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(from Jazz Notes in the Misty Blue: A Mountain Empire Anthology)
“Vida Quandry, Georgia”
by Jeannette Harris
Chel let herself back in to her apartment and settled into the sofa with yesterday's newspaper. She would, she decided, go through the entertainment section and see if she could figure out anything from it. Also, she remembered suddenly, there was a magazine devoted to the city that might yield up places that would appeal especially to her tastes. The doorbell rang and Chelsea rubbed her eyes. She had nearly fallen asleep. Instead, she pulled herself over to the door and opened it to a tall woman with long brunette hair and large bangle earrings.
"Hi there, Chelsea. Don't mean to scare you," she noted.
"Oh no. I was just almost asleep on the couch here," Chel protested weakly.
"Sorry. I just wanted to introduce myself. Pam said you stopped by. My name is Katy Batina. Pam and I are friends and have been roommates off and on over the years."
"Hello Katy," Chel said warmly. "Wouldn't you like to come in for a minute?"
"Sure, I'd love to. I haven't seen this apartment in a long time. It's cute, isn't it?" she asked, walking from one room to another and finally settling on one of the orange chairs.
Chelsea sunk in again to the sofa. "You're my first company," she said. "Would you like some tea or coffee?"
"Tea and crumpets," Katy said in a silly tone so Chel would know she was joking. "No, coffee would be fine."
"Okay. Just let me get some perking."
"Oh, no. Don't bother with that. Just a glass of water, or juice if you have it would be fine," Katy amended, crossing her legs and smoothing her skirt.
Chelsea approved of the way Katy was dressed. She wore a light gray full skirt, a white blouse with a thin red bow, a black velvet jacket and gray suede high heels. The effect was very elegant. "Have you just gotten off work?" Chel asked curiously.
"Mmm-huh," Katy answered without much interest in discussing her employment.
"What do you do?" Chel persisted.
"I'm a clothes' buyer for Graolyn. Have you been there?"
"Oh yes," Chelsea breathed. "It's wonderful. I'm so intimidated though by the styles," and the prices, she added to herself.
"It's a hard job but it's fun sometimes," Katy said in a tone that closed the subject. "What do you do?"
"I'm a bookkeeper for Hought and Company. They're electrical engineers, you know, downtown."
Chel came back from the kitchen with two glasses of apple juice. "Here you go. I'm so glad you stopped by."
"Well, I can't really stay long. I'm tired and I have to get up early in the morning but I wanted to meet Pam's new neighbor. Especially," she added with a slight grin, "because Ned asked you out."
"Did he ask you out ever?" Chel inquired, her head at an angle.
"Yes, of course."
"Did you go?"
"Yes. It was fun. It wasn't a date. We just had dinner together. We still do sometimes." Katy uncrossed her legs and crossed them again at the ankle. They were long and the stockings she wore shone in the evening light. They were grayish black to match her outfit and accentuated the slimness of her limbs.
"You can go with us sometime then."
"Sure," Chelsea agreed suddenly. "It sounds like fun." There was a silence as they sipped their juice, then Chel asked, "Where do you go when you go out on the town here?"
"You mean what restaurants?"
"Well, yes. And what about book shops and tea rooms, if there are any."
"Sure there are. Did you want me to take you to a few?" Katy asked curiously.
"I'd love for you to do that." She wondered if Katy's taste would be the same as hers. There was no way to know except to accompany her to a few different places and find out.
"Well, give me your telephone number at home and work, and we'll work on getting together and going out on the town then."
"Will Pam...?" Chelsea asked hesitantly and without voicing her full concern.
"No," Katy interrupted her. "Pam isn't much for going out and we don't like the same kind of places at all. Pam is beer halls and chips on the tables and peanut shells on the floor. I'm cordials and tea sandwiches and strawberry torte."
Chel smiled. "Opposites attract," she noted without realizing what the import might be.
"Oh, we aren't...." Katy hesitated and didn't finish the sentence.
"Oh, I didn't mean...." Chelsea said almost simultaneously.
"Well, the truth is," Katy said, leaning back and taking one last sip from her apple juice glass, "once we were but now we are not."
"Oh." Chel couldn't think of anything to say for a minute. "How long have you .... not?" she asked finally.
"A long time really. It's a good relationship," Katy explained. "We've worked on it. We're friends. Good friends. And we take care of each other." She placed her glass on the table and sat back. "We just don't have that kind of relationship anymore. We haven't for several years."
"Does she have someone else?" Chelsea asked. She really wanted to ask if Katy had someone else, but didn't know how to phrase that to someone she had barely met.
"Oh yes," Katy assured her, reading her mind. "We both have had other relationships since. My most recent one kind of self-destructed a few months ago."
"Are you okay?" Chelsea asked with genuine concern.
"Yes. I wasn't to begin with but I am now."
