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A Rett Bonneville Short Story
By Anne M. Freeman
This story is dedicated to the memory of my dear old friend and early mentor, folk artist and author Bill Morrissey, the master of the stage. May he rest in peace.
I set my guitar on its stand while the audience applauded. I liked Casey’s – the club was trying hard to transition into a real listening room, which was heaven for acoustic singer/songwriters like me. But tonight, some bozo chatted it up with his date during my entire first set.
Casey’s advertised this night as a showcase, and signs were posted everywhere that asked patrons to turn off their cells and refrain from talking during performances. But the club owner didn’t yet have the nerve to throw out patrons who didn’t comply with the “Shhhhh!” policy, so normally I just put up with it. But tonight, I was prepared.
I signaled to the audience to hold on a sec, and pulled out two pink Whoopee Cushions from my tote bag I’d set close behind me. I blew one up, placed it on the stage by my feet, and then called on the still-chatting Bozo.
“Mr. Yellow Crewneck Sweater, you’ve won a prize.”
Of course, Bozo wasn’t paying attention. I called him again.
“Mr. Yellow Crewneck Sweater, come on down!”
No response. A woman walked over, tapped him on the shoulder and said something. Bozo looked up at me, surprise on his inane, handsome face. He made the classic, “Me?” gesture, looked back and forth at me and the woman standing beside him, and then stood up. I waved him to the stage.
“Yes, you! You’ve won a prize. Come up to the stage.”
Bozo made his way. He had an expensive haircut and wore knife-pleat kakis and tasseled loafers; perfectly rich and perfectly clueless. He climbed up on stage, walking unsurely towards me.
“Thanks for coming up. What’s your name?”
“Umm, Tristan. Did I really win something?”
“Yes, you really did win something, but you were too busy talking to hear the announcement.”
A nervous chuckle skittered across the audience. I offered Tristan the limp Whoopee Cushion. He looked out at the audience, shrugged his shoulders, and took the prize.
“You’ve just won the ‘Ejaculatory Flatulence Award’ for talking during my entire set,” I announced.
With that, I lightly tapped my right foot on the primed Whoopee Cushion. “Poot.”
Tristan looked down at it and then up at me again. “Hey, what’s going …”
“Poot, poot.” I smiled.
His eyebrows knitted. “This is bull …”
“Poot, poot, poot.” Every time he opened his mouth, I pooted.
By now, the audience was laughing out loud. Tristan threw his prize onto the stage and stormed off.
“Let’s get the … POOT, POOT!,” Tristan yelled at his now mortified date. He slammed some money on the table and they strode angrily towards the door. Tristan turned, red-faced, and opened his mouth … “POOOOOOOOT!” The audience howled.
At the door, he flipped me the bird, to which I responded with a dainty “fweet.”
I laughed, picked up my guitar and walked to the back of the stage, and wondered if I could ever, really, get away with a stunt like that.
Strong Arm of the Law
A Rett Bonneville Short Story
By Anne M. Freeman
After leaving the judge’s chambers, I hurried to the ladies room where I could wipe away a few tears. I’d just thanked her for my community service requirement, a moment I would never have dreamed of happening when she handed it out to me. I shared with her a small story about loss and forgiveness.
The first time I met the judge was because of my “crime.” It started with my 1980 L82 Corvette, mink brown exterior, saddle interior, and a mirrored T-top. I adored that car, and spent many a day waxing is, wiping it down, and just plain staring at it. It was everything a 23-year-old babe could want. Then the car died and I didn’t have the funds to fix it, so it sat in my driveway for a good long while. Someday, I would get my Vette running again.
What happened, in fact, was I had to sell my Vette because a local cop lost out on a promotion he thought should have been his. His response to being passed-over was to go on a ticket-writing spree all over my town. My turn came one evening. There was a knock on my cottage door, and Officer Smith stood outside with a grim look. Of course, I thought someone I loved had died and I was frantic. Who wouldn’t be? But no, Office Smith was not there to deliver some bad news about an accident, he was there to ticket me for parking a car with an expired registration. A car no one could see from the road, and which had a cover on it. I was appalled at the nerve of him! He must have come onto my property and looked under the cover to discover that my car was no longer registered.
He ordered me to get my Vette inspected or get it garaged (I had none). I couldn’t afford to do either, and I told him so. He said I’d have to pay a fine for every day it sat there unregistered. I protested that no one could see the car – I lived in the woods. Why was he at my home, and why was he harassing me? And who cared about my car?! It was the town ordinance, was how he replied to my frantic protestations.
