Saturday, June 8, 2019
Welcome back to the crossroads.
This chapter turned out to be for the birds — or rather for the magpie. If Brother Love was a television series, then this would be the quirky musical episode.
I was already working with music because of the “thing,” Elvis Presley, from Mary J. McCoy-Dressel. That’s when Jinx, the magpie, got in on the act. Then John W. Howell commented about the Buddy Holly song, That’ll Be the Day. Of course that became another “thing.” At that point, I just went completely off the rails. Yes, there’s more punishment — I even narrated the ending with a new sound-bite… That’s supposed to be my scary voice, but whatever.
John specified the Buddy Holly version of That’ll Be the Day. Mr. Holly wrote the song during the general time-frame I’ve given this story. Although I confess that Linda Ronstadt‘s cover of this tune is my favorite. Which is yours?
As you know, Dan Antion shares his photographs to illustrate Brother Love. I make the serial “interactive” by letting things left by readers drive everything about the story.
If you’ve missed a chapter, I posted links to the first five installments in “Get to the Crossroads.”
Chapter 5 — A Face. Birdie Devovo saw a wanted poster. The person being sought for grand larceny looked like Ava Gardner, the movie star. However, Birdie had seen that face somewhere else — she just couldn’t place it.
Chapter 6 — A Ring. The mysterious stranger took Tammy’s hand so she could stand. Amazingly, Birdie found the skin wasn’t broken when the child fell onto the sidewalk. Also, Doug Armstrong reluctantly agreed to preach at Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. He asked Birdie to attend as his moral support.
All the while, it seemed like a telephone gave a single ring, whenever anyone made a decision.
Jinx is waiting for us at the crossroads.
7 — A Lament
Elvis Presley, Matryoshka, and “That’ll Be the Day”
Jinx sat on the perch in his birdcage. The cage door was open as always. He shifted foot-to-foot as Birdie came into the kitchen carrying a laundry basket and a small container of blueberries.
“How-deee!” Jinx chirped his Minnie Pearl voice.
That usually made Birdie laugh, but she barely noticed. So, he flew to the top of his cage and made some sounds. She looked his way and tossed him a blueberry.
Jinx followed when Birdie went to the bedroom. She opened a dresser drawer and removed a pair of white mesh gloves. However, she shook her head and sighed. The worn metal bed squeaked as Birdie plopped down on the edge of the mattress.
“I never should have told him I’d go,” she muttered.
Her mouth was a tight line. Jinx liked it better when she smiled. So, he tried hard to imitate the words without too many whistles and clicks.
One for t’money
Two for t’show
Three t’get ready
Go, cat, go!
“Elvis Presley you are not,” she told him and finally chuckled. “And if you’re suggesting footwear, I don’t have any blue suede shoes.”
Birdie took a deep breath.
“I guess Doug would be in my corner. Nobody else probably would. If he feels like he needs somebody on his side, then surely, I can deal with one evening, one revival service. Especially since he offered to come and get me. The Rambler only has one headlight and these roads are dark enough even with two,” she said, going back to her closet.
Just then the telephone rang. Birdie had her hand on a circle-dress with a blue on white polka dot skirt. The bodice had the print reversed to white on blue.
She turned, looking toward the phone. It sat on a gossip bench between the kitchen and the living room. However, it didn’t ring again.
“Humph,” Birdie muttered. “Strange… the payphone was doing that earlier too.”
Jinx whistled. Birdie misunderstood the sound. She told him he’d have to leave the room while she changed if he was going to misbehave.
He fluttered to the chest of drawers. Jinx tried to perch on a big Russian nesting doll, but he turned it over. The doll hit the wooden floor and burst open. Another doll rolled out of the first, also open.
“Jinx, no! Nana’s matryoshka,” Birdie cried. “There were only two of the dolls left. If they’re broken…”
Birdie sat down on the floor looking at the doll parts. She inspected each piece. Jinx cautiously landed nearby. The thing wasn’t shiny. The magpie didn’t see its appeal.
She picked up the top and bottom of the bigger doll. Birdie fitted the two parts together and expelled a relieved sounding breath.
