I’ve written another response to writing prompt #2, and this time, it’s a little deeper than Smashmouth running away from the cops after he steals a watch. This time, I’m responding to Brandon Flowers’ “Playing with Fire” from his solo album, Flamingo Road. It’s incredibly soulful and reads like an epic of a young hero going out into the world on his own for the first time, knowing nothing beyond the limits of his incredibly small town, defying the wishes of his father, and whipped around in an inner turmoil. It’s a true story, based on Brandon Flowers leaving the tiny Mormon town of Nephi, Utah to live in Las Vegas and pursue greater heights just before he graduated high school.
Let me know what you think, or if you write a response on your blog, I’ll share it here on mine!
Two folded maroon button up shirts lay on his bed, their brass studs on the shoulders saying: “Hello again, friend.” He hadn’t seen them since he was eight years old. Being hefty at that age, they still fit him perfectly in his more mature physique, though loose around the gut. Dawn came early, earlier than he was prepared for, the sun now shining on the open meadows he’d struggled with ever since his family first moved in.
His father started dressing in shirts and ties the second he got into the Nephi town border. He burned all of his neon pink shirts, leather belts, and rodeo pants in a bonfire the weekend they arrived. He already flushed his booze down the toilet in their home in Henderson, letting Brandon and his siblings watch. Brandon saw his father walk into a new skin almost overnight and appreciated the quiet nights now that he wasn’t yelling at mom about how rude the grocery clerk was, his ruddy cheeks flaming red. But Brandon couldn’t see why they all had to move to Nephi.
“Son, you may hate it here. You might hate me for it for the rest of your life, but this is going to be for the best. For all of us. You can’t understand the kinds of things I’m going through, and that’s okay. But your dad is working it out. And! We’ll be going to church. A lot. So. Just buckle in tight,” his father said as he blew smoke from his very last cigarette. Brandon clutched his maroon shirts to his chest like a baby blanket, not wanting to let go of that nearby Las Vegas strip, the bright colors, and magenta colored streets. He could almost cry thinking of seeing Elton John for the first time, walking down the streets with big red glasses and white bell bottoms.
Squeezed between his brothers and sisters, he listened to Crocodile Rock on repeat until he made out the Nephi City sign. It was playing now on his boombox, and as it faded out, he clicked the suitcase shut.
As he walked into the kitchen past the bedrooms, the floorboards creaked. He might as well make some tea. It would lift some of the weight he felt on his chest now. The sun was now strong on the green grass and the dirt road leading off to the desert highway. His father left his bible out on the table, a plastic lizard bookmark underlining the passage:
“Whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.”
Brandon’s pockets were full of the money he’d made from working the corner store. His bus left at 8:00am, sharp. He wouldn’t have much time, but he knew his father would be awake soon. Terry always made a list as long as his forearm of errands and chores that he started no later than 6:30am every day. Most of it was preparing for church events, buying food, passing out invitations to this or that Sunday lunch. Pioneer Day was the busiest, the week before his father would wake at 4:00am to start building the pioneer wagon that the Mormons used for their mission to Utah. Brandon and his siblings helped out, and were no less obligated to dress up, wave, and smile as they rode through town. One thing Brandon noticed was that dedication was constantly being confused with humility.
Terry’s door creaked open, his hair brushed and leather workboots already on. His eyes glinted in the new day’s light, his steps were swift and open. Ever since he stopped smoking, the bags in his eyes had flattened revealing a glorious bone structure and golden skin tone. He stopped at the sight of his high school aged son, barely grown, sitting at the table with tea and his old neon-blue suitcase resting at his feet.
“Morning, dad. Tea kettle’s done. The mug’s there with some honey.”
“Brandon,” Terry slapped his gloves on the counter and buckled his knees. “What are you up to?”
“We talked about this. You know today was the day.”
“You got laundry in there or something? Brandon, go back to sleep. We’ll talk about it at noon.”
“I bought the bus ticket. One way. Nonrefundable.”
Terry couldn’t stifle his country laugh, long suppressed since picking up the Book of Mormon. It was healthy. But sinister. He poured his tea and writhed slightly in his work clothes that now seemed foreign as dad’s mask started to slip. He unbuttoned the first two buttons of his shirt and blew the steam from his mug. Just a minute ago, he was spry and ready for God’s to-do for the day. Now, he looked unmistakably tragic.
“Brandon, I don’t see what’s so bad about it here. You have your friends, John, James. It’s not big, or flashy. But it’s life. And it’s your life until you get your diploma.” A slight pause. “And until you wave one last time for the parade. Wrap everything up. That’s when we’ll begin to talk about it.”
“I’m ready for Vegas. Now. We’ve seen what happens to the boys who grow up here and stay. They waste away. Some of them go out on “missions” just to come back junkies. And I’m being honest, I never understood why people did drugs in Vegas. Nephi makes me get it. Ok? ”
“You’re trying to go to the hoarder house of sin.”
“I’ll keep my faith with me. I’m bringing my book.”
“No, Brandon. Why did I move everyone out here? To be closer to God. You’re going to live in the pit of the devil’s warehouse. And you’re just going to stay there, lapsing around, going to Big Whoever’s casino, to do what exactly? There are three things in Vegas: sex, money, and drugs.”
“You tell the people at church He sent me a message. To go.”
The clock hit seven. He needed to start walking, soon. He poured out his tea in the sink, the scent of lavender surprisingly soothing. He could feel his dad’s stone eyes coming down hard on his spine. He could hear their neighbors chatting, old Nicholas yelling about a broken chicken feed. Tabatha was already collecting hay, her long light brown hair swaying as she bent down. At that moment, he could stay here forever. But he let it pass.
“I’m leaving, Dad. I’ve said my goodbyes to everyone. Even Mom. I saved you for last because I knew it’d be like this. I’m walking out that door, and I’m taking that road you take every day, riding it all the way to Vegas.”
“You staying with uncle Tom, then?”
His father’s eyes became open and watery, almost childishly round. “Be safe, son. Please.,” he pulled Brandon into an embrace. “Don’t betray me. Don’t betray us. Don’t you betray the Lord.”
“God is the one sending me out.”
He picked up his suitcase and heard his father’s silence as he sat at the table. He knew his family would wake up and try to comfort him. It was a godsent that liquor couldn’t be found for miles, otherwise the whole house would be in shambles. He didn’t know what pushed his feet forward as he walked to that small station just outside of town. He just knew that from a very young age, those neon lights were a mystery to him. All those bright blues and pinks never left his sleeping eyes, not even in a town that barely used paint. It’s like he could feel their warmth, only to wake up to blackness and barley. For a moment, he was scared that the grounded lit up signs on the strip would phase the night sky from his memory. This moment passed.
The process had been started, the moment he pressed play on his Sony boombox and he heard all those voices soar. Demons hammered down on his head and body, he felt ill. But the wind rushing against his back as he passed the angels and their trumpets, as that bus opened its door, as the birds chirped and flew over the meadows. That was divine.
Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.