Mother Knows Best

My mom was an ex-model. And ambulance driver and dental assistant and she took no shit from anybody. Particularly men. Like Snow White, birds would fall out of trees for her, sit in her hair and sing. Rabbits would come when she called. She could throw my paper route when I had the flu and never meet a mean dog. Plants grew when she walked by. No matter who or what you were, you listened to my mom.

My mom had a thing for goats. She was from a part of the Ozarks that didn’t have power until the late Fifties when the Corp of Engineers built Table Rock Lake. Phone lines (whoa) didn’t make it until the Sixties. She could skip a rock, throw a baseball overhanded and knew which end of a funky old tractor was which. Milk a cow or a goat and tell a hen to lay an egg, or else. If it had fur or feathers it showed up when she whistled. She could bait a hook and fish and roll a cigarette for my Grampa with one hand. Something I wanted her to teach me in my teens but never got up the nerve to ask. But the goats? Mom loved her goats. When I would visit my grandparents in the summer for a couple of weeks, I learned about goats. Grampa would have to go and smoke and drink and sell bait around the lake, Gramma busted her ass doing everything else from the garden that fed them to cleaning fish and wringing a chicken’s neck for dinner. So me being six and in the Missouri hills and pretty much in the way, I got sent out to wander the hollers and cricks and hillsides. Tied to a goat. No shit. A rope around my waist and the head goat, off to explore the Ozarks. Why? Because the goat wouldn’t do anything near as stupid as I might, particularly around water. And it knew when it was time to eat and how to get home. Today I am sure that would be considered some kind of abuse, but I got along okay with the goat. Even after my Grampa made me a dead slow “go-kart” out of a upside down shopping cart and an old lawn mower, the goat went along. Mom would call, ask me what I did. “I went out with the goat.” “Oh good. I used to that. Goats are okay, as long as you leave their heads and tails alone.”

Mom had fashion sense. She’d been a model, right? Well, she was loud, anyway. She took flying lessons in the early Sixties. Soloed, got her license, never went up much after that. What our parents were really up to is a mystery still. Like the moose. What the hell, Mom? Dad?

 

 

 

My mom had my brother almost nine years behind me. And it screwed her all up. Not my brother, but the hormonal thing. Well, maybe my brother is in that somewhere. It is difficult to realize now that in the second half of the Twentieth Century women’s health care was non-existent beyond the OB-GYN basics. Mom was a victim. They messed with her hyper-active thyroid as best they could back then. The stuff that made her mad, depressed, borderline bi-polar wasn’t even on the research agenda. No shit really she went in for several hours every Saturday for a couple of months to get wrapped in cold sheets. So she’d feel better. She was “hysterical.” Come on. America in the Sixties. We put a man on the moon and my mom was wrapped in cold sheets like a freaked out, misbehaving Victorian? The alternative was Valium. Which by rights should have calmed her down. It lit her up like a Roman Candle. By the late Sixties and early Seventies there were birth control pills, but in my research I found that very little was done in that regard as far as hormone therapy. Birth control was the answer to rampant teenage promiscuity leading to pregnancy, not getting women on an even keel and helping ease the familial burden of “the menopause.” So she self medicated with alcohol in ever increasing doses until she killed herself with a Vodka bottle in her early sixties.

Mom had her moments. But she could tape an ankle for football practice and games better than the trainers and coaches. Lance a boil and pop a shoulder back into socket. Stop a dog’s ear from bleeding in a snap after a fight. She helped me build a Masonite and 2×4 “club house” in the back yard under her big mimosa tree. It rained one of those Oklahoma rains about two weeks later, and the Masonite dissolved. I was bummed. I’d taken my naughty library books with medical sketches of lady parts out there to read them, and my hideout had disintegrated. I got upset. Mom said “Look how much fun we had building it.” She winked, messed up my hair. “And you can read those books in the hammock.” She planted pussy willows where the club house had been since the grass was gone. They got as tall as me in a season.

