The Glory of Groove
Sidney woke to the distant sound of blissful sighs, and then sank back into a dream about a funky mama strutting her stuff to a groovy number, sporting a swanky frock with tiny pockets. Coins bounced out of the pockets as her hips swayed to and fro. Some coins landed and spun in time to the music. One by one they toppled over, except for one, a penny that was gyrating in a lopsided way because it was chipped. Instead of, “In God We Trust” it read, “In Groove We Trust”! The penny swerved, almost toppling, but kept going. Its Lincoln, who had a pierced nose, was nodding in time to the music. In a booming voice he said: “Keep spinning, Sidney, no matter how chipped you are. Glory to Groove!”
“Ahhhhhhh!” It was a ferocious, almost caveman-like moan of pleasure. Unmistakably Bruno. Coming from Alyzia’s room, which was next to hers.
Sidney crushed her pillow over her ears to muffle the sound.
But she had to pee.
On her way to the bathroom, a poignant high-pitched carnal cry emanated from behind Alyzia’s closed door.
Sidney slammed the bathroom door and peed. Peeing made her think about gravity, which made her think about gravitational lensing, the phenomenon wherein a large mass bends light as it travels from a distant object to an observer, potentially even blocking that distant object from view though it is in the observer’s line of sight. She imagined how, in Bruno’s mind, she was blocked out by Alyzia. And in Alyzia’s mind she was obscured by Bruno. She felt betrayed by them both. You’re not supposed to shift your interest from one person to her best friend. And the best friend isn’t supposed to go along with it. Especially when you live together!
She stared up at a paper maché mermaid hanging from the ceiling, trembling. There was a timid knock on the bathroom door.
“Sidney,” Alyzia called out softly.
Alyzia must have seen Bruno’s tattoo of the number tau, Sidney thought. She looked down at the tiny π engraved in the tender skin of her left breast, just above her heart. Should she show Alyzia the number pi on her own chest? That might make her stop and think.
More knocking. This time a little more urgent.
She couldn’t stay in the bathroom forever.
When Sidney opened the door, the first thing she saw was Bruno’s plaid shirt, inside out, on Alyzia’s small frame. Alyzia was sporting a strikingly pretty, disheveled, freshly-fucked look. Her face was flushed, and her long blonde curls were in disarray.
“Hi,” Alyzia said.
There was something in her voice that Sidney had never heard before. A note of guilt, or pity, or both. It was shocking to learn that Alyzia was capable of speaking like that, and doubly shocking she could speak that way to her. It was repulsive.
Sidney couldn’t go back to sleep. She put on her housecoat, lit a candle, and walked down the hardwood stairs, toward Olive, a mannequin at the front door with a styrofoam scalp and pimento-olives-on-toothpicks hairdo, the handiwork of Alyzia. Olive’s left arm was outstretched as if in greeting, but in the flickering candlelight both arms grew and shrank and shifted direction, as if in warning. Her heart pounded as she walked past Olive. She nestled herself in the paisley couch and thought back to the events in that room that had led to this moment.
Exactly one year later, the Sacred Scribe would describe this night for her listeners as her first real encounter with Groove.
Sidney kept finding herself looking up from the exams she was marking to catch glimpses of Bruno in a somewhat ridiculous frilly apron with images of floating frying pans splayed across it. She was sunk into a salmon-colored corduroy beanbag chair in the living room, which was partially separated from the kitchen by a waist-high partition. The house was run-down, with chipped paint and worn surfaces, but it held unexpected pleasures like stained glass panels above the windows. Curled up at her feet on the braided multicolor rug were Glimmer, a mostly white calico cat, and Inkling, an almost-black Bengal cat.
Sidney felt the beanbag chair smush into a different shape as Alyzia curled up next to her with a book. With Alyzia’s baby-fine, moon-colored curls rippling across Sidney’s shoulder, and the scent of Alyzia’s ylang ylang oil enveloping them like a bubble, the world seemed to soften. Boundaries melted, metaphorical meanings glimmered.
Raj was bundling newspapers and arranging sticks into a teepee in the fireplace. Once the fire was lit, he went over to investigate the stereo system, which was intermittently, and with varying degrees of distortion, playing ‘Water from a Grape Vine’ by William Orbit.
“Nice fire, Raj,” Alyzia said.
“Fire is primal,” Raj said, his eyes glinting like drops of maple syrup. “People have been hanging out around campfires for hundreds of thousands of years.”
Sidney stared into the fire and fantasized about cave people. A man and woman cuddled up together before a blazing fire, wrapped in furs, stars twinkling above, grateful for the plentitude of their little world. Og and Oga. Objectively they were ugly, but they beheld one another as the most exquisitely magical creation of the universe. Not that they treated each other like china. Og was a caveman, after all…
“Too bad we’re too cheap and too broke to buy electronics that actually work,” Raj said.
