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By the Pond Back Home / Shome Dasgupta



You might already know, but Turnip Redd’s breakthrough performance came at the age of 22 on Conan. Shy, nervous, and overwhelmed, he was able to sing his “Let Me Be Gone” to a captivated audience, one that was completely silent after he finished. It wasn’t until Conan, himself, started to clap when the rest of the audience gave Turnip a standing ovation.


“That was great,” Conan said, shaking his hand. “Well done.”


He patted Turnip on the back, as the singer slightly nodded while managing to smile.


“I’m a huge fan,” Turnip said. “I saw a recording of when Elliott Smith played—-”


The audience’s cheer drowned out his voice as Conan led the show into credits. Turnip waved to the crowd—the studio lights had put him in a trance, and that was the beginning of it all.


That was ten years ago and since that show, his agent, Lester Danes, landed a deal with Sony Music, and Turnip became an instant success. The world was drawn to his soothing, innocent voice backed with his acoustic guitar, and with his low self-esteem, depressing lyrics, he formed a fan base ranging from teenagers to those who grew up in the 1960s. Incessant touring and interviews, endorsements ranging from whiskey to clothing lines to cars, Turnip grew up quickly in the entertainment world. No longer thin and frail—forty pounds heavier, a faced scarred with sleepless nights of partying and fucking, all under the spell of alcohol and drugs, he wasn’t the small-town boy from Youngsville, Louisiana anymore.


Eight years after Conan, with red eyes and a slurred speech, Turnip puffed on a cigarette and turned to Lester—they were in the greenroom, just before a show in Austin, Texas.


“You know—Lester—you know, I feel like this was what it was like in the 80s, you know. Like when Guns N’Roses and all, when they ruled the world. This must have been what it was like.”


He blew the smoke out through his nostril.

“Not even, Ace,” Lester said. “They have nothing on you. They wish they were you.”


Lester sipped his drink and winked at his client. Turnip’s demeanor changed—he watched the smoke twirl around in the air and thought about his wife and two children who were only six hours away, at home in Youngsville.

“Lester. Lester. Do you think Margaret knows what all that goes on? Like with all the women and the late nights and all?”


“Who cares, Ace. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to keep the show going. This is all you. This is you. It’s you and no one else. What you’re doing now—it gives them a home.”


“Is this me?”


“Come on, Ace—sip up and smoke up. You’re on in fifteen. I love you, pal.”


“I love you, too.”


Lester left the room, leaving Turnip alone with his thoughts, which he never wanted. He thought about his friend’s burger spot in Youngsville and how he could be working there.


“That could still give us a home,” he whispered and looked around the dim-lit room.


He dipped his hand into a bowl of M&M’s, filtering out the colors and popped a few red ones into his mouth. The lack of lighting in the greenroom was taking its toll on him so he pulled out his phone and pressed 1.


“Hey Les, where’d you go?”


One cigarette was already lit, resting on the ashtray, but he lit a new one and took in a deep breath.


“Oh, okay. Yeah. I’m going to be out in a bit.”


Turnip ran his hand through his hair and started pulling on it.


“Hey, Les—are you still there?”


He rubbed his eyes, now knowing if he was crying or if it was from the cigarette smoke.”


“I miss the frogs, Les—you know what I mean? I miss hearing the frogs and listening to them croak at night just by the pond back home. I don’t hear those frogs anymore, Les—I want to hear the frogs.”


He kept the phone near his ear and listened to Lester, nodding his head up and down, gesturing, and saying “Okay, Les” when he got a chance. He hung up and there was complete silence—the silence Turnip dreaded. After popping in another red M&M, he drank his whiskey in large gulps. After a coughing spasm, he threw his glass against the wall and stood up to get ready for his show. He took out a wrinkled photo of Margaret and his children—wallet size—of when they were at the park and feeding the ducks, after taking one more look at it, he crumpled it up and tossed it behind him.


“Fuck this.”


That show in Austin marked the beginning of the end for Turnip, though some entertainment reporters who were documenting his growth argued that the end of Turnip had begun a long time ago, when his third album, Far Too Dead, was released, and he had completely left his life as a small-town musician and became fully caught up in the rock and roll world. Hospital trips, accidents—passing out during concerts, and making a fool out of himself became his routine.