No one is perfect, not even our moms. After you’ve been around a while, you understand that Mom was who she was, and we were just in the mix of her life. The goat, the hormones, even the instability and unpredictability of the nightly dinner table drama (Philip! Where did these pills come from? Who was that girl driving your car? Mr. Stinson said you had your bike on top of the school! For God’s sake, Philip!), none of it was mean spirited or intentional. It just was.

I was the only one in the room when she died, and like William Blake and his brother, I saw her leave. Call me crazy, but there it is. When my dad and brother showed up everyone said a prayer. I said I hoped she was somewhere peaceful, and free at last from her demons. My dad cried about that, and reminded me of it often. What he called the short and perfect eulogy for my mom.

Mom was pretty, smart in that rare common sense way, did her best and kicked some ass. She was more than a little whacked on some days, smoked like a chimney, swore like a sailor, had an opinion about everything and everyone and wore pants better than a lot of men. But out of all of that, good and bad and crazy and caring and over-protective and insecure and voraciously curious and more than occasionally angry, she was Mom. And we should all thank them for that, our mothers, no matter what we’ll never understand about them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Them’s Some Fine Lookin’ Shoes

That Woman there
Got her
Some
Fine lookin’ shoes
Strutted through
Momma Rue’s
Stepped out of one
Fool’s
Heartbreak
Right into another dude’s
Blues
Curious how
Every woman in the
Room
Crazy for
Her shoes

Wished they’d found
Some
On sale
On line
Even if they hurt
‘Cause all that
Heartbreak
Yesterday’s men all
Ashes and
Dust
In the wind
They all knew
Girl had it goin’
On

Not too gimmicky
Not a real
Bitch
Knew what she wanted
Rich
Would do nicely
Loved you for
Dinner
A movie
A weekend
Maybe two but
Slummin’
Forever
Won’t never
Do
Every woman in
Town
Crazy
For Her shoes

Get over it
Brother
Can’t you see
Move
Or move on
Girl’s got it
All
Goin’ on

When she’d shuffled
Enough Fools
One offered
Fingers full of
Jewels
More to come
But
Here’s
The new rules
Listen
Up
Man said

This many
Pretty children
Where I go is
Where
You stay and
What I think is
What you
Say
Keep it that
Way
Country Club Hostess
Mama
Maybe even a
little whore
Time to time
Be fine
On call
Night or day
Whatta ya say

Still
Every damn woman
In the
County
Crazy for
Her shoes

Miss somethin’
Darlin’
Someone
Little people
Little minds
Gotta get over it
Darlin’
Ain’t no
Easy way
Out

Get over it
Move
Or move on
Girl don’t you
Know
No?
Hey
You got it
All
Goin’ on

Wasn’t never too gimmicky
Managed to find
Bitch
And rich
Oh Yes
Indeed
She never stepped
Out of
Her own heart
Locked up
But
Never broken
Blues
Maybe a little
If so she
Sung them
Quietly to
No one

Get over it
Sister
Move
Or move on
Girl you got
All of
Too much
of everything
Goin’ on

Can you
Fathom
Imagine
Believe
That still
Most every
Damn woman
Most every
Damn where
Still
Crazy for
Her shoes

Romantics

She reached out with her first two fingers, touched the painted plate at 17 Molton St, London, and  left them there as big, silent tears rolled down her cheeks. People stared, she didn’t care. Deanna had ridden the train, by herself, from Cambridge to London for this visit to the last of William Blake’s original residences, only to discover it was another commercial address, not a shrine. She finally dropped her fingers, lowered her head in disheartened resolution.

“‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet, Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’” A black wool coat covered arm ending in a manicured hand reached out, touched the plaque where Deanna’s fingers had been. She looked up and an elegant man, easily her father’s age or older, had taken up residence on the sidewalk beside her.

“You know about Blake? Really? That was him, the opening to London. I’ve always read it as bleak, but it was beautiful, how you quoted it. Sorry…I never…” She looked down again, the cloud over her returned.

