A skinny blonde girl, wooden spool poked through a leather barrette, stands one naked foot on the other pulling cherry after cherry from a jar. From the stereo locked to the cool station, Neil Young sings of Sugar Mountain. A girl beside me passes me a joint, pulls her hair behind an ear, one shy dimple. I imitate the older boys, purse my lips and breathe in, but the harsh sweet smoke burns and I hold in a cough. The girl’s bell bottoms hang so low on her hips I wonder, wise from Penthouse and Oui left by my second basketball coach, why her pubic hair doesn’t show. I try to be cool but can’t help staring at all that smooth skin between belly button and wide leather belt.
My parents would be asleep by now. They gave me permission to spend the night at Ricky’s, but Ricky’s parents are sleeping, and we’ve snuck out to a party down the block. A kid named AJ’s parents are out of town. I’ve seen AJ and his ninth-grade buddies pop out of the boys’ bathroom blowing smoke, shaking hair out of their eyes, above it all. Now AJ’s in the kitchen pulling coffee mugs and mismatched glasses from the cupboard on tiptoe while others help themselves to his parents’ vodka, peach schnapps, grenadine.
Ricky’s stoned or drunk, tired or sleepy, wants to go. We cross the street and slip through the door, parents asleep somewhere in the back, stumble bump the wall giggling shuh-huh-huh! through the hall. Ghostly clothes on his chair, streetlight through the blinds. Ricky turns on the stereo to that station, a reflex like breathing, falls back on the covers. Snores.
Longing, the singer holds a high note expressing his love to Ma-reeeeeeeeee-eeee-eeee-ah. Why do other people’s stereos sound so much better than mine? Song after song, the stereo is loud and I’m not used to going to sleep with music playing, but I drift off only to wake to drum beats leading me down by the river where I shot my baby. Drift off waking to other chords, other lyrics, melodies so good I dream of long-haired girls, smooth bare skin. A flirty female voice – the bell-bottomed girl? – suggests I send my camel to bed. A series of descending oooohs takes me down the road to Shambala. Someone’s warning Ricky not to lose that number. Does he know my friend? Snippets of sweet male and female voices, two or three lines, in and out of consciousness till real light streaks through the blinds and each song plays straight through. I hear a song I heard last night.
What an idea, to listen to music while I sleep! I see myself doing this as an adult, something cool people do. The things we pick up from others. Ricky rustles the sheets and sleeps, turns, more rustling. Finally he sits up in the covers, stretches, scratches his head, says Wow, I must have left the stereo on.
Sleeping with the Stereo On appeared on the literary site Locust Candy on January 17th, 2023.