“Oh no,” she muttered the phrase again.
The magpie thought it was a good sign that she didn’t shout it that time. He waddled closer. Birdie’s forehead wrinkled as she looked at the halves of the smaller doll.
“This one was never open before. I didn’t know it could…”
Jinx pecked at a small folded paper that came out of the little doll. Birdie snatched it away from him.
“That was inside.”
Birdie unfolded the paper. It was still small. A lot of ink scratchings covered it. He watched Birdie as she turned it this way and that, tilting her head. Jinx tilted his own head every time the human tilted hers.
“It’s written over so many times, I can’t make out anything,” Birdie murmured. “Oh wait. There’s my name. Alberta Devovo. I can’t tell what the rest of it says.”
Then she made a human sound of recognition.
“Ah! Nana and her hoodoo… It’s a name paper. That explains why Nana always said to keep the doll near my bed. It must be a protection spell, hidden inside the smallest of the dolls all these years.”
Jinx tried to get another look at the paper. However, Birdie shooed him back. She folded the paper even smaller and put it inside a shiny box on a chain, which she hung around her neck.
The magpie whistled his encouragement.
“You’d better be glad nothing was broken,” Birdie admonished him with a shake of her finger. “Else you’d be chicken pot pie!”
The human wasn’t being any fun at all, so Jinx flew back to sit on top of his birdcage. A short time later he heard a car out on the gravel road.
Birdie must have heard it too, because she strode into the room, full skirt flouncing. She adjusted a pillbox hat her mother had left behind, securing it with a hatpin.
The magpie made a disgruntled noise when she moved toward the door. Birdie didn’t pay any attention. She blew Jinx a kiss and left.
After Birdie closed the door behind her, Jinx shifted foot-to-foot, shook his tail feathers, and started to sing.
Since my Birdie left me,
I sit here on my perch,
Down at the end of the crossroad,
At heartbreak birdcage,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely I could cry.
Then he whistled a couple of times and changed songs.
Sinnerman where you gonna run to, all along dem days.
Doug came around to open the passenger door of his car. I politely took the hand he proffered to help me stand.
A woman called out in an exasperated voice as two teenaged girls hurried our way.
“Put those magazines back in the car right now, and get yourselves right back here!” she demanded.
The girls dropped the magazines, scattering them on the ground. A bright green “Screen Stars” cover with a beautiful blond woman caught my eye. The headline mentioned Ava Gardner. I had never seen the actress with blond hair before. I didn’t think it suited her.
The teens quickly gathered the movie magazines. One was hurriedly rolled and tucked inside a purse. Then they ran to a Chevrolet where they deposited the rest.
Doug and I walked into a large yellow and white stripped tent. I started to sit in the first row of folding chairs ― in other words, as far to the back of the meeting place as you could get. He asked if I’d mind sitting close to the front.
The truth was that I did mind. I minded a lot. However, I couldn’t refuse. I agreed to be there for moral support, and I realized my presence wouldn’t be worth anything if I sat all the way in the back.
My feet felt like lead as we stepped onto a carpet runner of faded red. Doug looked down at me curiously and I realized how slow I was walking. I made myself walk normally, despite the whispers that were easily audible.
“I’m surprised lightning didn’t strike when she came inside. It’s a tent, but it’s still God’s house.”
“Blood will tell. She’ll be no different than her mother. Takin’ up with all sorts.”
“I heard tell her daddy was―”
My steps became quicker.
“You know her moma was sweatin’ bullets, when she was born, waiting to see what would come out.”
My cheeks burned. I wanted to walk faster but I was already matching Doug’s long strides.
Then I tripped on a tear in the carpet. Doug caught my arm. I put out my other hand, grabbing the wooden back of a pew to steady myself.
That’s when I noticed they had brought in a dozen real church pews, placed on either side of the center-front aisle.
“I guess they’re expecting me to get wound up,” Doug said dryly.
I was too uncomfortable to wonder what his comment meant. It made sense later, after he began to preach.
Doug was such a dynamic speaker that I almost forgot how awkward I felt, sitting on the front row with a tent full of gossips behind me.
