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How You Gonna Call Me Darlin' When You Just Buried A Knife in My Back
“Carly! Did you hear me calling you girl?” Mama’s voice broke through Carly’s daydream like a wrecking ball through a dilapidated old house.
“Yes, Mamn, I am coming right now. Here I am, just one little minute more.” She scurried down the stairs and into the kitchen where she knew she should have been, more than likely peeling potatoes for supper or shucking sweet corn, maybe both.
“Did you feed the animals and finish weeding the garden?,” her Mother laughed when Carly held out her hands, full of fresh blisters, to show she had. “When you gonna listen to me and wear those gloves like I tell you? Your skin is too thin and your head is too thick to be good wife material for anything but a fancy-man. Where you gonna meet up with some duded up high roller round these parts, girl?”
The bar manager banged on the thin partition that served as her dressing room and hollered, ”Three minutes til your on – you planning on finishing your last set or you want me to get the talent started and give the audience a break tonight?” His insults were common enough she didn’t give them any pause but interrupting the reverie of times back on the farm made her blood boil.
“Yeah – yeah, I’ll be there in just a little minute, darlin’, don’t you fear none.” She applied yet another layer of mascara to lashes already caked with black goo and refreshed her lipstick for good measure. There was a pretty decent crowd for a Sunday night she decided as she peeked from back stage but an air of restlessness hung over the bar as thick as the gray-blue smoke. She noted the time and saw Otis, the bar manager, was slopping down tacos and beer at a table near the back so she knew there’d be no introduction again.
She hefted her guitar and strutted onto the small stage with all the enthusiasm of a rooster in a pen full of new chickens and greeted the crowd, “Good evenin’ y’all. How y’all doing tonight?” Not waiting for a response she announced, “I’m gonna play a song now that is one of my favorites and I’m sure one of y’alls too bout Mr Billy Joe McAllister”, the last was spoken in a sacred semi-hushed tone.
"It was the third of June another sleepy dusty Delta day ..."
Carly’s rich, husky voice defied what the lines on her face spoke about how many times she’d sang this song or how many times she’d boarded a Greyhound headed for another small town. The audience was a mixture of kids young enough to be her own clear up to, and including, those old enough for her to refer to them as Mamn or Sir if they spoke to her after a set. But then Carly was always mindful of what she’d learned as a girl. You show respect, whether it’s due or not, ain’t none of your concern, doing right is. A light spattering of applause accented the short pause before she started strumming her guitar and went directly into singing her next song, which needed no intro, but she longed for the days when Loye G was alive and she had a drummer and a keyboardist.
"Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train ..."
brought a whistle and a short burst of applause and sent Carly's tired spirit deeper into the kinship she'd always felt with the real artists of the songs she sang. She was plenty thankful for the life she'd lived and before her husband died they'd traveled all over the whole US of A, even had their own tour bus, of sorts. Well it was an old church bus that Loye G had fashioned, put in a new transmission and built a partition about two-thirds of the way back where she could change clothes if they were doing a county fair or an outdoor concert.
The seats were comfortable enough for her short frame that, with a couple of pillows wedged behind her back, she could stretch out in a semi-upright position with her notebook and pencil doing what she loved even more than performing - writing lyrics. She had so much inside of her it was just busting at the seams and letting it out onto paper felt like water must feel finally tumbling down over the rocks edges and cascading into a pool of pure blue on a hot ole day. Trouble was, leastwise that’s what Loye G was always gently telling her, she thought kinda odd. Just like thinking she knew what water felt like. You just can’t go writing songs about things like that. So she’d write for hours while they traveled and spend half the time crossing it out or erasing half of it and trying again.
Midway through her last song, Otis climbed the stairs to the stage and pulled the microphone clean away from her, announcing that the real entertainment was now going to begin. Lost in her own song and thoughts of years that brought her where she was tonight, she didn’t notice that the band she was opening for had arrived and were already hanging out halfway from behind the curtain, much to the delight, it seemed, of the younger patrons who were on their feet clapping and cheering when they spotted the four men and one woman-child all dressed like street urchins, in Carly’s estimation, but they were in and she was out – literally.
Carly was changing into a pair of blue jeans and a sweater when the owner of the bar announced her presence with a light rapping and then simply entering the door with the broken lock. She was in her early thirties, a drunk, and if Carly didn’t have reason to believe otherwise, she’d swear the woman was high on something most of the time. No one human could muster that much nasty inside a soul without help from some sort of devil. Without so much as a how-d'ye-do, she laid a check on the dressing table and said, “Your done. Got enough entertainment with the new band and we won’t be needing you to finish out the rest of the month. That’s your pro-rated pay minus a dinner Otis said he let you charge.” She turned on her heel and left before Carly could get out that they had a contract and she hadn’t charged no dinner anyway. The cook made a mistake on a shrimp basket and got coleslaw onto the fries and sopped up the breading on the shrimp. He’d asked if Carly wanted it as she was leaving one evening and she gratefully took it home to her hotel room. It was going in the trash anyway but Otis must have seen it and marked it down.
She could feel her blood pressure rising as she stood to chase after the owner and tell her that she had a hotel to pay and they had a deal. How was she supposed to act honorably on her end when this greedy thing was acting like a fool on this end? She felt that indigestion that had been troubling her during her set too but promised herself a hamburger and a cup of coffee just as soon as she got this mess straightened out. She was probably just hungry from only eating once a day. The hotels just seemed to get more expensive and the gigs further apart and paying less these past couple of years. Maybe she shouldn’t have picked out such a warm sweater to wear back to the hotel, she was sweating like a stuck hog now. The pain radiated from her chest to her back and into her arm, so intense now she could barely stand. She made her way out into the dimly lit hallway trying to see which direction the woman had gone.
“Carly girl, did you hear me calling you now?” Her momma was just a little ways in front of her. She took a couple of more steps and came to an area that was cooler and had more light. She couldn’t hardly believe her eyes cause she was looking right smack at the old farm house where she’d grown up as a girl but it was old and all boarded up and she knew her momma wouldn’t be in there.
“Momma? Momma I can’t see you, where are you? Are you in the house?” Carly tried to take another step but she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned and saw Loye G, his crooked grin smiling down at her from his six foot three frame. “Come on girl, it’s time for you to leave now, come on with me.”
“But what about the house Loye, is it feeling all alone and forgotten? Does it miss all of us and is it all empty inside?” Carly wasn’t sure what she should do.
“No, no loneliness, no pain, come on ahead and see, answered the voice of her Momma, Loye G and another musical voice who added alone, “We need you to write some lyrics, there’s a new song to be sung.”