Karen Bonvillain Bull
Ping, ping, swish, ping, ping, swish, rat, tat, tat, ping, swish …… the gentle tapping of the drum, in a soft rhythm danced along in time to the light breeze that blew over The Henry George Park.
The wind ruffled the collar length, dark wavy hair of the lone young man. High upon the overlook, he sat cross legged playing his guitar. He didn’t hear the beat, the tapping of the Djembe. Not at first. So deep was his concentration, he didn’t see the mullet jump out of the water, twist up in the air before splashing back down as it frolicked in the brackish water, even though he was facing Mobile Bay. Head thrown back, eyes closed, he didn’t see, didn’t hear. So deep was his focus, nothing seeped through his conscious. At least not at first.
He bowed his head, mumbled a word or two, hummed a little, threw his head back again. Eyes closed, he thrummed the strings quicker now.
“Stella, my bella…. Hum, hum, hum… you’re so hot… dada..you make me hot..dadadada.” He stopped his singing, his humming, his playing. His fingers came down once again, harshly this time, strumming, no, more like banging the guitar strings. No chords, no rhythm, just temper biting out as his frustration let loose. Louder, harder he strummed, the sound at first coming out of the instrument so brutal it scared the sea gulls, scattering them into flight from their perch on the pilings in the bay.
But then it changed.
The sound became a rhythm, a tone, a riff. The louder the noise, the harder he strummed, almost like he was possessed. But this sound, this was a good sound. The melody took over, his fingers moving across the frets, forming notes in a tune he had never heard before.
His focus suddenly shifted as a string broke, the wire bending out not unlike a snake raising its head to strike at him.
That’s when he heard the drum. Bong, bong swish, bong, pat, pat, bong, bong…then silence.
That sound. That’s it. That’s what lead me, what I was following when I finally found my rhythm, my mojo, he thought. He turned, gazing to his left, to his right. Where had the sound come from?
The smell hit him first. A strong scent of … lavender. It smells like Aunt Margie. She always loved that fragrance, wore it for as long as I can remember, he thought. He sniffed, turned, half expecting his aunt to be there. But there was no one.
Puzzled by the smell, he turned back to his right and almost toppled over, shocked by the vision that was right next to him. Whoa, where did she come from? he wondered.
Slightly built, fiftyish, graying long hair that sported long, small braids, feathers and beads commingled with the strands on her head, all flowing down to her shoulders. A light floral dress, whimsical, he thought. This surprised him. Whimsical? I never use that word. That’s a girl word. Speaking of odd, he looked at the lady as she smiled down at him.
“Where did you come from?”
Her eyes twinkled as they met his. “Oh, I’ve been around here all along.”
He stared at her for a moment, shook his head. “I didn’t see you.” A shudder rippled through his body, but he chose to ignore it.
“Did you hear that?”
“The drumming. Just a few minutes ago. Did you hear it?”
She smiled, an impish smile that befit her pixie face. So at odds with her get up, her hair, but somehow she makes it fit, he thought.
“I heard you playing. Who’s Stella…your Bella?”
She plopped down beside him on the ground. Her hand reached out, stroked the grass before digging in and plucking a long blade out. She lifted it to her nose, daintily sniffed. A dreamy smile came to her face. Looking over at him, she asked, “Stella is?”
“My girlfriend. She loves music so I thought I would write her a song.” He spoke quickly, red traveling across his face. “Something to tell her how I really feel about her, but….”
“Not going well, huh?” Her lips were pursed as she looked over at him.
“No, not at all. This was just a stupid idea.” He threw the plastic pic in his hand down to the ground, began to move his guitar off his lap.
“No, it’s a lovely idea. Try again.”
Slowly the guitar made its way back to his lap.
“I really can’t. Look, I’ve broken a string. I don’t have an extra one with me.”
She reached over to take the broken string in hand. Curling it up, she reached into her hair and came out with a bobby pin. Clamping it around the coiled string, she softly let it go so that it fell out of the way of the other strings.
“Go on, try it again.”
“But that’s my C-string. I always play in C.”
An index finger slowly came up, tapped him on his temple.
“Hear it here.” She spoke softly.
“No, I can’t.”
She laid a hand on his forearm. “Try it again,” she said firmly.
He ran his left hand lightly along the arm of the guitar before gently closing his hand, fingers covering frets. His right fingers began to strum.
