Like No One Else

Jennifer Solheim 

After Quinn and her mom split from her dad and Quinn shaved her entire head save a thatch of dark ragged bangs, she and her best friend Esme started a band called Mouse. Quinn played guitar and keyboards and Esme played bass. They both sang. The drum machine on Quinn’s keyboard kept the beat. They needed each other like no one else. They’d been best friends since sixth grade when Quinn’s boobs went from buds to watermelons over the course of the school year—constant tingling around the nipples, sides of her breasts raw and sore—and Esme shot up like a stalk, the shin pain worse than period cramps. They’d gotten each other through that whole thing, and in freshman year after Quinn had thrown the cafeteria chair and their friend Dawn got stitches in her lip, Esme stood by her, even though people at school said they were both crazy.

It had been over a year since Quinn had thrown the chair. She reminded herself as they drove her mom’s hatchback to their first show at a suburban café that hosted DIY punk nights. Quinn watched her best friend’s long fingers as she tuned the bass, and wished her hands were big like Esme’s. But when she leaned into the mic to sing, the guitar strapped low to accommodate her big chest, she lost the heavy awareness of her body. She was just hands and mouth and one foot tapping. Her lips brushed the pop filter over the mic. Heads nodding, skateboards propped by the front door, every surface of every wall layered with the collage and scrawl of photocopied show flyers. 

She wanted this all the time and more than anything. 

She had been known as the school bicycle, but Quinn didn’t go out with anyone junior year. It was just the band and her classes. Esme helped her learn how to study and she got excellent grades for the first time. The world had opened up. Life was a cornucopia, and she was so hungry. 

Mouse played other DIY shows in the city, then a Friday night at the Lower Links. That was how they met Lydia. She had Kurt Cobain hair and the most muscular arms Quinn had ever seen on a woman. She carried herself like a dude. Her favorite bands were the Rolling Stones and Nirvana. She was a drummer, and she loved Mouse. She was twenty-two. Adult. 

She came to Quinn’s basement to jam, to see how it sounded. She set up her drum kit, this old brass set with no brand name on the bass head.

“You wanna start with ‘EMDR?” Quinn said to Esme.

“‘Like they’re doused in thick champagne.’” Lydia recited the line rapid-fire, like Quinn did when she sang it, lingering on the last syllable. She whapped the snare twice. “That was one of things I first noticed about you, after the sound. The lyrics. Your voice.” 

Quinn felt warmth glow over her face, down her neck and spine. “So far as we’re concerned, you’re already in,” she said.

“Who’s the ‘we’ here?” Esme said, untangling her long curly hair from her bass strap. Esme was now so tall and angular her big feminine hair looked badass. “Not that I don’t like you, Lydia. No offense.” 

“None taken.” She laid down a solid beat. 

Quinn felt confident enough now to go beyond guitar and keyboards in practice. She brought her violin to the basement, and later, the accordion she found at the big yearly rummage sale at Saint Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church, long wide plastic-topped tables covered with household goods and rumpled clothing. Both Esme and Lydia came with her. Esme frowned on giving twenty dollars to the church—“it’s not pro-life,” she said, loudly, eliciting stern looks from a trio of volunteer grandmas sorting polyester donations—but she approved of the accordion itself. Esme paid a quarter for a World War I military trench coat, scratchy olive wool in which she would cocoon herself their entire senior year. Lydia found some worn plaid flannel shirts, and something she kept wrapped in a plastic grocery bag. She said it was a surprise. 

Two weeks later was Quinn’s seventeenth birthday. Esme got her a bootleg CD of the Pixies concert they saw at the Riviera Theater last winter, the band’s last show in Chicago before they broke up. Lydia’s gift was in the same plastic grocery bag she’d carried through the rummage sale. She’d wrapped it in burgundy ribbon and tied a floppy-eared bow. When Quinn slid her hand inside the bag, she knew it was a book, not a CD. Once she pulled it out of the bag and saw the cover, she dropped her head so she wouldn’t cry. It was an old edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. The book jacket was cream-colored, the title in black lettering, a serif font with swirls, flanked by an inverted red rose. 

After Esme went home, Quinn and Lydia kissed goodnight. She was the first girl Quinn dated, but she never called her my girlfriend. “Lydia is my person,” she’d say. 

