There was a change in me, in the way I saw her. She was no longer a commercial artist. She was a friend of Shannon’s and even a potential friend of mine…”
by julio peralta-paulino
“I’ll sing my quiet song” –-Theocritus
I just didn’t like the commercial aspect of her songs. It was one of those things that rubbed me the wrong way. There were enough commercial artists, I considered. Besides, if I heard the word baby on another hit record I would surely need something stronger than the wine being served at Shannon’s.
There was music, but it was an unobtrusive jazz that only rarely lingered along with my thoughts. Standing near a conversation which concerned either the election process or the process of monogamy, I noticed she had arrived. I did my best to avoid an introduction yet Shannon was the type of party giver that was avid when it came to introductions.
Yes. She seemed nice. Of course, all I could hear when she said her hello was baby. I was nodding my head, forcing a grin. For some reason, I wanted to keep my bias. There was something about it which made me feel superior. It was a good feeling. Shannon knew a lot of people and it showed wonderfully at this particular gathering. There was always a handful of smokers by the pool, whenever I happened to slide the glass door and head for a puff or two.
Outside, the unobtrusive jazz could not be heard. Smoke floated away from the steady shimmer of the water and into the away under a clear night sky. I was enjoying the breeze, contemplating a third cigarette or another glass of wine. “You got a light.” It was that voice. The one I expected to say the word baby at any time. I reached for my Zippo. Looked at her. “I didn’t know you smoked.”
“I do. I have exactly seven cigarettes every day.”
I lit her cigarette. I didn’t know what to say. There I was speaking with someone that was one of those commercial artists that overused the word baby in their songs. My instinct told me to say, “excuse me, I need to see someone inside.” I told my instinct, “It’s probably obvious that I don’t like this person and if I say that then it just sounds like an excuse.” She was looking for a place to ash the early part of her cigarette. I handed her the nearly flat sea shell that had served my cigarette waste needs. Thank you, she said without using the word baby. I grinned. My instinct then told me to simply state, “I need to go to the bathroom.” I told my instinct, “That is a better excuse but what if I run into this person later or sooner?” I lit my third cigarette. I wanted to ask how one goes about keeping track of one’s cigarette intake. I imagined a variety of ways to do so. I hoped for a moment that I would not run into such a habit with my own nicotine habit. Having successfully avoided too much small talk as well as having stood my ground against my instinct, I watched as she crushed with clenched filter the remains of her fag. “I’m heading back in. It sure is a nice party and you seem so nice.”
I could feel her words stabbing at the very heart of my prejudice. I should have listened to my instinct. I felt nearly forced to say something kind in return. I – I – yeah it’s cool. Maybe we’ll talk some more inside. She smiled at me. She looked astonishingly pretty when she smiled. For a second or two I was tempted to reconsider my bias. It was only a second or two and while putting out my third cigarette I noticed she was walking back to where I stood. I didn’t catch your name. I was more surprised than if she would have grabbed me by the neck and kissed me. I must have looked at her in some squinty manner which startled her into speaking more words before I could respond. It’s just that I forgot. I know Shannon introduced you as her good friend. I’ve just met so many people. Everyone here seems to know me so when we were talking before I wasn’t thinking about it. It felt like we knew each other. Like we were already good friends. There was a change in me, in the way I saw her. She was no longer a commercial artist. She was a friend of Shannon’s and even a potential friend of mine. Circumstance was placing my prejudice on the line. I wondered if I could hold on to it for much longer. My name is William. William. She rejoined and then said, I won’t forget.
We talked for a few minutes as if we were really friends and then walked back in together. There was xylophone solo playing with treacly enthusiasm.
The music seemed to mirror the truthful looks of curiosity that I noticed aimed at her. I wondered if any one else shared or noticed the bias I had so recently begun to shed. It did not seem so from those glances. The glimpse of those party eyes only seemed to search for her behavior. Was she smoking, what is she is drinking, who designed her dress…The types of questions that would have been hard pressed to occur within my reckoning. Perhaps I had concentrated overly on the commercial aspect of her music or maybe it just wasn’t my style to pry in such ways with my eyes. Do you always attract this much attention? I’ve gotten used to it. Does it bother you? No. I – I find it to be interesting. I didn’t notice it before. Well, William, I’m glad you find it interesting and that it doesn’t bother you.
She was holding on to my right arm. I could feel the edge of her left breast. I could hear the argument within myself over commercial artists deserving a fair chance at friendship. When I looked at her, I no longer thought of her in terms of tunes or the word baby. I looked over at Shannon. She was smiling. I was not about to purchase any music by the woman that looked so astonishingly pretty when she smiled at me and I still felt there was more than enough commercial artists yet the one that was near me that night had made me think of her as more than just her songs. It was one of those things that abraded at my bias.
A quiet song played in my heart’s jukebox which allowed me to hear the woman that put out songs which rubbed me the wrong way.
(illustrations: kurt eisenlohr)
Julio Peralta-Paulino is a writer currently at work on several projects. Some of his recent work is featured at City Writers Review and Jack Magazine. He is thrilled to be once again included in the eclectic and hip publication known as Smokebox. More stories from Julio Peralta-Paulino can be found in the Vault of Smoke.