After Katrina – Steve Charters
The St Louis Six – Jeff Taylor
New Orleans Amen – Phyllis C. Ferguson
The After – Heather McQuillan
Until they fade – Annette Edwards-Hill
Interview: Guest Editor Pia Z. Ehrhardt
Interview: Guest Editor Paula Morris
Brindi Joy: New Orleans Stories
Charlotte Hamrick: Writing in New Orleans
Artist Feature: Kristin Fouquet
Charlotte Hamrick: Writing in New Orleans
People in Our Pages: Zoë Meager
Liz Breslin: Small Talk – Short Short Stories in Cosmopolitan
Julien C. Levy
I found the head behind the Breaux-Mart in the Garden District. A maelstrom of black curls, it was up against the grocery store’s wall, sweating in the shadow of a dumpster. I thought it might’ve been a discarded wig but then I saw its face, which, with its bulbous nose, resembled Gerard Depardieu. It wasn’t bloody or dirty, just exhausted and kind of sad.
Shar and I had just spent three days holed-up, fighting the whole time. This was in June, and Hurricane Steven had ripped through the city, shattered windows, torn shingles from roofs. Flooded streets reflected the sky.
She hadn’t asked me to stay, just lain curled on the couch. She’d lived through Katrina. I knew that, but we were both exhausted. Canned food, days without sun, the world tearing itself apart.
The ‘all-clear’ had just come through and I stood in the front doorway, squinting into the sweltering afternoon light. I looked over my shoulder at her in the dark and thought about saying Haven’t you had enough? but didn’t, and left.
Downed trees and branches trellised the street, power lines hung languid like softened licorice. Everything was still and quiet. Cars parked up on the neutral ground were draped in Spanish moss but were otherwise fine, while ones left curbside looked like artifacts out of a film about a bleak future. It was so humid it felt like standing next to someone.
The head, panting and shining with perspiration, scrutinized me with its bright blue eyes when I emerged from the Breaux Mart’s backdoor holding two bottles of cheap beer. I stood against the warm brick wall, slid down into a sit, and used my house-key to pop the beers open. “Here,” I said, and set a bottle on the ground so the head could see it. “For you.” I wondered if it could hear me, if it even understood English.
It looked at the beading, sweating bottle, then up at me. “Generator kept the ice,” I explained. The head still looked at me. “Oh!” I said, embarrassed. “Right.” I picked the bottle up and tilted it toward the head’s mouth. It took a long drink and sighed with its eyes closed when I pulled the bottle away. I took a long drink myself, then gave the head another. “Blow in on the storm?” I asked.
“Sorry,” I said. “None of my business.”
I held a bottle against my cheek. The glass was cold and bright. I thought about Shar in the house, in the dark, sweating into the couch cushions. Until power came back, there wouldn’t be lights or a fan, let alone AC. The leaves on the trees were still. “We live in a swamp,” I said and squinted at a fat bank of clouds puttering across the mailbox-blue sky. Then I said, “Sometimes I think I’m cruel.”
The head swiveled around, shook itself: No, never.
“Well, you don’t know me.”
It bobbled side to side: Guess you’re right. Then its eyes went wide and the expression shifted: I have an idea.
“What?” I asked. Then it opened its mouth.
What I guess was a voice was high and clear like the sound of a finger along the rim of a crystal glass. The note pealed through the humidity and all at once, through it I could see everything that would happen: Shar and I would split up and later, far away from here, sitting on a coastal-city bus with my cheek against a cold, rain-pecked window, I’d think about her curled up on that couch while I, silhouetted in the doorway, looked back, but by then I’d be far enough away to feel all of the regret that I just couldn’t feel now.
The head’s song ended and somewhere, a dog was barking stupidly.
I knew that everyone who’d heard the head’s song – fanning themselves in their kitchens, clearing brush from their back yard – that they’d all stopped and caught their breath and watched their futures too. It would’ve felt to them like providence; a sparkling glimpse upon which they’d resolve to change, be better. They couldn’t be blamed for thinking that it was all hypothetical, possibility rather than set destiny. They couldn’t know it had simply been time calling through itself, that what they’d seen coming had already been ordained by what’s past, and that even though we’d all felt our fate’s shadow moving across us at that moment, it had been just the same as the few days prior, when we’d all watched the angry globule of Steven pulsing across the TV and decided: we’re staying right where we are.
The head smiled a smile full of pity and apology, as if it hadn’t known until just now what I’d see. Was this a gift, or what?
