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Saturday, May 15, 2010

FLIRT BLOGFEST

I have to run important errands long put off by demands of job and writing. So I'm going to enter the FLIRT BLOGFEST { http://critiquethiswip.blogspot.com/2010/04/announcing-flirt-fest-blogfest.html } a little earlier than even I usually do.

All of us flirt. Some with danger. Many with lust. Less with love. A mad few with death itself. Samuel McCord does it with all of them -- and all with one woman.

Meilori Shinseen, empress of a people exiled from another plane of existence.

Samuel's love for his wife, Meilori Shinseen, is as undying and epic as a Greek tragedy. It is known all throughout the Shadowlands. As it is known that his great love for Meilori will be the end of him. And if Sam could hold her just one more time in his arms, he would face that end with a smile.


And here is that ghostly encounter from my novel.

{FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE is a speculative Noir thriller. An alternate history, if you would, of what could have happened after Katrina but didn't -- in a plane of existence where the supernatural exists. And who is to say that it doesn't exist in this one?}

CHAPTER TEN
A REMEMBRANCE OF SHADOWS
The week that followed my visits to Bush and Nagin was a blur of too many demands and too few hands. But Renfield and I managed. Swartzkoph, the new head of FEMA, came steamrolling in, busting heads and butts.

He left me alone, and I wisely kept a low profile, keeping to the shadows, trying to make his work easier not harder. But considering the labors of Hercules he was attempting, he was finding the Big Easy anything but easy.

And I went about my work in the shadows.

But now, after a whole week, he had sent for me. He had picked an odd meeting place : the Tulane campus. It was a mess but relatively dry considering Katrina.

Renfield insisted on going with me. He was worried that I was pressing myself too hard and my senses were dulled by fatigue. But in an odd way, it was the exact opposite. Weariness over-rode the unconscious filter I put on what Rind's blood mingled with mine showed me.

With the soft voice of twilight, ghost music sang in my memory. It was accompanied by the chorus of the whispers of the wind from the listening sky. I closed my eyes.

New Orleans was timeless, especially to me with the blood of Death in my veins. My transformed eyes only told me the truth, and the truth was not what I wanted to see. So I closed my eyes, and for a moment the truth was what I wanted it to be.

Meilori was back in my arms, supple and vibrant, the peach velvet of her cheek nestled against mine. She pulled back to murmur "Beloved."

Slanted eyes looked up into mine, seeming like jade quarter moons waiting to rise. Her smile was a promise of wicked delights to come in the evening hours before us. And my heart quickened.

Her hand lightly squeezed my gloved one. Her head bent forward, and soft lips tickled my ear. And we were dancing, dancing as if our bodies were the wind given life. It had taken me a hundred years, mind you, but I had learned to be a damn fine dancer. The firm body in my arms had been ample incentive.

Some moments lose their way and grope blindly back from the past into the present. Such a moment swept me up now. Meilori and I were dancing across this very grass.

I had paid a prince's ransom to pry King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band out of Tulane's old gymnasium to play out here under the stars. In my mind, I could hear young Louis Armstrong on cornet, see the pleased faces of the other dancers stepping lightly all around us, and hear Meilori's low laughter. How amused she had been at being flirted with on the front porches of Jelly Roll Morten, Buddy Bolden, and Papa Jack Laine earlier that day. Those same houses had somehow survived Katrina, though not without damage. I made myself a promise I would see those places repaired.

Renfield rasped beside me, "Sam, are you doing this?"

"What?"

I opened my eyes and went very still. The speechless shades of a long-gone night whirled and wheeled all around us. That long-ago evening was replaying itself before our eyes. Renfield and Magda were laughing as they danced beside Meilori and me. Outraged dowagers bent heads together, their silent tongues wagging at the sight of a priest and nun openly dancing under the watching stars.

Renfield sighed, "I'd forgotten how your face looked happy."

I looked at my ghostly double, envying him the sheer delight in his eyes. "I'd forgotten how it felt."

The sound of my words settled an old score with truth, and the evening shades slowly faded from sight. I shivered. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Renfield look wistfully at the disappearing Magda in his own double's arms. I sighed. Some truths were best seen only by starlight.

Renfield shook his head. "Remember the last dance of the night, Sam?"

I nodded. "Yes, I remember. Don't understand it. But I remember it."

"Why did Meilori shush you off like that to dance by herself -- as if someone invisible was dancing with her?"

I sighed. "Haven't a clue. But it was a sight. She was so graceful, so full of sad love."

Renfield frowned, then nodded. "Sad love? Bloody Hell, you're right. I could never pin down the expression on her face until now. But sad love says it all."

"All. And nothing. I still don't understand the why of it. Just that she was so hauntingly beautiful as she danced."

