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“The Loneliest Band in France” takes on a new member to help perform its killer song

Author Dylan Fisher's single-sentence excerpt tells the meandering story of an aspiring diplomat who winds up pulled into the band -- despite his lack of any musical talent

For years, my father, full of imagination, would make up lies about how my mother had died, and, though I was no longer in Sri Lanka, though I was in Montpellier, hoping that a new place, that distance, might help, I still, on occasion, heard his voice, via phone calls, letters, conversations played out, long and painful, in my head, even on a day like this, when nearly all of Montpellier was outside, taking in the first spring day, a sudden change from the dreary winter the city had been enduring since I’d arrived, but I was indoors, among four other men, all around my age, either a few years older or a few younger, in a large, spartan room, what they called a “practice space,” all of them speaking French,

CBA finalist for Literary Fiction

which I did not fully understand, only having a few words from the six weeks I had been in France, primarily the curses, so while one of the men, Noël, dark, curly bangs covering his eyes, enunciated every syllable, having noticed my poor comprehension, the other three, called, respectively, Guy, Lucien, and Michel, talked quickly, expecting me to follow the delicate rhythms of their language, the grand circles it drew about the room—“Il capte trois fois rien,” one of them said, chuckling—tempting me with its false cognates and etymological twins, until finally, tired of waiting for them to explain themselves, I resorted to English—for while it was unlikely for them to have even heard of Sinhala, no less know to speak the language, everyone knew some English—saying, bluntly, “I don’t understand,” to which Noël, clearly the kindest of the four, the most perceptive, responded, switching seamlessly to English, “We are inviting you to join our band,” a band they called The Loneliest Band in France, a silly name, causing me to laugh at its forthrightness, which they did not notice or understand, their sense of humor different from my own, their jokes, of which they had many, ending exclusively in mutilation, in severed extremities, perhaps a result of the times then, when just existing felt claustrophobic, when we felt untethered from ourselves, every move scrutinized by some watchful eye, so while I laughed at their hyperbolic name, they smiled patiently, and, naturally, one of them, Lucien, the drummer, the oldest in the group, but clearly not old enough to be granted any de facto command over the others, spoke up, explaining that sometimes, when in private, when among just themselves, they referred to the band as “Sirens!” due to the fact that they had developed a song—“We happened upon it, quoi,” he said—a song that, much like the music of the Greek’s most enchanting monsters, caused its listeners to first lose their skin, their flesh peeling away from their bones in long, unwieldy strips, go mad, and ultimately die, or in any case this is what they believed would occur, never having played it in public, a fact that would all change very soon, right, right, right, they all agreed, vigorously nodding their heads, looking for my approval, to recognize the science behind it, as independent researchers from top universities had already discovered the tangible, immediate effects of certain musical arrangements, in one study finding that the right combination of chords could force any

Dylan Fisher’s first book, “The Loneliest Band in France,” was the Winner of Texas Review Press’s 2019 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and selected as a 2020 Coups de Cœur by The American Library in Paris. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Dylan recently relocated from Denver to Atlanta to begin a PhD in Creative Writing at Georgia State University.