Now, I was enraged. The total unfairness of the situation boiled my blood. A one-sided screaming match ensued and escalated. What I can recall coming out of mouth was something along these lines: “I pay your salary with my taxes! … a Nazi police state! … get your ass fired! … kick your ass right off my lawn! … It was that last phrase blast that did it, and the only “ass” happening was my sorry ass getting arrested for making terroristic threats against an office of the peace. Turns out that I didn’t have to actually kick Officer Smith’s ass, I just had to say I would kick his ass to get arrested.
My attorney was the one who informed me about Officer Smith’s predicament, which didn’t make me feel one bit better. I did not like being the dog that just got kicked. However, my attorney argued against doing anything other than making a deal because I was technically violating the town ordinance, and making a fuss would not endear me to the townies. And the fact was that I couldn’t afford to fix or garage the car. So, he made a deal with the prosecutor – first offence, upstanding citizen – and I agreed to sell my car within the next several weeks. Oh, and I was “sentenced” to community service.
A friend of a friend had a neighbor who’s retired father was moving out of the city to live with them here in the country, and they were looking for some project to keep him busy. The father’s dream was to restore an old Vette with his middle school grandson. I agreed to sell it, figuring that was about the only circumstance that I could possibly stomach. At least there was some shred that I could cling to that would make me feel good about what had happened.
Then, it was time for community service, which turned out to be cleaning up litter in the town park. Shortly after I arrived with my work gloves, trash bags and reflection vest, a flock of little girl scouts descended on the park to pick up litter as part of some badge that they were trying to earn. I moved to the edge of the park along the road to keep the little critters away from the cars. There was plenty of litter to go around, sadly.
I was a hot day, and I was hot under the proverbial collar. With each piece of trash I picked up, the injustice of what had happened to me gurgled up and stuck in my throat. People I knew slowed down and beeped. They probably (hopefully) thought I was helping out the girl scouts. I never shared any of what happened because it just made me too damned angry.
Then, the worst thing that could happened happened. Officer Smith drove by. He slowed down when he saw me. That God for the girl scouts, because I would have given him the bird right then and there, and had been arrested all over again. Instead, I stood in humiliation and glared at him.
A short time later, a pickup I didn’t recognize nosed in the parking area behind me and parked. Officer Smith got out, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I felt my heart begin to pound again. This was just too much! Was he here to help the girl scouts? Of all days! I knew I couldn’t keep a lid on it now. He got out the truck without looking my way, opened the tailgate, and set some bottles of water and chips on the tailgate. Then he reached in the bed of the truck, pulled forward a big cardboard box and pulled a large black plastic bag out of it. He pulled at some work gloves hanging from his back pocket, and put them on. Then, he walked towards me, bag in hand. I felt hot tears begin streaming down my cheeks. I was so angry that I didn’t care.
By now, Office Smith was standing by me. Without looking at me or speaking, he shook open the bag, and stood there with his arms held out, as if waiting for me to put some litter in it. By now, I was trembling with rage and confusion. I didn’t dare open my mouth, because some of the girl scouts ran over to say hi to Office Smith. He waved at them, and then turned back towards me, waiting. When I realized that he wasn’t going to leave, I managed to pull myself together, bent down, picked up some litter, and threw it in the bag. And together, Office Smith and I cleaned the entire roadside in silence.
Epilogue: It’s been a while since I lost my Vette and that day with Office Smith. Not long afterwards, I was waiting at a stoplight near town. My old Vette pulled up alongside of me and stopped in the left-hand lane. My heart contracted. The old man in the driver’s seat, looking down at his grandson in the passenger seat, his face crinkled with joy.
I still miss the hell out of my Vette, but Officer Smith and I wave to each other now when we pass. And my heart is just a little bit bigger.
A Rett Bonneville Short-Short Story
By Anne M. Freeman
The bar was not one I performed in, gratefully. Going to a bar where I perform is like going back to work, not to play. Shanna asked me to meet her there at 10:00 p.m. for a surprise. She was my old roommate from boarding school with whom I maintained enough contact to keep the friendship going.
Shanna sat at the bend in the long mahogany bar, facing the door. When she saw me, she waved me over with frantic excitement.
“Oh, I was SO afraid you’d bail on me tonight, Rett. I’m SO glad you came,” she said after the obligatory air kisses. Her face was all smiles and dimples. I sat on the bar stool next to her, facing the bar.
“What has you in such a state, Shanna?” I asked, hoping her giddiness wasn’t about the “surprise.”
Ignoring my question, she appraised me with her fashionista eye.
“You look gorgeous, Rett. That moss green sweater is just killer with your long, dark hair. I’ll order us some drinks.”
She waved at the bartender, who responded to Shanna’s waving hand with a big tip-me-well smile.
“We’ll have two Golden Cadillac’s,” she said with her give-me-a-reason-to-tip-you-well smile.
“Golden Cadillac? Not sure I know that one.” He frowned slightly. Shanna rolled her eyes in mock consternation.