“One needs to stand in a man’s shadow to understand his journey, and his poetry.” He handed Deanna a clean, folded, white handkerchief. “Dry your eyes. That was his story, his London. Commerce and need ruled the day in Old London Town, then as now. Blake knew that, as should you.” He took in all of Deanna, from the savage scissor attack of her hair to her ill fitting jeans and bulky sweater, the ski jacket tied around her waist and well worn running shoes, her pale complexion and sad eyes. “Student, or…” He wondered how a man his age should address a possible street girl or one of the thousands of foreign kids “finding themselves” by riding trains, smoking hash and sleeping in the growing number of hostels.

“Student. Newnham, Cambridge.” She turned, grabbed his coat behind his elbow, and glared at him. “It’s a bar, mister whoever you are. Blake’s house is a fucking bar! How can they do that?”

“It’s not him in Westminster Abbey, nor St. Mary’s. Nor any other place where they’ve hung a plaque with his name. Blake lives here,” he touched his chest over his heart. “Which I daresay is where he’d much prefer to reside with you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. As much as we can know a dead man’s wishes. Step inside. It’s a landmark, not a grave. My treat?”

“NO. It’s a —”

“Fucking bar. Yes, you’ve said. And I said one should trod the path of the man and salute his memory. Sandwiches and expensive drinks with a French flair make it no less Blake’s. I’m on my own today and it has been an age, several ages I might be obliged, since I’ve enjoyed a lively discussion of Blake with an overly serious young woman.”

“Are you a professor or something?”

“Or something. If it will put you at ease, I ask only for conversation. I am not, as is commonly observed when men my age seek to engage with young women, ‘a dirty old man.’”

Deanna could tell by the long wool coat, open scarf, creases, shiny shoes and hair cut he wasn’t dirty, or too old. Too old for that, but not too old to eat lunch with like a professor. And he had quoted Blake.

They followed the hostess to a small table at the back wall where he held her chair with one hand while he draped his coat over his own, sat down across from her.

“Okay.” Deanna felt trapped against the wall. “No funny business. I don’t do that.” She watched as he settled his napkin on his thigh and pushed his menu aside and she allowed herself to absorb some of his relaxed demeanor.

“A tired girl a long way from home, who has so obviously spent her food allowance on a train ticket to London only to arrive and discover desecration of what she thought Holy, then proceed to carry on crying about it, I wouldn’t think a ‘funny business’ type.”

“How do you know? Do you look for ‘funny business’ types?”

“No. I have daughters. One of them a hopeless romantic. I cried here myself when I was seventeen. Not so anyone would know, but there I was, just as you were. Would you prefer to sit on this side, and I on yours?”

“No. No that’s…I’m okay. Now.”

“Good. Blake and a double ham croissant are on order, I believe? Swiss or?”

“Yes. Yes, Swiss. Please. Did you know…”

***

Evan Drucker stood in the entryway of his Dawson Place home, handed his wife his coat and scarf, kissed her longer than the usual peck.

“So is it takeaway or some other mischief you fancy?”

“Takeaway? I might do. I took a walk and ate out once today.”

She dropped his coat over one arm and reached for a hanger in the closet she’d opened. “You’ll have me ask again?”

“No. Have you had a call from either of the girls?”

“Not midweek. I wouldn’t, would I? They have school and lives of their own.” She hung the scarf over the coat and closed the closet door. “Now I’ll have that ask, if you don’t mind.”

“I ate lunch with our Avey today.”

“Avianna? Where?”

“Having a quiet cry at Blake’s on Molton.”

“You took her there often enough. The two of you banging on like a pair of Romantic rabblers.” She picked up the faraway look in his eyes. “Our Avey’s away at school in the States, Evan. So who was it you saw shed tears for your Blake?”

“Her name was Deanna Collings, or so she said. An American girl studying in Cambridge, come to mourn at Blake’s. Seemed quite bright and deeply informed. She was a mess of a pretty young girl, though, and scared to death. Called what’s behind Blake’s plaque ‘a fucking bar.’”

“Ah, with the mess of a look and the language then it was our Avey.” She smiled, tugged on his tie. “I hope you’re both the better, having had Blake on for lunch. The kitchen’s cold and I fancy a curry. You?”

