canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Over French Jazz

by Michelle Miller

"They're playing our song again" he tells me, his hand resting gently but oh so uninvited on my thigh. I shake it off, meaning not to respond, hoping he does not take that gesture as a response, trying hard not to get caught in the remembering, which comes, like he seems to, at awkward times, in painful spurts, catching me off guard, rendering me unbalanced and funnily kiltered. He has this awful old radio. Wood veneer and broken dials. Honey hued speaker fronts, frayed spots created by cats and time. No CD. No cassette. An LP with a broken arm, a missing needle. A second hand shit box radio monster that picks up two stations. There's obscure French jazz out of the heart of Québécois country (all inbred with Catholicism, maple syrup hostility to the Anglais and folk fiddle) and there's static. Two stations. "Music you can think over" he told me when I asked. I haven't asked in well over a year. I've tried hard not to see him, changed hair colour, changed Saturday nights from rock and roll to Brit pop. Changed friends. My schedule, my walk to work. The classes we shared. Left the dials of my own beautifully sleek Sony safely on campus indie rock stations or the CBC. Played new lover's mixed tapes. Sold my soul and even bought an ipod, downloaded hip hop.

When we met the man was beautiful, all textured with hemp and corduroy, black hair and bottled beer. He would fuck me stoned to Van Morrison, sad to Billie Holiday. To Ani DiFranco while I thought of women if I snuck it in to the mix and wore a thong. He would hold back the stray hair hanging in my face and call me Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine, making a home for me in his music, fancying me some devious fantasy recluse, my habits magnified, in an attic, me and my books, him and his music. He was a projector of romance. He knew the words to all of my favourite Madonna songs, knew she had merit as a musician, as a cultural form. He knew about merit. He knew about everything. He wore those headphones for stoners and fantasy vintage boys with means and good record collections; those ones that cover your whole head. He would sit naked in the middle of his room, a sea of brown shag carpeting, rocking back and forth, music on high, back and forth in this ecstatic form of communion. He plugged them into me once and heard the universe moving, once more and heard the ocean rising. The last time he heard French jazz and static. I'm careful not to wonder what he might hear now.

He read Dante's Inferno, took acid and felt sure we were going to burn. Positive that I was the force of all evil in his life, casting him into the pits of hell to perform menial tasks for all of eternity, he kept his body from me, wouldn't look me in the eye, wouldn't kiss me on the mouth. Seriously considered selling his record collection. Worried about greed. Worried about sloth. Worried, worried. Finished Purgatory. Went to confession. Went to church. Cheated on me. Finished Paradise, took acid and felt sure that in fact I was his Beatrice, directing his gaze above. Left marks all over my body. We stayed in bed for a week. Failed several tests. Passed one for chlamydia. Looked upward. Looked upward. I found myself at the end of all this nursing my injured-by-love and sickened-by-deceit body back to health in a hot bath tub, my face soaking with tears and lavender bubble bath.

He read The Closing of the American Mind, took acid and broke a window in his apartment hurling his stereo system outside into the Ottawa winter. Scattered his CDs and records out into mucky December snow, hoping to cleanse himself of distraction. Hoping to get back to the canon, to open his diseased and disinterested mind. Regaining brilliance, maintaining the stronghold of dead white men. I came in the morning for love, pajamas under a long down coat, but stopped short of the door upon finding the tragic ruined objects of our love and idolatry, the background music to our lives, our one time sustenance, rejected for a higher plane. I gathered some of the injured, slush sopping love letters intended for the world, sent by David Bowie, by Loudon Wainwright. I carried them home in arms heavy with sorrow and loss. I dropped them, dripping wet onto my quilt covered bed, got into a bath and cried. He kept the radio that played French jazz and static. "Music you can think over" he told me when I asked.

He read the Virtue of Selfishness, took acid and broke into my house. He shattered a glass table lamp hurling his muscular body at me. He yelled in my face that I couldn't be trusted, that I'd fuck him for money, fuck him over. He said he'd seen the enemy and she looked mighty familiar. There was glass stuck into the side of his leg and his blood running down the light brown cords turned my stomach. He promised me he'd never leave me, that that's what I wanted anyway, and I couldn't have it. That I needed his supervision. That the world couldn't trust me. I locked myself in the bathroom while he paced back and forth in the hall, muttering about my self-interested nature. When he finally left, he went barefoot into the night, leaving behind lovely white hipster sneakers in the doorway and thin trails of spattered thigh blood, leaving an army of tiny spots of his blood in my caret, two perfect lines of gore, the kind he would find artistic. I found them revolting. I got into a bath, and while I created my own tracks, of tears down red female face, he left a message on my machine. More confused than repentant. In the background I could make out French jazz for a moment, then static. Him flipping through the stations fast, warring them against each other, music you can think over. I threw his Chuck Taylor's in the kitchen garbage can, thought better of it and strapped them to my own feet in an act of perfect Rand-ian self preservation.