"One once of Galliano, two ounces of white creme de cacao, one ounce of light cream, blended on low with about a half a cup of crushed ice." She flicked her lashes at him. "And, sprinkled with nutmeg."
He smiled. "I think I can handle that," he said, and started searhing for the champaign flutes.
When Shanna tore her eyes off the barman, I asked, "What's up with the drinks? We haven't had a golden since boarding school."
"Well," she said, looking slyly behind me. "The reason is standing right behind you."
I didn't have to look behind me. In the mirror, I saw my old boarding school sweetheart, Kent MacCumberland. He spun my stool around, wrapped one arm around my waist and shoved his crotchy between my legs, while the other hand grabbed the back of my head as he planted a wet one on my mouth. I struglled, kneed him in the crotch, and punched him in his o-shaped mouth that had opened with the sudden pain.
The bartender set our drinks down in front of us during the ensuing pandemonium at the bar.
"Thanks for the drink, Shanna," I said, downing the sweet creamy liquid before slipping off the bar and stepping over the now prone Kent. "And don't forget to tip the bartender," I called back to her, still sitting, drink in hand, shock on her face.
It wasn't her fault. Shanna never knew about the date rape. I waited until I was out the front door before shaking my throbbing hand, and began laughing and crying at the same time on my way to my car. The sweet drink masked the bile. I'd have to thank Shanna for the drink when she called. My cell began buzzing by the time I reached my car.
THE OLD HOUSE
A Rett Bonneville Short Story
By Anne M. Freeman
I almost didn’t come by the old house today, but curiosity won over resistance. Not because I don’t like where I grew up; I just don’t feel much attachment to it anymore. However, the “No Trespassing - Condemned” sign posted in the overgrown yard was jarring, and I was saddened to think the sagging, peeling Victorian had no further purpose in this world. It was lovely once, with 12-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and fancy trim. The house was a bit tattered when we lived there, but nothing like its current decrepit state.
If I were to admit my reason for coming, I hoped seeing this place would conger up some feelings buried in the scattered rubble of my psyche. But apparently, I’m either rubble-free or feelings-challenged, because once my surprise at the terrible state of the old house eased, my soul wafted back into its cottony cocoon.
Somehow, I had to find my feelings again.
Finally, I climbed out of my car, crossed the street, and crouched under the yellow No Trespassing tape onto the broken slate walkway that led to the front porch. What had made the sidewalks crack and heave like that? Rain and ice and time, I guess. I don’t remember broken slates when I lived here. In fact, we skated across their smooth surfaces as kids.
I reached the weather-beaten front steps to find unstable handrails, but the steps themselves appeared intact. Should I climb them? If I made it up to the front porch, I could see through the huge windows on either side of the grand entranceway into our living room where my parents entertained and our music room where my father read and I practiced piano. I climbed gingerly, hoping I wouldn’t fall through, because I was determined to take a look.
When I stepped on the porch, I paused, turned around, and sat down on the top step. Suddenly, I was 15 years old with my first guitar on my knee. Long, dark, shiny hair, parted in the middle, hung in front of my face as I bent over my guitar. Hip-hugger jeans flared into hems tattered from dragging on sidewalks, and un-polished toes peeked out from underneath. I wore my favorite India print blouse made of bleeding navy and bright green Madras cotton. Long silver chandelier earrings swung back and forth as I changed chords and strummed. Tiny bells on an ankle bracelet provided percussion with my tapping left foot. A young, sweet voice sang Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” with passionate longing.
As I watched her in my mind’s eye, the song welled up from inside me like a great bubble from my gut, but when I opened my mouth to sing, a sob burst forth. My body jerked with crying. Several minutes passed before its energy dissipated. What in the world was that? I sat for a while, head bent, waiting for my breath to calm into a slow, steady rhythm. An elderly couple paused at the end of the walkway.
"Are you all right, Miss?" the old woman asked in a wavery voice.
I shook my head yes.
"Alright, dear," she replied, looking doubtful.
I smiled at them, hoping my smile looked genuine, my makeup wasn’t too hideous, and they wouldn’t call the police.
Once they strolled out of sight, I closed my eyes again to find her. I wanted desperately to feel the yearning she felt, her desire to be the singer/songwriter I eventually became ... yes, yes, I know that our youthful dreams fall far short of reality. But did my dreams really fall short? Or did I change my dreams? Maybe I just needed a break. One thing was for sure: I’d grown to hate performing with its troubled fans and dealing with the crooked music business. I’d lost balance in my life. Too many late nights, heartbreaks, and broken promises, not enough grace. But there was something good in it, too. Something about songwriting and performing that had once called to me so strongly and carried me until recently. My fifteen-year-old self appeared again, and with her all that yearning...
