12-Bar Sex by Justin Aylward

When his friend Steven asked him if he liked pornography, Thomas was immediately sorry that he answered yes.

‘Great, there’s a job for you, but it’s not what you might think.’ Steven said.

This was just the beginning of Thomas’ troubles, however. He was a devoted musician; music was the most important thing in his life, apart from his ex-girlfriend, Chloe.

Steven and Thomas became friends when they were in a band together called The Haircuts. The most memorable thing about The Haircuts was that none of the band members had any hair, either by nature or by razor.

‘It’s irony, man,’ Steven assured Thomas, ‘Americans love irony, trust me.’

But the band never made it to the United States because the drummer developed a flaky skin infection on his scalp and promptly quit, blaming Steven for his trouble. Thomas was quietly relieved because he wanted to grow his hair back and Chloe liked his long, sandy hair. It complemented his music, she said, and she was an English student so Thomas believed she must be right.

But a few weeks after the band broke up so did the relationship between Thomas and his girlfriend. In the interim Thomas struggled to find a new job and Chloe was concerned that they would fall behind on rent and be made homeless. It was difficult for Thomas to quantify because being around Chloe induced in him a sleepiness that could easily be mistaken for indolence. Her skin and her curtain-blown hair were so soft that when he was near her he just wanted to fall asleep in her loveliness. It was an ever-present dilemma for Thomas; either be with Chloe and offer all his love to her or be a responsible adult and earn a living in the world. He found a way, however, to do both. When the band performed concerts or worked on new material Thomas always closed his eyes and thought of Chloe. He was an adept piano and keyboard player. His sound, in fact, was the musical foundation on which the band constructed their music. But Thomas never bragged about his musical skills and just believed himself to be another cog in the makeup of the band, no more important than anyone else. So after devising a new method for creating, Thomas always played music with the carefully memorized snapshots of Chloe in his mind. He never told anyone this, of course, and when the other band members complimented his work, he merely smiled and said thank you.

So when the band separated Thomas was without any obvious prospects. He wanted to keep working on music and tried for jobs composing music for adverts but he was presented with nothing stable. Chloe became agitated. Her final exams in college were approaching and she had no choice but to cut her hours at the café where she worked. With her fretful studying and Thomas’ moping and fanciful whimsies the relationship was soon to end on those bum notes. Thomas was stunned when he woke one morning to find Chloe packing a suitcase. The door of the apartment slammed shut before he could cosset her with more deluded promises.

Afterward, the apartment, Thomas said, felt like it had undergone a renovation.

‘But it’s the worst kind, it feels like everything has been made worse… the windows are always dirty now, and the… and the plates are like a mountain in the sink.’ He said to Steven.

For days he ambled back and forth in the apartment like waiting for a bus. The cats that hung out on the fire escape still waited for some milk and Thomas offered them milk, but usually it was sour. He sat with them for a few minutes but was no happier. In fact his loneliness was only amplified by the indifference the cats showed to his presence and the old milk. Thomas also stopped shaving and made the excuse that it would help him save money that he needed for the rent at the end of the month. Letters and junk mail gathered on the welcome mat under the letterbox. Anyone would have thought the apartment was derelict. But it was only Thomas’ heart that felt empty.

One afternoon Steven called to see his friend. They had coffee and chatted about things but Thomas was without enthusiasm. Steven knew something was wrong, and when he saw Thomas’ large collection of instruments strewn with dust in the corner of the room he became concerned.

‘Look at the state of you, man’ Steven complained, ‘you’re a mess. Why don’t you get yourself a job or something?’

‘Ah, there’s nothing out there for a struggling musician.’ Thomas mumbled.

But Steven had an idea. With Thomas gadding around dishevelled and his instruments neglected, Steven knew he had to do something for his friend. Contacts he made in trying to promote the band would not go to waste.

Steven gulped down the last mouthful of coffee and placed the mug on the table with a gleeful purpose.

‘Y’know, I know a guy who knows a guy who’s looking for a musician to write some stuff for these movies he makes. Would you be interested in that?’ Steven asked.

So Thomas had a new job. His life would be all the better for it now, he believed. Anticipating a few pay cheques he bought some new furniture for the apartment and fresh toiletries. He also bought milk especially for the cats on the fire escape who gathered around the back window hurriedly and with impatience in their little paws.