“Only a DJ would hear the difference between this stereo system and a thousand dollar one,” Bruno said. “The problem is that the music’s so languid it’s causing the speakers to melt.”
Sidney watched Bruno’s broad hands roll a lump of pastry dough. She was watching the pastry dough flatten so intently that she became it. It was her that Bruno was draping over the pie dish, her softly yielding to the touch of those capable knuckles with curly golden-red hairs.
The amplifier emitted an earsplitting screech. Sidney put her hands over her ears. The cats leaped in surprise and fled under the paisley chesterfield. The music stopped. Raj frowned.
“Sid, what do you make of this,” Alyzia said, looking up from her book. “It says: Without explicitly looking at it, focus your attention on his private parts and feel yourself to be a delicate flower that is waiting, living only in anticipation of the moment he will open you.”
“What are you reading, Al?” Raj asked. He was fiddling with the stereo system again. His dark skin had a golden gleam in the light of the now-blazing fire.
“A Girl’s Special Guide to Intimacy. Written in the 1950s. Banned due to scandalous content.”
Sunk in this primal cradle of warmth, with Alyzia’s clothing draped about her in filmy shadows, Sidney watched, entranced, as Bruno cut off the scraps of dough that hung around the edges of the pie plate. He carefully coaxed a mixture of rich, red loganberries into the waiting pie shells, and then placed the pies on the divider between the kitchen and living room. She remembered hearing that humans acquired red hair by breeding with Neanderthals, and that although most humans have only 2% Neanderthal DNA, some people have up to 4%. She suspected Bruno had closer to 4%.
The music came on.
“Success!” Raj said. He started dancing, hip-hop style.
Alyzia got up and joined him. Her multicolored scarf and long red skirt billowed as she swirled. Sidney missed being curled up with her, but she liked how her silhouette moved with hypnotic fluidity against the flickering reflection of firelight in the windowpanes.
“Hey Raj,” Bruno said, “how did your DJ gig go?”
“Incredible!” Raj said.
“Too bad you missed it, Bruno,” Sidney said. “Some colorful characters called in to talk on the air with Raj about life, religion, the groovy tunes he was playing…”
“We celebrated the glory of Groove, my friend,” Raj said.
“Aha!” Bruno exclaimed. “Some hungry devil has already dug into my pie. And it’s still raw!”
“The glory of Groove,” Alyzia said in a thoughtful voice. “You know, since ancient times music has been seen as a means of tuning into the divine—bringing it down to the human plane.”
“Raj,” Bruno called out, “Was it you who took a bite of my uncooked pie?”
The front door screeched open. “Hello!” Seung Gong said cheerily, peeling off a knapsack. He had large, kind eyes that sparkled appreciatively when he looked around the room and saw that everyone was there. Last year, shortly after he moved in with them, when he spoke virtually no English, one of the first things he said was “my family,” gesturing to everyone present.
“About time!” Bruno called out, looking up from the cheese he was grating.
“Very sorry to be late!” Seung Gong said earnestly. “Today was the deadline to finish our documentary. But now I cook.”
“I’m the cook tonight!” Bruno called out, looking up from the cheese he was grating. “I eat at you guys’ place so often I figure it’s the least I could do. You can boil the corn if you want. The rest is under control.”
“I don’t know about that,” Raj said. “The kitchen looks completely dysfunctional to me. Every nook and cranny of available counter space is stacked with dishes.”
“Dishfunctional you mean,” Bruno said, carefully tucking a layer of noodles into a lasagna pan. “Perhaps a tad. Sign of a good cook.”
“Come to think of it,” Sidney mused, “music isn’t the only groove worth glorifying. Deep down, everything is Groove.”
“…and Groove is God,” Bruno said, pouring a thick white mixture onto the lasagna.
“Groove works in mysterious ways,” Raj said, with a half-embarrassed, half-delighted smirk.
Sidney looked at the mountain of papers she had left to grade. “Could Groove and its devotees dampen their vibrations a bit so I could get some work done?” she said.
They were quiet for a while, until the smell of lasagna wafted through the house. The heat sensitive tiles above the stove were shimmering through a kaleidoscope of colors.
“I’ll set the table,” Raj said.
He went to the cupboard in the dining area—which was part of the L-shaped living room—and gathered some chipped, mismatched garage-sale dishes. He put the pink plate with a fading rose in the center in Sidney’s spot, since she once said she liked it, and put the vanilla-bean-colored pottery plate in the guest spot where Bruno would sit. Everyone else got square green glass plates that would have been considered modern in the 1970s.
“What are you writing, oh sacred scribe?” Alyzia asked.
