Still Life With Muse and Sax

I think this one was published in Rose & Thorn many years ago. It was the first of two stories I wrote for a beautiful muse…with eyes so green you could forget winter in January. The woman on the sax and her partner are two of the most amazing women I’ve ever encountered.


It was a quiet afternoon at Molly’s Cafe. We were sitting upstairs in the emptiness of the post-lunch crowd, breathing the frenzied chi of post-face-stuffing and post-coffee-swilling fury. Outside, gray rain sliced through the air like tiny hatchets. Behind us, a lone sax player ground out something bluesy with all the gravel and grit of a break-hardened heart. Across from me, Jo’s eyes, as usual, were green, a green that could feed forests. That green.

She was wearing a black turtleneck with matching black pantyhose divided by a red swatch of tartan skirt. She looked hot. I tried to keep my eyes on her eyes, but the green threatened to swallow my soul and toss me around in the tides of her green forever. Yeah, that green. I focused my eyes on a couple of dust motes arguing about semantics and existentialism somewhere in that distance between her green eyes and her long legs, those legs that flowed up into an unimaginable playground, into … I refocused my eyes on the dust motes. They were still arguing. They would always be arguing.

“Do you like my sweater?” she said.

“Huh?” I said.

“Do you like my sweater? You haven’t taken your eyes off it. Are you thinking dirty thoughts again, you pathetic literary pig?”

Damn dust motes, arguing right in front of her breasts.

“Oh, uh … yeah. Nice sweater.” The plan was to be cool, but blood boiled in my head with the force of hot toothpaste squeezing through a vice. “I’ve always liked large sweaters,” I said.

The plan wasn’t working.

The two dust motes were cooler than I was.

She smiled. “You’re blushing, pig.”

“Something caught in my eye.”

“And it’s cutting off your air supply, goat?”    “Yeah, that’s it,” I said. “Air supply.”

“How’s life …”

“ … boar?”

she said.

“I haven’t slept in three days,” I said. “I drink too much. I can’t write anything anymore. I dream about grabbing spoons and stabbing people. I have a spider somewhere in my bed and it feeds on me every night and leaves red bumps on my arms and legs. I found God rummaging through the bottles and boxes in my medicine cabinet. He looked hungry and confused. There’s a dead rat in my refrigerator. It sees everything. Its whiskers quiver. It asked me where I go. I don’t know where I go.” I slumped my head. “I don’t know where.” I looked up past Jo’s black sandals and black forever legs and dazzling tartan and past those damned pretentious motes and into the deep green seas of her eyes. “Other than that, I’m fine. And you?”

“I made love to John Lennon last night.”

I nodded. “Big night.”

The sax player winked at the empty tables around us and dove into a toe-snapping rendition of So What.

Jo put a cigar to her lips and lit it with a snap of her fingers. She puffed deeply and exhaled Hurricane Castro into my face. I breathed in the smoke and felt every hair on my body go bongo in the Congo. Her lips parted slowly under the slow noire wave of her hair, and she said: “Then we talked about the twenty-three things garbage collectors tell their children about their jobs. The first is … it pays the bills. The twenty-third is … you don’t have to attend meetings.”

“And the other twenty-one?”    “Variations on the first and last, all beginning with the letter ‘S’.”

“There’s a dead rat in my refrigerator.”

“Does my sweater display my breasts to advantage? I don’t want one looking more intelligent than the other.”

I curled around this thought. “I find them very similar.”

“You what, trite verbalist?”

“ …,” I said.

“Tongue-tied spelling bee reject,” she said.

I had a thought.

I expressed it: “John Lennon?”

“Yes. He stabbed me in the side of my dawn, comma lizard.”

“Did I mention … there’s a dead rat in my refrigerator?”

“I’m going to become a veterinarian and devote my life to things with four legs or more. Does your rat need help?”

“Yes, I think it does.”

“What exactly does it need?”

“A second chance.”

“Do you find my breasts fascinating?”


“You’re staring at my breasts, shallow imagist.”

“What … what is the sound of wax melting?”