How could I explain this to Shar? The shutters were all closed but the windows had been wide open; she’d heard it for sure, had seen the future I’d seen. What would clarity do to us, to anyone? “Does it make sense to even try anymore?” I asked nobody in particular. Affection for Shar swelled like a bubble, and when it burst I asked if I could take the head home with me.
It looked down at a grease spot on the asphalt.
“She should know it wasn’t just her,” I said. “That it’s nobody’s fault.”
The head looked at me. Really looked.
“Please,” I said.
The daylight shifted and after a while the head nodded.
“Thank you,” I said.
It rolled its eyes to the beer. We took our time, drank the rest, every drop.
I carried the head under my arm, its ringlets swaying as I walked, sweating, home, through the heat.
About Julien C. Levy…
Baby and Hope stayed up all night on the Friday swathing furniture in bubble wrap and duct tape, moving what they could upstairs. Hope’s ex, Alan, had been a twister-chaser so she was uncharacteristically prepared. Baby worked like a demon with high winds hammering the screens. She had a natural affinity for bad weather. They phoned Fabrice – managing a Walmart in Longview, Texas – to say they were coming.
“Head for Granny Linden’s in Shreveport,” she said. “We’ll rendezvous there.”
She contacted Dixon to keep him in the loop.
“I’m heading home,” he said. “I’m obligated. As man of the family.”
He heard her eyebrows raising down the line.
When Hope tried Ladybird’s number her trembling fingers fumbled so Baby checked the listing and took over. No answer. Was a pylon was down?
Early on the Saturday they headed north, wipers swishing, driving steadily with a full tank on roads not yet choked, taking turns behind the wheel, eating Oreos, sipping a thermos of spiked coffee. Mid-afternoon they pulled into Granny’s driveway. The lights were on. The TV was blaring. Ladybird reclined in her Barcalounger wearing her turquoise velveteen brunch coat, cell-phone clutched in one manicured claw, remote in the other, powder blue lids closed. She was dead. It was shock on shock. Hope went to pieces.
When Dixon touched down in Dallas on the Monday, reaching Shreveport by rail, Fabrice and Baby had things in hand. Hope lay tranquilised in the guest room – that was to be expected –but seeing Ladybird with plumped peach cheeks on the parlour table, home from Magnolia Funerals in a leak-proof cardboard casket, was surreal. Dixon stood staring, hands clasped, feeling nothing except perhaps resentment. Baby fixed coffee.
Due to the Emergency, said Fabrice, and the consequent coffin shortage, and to avoid the rush, Ladybird could be interred in Texas. She’d arranged the necessary clearances to cross state lines. Throughout the afternoon watching Fox, muted from respect, waters crested, panic surged, and sprightly neighbour ladies in yellow slickers struggled across the lawn with pecan pie and gumbo to bid Ladybird goodbye.
Come nightfall the girls went first. Dixon followed in Hope’s SUV, the casket wedged between suitcases in back. Driving slow on unfamiliar roads, scared of jolting Ladybird abruptly upright, he soon lost sight of them. The first hour he followed the straight, flat freeway with clenched teeth, the dead weight of the past behind. What if they pulled him over? But time kept wearing away, tension eased, till all he could do was continue driving. And remember.
Hope zipping his windcheater to the chin.
“The fresh air’ll do you good.”
“Have I got to?”
“Yes,” she whispered, hugging him. “For fun. Hank’s making an effort. You should too. Do it for me.”
Bundling into Hank’s beat up red Pontiac.
Hope on the porch waving a checkered dish-towel.
Fabrice flipping him the bird from an upstairs window.
Heading north, wide brown water on their right. The day damp and nippy, sun squinting like a lemon. Mist shrouding the winding road. Hank peering forward, gripping the wheel high, shoulders hunched.
The intermittent swish of wipers.
Hank’s voice creaking.
“Fix me a coffin nail, son.”
Dixon fiddled in the glove compartment for Marlboro and matches, struck a light, took a tiny drag – he’d seen Hope do the same. Hank’s puckering bristles scratching.
At the Kisatchie National Forest turnoff, bucketing over the unsealed lot, jerking to a halt at the chain-link between Pickup and Oldsmobile. Hank shouldering the backpack, handing Dixon the gun and pellets.
Heading out along the logging track.
The dispirited call of a distant bird.
Trudging, nerve-wracked, after Hank through the creepy woods. Should he snag his sweater to unravel? Mark a trail with white pebbles through the fallen leaves? The contrived pressure to be buddies. Plus the gun. One more test to pass – like rough-housing, taunting girls, cheering the home team – or be a freak.