“I’m grading cosmology exams.”
“The Sacred Scribe of Cosmic Vibe!” Bruno cried out. He bounded over to Sidney, kneeled before her, and kissed her toes. A hunk of white lasagna goop somehow landed on her ankle. She left it there and smiled beguilingly.
“We could have a radio show,” Raj suggested as he placed king-sized goblets on the dining table. “An inspirational hour with the Goddess of Groove, played by Al, and the Sacred Scribe of Cosmic Vibe, played by Sid.”
Sidney and Alyzia smiled at each other. Every nuance of expression had infinite meaning for the other. Sidney couldn’t have imagined someone so like her yet so unlike her.
“So God Almighty becomes Groove Almighty,” Alyzia said. “It has a ring to it. But what’s the point?”
“What’s the point?” Raj said. “I’ll tell you the point. If there’s something God-like in the universe it’s vibration, it’s Groove. Groove is a more appealing Almighty than God.
Alyzia danced over to the kitchen, picked up a cooked lasagna noodle from the counter, and started twirling it. Strands of blonde hair bounced as she mockingly swayed her head in time to the movement of the lasagna noodle. The motion made Sidney think of Alyzia’s love of words like ‘tendrils’ and ‘flourishes’.
“No really,” Raj said, “I think I’m on to something. After all, everything is vibration.” He touched the tine of a fork to a goblet and it went ‘ting’. He raised one eyebrow. “Everything we do touches everything else. The flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Kugluktuk can affect a hurricane in Africa. The vibration of your spinning lasagna noodle will reach the Pleiades one day. Right Sid?”
“There’s a glimmer of truth to that.” Sidney suddenly felt as if she were about to make a tiny wrong move that could set off a chain reaction of wrong moves.
“See? The Sacred Scribe is already providing scientific content for the show.”
“What does the Goddess of Groove do?” Alyzia asked.
“You read devotional passages replacing the word ‘God’ with ‘Groove’,” Raj said. “Science meets spirituality. It’s profane yet profound.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Sidney said.
“Maybe,” Alyzia said, “But wouldn’t it be fun?”
“Ugh!” Bruno cried out. “What’s that green stuff? You’ll ruin my masterpiece.”
“Stop, you fool,” Seung Gong said affectionately. “Yellow pepper is a most delicate, fragrant vegetable. It will barely taste at all.”
Sidney watched Seung Gong carefully cut a pepper into thin, circular cross-sectional slices, starting from one side of the pepper and working inward toward the stem, the place where the cross-section was Q-shaped. Then he cut away the stem and seeds, turning the Q into a U. It occurred to her that she had never seen a word with a Q but no U. It’s intriguing, she mused, how the letter Q is big and round and complete-looking, yet dependent on the letter U, which is hollow and empty, yet manages perfectly well without Q. She liked how Q and U combine to create an emergent sound that transcended the sounds of other letters.
“Come dance with me Sid,” Alyzia said.
“Dancing is sinful. Leads one astray off the narrow path of grooviness, you know.”
“No Sidney!” said Raj. “That’s the point. Everyone knows it’s not sinful to dance, or screw someone you’re not married to, or eat green eggs and ham on Sunday. Everyone knows the God thing is dead. Groove gives us something new to believe in.”
“Great heavenly father of Mary,” said Bruno raising his floury hands in feigned horror. “This may be cosmic truth, but it’s irreverent! Where are my rosary beads? Where is my bible?”
“The bible is just a story,” Raj said. His voice was intense, yet controlled and precise.
“What I would like to know,” Seung Gong said, “is who bites pie before it cooks? Sorry to change topic,” he added apologetically.
“No problem,” Bruno said, as he put the pies in the oven. “Your tangent struck a chord in me. Heh! Get it? Damn, I hate it when my brilliant moments of mathematical amusement fall dead on the ears of artsy fartsies like you guys.”
“Got it,” Sidney said, glancing at Bruno to savor the in-joke with him, but he was smiling at Alyzia. First fleeting moment of jealousy.
“Luke and Matthew just made the bible up!” Raj said. “Well, they didn’t make it all up. Some of it they copied from a now-missing document called Q.”
The letter Q again, thought Sidney. Great letter, actually. Reminiscent of a heart with an arrow through it, but less voluptuous, less vulnerable, without a cleft threatening to break it in two.
“Dinner ready!” Seung Gong announced.
“Groove is great, groove is good, let us thank it for this food,” Raj said, hip-hopping to the table.
Sidney looked down at her chipped pink dinner plate with the faded rose on it. It must have been around for decades. She imagined generations of children listening to their fathers say grace, looking at the gentle beauty of that plate and wondering how it was possible that a world with such a beautiful plate could be ruled by a harsh, vindictive God.