Renfield made a face. "She could have been washing clothes on a rock, and you would have found her beautiful."

"I may have many sorrows, Padre, but the memory of Meilori is not one of them."

Renfield was about to say something, then looked off to our left. I followed the path of his eyes. I smiled. Swartz. Not that I called him that to his face, mind you.

He was a career soldier, full of discipline and respect for tradition and position. He was striding purposedly and brisk towards us. He smiled grim at me. I smiled back.

He stopped abruptly right in front of us. I smiled even wider at his clothes. No insignia or rank on his uniform of desert combat khaki, but it was starched and pressed as if just out of the cleaner's.

The smile dropped off his face as if too heavy for the moment. "Next time, McCord, you see me about to be killed, let me die. I do not want to go through something like this ever again. Dealing with bureaucrats is like being nibbled to death by ducks."

{Swartzkoph tells Samuel that he will be leaving FEMA and New Orleans in two weeks, not being able to follow orders given him by President Bush. Sam tells him not to worry, that his jazz club will be open by then.}

Swartzkoph raised an eyebrow. “Hardly a priority, McCord, with all the hurting people in this city.”

“You misunderstand, General. I’ll be able to start my pay-per-view internet concert of the jazz greats. The profits from that non-stop concert will funnel into a Katrina Relief Fund.”

Swartzkoph seemed doubtful. “I don’t know how much money that will pull in.”

I smiled wide. “Worldwide? Quite a bit. When you factor in that most of the jazz greats playing will be dead ones.”

I called upon Elu’s and Rind’s blood within me and misty shapes began to form all around us. Young Louis Armstrong, cornet under his arm, slapped my shoulder.

“Be glad to be there, Sam.”

Dizzy Gillespie shimmered beside him, his trumpet sparkling in the starlight, his beret set at a rakish angle. Jelly Roll Morten, his eyes dancing with “Spanish Tinge,” laughed at Swartzkoph’s startled jump. Charlie “Bird” Parker winked at me, holding his saxophone tight.

Cigarette hanging from his lips, Duke Ellington drawled, “You provide the piano. I’ll provide this old body. New Orleans is our mother. And we aim to be good sons.”

Swartzkoph looked a haunted question at me. He wanted to know who these spectral visitors were. And the hell of it was that I didn’t rightly know.

Just because I had summoned them, didn’t mean I knew. Were they my friends drawn from my heart’s memory when they were young, or could I reach out into the night and bring them to a remembrance of shadows? Think you know the shape of death? I did once. I was wrong.

I thought it a dark tunnel at the end of life, whose end was blazing light. I found it to be a cloud that filled the horizon with flickers of black light and scarlet winds. Thickly it spills over ocean and land, sweeping up all in its billowing path. And even that glimpse is misty, flawed with things my mind cannot contain.

I spoke softly to them. “Give me two weeks, and we’ll put on a show like none has ever seen before.”

Louis mopped at his forehead with a white handkerchief. “Time ain’t what you think, Sam. Nor is the reason we’re here. You open those doors. We be there. Now, you owe someone a last dance.”

He turned to the others. “C'mon, Boys, we’ve got us an empress to play for.”

There was a movement of shadows to my left, and my heart hollowed out as Renfield breathed, “Dear Lord above.”

Meilori’s shade danced open-armed in front of me.

What does love look like? What is its color? A white flash of fright. A billowing wave of warmth, its reach beyond the microscope and further than the length of hope. Is it a jewel sparkling in the night? Or a whisper murmuring within the corridors of the heart?

Once more Meilori danced across the velvet grass, her empty arms beckoning to me. Her soft voice carried like a specter in the dark. Her words brushed by me and into my soul.

“Beloved, one last dance.”

And I finally understood her dancing empty-armed that magic evening so long ago. She had seen me, as now I saw her. Perhaps she thought me the ghost of a future me, dead and searching for her. And not understanding completely, still she took me in her arms.

As I, not understanding completely, now took her in mine. She smiled, brushing soft lips against mine. And my jazz friends began to play in a heart-clasp of sound.

Love is not a shy beast to be caught but a rare moment to be treasured. It burns within each cell, a living seed of hope. Its rays invisible to most, seen only by the searching heart.

Meilori was in my arms, and her love was a sheath that kept me whole. She lightly kissed me. I almost felt it. We danced through the embrace of shadows. And for a very short moment, I was home. Home.
******************************************
As I stated before, I am a fan of old Hollywood classics. Some consider the concept of romance outdated and old. And it is old -- as old as myth, as enduring as the lonely heart's quest for its soulmate, and as fragile as the bodies which house those souls we love.

It is Sunday now. I thought to leave this post with the prayer of Sioux chief Yellow Lark, a favorite of my mother's :
Oh, Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have
hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy - myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my Spirit may come to you without shame.
(translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887)

23 comments:

  1. Haunting and beautiful, you captured a magic moment perfectly.

    This is great!!!