On that dead log eating cookies.
Hank swigging from his flask, smoking.
Correct stance, boots planted, legs spread, hips thrust.
Breeching, loading, locking.
The stock firm against the shoulder.
“Not much kick from an airy-fairy thing like this.”
Hank stabbing the cookie bag high up on a tree, stooping close behind Dixon, reaching round him to steady the barrel.
Sighting the square of white paper.
Aligning it with the cross-hairs.
“That’s it, son.”
Hank’s smoky whiskey breath.
“Squeeze it gently. Don’t jerk it.”
Dixon squeezed, the rifle spat, the target twitched.
They ran and checked the bag. A small hole through the second ‘o’ of ‘Cookie Barrel.
“Nice plinkin’, partner.”
Dragging fallen branches to the log, throwing dead leaves over to make a blind. Crawling under with the rifle. Hank scattering crumbled gingerbread, scrambling to join Dixon in the shelter. Waiting in cramped silence. Dixon breathing through his open mouth, feeling Hank’s heat.
small birds, sparrows, starlings, landing lightly.
Pecking and tossing the leaf litter.
Dixon aiming, the angle over the log too steep.
Hank tapping his shoulder, silent finger-stabbing at a grackle preening on a stub of broken branch. A clear shot, the bird easy in his sights. The yellow beak, darting and riffling through the purple-black plumage, the closed eyes. Real. Not a cookie bag or stone. Dixon seeing each feather distinct.
“Go!” Hank barely audible in his ear.
Squeezing his eyes and the trigger.
The sparrows flying up like a brown curtain, the grackle falling dead to the ground.
Hank exploding from the hide in a rain of leaves, grabbing the dead bird by the claws, striding back.
“You got him!”
The slack spread wings hanging open exposing a fan-work of bone and feather. Blue eye-shadow on its tiny lids, a speck of blood on its breast. Trying to swallow. Dropping the gun. Standing stiff, throat aching, head down so Hank won’t see.
Hank grabbing him by the shoulders, shaking hard.
“Why you crying sissy-chicken? It’s the bird that’s dead. Not you!”
About Steve Charters…
The St Louis Six
The music died, right there, outside the Royal House Oyster Bar.
There’s often that age-old jealous resentment between the lead and the backing in any music group. It festered in the St Louis Six sidewalk band as percussion versus brass. In top hats, with dreads sprouting like hair skirts around their ears, glitter jackets and striped pants, the Six were a veritable gumbo of Big Easy glitz for the tourists.
Snake played snare drum with the cymbal screwed on one side, and a set of tom-toms fixed on the other. A silver chain passed, down from some ancestor who’d once waited the tables of rich plantation owners, supported the whole shebang around his neck. He suffered, however, like drummers everywhere, always shunted to the back, terminally obscured, and seething with anonymity.
Tyron, large, arrogant and narcissistic, was trumpet, and always out front. Not your ordinary trumpet, but one with the bell pointing up towards the sky instead of straight ahead like usual. Snake reckoned the horn was having an erection, but Tyron ignored the taunts, claiming that it sent his notes straight to heaven.
Nobody dared challenge Tyron’s position. “Dudes, I plays lead. You’sed all be nuthin’ without me.” He particularly mocked Snake. “All you c’n do, dude, is bash ’n’ crash anyways.” Yes, Tyron called the tune, as it were.
They were schoolmates who all lived in the same street of regulation, clapboard, shotgun houses, some still with the high water marks, and the tagged fire and rescue codes on the front. They’d dropped out of high school together to try their luck on the streets, having learnt their stuff in the school marching band.
Stretch was slap bass, Jake banjo, Marvin on sax and Clement on clarinet. They made just enough to keep themselves in cheap booze and dope from the gullible, wide-eyed tourists who were loaded with alcohol and good humour, and mostly tone deaf.
The strings and reeds guys were a non-partisan, middle huddle, plucking, strumming, and blowing in their music no-man’s land. Rhythm and backing with the occasional riff, break or harmony, was their lot. Inconsequential, secondary, and minor, they conceded that, but they accepted their place without argument, and ignored the salvos that sparked back and forth over their heads.
Snake, however, had dreams of drum solo breaks in the limelight. Visions that could never materialise.
So while the St Louis Six spent their days playing, eating, drinking, doping, sleeping – and not necessarily in that order – brass versus percussion was constant friction.
