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The two words you ache for the most are also the hardest (to find). The clouds rolled back, a burlesque shows curtains rising for the matinee. That big stupid animal waiting to devour me, the crowd waiting. Waiting A bird flew by, I had seen the wires attached to its wings. Indifferent, they clap. She would be back. She always came back, sometimes looking different. The first few times I had asked her where she was, where she had been. "Shhh, just play your horn." I got back at her though. No, not the smacks, those did not mean anything either way. I simply stopped asking. It's what she wanted and it hurt her. She was not around enough to realize one of the floor boards in the hall creaked. It always had. The creak, the flip of the switch and Manha de Carnaval. Even in complete absence of light I could play it well. Always the same ritual. She would drape her jacket over the back of the chair. I would move it, but just a little. Thinking she knew where it was, a miss, fumbling in the dark. Now the blouse was unbuttoned. It rested on the chair. A soft, warm silken skin whose color was fading. She lay on her back, blowing smoke rings which I tried to pierce with final notes, up at the ceiling. "Is anyone coming over?" She always asked, but by now she knew I did not like people, at least not anybody living. All my heroes were dead. All any of us could hope for was distraction. Steady. Feet in the small of my back, the scent of vodka, tobacco, the scent of ruin. Promises murmured with closed eyes. True, but only for that moment. Muscles contract, it's heaven. Fleeting. Heaven, momentary and then exile. The music was a distraction too, but that at least mattered. It had to. There was a semblance of control too. A give and take that did not seem so tawdry. The cold mouthpiece always warmed. I had to have it and she worked with me. On an inspired night I would oil the valves and let my fingers dance. We would tickle the dawn. The last song a repeat of the first, but no one seemed to notice. She always came back. It always came back, the pain of loneliness, a fire kept stoked by the accompanying embarrassment. The two words you ache for most are also the hardest. Good bye.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.