He read Another Roadside Attraction, took acid and married himself to me. He buried his face in me and cried. He called me his pinecone, loved the seal slipperyness of my lady body, thought on Christ and emanated freedom and love. And turned. He went to the bathroom, came out almost immediately, red faced and furious and tore the already tattered book into pieces. It had been my copy, my best book, and when I tried to rescue it he slapped me hard across the face. He screamed that it was trash, that it would corrupt me, make me greedy, make me cheat. He remembered his shoes this time, and on the generous side streets of the Glebe, he found himself another radio worse than the first. No CD. No cassette. No LP, not even one with a broken arm and a missing needle. He set the two on opposite sides of the room and began playing French jazz and static together at the same time, at the same volume, 24 hours a day static and French jazz, competing for room in the air, in the ears. Music you can think over. He shuffled about the house in slippers, smelling badly, dirty hair. He would mumble about David Tudor and John Cage, their perfect love. He'd tell sort of bed time stories all day, one minute long, regardless of text of content. Always mumbled, high and inspired. He'd call and leave them, as many as would fit on my answering machine. I'd sit in the bath and just listen, three rings, my voice, then his story. I'd lose breath. I dreaded the ring and then, transfixed by the beauty he spouted, the insanity, I dreaded the sound of the dial tone. He made me with those tales, he ruined me with his love.

He read Howl, took acid and insisted on sodomizing me. On a high moment, he borrowed my discman and hooked it up to the static radio to play CD's by the best minds of his generation. A compromise of his integrity, but vital to the success of true artists, he thought, that men and women of vision supported them. He danced a little, swung me around and turned cloudy. Wanted to shoot an apple off my head "Wrong beat" I corrected, and was punished with a glare and a shove to the ground. I got up to leave and he begged me on his knees to stay, to move in, to marry him. A church wedding or bust, he said. He cried that I could keep him straight, that I was the only one who could. I put on one of his rescued shoes, dyed pink and decorated in bic pen with song lyrics, the sort of thing he would once have loved. He threw the other shoe out the window. Followed it with my discman, cutting off Danny Michel mid "it's gonna be alright". He flipped the stations on the two remaining radios, two of them playing French jazz and static at the same time, at the same volume, competing for room in my head, which ached. He screamed "they're playing our song again! It's all our song!" I walked through the door knowing I would never return, one foot burning from the cold. He slit his wrists the wrong way and called his own ambulance. I passed it a few blocks up and knew immediately what it was for. I did not turn back. I went home, got in a bath and peppered my own face with the end of an era.

And now it's been a year. I've heard he's doing well. Grown out his hair and gone on pilgrimage, Hare Krishna and My Sweet Lording and so on. I'm sitting alone in a high back black and taupe chair in a fair trade coffee shop on Bank Street reading The Edible Woman over a black jasmine tea. When he taps the store front glass for my attention, I'm one of those scared kittens at slummy pet stores. I don't even muster a fake smile. My stomach turns when it become apparent that he's coming in the front door. There's another chair across the table from me, my feet are on it. I take them down but he chooses instead to pull over a black plastic one from a table nearby. The place is near empty. His eyes look red. He's carrying a bag, one of those green canvas ones, the fasteners undone and I can see the cracked and creased spine of my old copy of American Psycho inside. I'm glad not to be dating him with that book in his bag. He puts his hand on my thigh. "They're playing our song again" he tells me and smiles broadly. "Right now". I cock my head and it's true, the melody piped out of the corner speakers is an Acadian one he's heard inside of me before. I shake his hand off and drink my tea fast while he rambles about religion and me and the sea and French jazz. He tries to explain that he's been doing some reading, and that things are clear. I am careful not to vomit. I am careful not to cry. I am careful not to let my body shake with fear. "Please", he entreats me "I need you". His face is still beautiful, and I'm sorry, but I get up and walk out. You motherfucker, I think, I wanted you.

Michelle is currently packing her belongings and moving to the West Coast where she will be studying creative writing in UBC's prestigious Master of Fine Arts program. She currently lives in London Ontario, where she works as a Librarian and tries to finish her M.Ed thesis. She shares a cute apartment with her partner and a small grey street cat they are foster parenting for some friends, whom they lovingly refer to as "the Northern Blight". She has been published in several zines and local lit reviews across the province and in Montreal and has given readings in London and Ottawa. She is looking forward to leaving Ontario winters behind, although she's going to miss her mom. Her work has been categorized as "hostile erotica", which suits Michelle just fine.






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