FINE ARTS MAGAZINE
VOL 23/WINTER 1981
FEATURES Jazz: The Sky is the Limit____________________ 10 The Beat Goes On__________________________ 11^ Little Feminine Things______________________ 14
FIC TIO N _________________ The Man Who Killed Swans___________________ 2 Big Punkin Moon___________________________ 5 My Thing ______________________________ 12 Old Wine _____________________________ 16 Moving Mama_____________________________ ^
PHO TO G RAPHY __________________________________________ 6
POETRY ________________________________________________________________ 1 9
AKF 23 Editor and Design Director Managing Editor Associate Editor Poetry Editor Art Editor Photography Editor Editorial Assistant Production
DANESWINDELL JUDY KATZEL GUY REEL REID LEITNER SUSAN EADDY KAREN JACK PAMELA WILSON BETTY ALLEN, DOUG BARBER
We w ill co n sid e r u n so licite d a rticle s, m a nuscrip ts, art and photos at the beginnin g o f each guarter. ''C o p y rig h t 1981 by the U niversity of Tennessee. A ll rig h ts retained by the individ ual co n trib u to rs. Send to Phoenix, 11 C o m m u n ica tio n s B u ilding , 1340 C ircle Park Crive, K noxville, TN 37916.
THE M AN W H O KILLED SWANS Dana Kress
This story is a re-creation of a story written by Villiers de I’Isle Adam in 1888. Old though it may be, the ideas expressed in this art criticism are every bit as fresh today as they were 100 years ago; there are few works that treat with comparable sensitivity the plight of the artist in rnodern society. This story is a criticism of a society whose apprecia tion of the artist is bounded by the fact that he can paint a green pain ting to match the green wall, or make “pretty” music, etc. “Le Teur de Cygnes” is the first story in a collection of short stories entitled Tribulat Bonhomet. Unfortunately, many of these stories have not been made available in English editions. These stories were written by an artist for artists. While many people may scratch their heads and wonder what such a weird story is about, any artist, painter or musician who reads this story will have found a kindred spirit. Through the careful examination of untold volumns of natural history, our illustrious friend. Doctor Tribulat Bonhomet, came to learn that “The swan sings beautifully before dying.” Actually (he mentioned it to us again recently), this music is the only thing that has enabled him to bear the deceptions of life; to him everything else seems to be nothing more than tin-pan music or “Wagner”. — How did he come a connoisseur of this delicacy?
—Well: On the outskirts of the ancient ci ty in which he lives, the practical old man, one fine day, discovered in an abandoned park, shaded beneath a canopy of huge trees, an old, sacred pool—upon this darkened mirror were gliding twelve or fifteen of the calm birds—he carefully studied the shoreline, calculated the distance, remarking above all the black swan, the watcher by night, who slept, lost in a ray of sunlight. This sentinel, every night, held his eyes wide open, a polished stone in his long rosey beak, and
perceiving the smallest hint of danger to those that he guarded, with movement of his long neck he quickly threw into the wave, into the mid le of the white circle of sleepers, the alarm stone —and at this signal, the troup, still under his guidance, fled through the obscuri ty of the deep woodland avenues to some faraway lawn or some foun tain filled with reflections of grey statues, or some other asylum well kn ow nto their memory. And, in silence, a smiling Bonhomet con templated them for a long time.
After all, was it not upon their last song, that, as the perfect dilettante, he dreamed of feasting his ears? Sometimes, midnight sounding on some moonless autumn even ing— Bonhomet, torm ented by sleeplessness, would arise sudden ly and dress himself carefully for the concert that he yearned to hear one more time. The boney and gigantic doctor, having thrust his legs into oversized, rubber boots that con tinued, without interruption, as an ample, watertight overcoat, siipped his hands into a pair of chain mail gauntlets siezed from a medieval suit of armor (gauntlets he had hap pily acquired for the price of a song, at some antique shop). This done, he threw on his large moderne hat, turned o ff the lig h ts , w ent downstairs, and—as soon as he had pocketed the house key— struck out, as any one of us might, toward the realm of the abandoned park. Soon, through the som ber pathwarp, he ventured near the sanctuary of his preferred singers, near the pool whose shallow and well sounded waters rose no higher than to his waist. And under the vaults of leaves, adjacent to the lan dings he muffled his footsteps, groping for the dead branches. Arriving at the edge of the pooi, it was slowly, very slow ly—and without any noise—that into the pool he risked first one boot and then the other, and he advanced through the water with extraor dinary precaution, so extraordinary that he scarcely dared to breath. Like a megalomaniac just before the long awaited aria, his approach was such that, in order to accompiish the twenty steps that separated him from his cherished virtuosos, he took generally between two and two and a half hours, so afraid was he of alarming the subtle vigilance of he black Sheppard. The breathing of starless skies agitated plaintiveiy the high branches in the gloom sur
rounding the pool — but Bonhomet, resisting the distraction of the mysterious murmur, advanced wonderfully, and yet still unperceiv ed so that, towards three o’clock in the morning, he found himself, in visible, at a half step’s distance from the black swan, who felt not the slightest suspicion of this presence. Then.the good doctor, smiling in the shadows, scratched gently, very gently, with the tip of his medieval index, bareiy skimming the taut sur face of the water, directly in front of the sentinel! He scratched with such softness that even though astonished, the swan could not judge this vague alarm to be of a significance worthy of throwing the stone. He listened. At last, his in stinct having been penetrated obscurely by the “idea” of danger, his heart, oh, his poor and simple heart began to beat furiously—this filled Bonhomet with jubilation. Now, the beautiful swans, one after the other, troubled by this pounding in the depths, of their sleep, withdrew, in undulations, their heads from beneath their pale, silvery wings —and under the weight of Bonhomet’s shadow, entered littie by little into a state of anguish, having who knows what confused consciousness of the mortal peril which menaced them. But in their infinite refinement, they suffered in silence, as did their sen tinel, unable to flee, because the stone had not been thrown! The hearts of these white exiles began to beat in throbs of muted agony —intelligible and distinct to the ravished ear of the excellent doctor who understoood full well the moral implications of his mere proximity, and delighted, in incom parable sensuality, at the terrible sensation that his stillness imposed upon them. How fine it is to encourage the arists! he said to himself.
This ecstasy lasted almost three quarters of an hour; he wouldn’t have traded it for a kingdom. Sud denly, the light of the morning star, slipping across the branches, il luminated, unexpectedly, Bonhomet, the black water, and the swans whose eyes were filled with dreams! The sentinel, crazed with terror at this sight, slung the stone...—Too late!...Bonhom et, with a horrible, loud shriek that seemed to unmask his syrupy smile, fell upon them, claws upraised, arms outstretched, from across the ranks of the holy birds. And rapid were the embraces of the steel fingers of this modern knight: and the pure snowy necks of two or three singers were cut through or broken before the radial flight of the other bird/poets. Then the dying swans exhaled their souls, forgetful of the good doctor, in a song of immortal hope, of deliverance and love, toward the unknown heavens. The rational doctor smiled at this sentimentality, of which he stooped to savour, as a serious connoisseur, but one thing—the Timbre. He took nothing, musically, but the singular sweetness of the tone of these sym bolic voices which vocalized Death as a meiody. Bonhomet, eyes closed, drew in, into his heart, the harmonious vibra tions: then, staggering as if in a spasm, he collapsed on the bank, sretching himself out on the grass, lying on his back inside his hat, im permeable vestments. And there, this Maecenos of our time, last in a voluptuous torpor, relished, in his innermost being the memory of his dear artists delicious song—even though besmirched by a splendor which he considered to by old fashioned. And reabsorbing his comatose ecst asy, he ru m in ated a la bourgeoise, over this exquisite im pression until sunrise.
