August, 1964

A crowd had gathered- they always did when Dalene sat outside with her guitar, but that evening it was larger than ever. We were leaving in the morning and it seemed everyone we had met that summer wanted to stop by to hear her play one last time. She sat on the steps of the small deck behind our room and worked through an amazingly broad and deep repertoire of Classical pieces, country and folk tunes, current hits from radio and, most intriguing of all, her own compositions.


Neff and Aiko had always known Dalene was a serious musician, but even they were surprised by how her playing seemed to grow more passionate, more intricate with every passing day. The drugs were gone from her body, but they haunted her soul, so she wielded her guitar and her talent, clutching them to her like a talisman to subdue those moments when weakness might become craving. That constant struggle poured from her as music, and no one listening escaped untouched.


“I’m going to miss these little shindigs,” Dr. O’Malley confessed to me between mouthfuls of smoked barbecue pork ribs and coleslaw. The motel had an impressive barbecue pit out back that Cyrus and Ella, the owners, had eagerly pressed into service once their little motel/roadside stand became a regular haunt. They kept the prices down and the food simple, and we hadn’t paid for our room since our second week in town.


“We’ll miss it, too,” I sighed. “This summer… it’s been so perfect. It’s hard to believe we stopped here by chance.”


“Call it fate,” he said, pausing to drain his beer then gesturing around us with the empty bottle. “Look at this, all these people rubbin’ elbows, all these white people and black people- all because there’s a pretty girl playin’ a guitar and good food. I’ll tell you, if Cyrus and Ella were white, this wouldn’t have been possible, wouldn’t be a black face in the crowd.”


“This town isn’t that bad,” I started, but I knew he was right. “It’s been very good to us, in lots of ways.”


“That’s mostly your doing, missy. You kept your friends under control, made sure folks didn’t get the wrong idea…”


“Or the right idea,” I corrected him with a wink. He nodded at me, a knowing grin on his face, but then he turned serious, fixing his eyes on mine.


“I’m glad I was wrong about you. I still don’t know what you’re all about, but I know you’re tryin’ to do the right thing by your friends. I know what that’s like.”


“I know you do, and I thank you, but they are helping me, too.”


“What is it, guilt? Trying to make amends for something?”


Dalene had stopped playing and was tuning her guitar while Aiko did the same with her viola and Neff warmed up her fingers doing scales on her violin. This was how I had first seen them, just the three of them making music on a street corner in New Orleans. Now in this little town they were so very different, smiling, healthy and full of life, yet the wounds remaining underneath needed little to bring them back to the surface. As the three of them began to play, filling the air with softly stirring melodies my thoughts went back to the day before when we filled a rented basement with screeching cacophony most would hardly recognize as music. The rage remained and no amount of sunny afternoons on the porch with guitars and violins would root it out.


“There is no making amends for things I have done, Dr. O’Malley. The past is the past.”


He shot me a quizzical look- perhaps I let my accent slip for a moment. Fortunately one of the ladies in attendance chose that moment to interrupt and I was spared any further questions, allowing me to watch the crowd and enjoy the music.


They were the center of attention, and they deserved to be, but as I surveyed the small crowd it was clear I was the object of some speculation. This was not a sudden development as I was the one people found most odd of the four of us, but of late the gossip mill had begun to zero in on me. I spent too much time and effort deflecting those inquisitive types who would look behind the facade of four young women, whose trip from Florida to New York had been interrupted, and this in turn fueled further questions and more curiosity. Were it not for this perhaps we could have remained in this town…


Not for the first time I wondered- should I leave them? I could slip out in the night and reach the highway by dawn, and then hitchhike into the city leaving behind the car and the money. Then my eyes settled upon Dalene and all other thoughts fell away. Her eyes were closed, a relaxed smile on her lips as her fingers caressed her guitar; she radiated peaceful contentment, but underneath she was so fragile. All three of them, all four of us walked the knife edge, for what I was doing terrified me. The consequences of failure would be terrible for them and unbearable for me.


The music forced the thoughts away, Dalene’s eyes opened and sought me out and then she winked, a gentle, sultry flutter of her left eye so full of promise most of the men standing near me stood straighter wondering if that gesture had been directed at them. My face broke into a smile like a cry of relief. This night was perfection- there could be no remaining here after this.


We would leave in the morning, Dalene, Aiko and Neff clinging to me and to each other as I clung to them.

3 Responses to “August, 1964”

  1. You were terrified? The three of us were waiting for the cops to show up and haul you away most of that summer.

    I don’t suppose theres any way I can make you stop this?

  2. Terror seems to be my constant companion these past 150 years, so yes- I was terrified- I simply hid that from you, as i did so many other things.

    I have tried to explain this to you, but words fail me. I hurt you too deeply and that is a betrayal I may never repay. I cannot ask forgiveness, this I know, but to try to understand what happened.. to explain in a way you can comprehend… I must try.

  3. I already understand. You were afraid. I just don’t know why.