Sherwood’s loft, they were greeted with a decor that suggested a child’s birthday party that somehow costed at least two thousand dollars. Confetti, garlands, and balloons attacked them when they first set foot inside, and Arthur himself must have accidentally popped at least two underfoot just bringing Kessler to the living room, where Sherwood was waiting for them with hors d’oeuvres and party bags.

Before Arthur could get a word in edgewise, Sherwood gave them both a pointy party hat and some crackers with cheese and small slices of prosciutto. He asked them if they wanted a drink, any drink at all, no expense was spared, and Kessler ordered a bourbon while Arthur instinctively said I’ll have the same thing. 

It was in the middle of preparing that second drink that Rafa let himself in, first with Cath behind him, and after that, Ian. 

No one said anything for a long while, and all eyes were on him, as Ian let himself inside and, sensing the tension his presence gave to the room, scanned his surroundings and found a chair. He sat down at first, then grunted and adjusted himself. After three instances of getting up and sitting back down, of grunting and creaking his neck, he rose to his feet and asked everyone and no one in particular:

—Alright, I give up. How the fuck are you supposed to sit in this thing?


As we saw before, Sherwood was nothing if not an expert thrower of parties, and who was anyone gathered in his house that night to deny him that one simple pleasure before they did what they had to do? They spent a couple hours or so milling about, sipping on drinks and nibbling on snacks. Rafa brought the plate of prosciutto and cheese crackers to Cath, who was giving it all her best shot but still not as willing to socialize as the others.

—Here. You’ve never had prosciutto like this before.

—I’m still pissed at you, I hope you know that.

—I do. I’m sorry, I really was a jerk before, wasn’t I? Anyway, take one. 

Cath grumbled and did as she was told.

—I mean it. It really hurt me, you can’t just give me your dad’s treats and expect that I’m going to all of a sudden oh my God. Oh my God! 

—I told you.

—Where did you… you have to…

—It’s on Great Jones. I’ll take you there sometime after a practice. Deal?

She couldn’t have answered if she wanted to, her mouth was full of two more of them. 


—Ian Parker. Nice to meet you.

—Likewise. Jeffrey Kessler, NSA.

—I hope you know you belong to one of the most evil organizations in the world. 

—Yeah, I get that a lot. I have to say, at the risk of sounding like an action movie cliche, that you’re a very hard man to find. It’s weird to finally just stand here and talk to you.

—I heard you’re trying to recreate an Orphic response?

—I don’t… uh…

—Oh, yeah, you called it a pure cathartic…

—Oh, right. Yeah, you should see the labs. They’re playing the video to chimps, they’re injecting rats with fentanyl and seeing if they push the button in the maze that plays it. And that’s just us, I don’t even want to imagine what the CIA is doing with it.

—Amateurs.

—You think you do any better? 

—I might have some ideas. Give me a ring sometime, look me up in your big database or whatever you go.

—Well, for that, uh… I mean it’s a little embarrassing to admit but… yeah, you would need to actually give me some contact information.


Sherwood caught Cath red-handed sneaking another prosciutto appetizer into her mouth.

—Oh, sorry…!

—Please, not at all. If you don’t eat them up, I’m going to when you all go, so… 

—By the way… I wanted to tell you I love the new song. The one you, ah…

—Oh, thank you. It’s so sweet of you to say. Yeah, it was just something I was knocking around in my old school days.

—Really? It’s weird you say that, I could sort of imagine mom, er, my mom, singing the other part.

—Yeah, I think I mostly wrote that before I met her. I don’t even think I was thinking about her at all when I wrote it.

—Are you sure? 

—Hm… Yeah, I’m pretty sure I think so. Anyway, let me know when you want me to crank out another. 

A moment of silence. 

—And if you do… try to ah… try to pass it off to Rafa like it’s your idea.

—Oh… uh, yeah sure…

—Yeah, I think if we play our cards right here we can uh…

—I mean…

—Well, maybe you’re… I mean, if it’s weird to…

—No, I’ll uh… I’ll see what I can…

—Ah. Okay, sure, thanks. Well, uh, enjoy the uh… enjoy the party I guess. 