After he sang the last song of the night—a crowd favorite called “No More,” Turnip went back to the greenroom, where Lester had set up a post-show party. With a glitter ball twirling from the ceiling against a red light that shadowed the walls, the room was full of strangers, including those who backed him up on stage, and Turnip did what he knew best—he drank and smoked, conversed and joked around and fucked. One of his fans, who was invited by Lester, didn’t necessarily want to party as the others did, but she just wanted to talk about Turnip’s songwriting and the meaning of some of his lyrics.


“Hey there,” Turnip said in a shaky voice. “Would you like something to drink? What’s your name? Are you from around here? Sorry, I’m kind of nervous and tired.”


Turnip’s head was looking for balance as it wavered left and right. He leaned back against the sofa—the red of the room matched the red of his eyes.


“I’m Caroline,” she said.

“Sweet.”


“I’ve been living here all my life, and I’m such a huge fan.”


Turnip held up an empty glass, gesturing if she wanted a drink.


“No thanks. I’m actually four years sober today.”


Turnip poured himself a glass. He felt comfortable being drowned out from all of the chattering and talking and laughing around him.


“That’s amazing, Cassidy.”


He laughed.


“Sorry, I meant Caroline.”


Turnip offered her a cigarette which she accepted. He lit hers and then his own and readjusted himself on the sofa.


“I just love your lyrics,” she said. “I think about them all of the time.”


“You’re kind. Thank you.”


He waved to someone walking by.


“I just wanted to ask you about how you come up with such meaningful lyrics. They’re so human, and I connect to them so much.”


Turnip’s head dropped over, and he nodded. Without looking up, he said, “pain.”


“Pain,” Caroline said.


“All I have is pain.”


“I understand.”


He drank down his whiskey and poured another one while coughing. Turnip looked into Caroline’s eyes—he wanted to kiss her and have sex with her for all its temporary purposes. He wanted to continue to escape from this world. His world.


Lester came over and handed Turnip a pill and walked off without saying anything.


“This isn’t a red M&M,” Turnip said.


He laughed and swallowed the pill and washed it down with his whiskey.


“I guess I should leave,” Caroline said. “It was so nice to meet you and thank you for this invitation. It was such a great show.”


Turnip remained silent.


“Bye,” Caroline said.


She looked at him, waiting for a response, but Turnip was quiet—she got up but just before leaving she tucked a piece of paper into his pocket. When Turnip awoke from his daze, he looked around for Caroline.


“Where’d you go?”


It wasn’t too much later when his lips were on the neck of another’s—a member of the house band, hands and tongues everywhere. Turnip felt a tap on his shoulder.


“Ace.”


He continued to kiss.


“Ace,” Lester said again. “Your family is here.”


He didn’t hear his agent.


Lester laughed and patted Turnip on the shoulder.


“Have fun, Ace—you’ve earned it big time.”


Drunk and stoned himself, Lester walked off. As he continued to kiss the bassist, Turnip recognized the scent of a perfume. He pulled his head back and rubbed his eyes.


“Your perfume,” Turnips said. “I love it. It reminds me of home.”


The bassist laughed.


“I’m not wearing any perfume. Maybe it’s my lipstick.”


Turnip messily shook his head.


“No. No. No. It’s home. I know it. It’s home.”


He gulped his whiskey and poured another one—no matter how hard he tried to keep them open, his eyes were half closed, his head heavy. Without saying a word, the bassist left, and Turnip felt a hand pressed under his chin, holding it up.


He grinned and breathed in.


“That perfume. That’s home.”


“Turny,” Margaret said.


“Who’s that? Is that you?”


Turnip only saw flashes of images before him, in rhythm with the twirling lights. He saw his wife’s face. And for a moment, just before he leaned over and collapsed, he saw his two children’s faces.


That became the last of Turnip Redd—as the world knew him. When Margaret picked Turnip up from the liquor-stained floor, the piece of paper Caroline had put in his pocket had fallen out. Margaret looked at it, thinking it was just another lady’s phone number, but instead, it was a business card to a local addiction recovery center. Margaret received little help getting Turnip back on the sofa, and she looked around to see if anyone was in the right state of mind to help. Her children were trying their best not to cry, holding each other’s hands and also clinging on to their mother’s leg.


