An Ember Still Burns to This Day
The large lighted sign sports the huge initials, “S. B.” I think it stands for “Standard British” or some such thing, but what I know is that my tank is low, so I pull into the station and stop near the pumps. Once I stop, it’s suddenly the late 1960′s, my driver’s license is still new, and I’m in an Impala, of all things.
The guy who rushes out to the pumps from the office is clean and official-looking, but has a beer gut. He also has a beard. ”Yessir! Fillerup?”
Still getting my bearings from the crossover, I just shut off the car and nod.
“Regular or high octane?”
“Octane.” He nods again as if my reply were not strange in the least.
He takes off my gas cap, sticks the nozzle of the old-looking (even allowing for the time-shift) gas pump in, and begins pumping.
And it’s like another crossover, but this time its all coming from an unbelievable sound system. I look at the dashboard and see an AM radio, pushbuttons and all. I try the volume control, and sure enough, that’s where it’s coming from. Except that it’s not, really. It’s not coming from a speaker in the dash, or any speakers in the car that I can see. It pervades both the car and my body.
“Check the oil, sir?” In a normal tone of voice, though I can hear him well enough above the music. I don’t think that he hears it.
“Nah, it’s OK.”
He nods and begins spritzing and wiping the windshield.
The music is what is filling the tank. The tank? It’s filling me, isn’t it?
A flash before my eyes… The town I’m in is that town where I lived during my childhood and adolescence.
Yeah, it’s music. I’m listening to music. Wasn’t I just listening to music? Wasn’t I just walking with my ear buds in, when suddenly I was jerked sideways into this “review”?
Review! I forgot that’s what it was supposed to be. It seems so much like a gas station. I don’t think it will succeed at being a review, but I’ll at least give it a little effort.
The texture is prog, the driving force is “rock” (I am an island?). There’s still that Genesis and Yes vibe swimming along underneath, but the surface is more variegated. This song, for example, where I’m some kind of monkey… I close my eyes for a moment and let its overall quality wash over me. Grateful Dead! There’s Dead in the texture of that surface, and as I palpate, it occurs to me that there might be a kind of burning there, as if from a residual bit of acid.
The guitar in this suite sings, with a power and subtlety that makes me want emphatically to call it a voice, though it is so much more(less?) than a voice. Morse, but not code. More like myth.
And the pump. Pumping. I glance over at the gas pump, and see a metal logo attached to it, presumably identifying its maker. The logo includes the inscription, “Meros & D’Virgilio.”
I look in the rearview mirror, and see that there is a largish boxy object wedged in the back seat. It has a keyboard. Of course, it’s a mellotron. But when I see(hear) it there, I’m shaken in my seat, recognizing seconds later that I didn’t have any word for the shaking better than ‘orgasm.’
But why is this filling? Whence the “octane” here? I was just listening to music, damn it all.
It’s the music and the remembering. The power of an aural memory, as powerful as a remembered smell. I’ve been in a place very much like the place where this flash before my eyes is happening. Suite. It’s sweet (but bitter).
“That’ll be seven twenty five.”
He’s at the window again, even though the music is fading rather than ending abruptly. So much for a real review.
It occurs to me that I wish I had a credit card to give him, so I could watch him swipe it in the office and bring it back to me, sticking upright in the slot near the top of his little green plastic board. But I’ve got a ten in my shirt pocket, so I give him that.
Shick-shick-shick! He dispenses three quarters from the coin changer on his belt, drops them on two singles that his other hand has produced from his pocket, and gives me my change. ”Thanks very much!”
I nod once more. ”Thanks!” Should I have tipped him? I forget.
I drive away from the pump and over to the outlet, pausing there a moment. I’m in a different car now, and it’s a different time. Is it an Accord? The digital clock reads “9:27.”
The music still hasn’t faded completely. Will it?
I get ready to pull out into the street, into the unknowable, where I either will or will not be hit by a truck.