GIL DANIEL - A DREAM OF AMERICA
Gil Daniel is a writer and a social worker from Israel, pursuing a Master of Arts degree in English Literature at the Hebrew University.
A Dream of America
A pleasant breeze came through as Hannah opened the door and went out. Her eyes were bathed in the warm sunlight of summer, and after they had readjusted, she could see Morris standing at the promenade, his back to the sea, wearing his white suit and looking at her, shyly.
“May I have this dance?” she asked him, five years earlier.
He lifted his head with surprise. “Um,” he blushed, “I’m not really…” he mumbled, “I don’t like dancing.”
“Come on,” she took his hand, “it can’t be that bad.”
He smiled with discomfort. “Thanks, Hannah,” he gently let go of her hand, “it’s alright.” On her face he saw a look, anywhere between hurt, sad and angry. “I’m sorry. Please enjoy yourself. I just hate dancing.”
Presently, she walked slowly toward him, shaking with sorrow, her mind full of doubt. She hasn’t seen him in years. The devil stood near him, smoking a cigarette. As she came closer, she avoided his eyes, once drops of light green comfort; now seas of yearning, almost black.
Holding back a tear, she came close and stopped. Morris was her love. He was born in 1911, and ever since he knew anything, he knew that he hated dancing.
“This whole thing is weird,” Gimel said.
“Yeah,” Aleph replied, smoking slowly. “What is this thing?”
They stood in a house burned to the ground, and in its center burned diabolical symbols, flickering with green flames. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gimel admitted. “I want to say crazy kids, but I don’t know any crazy kids that make fires go green.”
“This is some shit.” Aleph kicked a pile of ashes toward the flames, which kept burning. The hot morning sun and the scorched soil heated his already hot head.
“Don’t freak out on me yet, Aleph,” Gimel said, with little patience. Aleph looked at him with anticipation. “We need to look good for the civilians.” He then hinted toward a curious urban crowd that was watching them. When Aleph saw it, he stood up straight and kept a dignified, serious face.
“Well,” Gimel turned back to the evil flames in green, “I think we’re dealing with a mad scientist.”
Aleph chuckled. “I think more of a time traveller.”
“Why not both?” Gimel asked solemnly, almost contemplating. Aleph had no answer.
The eight-year-old Morris stood in front of two large tombstones of, so he was told, his parents. It’s been two years since they died and he had only the dimmest memory of them. The closest thing he had to a parent was his uncle Eddie, a dark, massive farmer, who was standing near him at the graveyard.
“What really happened to them?” Morris asked.
“They were fighting with their neighbors, Morris.”
“Why did they fight?”
“Neighbors were white and they were black.” Eddie recalled the white mob of East St. Louis; After cutting the fire-hoses, they burned whole streets down, beating blacks to death. The cops did little to nothing to stop the massacre. “You were lucky to have God on your side,” was all Eddie could say.
“I don’t get it,” Morris despaired.
“That’s alright. Let’s get going. This place’s depressing,” Eddie decided, wondering if there’s such a thing as a non-depressing graveyard. When they got home, Eddie went to a large, red wooden crate and pulled out a black acoustic guitar, only four rusty strings on it. It seemed like it hadn’t been played on for at least a few years.
“Your old guitar,” Morris recognized it.
“Your old guitar,” Eddie replied. “It belonged to your father, George. I tell you, he was the best singer I’ve ever heard.” He picked up the guitar and strummed it cluelessly. “I can’t play anything. Maybe you’ll do better.” He handed it to the little Morris, who was shorter than the guitar. He grabbed it with his tiny hands, trying hard not to drop it. After he managed to balance it upright, he studied his own twisted reflection on black wood, a shapeless, monstrous version of himself. A strange feeling went through his body; a silent shiver. Something about this instrument was chilling.
The two detectives stood in front of a high-rise building and waited for an intercom to reply.
“Ever went out of toilet paper,” Aleph said, “and got stuck with only paper towels?”
“Happened when I was younger,” Gimel confessed.
“Well, it happened to me yesterday,” Aleph shared with his older, more experienced partner, “and it got me thinking: I can see how I got myself into this ill situation of having no toilet paper at home, but why on earth do I have paper towels?”
“You bought them when you had more money? Or when you were a tidier, cleaner, more responsible person?” Gimel guessed and then added: “Though it’s hard to imagine you as one.”
“That’s right!” Aleph ignored the addition. “The paper towels are a memorial of the young Aleph, tidier and better, who not only had many toilet paper in stock, but also felt the need to have a larger, thicker toilet paper that can also absorb.”
“Toilet paper is for the bathroom, and paper towels are for cooking and cleaning,” Gimel concluded, “paper towels are your super-ego. And toilet paper is id. You are ego, trying to balance the need to shit with the dream of becoming something bigger.”
The intercom buzzed and Aleph reached for the door and opened it. “You just have to ruin everything for me, right?” They went through a luxurious lobby to a spacious, air-conditioned elevator.
Gimel looked at the elevator with wonder. “I never got this. They live downtown in those palaces, in the middle of stench, in a high-rise full of neighbors. Those guys are swimming in money. Wouldn’t they be better off living outside of town?”
“Maybe, not everybody wants the peace and quiet of nature,” Aleph assumed. “If you ask me, all this nature seems a disgusting load of slugs and lizards.”
“You don’t know jack,” Gimel grumbled. “When you’re my age, with wife and two children, living in a match box on Gold Street, you’ll get it.”
“Still can’t believe you’re stuck in that horrible place,” Aleph said as they left the elevator and stood in front of a white marble door.
“We were young. We made mistakes. Never mind that stuff. Let’s look good for a change.”
The white door opened and there stood a woman in her fifties, with bright orange hair and skin the color of light bronze. Around her neck was a whale-shaped necklace.
“Mrs. Hopkins?” Gimel asked, showing his badge.
At the age of sixteen, Morris was able to hold his guitar, owing this to years of lifting heavy loads and tools, but couldn’t play it, or rather, not in a pleasant way.
“Boy,” Eddie said, ignoring earaches hitting him on every note Morris played, “you got the guitar from your father, but the talent for music you got straight from me.”
“That’s not funny!” Morris grumped and kept on playing jangly notes.