But the most exciting thought for Thomas was the prospect of earning Chloe’s trust and feeling her by his side again. The bills would be paid, she could quit her job and focus entirely on her studies. They would be carefree together, and Thomas knew that being carefree was the staple ingredient for happiness. Also, a mind reserved totally for the creation of music and art was just what Thomas needed now that he was going to be composing new melodies. But what exactly was this new line of work, he wondered.

Steven was always vague in his expressions. Thomas remembered the dreams Steven shared with the band. ‘We’ll break America. They’ll call us the Beatles with a comedic slant. We can grow our hair back eventually.’

After some doddering and the usual self-doubt that came with new ventures, Thomas showed up at the address Steven wrote down for the job. It was a large building, too urbane to be a warehouse but industrious with its glittering sheen. There were numerous cars parked out front and this made Thomas nervous. This was a bigger business than he imagined.

He rang the buzzer at the front and was invited into the reception area. The woman at the desk told him to sit in the waiting room. It was inevitable that Thomas would temper his anxiety with sweat forming on his brow and his feet tapping out a jaunty rhythm on the hard carpet by reaching for a magazine. Light reading, some people call it. But there were breasts on the front covers, Thomas noticed, and young girls with big lipstick faces and kinky smiles. What was all this about? Would Chloe approve of this?

No, he had to leave this place, and quickly too before anyone of repute saw him. He got up and moved to the front door again. The sun was shining in on the lobby and it was quite hot. Thomas looked around, trying not to appear conspicuous. But it is impossible not to appear conspicuous when you are trying not to. Before he could exit, a voice called him from behind.

‘Hi there, you must be Thomas. I’m Roman.’

‘Oh, eh yeah. I’m Thomas.’

‘Cool, why don’t you come this way and we’ll have a little chat in my office.’

Roman was a regular guy who always wore a zip-up jacket and old jeans. Thomas thought Roman could pass for a band manager. But he wasn’t going to be making radio-friendly pop tunes now.

He sat at the desk in Roman’s office; there were large picture frames on the wall occupied by smiling faces and hair extensions. The shelf behind the desk was lined with awards and certificates. The awards were phallic, of course. Everything, however, made Thomas feel uncomfortable. He was sweating and struggled to answer any questions with assurance. It was difficult to pay attention to what Roman was saying despite the excitement with which he spoke. There was a long reel of thoughts running through his mind. I can’t compose music for pornos. Chloe would never have me back if she found out. This could make it tougher to earn a recording contract in the future. I’m going to sell myself short. I can’t do this. It’s not for me, he thought.

Thomas wanted to get up and leave. He would ride the bus back to town, eat lunch and read the paper over a coffee. That’s all he could do for now. Maybe the cats at the back of his apartment would be waiting for some more milk. He could handle that, no problem.

But when Roman mentioned the fee for the job–so big that it took him a few seconds to say it completely–Thomas reconsidered. It was time to be a responsible adult.

The job offered moments of fun and fulfilment for Thomas. For the most part he worked from home, his living area turned into a makeshift studio. Also he was afforded the opportunity to develop his musical abilities; apart from the money he earned, this was the greatest perk of the job. He was rapidly becoming a more rounded musician, crafting catchy five and six bar riffs and toe-tapping drum patterns. And the cats on the fire escape seemed to enjoy the music to how much their intelligence allowed. Or maybe it was just the sounds of the movies Thomas worked on. This was another aspect of the job, of course. Roman sent Thomas the scenes he wanted to hear scored, Thomas reviewed them and duly created some motifs and themes.

At first Thomas tried to compose some melodies on his piano but it left a tainted sensation in his consciousness. All the time at the piano he thought of Chloe. She was the living embodiment of his musical sensibility, and he didn’t want to concatenate those good vibes with the sleaziness he perceived in the porn movies. Love was love and sex was sex, but they definitely were not the same thing, Thomas believed. Eventually he focused more on the saxophone, an instrument he had a mild interest in working with. The sound was more suitable, Thomas thought, and it punctuated the element of fun in the movies. If people were going to have sex in front of cameras it might as well be sold as a piece of fun as well as titillation. The sound of the saxophone also lent the movies a retro tone which Roman grew to love.

Steven was also excited about Thomas’ new work.