given listener to, say, smile or laugh, or in another to grow a third (or fourth or fifth) nipple, to experience short-term memory loss (between five minutes and four hours), to develop, temporarily, an insatiable, voracious hunger, enough research, that is, to pique the interest of several well-known international corporations as well as frighten both local and national government officials, who, months later, recognizing the potential for revolution, for a coup d’état, the security of their comfy positions at-risk, drafted and passed legislation (under the pretense of protecting their hapless constituents) to ban any music that produced a significant physical or psychological effect, and to require that audiovisual equipment manufacturers incorporate a certain level of built-in static into their speakers, receivers, and amplifiers, thus preventing the slightest possibility that their positions in the current government (cough, cough) . . . that their country might be attacked, all in all, Noël explained, The Loneliest Band in France AKA Sirens! was merely taking this newfound tool to its next logical step, but before saying any more, he deftly changed the topic, asking me a series of questions, the least of which was what instrument I played, as I had neglected this information when initially responding to their ad—an ad I had, because of my poor French, misread as an opportunity to make money selling blood—and not wanting to be presumptuous, they had refrained from asking about my musical talents till now, musical talents I did not have, since I was in Montpellier for one reason and one reason only, to study Law, to get a good sense of argumentation and due process, skills I could later bring back to Sri Lanka, eventually becoming Prime Minister or President, this being, of course, my father’s plan for me, nothing else would do, for, he said, with only twenty million or so other people on the island, fewer once they tallied up the bodies, most of whom were depressed or uneducated, too old or too young, there were only a handful of viable candidates for these positions, of which I would be one, he said, the best one, the one the people, yes, stupid and ignorant, but people nonetheless, thought they wanted, so needless to say, when asked about my instrument of choice, I said, “I play guitar,” pretending to strum the instrument in the air before me, a good performance, good enough for the four men, none of them students as far as I could tell, though they knew of the local universities, had even heard of my specific program—“Training the next generation of foreign diplomats, right, sympathetic to France’s global interests,” said Lucien—and they spoke with a certain eloquence, Noël, a multi-instrumentalist, the band’s singer and manager, nodding his head, flipping his hair about his acne stricken forehead, Lucien, tapping his sticks in a nervous, uneven rhythm, Guy, the band’s bassist, incredibly short, about the height of your average doorknob, offering a gummy smile, and Michel, who played the electric harmonica, incredibly tall, the perfect counterpart to Guy’s diminutive build, who bowed his head for each doorframe he passed through, now running his hands over his head, shaved and sunburnt and dented from those times when he forgot to duck, having run his skull into the casings of doorframes in Montpellier and in Bordeaux, where he said he had been born, taken together a ragtag group, sunken eyed, underfed, qualities they later told me were a combination of a lack of resources—of “funds”—to afford much food as well as the lack of inclination to eat even if it were available, unfortunate, since together they looked uncomfortable in their effeminate bodies, their movements dainty and precise, their pale skins ghostlike, even in the curtained, unlit room, the spring day’s sun straining for only a few rays of light, that was all, penetrating the room, showing us one another’s faces, revealing both nothing and everything, so I felt at once out of place and nauseous, excited and desperately exhausted, because clearly this was not a blood clinic, these men were not doctors, yet I was still here, lying to them, for reasons I did not understand, when I knew, knew beyond any doubt, that my father would want me back at my boarding home, a long, thin house, a space he trusted as safe, a house occupied by a young Parisian couple with two silent children, children I had never heard make a sound, like two gigantic mice, like two cotton balls, just as white, sliding about the tile floors, or, more likely, my father would want me studying, alone or among my international peers,

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

men from Algeria, Ukraine, Bhutan, and Palestine, women from Iraq, Venezuela, Turkey, all of them in the process of being trained in the theoretical frameworks that might be (and certainly had in the past been) used to dismantle the political and social systems of the places from which we had triumphantly emerged, yes, he would want that, would want anything, he would want me anywhere, anywhere but here, for here (in the practice space of The Loneliest Band in France AKA Sirens!) was uncertainty, here was trouble, here was where he might lose his only son, here lay the potential for harm, for death, here neither he nor I could predict the future, spawning outward, minutes or years ahead, although it was already becoming clear—the fog ahead of me dispersing—clear in the way these men, Noël, Guy, Lucien, and Michel, moved the conversation forward, steamed forward, seamlessly accepted my claim to musical talent, even though, at the time, I did not know the first thing about composition or harmony or tune, clear that I really did not

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

need to know to be a part of their band, their band that went by multiple names, its members, Noël, Guy, Lucien, and Michel, now discussing in French the structure of a “show” or “contest” or “performance” that was to take place that evening, I was not sure which, for at that point I could not translate, a smile in lieu, my cheeks spread out, ruddy like I might be drunk or high, though I was neither, in any event this musical production serving as a venue to debut their new, deadly song, and it was necessary, Michel said, necessary that I be ready by then to play as a member of the band—“We need you,” he said, shifting his gigantic form—which I believed wholeheartedly, believed as he took out a fifth of home-distilled liquor, pulled at with the gentlest of tugs, hopeful that the entire band, including myself, my exact role in the group still unclear, that the entire band might inebriate itself prior to the 10 a.m. bell (for it was still quite early) expected to emerge from the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre as it had every morning since its construction in 1536 c.e., save for a few exceptions due to inclement weather, negligent bishops, and of course the Huguenot Wars, which caused enough damage for the bell tower to be rebuilt in its current form, this being one of the few remaining historical structures in Montpellier, most of the buildings in their fifth or sixth life since the city, like all cities, began its yearly cycles of building and demolishing and rebuilding, according to certain global or statewide trends, newer being always better, nothing could remain, the government shunting its citizens from apartment to apartment, from house to house, as if running from a perpetually breaking dam

Published by the Texas Review Press, Sam Houston State University, 2020.


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