Eddie went on his way around the house. “That kid,” he mumbled, entering the kitchen. “Not funny, he says. Maybe giving me noise after a day of work is funny.” He got a loaf of bread from a box on the shelf, then cut himself a thick slice with a big knife. “Should’ve taken the strings out before I gave it to him. He wouldn’t have noticed.” He used the same knife to butter his massive slice of bread. “When my dad was gone, he left me a breadbox and a shelf – useful and quiet. But George had to give his son this giant, ugly piece of wood, that makes much noise and wastes much time.” He ate while standing, and within a few bites, the anger changed form to reminiscing. How long has it been, he wondered; Morris is already sixteen. George could really sing. He was a good man.
Eddie put the bread back in the box and threw the knife in the sink. “If only Morris got any of your playing, George.” He sighed, knowing his earaches had nothing to do with his longing to be young again, and hear George sing and play his guitar.
They sat at Mrs. Hopkins’ living room – a large salon in a huge apartment, bright and white, filled with oil paintings, wide and weird. Africans, monsters and fire were their main themes. Mrs. Clara Hopkins was a very popular painter at the time – the cheapest of her paintings sold for five-figure sums. Gimel liked them. Aleph thought they were scary.
Each of them sat on his own white armchair. “Mrs. Hopkins, I am sorry for your son,” Gimel said honestly.
She nodded. The word of her son, Raul’s, death, got to her way before they did, thanks to the media, which made a point of not acting in good taste whenever possible.
“We need to ask you a few questions. Part of our investigation.”
“I understand,” She said, very calm, almost bored. Aleph wrote rapidly in his yellow notebook, occasionally lifting his glance toward her. Her son died today, he thought and wondered, wasn’t she supposed to be crying or something.
“Did Raul got into some sort of trouble lately, with anyone?” Gimel started.
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Did he have any weird friends? Anyone you didn’t like?”
“Nowadays I don’t know who his friends are. Were.”
“I am truly sorry. Did he have any romantic relationships lately?”
“There was his girlfriend, Ella, a few years back. I don’t know if they’re still in touch.”
Gimel threw a glimpse at Aleph, making sure he was writing, then looked back at Mrs. Hopkins’ green eyes, that made him feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. “When was the last time you saw him?”
“A few months ago. He looked fine. Found a job. Quit smoking. He even dressed nice.”
Half an hour later Gimel finished his questioning and turned to Aleph. “Hand me a sheet.”
“What?” he was surprised, then stiffened, “This is my notebook. Not station’s. You can’t just tear one out.”
Mrs. Hopkins chuckled.
“Stop acting like a child, Aleph,” Gimel had no patience. “A sheet of paper, please.”
Aleph tore out one sheet of paper, not without fast and furious hand movements. Gimel took it and wrote his phone number on it. “Everything you need,” he said and handed it to Mrs. Clara Hopkins.
In the year of 1931, Morris was twenty and could play some chords. He took his black guitar, along with every penny he saved, said a brief goodbye to Eddie and went to travel across the country.
He walked along a desert road, praying in vain for a ride to pass by. “Hell, it’s hot,” he said and sat on a sandy stone. “Better stop for a minute and drink.” He pulled out a metal bottle from his bag and drank. “Better sit on the road, ‘case anyone shows up.” Much like his uncle, he had the habit of talking to himself when no one heard.
He sat on the road and reached for his guitar. His hands were sweaty and playing was difficult, and he sang of bones and keys, sisters and thieves, and the blues. He stopped, trying different ways to play it, then continued, singing about anger, sweat and devils. He didn’t remember ever singing these words. He kept on for several minutes, and noticed this was the best he ever played. Not just chords, but also notes, on several pitches, merging with one another and breaking down, communicating with his ears.
Morris became aware of a motor noise coming from afar. He quickly picked up his belongings and stood up. After a while, a vague green figure appeared in the distance. Morris lifted his hand. The figure came closer and began to take the shape of an enormous green chopper motorcycle, with a person riding it, wearing jeans and plaid shirt, his skin green and distorted, inhuman. It stopped near Morris and looked at him.
“Can I get a ride?” Morris asked loudly, yet not louder than the powerful motor.
“Certainly,” the rider smiled, “Have a seat.” A moment later Morris sat behind him and they took off immediately.
“Where are you going, brother?” Morris asked.
“I think that’s where we’re all going,” Morris chuckled.
“I don’t know if we’re all going there, but we’re going there now.” The rider squeezed the throttle all the way and they flew into the sun and left it in an instant.
“What was that?!” Morris was frightened, “I’m not used to this kind of speed.” He tried to calm down, looked to his sides, saw colors being smeared faster than his eyes could grasp. Suddenly, the motorcycle stopped, fell on the ground with a loud sound and they flew into an abyss, falling into red armchairs in a red room, facing each other, a black table between them.
“How do you know?”
“I know everything.”
“And what’s your name?”
“I have many names. I think in this age they call me Satan.”
“That ain’t funny.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“Well, Satan, what do you want from me?”
“To hear you play.”
“I’m out of here,” Morris decided and tried to get up, in vain. He found himself playing his black guitar, playing extremely ordinary.
“I think you played way better earlier.”
Morris looked at him silently.
“If you want to play like that again, and even much better, I can make it happen.”
“And what do you want in return?”
“What does that even mean?”
“I come and kill you in seven years.”
“Alright.” Morris reached out his hand. “In seven years, I’ll be waiting with a gun.”
“Very well.” Satan smiled and shook hands with Morris, who found himself sitting again on the road with his guitar. Only now his guitar was colored dark green.“She’s so weird, Gimel, I don’t like this house,” Aleph said as they drove back to the station.
“Something’s fishy in there,” Aleph said, driving, “not sure what, though. She’s hiding something. You gave the station his girlfriend’s name? We have an address?”
“Yes, yes, it’s real close, we can even go now.”
“Now we have to go home, Aleph.”
“No way.” Aleph checked his watch. “Wow. That was fast.”
“Homicide days are always fast, I always tell you that.”
An hour later Aleph got to his bachelor pad, went into the kitchen and turned the stove on to make coffee. The flames came out green. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” He grumped, turned it off and on again. Still green. “This is…”
Morris entered a dark place, where few people in black clothes sat. He went to the bartender.
“Got any use for a musician?” he asked. “I play for free.”
“We’re not that kind of a place,” the bartender replied. “You’re welcome to play. If you’re not shot, than you’ve played real good.”
Morris smiled, put his hat on the floor and his guitar in his hands, and started singing before anyone could respond. He was going to Alligatoria, to meet the devil’s wife. He carried the words slowly, as the mere few in the crowd became quiet and listened. They were hypnotized. He sang of a place where his dreams died.