—Ian. 

—Dad. 


Rafa offered Kessler his second neat bourbon of the evening.

—So it’s really true, you can snoop on our, ah… our phones and emails and…

—One hundred percent, and you bet your ass we do. Honestly though, as long as you’re not a muslim or a pedophile, we’re probably not going to fuck with your stuff much. 

—Hm. What about ah… do you know if there are like… aliens and stuff?

—That’s classified. 

—Really? Come on, we’re watching my mom’s film, we might not make it out of here. 

—I understand that. I mean it’s classified to me, too. They don’t tell me shit. 

A lull in the conversation as Kessler pulled out his own phone. 

—But I could probably hack into the emails of the guy who does know… 


—Look at him. That son of a bitch. I should have my head examined bringing him here… Maybe I can still kill him. He said he knows a bunch of karate or whatever, so… I could sneak up on him when he leaves, plug him in the back, we can dump him at a dock somewhere…

—I’m on house arrest, I’m not helping you kill anyone.

—Well… okay, but maybe I can… 

—Oh, give it a rest. He just wants to listen to a little music, is that such a crime?

—Maybe not that, but everything else he did? Well… I’d have to look into it but I’m sure it’s illegal.

—You know, he was kind of right. 

—About what? 

Sherwood put down his drink and looked straight at Arthur. 

—I loved you, Arthur. I loved you both. I still love you, even though you hate me. That is why when you told me to never speak to you or your family again, I listened to you. It’s why I told my boy that he wasn’t allowed to go to his mother’s funeral. Even though I should have told you to go fuck yourself. 

Arthur fumbled around with drink and waited for Sherwood to continue. 

—My point is, he was right when he said you don’t own this tragedy. We’re all suffering here. 

Another silence, as they both finished their drinks at the same time.

—Do you ever regret it? That night with Amedea? Do you regret making all this come between us?

Sherwood let out a tiny laugh and looked to his son, at the piano with Cath, trying in vain to teach her to play something, both with wide grins on their faces.

—No. Not even a little bit. 

He turned back to Arthur.

—Do you?


Catherine accepted the heavy black box from Sherwood and was the first to peer into the reflective screen and let the green dots circle around and identify her face. She passed it along to Rafa, who did the same, and then Ian, then Sherwood, and finally Arthur. The box whirred and groaned as two big locks snapped off and its thick lid opened to reveal a single disc. Thankfully, Sherwood was old-fashioned enough to have technology lying around from 2013, which meant that they dodged the possible bullet of not even being able to view the recording at all. 

Ian had mentioned before that their lives probably weren’t in danger, as so much of the true performance depended on Amedea’s real voice, and the acoustics of the real space, and the physical and mental conditions of every single real guest in attendance. But who knew was in store for the six of them there, with the acoustics of Sherwood’s entertainment system, with their previous relationship to Amedea, their current relationships with each other?

The film turned out to be the whole Laurel Leaf performance, with the promise of the notorious Handel performance to come at the end. As the others watched entranced, they seemed to enter a world where there was no time at all, no way to add one to a number, and though they could perhaps hear a rhythm to Amedea’s performance with notes following notes, all the arias and costumes seemed to blend one after the other. For all they knew, they were watching the last Handel performance at the beginning, or perhaps in a hodgepodge of excerpts peppered throughout the performance. 

For this reason, for time being utterly meaningless during the performance, it was hard to really say that Amedea was late to join them. She let herself in and made the rounds. She went to Cath first, who was cradling a sobbing Kessler with her arms, padding him on the head as he cried into her shoulder. She meant to tell her that she was proud of everything she had done, that if she ever wanted to stop making music it wouldn’t have disappointed her, that there was nothing she could do that would ever disappoint her, but it was clear to see that Cath already knew that. 

