Memphis

memphis

We touched down in the land of the delta blues. It wasn’t raining. To be fair, we drove in. We met my brother’s friend at a restaurant; catfish and po-boys.

“Can you believe what’s just went on in Virginia?” my brother’s friend asks. Everyone looks a little sickened, but we eat all the same, nodding.

“Can you imagine something like that happening in Mass?” I ask my brother.

He sighs, “there is a rally planned for tomorrow.”

I take a bite of po-boy. “This country has changed,” my mother says. “Everyone is afraid, everyone is talking about it, hate has become the norm.”

“I want to go back to Russia,” I say, “where it’s safe.”

Everyone laughs. I’m serious, they know it. “This wasn’t the way things were when I was growing up,” I say.

“This country has changed,” someone repeats.

I finish the meal with a confused sort of after taste on my tongue. We ask the waitress for some recommendations for live music.

“There is a great spot under the Econo-hotel,” she says, then warns, “but take an UBER.”

I frown.

“We can’t walk back?” My mother asks her. She looks incredulous, “no–no, it’s dangerous, UBER, I always UBER if I’m downtown.”

So, we drive, my brother agrees to stay sober.

The bar is big; nestled into a parking garage, lit-red. It’s down a set of soft stairs. It opens up, the place is packed. We pay the cover and go in. The security guard tells us it’s an R&B Band playing.

Some woman in line ahead of us looks at my mother’s little blue backpack and laughs.

“Look at this lady,” she says. We grab a table. Everyone is dressed to the nines, everyone is black. It bothers me suddenly that I notice it. And–of course, everyone else does too. Back in Massachusetts, I’d never felt a difference, anywhere.

“That’s because we live in a bubble of ignorance,” my brother tells me. I get a drink, people along the bar keep looking at me, curious–or, maybe they don’t. I get whiskeys for the table and sit. In ten, the band hits the stage. The woman starts to sing.

It is music like I’ve never heard–never seen. Music a serial killer would jig to, even jive to; a pedophile would shake his booty to, a terrorist would make love to. Music that makes you realize that some things in this world, like death, make every single person exactly the same.

They haven’t been playing more than a minute before the whole room, sitting or standing, grooves. Everything is moving, like a puddle in a rainstorm.

I never realized laughter could be music; dancing–laughter.

After a few songs, I step outside for a cigarette. I walk across the street to rest on a bench; feeling my blood, warm and moving.

Two couples step out of the hotel to my right. They are dressed to the nines; white. They walk across the garage, into the blues bar. I haven’t gotten three drags down before I see them walk back out, hurry their way across the street. One of the woman says, softly, “isn’t there anywhere else we could go?”

I finish my cigarette, afraid.

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