By Sikivu Hutchinson (From Rock ‘N’ Roll Heretic)
There were things you could do with dead bodies that were most exhilarating. Things Katy had only dreamed of as a girl, lusting after the medical instruments the white boys tinkered with at the clinicians’ school she’d been a janitor at long before the fact of Rory’s birth. To study the fledgling path of disease; how it blossomed, zig zagged, sunk its teeth in, nestled, plotting for decades until climax, gloating, victorious. She’d watched her two brothers waste away and die from tuberculosis and been curious. Their once robust, always moving at warp speed bodies turning to dust right in front of her. Bodies that loved cheating at stick ball and sunset lake swims and melted cheese on their County fair hot dogs in greasy gobs. Bodies that sucked out the lynching stares of the white people, spat them back in bullets.
She’d been curious, then mold green with envy, finally, ‘cause they sopped up all the attention, commanded a circus of bawling adults, a war council of aunts in the kitchen conjuring spells to blast them off proper to the other side. Gathered here, Dearly Beloved, to grieve sweet innocence. Their eleven and twelve year-old splendor. Their dashed manhood. What was the taste, the sound, the musical key of the Dearly Beloveds’ premature death. Did the memory of how they molested her in the outhouse go to corn meal mush, leaking into the ground, seeds planted for the next generation of boy wonders.
She’d heard the shrinks used to drill tiny holes into the skulls of the deranged to let the demons flitter flutter out into the world, releasing satanic pollution in the air, the drinking water. Sub-atomic particles that fucked up crops and livestock, feasting on easy prey. She’d spent half her life obsessed with the invisible, and now she had become them. Gratefully dead, ashes to ashes, an eighth of an eighth of an eighth of a dandelion bloom bumping around in the atmosphere.
The undertaker had cremated her in stages, as per the request she’d typed out on Rory’s manager’s Remington. A dank August Monday after her fifty fifth birthday. 1965 in full bloody bloom, and she finalized the papers in the office of the pretty, city mouse lawyer who’d sleazed up to them with his card during a Memphis revival concert. In one part of her mind she fucked him good on a brand new waterbed with goldfish backstroking inside. In another she watched him fuck Rory then pistol-whipped him with Bugs Bunny sputtering on the TV in the background.
There were two sides of the brain and she took turns hiding from herself in one or the other. Two sides of the brain, she told Rory, whenever she tried to dig herself out from a gun barrel-to-the-temple night with ten audience members. Three in the toilet, two on the payphones, two at the jukebox, three doing shots in a half-listening, half-sloshing defensive crouch at the bar. Best keep them two sides separate, she told her, or you won’t have nowhere to go.
She’d been suspicious of the preacher Divinity from the beginning. Had only a dim recollection of the girl from their time in Cotton Plant. Only a taste of her pining after Rory’s talent like they all had; goddamn bitches in heat, she muttered to herself, biting down bitter on the memory, as she waited in the motel room for Rory to wake up.
Divinity had worked her developer connections to get the band better rooms. The men were scattered throughout the building, grateful for the hot water, the working toilets, the springy bug-free mattresses that didn’t cave mid-nightmare, the new hotplates for soup and stovetop coffee to steel their stomachs waiting for the revival concert call time.
When sleeping beauty awakened Katy was perched on the end of the bed with a brush and comb. She steered Rory to the mirror and attacked her hair, pulling off the oil slick pageboy wig she’d fallen asleep in.
“Don’t sign ten months of your life away to being on preacher girl’s shoestring express,” she said.
“What else can I do, mama? Ain’t like I got people banging down my door with offers.”
“What about that white girl Jude? She got money. Ride her for a little while until something better comes along.”
“How’re you going to make money? What are you going to do to support yourself and these piss-ants clinging to your tit? The preacher’s desperate trying to make a name for herself and con you paying crumbs in the process.”
“Now that’s funny because that’s exactly what you said about Jude.”
“Least Jude’s the devil you know. Preacher girl makes like she’s a bigshot in Arkansas. What the hell is that worth but some bullshit with some flies in it. Jude’s got a label, white men eating out of the palm of her hand, all you got to do is ride it for a little while, turn it to your advantage, the world is waiting for you to climb back up—”
“The world ain’t waiting for me to do nothing, Katy.”
“Make yourself believe that it is, baby girl. That’s your problem now. Keep your damn head up. Make that wish into fact.”
“Have you looked at me, mama.”
“Every day since you were born. And??”
“No amount of wishing, praying, hoping or busting my ass is gonna make me younger and white.”
“Who’s talking about that? I’m saying use Miss Ann’s fear of spooks to your advantage. She claims she want to be us, then hold her to it. Don’t mess with no second, third and fourth rate cut and run revivals with preacher girl. That’s going backwards in time and twisting up God’s word just to cheat women out of their pocket change.”
“You didn’t seem to have a problem with them niggers twisting up God’s word in Cotton Plant.”
“Don’t call men of God niggers.”
“Oh that’s right, I forgot, nigger is too good for them.”
Rory looked in the mirror. Katy put her hands on her shoulders, soothing, massaging out the kinks she’d gotten from hours of playing bent over the neck of her guitar. The familiar reconciliation pattern they lapsed into after shows where they’d been at each other’s throats over the arrangements, the tempo, the tone, the order of songs, a stray look that burned too long. Don’t fuck with the audience loving you, even if it’s just a lightning flash, Katy’d said. It was the first time she’d heard her mother cuss, a Sunday morning shit storm in a teapot when the show booker shorted them twenty bucks the day before their back rent went was due.
“Have you looked at me, mama?” Rory asked again, avoiding her grinning skull eyes while Katy kept massaging to take the pain away. The melt of her fingers like the boring of lobotomy holes into the scalp, the flutter of demon wings letting the plague out loose into the world. Rory took Katy’s hand, guiding it to her breast, her thigh, sliding the skeleton knuckles between her legs, letting them come to rest where the good men of god did their communion.
Katy stood, unflinching, listening to the wings flap, the quiet rasp of her child breathing, older now at fifty seven than she had been in life, the mewling, half-blind sea creature thing that she’d spit out of her own womb decades ago blast now to smithereens, to the four corners of Mars, barely recognizable in the cold light of day.
“Did preacher girl watch?” She asked.
“Yeah,” Rory said.
She kept her hand between Rory’s legs. Feeling her pulse, the damp crease of her lips. Their blood running in a river of alien women snaking through Cotton Plant to Africa, ending with Rory, leaving nothing.
“Someone has to pay,” she said.