B IG ^ ^ PUNKIN M OON Michael Cagle
Gwenolyn always makes her way slowly down the dirt road and sits under the persimmon tree every time the moon is full, orange and low in the sky. “Big punkin moon you really look happy. Happier n’ I’ve ever seen. I like it when you come. I wish you’d come all tha time.” Her right arm is permanently lock ed at the elbow and at her wrist her hand turns inward toward her stomach and the fingers on her right hand are twisted like wire. Between her thumb and fore finger she pick ed up a fallen persimmon leaf and held it toward the moon. “Know big punkin moon, I love you,” she said, the leaf and twisted fingers a silhouette against the deep orange moon. “Now big punkin moon. Now. Guess what kinda leaf this here is. Sif you can guess. No. You can’t start guessin till I count three. Ready? One, two, three.” She paus ed. “Simmon leaf, simmon leaf,” she shouted, voice happy. “I beat you. I wins big punkin moon.” Gwenolyn lay on her back, drew her legs toward her stomach and giggl ed. “ I beat you big punkin moon. Big punkin moon I wins.” She sat up and looked at the big orange moon. “Now it’s yur turn big punkin moon. Yur turn to ask me sumpin.” She listened to an owl sitting in the per simmon tree. “Ask me sumpin big punkin moon. What? What you ask me. What kinda noise that made by in the Simmon tree you ask me?” She cupped her left hand, which has no fingers, up behind her ear. “I’m hearin. I’m hearin, big punkin moon. Uhhhhh, hootie owl, hootle owl, hootie owl.” Gwenolyn lay back down on the ground and giggled loudly, then sang. Big punkin moon. Big punkin moon, Whers you been fehr so long? “I made that up jest then. Jest then fehr you as I sunged It. There was silence. “Big punkin moon you gotta momma?” More silence, Gwenolyn bowed her head. “My momma too. She’s died. She jest tooked a sickness and died. Burned oyer younder. Right younder in that dirt patch. She ain’t there no more. She’s gone sumers else. She’s in hebin. She’s in hebin like yur mom
ma big punkin moon.” With the twisted fingers of her right hand she rubbed tears from her eyes. “Big punkin moon does you know what a daddy’s like?” There was silence. “I don’t neither.” Gwenolyn cried, long and hard. Big punkin moon, Shinnin in May Shine all day. “I sunged you another song. I like to sing to you.” She placed her left hand over her eyes. “Big punkin moon you got any friends?” Her eyes filled with tears, like little wells. “Don’t cry. Don’t cry big punkin moon. Don’t be lonely. Jest cause other moons say you ain’t like urn. But you are. Yur like urn. You ain’t no different. Why do some moons like to make you feel lonely? Why some like to make you feel that way? Yur the purttiest moon I’ve ever saw. Purttier and more gooder than any of urn. Don’t cry. If they was made to feel ugly they wouldn’t feel none too good. Everybody and everythin born with feelins. Simmon tree got um. Hootie owl got um. We got feelins too big punkin moon. We got feelins and look no different from nobody. If their feelins hurt they wouldn’t say them bad things. They wouldn’t say them bad things that make tears come. Some people don’t know. Don’t know they got feelins till they hurt. Till they hurtin Inside. When they hurtin inside them feelins make um see. Feelins make um see that hurtin. Somebody tells um they’s different they’d hurt. Feelins make um see. Make um see they’s like everybody else. They’d see. They’d know.” She removed her left hand from over her eyes. “See! See big punkin moon yur purty! Purttier than any of um! I ain’t never knowed nothin more purttier! Yur purty as they are!” She sang. Big Punkin moon youndet^loatin by, Purttiest moon in the sky, Shinnier bright than uh possums eyes, Shinnin up the simmon tree at night. Gwenol yn maneuver ed the twisted fingers of her right hand around her crutchin stick, slowly lifted herself up, turned sideways, and dragging her crippled foot, mov ed slowly back down the dirt road toward a faint light in the distance.
JA Z Z : The Sky i s th e L im it
Reid Leitner Improvisation, the art of spon taneous creativity in music, is what puts jazz in a class all by itself. With ingenuity, feeling, and the freedom of a bird, the jazzman breathes life into music. Jazz is improvisation. Yet improvising is more than mak ing music. It becomes a way of life. Take a look at saxman Jerry Coker, for example. As a child he was frustrated by traditional piano lessons. Sensing this, his father, a big band soloist, went to his son one day and said, “How would you like to play my horn?” “You mean your tenor...sax ophone? Yeah, yeah l‘d really like to do that.” Jerry picked up the sax and he has never stopped improvising since. He has improvised as a featured saxophone soloist with outstanding outfits like the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton bands. He has improvised in the field of jazz methodology as the author of five books, all of which are considered first-rate texts by jazz aficionados everywhere. He has improvised as a jazz educator, modulating from school to school, establishing jazz programs at seven universities across the nation. Coker’s latest jazz program was begun in 1975 when he came to Knoxville to teach as an assistant professor. Students started coming from all over the country to study with Jerry. “The jazz program in Tennessee has been enormously successful. It’s not showing up in numbers, but I’ve done this so many times before, I know the signs. The right people are starting to come into it...it’s beginning to achieve the notoriety it needs to attract more students and things.” Despite modern technology, we still don’t know how songbirds
make their melodies. So how does a musician learn to improvise? “To play jazz, you gotta learn your changes.” And Jerry Coker certainly knows the changes. He has lived through big band, swing, be-bop, cool, modern, and fusion jazz. As a teacher, Jerry is among the men who invented and pioneered jazz education within the last twenty-five years. Times have changed since the days when young players learned their craft hanging out in smoke-filled bars and clubs. “I did a lot of playing in black night clubs...this was when I was about fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. Those were some of the dearest moments of my life.” Jerry understands the profes sional world that non-classical musicians have to face. “The general music school has ig nored jazz and rock and roll. Two musical styles have gotten com pletely past them while they’re still, you know, reaching back for that European style...(Jazz programs) are often not well-founded—they’re supposed to perpetuate the status quo. The reasons are supposed to be based upon what exists in the real world, responding to the popuiarity of musical idioms, and responding to the practical needs of the students.” Knoxville has wealth of jazz
musicians. However, considering the potential audiences in this area, the club scene around town for both j a z z and r o c k is st i l l underdeveloped. But luckily, there are a few exceptions, like Zeke and Dan’s Restaurant, where you can catch jazz sets featuring some of the local jazz players. Nobody can really predict where the music scene in Knoxville is heading, especially with the coming of Expo. The concentration of talent in the area—jazz, classical, rock, country, as well as the indiginous blue grass— is extraordinary. Jazz is bound to grow in Knox ville, once again thanks to Jerry Coker. He is in the process of establishing his own jazz institute in the mountains of North Carolina near the border with Tennessee. Jerry and his wife, jazz singer Pat Coker, built the camp and grow their own food. They cultivate, if you will, fifty-three different varieties of vegetables. “It’s different. We have more of an open-door poiicy in jazz, and that’s why I don’t ever think it will disappear. We’re talking about something that is changing every day. Is the news going to disap pear? Is the sun going to come up tomorrow? Of course there will be jazz.” Changes, improvisation, and freedom. The sky’s the limit.
The Beat G o es
ROCK AND ROLL needs no in troduction. It keeps on rolling with the times because it has never really lost that basic energy and excite ment. The beat goes on. One guy who's all shook up about the current rock scene is Steven Young, Ph.D., assistant professor of music, rock fan. In fact, he’s so in trigued with groups like The Talking Heads and The B/52’s that he decid ed to form a new wave band com prised completely of students. The outfit is called The New (Wave) Music Ensemble. Actually, it’s a revival of The New Music Ensemble, a group formed by Young in 1972 which performed classical avant-garde music. But, because of the arcane complexity of the literature in this genre, their au diences became too small and s p e c i a l i z e d . Young grew discouraged. “It’s difficult for audiences to feel the emotion in this music...and most musicians really want to reach an audience, you know, they’re real ly sincere about wanting to com municate with people.’’ So the ensemble fell by the wayside in 1979 when Young left for California. “When I was out in L.A., I went to these small rock clubs every single night to hear music...and I was so impressed with the excitemerit and energy that was going on at a grass roots level. You know, just totally letting the big companies go and saying we’re going to make music just for the joy of making music. I came back really filled with the idea of doing that same thing.’’ Clearly, Steve Young is after that or Zeitgeist thing. “Music that has just been written, music that comes out of our whole psyche, can mean something special to us right here, right now, that it will never mean again...You can’t try to analyze or criticize rock from those Western European (musical) values because it has its own values. It has values of emo tional honesty, values of Intensity,
values of immediacy. Rock is its own kind of music.’’ The New (Wave) Ensemble, however, is by no means “rock goes to college.” The rock/pop idiom, with its ethos of energy, emotion, and irreverence, will always be limited in the university world. But Young, in the true spirit, is taking a chance on romance. The band consists of male and female vocals, guitars, keyboard, bass, and drums. Only about half of the players are music students, but they are all getting a chance to do what is so important to every aspir ing young rock musician—gettin’ it together in a band. Songwriters are welcome too. Since The Ensemble is mainly in terested in doing original material, rock composers can get their ideas put into action. The band has already worked up submissions such as “Computer Error” and “Commando Woman.” The rockers in The Ensemble aren’t interested in any Walter Mitty daydreams. But for the time being, they enjoy the advantage of explor ing their creativity without the pressure of commercial "access. With the number of peop, ho will eventually join the band,some are bound to leave with definite ideas of theirown. Steve Young wants his players to explore. He believes in the dialectic of rock and, like everybody else, is very curious about where the music is going. “What impresses me is that every time things get into the doldrums, every time things get sort of conser vative and people kind of give up on rock and lose hope..there always seems to be this underground thing going on that tries to revive it.” The beat goes on.