“You are my last thought at night, my dreams are filled with you…
“I wake up in the morning, excited that I’ll be seeing you
“You are my focus, my life…great happiness you bring…
“My love, you take my breath away…. He sang in a clear voice.
And so it went, so lost in the music, so lost in his love, the young man finished a beautiful song for his girl. As the last note drifted away, he opened his eyes, startled by the applause of the small crowd that had gathered in the park, drawn to his music. His eyes traveled over the faces, looking for the woman.
But she was gone, leaving just the fragrance of lavender in her wake.
The young girl sat under the tree, unconsciously chewing her lower lip. Her eyes followed the Oriental man several yards in front of her. He faced the bay with the sidewalk between him and the water. A soothing sound could be heard from an I-phone that was hooked to a small speaker. It rested on a table to the left of the man.
She listened intently as he gestured to the small group of men and women behind him. All dressed in loose pants and tops, bare footed, they smiled encouragingly at the walkers, joggers, and sightseers that were moving along the path.
“Come join us. Don’t be shy. Come experience, learn the movements of Tai Chi. “
Many of the onlookers did indeed move in to stand among the students of the Master. He turned and everyone gave him their attention.
He bowed slowly from the waist, straightened. “Namaste’.” His students bowed back at him, murmuring as the newcomers, slower but now committed, followed suit. “Namaste’.”
The girl in the back by the tree didn’t move. Fascinated, desire bounced off her entire being in waves as she hesitated, drawing back deeper into her hidden cocoon.
The Master looked her way, beckened to her. “Come, come join us.”
She just shook her head, miserable as the crippling shyness that always seemed to rule once again had the last say.
Suddenly something wet dripped onto her head. She immediately felt a strange sensation travel through her. It scared her just a little, not understanding what it was. Looking up into the tree above her, she was startled to see a tiny woman high up in the branches. Perched with her legs astride a thick branch, she resembled a child playing ‘ride the horse’ on a tree limb. Long gray hair with something on her head, no in her hair…yes, its beads and feathers, the girl thought with delight. The sight brought an immediate smile to her face.
The figure in the tree held a glass of wine in her hand. She raised her hand and took a sip before looking back down at the girl on the ground. She tilted her head to the group as they began their slow dance.
The girl looked over with longing at the group, then sadly back at the tree nymph. She shook her head.
The woman in the tree nodded her head sharply. “Yes!”
The young girl vehemently shook her head. “I can’t,” she mouthed up at the tree woman.
She gasped as she felt the wetness again. Gazing back up, she laughed as the woman once more dipped her fingers into her wine, took them out flicking them, sprinkling the girl. This made the tree nymph giggle, her hand raising to cover her mouth, eyes bright with glee.
Once again, the girl felt that strange sensation spread through her. A wave of courage erupted, flowed through her as sure as her blood did. She got up and headed to the group. Midway to them, another surge hit and she found herself leaping into the air in a perfect pirouette, twisting and coming down, a grin of surprised achievement replacing the uncertainty. She turned in triumph to look back up at the tree. But the woman was gone. Just the scent of lavender lingered.
And so it went. Stories bounced around town, everyone having different sightings of the strange little woman. Some saw her skating along by the Windmill Market. One story had her stopping and picking a piece of fresh basil from the community garden. They said she tore the leaf in half, held it to her nose and a smile radiated on her face.
Two Saturdays later….
Shelly and her best friend, Peggy, were sitting in Latte’ Da Shop, finishing their frozen coffee, having enjoyed some girl time as their husbands took the kids to the park to play. Suddenly, the door burst open and an excited seven- year- old came running in. The door was caught by Brax, Shelly’s husband, just in time before it slammed. He was followed by Peggy’s husband, Mitch, and two overheated boys in grass- and mud- smudged shorts.
“Mommie, Mommie,” shouted the little girl as she bolted to Shelly. Excitement bubbled as she shouted, spraying just a little from the gaps in her mouth where her two front baby teeth had been. “I written a book!” She waved her hand in front of Shelly’s face, clutching several sheets of paper.
“Sweetie, I wrote a book,” her mother automatically corrected. “Let me see.” She gravely accepted the sheets from the little girl.
She glanced down, turned the pages, quickly, then slower, turned back to the first page. Read more slowly.
“Maud, this is wonderful. Did Daddy help you?” She looked up at Brax as she asked the question.
“No, she wrote it herself. Me and the guys were playing ball. Let me see it.” He held his hand out.
“Brax, you had to have helped her.”
“No Mommie, the lady did.”