Katrina had left her legacy, and the city was still recovering after thirteen years. The place in summer was stifling, with the air hanging and desperate for winds that rarely came. Whenever it rained, it hit the ground hard and fast, like they were tears of pity for the wounded city.
The famous Quarter was choked with music hustlers, who ranged from the guy in a gorilla suit and guitar growling out country songs, through to the twenty strong Tenth Precinct Gospel Girls, and everything in between, including rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop, rap, folk music and even opera. The traditional jazz groups had to fight for every inch of pavement on Bourbon Street.
Marvin and Clement suggested they should quit the touristy streets, and work the wharf, where there was virtually no competition. Such a move could’ve been the best thing to happen, too, as they would likely have cornered themselves a niche market. But Tyron sneered at it, and that’s the trouble with being dumb-as and arrogant, you’ll never accept a good idea unless it’s your own.
Inevitably, it turned ugly. Snake, after a hard day, had smoked far more hooch than usual to make the night softer. His rhythm and timing was way off. The Six were getting heckled by the punters, and Tyron was incensed. He reckoned Snake was like a mental on speed.
“What the fuck, dude? You fucked in the head or sumthin’?”
“This dude jus’ tryin’ to keep up. This dude havin’ to improvise.”
“I plays lead, dude. Brass always does lead, like Satchmo and every horn man that walked the talk. You foller me or I take them sticks and jam them up your arse. We c’n get any ol’ homeboy off’n the street to bang them sticks in time. You playin’ like you high’s a skunk.”
“Fuck you, Bro!’ Then, the fatal words. ‘You bin playin’ outta toon yo’self anyways.”
This insult was squeezed out past the soggy roach clamped in Snake’s tombstone teeth, and the street held its breath. No one had ever dared criticise Tyron’s musical ability before. He could take some things, but his playing ability was minefield territory.
There was blood, dinted brass, and shattered drum skin. Drunk, slack-jawed spectators filled the hat with dollars of approval like never before, their shouts hurling through the air like shrapnel. There were frat boy weekenders, hen party good-time gals, a tour party from China, and even a bunch in town for a convention. The Moose Lodge delegates, however, would be the only ones who would feel ashamed in the cold light of morning. The Beijing tourists wondered if this was some American street theatre.
The St Louis Six never played together again. Snake couldn’t afford to replace his busted drums, and ended up in re-hab. Tyron managed to repair his horn, but dental damage meant he would never blow another golden note. He’s sweeping floors at the casino.
The others can now be heard on the cruise ship terminal. Cool, and tight, and doing nicely getting first dibs at the naive passengers as they file down the gangways onto the plaza for their first experience of Creole jazz.
The St Louis Four, sans brass and percussion, playing on the pier. All equals under the Louisiana sun.
About Jeff Taylor…
New Orleans Amen
Phyllis C. Ferguson
The sign above the bookstore checkout read, “It’s been said shoplifters steal Bukowski more than any other writer. Don’t be a statistic. Pay first then read Bukowski.”
Father John Guidry hadn’t read Bukowski’s poetry. At the last meeting of the Poetry and Faith group he led at Loyola, a student challenged him. “Read Bukowski. It’s like New Orleans – beauty and sin and jazz and no one gives a f***.” He didn’t say the word but it registered in Father John’s mind; the whole idea stayed with him. The student recommended this bookstore.
“Where’s the poetry section?” Father John said.
A young man, earphones in his pierced ears, pointed to the back of the store. Father John rankled. Thirty years ago, even as a young priest, his collar would have gotten him respect.
It had always been the way of New Orleans.
He made his way down a narrow aisle, novels mostly, skeptical of the depth and breadth of the poetry selection. At least the store was cool, old brick walls and a sign – ‘Poetry’ in calligraphy – swaying in the breeze from the air conditioning vent.
From the titles and slimness of volumes, the whole back wall was devoted to poetry. He scanned the shelves, books in alphabetical order. A young woman, short curly hair, skin the color of a pecan shell, leaned over to see a lower shelf, about where Bukowski’s books would be. Her bulge announced her pregnancy – a baby bump, he thought they called it. She had one of those big purses, this one red that dragged close to the wood floor as she bent.
While waiting for her to finish, he slipped a volume from a shelf, opened it and turned pages, reading a few words, noticing the shape of the poems, the ends of lines. No words rhymed. Few lines end-stopped and some had no punctuation. Not particularly his style.
He reached to put the volume back and pick another when, from the corner of his eye, he saw her slip a book into the purse, Bukowski printed on the cover. She stood, stared at him with startling green eyes and almost brushed against the arm of his black jacket as she passed. No apology, just the shop door opened and closed.