THING Judy Katzel
The class clown. That’s what I always wanted to be. You know, a real wit. My first attempt was at slap-stick. In elementary school, I spent coutless after noons backing in one front tooth and tripping over make-shift bongos, just like Lucy Riccardo always did on TV when she was supposed to be silently watching Ricky’s band practice. But alas, when the “to bes’’ and “not to bes’’ in the entertainment world were doled out in the form of parts for the sixth-grade play, my fate was deposited in the latter category. I was crushed, although looking back, I guess I should have been flattered. After all, very few girls have had the privilege of portraying Ebeneezer Scrooge. Nevertheless, I remained in hot pursuit of a comic personality throughout my formative years. I remember the time I juggled four pocket calculators in my high school calculus class. The impregnable silence that blanketed Edward Copeland
the room was magnificent as the sound of electronic genius packed in plastic casing whirled round and round above my head. A class act, you might say, but it just didn’t work. And to this day,I’m really not sure why. I had the attention of the class, but something wasn’t click ing. In fact, if anything was ciicking, it was the shoe heeis of my squatty little red-faced math teacher as she hauled me to see the principal—the man who was supposed to be my “pal.” As I recall, I had several unpleasant encounters with this aiieged friend over scores of iessthan-successfui comic stunts. But those days are behind me now. i ’ve t ossed out — wel i , modified—the expectations of my own sense of humor. I’m no longer asking for rib-splitting hysteria—the kind that leaves folks writhing on the floor gasping for air. But, is it asking too much to see a smile? Hear a chuckle? Anyway, about a year ago, I traded the Groucho Marx nose-and-glasses set and the scuba flippers for a more scientific ap proach to the art of entertaining. For the past year, I have sacrificed every Friday and Saturday night— nights when I could have been home reading “Pygmies of the Congo, Vol. II”—to go to social events and analyze the behavior of those get ting all the laughs. It wasn’t easy, mind you. I spent many a grueling evening, slaving over Alaskan King Crab dipped in hot butter, while stu dying the charm and wit of the Royal Hearth Restaurant patrons. And, one evening, I spent four hours crouched in a palm tree planter at the Cabana Club—just to observe the fine art of table humor—at the expense of my own meal! And what did all this grueling and slaving do for me? Other than an ad ditional 10 Dounds (compliments of the Alaskan King Crab) quite a lot. I found that most jolly Jacks fit into two classes—Intellectual Wits and Cajoling Flailers. I observed the leader of the I.W. set at a party last August in Sand Dune Hills. I knew he was an In tellectual Wit because, number one, I couldn’t understand a word he said, and number two, everyone within earshot was laughing. I mean the room was rocking. He was pos ed in a Tastefully Decorated Corner. Martini in one hand, brown cigarette in the other-hair just like a Sears and Roebuck model. Man, was this
guy cool. I crept closer under the guise of a family heirloom and after several hours of hanging silently on the wall, I discovered his secret to success. It had to be those witty one-liners about the stock market coupled with an arrogant toss of the head that had all those women snor ting behind lace hankies. After the party, I went home and practiced in front of the bathroom mirror. I even dressed for the part—sexy black gown, seed pearls strategically placed, but something just wasn’t right. Even though I memorized the Wall Street Journal’s Jokes-For-Rich-Folks section, there was still something wrong with laughing over the price of a share of Stryker Drilling while sucking on a big green stogie. Not my image, you might say. I had picked the wrong prototype to lead me through the pearly gates of buffoonland. I don’t mind telling you, I was pretty distraught. In fact, I was overcome with a numbing sense of dejection that smacked of outright failure. Un til I met Her. I capitalize Her because she truly seemed to be the godess of gaiety— in the strictest sense of the word. She was my idol from the first time I saw her at. the hootenanny. God, was she funny. And, naturally, since we were both female, I figured that whatever she did to make peo ple laugh would be a natural for me. Unfortunately, it took me seven hours of foot stomping and hand clapping to realize the twains of our humor would never meet. She was a full-fledged Cajoling Flailer and I, I was a pseudo-comedian in'sheep’s clothing—feeling very sheepish. What could this person—who depended on affectations and primitively vulgar gyrations to amuse a crowd of quasi-socialites wearing red bandannas—possibly t e a c h me? T h e r e she stood— bleach-blond and big-boned shouting, “That’s a joke, son, get it?” Needless to say, my starriedeyed wonderment began descention around 7:00 p.m., and (with the aid of 47 variations on “did you hear the one about the traveling salesman?”) settled slightly above nauseation by 10:00 p.m. After feebly explaining that I had to depart from their charming soiree to check the beef tripe on the south forty, I politely tipped my straw Stet son and strode away— forever deserting my new-found cow bud
dies and their cow cud comedian. However, the evening wasn’t en tirely wasted, for it did spur me on in my search. For months, I had felt like a film crew member for a documetary on American Humor, but no more. I went A.W.O.L. got right up and walked away from that On-The-Road-With-Charles-Kuralt lifestyle, with no regrets. By golly, if I was going to have to learn to be entertaining, I thought. I’ll be damn ed if I’m going to do it by wrote, like some TV monkey learning to signal for right turns! As an imaginary crowd cheered and screamed, I made my way back to my less-than-lavish ground-floor apartment. Searching for humor there had to be cheaper and easier than out in The Jungle (it’s a cruel world, you know). At least at home, I had a six-pack in the frig and less than 500 square feet to cover. I sat down on the sofa and sta-ed at the ceiling. And lo and behold, there was the answer! Right there in the crevices of peeling plaster! It wasn’t Frank Sinatra’s version of “I’ve Got ta Be Me,” but it was close. The answer was more like a pair of Anne Klein knee socks— unique and specially designed. A style of enter taining patterned after designer socks was sure to be a hit. All I needed was a few neatly tailored jokes delivered in a tastefully casual manner. Be stiff, yet look comfor table. Everything in extreme, so long as it comes across as modera tion. I leaped from the couch and began planning my new and final ap proach to the art of entertaining. The Last Hurrah was in the works. No more juggling foreign objects, smoki ng ci gar s or sl appi ng thighs—mine or anyone elses. 1 dowsed myself with Yves Saint Laurent, slipped into my Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and glided to a •social encounter determined to Say Something Original. I felt I was an instant suc ces s -a fte r I got home that night. You see at the party, my Something Original came out as Something Tacky. But, I felt quite satisfied with my new-found humor. Just because several of the older guests didn’t ap preciate being labeled (fondly, of course) as members of the Blue Rinse Set seemed immaterial. I had finally mastered the art of entertain ing, and if no one else liked it, I knew I had a faithful audience of one—and I kind of liked that idea.