“Margaret,” Lester said. “You made it.”


“We need to get Turnip to the hospital.”


“Oh he’s not looking too good is he. You missed a fantastic show—the crowd loved it. It was one of his best in a really long time. This should get him back on track, I think.”


“Lester. You might want to clear this place out. I’m calling for an ambulance.”


Lester hurriedly shouted for everyone to leave as Margaret was on the phone. As Turnip was being strolled into the ambulance, Caroline was still outside, talking with a few of her friends. She saw Turnip on the stretcher and ran over.


“Turnip, are you okay? Is he okay?”


“There’s a pulse and he’s breathing,” Margaret said, tearing up. Her children were crying quietly behind her.


Caroline looked at her and the children. Turnip was being lifted up into the ambulance.


“You must be family.”


“He’s my husband,” Margaret said.


She looked up into the sky.


“I think.”


“I’m Caroline—I just talked to him like about an hour ago. I hope he’ll be okay.”


“Talk?”


Margaret held her children’s’ hands as they tucked their heads into her legs.


“Oh. Talk. Yes, I promise. I just wanted to say hi. Please don’t think—.”


“No need to explain,” she replied.

The ambulance pulled out of the parking lot.


“I need to go,” Margaret said.


“If it’s worth anything,” Caroline said. “I put a card in his pocket.”


“That was you?”


She nodded and smiled.


“Thank you.”


“Take him straight from the hospital. It’s the best way. Pack some clothes and all and bring it to the hospital, and then go from there.”


“Hopefully. Thank you.”


Caroline waved to the children, trying to help them feel a bit more at ease. The youngest waved back while the eldest remained shy.


As you might already know, Turnip Redd didn’t die. After his stomach was pumped, he eventually became conscious again and spent three days in the hospital. Once awake, he called Margaret, but she didn’t answer the phone or visit even though she was in the waiting room down the hall from his room. After speaking with the doctor, she and the children, who had spent the night in the hospital, got back into their truck and drove back home to Louisiana. Turnip, having no one else except for his agent, called Lester.


“I knew you’d be okay,” Lester said.


Turnip fiddled with his blanket and the remote control.


“Did I make a fool out of myself again, Les?”


“Not at all, Ace. You’re good—you’re good. Everyone loves you.”


“What’s next?”


“I’ll be there soon, Ace. I got to take care of some business, and I’ll be there tomorrow.”


“Sorry, Les.”


“You’re good, Ace. We’ll get you back on tour in no time. Don’t worry about it, Ace.”


Turnip felt better after talking to Lester—he always did after he fucked up. The buzz from the ceiling lights made him sleepy. He flipped the channels on the TV, hoping not to find any reports on himself and stopped on Nickelodeon—Turnip relied on sitcoms for comfort and watched an episode of Friends—the one where Chandler and Monica were trying to buy a house. After one more conversation with the nurse, Turnip called Margaret one more time—again, no response. He kept the TV on and went to sleep to the sound of laughter.


Margaret was exhausted. The back and forth trips from Youngsville to Austin and taking care of the children while worrying about the future of Turnip, their marriage, her job had been taking its toll on her. She talked to Turnip once on the phone.


“I love you, Maggie.”


“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Turnip knew that he had fucked up too many times before, but this was the first time he had done so not only in front of Margaret but also with his children there.


“Will you bring the kids, Maggie?”


“I’ll see you tomorrow.”


As he waited for Margaret, he thought about their first date—on a humid summer night—it was Friday, and Turnip was sitting at the pond, looking up at the stars when he heard her voice.


“What are you wishing for,” were the first words Margaret said.


The frogs were loud, and Turnip stuttered.


“You.”


“Silly.”


“I brought my guitar,” Turnip said. “I wrote a song—do you want to hear it?”


“Silly.”


That was the summer before their last year of high school—since then, they had been through it all.


Margaret’s voice took Turnip out of his dream.


“Turnip.”


“Turny?”


“I need your phone.”


“Are the kids here?”


“We’re about to get going—let me see your phone.”


“I should call Les and let him know we’re leaving.”


“You can do that later.”