“How are the people in your life?”

Uh ha.

Trick question.

But I can handle it. “Alive,” I said.

“Alive?” she said.

“Except for the dead ones.”

“Dead?” She puffed on her cigar and blew half of Cuba into my lungs. Thank you.

“Not alive,” I said.

She thought about this.

I thought about this.

She nodded.

I nodded.

I tore the tablecloth off the table and ate it.

It tasted like …

… plastic.


I said: “The dead rat in my refrigerator asks questions I can’t answer.”

“We all have our dead rats,” she said.

“How’s work?” I said.

She puffed on her cigar and blew Jamaica and The Cayman Islands into my face. I surfed in green water. “Imagine a bored labia …” she said. “… waiting for a bus in the middle of a prairie. With no bar is sight.”

“So … things are getting better at work.”

“New management.”

“What are your dead rats?”

“Mundane symbolists,” she said. “Like you.”

“Do you keep them in your refrigerator?”

“Yoko was pissed at me,” she said.

“Yoko is pissed at everything,” I said. “In a sublime sort of way.”

“It doesn’t matter. I didn’t care.”

“Of course,” I said.

“Would you like me to take my sweater off, banal sentence arranger?”

I blinked.

She winked. “Perhaps I could take my sweater off and we could discuss my bra.”    I gulped. Was she serious? I said: “God looked so desperate in my medicine cabinet, as though he expected something that never happened. It made me sad, so I went to my refrigerator.”

“Big mistake,” she said.

“How’s that?”

“Never do anything right after seeing God,” she said. “Especially when he looks that bad.”

Outside, the rain spread acid waste over the cars and pigeons. I had tears in waiting for every piston and wing.


Not really.

I have no tears.

Not even for myself.

She said: “Are you feeling sorry for yourself, maudlin moralist? Thinking about crying for the cars and the birds?”

Damn, she’s good.

“Is God in your medicine cabinet?” I said.

“No, he’s between my legs.”

“He looked like he had something to say,” I said. “But he was too busy rummaging … just rummaging around … to do anything other than look confused.”

“Do you want to know what God is doing between my legs?” she said.

“The rain is our only contact with the fate of our sky.”

“The rain is dead,” she said. “The sky is dead. The rain is our only contact with the death of air. Why are you staring at my toes, lecherous linguist? Do you want to suck them?”

“Huh?” I said.

“Suck my toes?” she said.

My face sloshed with blood.

She said: “Hah!”

She said: “Hah! Hah!”

She said: “Hah, frightened little adverbial toilet!”

I blushed.

She said: “Have you read any good books?”

I said: “There’s a good book?”

“It resides on a shelf …” she said “ … reserved for one good book. Do you think about me when you masturbate?”

I gulped. “And where is that shelf?”

“Wherever you keep it.”

“There’s a dead rat in my refrigerator.”

The sax player took off his shirt without missing a note and winked at a table full of nobody. He had talent.

She said: “Do you think the sax player has talent?”

I said: “He lacks audience.”

“This room lacks ambience,” she said.

I looked around. Empty tables. Afternoon light drifting through the skylight. Harsh light for a bluesy sax. Small stage. Just big enough for an audience-depraved sax. Depraved. Like in the song poem. The bongo song poem. The bongalongo songo poem. Dipdooling bonga …

“Grammar slut,” she said.

“I wrote a poem once,” I said. “It had words arranged boldly on white space, announcing their presence, if not their meaning.”

“Did it rhyme?”

“Nothing rhymes.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Nothing rhymes.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Nothing rhymes.”

“Fucking transformational syntactical bongalongo songo dipalongo boo bipi diddly bump ….

… bump.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Boppa loppa bang.” I said.

“Boppa loppa bang,” she said.

“Boo bop,” I said.

“Bop,” she said.

We were standing. Boppaloppa bop. Standing to the sax in the bongo congo boopa bongalonga bop … standing into the groove of the smooth green ever green of her eyes dancing in the space of the boppa boomalongo dancing on the rongabonga yeah rongabongo of the …

“There’s a fucking rat in my refrigerator. It’s dead.”