She went on to Ian, and just as she used to in the past, when he was a boy poring over hundreds of sheets of hand-written music, she approached him from behind and wrapped her arms around his chest and rested her chin on his head. She would overhear him grumbling about a problem, or maybe the composition entire, where quite often he would just reject it as not worth his time. Maybe that’s why some of it came so easy to him, because the truly difficult parts he encountered he simply compartmentalized for another time, if at all. She would tell him then to try again, to give it one more chance. There’s no point, he would say, it’s stupid. It’s not going to make anything better. Maybe, she’d say, or maybe it would surprise you. Anything worth doing is worth doing the best you can. It deserves your best effort, it deserves your respect. It deserves one more chance. Won’t you do that for me? He responded to his mother the way he always did back then, by gently tapping her clasped hands, and letting her pull them away. 

Rafa was next, and more than anyone in the room he was rapt with the performance. God, I wish I could sing like that, he found himself saying over and over again. Maybe you can, someday, she would have told him as a boy, but in right now you’re the choirmaster. Even a master singer who doesn’t compliment the choir is worse to hear than a choir where everyone sings together. There would always be the promise of a long thoughtful lesson to come, but then Arthur would come to bring her back home, and she would say goodbye my love, goodbye Rafa my boy, I’m so sorry but there’s never enough time. And it was always Rafa who told her don’t worry, you’ll be back two weekends from now, and I’ll practice everything you told me for then. She said the same thing to her son then, while he stared at the screen and marveled at the kind of voice he would only ever experience again in a dream. Goodbye my love, goodbye Rafa my boy, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry but there’s never enough time. 

She went to Sherwood, but there wasn’t a whole lot to say since they exchanged more than plenty of words a few months ago. She winked at her friend and he nodded back. I finally heard that song you’ve been bragging about for so long, she might have said. It’s not half bad. It’s okay, he might have said, but I think you and I have done much better work together. 

She sat down beside her husband. Arthur, who was watching the screen and trying hard to respond to the vibrato sustained vowels in Italian or German, trying to figure out the which pauper loved which beautiful noble lady who was impersonating which soldier, nonetheless had tears in his eyes as he felt his wife wipe them away, grasp his hand with her free one. I’m so glad you finally got to see it, she told him. It’s true, isn’t it, he asked her. It’s all my fault. You loved us all so much. But I wanted to hog all your love for myself. You had so much to give, but it wasn’t enough for me. You had… so much love to give us. She shushed him and laid her head on his shoulder. You have just as much love to give yourself. And you have so much more time to give it. 

Arthur wrapped his free hand around his wife and they watched the rest of the performance as she leaned into him and hummed a melody for him. 


For a while no one rose from their seats, no one spoke. Ian was the first to leave, and he did so without a word, with no warning and no delay. 

Kessler realized that he had been crying next to Cath for a long time, so he rose to his feet and ejected the disc from Sherwood’s player, placing it back in the heavy black box. He mumbled something about how he was required to remand the recording back in the custody of the United States government and that he would be in touch with further instructions and walked out the door. No one in that room ever saw him again.

Cath and Rafa rose from their seats together and both said goodbye to their respective fathers, telling them both that they would both be in their own places for the night if either of them needed anything. 

That left Sherwood and Arthur, who ended up staying in their seats far longer than either of them thought they would, or for that matter thought the other would as well. It always stung Sherwood a little, back when they were both young men, and Arthur would leave the group early when Sherwood would have wanted him to stay, wanted to talk about more unimportant things, or perhaps with a bit of important things peppered in. It made him feel good that, even though it took years to happen, Arthur finally stayed behind in his company. He turned to face him and broke the long silence.

—How do you feel?

—I… 

He took his time to think of an answer.

—There is… such a wound that has been opened in my heart today. And I’m not sure it will ever close again. 

—Well. Then just do what I do. 

—What’s that? 

—Open up your heart. And let the sun shine in. 

—…what? 

Whooa let it shine… Come on… now everybody just sing along. And let the sun shine on in, open up your heart…

Sherwood gave Arthur a look with one of his smiles, one of those that said in no unclear terms that this was going to end exactly one way. 

—I want to tell you one thing… I want you to sing along with the fifth dimension…

Arthur did his best to resist, but even he knew this was a game he wouldn’t win.

—I want you to sing along with the fifth dimension…

Still nothing from Arthur, just like the parent trying not to smile at a broken lamp. 

