by Evan Guilford-Blake
On the back of the scarred wood door is a calendar: “1993” is imprinted beneath the beer company logo; the pages with the months hang below. The current one is September. Sketches of falling leaves are scattered across the boxes with the dates. She’s seen it, or one like it, a thousand times: They’re dressing room de rigeur.
The spartan room is paneled in scratched walnut veneer. The usual mirrors run the sixteen-foot length of the makeup counter, where only her makeup and the assorted paraphernalia lie. She is, after all, the “name,” the one they pay to see. And, anyway, she’s the only woman. Used to be, she’d have to share it with men. Not anymore. Elderberry Wine’s owner grants her that privilege.
The mirrors, into which she peers from time to time to check just how red her eyes are, are surrounded by the usual weak lights. A black-and-white plastic clock on the wall above shows 8:32. Its second hand turns relentlessly. In eight minutes DuBose will knock.
The door is closed, and there are no windows. The air is stale, despite the fan at the far end of the counter that hums inharmoniously, blowing the few dresses on the gray steel rack in random patterns. There’s a comfortable floral-print cushioned chair whose colors jibe with nothing else in the room, a squeaky-wheeled wrought-iron stand with a mini wood-grain refrigerator, and a worn faux-black-leather-covered loveseat. A small oak table on which an open instrument case sits. And three armless oak chairs. She sits on one, in her modestly fashionable, navy-and-ivory, long-sleeved, below-the-knee Cool Wool dress, her back stiff.
Lulie’s hands are on her knees. Her wet eyes close and leak. Beyond the room, there are sounds: music and ambient noise, the sort she’s heard most every night of her adult life. White noise, like too much of the music she hears in places that try to emulate Elderberry Wine but fall short. That’s not music! Is it, baby?
She opens her eyes and dabs them with a tissue, glances at the clock, at the mirrors, then at the loveseat, and sighs. “How you doin’, baby? You comf’table?” she murmurs. “I always liked that loveseat. That’s what they call it, a loveseat, ’cause people, they sit on it real close, holdin’ each other. Like they’re in love. I’d do it with you, ’cause I love you more than I love breathin’. You know that, don’t you.
“And people make love on it too, sometimes, if they’re small enough. Sometimes even if they’re not.” She laughs. It’s a downtrodden laugh, no mirth left in it, just a way to get it out of the heart and into the air where it collects on her face for people to see and think: That’s what six months of constant, intractable pain looks like. “I made love on one just like that. Made love, made you. Made your beautiful face and your sweet smile and your teeny-tiny body. And you just loved me lovin’ you. Like you were The Blues themselves, ’cause we both know what they mean. We both do.”
She sighs deeply and stands wearily.
“Almost time for the show, Shan. You gonna listen, aren’t you. You never get tired of listenin’.”
Lulie goes to the open case, lifts the instrument, a pocket trumpet, its silver body and bell glimmering even in the dull light, polishes it a moment, then inhales deeply and blows into the mouthpiece. Just a few blue measures to remind herself of the beauty of the sound she can make, although she is intimate with every note she creates, she has blown each one, heard each one, sweated each one, loved each one a million times. But even a million times, each one is a snowflake, just a little bit different: half a heartbeat longer, a rainbow in the arc unnoticeable to anyone else, a never-before-present quiver in the tremolo; and she always marvels at the trumpet’s lightning fluidity. It’s smaller than the B-flat Clifford and Miles and Dizzy played, but the sound is just as rich, just as encompassing. She’s bound in it: Hatshepsut’s wrappings. Her every waking hour is consumed with those sounds. Now. Before, it was Shantarelle and the trumpet. She still hears them both constantly, like the wind hears the thunder and the rain.
She sits on the edge of the loveseat, reaches down and touches it. “Trumpet’s sweet too. Mostly as sweet as you. You like The Blues too, don’t you.” Lulie sighs. “You be good now. I got to —”
Someone raps on a the door and a man’s voice says “Lulie? Five minutes.”
There’s a pause. The voice adds, “Okay?”
Lulie continues to look at the loveseat. She strokes it with one hand, caresses the valves with the other.
“Lulie?” the voice says, a little more insistently.
“Okay,” she replies, barely audible.
“I said ‘Okay,’ DuBose.”
“Okay. You, um, need anything?”
“I need” she begins emphatically, then lowers her voice to a whisper, “to go back in time. Can you help me with that?”
“What?” calls DuBose.
“Nothing,” Lulie answers. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Okay.” DuBose raps on the door once and leaves. He’s busy. He’s a good man, just new to her world. He met her, stepped into it, for the first time tonight. He has sympathy but it’s matter-of-fact: there’s no understanding. Whatever else, things have to be tended to, after all. Even things that don’t really matter.
Lulie stands and looks down. “I’ll be back, baby. I promise,” she whispers. “Soon as I can.”
Carrying the trumpet she steps to the counter and looks at her unused makeup. I don’t need that, she thinks. I need this. She picks up a thin plastic syringe and squirts a drop from the tip. Yes? No?
Lulie stares at it. In the reflection she can see the empty loveseat behind her.