One afternoon at the apartment they had lunch together. Thomas bought upmarket, organic food now that he could afford it. They had wild salmon with black olives and kale salad. Steven had never eaten anything like this before, and it was better than frozen pizza, he said. They spoke for a while about various things.

‘I’m working on a new idee fixe at the moment.’ Thomas said.

‘Huh?’ Steven responded.

Among other things Steven said he was hoping to form another band and was thinking of clever names. The Lice, Blue Barber and Two-Chair Salon were the contenders, he said. Thomas made no comment on those suggestions but began to wonder about Steven’s preoccupation with hair.

Chloe was also a topic of discussion. Thomas had plenty to say about this but he was reticent. Steven said he saw her a few times at the café where she worked but Thomas was afraid to go and see her. She seemed okay, not too stressed, Steven said. But this made Thomas feel crappy. He picked at his food and wanted to be alone. There were a few more scenes he had to finish scoring. He was in the middle of work when Steven called over to talk. One of the movies was on pause in the living room when Steven got up to leave.

‘Can I have a loan of that one when you’re finished?’ He asked.

Thomas placed a photograph of Chloe on top of the piano. It was comforting for him to know that she was watching over him while he invoked the muse that hummed the tunes which he would rearrange at the piano. But when he was writing music for the porn movies he took the photo from the piano and placed it in his desk drawer. Still he thought of Chloe, especially when he stretched out on his bed. Sometimes he drifted into a light state of sleep just thinking about her. She had that drowsy effect on him despite their separation.

Thomas also pondered over the movies for which he composed music. It was unbelievable to him that people should want to sully any intimacy that exists between them by allowing other people to witness it. From his experiences he understood that pleasure came in the closeness of sex; he thought it was something that lovers should share like a secret withheld from the world. Occasionally he was distracted from his work by individual scenes in the movies. Most of the time he was uninterested in the activities on screen but there was one male actor that Thomas was intrigued by. This actor, Thomas thought, was sensitive and gentle. He worked with the other girls in a sweet and intimate way. Thomas imagined that this male actor was lonely in his personal life and sought simple touches and moments of human feeling. Thomas appreciated that and his opinion of the porn industry began to change, knowing there were people like that man in it.

A couple of weeks after starting, Roman invited Thomas into the office for a meeting. He wanted Thomas to develop his sound and include a wider variety of instruments in the compositions. Thomas was happy to do this and Roman promised him that resources would be made available. The business was performing better than ever before and even bigger gains were forecast for the future. But after he exited Roman’s office, Thomas bumped into a man in the cafeteria. The man was holding a cup of coffee that spilled on his sleeve.

‘Oh shit, sorry. I didn’t mean to…’ Thomas said.

‘It’s okay, it was just an accident.’

Thomas was stunned but tried not to show it on his face. The man was the sensitive actor from the movies. He was tall with wide shoulders and a fresh, clean-shaven face. His hair was auburn, thin but flicked at the front with a swipe of gel. And also the way he looked back at Thomas suggested familiarity of some kind. He spoke.

‘Are you the guy who writes the music?’ He smiled.

‘Oh, yeah that’s me. How’d you know?’

‘Roman told me about you. Your music is really great by the way. I mean I don’t normally watch the movies myself but now with these pieces they’re really good.’

Thomas was shy. The smell of the coffee also made him feel thirsty. He had never eaten lunch in the cafeteria before and now there were many people there chatting. He was about to speak but was unsure of what he might say. He was beaten to the first syllable by the actor.

‘I’m Scott, by the way. It’s nice to meet you.’ He said.

‘Hi, I’m Thomas. Likewise.’

‘Cool. That music of yours is something else. I mean it’s like you make the sound of love. Or something like that,’ he laughed, ‘I don’t know, it’s pretty amazing though.’

Thomas was proud and wanted to tell Scott where the inspiration came from but instead he offered to buy him a fresh cup of coffee.

They sat for an hour in the cafeteria talking about all manner of things, love and loneliness among them.

Thomas and Scott became good friends. Both men had something to learn and something to gain from the other. Thomas spent more time at the offices hanging out in the cafeteria sipping coffee. Scott showed him around and introduced him to everyone who was a part of the family. They were all friendly to Thomas and complimented his work so he was not nervous anymore. Scott meanwhile had plenty to be anxious about. One day at lunch when they were having coffee, Scott confided in Thomas about his romantic life. Thomas didn’t think he was an expert in any way on the matters of love (Chloe was his first) but Scott believed otherwise.