That night was later known as the earliest concert of Mississippi Alligator Morris, an early master of the blues, and was documented on the bartender’s diary, which was discovered many decades later.
Captain Aberdeen was a large, mature man, dark-skinned and powerful, and he was angry. “We’ll get that mother-fucker, Gimel, you have my word,” he made a commitment across his black wooden table, big and old. “I already brought in the crazy painter lady. We’ll find him and he’ll rot in prison for the rest of his god damned life.” The burning of Aleph’s house, with Aleph inside, got everyone at the station on their feet.
“Yes, I know.” Gimel sighed. “I trust you guys.”
“Gimel.” The captain stood up. “I know how it feels. Those kid detectives nowadays, they’re nothing like us when we were that age. Our life was fucked up. But they… they’re just kids.” He saw Gimel looking at him, tiredly. “Get home. It’s alright.” He went for the exit, hurrying somewhere. “Get some sleep. Be with family. We’ll get him.” Gimel got up as well and left the room with him. “Night, Gimel.”
“Good night, captain.”
Morris made some living out of playing in dark places, and the more he travelled the country, the more of those dark places came up. In 1932 he saw Hannah Gellerman, a white woman, sitting on the table closest to the stage, wearing a blue dress, with a wide, white hat, underneath it orange hair, short and straight. Above anything else, his attention went to a golden necklace, carrying a blue whale pendant, on her neck.
In those days, Hannah was an elementary school teacher in the city, trying to make a living and put some money aside to help her parents. At the same time, she worked on her first novel.
“I want to dedicate the next song to a whale in the crowd.” Morris said, smiling. He was African-American, thin and tall, wearing a snow white suit, with a black blues hat, and his guitar was green, dark to almost black. His charm was unstoppable.
“This is a song about someone I met when I was younger, an old man from our town. He took all that prohibition stuff too hard. Anyway, I think I’m talking too much.” He laughed with embarrassment, suddenly too human, fragile and confused. Then he started playing his guitar, fast and calm. His voice became scorched like the house he was singing about, that belonged to the old man, now sleeping on the street.
He stayed with Hannah for a few days and went on travelling. Two months later he came back.
“What can I get you?” asked a woman in a white work dress and a matching hat.
For a long moment, Hannah looked at the sign, and then said: “Lemon soda.”
“And you?” The woman at the counter looked at Morris.
“Strawberry sundae,” He answered immediately, smiling. “Thanks.”
“Sure. That’s forty cents.” The woman replied, and before Morris could act, Hannah sharply laid four rusty coins on the counter.
“Thank you,” she said, and took Morris with her to the a table.
“So. Hannah.” Morris was looking for words. “We’re here, at the ice cream parlor. Where you got soda. And I got ice cream.” She was a puzzle to him, staring at him and thinking thoughts he couldn’t imagine.
“Have you heard about the Dow Jones?”
“What?” Hannah asked.
“The Dow Jones. I read in the newspaper. It went way down.”
“What does that mean?”
“That we’re going to be poor.”
“Aren’t we already?” Hannah sounded desperate. Now was his turn to stare, touching her with his green eyes, angel eyes the color of Satan. It reminded her of that night, when he looked at her from the stage, and she felt like he could see her totally, and had no place to hide from his gaze. She didn’t know if she wanted to hide.
“Depression didn’t skip over my family, you know,” she noticed the fact she was talking, “my little brother, Louis, worked in a factory, you know, as a welder. And after he was fired he couldn’t get a job. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the day I saw you preform was the day he left town to look for a job. I just had to find some distraction, other than Benny Goodman.” She giggled, embarrassed. “So strange that I met you on that same day.” Morris looked at her and knew this was not coincidence, but guided by the hand of the green devil. “He sent one postcard two months ago, no where he is, no how he’s doing. Just I’m alive, I’m alright; and he sent nothing since.”
Morris nodded, still staring.
“I’m just… worried. Also, I haven’t seen him for a while. He’s just so young and wild and…”
A waitress came and put a cup of lemon soda next to Morris and a strawberry sundae next to Hannah, and was gone. Hannah reached a hand to switch between them. Morris grabbed her hand gently, and she felt the pleasant cold of his dark hand wrapping her fingers, prepared to laugh and cry at anything. He was the gentlest man she ever met, and the strongest.
“It’s okay, Hannah. You’re allowed to,” he said briefly and did not elaborate, as if singing an intriguing line in a song. “I hope he’s doing all right.”
“Thanks,” she said, smiling a little. “Anyway,” she freed her hand and switched the cups. “Why’d you get soda and I got the ice cream? Is it more feminine to eat ice cream?”
“Perhaps it’s more manly to drink soda.” Morris smiled and put a small spoon of ice cream into his mouth, with the joy of a little kid. “I heard the Suffragettes rather drink grape juice.”
Hannah laughed. “Don’t believe everything you hear.”
A few months later they got married, and he stayed in the city, preforming for a curious urban crowd almost every night.
“How are you?” Bessie asked.
“Known better days.” Gimel replied.
She laid a hand on his back. “I’m sorry.”
He took her hand and held it. “I’m alright.” He slowly released his grip. “Thank god retirement is coming soon.”
“Just a little more,” she laughed, “and we’re leaving this town.” Her phone rang. “I don’t have to take it,” she said.
“It’s okay,” he smiled. “Thank you. I’m alright. You better see who’s calling.”
“I know. Thank you.”
She went to the living room and spoke to someone from work. He watched her. At moments she could distract his mind from morbid thoughts, by saying something interesting or funny. He suddenly felt too old for talking, but when she went to the living room, she gave him complete freedom to stare and think about nothing. It helped him a little.
Mrs. Gellerman had her way of responding to happy news. When Hannah told her about her pregnancy, she was shocked and asked, possibly her daughter, and possibly god: “How are we supposed to feed another mouth?”
In 1933 alcohol was back in style. The intersection of Morris, the devil and southern whiskey, was explosive. His music was scorched and hot, but when the shows ended, he stayed put, drinking for hours and falling asleep in stranger beds.
One year later, he left town, Hannah and Eddie Jr., their son. He didn’t say goodbye – only left a short letter, trying to convey how much he loves her and how sorry he is. It convinced neither of them. At night, Hannah kept writing her novel; working on days at school, leaving Eddie at her parents’ place.
“Turn it down!” Mrs. Gellerman shouted from the kitchen. The radio in the living room played trumpets too energetic and loud for her to approve. Eddie Jr. was just an infant, but Mr. Gellerman saw him moving to the sound of music, enjoying himself. “Eddie seems to like it.”