“Refrigerators are not good for rats,” she said.

We shimmied and shook as her green eyes swallowed me in the greenness of my own lies and blindness. My teeth vibrated. I ate the table.

“Hungry?” she said.

The sax player swallowed the air around him and sprayed broken hearts and bus stops into the blue void of empty tables while Jo and I danced everything green and good in a universe of bop dilop.

“Boop,” she said.

“Biddly boppa,” said I.

“Bop diddly boop diddly diddly boop,” said the sax.

“Boop boppa boop,” she said.

“Boop,” I said.

“Poppa poppa boop.” said the sax.

“There’s a dead rat in my refrigerator.”

Oh shambalingo ringo mingo … BINGO!

“thIs Is no game!” I InsIsted.

Jo sat down, legs and all. Tartan. Sat down and said: “My ears have teeth. I’ve trained them to kill your tongue.”

“Nothing rhymes,” I said.

“Lingo egoist. Feeling sorry for yourself?”

“Do you have a dream?” I said.

“I’m dreaming now,” she said.

“Do you have another dream?”    “Only when I’m awake,” she said.

“I have a dream,” I said.

“Forget it, verb dweeb, my playground is beyond your leer.”

“Any plans for the weekend?” I said.

“I’m going to read a story about a man whose life means absolutely nothing. Nothing ever happens to him. Nobody knows him. Even death forgets him.”

“Does he live forever?”

“No. He dies,” she said. “Life forgets him.”

“Shouldn’t he go somewhere in between?”

“Get your mind out of there, filthy word bucket.”

“I was thinking about buying a new suit of armor,” I said. “You know, something to keep out the cold shafts of my insecurities. They glare at me through the peep holes of curtains and the stale looks of passersby.”

“I think we’re getting somewhere, cliché clincher.”

“I think I’m the man in the story you’re going to read.”

She nodded. “No one can handle life,” she said. “It kills us all.”

“There’s a dead rat in my refrigerator.”

“Shall we sit?”

The sax player went silent. He waited.

Jo waited.

I thought.

I had an idea.

I said: “Yes. Let’s sit.”

We sat facing each other. The sax droned something slow and Blue in Green. The table was gone. It was in my stomach. Drums swished in the distance. Odd. Suddenly, the distance between us was less than a trillion miles. There was no border of table. There was no fence of table. There was no prison of table. We were free. Unrestrained. She said: “Before you can chew, you must bite.”

The dust motes stabbed each other with logical palette knives screaming ontological bullshit. They were killing each other with concrete abstractions. I had an idea.

“Premature focus kills art,” I said.

“Premature ejaculation kills a good time,” she said.

“There’s a …”

“Yes, I know,” she said. “In your refrigerator. A rat. Dead. What are the fifty-seven ways you would suck the index finger of my left hand?”

“I thought there were fifty-eight.”

“After one,” she said, “ … there’s no difference between fifty-seven and fifty-eight. They don’t exist.”

“I can’t write anything anymore.”

“You never could write.”

“But I used words.”

“No,” she said. “Words used you.”

The sax player shot three bars of Flamenco straight into the hearts of the dust motes. They died painfully. But they never stopped arguing. Their mote corpses still blocked the view. I cried.

“Stop your damned wailing, spineless symbol spinner … it’s only mote morte.”

I laughed.

She said: “Stop your damned hysterics, clause clown … they’re still arguing.”

I stood up and ate my chair.

“Now you have no excuse,” she said.

“Now I have no excuse,” I said.

I walked through the empty air of an eaten table and stood directly in front of her. I bent down on one knee, staring into the emeralds surrounding her irises. The sax player’s head blew off his shoulders and stuck to the ceiling. He winked as the room exploded with unresolved meaning. The sax didn’t miss a beat.

“You must bite …” she said.

I reached my hand toward Jo. Her eyes ate my soul. My fingers were inches from her knee. My brain spun inside my skull like a dryer full of starched dreams.

“Before you can chew,” she said.

I touched her knee and she disappeared.


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