An Aluminum Dream (Short Story)

“It’s gone now, this desire of mine.
I’ll never find another as grand. Stronger, yes;
perhaps. Maybe steel will work. But my first lies
My poor aluminum dream.”
Michael Machalek,
“Metallic Visions”

Sebastian should have been dressing for the night’s work with the same practiced diligence that he was accustomed to. Friday night frolicked outside his window with festive shouts of near-drunken glee and the occasional horn demanding attention. Sebastian turned his little cassette player up. The soft, husky woman’s voice rose in volume, but the ballad did not lose anything when it was played louder, and it even seemed to have more power at higher volumes. The intrusive summer air bore the scent of popcorn when the wind shifted south or southwest, and the tang of Italian cuisine when it swung northwesterly. It toyed with the single blue curtain in the bedroom wall. Sebastian paused a moment to watch it in the mirror as he knotted his yellow tie. He tucked the short end into his pale blue shirt, shook his head, and pulled it out to try again.

The wind paused, and the smell of burning macaroni stole into the room. “Damn!” Sebastian rushed into the kitchen to turn off the remnants of his dinner. The water had all boiled out of the stained sauce pan, and Sebastian pried at the blackened macaroni with a spatula. He took the empty Kraft box and threw it into the garbage can, but hesitated before throwing out the cheese packet. He tossed it onto the refrigerator instead. “Never know when that might come in handy,” he said. His stomach rumbled a sarcastic reply.

“It’s all your fault,” he said to the largest poster on his bedroom wall. The green-eyed woman smiled back. Her voice whispered through the stereo speakers. Dani Coolridge was looped in neon pink in the bottom. He looked into the empty eyes of the still and wondered for the millionth time what she was looking at that made her eyes dance like that. He wondered if she could just fake that look any time she wanted, and hoped not. He looked at the round, reddened lips and the hint of white teeth beyond and at the provocatively cut green velveteen jumpsuit she was wearing. He wondered if that’s what she’d be wearing tonight at the arena, and his stomach got woozy. Good thing I didn’t eat anyway, he thought. He turned to the mirror again and played with his tie. He tried a knot out of an encyclopedia, a knot with an English sounding name, and it didn’t look like the drawing on the open page. It was hard to tell if it ever would. He shrugged, feeling tightness in his shoulders, and checked his face for acne. It wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t Us cover material. He finished his poking and closed the encyclopedia. He threw it onto his bed and it landed next to a magazine cover bearing Dani’s face.

“It’s not obsession,” he said to the magazine. He picked it up and put it in a drawer with four others with her face on the covers. “I’m just a fan, no matter what Tim says.” Tim pestered him about it every time Sebastian brought another magazine or poster into the apartment. He paused for a moment to slide the slick magazines so that he could see all five faces of Dani. “Of course, I wouldn’t know if it were an obsession anyway.” He shrugged and closed the drawer.

The digital alarm clock on his night stand glared red numerals at him. “Ohmigod,” he said, grabbing the blue jacket from the back of a wooden chair and scraping his keys off of his dresser. His throat seemed to drop into his stomach.

He made it to the arena on time, but only because he decided to run from the last bus stop. He prayed that he got assigned to a section close to the stage. He would have loved section six, front stage center. “Morning, Sebastian,” Dale said. He was straightening his cap in the employees lounge when Sebastian came wheezing in. “What the hell did you do to your jacket?”

Sebastian nodded and slapped his cap on. There was a mirror, and Sebastian paused to check himself over. The jacket, trimmed with gold tassels, was pressed in a military style. Sebastian’s closely cropped hair fit neatly under the cap. Sebastian thought he looked like a general. “I got it pressed,” he said. Dani came from a military family–she grew up on Air Force bases. He hoped she would be impressed. He sucked in his stomach and stuck his chest out.

“Oh, this is your woman, isn’t it?”

“I wish,” Sebastian said, invisibly rankling at the reference of her as “his woman”. She was above being anyone’s “woman”. “Know where you’re stationed tonight?”

“I haven’t checked,” Sebastian admitted. In his fear, he had let it go to the last minute.

“Section twenty-two,” Dale said with a smirk. “Want to borrow my binoculars?”