I stood up and stared out at the street. She dreamt of running down that walkway, guitar in hand and a backpack slung on her shoulder, sliding behind the wheel of an imagined 1969 Pontiac Bonneville convertible and speeding off into life’s adventures. My real Kia Soul! was parked across the street, waiting for me. I started down the stairs. No need to look in the windows. There was nothing else here I needed to find.
THE SMALL WINDOW
A Rett Bonneville Short-Short Story
By Anne M. Freeman
The open low E-string reverberated through the body of my acoustic guitar and over the quiet audience. It was the end of my signature song and the night’s performance. Anyone who had been fighting their cache of sad memories had finally lost the battle. Sniffles were audible as I held my position, head down, eyes to the floor, right arm outstretched, pick in hand. But that’s why they come – to get their melancholy on. There would be good CD sales tonight.
A few years back I performed my signature song at Midem, the international music business conference in Cannes. That was prior to the smoking ban in restaurants in France. By the end of my set that night, I’d lost my voice due to the white shroud created by a room full of smoking record and radio execs. In desperation, I revamped my power ballad because I knew I would sound like a squeaking frog on the high notes - and everyone expected me to perform it. So instead of ending with big notes and wide open vowels, I spoke and whispered the ending with a “French chanteuse” allusion. It went over well. They liked the “surprise” ending.
The surprise ending became the talk of Folk forums afterwards, my “brave new expression” as it was dubbed by web critics. Not one to turn my back on serendipity, I went with it. Now, preshow debates bubble up about how my perceived moods, my previous shows, the weather, and my blog posts and tweets might telegraph the choice I’d make next. Someone once tried to work out a correlation between my choices and the stock market volatility index.
Tonight, I performed a wispy spoken version, somewhat in response to the fan of snow that was unfolding on the slate floor in front of the entrance, spreading wider and whiter as the night progressed, and somewhat in response to my mood. Tomorrow, a report would be posted on my choice, and the debate would rage anew.
When the clapping died down, I set my guitar in the stand and worked my way around the tables, ending at the bar for a root beer and to sell some CDs. There was a rush to buy, as people wanted to get home and get out of the weather. Once the sales and small talk were completed, the room pretty much cleared out. A few men remained at the bar, glancing my way, looking for an opening. They would hang around until the bartender kicked them out. A lone woman was hanging on, too, watching me with large, sorrowfull dark eyes from her table by the stage, clinging to her empty wine glass.
There was a time when I loved having this effect on people. The thought of connecting with them through my music – of drawing out their emotions with my songs, painting canvases of lyrics and melody upon which they could find their truth … that was my singer/songwriter dream. But now I know it’s mostly projection, not truth that they seek from the stage, and I’m just a blank canvas for those projections. Having tangled with enough egos and obsessions to fill a Bob Dylan songbook, I’ve long since disabused myself of any such flowers-in-my-hair notions. Now, my interactions with the audience are mostly about maintaining control.
Back on stage, I began packing up my gear and CDs, keeping my back to the lingerers. I have two end-of-night rules: I make no eye contact and I keep moving. The moment I stop or catch someone’s eye, I’m target practice for the mournful and the Lotharios. Some people harbor a notion that if they stare at me on stage for a few hours while slowly getting sloshed, I’ll either want to have sex with them or invite them to cry on my shoulder all night, or both.
The bartender was clinking glasses noisily, which meant he was ready to get these people out of here. Good. With a guitar, a mike, a couple of stands and small speakers, a small mixing board and a few cords, I only needed about twenty minutes to finish packing up and then we’d settle the night’s take. He turned on the outside light at the rear exit next to the stage, which led to a staff parking lot where I was parked. Once I cleaned the car off, I’d pull up to the door and load my equipment, the heater blasting. The thought of it tired me. I didn’t feel up to the chore ahead. I was almost tempted to let one of the guys at the bar help me. But then, there would be the aftermath to deal with. No, my wits returned. Despite my tiredness, I’d deal with the snow.
The snow. A small window tucked between the door and stage was now illuminated by the strong outside light. Changeling gusts threw large white flakes to and fro in beautiful spirals and crisscrossing planes. Mesmerized, I broke my end-of-night rules for a moment to watch the frantic ballet: fouetté jeté, pirouettes, soutenu en tournant, and grand jeté … a whirling, spinning Nutcracker suite. Had a snow storm been Tchaikovsky’s muse? I suddenly felt the heavy extension cord hanging in my left hand, which I’d unconsciously coiled while staring at the window. What would it feel like to dance with the snowflakes, surrendering to the wind? Or to float ever so lightly on a zephyr? I closed my eyes for a moment, imagining the luxury of it....
I head the screech of a bar stool sliding on the floor, and them footsteps walking towards me from behind. I’d paused too long at the window.