They played some big DIY shows in the city and suburbs that year, VFW halls teeming with sweaty boys. There were the boys who listened to all the three-piece punk bands, who shaved their own heads, wore off-brand sneakers, ate Taco Bell until they got diarrhea and bragged about not wiping before they came to mosh at the show. There were the boys with salon-styled haircuts, who wore new Doc Martens and Vans and carried copies of James Joyce. There were never as many girls in the room. Esme tried a head count one night, and with 224 tickets sold, she counted fifty-six ladies. 

It wasn’t clear who yelled it when Mouse was onstage at the Elmhurst VFW Hall. They were the only girls on the bill that night, but they were headlining, after Sidekick Kato and Oblivion. The crowd was riled—they’d already stopped the show once because someone had been dropped while crowd surfing and broke his wrist. Mouse brought their first song to an abrupt halt, Esme standing on her toes, and it was the first thing Quinn heard before the applause started. “Show us your tits!”

 “We ain’t playin’ shit,” Esme spat into the mic when the applause subsided. “Unless whoever said that apologizes.” 

“Yeah, fuck that,” Lydia called from behind the kit. 

Quinn stepped up to her own mic. “We need six of you up here to drop trou and dance.” She wasn’t sure where that came from, but there was an awesome logic to the demand that made her feel like she had control again. Boys with their baggy skater pants and worn jeans began jockeying for a place. Someone called we love you. Esme looked at Quinn as she leaned toward the mic again. “I still want an apology.” 

“Sorry.” A voice from the back of the room, dismissive. But a line of boys had assembled themselves before the stage, pants at their ankles, a row of knobby pale skinned knees. They danced like that for the rest of the show. 

This girl from DuPage county started her own label and zine, and released a song Mouse recorded on Lydia’s four-track as part of a compilation 7” single. Soon after the comp release show, one of the big indie labels in Chicago, a real business, with an office and a warehouse, talk of contracts and publishing rights, wanted to sign them. 

By now it was January of senior year. Esme and Quinn were both applying to college, but while Quinn planned to live at home and wanted to keep the band together, Esme wanted to get out in the world, away from the condo where she’d always lived with Mom and Nana. Esme’s mother was a professor, and had a clear idea that Esme should attend a small college on a Midwest plain. None of these schools were anywhere near Chicago. She got into her first choice, Carleton, in Minnesota. 

“That’s the farthest away,” Quinn said. They were sitting on the carpet in the practice space, her basement. Esme was leaning against the weave of the speaker on her bass amp and Quinn wanted to tell her she was going to fuck it up if she kept leaning like that. But it wasn’t the main concern right now. “Can’t you tell them you’ll come another year?” 

“We need to start our lives,” Esme said.  

“This is our life,” Quinn said. “We’re about to get signed.” 

“Mom and I talked,” Esme said. “It would take me off course.” 

“Fuck your mom and her life path thing.” 

Esme played with the calluses on her picking hand. “You’ve got options. You get good grades now.” Quinn’s advisor at school said that she could work the situation with her father into her college essays to explain why her grades were so bad the first few years. “Recovery from abuse is a legitimate reason,” the advisor had said. Quinn wondered what would make a turnaround in grades illegitimate for these college entrance committees. It was bullshit. She didn’t want to explain anything. She’d needed a new life, and she’d gotten it, and now Esme was leaving and taking the new life away. 

Quinn stared at the carpet. She didn’t want to throw anything. When she closed her eyes at night, she still saw Dawn bleeding after the cafeteria chair hit her in the face. Quinn didn’t want to hurt anyone again. 

“How would you feel about us finding another bassist?” Lydia said. “You’re important to the sound, Es, but if you’re leaving anyway… I mean, we could keep going, Quinn.” 

She didn’t want them to see her cry. Her tears made her feel buck-toothed and ugly. “You’re my rock,” Quinn said to Esme. “Who am I going to push off if you’re not here?” 

“You know how fucked up that sounds?” Esme said. 

“You came up with the name Mouse.” 

“You’re not listening to me.” 

“Don’t leave.” 

Esme stood and set her bass in its case. “I’m going home. I’ll call you tomorrow.” The click of the latches on the bass case sounded like a key in a lock. 