“What lady? Brax?”
He looked puzzled as he knelt down in front of Maud. “Honey, there was no lady. I was playing with your brothers but I kept an eye on you. You stayed by the Marietta Johnson statues the entire time.”
“That’s the lady who helped me.
“Mommie, can I have the rest of your coffee?”
Shelly handed her the mostly milk that was left in the cup. “Do you mean the statue of Marietta Johnson helped you? She was the head mistress at the Organic School, you know.”
Maud rolled her eyes. “No, not her, the other lady statue.”
“You mean one of the kids.”
“No, the other lady. She looked different than Ms. Maryella, she had long hair and it was twisted in some spots with balls in her hair. She looked kinda funny. She blinked at me, but she just used one eye.”
“Winked at you. It’s called winking with one eye.
“Maud, there are only three statues, one adult reading and the two children listening.”
Brax looked at Shelly, perplexed. “Shelly, I kept a close watch of Maud. She’s right. There were two adult statues and two children. I knew something looked off, but I couldn’t figure out was it was. That’s it.”
“I told you,” said Maud. “She helped me with my story.”
The strange lady was sighted at the Fairhope Library, and someone else saw her skipping by the Fairhope Museum.
Who was she, everyone wanted to know. But no one had an answer. It was all very strange. But something even more strange began to happen.
The local dance studios reported record new students. Not just the young kids, but they even had to start classes for adults. The libraries in the area had several more requests for writing groups. Local art galleries reported record numbers of visitors. Many more were asking questions, showing interest in sketching, painting. Local pottery classes were swarmed with new clients.
It seemed that a large dose of creativity had been added to the Fairhope drinking water. Now the Fairhopians had always been a friendly group of people. But it seemed now that personal horizons were expanding as groups, classes, shows, forums, all expounding the arts, went way beyond the interest that had previously been.
A murder mystery writer thought he had figured it out. Always looking for clues, he realized that the storm of creativity taking over the town came about the same time as the sightings.
One day in early September an older man, a retired actor as it happens was sitting in front of Page and Palette. He waved at the gray haired woman as she cycled down the street on her bicycle. Streamers of blue and gold on her handlebars, she now was a common happy sight. As she blew past him, she winked then raised her legs straight out as she slammed through a rain puddle. She then disappeared, leaving behind her childish giggles and the fragrance of lavender.
Somewhere out there……
He stopped playing abruptly, raising his hands off of the ivory keys as he twitched on his bench, smiled a great big smile. The dark Ray Bans hid his eyes, but joy rained over his face as he gave a chuckle.
“Muse, when did you get back?”
A gay young laugh reached out to him, belying the maturity of the woman as she sat crossed legged on the grand piano. Her hands played idly with strands of her hair, found a bead, worried it back and forth, found its place among her plaits.
“Ray, how did you know I was here?”
He inhaled, let his breathe out. “I smelled you. The lavender. You always remind me of my granny. Where were you this time?”
“Oh, a little hamlet in South Alabama called Fairhope. There’s a lot of talent there for those who are open to it.”
“Muse, you say that everywhere you go.”
“Well it’s true!”
She unfolded her legs, twisted so that she was on her stomach lying flat on the top of the piano, elbow bent, chin in her right hand.
“Do you remember the first time we met? The first time you saw me?”
“Muse, I never did ‘see’ you but I remember our first time, yes.”
“You never did need me. I remember watching you in my,” she waved her left hand up in the air, “sphere if you will. I use to get the biggest kick out of you. My, you were the busy one. Even as a toddler, anything you could grab you would bang around, making some kind of noise, the louder, the better. If you could have only seen your face.”
“If I could have seen anyone’s face,” he said chuckling. “What’s a blind kid suppose to do? I was just doing what came natural to me.”
“Exactly! But not just for you. All kids, they love to make noise, to experiment with things. Give them pot covers, what do they do? Instant cymbals, a can, they’ll beat on it. Give them a crayon, or let them find a tube of lipstick…Yep, drawings all over their paper or the walls if nothing else is available. As soon as they can walk, they’ll bounce on their little legs. Dance is in their heart, just comes naturally.”
She sighed. “I wish the world had more kid in them. It’s like they grow up and forget their inner child.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines muse as:
One of the nine classic deities of the liberal arts. A source of inspiration; guiding genius.
But I, I prefer to think of it as the sense of anything is possible. Tap into your creative juices and let them flow….whatever your age.