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    The man tells the woman he’s scared. They’re sitting in a little Germantown pub, Four Pegs, to see local dream-pop act Zack Stefanski. The man’s had a couple beers and a shot of whiskey and the feeling comes spilling out of him as the band sets up to perform. Others gathered in the small upstairs showroom roar with their craft beer, or munch french fries. They are too loud and happy for the couple in the cramped corner.

    The man is scared for his mother. She’s been sick. Hospitalized with the flu that had the whole nation surprised — lots died — and now she’s back in the school cafeteria, working her ass off even though she feels too feeble to drive.

    “I’m terrified to lose the one person who loves me without question, unconditionally,” he says.

    The woman can barely see the man’s face in the dim light, though she’s leaned in close. “I know, babe,” she tells him. “I worry about this all the time.” Her own mother edges 70 and slows, so pained and tired.

    The woman is not offended that the man doesn’t consider her love unconditional. It tries to be, but isn’t always. It’s been a patchy three years. She’s still figuring out how to love her own bones.

    The two talk relative sadness. The man is perturbed by the open window, the too-cool breeze blowing in. Outside, spring has sprung a flood. Rain and rain and rain and the roads turned rivers down by the Ohio, higher grounds pierced with the pointillism of a sobbing sky. The man tries to shut the window, but it’s stuck. The wet spits in. He gets up abruptly for a smoke.

    Band begins. The woman is excited, curious. She first read about them in Leo Weekly’s 2017 local round-up, which described the music as “textural,” “colorful” and “ghostly.” Later, she walked a winter morning with the crooning voice, the glitches and samples Radiohead-like in her ears. She remembers feeling the line, You can’t be all in one moment and then not follow through.

    The woman moves closer to the stage. Skinny white guys — mostly baseball-capped and buttoned-up — play guitar, bass, keys and drums. They are surrounded by cool gadgets galore — pedals and knobs. The woman is surprised to see more than one person on the tiny stage. The loops and layers of melodies and riffs made the music seem solo-style. The woman watches the lead singer’s mother, near the front of the audience, FaceTiming the singer’s father, who cozily cheers on from wherever he is.  

    The man returns to the middle of the chatty crowd. The woman goes to him, hugs him deeply. He is troubled, and they have been troubled. There have been many fights lately, a lot of confusion. The woman’s head tries to convince her heart of something good, stable, lasting — her heart a mule. The man, the all-out lover. The woman, the all-out doubt. They hold each other while the room bumbles. They dance like the bobbing man in front of them, laughing. Live, the music’s less like Thom Yorke than the woman had hoped.

    The lead singer starts talking about a trip he took to Portland, Oregon, the inspiration for his band’s most recent album. He sings like a soft coastline, range wide. The drummer sends in the Pacific winds. The synthesizer shoots up like ferns, sweeping valleys. The bass, the harmony: the mountains.

    It reminds the woman of that time she and the man went to the Pacific Northwest. Mazing the Pike Place market, flowers and fruit. Eating fresh salmon by a late-night campfire. The charm of the Double R Diner, endless fries and Rummy. There were jagged moments like Cascade peaks, others smooth as the sand at low tide.

    The woman is not sure if the man likes the music or not. The band is very poised, though scattering surging sonic effects and 80’s bass tones. Soft then hard, brittle then rigid. It’s sometimes dizzying. The lyrics swirl together: You can make your parents proud by being only you… I guess my eyes are wrong; I see only what doesn’t belong… I’ll never forget the time you took…

    The man leaves again, unannounced. Rain continues its steady stream. Thunder cracks the sky, rattles the windows. The woman stands alone, with the sounds like things are coming together, sounds like things are falling apart.

    You can find Zack Stefanski on Facebook.

    Cover photo: Pexels


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