“I fancy a prayer for all our faraway romantic daughters, and a drink.” He reached one arm around her, leaned and kissed her on the forehead, checked her expression when he let her go. “Right. And a curry.”

Knock Knock

Late Summer 1967, Paris, France

She stood in the window, interlaced her fingers, stretched her arms over her head and yawned, felt her long, silk nightgown almost too much to be wearing against the sun. Three months ago she had been Amanda Vincent. Twenty-two, Masters with Honors from Cambridge, madly in love enough with a beautiful French-Italian playboy to walk out in the middle of her Ph.D. in International Finance. This late Monday morning she was young bride of three months Amanda Morisè, daydreaming out the window of a third-floor Montmartre apartment at the noise and dust of Paris, the memory of day long lovemaking fresh in her mind. It was late summer, warm, close. A light knock on the door brought her back to Earth.

She answered the knock to find a young woman much like herself, wearing a soft cotton summer dress, hair pulled up loosely against the heat, her arms crossed at her wrists, waiting. She had the bluest eyes Amanda had ever seen.

“Amanda? Amanda Morisè?” From the sound of her voice her visitor was very French. And on the verge of impatience overcoming her mannered demeanor. “Je peut entrer? To speak a moment? The matter I think most important?”

Amanda was still somewhere between her daydreams and the young woman standing in the open door. “Yes. Yes…of course. My manners escape me…”  As her visitor passed she thought that if whatever was holding her guest’s hair together let go, it might just explode off her head.

“You possess the mind of his charm, Madame,” her guest said as she passed. “I am Alixandrie. It is too formal, I agree. I am called Alix. As in your America, now we shake the hands, oui?” The blue-eyed girl’s English was much better than Amanda’s French. Alix declared a halt to further polite formalities and launched into a story, told in a series of broken sentences wrenched from the center of her being. Some tears were shed in the telling and it ended with “I believe you also are married to my husband, Yannick Morisè.”

“No, that’s quite impossible,” Amanda’s tone completely dismissive of Alix’s story of a whirlwind romance followed closely by betrayal. “I know you’re upset, but you’ve made a mistake. I’m sorry for whatever your husband may have done, but my husband left just this morning for Marseille. His name is Yannick, but it’s not an unusual name, neither is Morisè.” Her daydreams returned, she saw them eating breakfast together, barely clothed, he spanked her lightly on her behind as she walked past him with her coffee. How, as he was leaving, he had bent over, dropped an end of his tie down her robe, raised his eyebrows, smiled when it followed him as he stood after a quick, deep kiss goodbye.

“No! No, I tell you he is in a house in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, half of one hour’s train ride from Paris. He believes I have come to Paris to discover an answer of my pregnancy. You are assured, Madame Morisè, I am not. I have come to meet you, the wife he married two weeks after me. Of treachery as such, be most assured!”

Alix removed a note card from her black leather clutch with an address in Saint-Germain printed at the top. “I am not believed? By you, his beautiful American woman? Tomorrow he will be away the day. If not for you, perhaps another wife? The Mademoiselle of flowers waits in the road from the station of trains. Show her this.” She took Amanda’s hand and smashed the card in her palm. “She will show the way to you. Tomorrow.” Her face softened. “Offer her kindness, please, the flowers girl. If what is discovered in Saint-Germane you cannot believe? No more will I speak of it to you.”

The blue of Alix’s eyes burned through the redness of recent tears straight into Amanda’s own before she gently moved a strap of Amanda’s nightgown back onto her shoulder, turned and walked quietly away. The soft fragrance of fresh flowers followed her. She put Amanda in mind of a small, beautifully sad garden as she pulled the door closed softly behind her, not quite closing it all the way.

Amanda looked at the card. Quite a girl, and even more of a story. Yes, Yannick had married her in a quiet civil ceremony, that was true. Often accused by the press of squandering his inheritance on a laundry list of immoral pursuits, he’d told her he needed no more publicity. That it was best his enemies, even his friends, not know that he now had such a beautiful wife. She had agreed. He could get her to do whatever he wanted. The things he said, the things he did to her, with her…It was all a lie. It must be. A jealous girlfriend with a story, attempting to start some girl nonsense. She would go to Saint-Germaine in the morning and get the truth from the lovely little French girl with her wild hair, blue eyes, and pathetic little lie.