"Well," Katy said, standing and walking toward the door, "thank you again for the juice and the company. I need to get on home now."
Chelsea walked over to the door and gave her a sudden impetuous hug. "I'm glad to have made a new friend," she said. "I'll look forward to hearing from you."
Katy kissed her full on the mouth and turned toward the hallway. "I'll be calling you," she said over her shoulder. As she turned down the hall, Mr. Winterspoon appeared at the top of the stairs.
"How are you doing, Red?" Katy asked gaily as she passed the new landlord on the steps.
Jocelyn Penelope Levrinski. You’re next,” the white-suited announcer called from his booth to the right of the barren stage.
Jocey pulled in her stomach and stood, fumbling for the notebooks beside her chair. Donald reached over to gather and hold them in the air.
Olivia pondered what she'd say next to her dearlessly departed brother, Harvey Lowell.
"You never really liked mama anyway," she noted aloud, smoothing the jagged folds in Hortense Graham's flowery lace skirt. "She jabbered too much for your taste, didn't she?" Vee addressed in a newly acidic accusatory key her ever-reticent youngest sibling as he leaned carelessly against the laminated purple casket and refused to answer.
"How did you get her to swallow the nightshade? Did she scream and suffer loudly in pain, or just double over to cry and whimper?"
Lowell slid silently under the table to lie with a skewed grin stretched around the tanless head he rested on scattered blossoms tumbled onto the scratched wide-plank flooring and its thinly worn and fading carpet.
"Did you enjoy it?" Livy persisted, glancing down with a grimace.
"How did she get to the shed for the axe to cut off your head? I didn't know she was that strong. Did you?"
Lowell shoved his sister hard against the jutting mantle, foisting his index finger into the deep hole in her side under the left breast and circling to widen the wound. "How the hell do I shut you up?" he grumbled under his breath.
For her part, sister Karolla Jill reminisced on the puppies. "Did Jolly and Catsup fight back when you put them into the feed sack? How did it sound when you threw them into the pond? Did it make a big splash or just ripple and sink? Where did you find the cinder block?"
Lowell reached for the fireplace poker to lengthen onto her right shoulder and underarm the uneven knife-cut around Karol's neck.
Hortense sat up and arched against the right side of her barely-cushioned coffin.
"Shhh-h,"she hissed demandingly, "Mother's resting."
"Come here, Nancie," Scar said. "I want to show you something. Look here!"
Nancie looked up from her book. "What?"
"It's a picture. Come on."
Nancie laid the book on a cushion and got up reluctantly.
"Oh!" she exclaimed in surprise. "That's disgusting!"
"No," Scar said. "It isn't. You're just afraid. It's just a picture."
"It's real human beings."
"They're just posing."
"They don't even know each other."
"How do you know? Anyway they're getting paid."
"It's just a job."
"Well, it's not a good one."
"People do different things. It doesn't matter."
"You're a priss."
"Why does it bother you? Nudes at the gallery don't."
"It's art. Love of the body, the shape of it, the shadows, the person inside it."
Scar shrugged. "It's just a body."
"Yeah. I guess."
"No one inside?"
"Well, not all the time."
"Using a body for money and leaving your mind and soul somewhere else?"
"Do you have a mind and soul?"
"Are you sure?"
"Where are you when we make love?"
Scar squirmed and grimaced. "What?"
"Are you there?"
"I don't think you are."
"What are you talking about?"
"I think it's mechanical. Just something you do 'cause your body pushes you to."
"It doesn't have anything to do with me. It could by anyone."
"Make some biscuits or something."
"You talk too much. Think too much. Do something. Shut the trash up."
"I don't want company that doesn't want to discuss anything."
"You want to discuss everything. I heard you babbled about your aunt's teacups for five hours yesterday."
Nanc laughs and Scar joins her.
"Okay. I babble."
"It's just background. You don't even have to listen."
"It drives me nuts."
"It drives me nuts that you don't talk."
"I don't have much to say."
"Well, what's inside?"
"That's what I said. A body without a mind or soul."
"It is not."
"It's not communicating. I don't know what you think."
"Listen to what?
"Listen to the silence."
"No, it isn't."
"I don't get it."
"I'm there. In the spaces."
"Existence precedes not essence but words."
"Essence precedes existence?"
"Essence exists and a body curls around it?"
"And it exists." Scar grins.
"Look at this."
"Okay, look at me." Scar unzips his pants and slides them down.
"Jeez. Don't you ever think of anything else?"
"What about when you're teaching class?"
"Everything proceeds from that."
"Where are you going?"
"To make biscuits."
"But I wanted to show you...."
"Okay. Food's good too."
"You gotta have that to...."
"Yeah, that's where the teaching comes in."
Nanc leaned around the kitchen door holding a pan in the air.
"Well, it's true."
"Look at your pictures," Nanc muttered.
And later as an oven door slammed against the quiet, "I hear you."