“Just what I need – another musician!” she was horrified. “Turn it down!”
Mr. Gellerman turned the volume down and looked at the newspaper, which remained open in his hand for a while, and observed the headlines in no particular order. Davis cup play halted by rain, onion growers ask eviction of strikers, four boys killed in truck crash. The headline told of an armed robbery, complete with a small picture of police detectives wearing hats and ties, looking down at a dead body.
“Isn’t it time for her to find a husband, and this time he could be one of ours?” His wife’s voice cut off the thoughts of crime and depression that were brought in by the newspaper. He lowered it and saw her from the other side of the table, looking at him, judging and examining. He also noticed breakfast on the table: toasted bread, butter, cereals, and sunny side ups.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Gellerman shrugged and grabbed a slice of toast. “Her head’s full of jazz, like all kids nowadays.” He buttered it. “I’d leave it be. She’s got a job, at least. That’s more than you can say for her brothers.”
“At least!” she repeated with anger. “It’s all upside-down, just, upside-down.” In the middle of the table stood a metal coffee pot, and from it she poured for her husband and her in plain clay cups, short and wide. “Why can’t she be more like Billy?” She added some milk.
“That girl?” Mr. Gellerman recalled the neighbors’ daughter. “She’s nothing important. Our daughter’s gonna be something great, Sonya, you’ll see.” He drank his coffee black.
Aleph’s funeral took place on too hot a day. Aleph’s wife passed out a few times, and Gimel himself was saved only by Bessie’s devoted water supply, coming every quarter of an hour.
“Gimel.” Cpt. Aberdeen sweated inside a gray suit. “How’re you doing? And Bessie, how are you. How’re the kids.”
Bessie nodded and smiled politely. “Everyone’s okay.”
“How’s the investigation going?” Gimel gave up protocol.
“The mother gave us nothing. Act all crazy. We spoke to all his friends. And his last girlfriend. I got three detectives on this case now, Gimel.”
“So basically, you got nothing.”
The captain went silent for a moment. “Nothing,” he said eventually. “And already we got headlines on the web. One more arson and you’ll see me on T.V.”
“When that happens, try a more ventilated suit.” Gimel shot.
“You’re an old man with an old man’s humor.” Cpt. Aberdeen ruled.
“I got only two years on you.”
“These two years are an abyss, Gimel.”
Hannah Gellerman published her first novel, Naked in Chicago, in 1935. It portrayed a detailed relationship between a white woman and a black woman, in the futuristic Chicago of 1991, where Hannah predicted this type of story would be received better than in her lifetime. It sold well at first, and a few weeks later, was banned statewide. She was fired from school and harassed by neighbors, acquaintances and former friends.
On august that year, an unknown burglar broke into her house and burned her bookshelves, all her copies of the novel, and the only copy of her fifty-three page handwritten manuscript of her next book. She managed to rescue Eddie Jr. and herself from the burning house by sheer luck.
Then, she decided, she had to leave. At first, she wanted to run away with little Eddie, but then she realized he’d be safer apart from her. “It’s just for a while,” she told her father, who hugged her with some tears in his eyes.
“It’s alright,” he said calmly.
“I knew nothing good would come out of this book,” Mrs. Gellerman grumbled aside, “Two women could’ve been enough. But no. They had to be black and white.”
“Yes, they had to be.” Hannah stood in front of her mother, who kept quiet and stared at her seriously.
“I know,” she sighed eventually. “Where’d you get that stubbornness?”
“Well, I got my beauty and talent from dad, so…” in the midst of her sentence, Hannah found herself in the arms of her mother, who held her hand, stroked her head. Mrs. Gellerman had a strong feeling that she would never see her daughter again.
Hannah left her blue whale necklace with little Eddie. “Keep her for me until I’ll come back, my Eddie.”
A call from a private number. Gimel picked up.
“Detective Gimel?” A woman’s voice.
“Yes?” It was late.
“This is Clara Hopkins.”
“What do you want?”
“Can you get here? It’s urgent.”
“What’s going on?”
“I think I’m in danger.”
Fifteen minutes later, Gimel parked his car near the tall building, and took the elevator to the white marble door, which was open. He pulled out his pistol and carefully entered.
“Mrs. Hopkins?” He tried, but it was too late. She was sprawled on one of the white armchairs, now full of bloodstains. Someone had shot her, Gimel saw, rather than burned her. He scanned the murder scene with his eyes: Mrs. Clara Hopkins, shot twice, blood on the carpets, on the couch, on the floor. One cigarette was left in the clean ashtray, eaten by air. On the floor next to Clara was a torn golden necklace, tossed away. Robbers? An old, rich woman, alone in the middle of the night. It might be. But the timing was too close.
Gimel drew his phone from his pocket and dialed. “Captain, you’re gonna be on T.V.”
1936. Morris recorded ten songs, two of which were released on both sides of a record; one side had the harmless Flaming Woman Blues. B side had his most famous and enigmatic song, Green Devil Blues. These records found a home among curious people of many kinds and colors, trying to comprehend this anonymous singer and his relation to the devil.
Morris wasn’t waiting for fan letters; he kept walking, Satan guiding his feet and rushing them. It was on a dark night, when he walked a wide road made of stone, and suddenly heard a faint tapping sound, growing louder. In front of him appeared two horses, black and tall, on top of them riding two black clothed people. He couldn’t see their face.
“Hello,” one of them said.
“Hello,” he replied.
“You’re dressed nice. Who are you?”
“Morris. What’re you doin’ here?”
“I’ve been traveling across the country, for the last few years. I also sing and play. Perhaps you’ve heard about me?”
“A singer. What do you sing?”
“Hey, Dayton!” the voice suddenly called loudly, “ever heard any blues?”
“No,” the other voice spoke for the first time.
“Well you should. It’s actually pretty good,” first voice recommended. “Hey, Morris.”
Morris looked quietly at the shady figure in the dark.
“Sing us some blues.”
“Now? In the middle of the night?” Morris tried to evade. “There’s a village nearby, I believe. Bet they’re sleeping.” Just don’t ask me to dance, he prayed.
“But Dayton here never heard any blues.” the voice said. “Right, Dayton?”
“That’s true,” Dayton replied.
“If you want…” Morris began speaking, then heard a high-pitched sound and felt his face explode. He put his hand on his face and felt cold blood.