Turnip handed Margaret his phone—the curtains were across the windows, and he asked Margaret to open them.


“Nothing more soothing than that natural light.”


Margaret did as he asked, but that was it. She sat in silence, while Turnip remained in bed—waiting to be released. He tried to talk to her, but she wasn’t responding.


“I’m sorry,” Turnip said. “I’m so sorry, Maggie. I’ve fucked up so much. I’m so sorry.”


The nurse eventually came in with a wheelchair and he signed the papers. As they left the building, Margaret threw his phone away without Turnip noticing.


The car ride was quiet. Margaret drove the truck while Turnip looked at all the storefronts through the window. He knew not to say anything—he knew that she wasn’t ready. Country music was playing quietly—Margaret’s favorite kind, but neither of them were actually listening to it. He was shocked when they pulled into the parking lot of the addiction recovery center which wasn’t too far away from the hospital.


“What’s going on, Maggie?”


She put the volume down.


“Turny.”


He felt better just by hearing her say that.


“If you want to save yourself, your relationship with your children, and your marriage—this is the first step.”


“I can do this, Maggie, but I don’t need to check in or anything. I can do it. You can help me.”


“No. This is the first step, and I don’t even know if it’ll help, but it’s the only start of anything that can maybe help.”


Turnip shook his head and stuttered.


“Too many times,” Margaret said.


She went on to talk about their children and what would happen if he died of an overdose or another accident or for whatever reason. They sat in the car for an hour—sometimes silent, sometimes talking. In that span of time, he craved a drink, a pill, a needle, anything that would help him not think anymore.


“Can I just get one more drink? Just a shot?”


Margaret teared up and shook her head.


“I miss the frogs, Maggie. I miss them.”


“They’re never going away—there right there under the stars back home.”


“By the pond.”


“I packed a small bag of clothes and all. It’s in the trunk.”


“What about Lester?”


“What about him?”


Turnip understood. Margaret popped the trunk and they both walked around the car.


“I love you,” Turnip said.


Margaret opened her mouth and then paused—tears still coming down her face.


“You do.”


A half-embrace, and Margaret watched Turnip walk to the entrance of the center. She watched him walk inside and got into the truck where she remained, there in the parking lot, for three hours, making sure that he didn’t try to leave—making sure that he stayed. After those three hours, thinking that it was now safe, she went back home.


You probably didn’t hear too much about Turnip while he was in rehab—other than that it was reported that he checked into one. He was there for 40 days—40 days to change his whole life, to, if not overcome his addiction, to find ways to cope with it. Every night, after the day’s activities were done, he’d call home, and Margaret answered every time. Some nights were more conversational than others, and though it killed him, he didn’t talk to his children. Even when he was on tour, he talked to his children more often, and he had never gone this long without talking to them.


“Everyone is nice here, you—they really want you to make it out ready, you know.”


“That’s good, Turny—and your voice sounds good. It’s your voice—I hadn’t heard you, like you, in so long.”


“I like the lighting here, Maggie—it’s always bright, and everything is just bright.”


“That’s good, Turny.”


“When you come visit, Maggie, could you keep the kids at home? I don’t want them to see me just yet.”


“I wasn’t going to bring them, but they miss you.”


“Tell them I love them, Maggie. And I love you.”


“I’ll see you soon.”


After their initial two weeks at the center, residents could have visitors on Saturdays. Turnip was nervous as he waited for Margaret to arrive. He had set a table and a couple of chairs in the corner of the dining area, trying to make it as intimate as possible. He had seen how the visits took place during the past two weekends, but it still didn’t ease his anxiety. He made sure the coffee was fresh and that there was plenty of lemonade. With his knees rocking up and down, and his hands tapping the tabletop, he watched as families entered, hugging the ones they were visiting. Then Margaret walked in, and Turnip stood up. He moved forward and then paused, looking at her, seeing what she was going to do—she hugged him. It was the hug that Turnip wanted when they were in the parking lot just a couple of weeks ago.


“Hey we have a spot in the corner.”


She followed him to their table.


“Would you like some coffee? Or some lemonade? The lemonade is really sweet here.”


Margaret looked around the room as she sat down.


“You look great, Turny, you really do.”


“I can’t remember when my hair was this short,” he said. “And when I had a shaved face, too.”


