What if?: Shake, Rattle, and Soul

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Shake, Rattle, and Soul

The first time Nan heard Miles Davis playing "Milestones" she was sitting on the floor of a brownstone apartment on E63 Street, wearing a pair of men's Champion sweatpants and an old Princeton tee shirt. The clothes belonged to the man who owned the apartment, but she was not wearing them as the result of some sordid encounter. Rather, he'd arrived home unexpectedly, causing her to spill the McDonald's strawberry shake she was enjoying—along with premium cable television, all over the front of her clothes.
John Lawrence traveled often. Nan wasn't quite sure for business or for pleasure, but had advertised for someone to "house sit". It was an easy way for a college student to make some cash. She was to take in his mail, and water his ficus. "I've had it since college, you know," he told her, "half a dozen moves and I've never let anything happen to it." The tree was huge for an indoor plant; the pot it sat in was at least two feet in diameter. Nan suspected he got this apartment, with its high ceilings and bay windows just to house it. It seemed tremendous for just one man. One bedroom sat vacant except for a coat rack and a box containing LP record albums. The other three rooms were tastefully, though minimally decorated—in fact the tree and the sixty-inch television, along with a six by nine foot Oriental rug and some pillows, were pretty much the only furniture in the living area.
"So, explain to me again exactly why you were enjoying this fine meal in my living room this afternoon?" he asked her.
He wasn't exactly angry. If anything Nan got the sense Mr. Lawrence was amused by the situation, especially by making her repeat the whole story, which on the surface essentially made her look like a fanatical bubblehead.
"It's actually all the Knicks fault," she said.
"The Knicks," he repeated.
"The basketball team."
"I've heard of them yes."
He was enjoying this, compounding Nan's embarrassment.
"They lost last night, and my roommate's boyfriend had money on the game. He kicked the television and broke it."
"Broke it? Good God," he commented as he made his way into the kitchen area.
"Yes, see that's why I was here."
"Whose was it?" He asked.
"Pardon me?"
"Whose television set was it?"
What on Earth did that have to do with anything, she thought. He grabbed a kettle off the stove and began adding water from the faucet.
"It was mine actually."
"Well how rude. I don't suppose he's going to pay for a new television, seeing as he lost his money gambling," he said. Nan couldn't help but smile at the ludicrous tone the conversation was taking.
"No. No, I doubt it. Anyway, that's why I needed to watch your TV." She smiled, as to punctuate why it all made perfect sense.
"Yes, to watch a soap opera, you mentioned that."
"I know it sounds silly but," Nan hesitated, feeling sheepish. "They were going to reveal Marley's killer. This has been dragging on for months; there was no way I could miss that."
"Marley's killer?" He asked, concerned.
"Yes!"
"Would you like some tea?" He asked her. "I'm sorry I don't have any shake fixings."
Nan tried to discern whether or not he was making fun of her or trying to make her more at ease. He seemed comfortable enough— pleasant and polite, the whole "making-herself-at-home-in-his-apartment-while-he-was-gone" incident forgotten.
"Tea is fine, thank you."

Twenty minutes later they sat, on the Oriental rug, listening to Miles Davis, while her clothes tumbled dry.
"How could you never have heard of Miles Davis? Jesus Christ what do they teach kids nowadays?"
He sat Indian style, still in his dress slacks and shirt. Nan sat opposite, sipping Earl Grey with milk and four sugars, gearing up to defend her generation.
"That's not fair! My parents were more of the Rat Pack crowd."
"Name one Frank Sinatra song besides 'New York, New York'," he said.
"'The Summer Wind'," she replied, setting down her mug, satisfied.
His eyes offered up what was his smile swallowed up in a sip of tea. He then set his mug down as well.
"Ok, I'll let it slide this time. But next time, I want you well versed in Miles, Chick Corea, and Coltrane.
"Next time?" She asked.
"It's ok to watch my TV Nan."
He got up and left to fetch her clothes from the dryer.
Nan sipped at what was left of her tea, but it was cool, and no longer held the same flavor as it did when hot. The notes from the saxophone drifted by lazily, not caring what the temperature of the room or her tea was. They just settled in her ears and puddled in mouth like caramel over ice cream. She closed her eyes and tried to float with them.
"Hey."
She opened her eyes to see John offering her clothes.
"You can dress in there," he said, gesturing to the almost empty guest room.
Nan got up and took the clothes, almost feeling like the party was over, and she'd been dismissed.
"Nan…"
She stopped and turned.
"Who killed Marley?"

6 Comments:

Blogger RWB said...

Great dialogue very interesting story!

3:03 PM  
Blogger Irrelephant said...

Oh, brava dear! I loved the dischordance between the two, the almost-naive Nan and the almost professorial John. It almost has a sort of Lolita feel to it, but deeply repressed.

The conversational interplay was beautifully done. The only thing I tripped over was the sentence "His eyes offered up what was his smile swallowed up in a sip of tea." I think I got the gist of it, but it sounds awkward in my head when I try to read it.

I can't get enough of his verbal sparring and her gentle innocence. So very good. Brava!

4:12 PM  
Blogger Nancy Dancehall said...

I love this guy. He's having such fun with her. It had the potential to veer into the creepy, but did not. Good job.

I have to agree with Irrelephant, about the sentence. I like the idea you are trying to get across, but it needs a bit of smoothing.

You really have a way with conversation and settings.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Great little slice of life.

One line caught me: " he'd arrived home unexpectedly, causing her to spill the McDonald's strawberry shake she was enjoying, along with premium cable television, all over the front of her clothes."

And now the smartass in me is wondering how you spill premium cable on your clothes. Is there something I have been missing about premium cable that you could spill? If so I really need to talk to my cable company because I have been missing out.

Seriously, I think you get the gist of why the line is catching me in the reading of it.

Great piece though.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Giovanna said...

The smart ass in me would have to thank you in light of no other witty retort. :p

thanks for the kind feedback folks.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Monica said...

Oh Giovanna- I loved this!
It was very soft.

9:58 PM  

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