‘You must know a thing or two,’ Scott said, ‘I mean those tunes you write are awesome, anyone would think you were head over heels in love writing music like that.’

Scott was in love with one of the female stars and was carrying on a relationship with her. Thomas feigned surprise but really it was obvious that two people in such an environment become romantically involved. Scott described the girl and Thomas remembered meeting her the day before during lunch hour. Again, surprise was the furthest emotion from his heart. She was a true sweetheart this girl that Scott was besotted by. Her name was Jasmine. Thomas shook her hand that day and she smiled shyly at him. Thomas was always attracted to shy people because he was also shy but was emboldened by the same feeling in other people. It made him feel strong and more assured.

‘So what’s the problem then?’ Thomas asked.

Scott was unable to make eye contact, however. He held the coffee in his hands and looked at the milky froth around the rim of the cup.

‘What is it, bud, you can…’

‘I love her, man, but I can’t bear to see her with any of the other guys. I mean I actually feel physically sick when she works with anyone else.’ Scott cried.

Thomas understood the problem. It was inevitable, he believed. At that moment he could have summoned thoughts of Chloe, considering how heartbreak was the current topic. Instead, however, he tried to reassure Scott.

‘Maybe the two of you could work somewhere else. Couldn’t you do modelling work or something, and she could do that too, no?’ Thomas said.

‘But we need money for the baby.’ Scott responded.

Now it made sense to Thomas. This trepidation was implacable, and the encroaching element of claustrophobia seemed to hover over the cafeteria. Everything was getting away from Scott while the backdraft enveloped Thomas who clung to whatever tread of familiarity he knew, which was nothing of the sort.

‘So how old is the baby then?’ Thomas asked.

‘Only eight weeks, the little guy.’ Scott said.

Thomas finished his coffee and wanted to exit the cafeteria when Scott jerked his arm down, splashing the coffee on the table. The place was empty now, Thomas had not realised until this moment.

‘What is it, Scott?’ Thomas said.

‘I don’t think the baby is mine.’ Scott answered.

With the rearranging positions in Thomas’s life, he began to realise how much maturity he had developed. At home he was settled into his new furnishings, which also allowed him to further improve his musical ability. Nothing prevented him from work anymore; he was excited each day to sit down and create new melodies. The bills were being paid, the music was being made and the much sought breeze of untroubled living was blowing through Thomas’ hair. Nothing could have uprooted the deep seeds of responsibility that he sowed now that he was a working adult providing a service for others.

One afternoon Steven called and said he formed a new band and was expecting big things in the future. Thomas laughed and was also surprised to find interest in Steven’s escapades, but then there was a word which turned his ears. He squeezed the phone and wanted to end the call. Steven spoke.

‘I spoke to Chloe the other day in the café, she was asking about you.’

‘Oh… what did she say?’

‘Just that she misses you and wishes you would call her or see her in the café even. You should talk to her, Tom.’

At home the next day, Thomas prepared to see Chloe at the café. He did not sleep well as the dilemma crept in to bed with him. Initially he thought he should stave off any compulsion to see her because surely his new life would be disrupted by the pain and presence of Chloe and their separation. Thomas was beginning to move on and wanted to continue that progress. But by the time the sun came up from the horizon, Thomas knew that he had to see her.

He ate breakfast and dressed in his best jacket and pants. But there was a knock, the resonance of which came through the door and almost sent Thomas to the other side of the room.

‘Who is it?’ He said.

There was no answer so Thomas opened the door. In the shade of the corridor stood Jasmine, as surprised to see him as he was to see her.

‘Hi, Roman gave me your address. I hope it’s not a…’

‘No, eh no, it’s fine. Do you want to come in?’ Thomas said.

Jasmine was spry in her movements, nervous, but Thomas was welcoming.

‘I was just finished working actually. I’m going to make some lunch.’

For an hour they sat in the kitchen drinking tea and eating artisan food Thomas prepared. Jasmine was impressed and the ease that Thomas hosted her made her feel calmer. Now she led the conversation that for most of the time was in Thomas’ hands. Although the words seemed to go around in circles, Thomas was waiting for a mention of their mutual friend. Shortly after they finished tea, Jasmine finally spoke.