Little Fem inine Things Ancil Davis fashion...(fashen)...noun...a way of dressing, dancing, behaving or decorating with a creative interest that is noticeably contemporary... having an attitude of well-dressed snobbery...the state of being somebody...synonymous with style, a la mode, elan, haute couture and... “ C h i c , ” c a m e t h e s l o w, sophisticated drawl of Martin Hunt, part-owner of Mary Gill. “When I think of fashion, I think of ‘chic.’” Hunt paused for a moment, letting his ciear eyes waver between a perceptive blue and a vibrant green as he considered the statement. He was obviously unsettled trying to force the word into more thoughts than could be exhaled in one breath. But then, a gracious Southern gentleman can’t help being puzzled by a sudden request to limit a world where style, charm and elegance are as boundless as a designer’s sketchpad. He was tugging at the corners of his tweed knee britches, while the idea of fashion kept tugging at his brain. “There are just so many aspects of fashion, you can’t say one word. Fashion is a multitude of them,” he added as a finality. Runn ing his elegantly sturdy fingers through an amber shock of blanch ed hair, the mentor of a fashionable clique has been momentarily seized by its constantly changing face. This game’s stakes read like a neophyte’s guide to the finest sen sibilities in existing fashion, with designers dictating their momenPhotographs by Kenneth Robinson
tary whims. Adolpho, Armani, Blass, Cerruti, Givenchy, Gucci, Jourdan, Klein, Rizkella, Valentino and St. Laurent. On the solitary strength of their distinctively singular titles, their names could fill a distinguish ed register of lasting legends, a who’s who of haute coutoure. This creative elite, ruling from fashion empires that stretch from New York to Paris and Rome, court the beautiful people with flashes of in spiration engulfed in snobbish elegance. Celebrities aren’t born there, they are carefully bred and woven slowly into the social fabric like thin strands of imported silk. Their clients are the noble, the rich, the powerful, the trend-setters in a world where living well is the best revenge. These are people who frequent candlelit cafes on the Left Bank of the Seine, dine at intimate parties for twelve and are regularly mentioned in the bible of the Amer i can f a s h i o n i n d u s t r y , “Women’s Wear Daily.” Hunt’s shop, launched 53 years ago under his aunt Mary Gill’s distinctive cachet, is nestled into
the Strip like an intimate rendez vous surrounded by a vulgar board walk. Rows of restaurants and record shops surround it, assaulting the senses with glaring beacons and announcing the arrival of a highly technical consciousness to the eighties. People are'rushed through turnstiles that gleam with the sterility of polished chrome, and are processed according to some fa s t-p aced vision of a whole civilization’s desires. In the window of the front en trance, which has been brushed a bright Vermillion to cover decades of wear, a discreetly lettered sign hangs behind the clear pane. By Ap pointment Only. The simple invita tion suspended from the door is strangely alien amidst a neighborhood of neon palaces pushing disposable dreams. But the selective sign is a small formality, forbidding only to those who are uninformed, or to those social lepers who are never received at the “A” parties. It’s a private, little place Bette Davis would walk into and with drip
ping sarcasm exclaim, “what a dump,” before slinging aside her fur to pore over the gowns. The fur ni shi ngs are secondar y and haphazardly positioned around the room by some unspoken necessity for disorder. The privy are the c l o t h e s , b r o u g h t f r o m t he fashionable avenues of New York. Baubles diligently scouted and selected for their barometric pressure in the steamy environs of opulent showrooms along Seventh Avenue. Black silk skirts with ribbon runn ing around their perimeters like brightly colored rings of Saturn are draped next to aquamarine, pink and white sequins suspended from chif fon designed for the evening. Soft shoulders and daring decolletage mark the spring lines like pastel but terflies dotting a garden of hyacin ths and lilacs. Frills are reppearing around plunging necklines and l o w - c u t backs to accentuate angular curves and delicate lines. “Fashion is for the wealthy,” in toned Martin dryly. “We’re going in to a much more beautiful, more elegant atmosphere. The pendulum is swinging, and it’s been so stylish to be casual and not pay any atten tion to how one looks. But in men’s and women’s wear, we’re becoming more sophisticated.” If politics is any indication of an upsurge in sophisticated tastes, the country is in the midst of a revolu tionary refinement. The reigning regime is bringing an esprit de corps to Capitol Hill In the grandest tradition of the Republican party. The Reagans are expected to launch a style of gracious living and tasteful entertainment that will filter into the mainstream of American life. The snub that designers have endured during the past four years is apparently finished. “Little feminine things are com ing on so strong on account of the new administration,” Hunt added with a glint of satisfaction in his eyes. The light bounced lightly from his eyes onto the rich fabrics that women garbed in the dernier cri of tomorrow are wearing today. In the twinkling of an instant, the pattern of fashion had been reveal ed like a mysterious fortune tucked neatly inside the imagination. But it’s a familiar game to Hunt, who is an expert on proper play and the variety of subtleties it entails. He’s been playing this elegant game with the wealthiest clients for several seasons, and he never loses.
OLD WINE Gary Simmers
She dances well, floating across the floor in her white gown. Her shoulders are bare, very pale in the dim glow from the terrace. Her body is still lithe, almost suggestively primal, her figure equivocating in that vague region between girl child and woman. Her breasts are small, firm, dark shadows enticingly revealed beneath the thin fabric of her garment. She has dancer’s legs, too long for her adolescent body; they reach out eagerly, reckless, dangerous phantom limbs. Her eyes, unforgettable; green gardens shrouded in starlight cages. To the music of Strauss she is altogether vulnerable. It suits her. She wears her vulnerability like a pagan charm, weaving a mystic circle, enticing, forbidding, yielding. She is illusion. The fantasy is shattered by the presence of her lover, my heart’s betrayer. I have spilled much wine in his memory, casting, exorcising over broken glass stained with blood, reflecting alternate realities like the visions of Holy Glass in cathedral windows. Phallic, he towers in my vision, taunting me as he gently caresses my child. Ex istence has been avenged. She has chosen. And I, while the plague
ripens, must wait an eternity for my sickness to vanish. Catherine, dear Catherine, child bride, pagan mistress, seeking the affirmation of passion in a sustaining negation. And I, an initiate at an ordination, awaiting the denial of fate. With the demise of the Vienna woods, silent reality invades. She sees me, my mistress of nymphic charms, she who tenderly touches her men where the beast is restless. Her entrance carries the lightest whisper of chablis, the fragrance of rose. “You look well, Catherine.” “Charles . . . I . . . How long has it been?” “Two years, give or take a month. Lifetimes in miniature, Catherine.” “I’m sorry. I have not been very nice, have I? Has it been difficult for you?” “Not really. Sometimes.” “Did the doctors . . .” “No.” “I’m . . . sorry.” “It doesn’t matter anymore. We are burdened with our self, however ugly. Even you, Catherine.” I wanted to hurt, but I could never reach that part of her that was most vulnerable . . . maybe once . . . but
never again. She was really worse than I; we had nothing, but in my nothingness there was at least pain; Catherine was empty. Her playmate watched us from a corner, waiting, as once I had waited. He was too sure, too self aware to comprehend that he had ceased to be important, had become a puff of smoke already fading from Catherine’s presence. “Does he still amuse you,” I ask ed, watching her face struggle for a moment, then relax as she found the right words. “For a while.” She smiled, and the smile brought back all the pain, all the passion, all the wasted moments. She castrated me gently, efficiently, as she would a beloved pony. “ You never ruffle, do you, Catherine?” “If I make you so damned uncom fortable, why in the hell did you come here?” “I had to come. You know that. I .. . I still love you.” “Then accept me as I am. Forget what happened.” “I can’t.” “Damn you! Same old Charles, same sanctimonious, self-pitying bastard.”
