Project: Swing Your Song Down Low

Part I:  Short Fiction


Jazz Children

For Sax and Flute


Mikal: Call & Response


The Blue Funk Trilogy- Tales From A Hip Kitten







Mikal: Call & Response


It is his eyes i noticed, behind the horned rims. They are deeply black, expressive and they glisten. How is it he was looking at the same moment, making us both feel a little stupid, and, a little something else. Something is calling, my legs moved nervously against each other, a warning.
He raised his hand and gestured with his index finger. I think I smiled, though I remember everything around us seemed frozen. I moved my head to the side, trying to break the spell, though beckoning him too, I think, and he stood up.
you must believe me when i say it felt crazy
I stood up. My mouth, dry, afraid I would cough.
He extended his hand and I remember staring at his fingers. I knew he was an artist because his fingers were muscular. Musician’s hands, painter's hands, are strong and sinewy. I look at hands; voraciously; my eyes greedy; seeking inspiration; always on the move.
"Mikal Taylor,"
"Ava. Pleased to meet you"
He kissed my hand, and looked at me, "You look familiar."
It was at once a banal utterance and wholly acceptable. I think I just stared for a while. He was so beautiful it hurt my eyes. I don't like the glare of a pretty man. I prefer the solid, substance of a large, country looking brotha with big hands and big feet.
"What would you like to drink Ava?"
 "Double Martini, dry., so, you write too?"`
"Oh, yes, I've published a couple of books. A couple of years ago I wrote and produced an opera based on the life of Sojourner Truth."
"Yes. I read as much of her life as I could get my hands on. The implications of her work are profound."
"Yes." I was a bit drunk, but suitably impressed, the fog of liquor, weak against voice, the earnest grasp of his subject. I began to feel a little intimidated.
"Ava, let's get out of here. My house is a few miles up the hill, would you like to join me?"
I wasn’t sure. I came here to work, and had struggled to separate my work from the rest of my life. I became afraid standing there.
I didn't say a word on the drive to his house, nausea welling up. 
"Are you o.k?"
Yes. I should not have had the 2nd martini."
He pulled into the driveway. ”If you want me to take you to your hotel, you know I will. C'mon"
He came around to my side of the car, opened it, and grabbed my hand.
inside the house. i begin to peel my clothes off. the heat is coursing through, and my body has begun to sweat. interesting, this middle part of life. i am down to camisole and black lace. you open the windows for me. the floors are bamboo and they are cool. i lay down on the floor. you, beside me and you move your hand over my belly, a small pool of sweat having gathered there.
"I'm sorry baby." 
"What are you sorry for, Ava? Don't be ridiculous."
Then he brought a towel and sandalwood oil. Drying my stomach, he kissed it gently. Then his face was in my neck and in my hair. His fingers smeared the oil on my skin, burning the odor hot, pungent. It was everywhere, threatening.
I think I must have taken flight.
...and you are humming, oh my god, you are humming. 
"Baby, you smell so good." A head against my back. A chuckle. I turned over to see Mikal's eyes.  “Ava. I’m speechless.”
I had fallen asleep.  
I wanted to grab him.
grab you madly, wildly.i don't remember much after that 2nd, double martini. i know food was involved and a great deal of touching; my finger in your mouth, your soft, dry lips on my neck and shoulder...deliberate and knowledgeable... that is a lot, baby, isn't it?
“Isn’t it Mikal?”
“What baby?,” his voice slipping into the back of his throat, sleepy and soft.
“No small thing,” I whisper it, disperse it to the gods.
I climbed on top of him and he sat up, my legs around his waist.
"Ava, I want to see all of you."
There was a time when that question would have been a deal breaker, but, the scars, and the stories that accompanied them, have faded. I pulled off my black camisole, and I watched his face as he looked at me, slowly, then, disappeared into my breasts. I waited, calmly, for his eyes to re-appear. In there, I know I am seen. This realization caused me immense joy and, rising, was a long silent wish I had not heard call my name in many, many years. I whispered in his ear.
"This is so good. But, how.”  
He was silent, his cheek against my left breast. He looked up, and I swear, it's straight cheese, but there was a tear and I think, damn, bitch, you are officially sprung. I have broken the first and most important rule. Don’t Care Bout No Trick. I felt the heat return, flushing my cheeks red.
I was perplexed by the fullness, have nothing to measure it against. He stopped rocking against me and became very still, I took his hand and brought it to my mouth, the flickering candle suggested fragments and masks.
"I want to go home Ava. You said you might take me there. Take me home."
what are you asking of me? do you know?
 i kissed your forehead and leaned into you. soon enough you will figure out i've made a promise i cannot keep.
I needed this information, here, my soul felt light. Yet in the taking, I felt ruthless. Self protective. Oh, it had been so long. He grabbed my hips then and set me on top of his sex. “Baby, your body is so beautiful." I felt a sigh of relief; he is not that different from the others. It is perhaps, unfair, dismissive, but, as he stroked my back and my hips with his wide, strong hands. I was drowning, nonetheless, losing my breath. Nonetheless. Do you understand?