“Listen carefully,” the voice said, “if I see you around again, we won’t be as nice as today.” Morris felt a short, shocking hit on his right leg. He fell to the ground with pain. “We don’t like your kind wandering ‘round here.”
A whipping sound was heard and the horses trotted away.
“I know you’re short on people.” Gimel said.
Captain Aberdeen stood near him, smoking on the station’s roof, overlooking the streets nearby. “No shit.”
“Let me have this case. As far as we know, those cases aren’t even related.”
“You’re so smart, Gimel,” the captain said emotionlessly, blowing out smoke. He looked down at the street. “And convincing. Should’ve been a lawyer.”
“Can you picture me in a suit?” Gimel joked.
“That’s not funny.” He faced Gimel, his cigarette pointing at him. “This is a red ball. You’re in conflict of interests. We have to look clean.” He smoked more. “The older generation would pin it on some nobody for the media.”
“Dear god,” Gimel said with loathing, “you remember Fischer?”
Captain Aberdeen ejected the smoke in his mouth, almost involuntary. “That piece of shit.” He was mad. “Thanks to the likes of him, everyone thought all cops were racist rapists.”
“Most of them were.”
“Gimel, I’m willing to put you as secondary on this case, and that’s it, and if I hear that you went anywhere beyond the lines of secondary, I’ll have you sitting with a speed-cam on highway 375 for the rest of your life.”
“One more thing.”
The captain squashed the end of his cigarette on a metal ashtray. “Get me a killer. And I mean a real one that actually did it, not some killer you picked off the streets.”
Morris entered the stairwell of a three-store building, made of bricks. He followed his ears for voices of high-pitched, female singing, and strings strummed at unknown patterns, blending into melodies of joy and loneliness.
He knocked on the door. The music stopped and some faint, grumpy mutterings were heard behind the door. “If it’s that Mr. Francis again…” The door was opened and a woman in a red house-dress, with short curls stood and looked at him, surprised.
“Hi.” Morris smiled.
“Who are you?”
“Morris,” he hinted at the guitar on his back, “Mississippi Alligator Morris, some say. Heard some playing from outside.”
“Mississippi, eh?” She studied him. “That’s real far. What are you doing here?”
“I’ve been travelling for some years now. Might say I’m a travelling musician.”
“Aha, a travelling musician,” she was not impressed, “and why’d you travel to my door?”
“May I come in, ma’am?” He said with obscure shyness. “I want to hear more.”
She was surprised, blushed a bit, but kept a tough face. “Come in before someone sees you. People in this block already giving us weird looks.” She opened the door wide, then qualified: “Sit and listen, and no interruptions.”
He smiled, bowed and left his hat on the hanger at the entrance. At the living room, sat another woman on a couch, her hair straight and long, playing a banjo, which seemed to Morris almost as weird as the fact that she wore blue, tall and long pants.
“Name’s Jane,” the curly one said, “this is Alice,” she pointed at a small wooden stool. “Sit here quietly. Want a drink?”
“I wouldn’t,” he bowed politely, as Jane shoved a clay glass full of Old Taylor in his hand. He smiled. “Thanks.”
Jane nodded and sat on the couch near Alice, which kept on playing with great focus. “She never stops playing.”
Morris nodded. Jane sang. She had a voice not too high, filling the house with presence. Once in a while Alice joined on additional vocals, just as pretty. Morris enjoyed the music so much, that it took him a long while to notice the words she sang, of loneliness, heartbreak, and coal-mining. He thought it to be very different than what he knew and played; but just the same as the blues. He finished his whiskey.
“You smoke?” Jane asked. Alice kept on playing.
“Does it matter?” Morris asked, and for an answer got a soft pack of Camels thrown at him, filter-less. He caught it with demonic reflexes. “Both of you sound great. Had a great time listening.”
“Will you play something?” Alice spoke for the first time, still playing. Jane looked at her, terrified. She didn’t retreat. “Why not, actually?”
Jane went silent. She couldn’t refuse what little she might ask of her, Morris realized. He promptly joined in with Alice’s banjo, and Jane quietly stared at his fingers. Alice listened to the tones his guitar produced, mesmerized. She felt obliged to never stop playing, afraid he’ll also stop.
Gimel was paired with Beatty, a brilliant detective of the new generation, and together they scanned Clara Hopkins’ house. “What do you think about the paintings?”
“We might find something there,” she nodded, “perhaps she drew someone… or something someone really wanted. Or didn’t want.”
“Oh,” Gimel sighed. “I asked what do you think about the paintings.”
Beatty looked at him as if he was an alien from space, then replied: “They’re nice.” She kept on searching.
“Can I give you a tip, as a veteran cop?”
“Always,” she said reluctantly.
“You need to talk more bullshit. I’ve heard much about you – Aleph would talk about you sometimes.” He stopped for a moment, seeing the name moved her somewhat, then quickly continued. “Aberdeen once told me, and I’m not supposed to say it, that you’re the best detective on the squad. One cannot miss your column on the board. How many red names are in there, two? Three?”
“I hope to turn them black also,” she answered with pride.
“And I hope you’ll make it. But you can’t live your life chasing the black marker.”
“What do you mean?” she said while working, not turning her look toward him.
“You need to talk bullshit. That’s a cop greatest skill. And I tell you, we’re nothing compared to the old gen.”
“Tell me,” she said, while her phone emitted ultraviolet light, exposed fingerprints and sent them to the station. “Do you ever get any work done with all that bullshit?”
“Work. Solve cases. At least trying to,” she said. “It looked like all you and Aleph ever did was talk bullshit all the time.”
“Yes, indeed, Aleph was a fine artist of this craft,” Gimel smiled, “but you also seem to have great potential. You insult me good, just speak less like the police commissioner and focus more on my old age, and you’re on it.”
She laughed. “How about we start with the way you pretend being way older than you really are? Way to avoid trouble.”
“I was born old. How about those fingerprints you’ve sent?”
“Got a match. We’re going on a road trip.”
“May I suggest eating first?”
“So…” Morris hesitated. It was nighttime, Alice was asleep, and Jane sat in front of him in the kitchen, dealing cards for both of them, smoking.
“You and Alice…”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Jane said toughly, “we’re sisters.”
Morris was surprised. “You’re nothing alike.”
“Don’t you think it’s rude, for a stranger like you to come in my house, asking me questions?”
“I know it’s rude,” he said, suddenly embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I find it hard to explain. I once made a deal with the devil, and sometimes I think I’m turning devil myself.” He picked his card, cast one on the table. “Can’t really control myself.”