Lydia was still sitting on the floor. When Esme left, she stood and opened her arms to Quinn, the plaid cuffs of her shirt hanging unbuttoned. Quinn stumbled over and started stupid crying into Lydia’s Batman t-shirt. Her high school band had broken up when they all went to college, too. She’d gone to Milliken for a year, then came back to attend the city art college, where Quinn would most likely land, since she wasn’t willing to talk about her dad on the application. Lydia was a semester short of a degree in film editing when her drinking got the better of her. She hadn’t touched alcohol for six months when she first joined Mouse. Now it had been over a year. 

The first night Quinn slept over at Lydia’s, she had a flashback when Lydia’s pubes brushed the insole of her foot. Quinn ran into the bathroom and thought she was going to throw up. But she didn’t. She touched the old sink. Porcelain, she thought, the touch method the therapist had given her for when flashbacks took over her body. 

After she calmed down, she told Lydia what had happened with her father. 

By the time she was done talking, it was five in the morning. Lydia went to the kitchen. Quinn heard a cabinet open and close. When she came back, she was holding a fifth of Jack Daniels. “Here,” she said. “Have a sip. I’m guessing we both need it.” 

“You shouldn’t break your streak.” She didn’t think sober people were supposed to keep alcohol in the house.

“Just this once,” she said. “To calm myself down. Because if I don’t I’m going to go find him and take a lead pipe to his knees.”

Quinn wanted saving. She didn’t need saving. She had never had a recovering alcoholic in her life, but she knew they weren’t supposed to drink. 

Mouse played their last show at the Lower Links in July. 

When Lydia showed up for soundcheck, she was wearing her usual plaid unbuttoned at the cuffs with a Mickey Mouse t-shirt underneath, the eyes x-ed out like he was dead. What was different was the clown makeup. Lydia had painted her face white, with a red joker mouth and black diamonds around her eyes, which appeared bloodshot to Quinn. Her wild blond hair was getting stuck in the white, stuck to her face. 

“Uh…” Quinn gripped the handles of her guitar and accordion cases in her fists as hard as she could. “What the fuck is this?”

“A little levity on a tough night,” Lydia said. Her friends from high school showed up then, a cadre of freshly showered young men and women in baby doll dresses, khaki shorts and Rasta beanies, back from their graduate and professional schools for the summer, staying at their parents’ sprawling homes in Lake Forest. Lydia had taken Quinn to meet them the month before, and Quinn thought she’d be intimidated by how wealthy they were, but the girls were all so nice, even if the guys were kind of frat boy. None of them liked indie music but they admitted Mouse were onto something when they came to their Metro show in June. This little girl band, Lydia’s photographer friend had said, was really good. 

Everyone in the scene showed up: the girl who had put them on the 7” compilation; the other bands; the boys with the shaved heads, the boys with the salon haircuts. Their friends Sree and Melissa came with Dawn, whom Quinn had thought at graduation she might never see again. All three girls were leaving for college soon, like Esme. They all wore Docs and flannel shirts. As they greeted Esme with excited squeals and ridiculous hugs, Quinn yearned to be leaving, too. But she wasn’t going away. Her mom was still regrouping from her father’s abandonment. Money for tuition and dorms and food and travel wasn’t there. Quinn wondered if she was as committed to the band as she’d thought, or if the band covered up how much she was losing again. She couldn’t look Dawn in the face. She couldn’t bear to see the scar on her lip. Not ever, but definitely not tonight. 

Lydia and Quinn had planned a surprise cover of the Breeders song “Fortunately Gone” in Esme’s honor to close the show. But right before their set, with the crowd gathered around them tight, watching as they tuned, Quinn heard someone laughing and turned to see Lydia pulling a red clown nose on an elastic string from her gig bag. She slid it over her hair and adjusted it on her face. Then she pulled out a curly red wig and stuck it on her head. “Levity,” she said. She looked ridiculous. Why didn’t she tell Quinn she was going to do this? 

“Fine, we’ll close with ‘Harder’,” Quinn hissed at her. “Like we planned with Esme.” 

“I thought this look would work perfectly for ‘Fortunately Gone.’” 

Quinn thought she smelled whiskey and her head felt like it going to explode. “Well it doesn’t. It fucking doesn’t.” 

