A short story
by Robbie Kenyon
Gabi was telling me a story about his cats when applause erupted throughout the club and drowned out his voice. The house lights dimmed, and I turned towards the stage. He had mentioned that a friend of his, Maya, was singing. Gabi and Maya had played together in various bands off and on over the years, but this was the first time I’d ever seen her.
Maya stepped into the stage lights and the room went silent. She had mousy brown hair with a sallow, dull face. She wore a pair of jeans and a hippie shirt that showed off her average arms. The drummer started a beat, followed by the bass and guitar. Her cue came and she stepped to the mike. She opened her mouth and the hair on my arms stood up. Feeling rose up from her gut and gushed out of her. I bathed in that voice like a naked body in a vat of warm honey. It washed over me and healed every ill. It brought every death back to life. I was transported. If you heard that voice out on the streets, you would stop in your tracks and look for it. She finished the song and retreated from the stage to the uproar of a standing ovation. I stood just like all the rest. That voice coming from out of that shell of a person, like a pearl from an oyster; what rock in her gullet had made it possible?
She emerged from backstage and the crowd rushed her. Men and woman fawned over her, wanted to speak to her, to touch her. She pushed her way through to our table and sat down. I saw that my first impression had been accurate. She was no hot little twenty-something, no blond bombshell, no redheaded nymph. She was in her forties with lines around her pale eyes and grey in her mousy brown hair. I couldn’t stop staring at her. You would pass right by her on the street and never give her a second look. She blended into the wallflowers. Unless you’d heard it for yourself, you’d never know or believe what she had in her.
I asked her what she was drinking. She replied she’d have whatever we were having. Even her choice of drink dissolved into the crowd and left no trace of her. I ordered another pitcher of beer and some water. I stared at her some more. That exterior shell looked exactly like every other egg in the room, but inside it resided a shining, golden center. I’d always preferred men, but even I wanted to sleep with her just to get closer to that gift. She lit up a cigarette. I looked around, wondering who was going to complain. Nobody frowned at us. Apparently, great musicians can get away with anything. Who knew? I smiled and asked her where she was from.
“New York,” she replied. Of course, she’s from the city of all cities, the rough and tumble glitz box that crushes coal into diamonds. “Upstate,” she added, and my theory dissolved. New York City cut diamonds. Upstate New York dug coal. Two entirely different ends of the spectrum.
“Where are you living now?” I expected her to say she was going back to LA tomorrow, that she was just up here visiting friends.
“Mountain View,” she replied. Mountain View was no gritty Detroit. It was no hippie Portland or Seattle grungetown. She lived in a burg south of San Francisco, a village, really, softer than gelatin and more coddling than Mother.
I raised my eyebrow at her. “Did your father beat you?” Gabi looked at me in alarm. I shrugged. Somebody had to have kicked her around; it was the only other thing I could think of. Maya threw back her head and laughed. Even her laugh fell along the normal continuum.
“No! Why do you ask?”
I shrugged. “Just wondering.” Gabi glared at me. I threw a wide grin at him, and he forgave me. He settled back to listen to the next set of music, but I barely heard it. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Maya smoke her cigarette. Maybe there would be some other sign that inside this woman lived a soul the size of Texas. Silvery wings on her elbows. Translucent golden heels. A purple aura. Something. Anything. I kept watch for the rest of the night, but her disguise was impeccable. I never got a glimpse.
The realization made me look around the room. What other secret genius was I in the presence of? How many here were the children of Picasso, the daughters of Hemingway, the sons of Mozart? How many of these nondescript pupils veiled a blinding light? Maybe all of these eggs contained a creamy nugget of gold. I glanced over at Maya. Or maybe they were just empty shells and that golden globe fell only to the few gifted and chosen. I felt the Old Green Demon tighten my heart. I was just as ordinary as the woman sitting next to me, across from me, beside me, behind me. The gods had denied me the gift that would do for me that thing which Maya’s voice did for her. I would never be remembered. I had already been forgotten.
At the end of the evening, I caught up with her at the door just before she left and grabbed her arm. She looked back at me.
“How did you get there? What makes it happen?” I demanded. My words were slurred and confused as they gurgled up through my inebriation, but I could tell by the look in her eyes she knew exactly what I was talking about.
“I made it into my everything,” she replied. I let go of her arm. She drifted out the door and left me behind. There it was; I had my answer. She had thrown all her eggs into a single basket. It takes a hardboiled one to be a daughter of Hemingway. I knew. God, how I knew.
Copyright © 2012 by Robbie Kenyon
Story image: © Tracy Hebden | Dreamstime.com
"Daughters of Hemingway" was inspired by the many individuals I know who are wrestling with their inner artists. I usually begin a story with the image of a scene in my mind, and write whatever comes, then I go back and flesh out the structure and theme in the editing process.
A long-time writer just getting her act together, Robbie Kenyon graduated from Wesleyan University with an English degree. Her short story “Higher Standards” can be found in the May 2010 issue of The Foliate Oak, and her story “Honey” was published by Residential Aliens in their June 2010 issue. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.