***

When shown the card, the flower girl said “Oh, Oui,” and spoke rapidly and only  in French that she knew the way, offered to walk with Amanda.

“No, thank you.” Amanda tried to politely extricate her hand from the flower girl’s. “I prefer the quiet. It’s so unlike Paris.” She tried in English, and her best French, the flower girl not understanding. Amanda finally said, “Mercì” for the all the girl’s pointing and handed her a silver 10 Franc coin, which made the flower girl squeal, take Amanda’s hand back and kiss it until she had to pull it away.

The tiny house was no more than a half a mile from the station, off a narrow street. She passed through the hedge wall in front and knocked with purpose. Alix answered and the door opened into a cool, dark room. Amanda wanted to say “Show me your evidence, tell me your tale, cry and let me leave. My husband will be home tomorrow.” Alix’s blue eyes were burning, lighting up the dark entryway. Amanda decided she might be better served with tact. It wouldn’t kill her to be polite. The girl was obviously hurt, give her a chance. Hear her out. It was a lovely village, so quiet after Paris, and Alix’s cottage was remarkably cool.

“I have said you are most beautiful,” Alix pulled the runaway strands of Amanda’s hair from her cheek, pushed them gently behind her ear. “Sad, no? Two beautiful women should meet such as this, our lives entwined in deceit.”

“I’m still certain there’s been a mistake of some kind, I —” Alix’s touch had been light as a feather, warm and cool at the same time…

“I talk too much to you, his beautiful American woman. See your ‘husband,’ Yannick Morisè. Come.”

Amanda had heard at Cambridge, mostly by way of racial innuendo, that French girls were temperamental, hot headed. Meaner than Spanish girls, smarter than English girls, sexier than Italian girls. This was always said by someone in a pub, in a fake French accent. It might just be true.

She followed Alix down a short hallway to a small bedroom dominated by a double bed, the window at the foot of it open where a light breeze drifted in, bringing with it a garden awash in flowers. It felt like home should feel. No, this wasn’t Paris. A view of trees some ten yards distant replaced the dusty haze that surrounded the Eiffel tower. The soft rustling of the hedge, the flowers. It was serene, like she was inside of poetry, so –

Alix practically ripped the doors off a double armoire, banging them violently on the cabinet’s side. Inside, Yannick’s signature blousy, white collarless shirts he had handmade in Florence hung there in testament to his presence. His white collared dress shirt from the High Street in Oxford. No…Surely, they weren’t her Yannick’s. They couldn’t be.

Alix picked up a man’s lacquered jewelry box, dumped the contents on the armoire’s shelf and tossed the box to the floor. Amanda recognized a familiar pair of cufflinks, the Tissot watch she had bought him as a wedding gift. No, no, no…She lifted the watch as if it were unreal, turned it over to see the “Love Always, C.A.M.” she’d had engraved on the back. She was shaking. She tugged on a shirt, softly at first, then violently, ripping it from its hanger to stare blankly at the tailor’s mark on the bottom. YFM, a number. It was true. It was all true. The compact bundle of electric French girl had told her the truth.

Alix saw her start to fold and set her on the edge of the bed, keeping her hands on Amanda’s shoulders. “No more tears. No more for this bastard, our ‘husband,’ will there be tears. Your Father has wealth I am certain?”

“Yes.” She felt dizzy, sick…

“As also mine. This Yannick desires more than beauty or sex, our money to waste. Do not faint on me, Amanda. The steps we take most severe to destroy him, he will not destroy us.” She looked Amanda in the eye, shook her shoulders. “We have the means. In France also the women may judge these things. Divorce him together, destroy him together. Together. For all women we shame this misery from the face of France!”