‘I know you and Scott are friends now and that’s why I wanted to talk to you.’

‘Yeah, I figured that’s why you came here. But what do you want to talk about, I mean you probably know him better than I do.’ Thomas said.

‘He’s been acting weird lately. I don’t know what to do about him, he’s like a different person. Has he said anything to you?’

Thomas was reluctant to speak and did not like this new role as advisor. He hesitated with a cup in his hand, seeing his reflection in the surface. Jasmine interrupted the silence and spoke hurriedly.

‘The baby isn’t his.’

A weight fell inside Thomas, an extant curiosity punctured inside him.

‘Does he know, I mean, you have to tell him, right?’ Thomas said, ‘I think he should… want to know.’

Jasmine got up from the table and looked over the sink and out the window. The little cats were faffing around on the fire escape. Thomas followed her with his eyes as she ambled around slowly, first into the hall area and into the living room. The studio was laid out and music stands were folded across the long sofa. Jasmine’s eyes were filled with the neatly stacked instruments and carefully polished surfaces of the coffee table and the small windows. She had never seen an apartment so spacious and organised. Thomas stood behind her and she turned before he could speak again.

‘You’re right. I have to tell him, he has a right to know. I just hope he doesn’t take it badly. He’s temperamental sometimes.’ ‘Really, how do you mean?’ Thomas asked.

‘He ran off before when things were difficult between us.’

Thomas didn’t understand this. Scott was a strong, well-mannered guy who could handle himself, Thomas believed. With that last remark Jasmine picked up her bag and moved to the door. Thomas watched her.

‘I’m sorry I bothered you, I just thought you’d be the best guy to talk to. I’m going to tell Scott tonight.’

‘Sure, okay. I’m sure he’ll be understanding… and just be sensitive, you know.’

‘I will, thank you. Nice apartment by the way.’ Jasmine said before leaving.

Thomas didn’t have a chance to consider the conversation. His phone vibrated in his pocket and he looked at the message on the screen. It was from Chloe. She couldn’t wait any longer and wanted to see him.

Thomas never imagined what circumstances might bring Chloe back to him. Of course the matter was not settled in any certainty but Thomas maintained hope. Many things had changed in his life since Chloe departed, but unlike much of his life, the changes did not elicit nervousness in his mind. He was a better man with a greater sense of self-worth and now Chloe would be proud and reassured with a man to look after her.

They exchanged messages and decided to have lunch at the apartment. Thomas would no longer call the apartment his own, in future it would be their apartment, like before. He planned everything and cleaned all the rooms even though the furniture was in straight order and the dust and litter was bin-ridden. He wanted to prepare lunch before dressing in his neatest clothes and when he was finished doing both, the apartment smelled saporous, and he looked spruce and smart.

Once more Thomas surveyed the living room and he inhaled the success of the last few months. The piano was sitting there, a picture of Chloe on top, and he wondered but not with any discomposure what he was going to tell her about his new life. Sitting down at the piano and playing a chord softened his thoughts again and then there was a knock on the door. His heart stirred and a looping sensation circled in his belly. It must be Chloe.

Thomas stood up and pulled open the door. There he saw nothing only a baby sleeping in a make-shift rocker. It is reasonable to believe that Thomas was dumbfounded but his quick actions suggested otherwise. He picked up the rocker and with the baby slowly waking, laid it down on the ground in the living area. Without a doubt Thomas knew that this was the baby of Jasmine and Scott, dumped on his door for who knows what reasons. But there was a letter under the blanket. Thomas read it. Gone to look for Scott. He didn’t take it well. Be back soon. Watch the baby. His name is Connor.

It was so much more than Thomas could have expected. This cooing baby was born of love and tenderness. This much was obvious. Two people came together in closeness and breathlessness and what resulted was this little happy baby. What else could Thomas do but sit down at the piano and play softly, inspired and impassioned. The picture of Chloe starred back at him. She would understand, he thought, she would understand about love.

Justin Aylward self-published his debut novel, The Daisy Resurrected in 2021, it is a detective romantic-comedy, available on Amazon. He has also published short stories, most recently for East of the Web and The Write Launch in the US, Fly on the Wall Press and Fairlight Books in the UK, and Idler Online Magazine in Ireland. In 2020 he published poetry for the Boyne Berries Irish publication.