—I want you to siiiiing along with the fifth dimension…

—…let, the sun shine…

—And when you are loooooonely! Hey, let it shine! 

—Let the sun shine in…

—You gotta open up your heart! 

—The sun shine in…

—And let it shine on in! 

—Let the sun shine…

—And when you feel like you’ve been mistreated! And your friends turn their backs upon you!

—Let the sun shine in…

—Just open up your heart, let it shine on in! 

—The sun shine in… 

—Hey, you got to feel it! You got to feeeeel it! When you open up your heart, you gotta let the sun come on in! Now I say in the morning, and late in the evening, open up your heart… AAAAAAAH! HEY! 

They spent a few more hours that night, among other things, just sitting there and, per Billy Davis Jr.’s strict instructions, singing along with The 5th Dimension. 


The next day Ian announced that he, along with Cath and Rafa’s group the Challengers, were to perform a memorial concert for their mother at the Laurel Leaf theater. It was not only news to Cath and Rafa, but the Laurel Leaf to boot. But the more he insisted, the more his siblings, and the theater itself, finally came around to the idea, and a date was finally decided upon by all: May 11, the anniversary of their mother’s historic performance, and Ian’s twenty-seventh birthday. 

The concert sold out ten minutes faster than their mother’s original show, but, not to be outdone, still not as fast as that 90’s shock-rock act from years ago. 

May 11 came, and soon enough so did 8:00 pm, which is when the Laurel Leaf opened its doors. An hour later, the Challengers were slated to play. Rafa went on stage first, and, while playing a tinny Casio drumbeat, banged out “On the Table” on the piano by himself. From there, the band played their older material as they shuffled in one by one, first the bassist joining him for a slower ballad, then the drummer for a jumpy quick intro track, and then, what’s this? The rest of the band all in for a rendition of “Digging to China.” Well hey, I haven’t heard that one in years!

Finally, Cath appeared on stage to ecstatic applause. They surprised the audience with another opening song they had not heard live in a long time. Cath dedicated the song, “This is the World of the Theater,” to a very special little girl named Henrietta (she was thrilled to discover that Henrietta was still living, but unfortunately was not in a condition to move from her hospital bed to attend the show. She viewed the concert in her room by livestream, and sang along all the same).  From then on all the hits were fine form: “Colossus,” “Occupant,” and even their newest single penned in its whole by the once-great (as an ass-headed interviewer claimed to Rafa not long after that late-night debut, to which he replied, you mean still-great) Sherwood Williams, “My Rights Versus Yours.”

Even though they were the opening act, they still did an encore (and I mean, of course they did, because they hadn’t played “The Laws Have Changed” yet, and they weren’t fooling anyone), and when they did return, an amazing thing happened.

—One, two, three…

It was crime at the time, but the laws we changed ’em

Though the hero for hire’s forever the same one

Introducing for the first time, Pharaoh on the microphone

Which was, of course, Cath’s cue to sing solo:

Sing, all hail what will be revealed today

When we peer to the great unknown

Form a line to the throne

And Rafa’s turn to masochistically anticipate that part to come.

Awakened to cheers after years on the fault line,

We are shocked to be here in the face of the meantime

Pharaoh all your methods have taught me is to

Separate my blood from bone

But if Rafa was indeed dreading the moment he once again had to admit he couldn’t reach his mother’s gift to him, he didn’t seem to indicate it in his performance. It was Cath’s turn to sing once again, and it was coming up.

And we’ll all fail, feel what I feel today

When we peer to the great unknown

Form a line to the throne

And then, just as everyone else was readying up for the bridge, that wonderful upper register hook, Rafa backed off. Instead, all the other Challengers took up the slack and sang that hook together. Meanwhile, Rafa harmonized with his half-sister on her part, form a line to the, form a line to the, form a line to the throne, form a line to the throne…

Alone in the chain it remains to be seen how

How well you can play when the pawn takes a queen now

Introducing for the first time, Pharaoh on the microphone

No one who heard it could believe it. It sounded like the first time they had heard the recorded version, the first time they stumbled across it on the radio.

