I Became The Blues
by Lisa Torem
When Killin’ Stark played “Stormy Monday” on a Sunday night, my future, so carefully chronicled, crashed. No, I don’t remember the exact turnaround that caused the transition –- but now there was nowhere left to return. Stark ripped across the fret board, etching out a painful solo – slinging spasmodic barre chords and singing, “The eagle flies on Friday…”
Those melodies destroyed whatever thread of a relationship I had left with Riley. The more I tried to feign interest in his stories about banking and finance, the more I felt myself drawn to Stark’s bowler hat, red silk vest and caffeinated eyes.
Tuesday night, leaning against the rail, he asked: “You’re a regular, aren’t you?” He caught the gaze of a busy server. I manhandled that margarita and asked for one more. Later that night, Stark explained that the blues were life and death, heaven and hell – there was never a purgatory or state of limbo. The highs and the lows were devastating, but unavoidable. “I don’t understand,” I said, scraping together coins from the bar.
He drove me home and I showed up the next night. Fingering the rim of salt around the bottomless glass, I knew there would be nobody else.
But my identity slipped away a little bit each time he played benefits at hole-in-the wall coffee houses and cat shelters. On my birthday, our anniversary and Christmas, those gigs became the other woman. I loved, but I hated his gifts. I could no longer stand to compete. There was only one solution and, I mean, one solution.
After midnight, I quietly crept into his guitar case. When the sun rose in the sky, Stark picked up the new me. At first, his fingers, as they wandered, felt cold and clammy against my frame. The harsh pulse of the steel strings cut into me like lawnmower blades. But then he played “Little Red Rooster” and the warmth of his fingertips thrilled me. He could no longer cast me aside. I became his “Lucille” — finally his equal.
Night after night, we stood before throngs of loving audiences. Lovely girls draped themselves against the front rows, their hoarse voices whispering Stark’s name. In the past, I would have been crazed with envy, but there was nothing now that could separate us. Drenched in happy sweat under the spotlight, I felt secure.
But one night, the unimaginable happened. Stark was asked to auction off his prized instrument. The charity founder explained that he would be doing a good deed – and, of course, they would get him a replacement from a reputable sponsor.
“Hmmm., yeah,” he shrugged. After signing, “Killin’ Stark” with a Sharpie and handing me over to a complete stranger, I spent the night in a freezing cold storage locker. I could sense that Stark felt depleted and empty. Of course, I thought, he’ll change his mind. He’ll come back for me – “The eagle flies on Friday, Saturday I go out to plaa-aay…”
But the next day, the only sound I heard was the thrashing of a cymbal – an old drum kit tossed beside me, and, after that, a vintage Casio. Abandoned in a nursing home for aged-out instruments, I shut my eyes and shivered.
Renata held us under lock and key, but when she tossed a Fender bass wrapped in the New York Times next to me, I couldn’t help but notice the headlines – “Killin’ Stark at B.B.King’s – Sold Out!” Photos of Stark playing a gold Strat filled my eyes with tears.
Yet, even before finishing the article, I could sense something was wrong. Stark’s eyes looked lifeless. The fist pumping faces in the crowd escaped him. As they cried out requests, he honored them — but his fingers raced along at top speed, as if they feared for their lives if they stopped. Any real sense of passion had ceased.
That night as Renata did the rounds, I returned to my womanly shape. Picking the locks with polished nails, I slid between the bars. It wasn’t until I snuck into Stark’s hotel room, that I became, once more, his beloved Flying V. I could still hear the deafening applause as he walked into the room. He picked me up and twirled me around like a delirious drunkard.
I was all he needed — half woman, half six-string. I became the blues he loved to sing. He played me endlessly until his calluses bled and I wept. I couldn’t get him to leave me if I tried, I could not get him to stop. He played until the neighbors pounded on the ceiling and the landlord gave him notice. When I became the blues, it all became crystal clear. There is no moving backwards or saving for the future. It consumes you like that eagle – the one that flies on Friday – graceful wings spread against a bleak and stormy sky…