“You will see, Bruno, how good can the vegetables be!” Seung Gong exclaimed eagerly, placing the steaming lasagna on the table.
Bruno raised an eyebrow, and poured five glasses of wine.
“Here’s to Raj’s new DJ gig and the Glory of Groove!” Alyzia said.
They clinked glasses.
“This corn is, um, interesting,” Raj said.
“Corn, that’s the one vegetable I do like,” Bruno said. “I picked this corn myself.”
Alyzia bit in. A look of surprise spread across her face.
“What’s the matter?” Bruno said.
“It’s sort of, like, a pre-Columbian experience,” Alzyia said.
Bruno took a bite.
“A bit, um, woody, I admit,” he said. “It’s the kind of food that in order to really appreciate it you have to pin a lizard to your chest and sacrifice a virgin or two.”
They burst into laughter.
Sidney became aware of the almost-too-sweet aroma of loganberry pie. The aroma matched how she felt, with Bruno glancing over at her from across the table. Like a delicate flower waiting. But she also had a foreboding feeling that had to do with the effect men sometimes have on women, including herself. It was shockingly easy for a smart, together woman to become a satellite, to let her wavefunction flatten into a phony, two-dimensional roadkill of her former self. Right now her thesis demanded her total attention. Once she finished it she had the whole rest of her life to find a man if that’s what she wanted.
She was wearing a deep red blouse that brought compliments but the buttons opened a little too readily. She checked to make sure none of them had popped open. They hadn’t.
“And now,” Bruno said, proudly setting a golden-crusted masterpiece in the middle of the table, “I present you with the pinnacle of my culinary abilities.”
“Mmmm!” Alyzia said. “I love pie!”
“Me too,” Sidney said. “One of my favorite numbers.”
Bruno cut into the pie. Purple loganberries, warm and luscious and vulnerable in their translucent goo, spilled out. Sidney winced at this act of penetration. It occurred to her that the word ‘pie’ could be penetrated in such a way that it dished up not just her favorite number, pi, but also her second favorite number, e. And she realized: the fascinating thing about the letter Q is that it is caught in the act of being penetrated.
After dinner Sidney and Bruno cleaned up. She liked the streamlined way they worked as a team, but it seemed that as the kitchen got cleaner her life was getting messier.
“Maybe Raj is onto something with that Groove idea,” she said.
“Why would a radio station bother with a skit cooked up by freaks like us?” Bruno asked, raising one of his bushy orange eyebrows.
“Not any radio station. The university station where Raj works, on his late-night show. The people who listen to the radio at that hour need something to laugh at and believe in. To most of them God is probably a meaningless concept, but not Groove, the substrate of reality itself.”
“People who feel isolated could try sex,” Bruno suggested with a sheepish smirk.
Sidney was embarrassed that such a dumb comment made her blush. She dried the lasagna dish and put it in the cupboard. “Having sex might make them feel even more isolated if they’re not really connecting with each other.”
“They could get drunk first,” Bruno said. He looked at her intently.
He filled her half-empty goblet and held it out to her. She took it, almost dropping it. Her hands had gone clammy.
“I think we’re done,” he said, suddenly switching to a softer voice. “Let’s go to the living room.”
Everyone else had gone to bed but the fire was still ablaze. They sat on the couch.
“I never noticed your eyes before,” he said. “The right one is blue and the left one is kind of thundercloud grey, almost purple. Awesome!”
Sidney felt self-conscious about her weirdo eyes. Strands of espresso-colored hair fell across her pixie face. Strange how quickly her heart was beating. Her mind was fishing out memories of Bruno… telling some funny story so enthusiastically that he didn’t notice bits of egg salad falling from his sandwich… helping Raj fix his bike…
Hesitantly but tenderly, Bruno put his arms around her. A blaze of scintillation ran through her and she was suddenly aware of how hungry she was for human touch. He leaned back against the side of the couch and she leaned against him so that she was half-sitting, half-lying. His large nostrils seemed to suck all the oxygen out of the air in the vicinity of his nose, so she turned her face from his a little and looked into the fire. She listened to his steady breathing, feeling slightly awkward and slightly ecstatic at this newfound intimacy. She heard Raj shuffle to the bathroom. His bedroom was on the main floor. She wondered if he could hear them.
Bruno gently caressed her arm and shoulder. A log collapsed. Tangerine sparks flitted upward. Sidney’s heart fluttered; she felt disoriented. Bruno’s hand was above her left breast. She took his hand into her own, and sure enough it felt like the hand of a caveman: large and rough, but gentle. When Bruno started to release her hand, as if to continue exploring her, she tightened her grip on his. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go further, but the firelight was bright enough that he would see the π etched on her breast, and she felt self-conscious about Raj hearing them. She considered suggesting they go upstairs to her bedroom, but Bruno’s entire body was now perfectly still. Perhaps he was wary of crossing her boundaries, or perhaps there was some other reason. She was smitten with longing, but it was probably best to take things one step at a time.
