The microphone crackled and whined as Taylor sang the last verse of ‘Haven’t Met You Yet.’ He inhaled the waft of stale beer and attempted to make eye contact with the oblivious audience. Smoke hung in a stagnant strip beneath fluorescent lights. The stressed pings and melodies of pokie machines came from the next room. It should never have turned out like this, he thought. The Springvale RSL was a long way from being the support act for INXS. More accurately, the backup singer in the support act for INXS. A harmony crooner in the Christian boy band, Testarossa Lord.
He had been almost feminine in his beauty. Comely hollows in pink cheeks, honeyed hair rippling to below his shoulders. His voice didn’t reach the resonant timbre and range of the lead, Yani, but complemented and added richness. The group had disbanded after Yani overdosed on Red Bull, hijacked a tourist dray cart and left it outside an S&M club on King Street. Paparazzi had snapped him spanking a prominent MP wearing nothing but a leather g-string. The resulting scandal was too much for the band’s wholesome image.
Taylor had visited his agent weeks before to arrange a comeback tour. At fifty three, time was running out. Lorraine cocked her head and spoke of his possible appeal to the hot flush set, his slight paunch reminiscent of their husbands, provoking maternal empathy.
‘Like you, eh?’ he said, giving his best lopsided smile and flicking greasy locks.
Lorraine flinched. ‘I haven’t yet had the change. When I do, I won’t be salivating over you, Taylor. No offense.’
Taylor shrank in his seat and for the second time that week, ignored the pulsing pain. As if a chestnut were stuck in his bladder. He winced and clutched his stomach.
‘Advanced prostate cancer,’ the doctor said, tapping a pen at a white bulge on the x-ray. ‘Are you all right?’
Taylor’s lanky form shook as he stood at the light box, his familiar shape outlined before him, yet containing a monstrous growth like a mutant mushroom. ‘How long?’
The doctor shook his head, real sympathy flitted across his face. ‘You won’t see the end of 2016, I would say. That’s a generous estimate. I suggest you get your affairs together, notify family. I’m terribly sorry.’
‘But my legacy,’ he said in a half whisper. He brought his hands together, as if in prayer. ‘They’ve all gone this year. Prince, Leonard Cohen, Bowie. I can’t die in 2016. I’ll be a nano blip in music history, a nothing.’ Tears sprang to his eyes.
The doctor glanced at his watch. ‘Er, sorry again, but my next patient is due.’
Over the next month Taylor sat hunched over his laptop, searching for cures. There was a priest who sold python venom in Colombia, a naked intuitive healer who performed rituals by moonlight in Cardiff and a marrow transfusion specialist in Hyderabad. Taylor weakened and took to his bed where he skyped potential leads at all hours.
By November, his elderly mother insisted he move to a palliative care facility. He was no longer able to walk to the bathroom and needed stronger doses of morphine.
His room was a spartan affair. Machines bleeped and the bed sagged. Outside the window was a concrete terrace with a lone succulent in a pot. The one attempt at cheer was a sinister painting of a man at the entrance to Luna Park with two young boys. Something about his stance appeared more paedophilic than paternal.
It was on one of his good days when his nephew, Marlowe, visited. He was sheathed in black leather, a dark forelock of hair hung over one eye.
‘Heya, Unc. Can you sing for me one last time? Got my phone ready. How about ‘Wings of Salvation’? That was a rocking track if ever there was one.’
A sudden burst of energy filled him and he motioned for Marlowe to prop him up with more pillows. His voice was reedy at first, then gained momentum and depth.
Over the hills we fly
God is near
Never part from your love
Wings of salvation.
Marlowe grinned and held the phone steady. He kissed his uncle on the forehead and brought a water glass to his cracked lips.
‘That was awesome. Love you, Unc.’
Taylor drifted. He was flying, his shadow moving over lush fields, the sun inside him as it streamed from his fingertips. Then he was gone.
The clip went viral on YouTube. For a time, Taylor Ward was infamous for his dying song.