I had known Mikal Taylor only one day. It was a week before the Grammys in the City of Angels. One week before the celebrated evening, the city begins to fill with the people who make their living feeding off of the artists.
A day or so before, the artists themselves begin to move through. Mikal was being nominated for an award for a disc he produced on black composers of the 19th century. I was in town to work. We met at an industry gathering.
his one finger raised, my head and shoulders egging him on.
That day we left the bed to eat and returned to it vigorously.
each time searching. searching.
"Mikal, I have to go home soon.. How long before you go back to the university?." I am laying with my head on his chest, a raging heart underneath, bumping against my ear. I’m struggling to remember that other life, without benefit of Nirvana, though my life in New York City wasn’t unimportant nor dull.  
"Mr Taylor?"
"Baby, why don't you move to Los Angeles , and I'll quit my job at Austin. Anything I can do, can be done here, teaching, recording whatever. This house is paid for," his hand waving in the air before us.
I raised my head, a scary mass of tangled curls, and looked at him sideways. Good sex can do that to you, make you all happy and stupid. I began to laugh. "Come here." I roll over on my back and reach for him, I kiss his mouth and lower his face to my belly.
His mouth now on my thigh, I will tell you, I did consider it for a minute
it felt weird. What sex worker doesn’t struggle with intimacy?  i wanted to be entertained.i had not been in a serious relationship in years, thought i was done with all of that and wanted to use my free time to develop my art.  i was the mother of 2 and trying to make a living consumed most of my days. i had spent the last years feeling steadily and quietly guilty for not pursuing that MFA, for not becoming that Celebrated Artist. in my youth, those were my dreams. there they are, over in the corner; old, hard, a caul, though, here, i am open in a way that has eluded me.
i didn''t know you. this is safety. a boundary. i was annoyed you told me your last name. did you not know the rules?
In the shower, he asked, "What are you doing in L.A? Research?"
Hell yes. Let's call it that. Research. I go about my life researching the sexual practices of post modern life through the long lens of prostitution. Hmmm. Alot of words signifying nothing.  "Yeah, that's what it is."
I turned toward him and took him in my mouth. I hear his gasps and want him to know how good at this research I have become. So good, in fact, he will never, ever forget my name. "What's my name, baby?" I stopped. My hand around him now, waiting for him to answer. My eyes focused on his, so black, so culpable. It is a question based on positions of power lovers wrestle with, so I waited, for his answer.
Then my own voice, "When stranded the deep slant of evening...there is lush....swirling...stardust enhances....this gift...slow and sustained....Sassy...I worked to maintain propriety when your voice led to such places...the road singular..and low."
“Sarah Vaughan ?"
I looked at him. “Do you know my name?  Any of them?” I kiss his dark nipples.
"A poet, this is who you are and, Ava, Ava, Baby!"
His laughter worked a powerful magic and I was lost in it. I do not remember, even now, what transpired between us then. I will say, I was exhausted, and so, were you.
The knock on the door startled both of us. It was the evening of the following day. We had slept, wrapped around each other. Every move I made, followed by his, a little this way, a little that.
"Mikal!! Mikal, you in there?? Man you missed rehearsal. I know you in there nigga, cause your damn car is out here!"
He moved his hand on my bare back, moved his lips across it. Raised up out of the bed. I sensed his leaving but was still hovering in that space between sleep and consciousness. I did not move or speak. I dreamt of billowing clouds.
"Man, who is it? Mikal, you ain't missed a rehearsal in the 20 years I been knowing you nigga! Who is it? Where she at?"
Mikal's laughing, muffled voice reached my ears, I got up to shower.
you suprised me mikal, when the shower door flew open and you were standing there looking angry. "don't you ever do that ava! don't ever just get up and walk away, hear me?"
you grabbed my arm, remember? and i glared at you.  mikal, you couldn’t have been expected to know i was washing off and smelling you and your sweetness on my skin,  are you fucking nuts!? but there is no malice in your eyes, no, they are pleading i removed your t-shirt and took the towel from around your waist. "you make a good impression on your boys, huh baby?"
He embraced me.
"I'm hungry."
"Let's cook, I have mad skills"
 i say it kind of softly, thinking about that whole feminist thing, which is really crazy for a whore...too feminist to cook?
 you step back and look, finally suspicious. i see it dance across your eyes.
yet, we can barely make the meal. do you remember mikal?. i was embarrassed at my appetite. when you were cutting tomatoes, i was behind you, reaching for you, olive oil on my hands. soon you were unable to finish the salad.
"Baby, Ava,  is that you?"
"Mikal, where are you?"
"In Texas .I am sad baby. I haven't known this kind of sadness, so heavy on my chest, since I was a kid."
“I’m in the car. I have been sitting here since I left the market.  Baby, you
affect the way I think, where I walk. It's getting dark and I look for your eyes in places where there are only looming shadows, you won't be here tonight,  and I am becoming a writer of tawdry, poorly constructed erotica, while you are reduced to hiccups in the place of functional musicality. Have mercy!"

