SHARE THIS STORY

Permanent link to this page


Share/Save/Bookmark

Somebody Take Care of Little Walter

SHELDON LEE COMPTON

Three songs into practice I threw up in Lori’s bathroom. Lori played keyboard and liked gospel and country. I did not like gospel or country and could not play keyboard. But I wanted to be part of a band, to make music. I drank most of the evening before practice and threw up after a cover version of “Amazing Grace” set to a blues riff with baritone vocals. No one complained, but, if they had I would have told them Hank Williams was drunk when he wrote “I Saw the Light.”


* * *


Woke in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day watching television. Made a bowl of Ramen noodles, drank three beers and went to bed.


* * *


Lori’s home number gives me an answering machine. It’s her voice, high and cheerful, inviting me to tell her more. I say very little and watch the phone like it was television. Ramen noodles. Bed.


* * *


I remember this like glints of sunlight. A pair of her socks left in the floor the next morning comes to mind and every time I cry. A pair of goddamn socks, the remaining imprint of just a piece of her in cloth, and I cry every single time.


* * *


From a guy who used to play bass guitar for us I get Lori’s cell number. I call and there’s another message. Same cheerful voice, inviting me again to tell her more. This time I decide I should. I say: “Hey, Lori. Ricky. Just thought I’d give you a ring to say hello. Sorry about the other night at your place when I, you know, threw up in your bathroom. Okay, so sorry about that. Anyways, just wanted to say that. Give me a call and let me know when practice is Saturday.” I hang up the phone and take a pen from the counter and write on the back of a ripped envelope -- PRACTICE Sat. 8 p.m. Lori’s.


* * *


Little Walter played harp for Muddy Waters. They said Mud depended on him to complete his sound. Paid for his mama's funeral, made sure he had plenty to drink when he needed it. Even when he didn't really need Little Walter's sound anymore.


* * *


A glint, fingers cutting into my back, mouth, teeth seeking out the skin of my shoulder. I watched her sleep, curled into herself, touched the curve of her hip, the bend of her knee while she bit her bottom lip and dreamed. I'm sure I must cry out in my sleep. And I'm sure it's her name that splits the darkness.


* * *


Whiskey until I start with the choking. Five beers after that. Bed.


• • •


So the band calls me Little Walter. "Somebody take care of Little Walter," they'll say, but only after I've dropped cue three or four times and sometimes only if I'm drooling from the side of my mouth so that it sounds like I'm blending harmony from the bottom of a flask. A gurgling and a metal echo that sticks to sound like damp rust. Lori calls me Little Walter and I pray the harp will transform into a revolver I can slide past my teeth. Really fast, really dramatic.


* * *


The old bass player, Adam, the guy who had Lori's cell number, came back to the band two days ago. His is skinny and jazz cool. Lori fucked him more than once. I drink uncharted amounts of beer. Sleep for as long as possible.


* * *


Winter. Gig set for 8 p.m. and weather is coming. I call Lori's cell, the same pattern of call times for the last week or so, and let it ring twice then hang up. I step close and breath against the surface of a mirror. A circle of fog spreads out like a white cancer and I sniff the rank moisture, checking my breath. I draw a smiley face and leave for the gig without socks.


* * *


A surprise snowfall that lasts through practice. Adam and Lori leave, Adam holding Lori's hand while flakes as big as hominy bat across their eyelashes and their fisted hands part with a snap at the front of his car, fingertips touching the ends of fingertips for as long as possible before pulling away. They push together inside the car and Adam waves goodbye, but Lori does not. She leans against Adam, into an ancient heat that is the blood beneath his skin, and closes her eyes.


* * *


Hank Williams could write about this, but I cannot. I drink half a fifth of Tvarski, eat what's left to eat in the kitchen and clean my harps until they shine like Damascus steel.





Sheldon Lee Compton lives in Kentucky. His work has appeared in Pank, Keyhole, Dogzplot, >kill author, Thieves Jargon and elsewhere.