In the middle of the night she awoke to a tremendous crackle from the fire. She was so startled she almost fell off the couch. There was reaching and clutching and the next thing she knew she was lying entangled with Bruno, her blouse mostly unbuttoned. She wished she had worn a camisole, or at least a more substantial bra, but it was too late. He was staring at the π just above her heart.
“Your favorite number!” he exclaimed. “Sid, that is so awesome. It’s an unusual tattoo, not just because it’s pi but… it couldn’t possibly be a birthmark shaped like pi, is it?”
“I feel exposed.”
“It’s beautiful.” He buttoned up her blouse and looking at her adoringly. “I should maybe go home,” he said hesitantly.
“I do have an important meeting with my PhD supervisor first thing in the morning.”
“Ok.” He kissed her softly. “I look forward to seeing you soon.”
It was so long since the last time she’d been kissed that it took her by surprise, and she didn’t kiss him back. But she liked the feel of his lips on hers. “Me too,” she said with a shy smile.
Bruno let himself out the front door as quietly as he could.
As Sidney walked upstairs she could still feel him and smell him. The dream she’d been having before they woke up came back to her. It was about the letter Q. She had seen that the tail of a Q isn’t necessarily long and pointed after all. It was like how, if you took one of those magnetic letter Qs that children put on the fridge and held it perpendicular to the light, the shadow it cast would be a straight line, though it itself is Q-shaped. Sidney now saw that the tail of one Q could be the shadow of another Q, each Q harboring the cue that leads to the next. Perhaps every Q is just the initial, relatively corporeal link in an endless chain of increasingly transcendent Qs.
It would have piQued her interest to know that she was the heroine of a story about the trials and tribulations of an alienated youth who finds meaning in a seemingly meaningless world by cultivating a personal relationship with Groove.
The Glory of Groove radio show rehearsals gave Sidney periodic breaks from the quantum level of reality, gave her a sense of purpose. The first thing she thought of every morning was whether or not there would be a rehearsal that evening. And if there was, the whole day sparkled.
But beneath the sparkle was tension. Bruno often put his strong arms around her, or took her hand in his, and it took her breath away to imagine making love to him. But in some indefinable way he seemed to be keeping her at bay. Whenever they were on the brink of feeling close, a veil would fall across his amber-green eyes, and he would say something clever and irrelevant, or caress her with startling rapidity, or clown around. It was driving her crazy. She shouldn’t be thinking so much about a man right now; she should be thinking about her thesis.
One evening Sidney was sitting on the porch working. She had a feeling Bruno would drop by. Sure enough, she looked up and saw Bruno walking toward the house. He sat down next to her, and the dilapidated sofa dipped to accommodate his stocky build. She braced herself so as not to fall onto him.
“You don’t look so happy, Sacred Scribe,” he said.
Sidney smiled wanly at the phrase ‘Sacred Scribe’. She shivered, and noticed that the afghan had fallen off. She didn’t want to pull it back around her because he might expect her to pull it up around both of them, and she wasn’t sure about what that might lead to. She had a feeling that this was supposed to be the night they would make love for the first time. But she was—for once—making progress on her thesis, and it was good to be on a roll.
“I think you’re great,” Bruno said, pulling her close.
“I think you’re great too. Although… I do have a lot on my plate right now,” Sidney faltered.
Bruno clearly registered this. Then he perked up. “I got a new tattoo. I think you’ll like it.” He lifted up his shirt and revealed a ד tattooed on his chest.
“Tau!” Sidney said, genuinely surprised and somewhat flattered. “In the same spot as my pi.”
Sidney had etched her π into her skin years ago with a razor blade. It had been both horrendously painful and stupendously satisfying.
“Tau equals two pi,” Sidney said thoughtfully. “Two pi’s together…”
She tried to read Bruno’s expression to see what significance this held for him. He was looking at her with a tenderness she had never encountered before.
She looked down at the π in the equation she’d been struggling with on her laptop. She realized with surprise that the equation looked like gibberish. She looked back to the preceding equation, and then the one before that, and she couldn’t make heads nor tails of them either. Then she remembered: she had to submit the first chapter of her Ph.D. thesis by the end of the week. Bruno had pulled her into a state of mind that was worlds away from the state of mind she needed to be in to write her thesis.