Alix left the room and returned with brandy in a water glass, gave it to Amanda and waited a few minutes for it to hit. When Amanda had calmed, Alix walked with her slowly, held her hand all the way to the station where they sat together on a worn, wooden bench and waited for the train. “Be strong for us,” Alix whispered when she kissed Amanda on the cheek before releasing her to board the train. “Be. Strong.”

***

Alix had said “We must be taken ill when he returns to us. He cannot touch us. No sex, no control, unable to attend the bank for him? He will go mad.” Amanda stuck to her orders from Alix, feigned “ill”, kept her mouth shut while her anger and her heart simmered into a slow boil for the two days Yannick was home before he was off to Florence on “business.”

Amanda had not only inherited her father’s money, but her one character flaw as well. Impatience. She didn’t wait well, didn’t like, as her father had said, to “let shit ride.” Now she’d let some sweet talking, hot love making pretty boy French bastard take over her body, her mind, her very soul. Let him blind her, blindside her, and marry her just two weeks after he’d married a wild, rich, blue-eyed French girl. Who the hell did he think he was?

Whatever Yannick’s business in Italy, it had been unpleasant. On his return he was irritable, needed a shave, needed a shower, wanted a woman. He drank champagne from the bottle, directed loud, profane insults at Amanda in three languages, asked her why did he have a sick wife he couldn’t fuck? She lost it. Told him she knew. About Alix, about all of it. Because some “arrogant, idiot, dickless bastard had left a watch in a cottage in Saint-Germain.” She called him “the most useless piece of shit excuse for a man ever born.” An outburst that left her on the floor of their bathroom semi-conscious with a broken jaw, a cracked cheekbone and two fewer teeth than she’d had that Sunday morning. Lying on the floor, consciousness fading, all she could think of was Alix. Unaware, alone, and directly in Yannick’s path. He had stormed out in such a rage. He was dangerous. Alix needed to get away…To be safe…Amanda passed out thinking of her, of Alix, the French girl with those blue, blue eyes.

Yannick arrived in Saint-Germaine, at least as drunk and more self-righteously enraged than when he’d left Paris. Alix refused to let him in, but she did let him make enough noise pounding on the door and screaming profanity at her to wake her neighbors. He found an axe leaning against the woodpile, used it to break down the front door. When he was at last standing inside, dripping sweat, axe raised and with a dozen or so neighbors looking on, Alix shot him four times with the Walther PPK her father had taken from a dead German officer in 1944. She dropped the pistol on Yannick’s body when she stepped over it and through the splintered door into the late summer night. She would take the next train to Paris, find the beautiful American woman and tell her the good news. Tell her how a passionate, blue eyed French girl with impossible hair had begun to feel about her, see what she thought about that.

Revised and Updated

Mighta Shoulda Woulda

“Me? You askin’ me about true love?” Old Upjohn squinted across the table. “Lamar, you too old to be high this time of the mornin’.”

“Not high. Lookin’ for insight. Figured you might have some. You had a Mrs. Upjohn.”

“I had four Mrs. Upjohns. Not one of ‘em sends me a damn Christmas card. ‘Course now two of ‘em are dead, so they’re off the politeness hook. But the other two? You’d think they’d have softened up some.” He shook out his napkin, dropped it on his thigh. “Well hell. I say that an’ last time I saw Janelle she’d softened up like a vat of unset chocolate pudding.”

“Cold shot, Upjohn.”

“Gots to call like you see ‘em or you’ll end up lyin’ ’bout everything.”

Upjohn flashed his dental work when he saw her coming. The waitress smiled her best clip art smile in return when she eased up on their table. She glanced at the unexpected white man across from Upjohn. “You doin’ alright this mornin’, Mr. Upjohn?”

“Just fine, Miss Deevers. Two of your best customer size slices of warm peach pie. And you can lean a little harder on the butter pecan than you did last week.” He winked, took her temperature by telepathy. “Lamar’s okay. I brought him along to lighten the room up a little is all.” She said nothing, Upjohn turned to watch her walk away. “My, my, my.”

“That right there how you come by four ex-wives?”

