"Has anyone seen Carl?"
That seemed to be the motto of the evening.
This was supposed to be it. The grande finale. Possibly the last time we'd all see each other before we each went our separate ways. We'd booked the venue, designed the flyers, and each done a lot of legwork to try to make
sure that the whole thing went off smoothly, but now, at the very last moment, things seemed to be falling apart.
We were the class of 2003, the cream of the crop of music students - we'd all worked so hard to get to this graduation party; this was supposed to be the culmination of all our efforts, the time when we could just sit back and relax, listen to a crap DJ playing rubbish music, and ponder the impact our class would have on the music scene of our generation. But something was missing. Carl.
Carl had always been the wildcard. Obviously the most talented amongst us, he'd always set himself slightly apart from the group, whilst at the same time remaining solidly at its core. He had money, too, and was generous with it: thanks to the royalties that still rolled in from a mindless summer tune he'd penned at the age of five (something to do with pushing pineapples, I think), he was never short of cash, and was always generous with it. More than a couple of our class-mates had benefitted from his interest-less loans - and we'd all been delighted when, after the first year of our course, he generously bought us all the latest model of mobile phones. Small as matchboxes, and each with those new polyphonic ringtones. Faced with such a measure of blatant largesse, none of us minded that these phones came with a preset list of callers - in the memory of each phone was stored the number of every other phone that Carl had handed out. We could speed-dial each other at the touch of a button. We'd found it a little odd at the time, but he'd also composed a personal ring tone for each one of us - if the slightly belligerent Bob phoned one of our cadre, we'd get a five second tuba riff, and if the willowy Sadie made a call, we'd all reach into pockets or handbags to answer a breathy flute cadence.
Still - "Has anyone seen Carl?"
Things were reaching crisis point by now, especially as Carl had said he'd take care of the music. "Yeah - he asked if he could borrow my phone. Haven't seen him since." Everyone said the same thing. The pub was eerily quiet. He was nowhere to be found. Eventually Sadie had the bright idea of ringing his mobile from the pub's payphone - and suddenly Carl's sparse but unmistakable ringtone rang out through the sound system of the cramped, crowded bar. The bare beginnings of a beat began - we'd always thought Carl's personal ringtone was a bit rubbish - but then the curtains opened at the back of the hall. And there he was, the man himself, standing in front of a table upon which rested all our "borrowed" mobiles. And he worked those phones like a master.
His own ringtone had been a fairly rubbish basic drumbeat. But, if he rang someone else from another one of the phones on his desk, he'd get a half-decent bassline. Ring someone else, and he'd suddenly add a willowy flute to the mix...
Using the speed-dials on each phone, he was able to introduce new sounds into the tune he was making. Using one phone to dial another, he was slowly building up tunes bit by bit - and hanging up when he no longer wanted that particular ringtone element in his mix. God knows how long it had taken him to work out the timings in order to be able to work such magic, but he did it. The whole time he played those phones I don't think a word was spoken by us in the audience. Each little riff for us was automatically attached to a specific person - he'd been spot on in his original musical descriptions of us, so when we heard an aural battle between tuba and flute, we all knew that he was describing the brief but tragic romantic dalliance that had occurred between Sadie and Bob.
He held us captivated as he sounded the harp-like threads that had held us together. We all heard our collective history that night, as his fingers danced over our collective handsets - we heard each other step out of tune and chime in with one another; we each of us heard ourselves as dissonant but also heard the chords we could make when we worked together.
We never did get the phones back, though.
But now and again, we do still meet up, and ask ourselves - "Where's Carl?"