It was a hot August night and there wasn’t much ventilation in that ragged tent. I was thankful that it had several rips to let in a little more air.
Doug used his big white handkerchief to mop his face. Sweat poured off the man. It seemed like the more he perspired, the harder he preached.
There were so many shouts of Amen and Praise Jesus that I barely noticed when he motioned to the ushers. They quietly got everyone who sat near the end of the pews on the right-hand side of the tent to move over.
The congregation was so chaotic with people standing, waving heavenward and shouting praises, that I didn’t even see Doug move back, beyond the last row of pews. The next thing I knew, Doug was running across the backs of the pews!
Long strides carried him from one narrow balancing point to the next. As he jumped from the front pew to the ground, Doug made a jubilant exclamation.
The shouts from the audience were thunderous.
“Did he rally just run across the tops of the pews?” I heard someone ask.
“Praise God!” Doug exclaimed and mopped his face with the handkerchief again. “I think I might have skipped one or two,” he said in answer to the unknown questioner.
I sat in stunned silence.
Doug sat down, directly in front of me, on a pew with all the other preachers. He was still breathing hard.
He turned and said something to make sure I was okay. I tried to give him an encouraging smile, but I wasn’t sure I succeeded.
Soon the choir came back to the stage to sing. They sang a couple of upbeat gospel songs. I relaxed enough to tap my foot, but I didn’t sing along.
As the music continued, it occurred to me that no one had been introduced as Brother Love, whose “show” it was supposed to be.
One of the deacons approached the row of preachers. He whispered something that seemed to distress all the clergymen. They were all shaking their heads negatively. I leaned forward, curious to know the cause of their discomfort.
“Can you please do a laying on of hands, Brother Armstrong?” one of the preachers asked Doug.
“I don’t have the gift of healing!” Doug replied sounding shocked.
“Please, son. Brother Love must have been delayed. If you would just try. That’s all we ask. No one knows who the Lord might choose as his vessel to work a miracle. Don’t let the good Lord down tonight,” the man urged.
Something bright caught my eye near the front exit that the choir would use ― something shinning white. It was Tammy.
Then I saw the blond woman who was with her. Anyone would have assumed the woman was Tammy’s mother. Suddenly I knew that wasn’t the case.
I recognized the woman. She was the spitting image of the face on the magazine I saw the girls drop outside. She looked like Ava Gardner with blond hair.
The golden fingers of evening stroked the August sky. The heat had barely cooled any at all, even though the sun began its downward path on the horizon.
Jinx alighted on a tombstone and preened a feather, pretending to be at ease. The dark figure sitting on the stone opposite the magpie played gazed into the fog, rather than at the instrument he strummed. He played an unresolved tritone on the guitar, and then he abruptly stopped.
“Magpie, I heard you this afternoon. Just a singin’ to beat the band, when your ma’ma left you ― and she left with a man taboot,” he told Jinx with a chuckle.
The bird made clicking noises that sounded a lot like “Tsk tsk.” Then he flew to the branch of a magnolia and turned his back.
“Why, I do believe you’re jealous,” the musician replied. “What do you mean, that’ll be the day? All right now, magpie. Now you just fly back down here. We both know you ain’t goin’ nowhere. What’s that you say? Oh, do you mean the song? And here I thought you liked blues better than anything. That one?”
“Weeeeeell, that’ll be the day, when you say goodbye
Yes, that’ll be the day, when you make me cry
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die.”
Real World Notes — Music
Minnie Pearl. I started this chapter with a reference to Minnie Pearl. I realize many of you haven’t heard of this comedienne, so here’s a sample.
“That’ll Be the Day” was a song written by Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison. It was first recorded I 1956 by Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes. The next year he recorded it with his band the Crickets. Linda Ronstadt also recorded the song for her 1976 Grammy Award–winning platinum album Hasten Down the Wind.
I’m glad you could make it to the crossroads for Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show! I love to hear from you, so comments are encouraged.
I’ll meet you at the crossroads again next Saturday! Hugs on the wing.
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This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2019 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
Photos Copyright © 2019 by Dan Antion
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