“You’ve lost some weight.”


“I’ve been exercising every day.”


He laughed.


“Well I call it exercising. But basically a pound a day, give or take.”


Margaret looked like she wanted to tear up. In the background, there was laughing and chatter, but it was all drowned out by Turnip’s focus on his wife. They talked for the full two hours they were given—Turnip went to the courtyard a couple of times to smoke, but other than that they talked the whole time.


“They call me the thinker, here, Maggie.”


He laughed.


“Because all I do during my downtime is sit outside and stare at the garden.”


“That’s good, Turny.”


“Are you proud of me, Maggie?”


“I am, Turny.”


“I love you, Maggie. I really do.”


“You do, Turny.”


For the following weeks, both Turnip and Margaret became more comfortable with each visit. During the last visit—the following week, Turnip would go back home, Margaret brought Turnip drawings from their children.


“They’re looking forward to seeing you,” Margaret said.


“Are we good, Maggie?”


“What do you mean?”


“Are you going to split up with me, Maggie?”


“Let’s just get you home first before we talk about anything else.”


Turnip knew better not to ask, and he didn’t mean to—it just came out.


“Have you heard from Lester? I thought he was going to come visit one day, or maybe even call.”


Margaret’s face hardened, but she remained patient. They hadn’t talked about what Turnip would do once he returned until that Saturday. Would he still play music? Would he work at his friend’s restaurant? Or maybe he would work at the auto shop—one of his favorite things to do was to work on cars.


“Let’s be patient, Turny. There’s no rush. We’re good.”


“One day at a time.”


With that mantra in mind, Turnip had been clean and sober for two years now. He stayed away from the entertainment business or music or anything related to his previous life, focusing on family and health. The only time he picked up his guitar would be to play for his children.


Lester? They had been in touch from time to time, but it was rare. A message here, a message there, but Turnip tried his best to stay away from anything that was connected to his previous life. They talked once on the phone, but overall, Lester wasn’t too worried—after Turnip’s initial success, the agent was able to acquire a solid list of clients, and he kept busy with them.


“Whenever you’re ready, Ace,” he said during the last time they spoke. “I’m here, pal.”


That latest conversation took place just three weeks before Turnip played at his friend’s burger joint. Turnip wasn’t expecting to perform in public again, at least, not anytime soon, but it was Margaret who encouraged him after one night they were together at the pond. The sun was just coming down, and the two were having a picnic while the children were at their aunt’s house.


“I got a song for you, Maggie.”


“Let’s hear it, darling.”


Turnip lit a cigarette and strummed his guitar—Margaret was finishing her last bite of cold boudin. She closed her eyes and lay down in the grass. Turnip lifted his head toward the sky and hummed before he started singing his new set of lyrics which was about Margaret and their children and fucking up so much in life but now having a second chance. He hummed out the ending of the song and strummed the strings one last time before finishing.


“What do you think, Maggie?”


“I think it’s time.”


Turnip lit another cigarette and puffed out the smoke with a loud breath.


“What do you mean?”


“You need to be out there, Turny. I think it’s time. You’re good. I know you’re good. We’re good. I’ll be by you the whole time.”


“You hear that?”


Margaret nodded.


“Those frogs, Maggie.”


Three weeks later, Turnip found himself at his friend’s restaurant— Chuckie’s—in front of a small crowd of local fans, those who had been following Turnip since he was just a small-town teenager playing at various coffee shops and bars. He recognized every face, bringing him back to when he was just starting his career—faces he hadn’t seen in years, since Conan.


“It has been a while, y’all.”


The fans cheered.


“Thank you all for coming out, and thank you to Chuckie for having me here.”


He laughed.


“I’m nervous.”


As he sat on a stool in a small open space in front of everyone, his knees rocked up and down. The crowd shouted again in support of Turnip.


“We missed you,” Chuckie shouted from the kitchen.


Turnip looked around the room and saw Margaret and the children. The kids weren’t too attentive as they were both investing their focus on the burgers, fries, and chocolate milkshakes. Turnip nodded at Margaret and pulled down his baseball cap, a ragged and torn faded blue hat, one that he had received as a gift while he was in high school from Margaret when they were first starting to date. Though Turnip had stopped wearing it for a long time, when his tours became larger and larger, Margaret kept it under his pillow for the nights, weeks, months he was away.


