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Chapter Twenty-Two

Noon’s clumsy carpenter pries my eyelids with its saffron crowbar and lifts the plywood of flimsily constructed dreams, the sawdust of sleep glued to my eyelashes.

Hung over on a Tequila of sleep I’ve been served in a slender shot glass of two hours, I hear a mellow meander of music from down the hall. It plunges and peaks, purrs and percusses from the Prodigy’s room. The tones of his piano have been freed from the cell and long sentence of maximum security scales, shedding the gray uniform worn for these many months I’ve been here, granted clemency, it seems, by last night’s revelation, as by some governor suddenly embracing an agenda of forgiveness.

What I hear is full-blown song that discovers itself in each successive measure, one that gropes toward perfection but abandons it in favor of a blind beautiful momentum. By momentum I mean the struggle to keep going when the next thing may be suspected or hoped for but can never really be known until it passes – this is the burden of its beauty. Each note is evidence of the space that has been crossed, the structure that has been built, but each note, too, is the slat clinging to the heel on time’s footbridge, immediately crumbling as the heel is lifted and falling into the abyss. It’s this quality in the song that lets me know what the Prodigy plays is improvised.

I stumble down the hall, sleep my stubborn shadow, lean in the open doorway of his room. In his green silk bathrobe, he’s curved like a tender apostrophe over keys he now possesses completely. Sitting next to him on the bench is Sophiala to the right, Nova to the left. A guitar case is open on the floor, and in it the Les Paul is like a young girl woken from a long night’s sleep.

Nova is smiling, eating Triscuts from the box. Sophiala has tears streaming down her cheeks.

The Prodigy sprinkles a solemn closing chord across keys with a weightless fandango of fingers.

“Did you hear?” Sophiala asks me.

“I did,” I answer solemnly. “I heard.”

“That’s like one of them songs I heard when I was a just a little bit a thing, bout a million years ago. ” Sophiala fills the intervals between tears with soft breath, words that are whispers wept. “Lord, I didn’t never think I’d ever hear him makin music again, much less talking without that dummy.”

“We’re out of here,” the Prodigy announces briskly. “Packing up, leaving. Milwaukee’s been through with me a long time and now I’m making it mutual. You know New Orleans? That’s where we’re going.”

I ask, “What’s in New Orleans?”

“I think I’ve got relatives there,” Nova answers. She doesn’t seem certain about this, but she’s happy nevertheless.

The Prodigy summarizes and elaborates. “Relatives and ragtime.”

“I’m not one to be running to places, cause I tried it once and it ended us up here,” Sophiala explains. “But sometime there just ain’t nothing left in the place where you at. It ain’t that things is so much different some place else. It’s just sometimes things is all used up where you are.” She looks around the room as though the walls are retreating, waving goodbye. “I’m sorry that wasn’t your gal at that place last night. I guess I ain’t sharp as I used to be.”

“She had me fooled, too. She’d been made up to look just like Sage.”

Sophiala shakes her head. At home in indigo kingdoms of dreams and visions, at home in the smoky weave of resinous reveries, a seasoned traveler of the labyrinths and catacombs that wind in mist beneath the surface of things, Sophiala is baffled by the something as simple as a Sage look-alike.

I’m afraid to ask, but I do. “And what about Larry?”

Three heads turn, packages riding on the conveyor belt of a communal neck, eyes gliding to a stop on the trunk in the corner of the room.

Sophilia pronounces, “He done talked a lifetime’s worth already.”

The Prodigy echoes the sentiment. “Amen to that.”

I don’t tell Sophiala that I used her story, that last night my suggestion boxes grew plump feasting on her tribulations and trials, that Kodiac too will feast on them. He’ll roll up his shirt sleeves to prepare for the serious gustatory work he’ll engage in when the dinner is delivered to his table. He’ll gorge himself on her life’s bread and wine, devouring every crumb until the platter gleams with saliva from the sop of his tongue.

The only thing I say is what the Prodigy said, “Amen to that,” and she smiles like that’s enough, the parcels of tears already departed from her cheeks, as though she had packed them with her joys and sorrows and shipped them off to the next destination in her journey, a land of relatives and ragtime.

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