“A deal with the devil, eh.” She took one card from the table. “Is everyone crazy like you in Mississippi?”
“Didn’t had many friends down there. But my uncle, Eddie, is at least as crazy as me.”
“Tell you what,” Jane said slyly, “you tell me about your deal with the devil, and if the story’s good enough, I’ll tell you something about me.”
For the first time, he told about the green biker in the desert and his father’s guitar, which was once black, now almost shining with hellish green. “What do you know,” Jane finally sighed, “it was a good story. Sounds like something out of a weird magazine.”
Morris laughed. “Was it good enough?”
“No choice. A deal’s a deal.” She looked at the table, saw Morris winning the game without even trying. “We met when we worked at a toy factory. Cars, trains, stuff like that. Stood next to me every day for three years. Became good friends. Played together for hours after work. You know what it’s like.”
“Not really,” Morris confessed.
“Never mind. They fired all the women in the factory when they realized recession wasn’t going anywhere. And I realized I can’t do anything without Alice. You know what I mean?”
“I don’t know what it’s like down the Mississippi, but around here, it’s not customary for two women to live together.”
“You know, they tell stories, but it’s the first time I meet…” Morris stopped, “Two women.”
“Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Mississippi Alligator,” Jane got heated, “they tell a lot of stories and call us many names, like something out of those magazines where you took your story from. But we’re just two girls, loving each other, and there’re many more like us… boys, girls. It’s as normal and boring as it gets. I don’t…”
“Jane.” Morris cut her, looking into her dark eyes, speaking softly. “I know. It’s alright. They tell stories about us, also.” He pointed at his skin. “We’re all monsters in the eyes of the monsters.”
She lit another cigarette and they were both silent for a long moment. “Well,” she broke the silence eventually, “you’re up for more drinking?” She lifted the bottle next to the cards and poured for them both.
The home of Ella Liberalis, Raul’s ex-girlfriend, was a one-room studio apartment in an old building, on a quiet neighborhood in the city. Beatty knocked hard on the door. “Ella?” No answer.
“Seems like she took a walk,” Gimel said.
“Ella Liberalis?” Beatty knocked again, harder.
“I’m a bit tired of arriving late,” Gimel murmured while she drew her cellphone, did what seemed to him like technologic wizardry of the young, until the door lock made a sharp clank. She opened the door wide.
The apartment was small, condensed entirely into a packed corner that contained a couch, a table and a bookshelf. On each of them laid notepapers and pens. On the table was a shapeless stack of papers, books, drinking cups and full ashtrays. To one side stood a kitchen and a bed, clean and tidy, as if hardly ever used. The sun came in through a large open window and painted the room with bright light.
“She’s not here,” Gimel mentioned as he strolled the house, checking the books on the shelf. “Remind me of my apartment during academy.” On the edge of one shelf lay some records. “A girl with some taste, not like our generation, listening to music by phone only.” He looked around and saw no sign of a record player. He pulled out a record and studied it. `Mississippi Alligator Morris – Volume 1.` A blurry, black-and-white picture of a dark-skinned man, thin and tall, wearing suit and hat, holding a guitar and looking shyly into the camera; his brittle eyes crossing through times and places, staring straight into Gimel’s tired eyes. “You know this guy?” he asked Beatty, displaying the record.
“You’re kidding? He’s one of the greatest.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Than your problems are far worse than some homicide.”
Morris stood, barely, his hands tied behind a wooden pole, all beaten, hurt and bleeding.
Virgil, leader of the Black Legion, read the creative verdict: “Mississippi Alligator Morris, the bluesman, you are hereby accused of burglary, robbery, and assault of two women.” The man was covered entirely with the legion’s robes and hood, covering his face black. On his head was a weird hat with the shape of a skull on it. “What do you have to say in your defense?”
“I didn’t do it. I didn’t break in, I knocked. We played. Ask her. I…” he stopped talking when another legion member kicked him strongly.
“Stop lying!” he was angry.
“Dayton, you idiot,” Virgil’s presence was unpleasant, “if you won’t stop hitting him, I swear you’re next.”
“What difference does it make?” Dayton protested, not without fear.
“Justice. How many times do I have to say it,” Virgil said, inspired. “It’s about equality. Fair trial. Justice. We’ll return justice to this nation.”
The other three legionnaires were silent.
“And you,” he turned to a dazed Morris, “you expect us to believe that two white women willingly let you enter their house? You’re a bigger idiot than Dayton.”
Morris looked into his eyes. “That’s a lie.”
“The bluesman, Mississippi Alligator Morris. The penalty for your felony is death,” Virgil festively announced, “by burning.” One of the legionnaires poured a bucket full of flammable liquid on top of Morris’ head. “Anything else?” Virgil asked, then drew out of his robes a small match box, white and blue, shouting Pepsi-Cola in red.
Morris was silent.
“Very well,” Virgil drew a match. “I’ll pray for you now.” He lit the match and held it high. “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the weapon to make the difference.” He threw the burning match on Morris. Within seconds, flames caught his entire body, hot pain driving from skin to bone. Then the flames turned green.
“What’s that, Virgil?”
“What kind of fuel you idiots brought?” Virgil raged.
“The devil’s fuel,” Morris said as the green flames began to spread on the field, running in straight, fast lines until catching the shocked legionnaires. “God save us all,” he said with sorrow, hearing the screams of those willing to burn him a moment ago, feeling their pain.
“God, eh?” The green devil stood near Morris, who left the green flames unharmed, equipped with a brand new white suit and hat. “So far, I’m the one saving you.”
“We had a deal, Morris. When you’re 27. That’s pretty soon actually. Your soul shall belong to me, not to some racist pyros.” The devil lit one cigarette for himself, one for Morris. “All in good time.”
The hour was late. Gimel sat alone in a diner, on the table a fourth cup of coffee and a notebook full of notes and sketches. He was wired by earphones to a screen on the wall, listening to the complete recordings of Mississippi Alligator Morris for the second time. He went in for a brief coffee and dinner before home, but got carried away with the old music, rhythmic and dark, pretending to be upbeat, murderous and diabolical.
He could not stop. Hours went by, yet he was not able to make himself take the earphones off, switch the music, get up and go – nothing. There was no world outside the earphones, none but the world Morris painted with his words and melodies, of devils and angels, hobos and princesses, poverty and crime; all of which were affected with great sorrow, a remorse echoing from the depths of history to Gimel’s ears.
