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the siren :: ben passmore

This is my swan song to the edges of a woman I remember.

I like to recall the days I’d pop it off at the Queen’s Head Tavern on sweaty August nights. Keller would lick and spit a lilted rendition of “Somewhere There is a Mansion” over a crowd of lumbering dancers. I’d tie one on from high noon to well under sun down, letting it all hangout for God and Devil alike. The nights wound me up into a frenzy as I chased Violet, the barkeeps daughter, and made friends that came as quickly as they disappeared.

I met her while she simmered on a corner stool, tossing her red hair in agitation. I waded over through waves of smoke, ash, and liquor. Her name was Rose. She was a fine girl in design and spirit, and led with a hearted translucent piety. I clapped my arm around her. She snarled and said, “Is this how you want to be when Jesus comes?”

Specifics escape me but I think I made a crack about selling the pearly gates for grass money. She got sore; not because she wagged her finger at blasphemy, but because even a skid row floozy wants a thimble’s worth of respect. She was a fine counterpoint to the Queen’s low patronage.

“You think you’re king shit, don’t you boy?” she hissed coolly.

She played coy, but nobody saddles up to a dingy bar looking to avoid side-talking skulkers like me. Little Rose was giving me more time than I could ignore. There’s no fooling a man with bared teeth after he’s smelled blood. She had the same carnal notions as I.

“Lord knows everybody loves a cowboy,” I grinned out.

She smiled.

“Shit, I don’t know if I can abide by your type,” she said.

Keller blew into his rattling Special Twenty and I swung Rose to “Sugar Baby.” Her hair swirled about me as we stomped around the bar while Violet stewed in a corner booth. Rose grinned a big grin and I sang out, “Rose’s red, Violet’s blue; don’t you know it’s cause I’m smitten with you?”

The Queen’s white lightening hung on Rose and I like a heavy quilt as we stumbled up the boardwalk to the seaside. She spread out in the sand, burying her fingers and toes. I leaned against a decaying jetty and swayed in the whipping sea breeze.

“I’ve always loved the ocean. Mom said it was because God gave me a conch shell for a heart,” Rose yelled out at me. I lay down next to her low and pressed my ear to her chest.

“I can hear a gale going in there,” I said.

“Boy don’t be stupid.”

We married.

Our love was like the tide. We knew the rush of bitter winds of October and the retreat of day-lilies when the moon rose.

On a fall night we had a row through piles of cracking orange leaves. After our set-to I found refuge in Violet’s arms in a corner booth at the Queen. Rose appeared, much on the will of the barkeep as her own. When she saw Violet and I, it looked as if the gale in her broke the shell. Her riches always lay in her rancor, which was enhanced with the bit of old Jim she held in a jar in her clenched left hand.

“You’re a swine,” she shrieked.

Rose raged through the Queen, hurling bottles, glasses, pool balls, and anything else she could snatch in her path. Keller got half-way around a Little Walter tune before a flying cue moved him to duck.

Violet got a shooter to the teeth. She sprawled out onto the floor cupping her mouth.

At that my little spitfire was content, but tuckered. Rose spun on her heels and shot outside. Too soused to pursue, I lay on my belly in the cigarette butts and whimpered after the tips of her hair bouncing into the distant shadows of the night time.

A nor’easter tore into our town that night. I curled up under the high bar with crates of empties and my thin coat, soaked in Violet’s blood, wrapped around me.

In the morning I found Rose half submerged in the beach. An oil stick blanket of sea foam caressed the edges of her salt worn blouse. Gone away was the color of her skin and the sun in her hair. A Jacob’s ladder of chiggers spun over her and ascended to the sky. This is my wife. This shell held her heart, the songs she sang over the bar, and the nest of our unborn children. But now, her life has wriggled out.

When our romance was green we’d take long walks along the crooked stream that wound and cut through the meatpacking plants. There thin trees sparred in the wind above us, porcelain mixed with pine needles, and the shallow southbound water churned diesel. There I saw grace and beauty in the dregs. This was us. This stream, this tacit alabaster backyard jungle covered in purple prickers and car tires. Our love was twisted with our nature, and so was my mourning. From what well should I have learned to forgive myself for driving my Rose to her cold, shallow end? I bore her death like a ball and chain and slugged swill like I was trying to drown myself.

The spring found me in Queen’s one afternoon with a couple of broken longshoremen.

“Your wife died on the beach yonder?” one asked over his mug.

I nodded.

“Love is the peacock in the nighttime, often mistaken for what it really is: foul,” he mumbled.

His friend scowled. “Don’t bear his poison,” he said. “You’ve got to love what’s left.”

——

Ben Passmore is a Massachusetts native squatting tentatively is a rich debutante’s flat in the south. Please send money before she finds him in the compost bin. When he’s not hiding he’s working on his pinko Marxist webcomic at www.tugospel.com.