“Is he better?” “Better! Better at what, Charles. Latent Puritanism does not become you. Better? You mean is he a better lay?” “Catherine, please . . . I . . . I don’t want to argue; I just wanted to see you, to be with you for a while. Is that too much?” “Okay. It’s okay. We can go somewhere, get away from here. This party’s a bore anyway.” “What about your friend?” “Never mind. I’ll tell him to go home.” “Catherine, we could walk for a white. There’s a carnival just down the road; maybe . . .” “Great, Charles. That seems somehow so appropriate. Besides, I haven’t been to a carnival in years.” So we walked. The night was cool and quiet, and the silences of a small town can be cleansing. The music drifting from the fairground seemed far away, unearthly, beckoning as if to call our spirits away from the rich, black earth beneath our feet. Catherine relaxed, slipping her hand in mine as easily as if time had not separated us those many nights past. “ What are you t hi nki ng?” Catherine asked. Her question was an intrusion, a violation reminding me of her present temporal reality, destroying the illusions I had momentarily recaptured. “Of times when boys and girls who walked hand in hand wanted each other.” She let go of my hand easily, gracefully, a subtle gesture. “Has there been anyone else, Charles, anyone since . . .” “Once. It didn’t work out. I don’t think it will ever work out.” “Charles . . .” “Don’t! It won’t help to keep say ing you’re sorry.” The carnival interrupted. Noise! Life! Catherine was so at home at the carnival. Charged as it was with neon and sensuality, the carnal at mosphere suited her. Eyes followed her everywhere, male eyes wanting, dreaming, and, as she chose, she crushed them with a glance, forcing them into guilty submission. They would never know how lucky they were that she did not choose them, how very lucky. Lights, sounds, smells, all mixed into a frenzy of passion commanded by her presence. She stopped at a sideshow, one of those freaks, “original” natural oddities struc tured in st yrene and cheap
Hollywood surplus. On the back of the platform sat a little girl half hid den in shadows, the star of the show. The front of the platform was filled by a cigar-smoking little freak for the audience of unwary marks. “Come on in, folks. For only one dollar, one thin dollar, ya’ can see tha’ sight of a lifetime.” He was breathing heavily, panting with his small effort. “Let’s go in, Charles,” Catherine said, “I want to see her.” “It’s not real. Just a cheap trick.” “I don’t care, I want to see.” The girl had disappeared inside the tent, probably to finish putting on her makeup. The fat man con tinued his efforts. “Hurry folks, tha’ show’s about ta’ start. Last chance ta’ see Lupe tha’ wolf girl.” Catherine looked petulant, spoil ed, beautiful. “Okay,” I acquiesced, “we’ll go in.” Inside, the lighting was dim as I knew it would be, had to be for the success of the illusion, even with a willing audience. The marvelous creation of fantasy! And all for low class men belching beer and stink ing of sweat and tobacco. The fat man announced Lupe. The audience quieted. The tent grew dark. A green light began to glow at the front of the stage, slow ly, purposefully revealing the girl, naked, sitting in profile. Her body wavered in the eerie shine. She was beautiful, well-formed, older than I had guessed from seeing her out side in the shadows. I could not take my eyes off her; I was spellbound, captivated. Catherine tensed beside me, reached for my hand, found it and clutched It tightly. The light began to dim, changing color to a pale blue. The figure on the stage turned with just the slightest hint of motion. The room was still, excited, frightened, expec tant, immersed in this suspension of disbelief created masterfully in a sordid, backwoods Southern town. Incredible. A universal gasp filled the room when the girl completed her turn. Catherine’s nails cut Into the flesh of my palm. My heart beat rapidly. This was too real, too frightening to be an illusion. The left side of the girl’s face revealed clear ly that one-in-a-billlon cruel jest of nature. Her features were wolfish. On that side of her face she was covered with a layer of fine, dark hair. The affected part of her mouth
was twisted into a grotesque, mock ing sneer. But it was her eye that chilled me-that one yellowish eye filled with pain and compassion, condemning yet forgiving each of us for our voyeurism, showing us a momentary gl i mpse of h e ll’s potential. “Charles, let’s get out of here.” Catherine was trembling. It was raining outside, the kind of humid summer rain that makes you feel dirty. “Charles, take me home, to your home. I don’t want to go back to him right now.” We ran all the way back into town, all the way to my apartment. Two crazy people running in the rain, run ning from something forever before us. She was still very beautiful. Nak ed, she looked much younger, a child once more, untainted and in nocent. She even had the freckles I remembered. Catherine held me the way a mother comforts a child, my head buried in her lap, smelling her animal scent, wanting her. God, how I wanted her. I tried. She did everything to help. But it was no good. “I can’t,” I said, “not without him.” “It’s all right.” “No, it’s not all right. It will never be all right. Even the doctors gave up, finally.” “I loved you, Charles. I still love you.” “And Phillip. Did you love him too, even a little? Maybe If . . .” “No!” She was crying, her strength finally betraying her. “Catherine . . .” “It was a mistake, Charles, the three of us. I didn’t know. It was so very wrong. But it’s not too late for us.” “It’s always too late. For you, for me, for him. You can’t throw away a slice of your life because it’s ugly. You can pretend, but Inside you know. It gnaws at every moment of your existence. There’s no medicine for it, no place to run.” “Then, there’s nothing, Charles?” “Nothing.” It was finished. Catherine’s gone now, moving gracefully. I’m what’s left, a fragment of three lives that met briefly in time. Waiting. Trying to forget the bitter taste of old wine.
pccT P y
The soft light of dawn Meekly filters through frosted panes, Hardly penetrating the cloak So tightly drawn. Finding pleasure in her new aquaintance, The chamber beyond begins to glow with approval, Having experienced only darkness for so long. And warmly welcomes his presence. Day wears on,bidding the blinds withdraw That she might fully realize the intensity Of one who desperately seeks To further brighten her world. Anxiously,she loosens the cloak. Exposing more of herself than previously dared. And,casting aside the drape. Completely opens to the light.
OPTION Dampened spirits soak the soul With water-colored sadness Hidden deep within your mind It soon converts to madness Cried into a million tears The salty puddle lies Laid before a smiling sun The disappointment dries Sheri Walker
As I went blind There was no absence of light: The dusk was a sample of impending hues, The night;a grotesquerie of grays. All life, a stain of shadow. My blindness was an artistry, A masterpiece, a swell to vagary Where detail and stress became apparent; The symmetry of nature Was a sketch of skill. Nothing was assumed,nothing was ignored. The springtime of my blindness (A groping march, a stumbling parade) I turned and faced a dimming world (the sun and sky),my family (the scold of the tongue was sharper) poised from cautious wonder. I tried to focus And the whole came clear. Lastly,on a lark, I moved to sit on the porch And the sun,attentive with warmth,sped the air. (The time of day doesnâ€™t matter.) I smile. Glasses clink behind me. Children are voices in a space,far away. They run to me Feet brushing the lawn with the sound of soft fire, Their tickling hands Outstretched for mine In my coarse blindness. Christopher Van Riper
In the great book of time I was b o rn one tiny littie question mark; one instant’s punctuation, to seek and reach and wonder. I never state nor exciamate, nor even pause in my interrogation. Celia McKee
They gather, disperse, and converge again; Soft,silver flashes in the stream. Too small for tiny fins to be seen. They suspend themselves together Motionless in their aquatic treadmill Until a twig, a leaf, a pebble splashes near, Sending them scurrying in all directions Like a sudden explosion of little silver darts. As the ripples subside, they abandon their havens. From behind rocks, from underneath banks. From small eddies in the stream they come together As if each were magnetized to the others. Each spring the insects arrive by the thousands To lay their eggs before dying. The minnows gorge themselves on newly-hatched larvae. Occasionally rising to the surface in a gulp of air. Lured by the final flutters of a dragonfly. Driven by the urge to feed, they will prey on anything. Soon the school is thinned of those Whose fins are not quick and strong. Mountain snow melts under the sun; The waters of the steam are icy even in summer. If you go to the forest and wait. You might see a raccoon Poking along the edge of the water, Dredging the shallows with his paws, Reaching underneath the bank Until he jerks back a fist bearing a flopping prize That quivers as it is taken Back into the shadowy darkness of the woods. There may even be a snake Drawn into a silent spiral. Patiently staring at the place the stream narrows. Suddenly the coil erupts forward. Piercing the water like a harpoon. Only to draw back a small, limp bundle That soon slides down a braided throat. Fish are always sluggish In the fall. They no longer stay in schools. And each must find his own sanctuary Under an overhanging log, behind a rock. Wherever the current undercuts the bank— Always where the water Is slow and deep. The winter winds whip the water to flow faster. On the surface of the stream it is swept along, Putrid, eyes glazed and bulging, A nick In the tail (deliverance from a turtle’s jaw). It barely scrapes over the shoals Until it comes at last to wedge In the tangled maze of roots That extend like groping talons into the water. Facing upstream, as the current pumps inanimate gills In a grotesque caricature of life. It will remain there until spring. They will find it and prey upon it in turn; Soft, silver flashes in the stream. David Gardner