“Lookin’ never killed a man. The changeable nature of True Love, what you asked me ’bout. That’s how I come by four.”

“You loved all of them the same, just changed names?”

“Love ain’t never the same, Lamar. Just as good, but different. But now two of those exes, only one of ’em dead, are down to true love. Down to that one you ain’t heard from forever, calls you in the middle of the night, you’re right next door to dreamin’? The one turns your mind into a possum that rolls over and plays dead and the rest of you is aftershave and a hard on and you’re out the door barefoot in the snow. You married your N’awlin’s girl, that right?”

“That I did. I’m a lot of things, with fool right on up there, but not about her.”

“Well, see? You were smart. N’awlin’s girls…” Upjohn got his time machine in gear for a couple of beats.

“You lost two wives to a New Orleans girl?”

The waitress set two plates of pie, and two coffee cups down with more noise than necessary. “Pie’s too hot to eat, gentlemen. Too much ice cream to be healthy for a man your age, Mr. Upjohn. Pie is all? Mmm.” She tore off the green check, slipped it under Lamar’s plate. “Two wives to a New Orleans girl? Something I need to stand around and hear?” She was gone before she got an answer, and took Upjohn’s attention with her.

“New Orleans girl?”

“Miss Aida Marie Charpentier. Should’ve heard her say it. Shar-PEN-tee-ay.” Upjohn kissed the tips of his fingers and opened them like a flower. “The color of expensive milk chocolate. Long, wavy hair. Said her people were from the islands. She never said which ones, exactly, but my money was on the Caribbean somewhere. Or a Frenchman at the back door, maybe. She was all kinds of French. And sass? Damn that woman could talk. She’d talk and men would listen just to hear her voice. She put olive oil on her hair every couple of weeks, slept in it like that before she washed it out. Made it softer than silk. Threw her pillow away after and expected whatever man she was seein’ to buy her a new one. She was the one. In my mind, anyways, but not hers. Long time gone, that one.” They listened to plates and glasses clinking, the hum of conversation and the ice machine for a few minutes while they hit their pie and coffee.

“You think maybe how we feel about somebody isn’t always reciprocal?” Lamar caught half a fork of peach and ice cream trying run down his chin.

“Ain’t enough room in your mouth for some pie and them damn fifty-cent words, Lamar. You mean do I think how they feel about us is the same as we feel about them? Nah. People have their own minds. Even if it’s close, it ain’t ever the same. Most times it’s all kinds of lopsided. Nothing fair about nothin’, usually. Love most particularly.”

“So we’re bangin’ around out here, and we carry a piece of whatever we knock into with us? Maybe they carry as big a piece as we do, maybe not?”

“What I’m sayin’ is people remember how you hit them, not how they hit you. Whatever you hit, don’t matter if it’s a ricochet or a full-on wreck fucks you up like the time down in Alabama Tommy Thorson drove that old Buick with all of us in it smack into a water tower. The Buick and the water tower and all of us? We all carry the marks till sooner or later somebody comes along with a bucket of paint, the casts come off. But the dents and dings and scars just get covered up, they don’t go nowhere. And mind you, the water tower come out quite some better than us and that Buick.” He forked up some pie crust dripping with butter pecan. “You recall a bass player name of Talon?”

“Shit, Upjohn. Talon? Where’d that come from?”

“That’s no on Talon?”

“Yep. This is one I haven’t heard?”

“Just like when you was a boy, Lamar. If you ain’t heard it, you need to listen up.” Upjohn waited for the coffee cups to get reloaded, turned and watched his waitress again. He turned back, dropped a spoonful of the ice cream into his coffee. “Where was I?”

“Bass player named Talon?”

“That’s right. Talon, he played bass with one finger. One finger, a thumb and a sometimes useful nub where his little finger used to be.” Upjohn held up his left hand, folded two fingers and half his pinky away to illustrate.  “Indian boy. Told a story about some accident workin’ for the railroad, hookin’ up boxcars together or somethin’. Lost two and half fingers, both hands. I’d never seen him before and he turns up on a pick-up job one night, backin’ up some half-famous slick from Dee-troit. I say to the man, you know, can you play the blues, your hands fucked all up thataway? He told me if I didn’t have the blues, he’d give me some.”