He felt a brown-green hand, long and gentle, trying to reach him. It went for his neck and began choking him. Gimel knew he’d be safe if he could take the earphones off, or lose focus of the music for but a moment, but he couldn’t. It was too beautiful, he knew, too beautiful and too sad, and he let himself cry, his and Morris’ pain becoming one. He missed Bessie, Hannah Gellerman, Aleph and his uncle, Eddie. The death of Aleph was so sad, unnecessary, meaningless. He felt his last breaths exhausting, drowning in the Mississippi River, that flowed without water, but with southern whiskey and tears.
On Memorial Day of 1937, Hannah Gellerman joined the Little Steel strikers in their march of protest. They carried American flags and sang union songs, and their destination was the steel plant, standing behind a line of about one hundred and fifty policeman. Tempers, already hot, flared. Stones were thrown, tear gas was sprayed, and shots were fired. Fifty marchers were shot, of whom ten were killed. Somewhere amidst the chaos, Hannah heard a shout that would become the opening for her second novel: “Get off the field or I’ll put a bullet in your back!” The book, Blue Devil’s Blues, was published as paperback and gained somewhat of a following.
This established her as a speaker for the weak, the oppressed and the outcast. She found a job at the Daily Worker, of the Communist Party, and beside livelihood, found in it also a platform for publishing poems and stories.
“My little Eddie,” she wrote in a letter, “I guess you’re not that little. Happy birthday!” She stopped for a moment, looking around at her small, lonely room at twilight. “I’ve sent you a small present, and I really hope you’ll like it.” She let out a sad laugh when she thought of the clumsy, wooden toy in the shape of a blue whale. She wondered if boys play with whales, and if it was right to leave everything behind, including Eddie, her parents and her entire old life.
“I’m not Morris,” she told her parents, a few days before leaving. “I didn’t ditch,” she said now, “I had to go. He… some artists’ whim.” She looked at the letter she had written for Eddie Jr., so flat and meaningless. I’m not Morris, she thought, I am writing letters and plan on coming back, and I care for the ones I left behind, and I don’t need travelling for creativity. But she had left Eddie so far away, just like Morris had. Perhaps she was hoping to find him, or hoping to understand the need for being homeless. Does it even matter? Eddie doesn’t know my face.
An old memory came to her – the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. How on earth did we got to Harlem, she wondered, remembering a certain moment: Morris sitting at the corner, alone, and she’s dancing. They weren’t married yet. “Come on, Morris,” She said, reaching a hand, “It’s not that bad. You’ll see.” Morris took her hand and held it faintly.
“It’s alright, Hannah,” he smiled at her, a smile full of suffering, as far as she could tell. “I just don’t like dancing.” He let go of her hand. “Forget about me. Have fun.” So stubborn, she recalled, and so senseless. Who could enjoy himself after having his hand let go like that? And who could forget about him?
“I hope to see you soon, Eddie,” she resumed her writing. “Soon I’ll have enough money to buy you a ticket, and I’ll ask Grandma and Grandpa to take you here.” She looked through the window with anger, at a setting sun. “I’m not Morris.”
“Where am I?” Gimel asked. “Am I dead?”
“Almost,” said a voice, “you would’ve been in a second. You’re lucky I came with my mojo.”
“What?” reality began coming back. He lay on a couch; the couch at Ella Liberalis’ apartment. He tried to get up, but she pushed him back with a very soft and very strong hand.
“You’re not going anywhere,” she ruled. He looked at her. Dark skin. Curly hair, incredibly tangled, the tanglest he’d ever seen. Round glasses. “The green devil wants our souls, and we’ll be safe only if we stay close to this mojo.” She pointed at a blue whale ornament, tied with a shoelace.
“That’s what you wanted from the mother. That’s what you took.”
“You’re really good at your job, detective.”
Gimel sighed. “Not lately.” Visions, he recalled, the bluesman, Alligator. He was sitting at a diner, seeing music come to life inside his ears, everything so real. He felt death. “You know what’s going on. You understand it all,” he knew. “Explain it to me. Please.”
“I guess you’ve already heard of Mississippi Alligator, his deal with the devil and all these stories.” She went to the kitchen and boiled water. “Raul told me everything, as he heard it from his grandfather, Eddie Hopkins. His father, Morris, made a deal with the devil – his soul for great musical talent. But when the time came to go with Satan, Morris resisted. He burned his guitar and called off the deal. Satan, of course, wasn’t excited, so he took his soul, and threw in a promise for Eddie, that every Hopkins would pay for Morris’ sass.”
“Let’s say for a moment that I buy all this New-Orleans-Voodoo stuff,” Gimel spoke slowly, “why was my partner burned? Why was I almost killed?” He looked at her, carrying two cups of tea, putting them on the table. She wore sunny clothes, short and red. “Why’d you shoot the mother? What’s so special about this whale?”
“Whale,” she repeated with anger. “You’re so narrow-minded. This is a mojo. You’re alive thanks to it. That’s what kept Eddie safe all those years, and Clara after him. But she wouldn’t give it to Raul. Wanted to keep on painting for a few more years. Didn’t want to die. Gave her son’s life for hers.”
Gimel’s head hurt. “So much crap.” He took his cup of tea and blew at it.
“Careful. It’s hot.”
“Don’t care it’s hot,” he said angrily. “What do you want? What am I doing here? Why’d you take my gun? You already have one, as Clara Hopkins can testify.”
“You’re charming, detective.” She smiled. “I’m trying to kill Satan. Another gun wouldn’t hurt.”
The year that passed was good to Morris. He recorded seventeen more songs, travelled the country and played everywhere he stopped. His songs got better, his charm more spellbinding, and his dependence on whiskey more severe. His guitar became completely green.
On his twenty seventh birthday, the devil and he stood near the Daily Worker headquarters.
“You said you’ll wait for me with a gun,” Satan mentioned, exhaling smoke from a heavy cigarette.
“I was naive, Satan. Even so, I think it was fun.” Morris was wearing his white suit, which by then had become his trademark, shining like snow in the bright sunlight of august. “I think I made a mistake, you know.”
“You’d rather get old with no talent, eh?” Satan said with incredibly human evil.
“No, no, not at all,” Morris was surprised by this remark. “I don’t think you can get old with no talent. Everyone’s good at something. But I wasn’t talking about that. I have no regrets about our deal.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Than what is it?”
