Ron didn't recognise her at first. She was shorter, a little wider, greyer, older. She sat in the restaurant with some dude with a ponytail tied back and flecked with silver. He maybe wouldn't have paid any attention to them in other circumstances. They appeared to be just an ordinary arty couple approaching middle age.
"Hey," she called to the disinterested waiter, "can we have two more coffees over here?"
Her American accent grabbed Ron's attention immediately. She looked up smiling hopefully at the waiter, who acknowledged her with a brief tilt of the head. Ron saw her eyes for the first time and they were unmistakeable.
He felt like going over, but he was embarrassed. He was far too old for all that 'dedicated fan' bullshit. He reckoned she'd be sick to death of her meals being interrupted by some arsehole wanting autographs or telling her how much they liked her music.
As Ron willed himself not to stare, her companion rose, smiled, and wandered to the door. Carrie remained, sliding a creamy éclair between her lips like a...
'No, ' Ron smiled. Such delicious fantasies were hardly appropriate. He wondered how many would turn up at the concert tonight. It was a small venue and he kind of doubted a lot of people would still be interested in an artist that had such a checkered career. But, he guessed, he may be surprised who'd come out of the woodwork. Not everyone obsessed on Classic radio or chased the mainstream like a trendy cellphone. This was a University town with eclectic tastes and you just never know.
The café was filling up and they were the only two hogging tables by themselves. Carrie suddenly stood, clutching a purse and a cigarette packet. Ron hadn't thought she'd be a smoker. He'd imagine she'd have more respect for her voice. Then, he thought, there was that so-called rock and roll lifestyle so why should he be surprised? In fact, why should he be surprised she was as susceptable to ordinary vices like the rest of the population?
On the spur of the moment he, too, got up and went outside with his cancer sticks. Ron's kids had been on to him for years about giving up but he always had some reason not to. 'It's not the right time.'
In any case, he found her out in the small garden bar impatiently pacing up and down while drawing down the smoke in deep puffs.
"Hi," he acknowedged briefly as she glanced enquiringly in his direction. She flashed a smile in the self-conscious way of a fellow addict.
Carrie was dressed casually in jeans and sweatshirt. Her long hair was dyed auburn and tied back with a silver clasp. Her face was fuller than her photos and defined a little by her mid forties age. Album art had always depicted her soft focussed and indistinct and she'd done few publicity shots.
She was one of those who eschewed the whole star bullshit and consequently had gained credibility on the alternative scene, and being completely ignored otherwise. She just wasn't a Madonna and never pretended to be.
"Got a light?" he mumbled as casually as he could and she tossed him a brass Zippo. He nodded thanks, lit a rollie, then tossed it back. "Ron," he told her.
"Rosalie," she replied.
'What?' his mind struggled with the confusion of mistaken identity. He remembered the embarrassment once of having to meet some guy at the airport who was arriving to give some lectures. His wife had just given birth and Ron was deputised. All he had was a photo to go by and he'd spent 10 minutes talking to some stranger who was nearly a spitting image. He felt an utter fool afterwards.
"Visiting?" he asked, regaining his composure.
"Working," she explained.
'Ah!' he thought, "oh yeah? What'yer play?"
"Guitar and sing."
"Really? Where's the gig? Maybe I'll check it out?"
"Sure. Club called Shed 19. Down by the docks."
"I know it," he told her. Sure he knew it, he had a ticket already.
"You Carrie Power?"
"Yeah. I use that name on stage. Kinda dumb but I'm stuck with it. No-one'll turn up to a concert by Rosalie Feriera and I need to make a living."
"I understand. Tickets selling well tonight?"
"Selling out. You'd better get in fast if you want a seat."
"Actually, I have a ticket already," he confessed, "that's what I came down for... the gig. I didn't think that many people would remember you?"
"Surprising who comes out of the woodwork. Mostly old Toolbox fans wanting the old stuff."
"Do you give it to them?" he smiled.
"Some," she shrugged, "but I've moved on from those days. Y'can't keep pretending it's 1990 and still be true to what you are today. That stuff had its time and place. I hope you won't be disappointed?"