She and Bruno were no longer sitting snug against each other, though she hadn’t noticed him pull away. She was startled by how quickly he’d gone from friend to romantic possibility, imbued with significance. A feeling of certainty washed over her that she was at a bifurcation, a fork in the road, and if she took the wrong fork the consequences could be devastating. She thought of all the women throughout history who had sacrificed their interests, their career, their independence, for a man.
Suddenly Bruno stood up. “Well, don’t want to distract you,” he said, patting her on the knee.
Sidney opened her mouth to ask him to stay, but no words came out. She watched him stroll into the suburban blandscape, tingling with desire and a confused sense of regret. She tried to turn her attention back to her thesis. She was midway through the section on the ‘measurement effect’. It explained how the state of a quantum entity evolves as a superposition of many potential states, described by an equation called a wavefunction. But the instant it is observed, it collapses to one particular, definite state. A good thing about being single, she thought, is it’s easier to evolve as your own free wavefunction, to be yourself without getting collapsed into someone else’s conception of you.
So then why did she feel like she’d just made the biggest mistake of her life?
“Get down here, Scribe!” Raj called one Saturday morning. “We’re all waiting.”
Before the science-infused comedic spoof on religion had taken over their lives she’d cleaned her room every Saturday morning while listening to the ‘Quirks and Quarks’ science show on the radio. Now her bedroom was always a mess. Finally she found her Sacred Scribe gown. It didn’t matter how she looked for a radio show rehearsal, but she wouldn’t feel the part without it. Sapphire blue silk with a V-neckline and flowing sleeves. Alyzia had found it at a thrift shop. As she put on the gown her sins and follies seemed to drop away. Walking carefully down the staircase so as not to trip over the long robe, she saw Bruno laughing and gesturing, looking in full command. Her skin tingled when he looked up and saw her.
“Let’s get started!” Bruno said.
Sidney took her place on a tasseled cushion a few feet from the Goddess of Groove, who was on her own tasseled cushion, looking regal in red velvet.
“In ancient times,” Raj said in a deep, reverberating voice, “Music and dance were forms of worship, the earliest expressions of devotion to the Groove. Let us now pay tribute to this legacy with The Glory of Groove. Testimonial evidence reveals that this radio show guides the woebegone, the pilgrim on a rhythm quest, to cultivate a personal relationship with Groove.”
“Good morning devotees of the Groove!” Alyzia said, smiling at Sidney.
“Glory to Groove in the highest,” Sidney said, smiling back.
“Today’s reading is from The Tao of Groove,” Alyzia said, opening up a notebook adorned with dried flowers. “And Groove said: Let there be music. And there was music. And Groove said: Now let there be funky-ass music! And the people danced to the music, and all was groovy.”
“Well chosen, Goddess,” Sidney said enthusiastically. “That passage truly aligns the spirit with the will of Groove.”
“Sacred Scribe, please tell us: what is Groove from a scientific point of view?”
Sidney unfurled her hands in the air suggestively. “Well,” she said, “every massive object absorbs and emits a stream of virtual ‘gravitons’, the mass of which is determined by the ratio of absorption to emission…”
“Whoa,” Alyzia said. “Your gravitons are streaming ahead of mine. What are gravitons exactly?”
“They’re not like anything we know of. They act like waves until the instant they’re measured by bombarding them with another mass. Then suddenly they act like solid particles.”
“I get it,” said Bruno. He clasped his hands above his head and slithered goofily toward Sidney. “Now I’m a wave!”
“You look more like a sperm,” Raj said.
Bruno bumped into Sidney and looked up at her, beaming. “Now I’m a particle!”
“You boson,” Sidney said. “That’s ridiculous.”
Bruno turned around the other way. “Now I’m a wave again,” he said, slithering the other direction until he bumped into Alyzia.
Alyzia smiled. “Bruno this is a radio show,” she said. “No one would see that.”
He stood up authoritatively, put one foot on the stage, and leaned toward Alyzia. “Ring dingy ding,” he said.
“What are you doing?” Alyzia whispered.
“I’m testing your ability to improvise,” Bruno whispered back. “Goddess,” he said loudly, “Am I on the air?”
“A listener is calling in with a question,” Alyzia said. “Yes earthling, we hear you.”
Bruno gently took Alyzia’s microphone. “Could you tell me if there’s life on other planets?” he asked, and held the mic in front of Alyzia.
“That’s a question for the Sacred Scribe of Cosmic Vibe,” Alyzia said, passing the mic to Sidney.
“There is life out there,” Sidney said theatrically, “But it doesn’t need a planet to walk around on. It’s based in another dimension.”
“Marvelous!” Bruno said. “Is it benevolent?”
Sidney grinned. “Temperamental is a better word. Full of divine radiance, but prone to contamination and darkness. It’s very curious about us. It enters those who provide it with a portal.”
“What kind of portal?”