In a moment, Father John got eyes and brain aligned. She’d stolen a book – Bukowski. He found the book on the shelf at $16.95. Back at the checkout, he threw $20.00 on the desk. “For the Bukowski.” He gave the title and left.
Outside, the humidity held close the city’s smell – river, alcohol, ancient mold, and past transgressions marked by soured bodily fluids. Tourists walked by, go-cups in hands, ogling. Waiters smoked under ‘No Parking’ signs. Music from blue-jeaned buskers reverberated against old walls. Women too beautiful to be women strutted and locals gossiped in open store doorways.
He had little chance of finding her.
In the pedestrian area between the Square and the Cathedral, he checked the crowded benches almost giving up hope until he saw her sitting on one in front of the Presbytere. The big red bag rested beside her.
He blocked the sun, made her look up. A slip in eye contact announced her recognition.
“Why did you take the book?”
She marked her place with a finger. “Do your clothes give you moral authority to ask?”
He noticed her left hand, no ring on her finger. Of course, her hands might be swollen or she forgot to put it on or she left it on the window sill above the sink.
“I didn’t want you –”
“I don’t feel any guilt. It’s you and your kind that seem to keep guilt alive. The air’s thick with it. Just have to breathe in and it breaks your heart.”
She closed the book. “Did you pay for this? Make an offering to justify your beliefs? Help those in need?”
“I was going to say I didn’t want you to get in trouble.”
She held the book out to him. “It belongs to you.”
The cathedral chimes, with delicate strokes, rang four in the afternoon.
She stood. The baby bump appeared larger than in the book store.
“I’m not married,” she said.
He must have been staring. He wanted to say it wasn’t his business. But, it was since it was God’s.
Five men gathered one bench over, greeted each other with laughs and bumps. Laughing, they unlatched instrument cases, removed brass and a black clarinet. A bass drum balanced on the bench’s end. They began warm up riffs and runs drowning out cooing pigeons.
“Tell you what, Father. I’ll keep the book on an indefinite loan if you’ll put your name in it.”
She pushed the book toward him.
He took a pen from his inside coat pocket and signed John Guidry, SJ.
She took the book and walked away, baby bump leading.
Late afternoon humidity raised sweat on Father John’s skin like small drops of Holy Water. He crossed himself. Righteousness was snugged deep in the big red bag.
The drum set the beat. The tuba laid the bass line. Trumpet improvisation, trombone counterpoint, the clarinet wailed Down by the riverside. Tourists swayed stiff bodies and threw dollars in the open trombone case.
Those who had been baptized with Mississippi River water danced the ‘Second Line’ – always and forever the way to mercy and grace in New Orleans.
About Phyllis C. Ferguson…
Inside our house, sounds are diluted as if there’s water above the level of my ears. My fingers trace the flowered wall seeking out where I’d stood every first day of a month – straight-spined, feet flat and heels to the skirting board – while Mom pressed my hair down with a ruler to mark my growth. It’s been months and months since I last got measured. Maybe I’ve stopped. It feels like that. The after. Mom yells at me not to touch.
Dad says the hurricane got itself trapped up in Mom’s mind and it’s not my fault but sometimes it’s hard to tell. He told her to stay away but Mom ain’t got no damned patience for that. Time wasted heaves through her veins and erupts in hard slaps across her own legs and sometimes mine. So we’ve come to see for ourselves, shuddering in a borrowed car through streets we recognise but don’t. Air hisses from Mom’s lips as we pull up at the curb where all our stuff’s got pitched like a drunken yardsale. A mirror, its glass patched with mold, leans back on the step reflecting tumorous clouds. Dad salvages what he can. He stands, shirtless, in the doorway as Mom rushes in. I follow in her wake.
Our house is stripped bare to a shell, and that smell, damp and sweet like death, but the walls alive, spawning petals of grey, black and mauve. There’s a line all around sketched like a horizon between then and now. I kick my sandals off to stand barefoot on buckled boards, my heels to the swollen skirting. My scalp is below the horizon. I hold my breath. A surge of water inside my skull drowns out her howl.
About Heather McQuillan…
Until they fade
Dad met Jimmy as he was getting off the bus. Dad had to take the bus to Wellington Hospital for his yearly scan. “Public healthcare doesn’t buy you a ticket on a plane,” he told us.
“Really, Brent, it’s only two and a half hours away,” Mum said.