Sing, all hail what will be revealed today

When we peer to the great unknown

Form a line to the throne

And even better, just when they thought it was too good a miracle to be true, it happened again. Just like his father taught him too, he pushed the repeat button. His band thundered nanana nana nana nana, while Rafa and Cath sang form a line to the, form a line to the throne. Rafa had to admit, it really worked. He would go on to perform it that way from then on, but only a handful of people could boast that they heard Rafa’s song, his gift from his mother, in exactly the way it needed to be heard, in exactly the way it was supposed to sound within the walls of the Laurel Leaf theater. 

It was crime at the time, but the laws we changed ’em!

It was crime at the time, but the laws we changed ’em!

The Challengers took a bow and left the stage. A half hour later the roadies were finished preparing for Ian to come on stage. Without a word, with barely a gesture of thanks in between applause for each number, he performed An Ocean Only You Could See in its entirety. You could see that Ian was changing just a little, as this perhaps the closest to ever getting to a point of “giving them what they want to hear.” 

Ironically, though he was the last to perform, Ian did not do an encore. Instead, upon completing the performance of his signature album, he announced that he was about to sing a never-before-heard song, and called back Catherine Parker and Rafaello Williams to the stage. 

That wasn’t entirely true, of course, as they were in on the song and had practiced it for months in preparation. It was the whole reason why Cath eventually agreed to Ian’s abrupt announcement to play the show at all. She remembered Ian’s words that the Orphic response depended on her mother’s specific performance in the specific venue at a specific time. She remembered how much he was schmoozing with the NSA man the night they watched the film, and suspected he might try to get the film back. She had a nagging evil imp in her heart that told her over and over again that his own turn of heart was anything but, was only the first step in his plan to recreate the Orphic  performance, to hurt more people who just wanted to hear some music. 

She was partly right, about his being close to Kessler. Not long after he made the announcement, Ian invited them to his place and showed them the black box, and they all opened it again with their faces (using a quick snapshot of Sherwood and Arthur to complete the sequence), and they all saw the same copy of the same recording, and just to be sure he wasn’t up to anything Ian played the first couple of minutes to them. Then, he ejected the disc and snapped it in three pieces, giving one to each of them. 

It turned out that Ian called the concert in order to debut a new song. The song that was to finally incorporate the long-hoarded melody in his mind, his own gift from his mother. 

They all stood side by side on stage, each with only a microphone. After sharing a silence, they began. 

There is an old sound, red as

—No. No!

Ian left the stage and fiddled about with some controls from his elaborate setup, which appeared to be at least twelve electric organs along with other pedals, amplifiers, sequencers, samplers, and a single MacBook. He returned to the stage and snatched Cath’s microphone, giving it to Rafa before taking his, and giving his old microphone to Cath. They started again.

There is an old song, red is red as red

A painting that pulls as it dries

Spent all of Sunday lost in the wood

But purpose is no country you can find

Purpose is no country you can find

And events lacking nothing, flat is flat as flat

A dream between the softness and the white

Stretching the map ’till it turns into lead

But purpose is no country you can find

Purpose is no country you can find

It was a gentle, tiptoeing melody. With Cath on the upper register, Ian on tenor, and Rafa covering the bass melody, it sounded more like a early polyphonic choral composition than he ever achieved before in his long career of trying to sound like that. But lest anyone mistake that this was an Ian Parker song, there were odd echoes and delays that came through the microphones and out the speakers. He had somehow figured out how to slowly degrade the audio quality, his trademark death-obsessed sound, in a live performance. 

You are revealed, you are revealed again

You are a constant surprise

Longing for roots and a steady hand

But purpose is no country you can find

Purpose is no country you can find

There is an old song, red is red as red

Spent all of Sunday lost in the wood

But purpose is no country you can find

Purpose is no country you can find

It was received well enough from the audience, if it wasn’t exactly a show-stopper to end the big anniversary concert. Rafa and Cath grinned and gave a bow to the applause, but were just as surprised as everyone else was to notice that the applause was dying down. The show wasn’t over yet. 