I HATE CARS I hate cars ugly bastards All steel, all cold All wheels, all roll Disaster, faster I hate cars ugiy bastards No hands, no eyes No smiies, no mind Disaster, faster Down the street Going faster Look out Disaster
WET DREAM (I’m out of it or in -somewhere) like an enveiope opened and I’m only the lining inside And I know what it’s like to be that to want to be stuffed with unspoken words and burned in the night. From the thick of dreams to the thin of what is real to be surrounded by less than sound (to be that) and know what it’s iike to drown in your sleep. R.Wayne Bledsoe
Charles J. Freeman
LETTERS Words written on pages Paper white or egg white Crisp notes Teliing someone How iife is going Not reaily saying Anything but What we have time for Too busy or too poor To visit Always closing With see you soon’s And a promise to cali When the rates are iow or A picture of you standing by a leafiess Tree Smiling into an eyeiess iense Trying to convey a moment of happiness To someone who isn’t there Enciosed is a news clipping of a Recent achievment Hope the wife and kids are fine And these words Written on paper Find you weil and in good health Letters Jay Michael Downton
Sally Ham- Senior
Graphite- 22â€? x
17â€? x 12
Ronnie Gardner- Senior 26
Prismacolor- 25â€? x 19
Terry Conkin- Senior
In Southern families of dimension and seriousness there comes a pause about every quarter century when things fall apart. It usually happens when Grandmother dies, having outlived Grandfather by several years as grandmothers tend to do, and it’s just as if a giant hand comes down out of the blue and throws everybody into one of those tall shakers you make martinis in and thumps the thing around for a while and then dumps everybody out in a heap. After that, nothing is ever the same: the family home is sold, the silver divided. Grand mother’s things scattered to the four winds. Grandchildren become children; parents become grand parents (if the grandchildren have children of their own); and this be ing the case, as it often is, then of course great-grandchildren become grandchildren, which doesn’t affect them one way or the other because they’re too young to care. But it gets so complicated for the grown ups that they all have to sit around for a year or two and scratch their heads trying to figure out who they are and what they are and where they’re sup posed to go on Christmas morning. Actually, it wasn’t my grand mother’s death that brought things crashing down that spring. It was simply that after my grandmother had been in the nursing home for more than a year, it finally dawned upon my family that the tired old soul wasn’t going to get well and return to the family home which she and my mother had shared. Nor was my mother doing herself or anyone else any good knocking around the big old house all alone. More important, the house cost too much to keep up. During the past year my Uncle Frank had purs ed his lips and grumbled about how much more was going out of the family coffer than was coming in. It wasn’t that Mama hadn’t been frugal. She had closed off the upstairs of the house and had co cooned herself in two overheated rooms downstairs, spending the winter making mad dashes across the icy hall that separated the twin hades of her bedroom and kitchen. “Don’t you dare say I’m not keeping the heat bill down,” she would say to Uncle Frank. “Don’t even mention the heat bill!” she sniffed heroically all winter. Even so, the furnace started to act up late into the winter and when the spring rains came, the cracked paint on the outside of the
MOVING MAMA Minrose Gwin house began to peel alarmingly. Something Had To Be Done, decided my three aunts and Uncle Frank; and so it was determined that the house must be sold, proper liv ing arrangements found for my mother (who had not been invited to the family conference), and the news broken to Mama in the gentlest way possible by someone unfortunate enough to be chosen for the task. Of course, I wasn’t there and I got all this piecemeal. But I heard it this way: Uncle Frank, who knows all the real estate people in town, said he would see about putting the house on the market. My Aunt Mary Eleanor said that Agnes—that’s Mary Eleanor’s beau ty shop operator— had been telling her just the other day about some brand new duplexes for rent on the other side of town where all the new subdivisions were going up. Agnes lived in one, and she liked it a lot, especially the trash mashers. So Mary Eleanor said she would do what she had to do to find out if one
of Agnes’ duplexes would be suitable for Mama. And then everybody agreed that the best one to tell Mama would be me. To put it mildly, I didn’t appreciate getting stuck with a rotten job like that. It was unfair as hell, I thought, for them to decide to throw Mama out and then call me to drive four hundred miles to have her yell at me for something they had done. “I can’t come down there,” I said when Mary Eleanor called. “What would I do with the baby? You tell Mama.” “You could call here,” Mary Eleanor said hopefully. “Oh sure. Call her. Hi Mama, you’ve got thirty days. Are you kid ding? You know how she gets.” My aunt didn’t say anything. Everybody knew about Mama. That’s not to say she’s one of those women who shut themselves up in an old musty house and never come out except to buy groceries and then everybody talks about how wild-eyed and desperate they look.
28 PHOENIX J
Mama’s always kept herself up. She started wearing pants when all the others ladies did, and she gets her hair done once a week and her gray never shows. If you saw her on the street, you wouldn’t think twice. But every so often, something jams up in Mama’s head and she gets her mind set that she’s going to have it her way and then there’s no stopp ing her. J.T., the doctor we all go to, used to say she had a thyroid condi tion. He gave her pills for it, but I never could see that they made much difference in the way she would act sometimes. You never knew what she was go ing to do next. It was the talk of the town the time she was up in the psychiatric ward at the county hospital playing music for the pa tients and got put in a straitjacket because the orderlies thought she was one of the patients who had gotten out line. We never got the straight on what she did to make them think that. The nurses said Mama was stomping around the room giving orders and trying to get everyone in a circle for group therapy. Mama said she wasn’t do ing anything. Anyhow, after they grabbed her, they said she kept yelling over and over, “I am Octavia Meecham Howe!” And the place was in an uproar with all the patients laughing
and running around hollering, “I am Octaaavia Meeeecham Hoooowe,” and they didn’t get it all settled until they called Uncle Frank and he came up there and explained things and took Mama home. In the past few years, though. Mama had calmed down. In fact, my husband Jim would shake his head in disbelief when I would tell him about the time Mama fired the cook because the biscuits were flat and how she chased Jep the yard man around the house with a rake the time he trimmed all the berries off the Nandina bushes. Jim thought, in fact, that Mama had turned out pret ty well, considering that the dashing lieutenant she’d married during the war had dashed right off a year later, leaving her high and dry and preg nant with me, and having no op tions but to come back home. While I had been talking to Mary Eleanor, Jim had turned around at his desk and was giving me the eye. I knew he was saying that I should go; he would see about the baby. I ignored him. ‘‘Why doesn’t Uncle Frank tell her?” I asked Mary Eleanor. ‘‘He’s the one who’s always complaining about the bills she runs up.” ‘‘He thought she would take it better, coming from you,” Mary Eleanor said. “She’s never listened to me in her whole life and she’s sure not going to start now,” I snapped. “If that’s the way you feel, then all right. We’ll tell her, but I would think her only child. . . .” “Her only child has other respon sibilities,” I said and hung ap. I wasn’t there when they told her, but Uncle Frank wrote me a stiff let ter saying she’d taken it very well. When Mary Eleanor got over being put out with me, she did write to tell me Mama had pulled up the “For Sale” sign on the front lawn, so that “unsuitable” people wouldn’t think just anybody could buy the Meecham home and that she’d taken a broom to an antique dealer who had been lured to the house by the gossip going around about the place being sold. All in all, though, when I’d call to cheer her up. Mama seemed recon ciled to the idea and even told me she was checking off people in the telephone book that she would be willing to sell the house to. “I just want somebody nice to buy the placd,” she would say. “I don’t think I can stand it if somebody nice
doesn't buy it. I won’t have it turned into one of those awful antique places or have just anybody living here. I just won’t have it.” I could see her point. The house had been ours forever. My great grandfather had built it. During the sweet hot summers when I was growing up, people were always gathering on the front porch. In the evenings they would sit in the big swing by the hour - cousi ns, neighbors, aunts, uncles-idly swat ting mosquitoes and talking about the state of the Presbyterian Church. Sometimes Miss Cole, the blind lady next door, would throw open her French doors and raise her windows and play Rachmaninoff on her grand piano. And Mama would bring out the pitcher of iced tea and we would all sit on the porch and sip our tea and listen to the sound of those chords crashing over the hum of the katy-dids. On some of those summer after noons just Mama and I would sit in the porch swing and listen to the sounds of life within the house. The windows would all be open wide, the curtains batting softly against the screens, and we’d hear the clanking of plates in the kitchen and the creak of a rocking chair upstairs and maybe a song— half-sung, halfhummed—from somewhere inside. And Mama would put her arm around me and tell me stories about the house—how it was the only place left standing after the tornado of 1937 and how they used it as a hospital for the wounded and a lay ing out place for the dead and a rooming house for everybody else who had no place to go. And when she’d talk about the house like that, her eyes would get bright and glaring, and her hand would get tighter and tighter on my shoulder and she’d drag her feet to stop the swing so l‘d listen better. Then when she’d said what she had to say, we’d just sit there. I would be afraid to move. And after a while through the windows would come the sound of someone calling out to someone in another part of the house and then the reply would drift back, comfortable and reassuring. Then Mama would let go of my shoulder and begin to swing again and it would be all right. Now, as the weeks passed and the real estate man brought people to see the house. Mama would call to tell me about them. “That nosy Millie Mae Potter