“An opening. A flaw. A vulnerability.”
Bruno smirked, almost imperceptibly. “Thank you Goddesses!” he said, and pretended to put down a phone. “Ok, let’s go back to the bit where Al talks about music.”
Sidney didn’t like being cast out of Bruno’s limelight. She played her expected role, casting forth pearls of scientific knowledge at the right moments, but her thoughts kept turning to him. The more he lured her in with his bodily magnetism, the more he seemed to barricade himself. Or was she imagining it?
“Seekers,” Alyzia was saying, “The time has come for us to return to more sanctified realms. Stay tuned next week when Swami Salami joins us to talk about… what was it, Swami?”
Bruno sat down next to Alyzia and looked her in the eye. “Tantric enlightenment and weapons of mass seduction,” he said.
“Right,” said Alyzia. “Until then, may Groove be with you.”
“Cut!” said Bruno with a flamboyant hand wave. “Good. Our listeners will be eternally grateful for the heightened communion with Groove reverberating through their bodies.”
“Swami Salami?” Raj said incredulously. “What was that about?”
Alyzia giggled and looked at Bruno. He winked back at her. Sidney cringed.
Over the next few weeks Raj started dropping hints on the air about something special he had in store for his listeners: ‘Groove is great. Groove’s our fix. Let us thank it for the mix!’
Sidney often worked late at the university, where she could get more done than at home. Sometimes she was there for Raj’s entire shift at the university radio station. They would drive home together in the pre-dawn hour.
“What was that you said on air?” she asked. “Groove’s our mix’…”
“You haven’t heard anything yet.” He slowed down as they approached the top of a hill, and the darkness was broken by an ethereal splendor of distant lights. “Groove is great. A smash sensation. Let us thank it for this radio station!”
Sidney managed a feeble smile. “Don’t give up your DJ gig to be a poet.”
Raj looked over at her with concern. “Hey, you doing ok?”
“Well… I wasn’t sure how you felt about Bruno and Alyzia flirting.”
“They were?” Sidney said, suddenly sitting up straight.
“I could have been imagining it,” Raj said.
“I heard you together that night he made dinner at our place. And you didn’t seem so happy at the rehearsal.”
It occurred to Sidney that she’d never told Alyzia about that night. She’d never even told her she was interested in him. Usually they told each other everything. Alyzia had always admiringly ‘collapsed’ her into the archetype of a strong, independent woman, an archetype that wasn’t compatible with how vulnerable Bruno made her feel.
“Are you saying there’s something going on between them?”
“I may have jumped to conclusions,” Raj said quickly, glancing in his rear-view mirror.
They drove in awkward silence. The fluorescent lighting of new condos reflected eerily across the bay. Sidney thought about how little time she’d been spending at home, and how much Bruno liked to hang out there. Men are like electrons, she thought. If there’s only one slit for an electron to pass through, it just passes through the slit, no problem. But if there’s two or more possibilities the electron goes haywire. There’s no predicting what it will do.
The next rehearsal went badly. It felt staged and awkward. They kept starting from the beginning and everyone got irritable. Sidney made mistakes. She thought it was because she and Bruno hadn’t talked. They needed to clarify whether they were just friends or something more.
He seemed to have come to the same conclusion. They found themselves alone in the living room after the rehearsal, sitting on the makeshift stage.
“I sometimes think of cave people,” Sidney said. “Og and Oga. A couple.”
Bruno looked baffled.
“Are we… moving in the direction of becoming a couple?” she blurted.
Bruno looked down. “I thought you were avoiding me.”
Sidney’s pulse raced. “I thought you were avoiding me! And I’ve been super busy with my thesis.”
This was more painful than Sidney had imagined it would be. She put her hand on his.
“I gotta go,” he said suddenly, removing her hand.
It was the second time that Sidney was watching him walk away, wanting to run after him. If she’d done it the first time, everything would have been great. Now it was too late. Her heart ached. Could it have been her pushing him away? She laid her head in her hands and listened to the faint sizzle of the ailing sound system.
Sidney started arriving late to rehearsals, or skipping them entirely. It didn’t exactly make her feel groovy watching Bruno and Alyzia pretend not to fawn over each other. What hurt most was the soft voices they used with each other, the cherishing looks. No barricades.
The Groove rehearsals became stagnant. They argued about the theme song.
“How about that song by Delight, ‘Groove is in the heart’?” Alyzia suggested.
“Groove forbid!” Raj said. He blew on a small flame in the fireplace.
“‘Shake Your Groove Thing’ by Peaches and Herb?” Sidney suggested.
“I was thinking something with a gospel vibe,” Bruno said. “An occasional ‘Hallelujah’. Something devotional, powerful.”