Turnip cleared his throat—craving a cigarette. He started to sing, lyrics first, and then he strummed his guitar. He sang the first tune he had ever performed live when he was a teenager at a lonely bar, one with only a few people, and they didn’t give him any of their attention. It didn’t take too long for the crowd to start singing along and mouthing the words to “Short Time Long.” It was a six minute song which, and as Turnip looked around the room, he had visions from the past—anywhere from he and Margaret, to his early shows, meeting Lester, his spot on Conan, through his peak days of singing and touring and fucking up. Flashes of all the wrong he had done—his addictions, the dark matter he kept in his mind at all times, the depressions and thoughts of suicide. As he worked on the last part of the song, the bright lights of rehab and holding hands with his children, fishing and cooking entered his thoughts. He closed his eyes and hummed out the ending. He opened his eyes and saw smiles, and cheering, and clapping. Margaret nodded her head—their children still focused on the milkshakes and coloring paper.


Turnip laughed.


“It has been a while, y’all.”


“Great to have you back,” someone shouted from the audience.


“Thank you. Thank you.”


Without hesitation, Turnip played his guitar and started singing again—he was going through his first ever set list from back when he was young. He went straight for an hour and half, never taking a sip of water—the ridges of his hat slightly damp.


Turnip played more shows around Louisiana—New Orleans, Lafayette, Shreveport, and Baton Rouge. Margaret traveled with him as much as possible, being by his side at all times to support him in both his music and sobriety, and when she couldn’t make it, his sponsor from AA would go with him and did exactly the same. Turnip preferred to play at coffee shops and restaurants, but sometimes he sang in a few bars, and that was when he knew he must be aware of his surroundings as much as possible. He had only a few cravings for liquor and pills and anything else like that for the past two years or so, but for the most part, it wasn’t anything big enough for him not to handle. However, he knew it would be best, at least for now, to always have support by his side when he played in these venues. During his downtime, he was able to make new songs, and he had a new set list.


“Would you ever believe it, Maggie? Twelve new songs?”


“I’m proud of you, Turny, in every way.”


News had spread that Turnip was on the comeback. He left Louisiana sometimes, but not too far—Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia—just around the surrounding states. He had a small group of dedicated fans who followed him on tour. A music critic, J.M., who had given solid reviews of his prior albums and had been following his career which included frequent interviews, had gone to one of his new shows when he had heard that Turnip was playing again. This time around, Turnip’s songs weren’t received well by J.M., writing that there were remnants of Turnip’s brilliance, but the depth and the emotion evoking lyrics from his previous years were no longer apparent. “There is pain and sorrow in these lyrics and in his voice,” J.M. wrote, “but the darkness is no longer there.” He ended his article congratulating Turnip on his sobriety, while also hoping for mirrors of his previous songs. “That,” J.M. wrote, “would be the ultimate comeback.”


Turnip grinned as he read the review of one of his previous shows. He was in Baton Rouge, on his way back home from a tour, giving one last show before returning to Margaret and the children. It was a three week tour, and though Turnip was still facing anxiety while playing, especially because he couldn’t mask away any of his emotions through whiskey and pills, he learned to cope with it and play. Facing his fans, not being numb with distorted realities, he no longer felt alone and isolated. He felt a longing to be heard.


“That J.M. came down hard on me, Jay.”


His sponsor patted him on the shoulder.


“Good.”


He winked.


“It’s about that time—are you ready?”


Turnip puffed the last out of his cigarette and put it out. He looked at some of the previous concert bills hanging on the walls of the greenroom and focused on the one for Elliott Smith when he was touring for XO.


“Never.”


He smiled.


Just as he was about to get up, there was a knock on the door. Jay looked at Turnip, and he nodded, but before his sponsor was able to open the door, the handle turned, and Lester walked in.


“What do you say, Ace?” Lester said.


Turnip remained on the couch and lit another cigarette.


“Hey there.”


Lester shook Jay’s hand and introduced himself.


“I’m Ace’s agent.”


Jay just nodded his head, not saying anything else.


“It’s okay, Jay—could you give us a second.”


