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(from Jazz Notes in the Misty Blue: A Mountain Empire Anthology)
“Lolla Pa Looza, Alabama”
by Jeannette Harris
"A'-men, sister!" Phaedra agreed emphatically.
(... to be continued....)
“My name is Callie Vandra,” the tall gentleman wearing a natural woven-straw sombrero announced over the studio’s loudspeaker onto the dance floor of energetic townfolk swirling and parading in enthusiastically colorful conviviality. “If you wanna make a special request, step right on in here, and we’ll do our best to ‘get it on’ for you,” Cal promised in that throbbing contralto tone that drove Gladys mindless.
“Hey, Glad,” he called as she slid toward the door. “Come on in and choose one for the homeys.”
She pointed to ever-popular “Pack It In” by their own Dove Hollow Jug Band with Little Otto Mueler on bass.
Cal’s whole body nodded in approving agreement.
As the haunting intro hushed the room, Gladys drifted back toward Tonya, Tim and Patricia at their usual back corner table. “Fill up on the rye and ginger, Nettie. Please,” she looked up toward her neighbor‘s satin-gowned daughter.
“Whoa!” Tonya warned as Nettie leaned deeply in her low-cut costume to serve the table of friends.
Nettie grinned as she backed away toward the brass-railed service bar and relaxed into one of its high upholstered chair-stools, leaning forward to chatter with bartender Oscar about a night class in Eastern Philosophy they shared at City College. He refilled a large wooden bowl with freshly-popped corn from the machine and slid that down smoothly to Jimmy Rake and Jason leaning against the bar near the front door.
“Is the gang still here?“ Sasha wondered, gliding inside from the eerily light sky of early morning.
“Hey, sister,” Gladys yelled from their familiar dim cloister along the back wall. “Waitin ‘ on you.” She kicked a chair out, invitingly, toward the center of the room.
“Rum and coke,” Sasha ordered in passing the bar and Oscar. “With lime, she added on crossing the near-vacated room.
Tim stood and hovered, hesitatingly. “I gotta split,” he admitted with practical reluctance. “The Native Lands Seminar starts at ten.”
“What’s the prof’s plan?”
“A purchase and profit give-and-take roundtable,” he decided at the moment, “to get them riled up. I‘ve got a great historical First People video to run at the beginning.”
Cal turned the volume down on the Mitry Chorale’s version of “Don’t Get Me Wrong” to indicate closing time for the few members lingering within The purple-Striped Pink Palisades Private Party Club Concert & Dance Hall.
As Jean settled in to the soft gray cushions, Gary left to pull crystal wine glasses from the cabinet. He opened the refrigerator door noisily and found the chablis, poured it carefully and turned toward Jean.
"Nice house," she commented politely.
"Thank you." Gary nearly caught one large foot on the carpet as he reentered the room. "Want a tour?"
Jean thought some movement might allay the awkwardness between them. "I'd love one," she said.
He handed her a glass as she stood and put a steering hand gently on her back. "This way," he guided toward the spacious hall. "There're three bedrooms and a loft studio. Two baths, including the master off the largest bedroom. Lots of closets. Cathedral ceilings wherever I could manage them. Skylights."
Jean examined each room in detail and with approval. The house was immaculate and cozy despite its size. Bright colors adorned cushions and knickknacks and drapes. Only the thick carpet was plain, and even it had a subtle hint, shades of blue and green. It felt like a home well-lived in and cared for over the years.
"You designed it?" she asked in some astonishment.
In his mind's eye Gary saw the drawing board he'd taken down and his mounds of charts and scribblings. He felt Deidre leaning over his shoulder to gaze at the latest idea, now crystallized around him. He shook his head and put his hands in his pockets casually. "About seven years ago."
"It's large for one person," Jean commented carefully, as she peered into a guest bedroom. The house seemed like a family place. Unlike hers, she thought, so uninviting for children, or even much company. A nausea overcame her briefly, as she took in where she was and with whom. A relative stranger, she reminded herself nervously.
Gary coughed, holding a weathered and veined hand to his mouth. "It used to hold a wife and two kids."
"Oh," Jean said in some surprise. "I didn't know you were married." She'd pictured him as a bachelor. Panic overwhelmed her. She didn't know him. What was she doing here?
Sensing dismay, Gary reached for her hand and led her down the hall further. "For fifteen years," he explained, "give or take a few months and days and hours."
His hand felt firm and warm. "Are you," she hesitated uncomfortably and with a hidden terror, "divorced?"
Gary gazed into her open eyes and smooth upturned face. He examined the beige makeup and blue eye shadow, the hint of red on her lips, her small pink ears and trailing salt-and-pepper hair. She was really beautiful in a mature way, he decided in the end. "It'll be final in about two weeks," he assured her gently.
"Uh-huh," Jean murmured, relaxing from the tension and looking upwards. "What a wonderful skylight," she continued with some enthusiasm, examining the master bath. "Lots of light and plants. How lovely." She felt a woman's touch throughout and cringed a little. The aura of his soon-to-be ex-wife permeated his home. She felt unwelcome and wanted a name for it. "What was her name?"
"Deidre." Gary said it with a certain emotive flatness. He remembered her passion for decorating, saw her climbing ladders and holding paint brushes, choosing furniture in different stores. He felt her hand on him, restraining some whim as the house developed.
Jean wondered if Deidre was pretty. Did she have slimmer legs? Was she a blonde? "She did most of the decorating?" Jean quizzed.
"We did it together," Gary demurred, closing the door to each room as they walked back down the hall toward the living room. His feet felt leaden and his head ached dimly. Deidre's ghost leaned out from around the corner, accusingly. He shuddered and blinked his eyes. "How's your wine?" he asked Jean, diverting his thoughts to the present.
She arranged herself again on the couch and examined the magazines. "Wonderful, thanks," she answered, leafing through pages unseeingly. Her eyes focused. Decorator Home. Handyman Repairs. House Anew. Her heart ached briefly for what must have been better days and dreams. "You did a lot of the work yourself?"
Gary settled into the gray lounge chair briefly and sipped his wine. "I did what I could. Hired out the rest."
She straightened the magazines absently. "What parts did you do?"
He felt restless at the questioning and held himself with a will into the chair. "Wiring, plumbing, drywall, paper hanging."
Her spirits lifted. Fabulous, Jean thought to herself. An all-around handyman. Something her house could use, could have used over the years. She'd needed a man but never found the right one, had given up several times. Her affairs had been desultory, lacking in real warmth and care, she reflected, and the sex had never really been that good. She wondered if it was her or them.
"Are you ready for supper?" Gary asked hopefully, needing a change. Conversing with a woman again was difficult. He'd become unaccustomed to feminine presence, some daintiness in it, some need to be helped.
She gazed toward the dining room. "Yes indeed," she responded with enthusiasm. "You've laid the table out so fetchingly." She almost teased him about the propriety of the settings, then thought better of it. Instead she seated herself promptly and put a napkin in her lap. Her mood in the house, she noted, rose and fell along with her comfort level. Deidre must have been a formal hostess.
Gary walked toward the stove and picked up a large slotted spoon. "I hope you like spaghetti."
"Love it," Jean assured him gratefully.
He pulled bread out of the oven and put it on a silver platter. Then he ladled spaghetti and sauce onto two white china plates rimmed in gold. The accoutrements seemed to require explanation. "Deidre left quite a bit behind when she moved."