good nights, she plays the accordion with passion and calls the sleet
on the streets silver. On bad nights, she chews on a harmonica and moans
about severed head lovers served on platters. Every Thursday she performs
at the Paradise Gardens, with accordion or harmonica, to an audience of
coffee-romanced vegans, environmentalists, and liberals with hearts long
sapped of blood. They sit in wonder and anticipation (except for the liberals,
who, like vampires, cultivate an air of lethargy) as to whether she selects
accordion or harmonica, sings like an angel or wails like a banshee, and
pride themselves on knowing through her music the nature of her soul.
For she always looks the same. Dress of green velvet. Stars of blue glitter
in her pale blonde hair. Shoes of brown felt with pointed tips. And a
face that reflects all the gold of the sun or the cold of the moon, that
embraces all life or celebrates all death. This is the woman, the new
Eve, the audience knows and loves. Yet one Thursday, near the end of March,
she takes the stage in green dress, blue stars falling from her hair as
she crosses to the microphone, and holds up to the audience neither accordion
nor harmonica. She holds a saxophone, and the people shift uncomfortably
on their black leather cushions.
One of them, a man, stands behind his chair,
his hands entwined around the top, his thin head pressed between square
shoulders. His hair is bright orange and shoots up like flame; his eyes
are the polished black of a Hussar’s boot. “Wait,” he says. “What are
The question has more philosophy than demand
to it, more doubt than desire. Why is she doing this, the woman they know
and love? Why change her song? The sight of the saxophone vexes him. His
palms sweat, streaking and smudging the chrome frame of the chair. His
hair smells like a dry potato. He will go back alone to his apartment
tonight, a three-room affair with pipes that drip and a cracked window
that looks over a park where no children play. He calls himself a writer
because he owns a typewriter, and tonight his imagination will be tortured
by a woman in a green dress who lets the stars fall from her hair. She
plays a saxophone, and he does not know why. He lives an orderly life.
He orders non-Colombian coffee every time she plays.
“Let her play.” One of the bloodless liberals
struggles to sip his green tea. He winds the white whiskers on his scarred
chin around the top of his pencil as he pores over the sacred mysteries
of the newspaper crossword puzzle. He would rather do this than argue
with an orange-haired boy about a girl in a green dress. But he enjoys
her songs; they soothe his thoughts and breathe a snatch of Promethean
fire into his petrified soul. He likes to slip into the smooth rhythms
as he ponders a five-letter word for boredom. He leaves when the place
closes and arrives when it opens; he does not mind being one with the
décor. When he desires sleep, he reads the spines of books on a
bedroom shelf. “What does it matter as long as she plays?” he asks; the
question is rhetorical.
“It does matter. Taste always matters.”
A third voice, emanating from the alcove in the back, from the wide, white
lips of a man reclining on a couch with zebra hide upholstery. He is a
man of black and white. Dry, black hair wired to his skull. Oiled, white
flesh sagging around the cheeks and chin. He is pimples and impatience.
An environmental nihilist, in love with Mother Earth but resigned to her
destruction, delighted by the folly of men. He leaves the bag in the water,
so that the tea grows as thick and dark as blood and tastes just as acrid.
What he does at home, if he has a home, does not matter. His is a public
life of mischief and mayhem because all else fails to stimulate. “I want
nothing less than the best,” he says from his position on the couch. “The
audience deserves the best.”
“But why the change? Why do this? The harmonica
and accordion work well.” The thin, orange-haired man is not certain of
this. He has read of the importance of unity in art; when he finds this
unity, he sleeps the sleep of the comforted, with afghan up to his neck.
He cannot fathom the aesthetic of discord, the postmodern potpourri. He
writes stories with a beginning, middle, and end. His characters always
have epiphanies, and his last lines are the precise products of hours
of white out and glasses of water. The woman on the stage is no longer
“Let her play.” The liberal now speaks
with the authority of age but cares only about a twelve-letter word for
gaudy. If his words end the debate, all the better for him. What does
it matter? Why all the fuss? “Just let her play.” She can strike the chords
of pain and let Rome burn for all he cares.
But the third man prefers to stoke the
fire. “Only if she plays as before,” he says. “Only if she gives us what
we want.” From his place in the back, he watches the woman blow softly
on the mouthpiece of the saxophone, tap the pointed tip of her shoe on
the floor of the stage. She lowers her head, no stars fall. This is a
show in itself.
“I don’t understand.”
“Get on with it.”
“Only if she gets rid of that thing.”
The third man points at the saxophone shimmering
under a single blue stage light. The woman called Eve can endure no more.
She has sweated under that one, cool light. She has let her mouth grow
dry and her pulse quicken with more pain than pleasure. After tonight,
she will destroy the saxophone, bury it among the metal and cloth ruins
of the harmonica and accordion, in the corner of a coat closet. She will
take to painting still life works of flowers and fruit. She lifts the
instrument to her shoulder and walks off the stage.
A boy watches her. More young adult than
boy, but there is still some red in his cheeks, and he admits to eating
the occasional creature. A rogue of a boy. He slides half a bagel into
his mouth and licks butter off his fingers. He follows her.
She leads him to the alley behind the Gardens.
She stands beneath a golden lamp, where the rain in the air sparkles.
She plays on her saxophone a song neither sweet nor sad, but even, smooth
like the tidal flow marshaled by the moon. A song of Jupiter and Saturn,
of temperance, melody and harmony. He likes what he hears, desires what
he hears, for it is like no song he has heard her play. He takes from
his pocket a jade box he stole from an opium dealer in the Orient, carved
blossoms ring the top. He snatches the song and places it in the box.
That night and all others, he does not know sorrow nor joy.