She was born in June.  The year 1923.  Bethany Marie Labeau.  And the muse begins with her birth—her conception.  The story behind it.  The story of her baptismal.  How she told it to David in their bed.  And the fevered imaginations it inspired in him.  The songs he wrote as a man because of her whispers, her whispers in his ear…  And yes, I did whisper.  I whispered to him.  Breath and smell.  Soft flesh that felt good when he encircled me.  When he tried to grab hold of me—not to capture, not to hold me—but to embrace what he wanted to exist.  Soft flesh, warm, and not an idea, but actual—real.  He wanted me to be real to him…

And maybe David Threnody had the idea of her before he knew she even existed.  Boyish dreams he talked to, expecting an answer.  Those dreams of a boy still unanswered in the man—an idea.  The idea of a woman.  This too a dialectic.  Opposing dilemmas on what to love, what to hate.  Fears and doubts.  Revelations and assurances.  And so maybe he got what he wanted—he wanted a bad woman to be good to him.  He wanted a good woman to be bad to him.  Unsure of which force to awaken.  And he walked it, those dark sides of the road, along that long road from hell that leads to the light.  And since he wanted both he became both—his woman a mirror of both.  When he wanted to be a devil he was a devil.  When he wanted to act as a saint he received his patron blessings.  His life partly in shadows.  His contritions enlightened with tears.  But all this still—an idea.  And ideas become nightmares, or hopeful schemes.  Raw existence is a barren desert, a white and endless room, the furniture of which, like the mirage of an oasis and the dancing around of dried bones—architecture of the interior decorator—you.  You furnish your existence with so many ideas, so many hopes and fears, ministering angels and monsters.  And sometimes you feel lucky and blessed.  Other times cursed.  These too manifestations.  Ideas of your existence, and the nothingness you begin with—you.  You create your world, out of how you perceive it.  What you perceive not real, but how you perceive it your mind’s eye.  And the stone you skip across the water goes on forever because you never threw it, only the idea that you did makes it sink.  Maybe David just began with a stone—a natural stone.  And he chiseled away at it—the jagged edges—making contours and curves—polished smooth.  He sculpted a woman.  The idea of sculpture taking away so to see what you’re left with.  And like Pygmalion of old he needed a name.  A name for his woman.  So that when he called to her she would answer.  She would know how to answer.  And this was love—David’s idea of love—he created it.  By taking away to see what he was left with.  The opposite of beginning with nothing.  For his woman began with everything.  And only time.  Pressure and time.  Would reveal what remained.

Bethany Labeau’s grandmother, her mother’s mother, was a whore.  Not in the professional since.  Just a barfly.  She gave up her husband, her children, for the bars of East Texas.  She divorced her second husband and lived with her son (Bethany’s uncle, though the same age as she) in what’s now the 9th ward (what’s left of it after Hurricane Katrina).  This soon after the war ended.  When David came home.  When he settled in New Orleans.  And so I’ll make it like a recording—her voice—Bethany’s grandmother.  I place it here like it was dictation.  The shorthand of my imagination.  The sound of it like it’s playing on an old phonograph.  And handicapped only slightly from her COPD, the consequence of years of chain-smoking, her voice as grating as the subject of her words:

I always wake up cursing.  You don’t want to be the one waking me.  I’ll curse ya two ways from Sunday, and it’ll take ya a month of Sundays to say your Hail Mary’s for every name I call ya…  Ask her—she knows.  When she was a child she used to wake me.  Maybe that’s why she’s my favorite, my favorite granddaughter.  Because I called her every name in the book, every name under heaven, and some not even known to us down here on earth…

 

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