Friday, December 19, 2008

Blues for Mizmoon

by Jim Parks
(repost from November 2008)

She wrote something hard and scratchy, a she cat with the blues wearing a red slip, something worthy of a woman's worst wrist-cutting moods.

Billie’s ghost lolled in the doorway.

"Pluck the flowers, cultivate the thistles, make them bleed a bit to hear your eight bars, sugar.

They deserve it."

Quiet. So quiet you could hear the St. Charles Avenue streetcar go by two blocks away.

Somewhere on the little park on Coliseum Street she could hear a female cat screaming at her lover.

Her image in the speckled old mirror peered back at her out of red rimmed eyes.

She picked up the spoon with the handle bent back on itself, shook the smack out of the little baggie Murphy had brought her earlier and lit her Zippo under the water she had drawn up in a cap of a Coke bottle and squirted in the spoon.

It cooked, turned brown, brown as shit, bubbled, cooled. She put a cotton ball over it and drew it up in the syringe. Tied off her upper left arm with a piece of latex surgical tubing Murphy had scored for her.

"That’s why they call it shit," he’d said her first time. The abscess had gotten worse where she had missed the vein a week before. It throbbed.

She thumped her arm, found the vein and slid the needle in, found blood, plunged the handle with her thumb and slipped the tubing off her arm.

Warm. So warm in the pit of her stomach and flowing out through the nerves of her arms and legs, under her tits and over her shoulders to center under her ears and around her eyes.

She nodded, nodded off, her forehead resting on an emaciated knee crossed over the other.

Her heart slowed, her gorge rose and she toppled sideways off the stool before the dressing table.

Billie’s ghost strode over and took her by the hand. There were blisters on her first two fingers from trying to hold the spoon over the flame of the Zippo.

"You poor hootchie, had it going for awhile." She grabbed the piece of note paper, folded it and thrust it into her bra.

They floated away, through the screen door and out over the courtyard.

"Murphy will..."

"Fuck Murphy, honey. He never was no good for you, anyway."

They disappeared into the air.

# # #

Outside on the red brick walls of the place next door, moonlight and the harsh amber street lamps projected swaying, clawing outlines in shadows and shapes - hydrangeas, pyrocanthas magnolias, azaleas, jasmines - they all looked like monsters and witches posing and posturing in the night.

Murphy stroked on up Prytania Street, bouncing and weaving like a boxer on the balls of his feet the way he hit his bars on the tenor, feeling the pavement and the shock of its contact all the way through his frame. He wore his sunglasses and a stingy brim porkpie hat over a top coat in the late night cold. The rumpled sharkskin suit let the sharp March winds through its creases and seams. The tails of the topcoat streamed out behind him in the wind. Murphy was field hand big and strong; his hands were splayed and calloused, easily able to span the keys of the tenor. His barrel chest filled the big horn with wind and his massive shoulders bore its weight on the neck strap easily, as if it was a toy, something he’d found in a box somewhere just waiting for that one special dude to come play with it.

Murphy was in a hurry to get back to the pad. They’d been away for a couple of weeks, he in Parish Prison and she - Mizmoon - in the detox unit at the infirmary in Charity Hospital. They’d both been very sick. Then, when he got out, he found her back at the crib off Coliseum, clean, crying and trying to heal up the abscessed lesion on her left arm. He doctored her with epsom salt baths, antibiotics and clean bandages.

They had worked a scam on a square at the Hilton. Murphy, his street name because he was adept at the game, had beat a fool for his American Express card. He’d told a lame, a little business guy from Detroit he had met in a jazz gin mill, that he could score him some hash down a dark side street in the Quarter and socked him in the back of the head with a padlock wrapped in tape inside a sock. It made a sick little thud when it hit him.

They’d checked into a room in the hotel, then he’d done a cash advance number to get enough to pay the bell captain off.

Just like clockwork, the mark, another horndick daddy’o from the expense account business world, had arrived in the room. Mizmoon had phoned for a half pint of whiskey. Murphy showed up shortly after, screaming his outrage at finding this poindexter with his "old lady," brandishing a .38 and bitch slapping the guy around with his other hand.

The man gave up all he had, his eyes flashing wildly from side to side like a steer driven before a herd to slaughter, and it was more than two thousand dollars. It was enough to get his horn out of the pawn shop, pay the rent on the place, and score her a little taste to get her over feeling so sick while he went downtown to get a stash. They could live.

Meanwhile, the mark fled into the night with the cooperation of the house detective and the bell captain. After all, they were trying to help him keep from getting involved in a scandal. He’d hidden his face and eyes when they put him in a taxi at the service entrance in an alley behind the hotel.

His first split down at the shotgun house off Elysian Fields made him sick, so sick the world turned into an old black and white television doing horizontal flips in a nightmare motel world and getting fuzzy while he nodded on a couch filthy with animal hair and food stains. A dog licked his face.

It was amazing, but the heavily muscled two hundred-fifty pound man could do nothing about a twenty pound dog licking his face.