“There was this moment. You know I hate dancing. Always have.” Morris borrowed a cigarette from the devil’s pack and lit it. His hand was trembling. “Hannah and I were at this dancehall, and she danced and I sat aside, praying for the night to end so we could go home already. But you know what, at one point I noticed I’m not praying for that at all. I was praying for her to come, give me a hand and say, dance with me. And you know why I wanted her to do this?”
“Because I loved her. But my fear wouldn’t let me get off that chair. I figured you gave me the talent, but not the guts. And I’m sitting there, praying for her to give me a hand and ask me to dance, when all of sudden, the unbelievable happens, and she does it! Reaching out her hand and saying, let’s dance. And I take her hand and tell her, I hate dancing. And let go.”
“Definitely not the brightest moment of your career,” the devil said and dropped ashes on the sidewalk.
“I told myself it was all your job. All fake. Like my talent. Not real.” Morris sounded angry. “And today I know none of it was real.”
The devil smiled, a wide smile of happiness, joy and childish villainy.
“My talent is mine. You’ve never really helped me with anything. Just opened a few doors of perception. My guitar is just a guitar. There was never a deal. If I choose not to give you my soul, you won’t take it. Because you gave nothing in return. My evil was always mine, and Hannah, she really loved me.”
Satan nodded many times, and his face became full of seriousness. “So what is your regret?” he asked Morris.
“I should’ve danced with her.”
“I don’t know if she’d like to dance with you. There she is.” Satan pointed at Hannah’s direction, walking inside a black, impressive suit. “Happy birthday, Morris.”
Ella Liberalis drew out her cellphone and put it near her record of Mississippi Alligator Morris. The phone emitted a small red ray, which moved in a circular motion on the record, and the song, Green Devil Blues, began playing.
“That’s it?” Gimel asked. “That’s how you summon Satan? Just put on music? No Voodoo? No magic?”
“When did you stop believing in humans, Gimel?” she asked, spitefully, “did it happen because of your job, or was it a job qualification?”
“Actually, it happened in the fall of…”
“I don’t care.”
“Do you care about a giant alligator in the middle of your living room?”
Satan was standing in the kitchen, boiling himself water and making himself a cup of black coffee. “What’s up, Ella?” he asked, dropping in one and a half teaspoons of sugar and stirring. She shot him three times. He lit a cigarette to go with his coffee and filled the room with smoke.
“You’re supposed to be a cop, aren’t you?” Satan looked at Gimel. “Surely you’ve noticed that someone just tried to kill me.”
“What can I say,” Gimel replied, not excited. “I’m curious to see if she gets out of it alive.”
“Shut up, shut up!” Ella raged and kept shooting the devil until her gun went empty. She threw it aside and pulled out Gimel’s gun.
“Jeez, Ella,” the devil smiled and drank coffee. She kept on shooting, much to the dismay of Gimel, whose ears ached from the noise, which went on for what seemed to him as forever. “Two guns? That’s it? I’m Satan; Alligator, the God, for crying out loud!” He came near her, put a hand on her shoulder, and said quietly: “What do you want?”
Ella seemed terrified, looked at her blue whale pendant. “I haven’t seen this for ages,” Alligator said, grabbing the whale, studying it.
“That’s. You’re not supposed to. It’s the mojo.” Ella tried.
“So, I’m supposed to burn in hell because I touched a necklace?”
Ella went silent.
“Excuse me,” Gimel nosed in, politely.
“Yes?” Satan asked courteously.
“If you’re done here, I’d like to take this girl to custody.”
“It can’t be!” Ella shouted, “this mojo protected everyone from you! Why? What? What is going on?”
“Ah, Ella,” Satan tuttered with sympathy, “you’ve got it all backwards.”
She looked at him silently.
“I’m an omnipotent god, no mojo can stop me. The one driven away by this mojo was my good friend, Morris. He never came to terms with his death, with regret. I told him he needs to let go of this world and stay with me at Alligtoria, but he lost it, and ever since, he’s trying to contact anyone who tries to get close. But he can’t really control it. Sometimes he tries to tell people how he feels, what he wants, and how much he loves them, but all he manages to do is to burn them with green fire, or drown them in a sea of bourbon.”
“And that’s just the story of his life. Mississippi Alligator Morris, leaving scorched earth everywhere, and can’t get close to anyone wearing the blue whale. Poetic, isn’t it?”
There was silence.
“Officer, take her away,” Satan laughed. “I’ve always wanted to say that.” He burned with green fire and was gone.
“You look good,” Morris said.
“Me?” Hannah laughed. “Look at you, with your white suit. I’m dazzled.”
“My suit’s white, but my heart is black, like charcoal.”
“Always the poet.”
“I’m sorry, Hannah.” Morris looked at her and imagined a sad melody. “That I ran. That…”
“No.” Hannah stopped him. “We don’t have much time. Let’s not waste it.”
“How do you know?”
She gestured toward the giant alligator wearing black leather, standing on the far sidewalk and chain smoking. “I always knew,” she said.
“You’re not mad at me?”
“I was. For so many years. Maybe I still am. But look at us in these suits… we’re so…” she stopped for a moment, “alike.”
“We’re both shitty parents.”
Morris felt his heart dismantled. “What about Eddie?”
“He’s four. He’s with my dad for now. I’ll get him here in a few months, I hope. The moment I have enough money.”
Morris looked at her, waiting.
“My mom passed away, about half a year ago. I never saw her since I left, but she managed to see Louis… He came back just before…” Those green eyes again of Morris, gentle, which could not be avoided. She couldn’t speak.
“I think we…” Morris said and took her with his hand to a bench, facing the sea. “We hurt the ones we love the most.”
“Or maybe, we hurt the ones that love us the most?”
“Maybe. I read your new book. It’s my favorite so far.” Morris smiled. They sat hugged and watched a fishing boat sailing toward the sunset.
“Really? Anything you liked in particular?”
“B.L. Oaks’ death. I’m not gonna lie to you…” Morris spoke and felt his voice trembling. “I cried a little.”
Hannah smiled and noticed that her eyes are also moist. “It means I’m good at what I do.”
“The best, Hannah. The best.”
Gimel put the record on an old record player he’d got his hands on. Sounds of old, rusty blues filled the house.
“That’s some fine blues,” he told Bessie, which sat on the couch near him.
“I hear it,” Bessie replied. “Don’t you want to hear something else, so you won’t get tired of it?”
Gimel held the record cover and looked at the picture of Morris Hopkins, also known as Mississippi Alligator, stared at the green eyes asking to pull him a hundred years back, and outside to the world of the dead, to Alligatoria.
He put it aside. “I’ll never get tired of it.”
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