"No. I've got your solo CDs... all your later stuff." Ron was conscious he was beginning to act like a fan and immediately regretted it.
"I like all your stuff... different reasons, of course. I'm an old folk fan and that last CD had a very folky feel."
"I'm glad you said that," she replied, "my roots are in folk music. I... we all had stuff to get off our chests back then. That's why I invented Carrie Power, this militant feminist bitch out to show the men she was as tough as them. It was fashionable then, too, and helluva lotta fun."
"I understand," Ron replied, "then came the Spice Girls."
"Oh yeah," she laughed, "killed everything. 'Girl Power' suddenly meant dressing up on stage in sexy outfits to please the guys. We've come a long way," she added ruefully. "See, the record companies realised there was money in the 'idea, ' but had to take the politics out of it first. That was far too threatening for them. After all, they'd been using women's bodies to sell records for years. This was just another opportunity. Ironic, they should turn the whole thing around."
"Inevitable," he suggested; he thought, profoundly.
"What was with the little school dresses and the backpacks?"
"Oh," she laughed, "the 'Riot Grrl' thing? Middle Class trust fund kids from a certain North Western arts college playing dress ups and trying to create their own little scene. We never took it seriously. All I ever wanted to do was start a band and play music that I wanted to play. The problem with the Riot bands was few of them were any good. Guitar wasn't an instrument their mummies gave them when they were twelve. They took singing lessons and learned keyboard. Every guy had played guitar since he was little, so the girls had a big gulf to bridge before they could play as well all those talented guys. Those women who stuck at it and really learned to play made it, most didn't."
"Funny how you all now say you were never a Riot Grrl band?"
"We were Riot Grrl when we got a write up in the New York Times. We were Riot Grrl when we wanted people along to our gigs. But you ain't seen me in a Kinderwhore dress like Courtney Love or ordering guys to the back of the hall like Kathleen Hanna. We only ever wanted to play punk and hard rock. I never went in for the bullshit."
"So now you play acoustic ballads?"
"Yeah, and no-one ever asks me to flash my tits."
"You might make more money?" Ron chuckled.
"Doubt it," she laughed, "who'd pay good money for 45 year old boobs?"
"45 year old guys, maybe?"
"C'mon," she replied, "you guys want them all fresh like a co-ed's."
"Now that's not true."
"Anyway, is there anything to see in this town?"
"Sure. I was born here. There's lots of views, the sea, green belt, parks..."
"What would you recommend first?"
"Mount Victoria," Ron told her, "then, maybe, a walk along the sea front?"
"Sounds fine. What bus do I catch?"
"Y'kiddin'? I get a taxi to the gig if I'm lucky."
"Maybe I could show you around?" he suggested.
"No, thanks. You must have things to do." She looked wary and Ron wondered whether he'd stepped over the boundary.
"What about that guy you were with?"
"Paul plays guitar and a little keyboard for me," she explained, "he's local... gone to see his mom, he told me. Most like he's gone to see some friends to get stoned."
"You don't mind?"
"Nah. He's never stood me up for a gig in ten years. He's good even when he's trashed."
"So, I'm doin' nothing? I, uh, lost my wife a few year ago, and..."
"Sorry to hear that," she seemed genuinely sympathetic, "any kids?"
"Just the one. She's doing film at UCLA."
"Like Jim Morrison?"
"Yeah, and Coppola. Name's Aimee after Aimee Mann. Not my idea."
"Her Father. He produced our records back in the Toolbox days. Hooked up with some wannabe actress half his age now."
"Good for him," Ron said ruefully.
"Aw, he's alright. We're still good friends. Couldn't cut it as a couple, too much ego in there I think."
"Uh ha. I guess all that creative temperament..."
"Something like that," she laughed, "more like a couple of control freaks."
"And now I'm fine on my own. I have a house just outside of Portland that I don't get to see much. I mostly spend the year touring small venues, clubs. Toolbox royalties pays the mortgage, but if I want to eat, I have to work. It's okay, I like my life now. I can do without the hits, major label bullshit, pressure..."
Her cigarette was long dead and discarded in the bin by the door. She plucked another Marlboro Lite from the packet, however, and lit it. She offered him one and he took it.
.... There is more of this story ...