They played the set, the front of the crowd tight and inches from them, a mosh pit moving slow and thick farther back in the room. People screamed, bobbed heads and raised fists in the air. Quinn couldn’t look at either Esme or Lydia. As they closed the set with “Harder,” their song on the 7” compilation, the crowd sang the chorus. The boys at the front dropped trou. Quinn wanted to throw something again. Break something. But she wouldn’t do that. 

Instead she stepped over the cables and tuning pedals, past her violin and accordion, and reached up to take Esme’s face in her hands and kissed her on the mouth. Her soft lips parted. She smelled of anise, like these cookies Quinn’s grandmother, her father’s mother, used to make. The world fell silent and still until they clicked teeth. It felt sharp, and Quinn tasted blood. The hollering and feedback filtered in. Esme’s bass head pointed to the floor and she grabbed the neck to straighten it. There were red marks where Quinn had planted her hands on Esme’s neck. 

Someone yelled, “Show us your tits!”

Lydia said she’d stay to help Quinn get home. She’d taken off the wig and nose but still had the makeup. It was like she’d realized the gravity of the night. 

Quinn said she should go with her friends from Lake Forest. “To a bar, or something.” She knew how unkind that was. She needed to watch herself; Lydia was the one who was going to stay. Her old friends didn’t have drinking problems, and it was one of the reasons why she didn’t see them often when they were home. They were all still drinking. Although it seemed like Lydia was drinking again anyway. 

“They won’t go out with me like this,” Lydia said.  

“But it was okay for our show?” Quinn closed the trunk of her car. Once the gear was loaded, you couldn’t leave the car alone for long. The night was almost over. “I can’t talk about this right now.” She shot one hand forward like a bird on attack toward Lydia’s face. 

Lydia blinked. “Nothing’s over,” she said. “Not really.” 

Esme came out from the back door of the club with Melissa, Sree, and Dawn. “Should we go back to my basement?” Quinn tried to sound bright. 

“Quinn,” Dawn said. “Are you actually a lesbian?” She was craning her neck like she wanted Quinn to look her in the face. Later, much later, Quinn would understand that maybe this was a parting salvo, years after the chair incident, Dawn’s reclamation. But coming from one girl whose world was about to open to another whose world was closing, the question could only be felt as a threat. 

The other girls stared at the ground. Esme looked like she was about to cry. “I thought you were gonna hurt me.” 

“You’re my best friend.” 

“Yeah, but I didn’t know. You grabbed my face.” 

“I can tell you about grabbing face.” Quinn was trying to find words but she knew she should shut the fuck up. It wasn’t fair. Esme wasn’t wrong to worry about the hurting.

“I’m heading home,” she said. “I need to think. Don’t call me until I call you.” Their other friends started to follow her, then she turned and looked back at Quinn. They all stopped and stared at her like hydra-heads. “The kiss thing could have been fun. But the way you did it was humiliating.” 

As the group walked back into the club Quinn realized there was nothing left to do. They’d gotten paid and split it three ways. Her gear was loaded. 

“I’ll see you home,” Lydia said. “Follow you in my car.” 

Quinn was the one who should follow Lydia. “That’s fucking gallant.” 

“I like to be a gentleman when I can.” The clown makeup was smeared and stuck to her hair. 

Quinn drove home alone in her mom’s hatchback, the same car they’d taken to the first Mouse gig. She decided to keep driving. Lydia could follow if she really fucking wanted. Along Western Avenue, the car dealerships with their signs from the 1940s and 50s were glowing in the night, like carnival rides. Quinn rolled down the window. The air was hot, lost dreams and longing. Esme was leaving, but Quinn would remain, in this place Esme would now call back home.

In the weeks before college started, when she wasn’t working in the receiving room at Barnes and Noble, Quinn spent all her time with Lydia. They walked from her apartment to the No Exit café for open mic nights, a flask of whiskey between them. Quinn played alone at the open mic with her violin, “Black Angel’s Death Song” or “Cities in Dust” or a new song of her own. Lydia sat in one of the dark, dingy booths, pouring from the flask into a bottomless cup of coffee. 

Esme still hadn’t called the night before she was leaving for college. Quinn picked up the phone receiver and hung it up again too many times to count that day. Sometimes she almost dialed. Sometimes it was to make sure the phone was working. Then she’d hang up again in case Esme was trying to call right at that exact moment. She could imagine they might have a psychic connection, both picking up the phone at the same time. 

When morning came she couldn’t stop picturing Esme and her mom packing the car to leave. 