“Did he?”

“Damn straight he did. Man could play.”

“Seriously, Upjohn. Talon has something to do with what?”

“Out back in the alley, after the slick had hit it? We was drinkin’ together, havin’ cigars we got as parting gifts from Mister Dee-troit. I ask this Talon fella how it would it have been to have all his fingers and not be flyin’ all around up and down the neck like he did. He said ‘If what mighta been shoulda been, it woulda been.’ And see, it had always been his dream to play music, not hook up box cars. Maybe the man’s only way outta the train yard was cuttin’ off some fingers. You got a big word for that?”

“Fortuitous? More likely some of that invisible business.”

“More’n likely invisible than fartawhodumas.” The grin lit up his face. “Look here, Lamar. Aida Marie? I didn’t go runnin’ out in the snow barefoot, but there for a time my mind did still turn all possum whenever I’d go down Aida’s road. Thinkin’ how she smelled after she washed the olive oil out of her hair. How she smiled sittin’ at a N’awlin’s café table. How she laughed. Just that much of her in my mind was enough for two wives to quit me. That’s how it works out. One of you thinks it coulda and shoulda, and some of that invisible gets in there like a brick wall and turns coulda and shoulda into never woulda, so you have to let it go. And after a while you hope what shoulda bangs into you goin’ ’round a blind corner.”

“You still think about mighta been with Aida?”

“Nah. Mighta done run its course a long time ago. Never really was much mighta there, I look straight on it. But I could pick up a guitar right now and go on down Aida Marie’s road a ways.” He reached across the table, put an index finger on Lamar’s chest, over his heart. “It all comes from right there, Lamar. Can’t play the blues ‘less you have some. Can’t tell stories if you don’t have none. Nothin’ happens that you don’t carry the blues of it in your suitcase and know the story goes with it. Less you got ice in your veins or live some kinda way so as you always have money in your pocket and don’t never set up to get your heart broke.” He guided the leftover melted butter pecan ice cream from his pie plate into his coffee cup, stirred it. Eyeballed it a second and motioned for another refill.

“The Talon fella? It don’t matter he lost some fingers, he got what he truly wanted. Me and Miss Aida Marie Charpentier? It don’t make no difference who wrote the song I’m playin’ when I think on her, I put her in there. So truth told about true love?” He reached, tapped Lamar’s heart again. “We all write our own fairy tales, my brother. And we all sing our own blues.”

 

Photo – The Absinthe House, New Orleans.

Merry Christmas

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

— Mother Teresa —

Make all the difference you possibly can in 2017, everybody.

Merry Christmas!

Leftovers

She cringed when everything disappeared for a second while we passed the truck. The windshield wipers brought the wet freeway back into shiny night time soft-focus and she opened her eyes.

“At least we don’t have to think about dinner when we get home. That’s the nice thing about Chipotle leftovers.” The only nice thing about Chipotle leftovers is that, like red beans and rice, it’s better on day two and she was trying to distract herself from the rain and the freeway and my driving by talking. And distracting me. “We have cheese, too. Leftover from Thanksgiving, but it’s probably still good.”

“Is it possible for Velveeta to go bad? I mean it’s yellow candle wax.”

“It was kind of stiff. You need to get over a lane sometime.”

“Thank you. I’m trapped till the white Caddy gets off my ass. Our daughter liked it. She nuked it until it screamed and put it all over her broccoli.”

“She did? I didn’t notice. Well, I like it better when it has Rotel or something in it. We should have done that.”

“Yeah. Velveeta on its own is pretty disgusting. It’s too thick unless you cut it with something. Probably why we don’t ever buy it.”

“Maybe. There might be another reason.” She was smiling now, a twinkle in her eye, the exit in sight.

“Yeah, maybe?”

“Yeah.” She put her hand on my arm. “Maybe we don’t buy it because all we need around the house is another excuse for you to cut the cheese.”