#181: Bob Marley and the Wailers, "Natty Dread" (1974)

181 Natty Dread.jpg

Ronald Trent woke up to the sound of Bob Marley knocking on his penthouse window. He lifted his head off the golden pillow, craned his neck so he could see out the window over Eva and Monika, and Marley knocked again. Ronald sat up and fumbled for the Glock he kept in the mahogany nightstand, but it wasn’t in its velvet sack. Ronald leaned forward and tried to think through the fumes of last night and remembered something about waving it around in the kitchen while everyone cheered. Marley shook his head.

Ronald got up, grabbed a robe, and stumbled through the living room cluttered with glasses, napkins, bottles, and more suit jackets than last year. He didn’t see the other men and women sitting on the couch or in chairs, all dressed like they came from the ‘70s, until he was standing in the kitchen and Marley appeared outside the window directly in front of him.

“You can’t have any of my stuff,” said Ronald. “I earned it all myself. You have to go and get your own.”

The people on the furniture just stared at him, silent. Ronald walked his hand toward the Glock, leaning against a wine bottle in the sink.

“I don’t know how you got in here past the security, but no one invited you,” said Ronald. His fingers floated over the dishes and he nicked his middle finger on a broken wine glass and winced but kept going until he got a solid grip on the pistol.

“See you later, motherfucker,” he said trying to copy an action film he’d seen a year ago. Did he see it? Did he just see the preview?

He dragged his arm through the air and tried to blow Marley away with a glorious click. He clicked at the other black men in the room until it occurred to him that his assistant might have taken his ammunition.

“Fuck. What do you want?” said Ronald clunking the pistol onto the counter.

The people on the couches and chairs were suddenly all in different spots. They shook their heads.

Marley was in the mirror behind Ronald.

“Costs of living get so high,” said Marley in a voice that rippled the gold tiles of the floor. “Rich and poor they start to cry.”

Ronald knew that from somewhere far away, through smoke and tree branches. He put his hands on his head.

“I won’t give you any handouts if that’s what you want,” said Ronald. “I don’t believe in charity.”

Marley laughed in a way that moved Ronald across the room into a chair previously occupied by one of the other men wearing a vest. The man in the vest now sat on the golden hearth of the fireplace, also gold. The people laughed in sync with Marley so that Marley’s voice became larger and multitudinous.

“Them belly full, but we hungry,” said Marley, now in the fire, now the fire. “A hungry mob is an angry mob.”

Ronald grabbed a half full glass of vodka and threw it into the fireplace but it just shattered and Marley and the others remained unaffected.

“Fucking Communism,” said Ronald. “You want to get locked up?”

The memory of Marley’s face screamed at him from the back of his head.

“Who the fuck are you, damnit? Shit,” said Ronald. His head was catching up to his body but not by much. He knew Marley was a singer and then it came to him.

“You’re the pot guy, the marijuana guy,” said Ronald. “We used to smoke joints listening to your shit. That was a long time ago.”

Marley put his hand on Ronald’s shoulder and transmuted him through the walls to the bathroom and shoved his head into the toilet.

“You got to lively up yourself,” said Marley as Ronald panicked and expelled most of his air into the golden bowl, “because I said so.”

He pulled Ronald up for air.

“But–what–I–I don’t–” said Ronald swallowing an entire mouthful of water. If he’d been paying attention he would have noticed how the water only vaguely tasted like cleaning products instead of urine like he’d always assumed, but he wasn’t paying attention.

Marley shoved his head back into the toilet. The panic shook Ronald about as deeply as anything could, these days. He felt his lungs empty again but a part of his mind went to when he bought the gold-plated toilets and how much it made him feel like the penthouse was finally complete. He’d told the salesman that even his “shit would be served on a gold platter now,” and that made him smile even as he was drowning in that same toilet. Marley lifted him out of the toilet and put him back into the chair in the living room.

Ronald was completely dry, apparently leaving his wetness in the bathroom.

“Ok, I get it,” said Ronald a bit more awake now. “You came here to teach me something so go ahead and teach me a lesson or whatever you gotta do so I can go back to bed.”

Marley shook his head and said, “No woman no cry.”

This was very familiar to Ronald since it was the one song he actually listened to sober once or twice. He’d never really bothered to pay attention to what it meant, though.

“Is that some sort of warning?” said Ronald.

“Little darling,” said Marley, “don’t shed no tears.”

The others joined Marley’s voice again on the word “tears,” and all the glasses and bottles on two tables crumbled into shards that sparkled like diamonds.

“What?” said Ronald, wiggling his pinky in his right ear as if he was cleaning water out, even though he was still bone dry.

Marley grabbed Ronald by the face and pulled him through the walls into his office and pointed at a picture on the wall of Ronald’s parents posing at a soup kitchen. Ronald’s mother, a one-time actress, had left his father when Ronald was 10, claiming that his father had been abusive but he always knew that was a lie. Besides, correcting someone wasn’t abuse. His father had never remarried and had been forced to give his mother 50% of his money in divorce. Seeing her running around with other men in the gossip pages and films and the red carpet had devastated him until he stopped visiting her or returning her calls and openly rejected her after his dad passed and he inherited the bank. He wasn’t sure why this picture was even in his office, but he also hadn’t been in this room in at least 6 months.

“Is this about my mom?” said Ronald. “I’m not going to just call her up and invite her over for Sunday brunch. Shit.”

Marley shook his head.

“I remember when we used to sit in a government yard in Trenchtown,” said Marley, every syllable matched by the sound of ten guitars. “Observing the hypocrites mingle with the good people we meet.”

“She said she loved him,” said Ronald, “but he was just a meal ticket. Just some sort of money scheme.”

Marley squinted and looked Ronald in the eye. He pointed at the picture again.

“No,” said Marley, “woman no cry.”

Ronald looked at the picture. If he’d looked where Marley was pointing, he might have seen the faces of the people in the line, not smiling, not overjoyed by the food, but tired, beaten down by everything around them in a way Ronald had never been and could barely imagine. A part of his mind saw this and a part of his heart felt this and locked away this moment inside him for later, for a time when the bulk of his self would accept something so radically alien into his system. Until then it would germinate inside him, slowly, over years and years. But Ronald did not see this part of the picture. He saw his father holding his mother’s hand and he understood Marley.

“I get it. No woman,” said Ronald. “No cry. I see.”

Tears started running down his face even though he wasn’t crying.

“Damn it, what is this pansy-ass shit?” said Ronald wiping his face until his sleeve was soaked.

But the tears didn’t stop. Marley put his hand on Ronald’s head and laughed so largely that half the hair on Ronald’s head went grey and his voice changed shapes, and the tears continued. Marley clapped his hands like a thousand tambourines and left. Ronald intended to get up and go back to bed, maybe even wake up one of the girls for round two, but he couldn’t move. The tears flowed down his face and he sat in a saline puddle until dawn broke and he took a shot from a nearby bottle of champagne and saw himself in the mirror, an even older and more broken man.

—Josiah Meints