Ian had all but ran back to his setup at the end of their song. He pushed a button on one rig and another on another, and suddenly the performance they had all heard was playing again. 

Ian threw some more switches, and moments later, the song started from the beginning, over the first track at the same time. Like this:

There is an old song, red is red as red

Red is red as red, a painting that pulls

Some of the audience members couldn’t help but chuckle a little, or stand there and wonder where it was going. Another switch, another track. Another track. And then one on top of that. 

But purpose is no country you can find, purpose is

Spent all of Sunday lost in the woods, but purpose

A painting that pulls as it dries, spent all of Sunday 

There is an old song, red is red as red, a painting that

Enough time had passed that now, at one time, the audience could hear Cath, Rafa, and Ian sing every line of the song at the same time. Still he added more layers upon layers. A few minutes after that, and every word could be heard sung all at the same time. Still more he added on. He seemed to somehow be playing the same layer cake of tracks through different speakers at the same time, making it far louder than anything that came out of the concert previously, and probably louder than anything the Laurel Leaf had played before. Still more layers.

The sound began to warp and morph into something monstrous, it even began to get a thudding beat that wasn’t there amid the screams and shrieks of hundreds of delayed layers of the same sound on top of each other. It was at this point that most of the concertgoers, Cath and Rafa included, left the venue, it being way too loud to stay in there safely. The technicians followed behind them, with finally the old theater curators and caretakers joining them after delaying as much as they could, like captains staying with the sinking ship for as long as they could. 

Hundreds more layers were added on to what Ian already made, and in a moment somewhere in there, when only he was the last person in the theater, he experienced something like the aeviternity of his mother’s old performance at Sherwood’s place: time ended, not a single moment progressed after the other. The hundreds of sounds juxtaposed with hundreds of similar sounds from a different timing alchemically mingled into thousands of unique synthesized sounds. He closed his eyes and heard every possible sound in the universe ramming through his ears all at once. It was the first time in a while he let a tear fall from his eyes.

In all, the best estimates state that Ian exponentially layered that performance over five hundred times before the sound equipment exploded.


Cath was the only one who rode with Ian to the hospital, weeping beside him and squeezing his arm when the paramedics let her, as blood gushed out of his ears. The next morning, the doctors announced to a frantic Cath, Rafa, Sherwood, and Arthur that, while Ian was stable, the ordeal had made him permanently lose his hearing. 

It was sad to hear at first that Ian could no longer listen to music, and therefore probably record music, ever again. But considering such a gargantuan output of recordings as he had, most people got over it, thankful that at least he was otherwise alive and healthy, and also welcoming the break that allowed them to catch up and hear everything from start to finish. Meanwhile, the Laurel Leaf performance was the holy grail of rock concert recordings, and what few collectors who claimed to have copies of the show of their own still claim to this day that the Challengers never again sounded as good as they did then, and that Ian Parker track? Around 15:28? Man, you could hear the whole universe coming out of that fucker. Man, how did he do that?

The shock of Ian’s injury eventually dissipated among his family as well. With what he did that night, he took care of the burden of making music that only Cath knew weighed so heavy on him without destroying himself or other people in the process. He satisfied his personal mission to do right with the melody his mother had given him. And by wrecking the Laurel Leaf, he made it so no one else could inadvertently record something as dangerous as Amedea’s sublime last performance. 

Speaking of wrecking the Laurel Leaf theater, the stuffy owners and curators of that historic place were arguably the only party involved in the whole evening that came up lacking. The damage Ian had done to the acoustics could never be repaired, the heights that other performers achieved with the venue could never be reached again. And to think they survived Marilyn Manson, only to be ruined by this. Ian shrugged and wrote them a check for the tangible damages, confident that a court of law couldn’t hold him liable for “magical music powers from the 1930’s.” 

It took them about a year, and Arthur a little more than that, for all of them to learn American Sign Language, even though Ian still speak if he wanted. Once they all became fluent, even Arthur marveled at how much they spoke to Ian, how much they didn’t know about him for years, and how much they were learning from him even now, and how much more they had to look forward to from him.

Fin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s