came to see the house today,” she told me on one occasion. “Now I know and she knows I know she has no intention of buying the place. She just wanted to come in and poke around. So I just stood right there in the front door and told her I wasn’t having every Tom, Dick and Harry in town nosing around just so they could go out and tell everybody they’d been inside the Meecham home. “Well, she just stood there flutter ing about and saying, oh no, she was really interested in buying the place, so I said, ‘Millie Mae, I wouldn’t sell this house to you if my life depended on it.’ And I would have told her why, but that real estate man was about to have a fit, so I just shut the door in their faces. Didn’t slam it, just shut it quietly like a lady and left them stewing around on the front porch and after a while they went away.” And then there were the young couples. As they would follow the real estate man up the long front walk, their eyes would light up, I suspect, and they would be ex changing bright hopeful looks behind his back. I wasn’t there, but I know that the narcissus would be blooming in the flower beds around back. The jonquils too-yards and yards of them in huge square beds close to the size of my little house in the suburbs. Mama loved those flowers. The jonquils had been there longer than anyone could remember, but the narcissus were Mama’s. She’d planted them herself. For two hot days, she had stood in the back yard shading her eyes against the sum mer sun and yelling at Jep at dig a little more to the left. No, that’s the right. To the left, Jep. Poor Jep. He sweated and dug and sweated and dug until all the rich black soil was loose and crumbly between the two pecan trees next to the garage. From time to time, his rich brown skin would turn an alarming shade of gray, and he would collapse panting under a tree and say, “Hold up. Miss ‘Tavia, hold up!” Then Mama had taken the bulbs she had ordered—there must have been two or three hundred of them—and she’d planted each one herself in straight little rows. For a whole day she had crawled up and down in the dirt, her face warm and wet, planting each little bulb exactly six inches apart just as the
catalogue had said. If she were ever really happy in her life, it must have been that day. I was small, but I remember how she would look up at me, her face smudged and red under that floppy sunhat she was wearing, and she would smile like every bit of hope and gladness inside her had risen to the top like cream and was flooding out all over her face. “We’re going to have the most beautiful flowers in the whole state of Mississippi.” She’d picked up a clod of dirt and let it crumble through her fingers. “It’s a miracle, child. Nobody can explain it. You wait and watch for it to happen.” Every spring after that, you could almost see the earth in that flower bed start quivering around and com ing alive, and then pushing up to the sun would come the green shoots of the narcissus. Mama’s miracles. And after the moist white blooms opened, ghe would spend hours sit ting on the edge of the flower bed, touching the blooms, pulling them toward her and, fnally, bending down to brush her face against them. It’s strange, really. Whenever I think about Mama sitting there beside her narcissus, I can’t help but see her as young and beautiful with her hair long and flowing down; all graceful and bent over like a pic ture she is and she’s wearing a flowered dress that’s thin and light and the breeze ruffles it around her as she sits there on the grass. But that’s not the way it was at all. Her hair was clamped back in a bun and her dress was dark and it was star ched and heavy and there were lines around her mouth even then and she wasn’t beautiful and she wasn’t even young and I don’t know why I keep thinking she was. This spring Mama’s narcissus were blooming like always and the golden beds of jonquils too, but the house, once light and airy and full of the sweetness of the flowers, was now closed against their fragrance. The yellowed curtains in the bedrooms hung so terribly still that they seemed like live things playing a trick. Everywhere was the odor of decay—of old cloth and old dust. As the young couples would enter the house, their faces would fall, I suspect, as their eyes swept across the living room now dark and damp, the threadbare draperies pulled shut against the suri, and all those massive chairs and sofas and tables sitting there in that huge hushed
room like shapes in the black and white photograph of a time long gone. And looking at it all, they would feel they were in the presence of something stronger than themselves, stronger even than they could imagine, something they could never know, much less change. And their imagination would fail them and they would not be able to see the house restored to the brightness of the past. Then too it could have been Mama, swooping down on them before they could even get their eyes adjusted to the dimness, ask ing what the husband did, and why they wanted to buy the house and what they were going to do with it once they got it. It got so bad that the real estate man told Uncle Frank he simply was not going to show the house anymore with Mama in it, and that the family was just going to have to figure out something to do with her when he brought people by. That’s what I heard, anyway, and it’s probably the truth. So the weeks went by, with one aunt or another calling Mama every so often, asking her to go shopping or come visit or whatever, so the house could be shown. (I’ve been having such a good time lately, she wrote me.) It was about that time that the Snickbeadles came to town. T h a t ’s really th eir name. Snickbeadle. I swear it. They were from New York, and they had come to town bound and determined, it was said, to settle down to the ease and comfort of Southern Living, which just goes to show how little they know. I was home late that spring when they came by to look at the house. The long cold winter had made me restless, so I’d decided to take Jen ny and drive down to see how Mama was doing. Since I was around, Mary Eleanor and Uncle Frank got their heads together and decided to lure my mother up to the cemetery to clean up the family plot and leave me there to show the house to the Snickbeadles. They were supposed to come at one o’clock, so I put Jen ny down for her nap early in my old room upstairs and went out on the front porch and sat down in the sw ing to wait. It wasn’t long before here they came— Mr. and Mrs. Snickbeadle with their two teen-age daughters—and they all piled out of the car smiling so and looking so delighted by it all I thought I was go-
ing to throw up right then and there. When they got up to the front porch, Mrs. Snickbeadle said, “Well, you must be Elizabeth. I’ve heard soooooo much about you. How is your darling baby? I just know it’s a precious little thing. I hope we’ll get to take a little peek at that little dear while we’re here. Oh, just look at that ivy, George, and the swing! I just know I’m going to love this house!” She went on like that the whole time, and I didn’t say much, except here’s the kitchen and stuff like that. She just bubbled and spewed and ooooohed over the maghogany woodwork and ahhhhed over the three fireplaces and sent up clouds of dust pulling the draperies open so she could see everything better and George beamed a lot and measured the upstairs and decided they would take the two north bedrooms that had been mine and Mama’s when I was little and Mrs. Snickbeadle said the back porch could be enclosed to make a breakfast room and none of them seemed to notice the cracked plaster upstairs or the way the com mod e w o u l d n ’t f l u s h r i ght d o w n s t a i r s and wh e n Mrs. Snickbeadle looked out back and saw the peonies and iris in bud and the jonquils golden in the sun and Mama’s narcissus blooming to beat the band, she said, “That does it, George. This house is meant for us!” Then everything started happen ing at once. I heard a crash upstairs and I knew it was the baby. She had fallen off the big bed. I ran for the stairs. Then I heard her scream bloody murder and I knew it was all right because it was a mad yell in stead of a hurt one. But I was still galloping up the stairs as fast as I could go when I heard the front door open and Mama’s voice saying, “Mary Eleanor, I’ve told you once and I’ll tell you again, I am not going to sit and brood down at the cemetery all afternoon. If Daddy and Grandmother and little Bess are anywhere, they’re right here in this house. Right here with me where they belong, Mary Eleanor. Now, for heaven’s sake, let go of me.” I stopped for a moment on the stairs, not knowing which way to go, heSiring my aunt’s desperate mur muring out of one ear and Jenny’s shrieks out of the other. Then I dashed up the stairs to see about the baby. She was red-faced and