Dad said he was seated next to a girl who didn’t stop talking the whole way, even when he closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. Even when he really was asleep – although I don’t know how he knew this since he said he was sleeping. When he got off the bus in Palmerston North it was cold, the skies were grey. Dad rubbed his eyes and his ears too because apparently they were sore from all the talking. Then Jimmy walked straight up to him and in a big booming voice congratulated him for surviving the bus trip next to someone he said who could ‘chew the ear off a camel.’
Dad’s mum was always going on about how she didn’t like Americans. Dad reckoned she’d been ditched by a soldier during the war. But Dad considered himself more open-minded and he liked being praised for his tolerance and patience and he invited Jimmy to visit him in Whanganui where we lived.
Personally if I was on holiday in New Zealand, Whanganui would be the last place I’d go. There was only a big dirty river and the rundown steam boat and the lake with the geese that chased me when I got too close to their young. The only thing worth seeing was the dinosaur slide but I didn’t think Jimmy would be very interested in that.
But Jimmy did come and visit us and that’s how he ended up in our lounge playing the saxophone while Dad played the piano. Jimmy said he always travelled with his saxophone. He must have been waiting to meet people like Dad, people he could jam with, who loved music like he did.
Dad never liked jazz much and Jimmy and Dad struggled to find a tune they both knew. Dad said he liked Simon and Garfunkel and Jimmy said what about Pink Floyd but Dad shook his head and muttered something about needing to be on the whacky baccy to listen to Pink Floyd. I held onto my breath while they were having this discussion and I’m pretty sure Mum did too. Dad had a long list of musicians he didn’t like, we could be waiting forever for them to agree, it could end with Dad getting prickly. In the end they agreed on ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ by Paul Simon.
“I’ll never worry, why should I, it’s all going to fade…” Dad sang while Jimmy tipped back his head and held tightly onto the sax for the solo.
When the last notes had echoed out across the room, Jimmy took his lips off the saxophone and said, “I’m a big fan of Paul Simon. I was at the Concert in Central Park, best night of my life.”
“We’ve watched that concert about a million times on video,” I told Jimmy. “Every night before the news. Dad says you can tell they aren’t friends anymore by the dirty looks they give each other. And they split up because Simon was jealous of Garfunkel’s voice.”
“Oh,” said Jimmy. “I heard Garfunkel wanted to be in the movies.” He turned to Dad. “Maybe they’ll get back together and come to New Zealand one day,”’ he said.
“That would be great,” said Dad. “I hope I’m still around if that happens.”
Jimmy put down his saxophone. “Shuffle over, will ya?” he said to Dad and he sat down beside him on the piano stool. He tapped tentatively at the keys. “Old friends,” he sang. “Sat on the park bench like bookends,” Dad continued. They were both smiling.
Jimmy sat at the table and Mum made him a cup of coffee. He asked me how old I was.
“I’m nine,” I said.
He looked at me confused. “No-ine?” he repeated.
“Nine,” I said again then I held up one hand and four fingers of the other.
“Oh, nine,” he said. Still puzzling our differences, he said, “You know, where I come from the kiwi is a fruit but you call yourselves Kiwis.”
“It’s a fruit named after a bird,” I said.
Jimmy just smiled at me. I noticed one of his pointy teeth was capped with gold.
“Where are you from?” I asked Jimmy.
“New Orleans,” he said. “Know it?”
“Nah,” I said.
“All the best saxophonists come from New Orleans,” he said.
Later on Mum said Jimmy wasn’t really from New Orleans – actually, he was Canadian.
He came back to see us a few years later and by then I could tell the difference between the accents. By then Dad had started making the mumbling noises. Because we couldn’t understand him he’d point and raise his eyebrows to try and tell us what he wanted. He’d stopped going for the scans. Now Mum drove him to the local hospital where he saw a specialist who said it was just a matter of time, and he could organise respite care if that would help. Mum said it wouldn’t and kept getting up in the night when Dad was wandering around the house. She’d clean up the cornflakes Dad would spill on the kitchen floor during his midnight breakfasts and the puddle when he missed the toilet.
Dad sat at the piano with Jimmy. Jimmy didn’t have his sax with him this time. Jimmy suggested they play Chopsticks. Dad mumbled, his fingers jabbing at the keys, the tune in his head a mismatch with the piano.
I have a photo of the two of them on the piano seat, sitting so close they touch. They are both squinting and I don’t think either of them can see in the late afternoon sun, but they play on until they fade.
About Annette Edwards-Hill…