Quinn didn’t play guitar at all that day, and that night she got seriously drunk at the open mic. In an alley parking lot thick with dust and gravel, she tried to mount a vintage motorbike, but it fell over and she gouged her knee so bad she thought she might need stitches. Lydia applied clumsy butterfly strips. The cut ached and throbbed through the next day as she was sick in Lydia’s bathroom.

She hadn’t realized how much strength it took to spray a can of paint. It was three in the morning in Lake Forest, and she and Lydia were working in the shadows at the back end of First Presbyterian. Back in high school, with her best friend, a dude who had only come out after he’d graduated college and moved to San Francisco, Lydia had stolen the nativity baby from the church’s outdoor display. They hadn’t kept it. It was time to cause more trouble. 

Quinn sprayed shaky black lines to make the little girl’s legs, her straight hair. Lydia sprayed a pink bow on her head. Quinn drew the smile, then Lydia held one arm steady with the other hand to make a balloon the little girl was holding. Quinn’s arm and wrist cramped as she sprayed three words into the balloon: 




There was no time to look back, and it was too dark to see much anyway. They ran to Lydia’s car, and she tore away with a squeal of tires before they put on their seat belts. They watched for cop cars behind them. 

But there was nothing. Quinn felt nothing. This wasn’t like being on stage at all. What did it matter if no one saw what they’d done? They scoured the suburban papers the next week; they didn’t even make the blotter. 

Maybe Lydia needed to go back to school. She only had one semester left. “You could go part time,” Quinn said. “We could graduate together, if you want to wait a little while and save some money.” 

“There’s no money to save.” Lydia’s parents didn’t help her out anymore. She rarely saw them. Quinn had never been invited to meet them. Whenever Lydia talked with Quinn about her job, her rent, her responsibilities, she adopted a father-knows-best tone that made Quinn want to throw something again. That tone of voice was cropping up more and more, and Lydia was drinking every night. One night they went to a club that never checked IDs. They shot pool and Lydia talked down to Quinn about her game the entire time, drinking Jack on the rocks and projecting her voice over the music. People were looking. This wasn’t the kind of statement Quinn wanted to make. 

The next day, in the afternoon when Lydia was sober again, Quinn told her that she was pretty sure they needed a break. 

When the phone rang one morning in December, a few days after Quinn’s first semester had ended, she was still too groggy to wonder who was calling before nine. “It’s me,” Esme said, “I’m home. Wanna get a coffee?” Her best friend’s voice flooded her ear and Quinn was filled with a sense of calm, of coming to rest. 

“I’m sorry I kissed you.” She’d thought about it, everything held and sustained in that moment when their mouths met. She knew Esme hadn’t experienced it that way. 

“Just…” Quinn could picture Esme holding up her big long hand. “There’s a new cafe near my mom’s.” The Bourgeois Pig was cool, old vintage furniture, DIY show flyers on a bulletin board near the door. They ordered cappuccinos and smoked cigarettes. Esme looked the same: long curly hair, the military trench coat, her old boots and jeans. She’d taken philosophy and gender studies that fall, and was playing contrabass in the college orchestra. Quinn couldn’t stop smiling after Esme admitted she missed Mouse. 

Quinn started an experimental music lab at the art school, and found members right away; people still knew Mouse. They were allocated a rehearsal space in the basement of the music school, back in the corner, and there was the name: The Basement Collective. 

Lydia called in April, and Quinn felt a slight twinge that she’d have to tell her she’d started a new band. She didn’t want to hurt her. But Lydia had called with other news. She’d just heard it on the radio. Kurt Cobain had shot himself in the head. He’d been public with his demons, and Quinn had always figured if he was okay, she’d be okay, too. But he wasn’t okay. He wasn’t anything anymore.

Quinn met Lydia at No Exit. They got chocolate cappuccinos and sat in one of the booths together. The coffees grew cold, the rims crusted with dried milk foam. They filled the ashtray. Lydia said she was going to start AA. They both cried. Quinn felt buck-toothed, but this time she didn’t care. She was still someone when she went to shows; people recognized her, not only from Mouse but from The Basement Collective, too. They played shows in the new little galleries and storefront clubs popping up in Wicker Park between the taquerias and laundromats and mom-and-pop furniture stores. Quinn no longer played guitar. It was all accordion and violin now. The collective also had a second violinist, clarinet, bassoon, and tuba players, plus a percussionist, who was often strapped to a bass drum. The percussionist asked her out, but she was back in a thing where it was the band and school. She felt fierce about it. 