“No way,” Sebastian said. He looked at the schedule posted on the wall between lockers. He was indeed assigned to twenty-two, but Dale, he noticed, was assigned to section seven, front stage and right.

Dale knew what Sebastian’s first thought would be, and when Sebastian turned with the beginning of a pleading look on his face, Dale was grinning. “For a price.”

“What price?” Sebastian hoped he could afford it.

“You trade me for a Metallica concert. Or get me off the floor for Kenny G or Celine Dion.”

“You got it.”

“And you work the Christmas Eve show for me.”

“I’m here.”

“And a soda.”

“That about it?” Sebastian asked, reaching in his pocket for some change.

“For now,” Dale grinned.

“We going to tell Williams?” Their supervisor tended to frown on switches. He liked to think he assigned ushers by some assessment of their particular ushering skills, and that any switches were second-guessing him.

“Nah. He won’t get that close for Dani Coolridge. He’ll probably be up here for most of the concert.” Dale took to leaning on his locker door and crossed his arms. “Must be nice.”

“Maybe someday you’ll have his job,” Sebastian said.

“Hmph,” Dale started, but before he could make a fitting crack, Thom Kilborn came and told them it was time to open the doors.

He got to his section before any of the concert-goers. The guitarist was standing on stage, saying “Test, test,” into the various microphones. Sebastian felt the hairs on the back of his neck tingle. It felt like he was going to be on stage tonight, too. After all, she was here.

He started directing people to their seats. Most of them looked pretty mild-mannered, not like a metal crowd, and not too dangerous. He almost wished that they did look a little dangerous, that they would try something later when she was on stage, and he would have to save her from some psycho crazed fan, and she would swoon into his arms, and fall madly in love with him. He looked at the sides of the stage. Dan was on his side, and Stan on the other. Their burly builds filled the extra larges better than Sebastian’s filled his medium. He knew that if it came down to it, psychos were their job, not his, but it never hurt to dream.

He used to tell Tim what it would be like if she came to his arena, how he would give her a single rose backstage and say something witty that would win her heart. “Like what?” Tim always asked, and Sebastian never had an answer.

“Third row, right down this aisle,” he said to some aging couple. They weren’t old, they were only in their thirties maybe, but they were not his idea of Dani Coolridge’s crowd. The drummer began to bang what sounded like “Wipeout”.

The crowd filled in, and it drew on seven-thirty. Dani was playing without an opening act, and when the lights dimmed, Sebastian took up a position with his back to a concrete wall where he could watch for psychos without taking his eyes off of Dani.

Chick’s muffled voice came over the loudspeaker, and all that Sebastian could make out of the introduction was her name, like an invocation, and she appeared from behind one of the speakers with a microphone in hand. And she began to sing one of her famous Irish ballads. After a few minutes, Sebastian remembered to breathe. He must have been doing it all along, but it came to him that he should probably be breathing regularly, and suddenly it took a conscious effort. She was looking out at the crowd, and he thought she was probably looking out at section twenty-two and seeing Dale instead of him. But then here green eyes flashed across the front, and she pointed at him, and he forgot to breathe again, he forgot to do everything but grin with a strange twitch in his face.

He looked at her light green blouse and her red flared pants. Dani Coolridge was the one person Sebastian could forgive for bell bottoms. He watched the way she leaned her back against the lead guitarist and wondered what it meant, and then he realized the rest of her band was males, and that she traveled everywhere with them.

His nostrils caught the faint scent of smoke. He looked through the crowd and caught the red dot. It came from the old guy he had seated. Fire regulations forbid smoking in the arena, and besides, Dani didn’t smoke, and she didn’t like smokers.

He caught the guy’s eye and pointed at the cigarette. The guy looked disdainful, but he dropped the cigarette to the floor and crushed it out. Sebastian looked up at Dani. She hadn’t seen it, and he felt disappointment, but then the satisfaction of being her unknown defender. “I helped save her voice from the dangers of the corruption of smoke,” he thought, almost believing it.

There were no screaming psychos, and in an instant eternity of two hours, the show was over, and Dani left the stage. The crowd began to mill out, and Sebastian’s job was to see that they did it safely, but it wasn’t a metal crowd, so he left them on their own and approached Stan.