"Go ‘way. Get th’fuck ‘way f’m me, mothafucka’," Murphy said, lolling on the couch and making half-hearted attempts to backhand the dog.

It had been a little while since he’d gotten down and the dope hit him hard. It happened that way sometimes. His resistance was down after kicking cold turkey in the cell at Orleans Parish Prison, his bowels squirting and his nose running while he scratched at imaginary bugs on his skin and had cold chills and hot sweats.

Stoned out, he drifted in and out of remembering scenes with Mizmoon. The way she used to look at him on the bandstand while he played his breaks in her blues tunes.

He’d gone for coffee one night with a crowd in Chicago, rapping away the hours before dawn in the diner after gigging in a South side club, and they’d found out they were both river trash - he from Cincinnati, she from Paducah.

River trash. It was a feeling, a pose against the world, a remembrance of when people and things moved by water, the flow of the rivers.

He really dug her looks, curly red hair and freckles, a big rack, blue-blue big eyes and a little girl laugh. But when he heard her sing, he flipped. It was a fey little lady voice that would suddenly turn hard and mean, then hurt and wild by turns, moaning, screaming, outraged, placating, babyish and purely sexual with each turn in tone and timbre.

"Where’d you get that?" he’d asked her one day in a crummy little hotel room in the Loop after an el train had passed clattering by.

"Get what?" She was hanging up her stockings on the shower rod and she looked at him over a naked shoulder with an evil angel tattooed on its back side.

"That. That song you were just singing."

"Oh, that." That little girl laugh. "I just wrote it, just now, while we were screwing."

"While we were screwing."

"Yeah, while we were screwing." She giggled.

She had screamed his name, called him a whore dog, a fuckin’ tramp, a lowlife fool, told him to sock it to her, to hurt her with his "thing." She clawed at the skin of his back, beat her little fists against his chest, slapped at his face, then demanded more and more.

He liked to make love to her while she still wore her stockings and a garter belt, her glorious femininity spilling out of bra, blouse, skirt, shoes, jewelry. She was just right for the part and dressed for it, too.

She sang it again and it was solid. In fact, it was dynamite. He did an arrangement, fiddling around the piano in an old church, and they did it that Sunday afternoon at an open jam in a club where he gigged a lot during the week. The cats got into it. In fact, the dude running the session started getting guys up to join in and they did chorus after chorus of the tune. When they were finished, everyone in the joint was on their feet, shouting.

They both felt that glory train people feel sometimes, that thing that’s actually bigger and better than anything a dude or dudette has to offer alone. It pulses and pushes and takes over, and in the total rush it leaves a trail of psychic joy and total immersion in the beat, the harmony and the rhythm and realization that it is something that actually brings the people together as one big being before it is over.

When it’s over, it isn’t really over.

There is an afterglow. There’s an obsession that one can get it back, that glory train feelng. People will do almost anything to get it, keep it, get it back again.

They had been looking for it ever since, holding on to each other through one junkie scrape after the next and they drifted on down to New Orleans, gigging, scamming, hustling - looking for that last chance union with God, with the divine. Looking everywhere, in the music, in time, the river, the sound of marching feet, the tones of horns and singers and the cadence of drummers, cooking smells, and spicy sauces.

He swung up the stairway, sprung the screen door and half kicked it in, all the while talking to her in soft tones.

"Yo, honey, I got the stuff and wait until you get a taste. We can get right and stay that way. You know what? I want to work on that new song you wrote just before I got busted? You know, the one about how I looked the first time you saw me blowing my horn and...

"He saw her in the mirror first, stretched out on her back with spit drooling down out of her mouth and her eyes rolled back in her head. It wasn’t really her, was it?

Mizmoon in her red slip with filmy, milky blue dead eyes looking way up over and behind her forehead at a spot on the ceiling where there was nothing, really, to look at.

He grabbed her up and tried to make her stand. Threw her on the bed, slapped her face, raked his knuckles down her breastbone, breathed air into her mouth while he pinched her nostrils, massaged her heart through her chest, pushing down on the ribcage with all his might.

All he heard or felt were some hideous bowel sounds from this cadaver, this body that was once her and now would never be her again.

Mizmoon was no more. He grabbed his horn, threw a few things in a plastic bag, some shirts and socks, a toothbrush and razor and got all the way down the stairs before the shock wore off and he started to cry.

By the time he caught the St. Charles Avenue trolley, he was starting to get over the panic of the thing that had just happened, that he had just discovered. After all, it could have been him and he couldn’t afford to get caught with a dead girl in his room, not the way things had been going, certainly not with what had just gone down - the Murphy game on the mark, the AmericanExpress card, the dope in his pocket he couldn’t afford to lose.

He jumped the first thing northbound. Memphis would do for starters.

© Jim Parks 2004


  1. Do you see it as a movie? That's the way they always go out, you know. Everyone runs away and leaves them. Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Billie Holliday...- The Legendary