"Ava, I’ve been afraid for you to go back to work." He said it quickly, as if to discard it. I almost missed the question.
"Oh Mik...," I thought, ok, fallout from the discussion.
how to make it sound unlike an apology, how to make it sound unlike a plea for respectability .
or help. or rescue.
"Listen to me baby, I cannot stand to be apart from you. Some of this is that I don't want the burden of the imagery. Some of it is that I want you to want me. Period. I don't want that part of you shared with anybody. Part of it is that it worries me.  Listen baby, I know well it is an economic decision. Do you want me too come back now? Ava, I would have to make a decision. 
I could not possibly do both. This position now in my career is significant, but I would do it baby,
I would." 
"Mikal, we are evading the issue. Sometimes, I want you to be my knight too, you know. I'm not stupid. But that's not the ish. Look, baby, can we wait until we see each other to finish this particular conversation?"
i wanted to talk to you about my confusion mikal. how, when you are 12 and you are dreaming of michael jackson and that boy from the cowsills,  love is so sorrowful, yet complete. isn't that the truth mikal?  i am in this place, with you, that is halfway between the dreams of a lush and quiet young girl, and this older woman who stands before you; still quiet, in sorrow, and yet, quite lush. dreaming.dreaming.
Lauren White
Berkeley CA
Authors Note:I don’t typically write love stories. This is my 3rd one in 30 years. I try because love is important even when its complicated. And I’ve only known the complicated variety. I know this woman well And although this isn’t she, one of my grandmothers had been in the life.. The subject is not completely unfamiliar. There is trauma in this character’s background (scars) but I don’t reveal when and how. I also don’t discuss the social, economic & political constructs which support the inclusion of women in the sex trade. I didn’t want to pen a diatribe. This is about 2 people who happen to meet.. Here, I negotiate the details for probable independent spaces within a woman’s life, and leave the reader to fill in some of the blanks.



















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