“Stan,” he said. The big man watched Sebastian approach and looked at him as if he were not worth much in the scale of Stan’s reality.

“What do you need?” Stan asked without hostility, but without any warmth either.

“I have a message for the sound guy from Chick. He has a suggestion to make for their next show.”

“Oh really,” Stan said, and he turned to look at the stage. Sebastian followed his gaze and saw Chick behind the stage, talking to a roadie.

“Oh, hell, come on, Stan. I just want to see Dani Coolridge. Just for a minute.”

“You got one of these?” Stan fingered the pass around his neck.

For a split second, Sebastian would be ashamed to admit, he thought of the possibility of taking Stan’s from him, but the size of the biceps on the folded arms, and maybe a twinge of sanity, struck him. “Hell’s bells,” Sebastian muttered as he turned.

“Hey, kid! Sebastian,” Chick called from behind the stage. He and two roadies were bent over a large piece of equipment. “Give us a hand here. Let him through, Stan.”

Sebastian thanked the gods and helped the roadies and Chick lift the thing onto a cart. Chick and a roadie went into an elaborate discussion of the effectiveness of the thing, and Sebastian took the opportunity to slip into the corridors backstage.

There was not a large crowd of people. A few people were in the hall outside the dressing rooms. “Hey, kid,” the keyboardist said, sticking his head out of a door. “Go get me some ice.”

“Sure,” Sebastian said, and the head disappeared behind the door marked Eddie Douglas. Directly across the hall, a simple paste up name under a star said “Dani Coolridge”.

Sebastian looked up and down the hall. The people passing by were paying him little attention. He looked down at himself, and suddenly realized that he looked as if he belonged there. He did belong there, at the arena, but not really there, at the door of Dani Coolridge. He steeled himself, looked up and down the corridor again –there were no roses in sight–, took a breath, and knocked.

There was a rustle behind the door and the sound of steps. Then the door opened widely, without a hint of caution or fear, and Dani Coolridge was there.

She was about four inches shorter than Sebastian, and her straight golden brown locks were tossed back over her ears. Her make-up was in the process of being removed, and she was wearing a loose men’s white shirt and blue jeans. Her lips were full and ripe, like something out of a Revlon ad, and her eyes were green like the sea on postcards.

“Yes?” she said after a moment.

Sebastian blinked. “I wanted to tell you your show was incredible tonight.”

“Thank you,” she said.

Words were falling in various combinations in Sebastian’s head, but none of them tumbled into a sentence that clicked and would unlock her heart. “I’m a very big fan,” he said.

“Not my biggest?” she asked. Her eyes were dancing, and he wondered if, somehow, she was charmed.

“Oh, I don’t know. I really like you, though,” he said. It would probably be better if I was speechless, he thought, than speechful and stupid.

“Well, thank you,” she said again.

After an impatient moment, he said, “Well, I have to get back out front. Have a nice night.” He took off his cap and bowed. She smiled, and he turned. She clicked the door shut and went on with her business, and Sebastian went about with his after stopping to get Mr. Douglas his ice.

The buses left at eleven thirty, and the arena was empty. “Did you see her?” Dale said, and he whistled.

“I met her,” Sebastian said.

“Did you get her autograph?” Dale asked.


“What did you say?”

Sebastian paused. “I just told her I liked the show. You know.”

“Sure. How’d you get passed the twins?”

Sebastian shook his head. “Never mind,” he said. Williams unlocked the outer doors, and Sebastian and Dale went their separate ways outside. Sebastian caught a bus to his end of town and stopped in a twenty-four-hour diner to eat a dinner he didn’t really want.

He set his jacket on the counter and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt.

The brunette two seats away looked at him. “Are you a security guard?” she asked.

He looked into her sky blue eyes and shook his head. “I work at the Arena,” he said.

“Did you see the Dani Coolridge show?’ she asked.

“Yes. Better than front row seats.”

“Isn’t she the greatest? Didn’t you like ‘Summer Squalls’?”

“She is the greatest. I met her after the show. Nice woman,” he said, taking a drink from his tea and looking into the widened eyes.

She toyed with her chocolate hair. “Really? Who else have you met? Anyone important?”

“I met you,” he said with the shades of a grin. She smiled and her eyes danced.

Originally published in The Marquette Journal, Spring 1994.