As she and Esme reached each other the first time they met after she came home from school, they both burst into tears. Quinn breathed into her hair and smelled anise again. They went to shows with Lydia that summer, like old times. Esme and Lydia came to see The Basement Collective. And in late August, Esme went back to Minnesota. By now, Quinn’s hair had grown in. A friend who had gone to cosmetology school gave her a sharply angled bob cut. She wanted to be a colorist. She’d do Quinn’s hair for free as practice. She asked if Quinn had ever considered going blond. 

Quinn could hear music from the collective’s corner rehearsal room as she walked down the hall with the keys. But that was the thing: she had the keys. She was the one who unlocked the doors. At the door of the rehearsal room she looked through the window and saw two kids. They had to be freshmen. They sat on folding chairs, lumpy and thick looking, a girl with dark buzzed hair and red lipstick, in a black shrunk t-shirt and jeans, a thick layer of pale flesh sticking out between them. She was strapped to a red Epiphone. The boy was blond with little wire-rim glasses, and he was wearing an oversized white button-down, white pants and white sneakers. He was sitting behind a glockenspiel, with a snare drum, a triangle, and hand percussion set on a little folding table beside him. He had his head buzzed, too. They looked like negative bookends. 

 “We want to play with the collective,” the girl said. “I’m your singer. Jemery Cygnet. Call me Jem.” She stood and shook Quinn’s hand, leaning on one leg, cocky. “This is Gordon Baleine, my accompanist.” The boy shook his towhead, and gave Quinn a quick, sweet smile. 

“So you want to audition?” Quinn said. “We have a process for this.” The students who worked the front desk all knew that the collective was supposed to meet with potential members and audition them before they were allowed in the room on their own.

“You’ll want us,” Jem said. “We’ve seen you at Basement Collective shows. Before that in Mouse.” 

Gordon nodded emphatically. Didn’t the kid fucking speak? 

Quinn needed to warm up, anyway. “We can jam,” she said. “And then we’ll talk about the audition.” She pulled her violin from its case. She ran a slow scale then started to bow. 

Jem nodded in time. Then she began to play, in the Dorian scale, Quinn was pretty sure. Together they sounded wistful but anticipatory. Gordon came in with the triangle, sustained rings that sent shivers down Quinn’s spine. Then he began harmonizing on the glockenspiel with Jem’s guitar part. It sounded like an indie Christmas carol that had crawled from the peat and sand and grime of Lake Michigan. 

Then Jem opened her mouth. Her voice was growling and bell-like at the same time, otherworldly and old-fashioned. And she hit every note. 

The music didn’t sound like it was trying to burn the house down. It sounded like an embrace after terrible news. Urgent but haunted. The sustained rings sent a shiver down Quinn’s spine, like her body responding to a new touch.

“Orange,” Gordon said when they finished. 

“Yes!” Jem raised her fists in the air, her eyes on Quinn. “He’s a musical synesthete. A mystic, this one. We’ve been trying to make orange music for months.”

Quinn couldn’t speak. The earth had shifted beneath her feet.  

Esme would always be her first. But Jem and Gordon felt like kismet. Quinn knew she had fans, but she’d never would have dreamed anyone was listening like this. 

Soon they had the players and a set list assembled. They took their first press photo at North Avenue Beach in December, and the photographer shot in sepia tone. On the far left—the winter lakefront behind them, with thick gray waves and cracked chunks of blinding white ice—Quinn held her violin in shivering hands, wearing black fingerless gloves, her accordion set upright on its case beside her. This was the first photo with what became her trademark platinum hair. Jem stood beside her in dark red lipstick and a hat with fur earflaps, her guitar strapped over her coat, an old-fashioned prop mic before her. Gordon came next with his glockenspiel. Lydia, her snare in its stand, held brushes. Of course Quinn had called Lydia; she’d gotten sober again, and with her steady bass drum and perfect timing she was the drummer they needed to tie the sounds together. Beside her stood Barry “Bebe” Bartlett, Lydia’s new pal from AA meetings who happened to be a rockin’ bassist. He was tall, burly, his hair a bush of curls, a Rickenbacker strapped low over a corduroy coat. Then came the clarinet, oboe, and tuba players from the collective, and at the far end stood the second guitarist, Lolly Baleine, Gordon’s older sister, a girl Quinn had seen at punk shows for years, slight with China doll pale skin, streaked hair rolled in tight coils, wearing a Gibson hollow body.