“Yeah,” Raj said. “The Goddesses need to come across stronger. The kind of beings that snap their fingers and thunder roars and lightning bolts through the sky.”
“Gimme a break,” Alyzia said. She was sitting at the couch with newspaper spread across the table constructing something that looked like a paper maché groundhog with wings.
“What I mean,” Raj said, “is Sidney acts too cosmic. Spaced out. And Alyzia giggles and bats her eyes. You’re supposed to be Goddesses, above this petty world.”
Bruno began to sing ‘Groove is in the heart’ and dance around the room in a silly manner. Except that he didn’t really know the words, so he was just singing “Doop dooby do be do doop be dooby dooby dooby ….”
Alyzia opened her mouth as if she were about to start singing along with him.
“For the love of Groove, shut the fuck up!” Sidney snapped. What right did they have to try to diffuse the tension when they were the ones who had caused it?
She wondered why she was hanging out watching her best friend and ex-almost-boyfriend flirt when she had a doctoral thesis to write. How had she ever had the nerve to consider herself a divine being when she was so full of jealousy and bitterness? Not to mention she had no acting experience whatsoever.
Thus, the Glory of Groove damped to a standstill before making it on the air.
A week later, Sidney was sitting on the front porch (the only place one could get some peace and quiet!) projecting observables onto eigenstates represented by self-adjoint operators on a Hilbert space, when through the open living room window she heard Raj say, “She can be prickly.”
“Prickly?” Seung Gong said.
“An irritable pain in the ass.”
She went inside. She could tell by the way they looked at her that they had been talking about her. The hairs on her arms stood on end. She felt prickly even to herself.
That evening, Alyzia waved Sidney into her room.
“Look at my latest lonely endeavor,” Alyzia said, holding up a seasoned pair of jeans newly adorned with a flourish of yellow rickrack.
Sidney didn’t feel like marveling, but the word ‘lonely’ caught her attention. She had assumed she was the only one feeling lonely. Had Alyzia been missing her too?
“The rickrack is great,” Sidney said, trying to sound cheerful but not pulling it off.
“I have some left over,” Alyzia said. “You can decorate your pants too.”
Sidney spotted Bruno’s argyle vest hanging over Alyzia’s chair.
“No thanks,” Sidney said.
Sidney picked up her guitar and started strumming it just loud enough to block out any lovemaking sounds that might make their way through the thin living room ceiling, but soft enough so as not to awaken Raj and Seung Gong. She was impressed by how expressively she was improvising despite playing so softly.
As she played, a feeling of grace descended upon her, and her thoughts began to coalesce. It began with glimpsing an understanding of Groove at an abstract level. Groove, she thought, incorporates the totality of all possible impressions of all possible things from all possible viewpoints.
Then a more personal understanding of Groove dawned upon her. Even if your best friends let you down and lose all interest in you, that doesn’t mean you’re crap, because they’re limited by their particular perspectives. Beyond all the ‘collapsed’ opinions and impressions of humans lies a universe of potential perspectives from which she—or anything else—could be seen. Having a personal relationship with Groove meant not relying too much on what other humans think but bathing in this infinitely rich reservoir of untapped vibrations, going through life knowing it’s there and feeling it in your heart. She’d heard this kind of message before, but now that she understood it in her own terms it didn’t seem so hokey.
Last came the most inexplicable part of the experience: a certainty that Groove loved her and believed in her.
There were tears in her eyes and a fledgling melody gasping itself into existence in her brain. While they were doing the rehearsals, she hadn’t had time to play the guitar. On a whim, she turned it upside down so that her left hand plucked the strings. She was, after all, left-handed. It sounded terrible because the strings were upside down. But it felt right.
Memories of Glory of Groove rehearsals permeated the living room and seeped their way into the slowly emerging melody. Though the unfamiliar string arrangement made her fingers fumble, playing the guitar left-handed put her into a state of mind in which she was composing music more poignant and authentic than anything she’d ever come up with before. It almost sounded as if it had been composed by a Sacred Scribe of Cosmic Vibe. Except for the lyrics, which were about a funky mama with coins spilling out of her pocket.
Sidney continued composing music all night long. You can hear the next song she composed here: https://soundcloud.com/liane-gabora/be-you-2018-09-28-1107-pm. (It’s on a piano, since unlike Sidney the author doesn’t play the guitar sung. It was recorded without a mic, with my untrained voice, using GarageBand, but hopefully sufficient to give a musical glimpse into the feeling that washed over Sidney that night.)
When she finished this second song, the first rays of dawn were streaming down on Olive, who, to Sidney’s surprise, was attired in Alyzia’s Goddess of Groove robe, and sported a new hairdo: marshmallows and raisins.
Sidney smiled. “May I still call you Olive?” she whispered.