    I really really want to read the whole story now.

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  2. Thanks, Tessa, your words mean a lot. If only I could find an agent and publisher to like my novel, you could read the whole story.

    I've also just finished the final draft of the novel of how Sam and Meilori first met in 1853 and fell in love aboard the haunted transatlantic steamer, DEMETER. {RITES OF PASSAGE.}

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  3. Really wonderful atmosphere. I feel like I'm there in steamy New Orleans too. I absolutely love the line about being nibbled to death by ducks. lol.

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  4. Well, I want to know how you do it every blogfest. You suck me in and make me want to read more. So haunting and beautiful that last dance.

    I also wanted to apologize for my first comment months ago--you do not write purply prose. I think I said it wasn't, but was close? Now that I'm used to your style I have to say it is simply beautiful. Great descriptions, and you have a unique way of showing inner emotions.

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  5. Mmmm...like dark chocolate on the tongue.

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  6. As always I enjoyed your post!

    I love your descriptions...I can see the environment of the characters. Great job!

    Visit My Kingdom Anytime

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  7. Beautiful, haunting. Well done!

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  8. I love the line about how New Orleans is their mother, and they aim to be good sons. That's perfect.

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  9. another great excerpt, roland :)

    love the video clip, too...

    you may also like:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad5Tt3uE2b0

    glad you included edward kennedy 'duke' ellington there, i was one of the last canadians to see him alive... picked him up at his rental home north of toronto and brought him to the opening of an exhibit at an art gallery i co-owned in oakville, had a great chat... one of the sweetest men i've ever met... sadly, he died a few months later, but i got a thank you note from his son, mercer, for looking after his dad at the gallery and driving him around... will never forget the privilege of meeting the great man!

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  10. rats, sorry bro, this is what i meant to post:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpCr4JTDiOs

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  11. You and I, we have the same problem. Bypass flirt, get to the undying love. The passion.

    That’s not to say this is not an excellent scene. Oh, be still my romantic heart.

    This is so personal to Sam. Uhm, most of your scenes have a moral that Sam has learned in his longevity and must, impart to his reader; but this just speaks intimately to his heart. The essence of his character. We are intimate with same all the way up to, “I looked at my ghostly double, envying him the sheer delight in his eyes. "I'd forgotten how it felt."

    That was a beautiful line. I read it several times over. It just, did it for me.

    ..........dhole

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  12. Loved the atmosphere. New Orleans is a very unique place and you've captured it very well.

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  13. can't find you, roland, but i'm here:

    http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=824185472

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  14. Thank you for the kind words on my blog! Great excerpt and great story pitch.

    One thing I caught was:

    "he was attempting"

    You could write it as, "he attempted" instead. Then it's not passive voice. I'm taking out as many was's in my WIP as possible.

    Good luck with your story!

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  15. Oh wow, I was gripped to the page for that entire entry. Actually, you caught my interest before it when you said "Samuel McCord does it with all of them -- and all with one woman." and then I KNEW this was going to be aces. And it was.

    Very beautiful :~)

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  16. Hey, Roland! Oh, I love the *simmer* of this scene - I can see it, smell it, feel it. Beautiful!! I posted something I just wrote for this blog fest over on my blog. Thanks for the encouragement; I wouldn't have created one if you hadn't have asked me :D Thanks!

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  17. This is great. You have a way to put me into the scene and feel everything. Beautiful piece.

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  18. I confess I felt a bit at loss in the beginning, since this is part of a larger work, but the flirting scene is lovely. I throughly appreciated it and was swept in Louis trumpet along with the characters. :)

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  19. That was, without a doubt, one of the best pieces of prose I've read in a long time--and I read A LOT. Wonderfully atmospheric, haunting, gorgeous imagery. I especially loved this line: "Some moments lose their way and grope blindly back from the past into the present." Simply gorgeous.

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  20. I love the dark gothic feel of this scene...steamy in more ways than one.

    "And we were dancing, dancing as if our bodies were the wind given life." I love this line! Great imagery of ethereal, other-worldly passion.

    Wonderful post.

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  21. You set a really nice tone with your writing, so much bittersweet nostalgia. I love the line about truths seen by starlight.

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  22. I agree with Raquel -- there's a dark, gothic feel here. It has great imagery.

    I can't help but see this version of New Orleans in contrast to my own memories of that place, a good 20+ years ago, as I sat in the French Quarter during a massive spring downpour and watched the world go by. You've captured the ephemeral nature of the place so well.

    Well done!

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  23. Whoa! That was haunting and beautiful and hauntingly beautiful. I guess you get the point. A love that endures all things, even death. Wow...just wow.

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