They had dropped “Collective” from the name. They called themselves The Basement. 

They made photocopied flyers for their first show, the band photo surrounded by Gordon’s hand-lettering, both old-timey and timeless. They could’ve been the house band at a club in Weimar Germany, they could’ve been a Chicago speakeasy number, they could’ve been at the Roxy in Covent Garden. Quinn and Jem went flyering together, hitting Leo’s, Urbis Orbis and Myopic before they went to Quimby’s and Reckless Records, where they found big ol’ Bebe with a stack of flyers, too. He gestured to the guy standing beside him, who looked like one of the suburban punks with a good haircut and expensive shoes. “This is Steve Parlor.” Jesus. Steve Parlor had been in one of the biggest bands to come out of Chicago, and rumor had it he was starting his own label. 

 It was below zero outside, one of those Chicago days when the wind tore through all the layers and left you breathless. Quinn couldn’t stop shivering. 

“I loved your band,” Jem said, sticking out her glove. “Jem Cygnet.” 

Steve nodded. “Show tonight. You should come. The band’s amazing.” He frowned. “But it’s at Lounge Ax. You’re not twenty-one yet, are you?” He was looking at Jem, but Quinn wasn’t twenty-one either. “Maybe best. Their name is sort of, well.” He looked Quinn in the eyes as he said the name, emphasizing each sound. “Cunt Ripper.” 

It ran through Quinn like a shock but she wasn’t going to react. “I’m twenty-one this summer,” she said. “Maybe then.” 

Quinn and Jem left the record store and hustled up the street toward the next café. 

“It sucks being a girl in a band.” She didn’t like that Jem had heard that ugly band name from Steve Parlor’s mouth. 

Jem’s eyes stayed on the sidewalk. “I like girls. A lot.” 

Quinn put her hand on Jem’s arm. Jem leaned closer to her as they walked, and started to hum one of their songs through her teeth. 

At their first show, the Fireside Bowl was packed to the lanes. An agent was there, and she brought Quinn and Jem into the bar for beers, where the sound system had only an eight-track player, Johnny Cash and Calypso Rose on a loop. The agent booked them at Lounge Ax, opening for two bands from New York. It was Quinn’s twenty-first birthday the night they played, but Gordon and Jem had to promise the club owners they wouldn’t get anywhere near the bar. 

One label took an interest, and another called the next week. Steve Parlor had just established High Wire Records, a major label subsidiary. He hadn’t signed Cunt Ripper. He wanted The Basement.

Quinn drove with Esme’s mom and Nana to watch her walk the stage and receive her diploma from Carleton. The next day, before Esme finished packing up her apartment to move back home to Chicago, she drove Quinn twenty minutes east to drop her off at Pachyderm Studio. Nirvana and PJ Harvey had recorded there; it emerged from the lush upper Midwest forest at the end of a long winding driveway, low and wood and glass-paneled. The Basement was about to record their first LP. 

“It feels like we should be setting up your dorm room,” Esme said.  

“Hey, it’s my fucking graduation, too.” Quinn’s hands were numb. She didn’t know what she was going to do when Lydia arrived and they stood facing each other, knowing they were in the same studio where Nirvana recorded In Utero. She unstrapped her seat belt then pulled her instruments and suitcase from the back seat. They both got out of the car, and met in front of it. 

“Can I come in?” Esme said. 

“I think I need to do this alone.” 

“Fair enough.” They smiled, and both stepped forward to embrace, then Esme’s face came close and she raised her eyebrows slightly. Quinn nodded and they kissed. The smell of anise, of childhood. A tremble from Esme’s lips. Her fingers were a cradle at the back of Quinn’s head. 

“I’m so fucking proud of you,” Esme said.  

 “Good luck setting up back home,” Quinn said. “I’ll see you soon.”

The silhouette of Esme’s long hand, waving through the back windshield. Quinn stood on the gravel drive, violin case in one hand and accordion in the other, and watched her drive away.