“Sure thing. I’ll be right outside.”


Turnip knew that it would happen at some point—meeting Lester again, but he wasn’t expecting it that particular night. He felt his heart beat fast, an emptiness in his stomach.


“Okay? What do you mean it’s okay, Ace? I’m your pal, Ace—your agent. We’ve been through it all, Ace.”


Just hearing himself being called that name made Turnip shudder.


“It’s nothing, Lester.”


He exhaled smoke.


“And please—let’s just go with Turnip.”


Lester sat down next to him.


“I missed you, Ace—Turnip. I really did.”


“I’ve just been doing my thing.”


“It hurt hearing that you’ve been playing and touring without letting me know—with a new set of songs, too.”


“It’s nothing big—just having a bit of fun. It feels nice. It feels real good.”


“I saw a recording of you playing in Athens not too long ago.”


Lester looked at the magazine sitting on the coffee table.


“I read it,” he said. “Not good.”


“I don’t mind it.”


Lester stood up and started pacing back and forth, one hand on his forehead, the other, on his hip.


“We got to get you back, Ace.”


Turnip lit another cigarette and took a sip of his coffee. Jay opened the door and peered in.


“You good, Turnip”


“All good—I’ll be out in a bit.”


Lester sat back down.


“Do you realize how big you can be? Going through rehab, making a comeback, you can be huge. Much bigger than before, Ace.”


“It’s just not my thing anymore. I like playing these shows.”


“But he’s right,” Lester said.


He tapped his fingers on the magazine.


“You’ve got to get that voice back—those words back—the pain back. This can get you back on track—think about the album sales, the awards, the concerts. It’ll be like nothing you’ve seen before, Ace.”


“I’ll be okay,” Turnip said. “I got pain, I got regret, I got remorse, I got sadness. But I have something that I didn’t feel before—for a long time. I have love. I feel happy.”


“Love? Happy? Ace—listen to yourself, that’s not you. We need the old Ace back.”


“Turnip.”


“Listen, Ace—think how you can set your family, your children, for the rest of their lives.”


Turnip thought about fishing back home with his children.


“We’ll be okay.”


Lester walked to the door and locked it and sat back down.


“Let’s do this, Ace.”


He pulled out a flask and a prescription bottle and put it on the coffee table.


“What do you say, Ace? Let’s get you back. We need you. This will get you where you need to be.”


Turnip stared at the flask and the bottle of pills. He exhaled smoke and watched it travel around in circles and waves and felt the emptiness in his stomach. Just as he was about to speak, Lester’s phone rang.


“Hold on.”


He stood up and answered the call. Turnip looked at the coffee table again. He checked his own phone and saw that he had a voicemail from Margaret. He looked at the flask and the bottle of pills and thought about his previous life. He looked at Lester, who was gesturing and talking in a loud voice—Turnip observed his face, a face he no longer recognized, one that was cracked and bruised and torn. His eyes—hollow. He listened to Margaret’s message and grinned.


“I love you, Turny.”


That was all he needed to hear. By the time Lester had finished his conversation, Turnip had left the room—getting ready for his first song of the set list. His agent turned around and didn’t see him. He opened the door and looked down the hallway and saw nothing.


“Damn it, Ace.”


And if you were there—there somewhere in the hallway, you could faintly hear Turnip introducing himself while strumming the guitar.


“Here’s my first song of the night,” he said. “It’s a new one.”


You could hear the crowd shouting and clapping, and then when the audience quieted down, you could hear him say the name of his latest song. Another roar—another loud applause, and there, way in the back, in the shadows of the hall, you could see Conan sitting there, wearing a cowboy hat and a faded khaki jacket—Turnip strummed his guitar and started to sing.


/


Shome Dasgupta is the author of The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India), and most recently, the novels The Muu-Antiques (Malarkey Books) and Tentacles Numbing (Thirty West), a prose collection, Histories Of Memories (Belle Point Press), and a poetry collection, Iron Oxide (Assure Press). His writing has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, New Orleans Review, Jabberwock Review, American Book Review, Arkansas Review, Magma Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the series editor of The Wigleaf Top 50. He lives in Lafayette, LA and can be found at www.shomedome.com and @laughingyeti.


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