furious but all right so I snatched her up while she was screaming and yelling and ran back down the stairs. There in the hall at the bottom of the stairs was Mrs. Snickbeadie with her arm around Mama’s waist, telling her how much they loved the house and how perfect it wouid be for her and George and Kathy and Nancy, and Mama was shuffling around and backing up trying to get rid of the plump arm around her, and Mary Eleanor and the real estate man were standing there iooking horrified and I didn’t know what in the world I was going to do. I could tell, though, by the way Mama was eyeing the umbrellas in the umbrella stand that she was seriously considering snatching o n e up and c h a s i n g Mr s. Snickbeadle out of the house with it, or worse. I took a deep breath and then butted my way in between her and Mrs. Snickbeadle and pushed the baby up into that smiling face and said brightly, “This is Jenny, Mrs. Snickbeadle.” She started oohing and ahhing over the baby just as I figured she would and reached her arms out to take her. Then, all of a sudden. Mama, who had just been standing there not saying a word, shoved my arm aside and snatched the baby up before I could hand her to Mrs. Snickbeadle. “We don’t like for just anybody to handle her,” Mama said. “You never know what’s going around. She’s a very sensitive child.” “Oh Mama,” I said. She ignored me. “Now that you have seen the house, I suppose you can conduct your business art Mr . ... I’m sorry I don’t recall your name, at the real estate office.” “Well, then,” Mrs. Snickbeadle said. “Well .. . . ” She looked around uncertainly. I began to walk into the living room toward the front door, my arms folded saying things like I’m glad you came by and it’s been nice to meet you too. Finally, I got them out of the door and then walked back into the hall. “Mama, you should be ashamed of yourself, acting like that about the baby.” She was still standing there holding Jenny. “I don’t care. Those Beetlewhatever-their-names-are can poke around my house-1 can’t help thatbut nobody says they have to hold my grandchild, and that’s that. So you just hush and don’t talk to me
like that.” “But Mama, you just can’t treat peopie like that. It’s not polite.” She handed the baby to me. “Besides that,” she said with in finite wisdom, “she’s wet.” Then she turned around and marched off to her room. I guess we’d known the time woul d come when someone somewhere would buy the house but deep down I think Mama and I were hoping the nobody would want it and that as the months passed, the family would give up hope of selling the place and forsake the whole idea. When the telephone rang late that afternoon, we were sit ting in Mama’s bedroom reading. We looked at each other, neither of us wanting to answer it. But I finally walked over to the bedside table and picked up the receiver. It was the real est at e man sayi ng the Snickbeadles had bought the house. After I told her, we took the baby outside and walked up and down among the flower beds. Mama had her hands behind her back as she walked by my side. She looked very small and in the late afternoon sun I could see the lines around her mouth and eyes. “I guess I knew it would come sometime,” she said after a while. “Yes.” “It won’t seem right.” “No.” “I don’t know if I can bear it.” “You’re strong. Mama. You can.” She lifted her head and breathed deeply. The air was sweet. She sigh ed and looked back at the house. “It’s not just the house and all. It’s something else. It’s all of us.” “We’ve been here a long time.” “It’s more than that,” she said and began walking back toward the house. I stayed on for several weeks. They went by in a cloud of dust. Each day we cleared out a room. Mama worked like a mad woman, dumping drawers out, putting books in boxes, decreeing what pieces of furniture went to whom. Jim came down on the weekends and helped with the heavy work, and he saw to it that Mama got a nice little house with trees just a few blocks away. Mary Eleanor didn’t like that at all because she’d already put down a deposit on one of those new duplexes for Mama. But Jim told her in a quiet sort of way that if they were going to put Mama out, the
least they could do was let her go in peace. When the last night came and Jim had gone, the house was empty ex cept for our beds. To tell the truth, it was downright creepy. No matter how softly we talked, our voices would echo through the hollow house, bounce from the bare floors to the bare walls and back into our ears. Mama had wanted to stay until the last, though, and I guess all of us felt so bad about the whole thing now that it was done that we found ourselves unable to refuse her anything. Uncle Frank told her to take her pick of the furniture and had even gotten nasty with the real estate man, who wanted to give the Snickbeadles a key before our thirty days were up. So when Mama wouldn’t let the movers take the beds that last day, we all said that’s perfectly all right; we’ll move them in the morning and you can sleep here tonight, and Elizabeth and the baby will stay with you and then in the morning we’ll all go to the new house and have a nice dinner and everybody will bring a covered dish so you won’t have to go to any trouble, and we’ll all be together and have a nice visit. We all thought everything was going to be all right, you see. Even I thought that. I was so tired that night I didn’t stay awake long enough to feel ner vous about sleeping in that empty house. I don’t know how long I slept, but it must not have been too long because I woke up in the same posi tion I had gone to sleep in. I was on my side with one arm across Jenny. When I opened my eyes, I could see her little chest rising and falling against the trioonlight. Then I heard the back door downstairs open and shut. I closed my eyes and listened some more and then I heard the back screen door squeak and then close. By this time I was scared. I’ve always believed in ghosts ever since the floor started creaking in the upstairs hall after Grandfather died, but until that night I’d always felt that whatever ghosts there were in that house, they meant well and had just as much right to be there as I did. Tonight, though, I wasn’t so sure. Maybe our ghosts were mad about having to live with the Snickbeadles, and I frankly couldn’t blame them for that. My heart started pounding and I began to sweat. Several minutes went by and
then I heard another sound. A soft thud, thump—then another thud, thump—then again. It seemed to be coming from the backyard. A braver soul might have at least peeked out of the bedroom window to see what was going on out in the backyard but there are things in this world that I never want to lay eyes on, and one of them is a ghost going thud, thump—which is what that ghost was still doing. So I got up and tiptoed down the stairs instead. When I got to the bot tom, I saw through the darkness that door to Mama’s room was ajar. I crept forward and slowly opened the door the rest of the way. Her bed gleamed In the moonlight, stark white and empty. Then everything rushed together in my head and I started running across the hall toward the back door. That door was open too, and I ran through It and onto the^ screen porch and pushed open the screen door, and then I saw her. She had a shovel and she was dig ging frantically in the narcissus bed. I stood there for a moment watching her up against the moonlight, her thin body showing through her gown, struggling with that shovel, then bending down, picking up something, and throwing it into a pile beside her. Digging, bending, throwing, digging, bending, throw ing. The motions seemed to get faster and faster until suddenly I was running across the grass toward her. “What are you doing?” I gasped. She didn’t stop or say anything. I stood there for a moment, breathing hard. “Are you digging up your narcissus. Mama?” She nodded and kept on digging. “Mama, don’t you want me to help you?” I tried to catch her hand as she tossed one of the flowers into the pile at her feet. She nodded again, still not stopping. “Let me dig a while, then,” I said. So I dug a while, and she took the soft, dew-wet flowers and shook the dirt off them and put them in the pile. And then she dug and I shook dirt, and we stayed out there all night until we had dug up every one of those creamy white flowers. And when dawn came up all pink and golden and we looked at each other in our nightgowns with dirt and sweat all over us and she smiled a little, I thought it was going to be all
right. But then Mama took the shovel and went over to the bed of jonquils and started on them. And when she did that, I knew she was not going to stop until she had dug up the whole backyard. “Mama,” I said. “Not the jonquils. No!” I tried to pull the shovel away from her but she was too strong for me. She jerked it away and her eyes were too bright and she kept right on digging, her breath coming in ragged gasps in the early morning quiet. “I’ll have them all,” she said. “All.” Then the garbage truck came bumping by and all the garbage men were hanging off the back staring at us, and I knew I had to do something. I ran inside and called Uncle Frank and he came and took one look and called J.T. and he came with his black bag and grabb ed Mama’s little arm and pushed the needle in, and after what seemed like a long long time, she began to sway and sag, and we held her, and she drooped in our arms, and we laid her on the grass next to the flowers. And when I saw her lying there with her little breasts showing through her gown, I ran into the house again, my eyes so cloudy I could hardly see, and got a blanket to put over her until the ambulance came. They ended up taking her to a rest home down on the coast and she stayed there for three months. The doctor told us to leave her be, and I was glad because I didn’t know if I could have stood seeing her in a place like that. Jim came down that weekend, and we broke the sod in the backyard of Mama’s new house and planted all the narcissus and every time we go home in the spr ing, they are just blooming to beat the band like they did before. Mama keeps to herself more now. She’s let her hair go gray and when the mosquito spray truck came down her street last summer, she didn’t even kick up a fuss over the air pollution. They say the Snickbeadles have made a real showplace out of the house. I wouldn’t know. It’s out of our way to go by there so we just never have. Mama gave me some of the nar cissus bulbs and I planted them, but the darn things never came up in my yard. I guess it’s too cold up here.
Photograph by Karen Jack