light and shadows on stucco wall
Two Stories
Marie Zapien

The Lead Singer

Bohemians and French Quarter natives, Kate and Smith Perish, were both well-known around the Lower Ninth Ward for their eccentricity and charm. One night—the balmiest August 15th on record—the former speakeasy lounge act dove together into the steaming waters of New Orleans’ Lake Ponchartrain and, nine months later, The Lead Singer was born.

Though his voice was strong, The Lead Singer cut a short figure: 4-feet-9-inches (Kate was a little person). Not a committed student, preferring instead to practice vocal warm-ups and arias rather than the proverbial “Three R’s,” The Lead Singer’s penchant for practicing voice exercises became such a nuisance, the principal was forced to kick him out of school altogether, which caused him to graduate with a GED from night school.

As a young boy, The Lead Singer learned how to apply make-up from his mother, who willingly offered him her face as a practice canvas every night before her bath, on every August 15, for the “Feast of the Assumption,” and every Carnivale.

The Morgue
The Lead Singer landed a position as a “polisher” on the night shift at the morgue. The moment he donned his surgical gloves, he’d begin what he called “the festivities.” Starting by polishing the face and nails of one of his lifeless flesh canvases—by then, giddy from the odor of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and toluene—he’d then roll the white-sheeted stiff around on a wild navigation of the maze of other stainless-steel gurneys, while singing made-up lyrics : “Tah-rah-rah-boom-di-ay, you are threadbare today; you are with me to stay, Tah-rah-rah-boom-di-ay… .”

Leading Role
The most fulfilling aspect of The Lead Singer's job was that it led to opportunities to sing in funeral processions, which then led to receiving the lead role at the local theater.

The Perishes had decided that a wading pool would help assuage Kate’s nerves and the ensuing physical issues she had developed after decades on the stage. First was her arthritis, so she began hydrotherapy. Later, she took up underwater yodeling, to keep her lungs clear. But then the ducks came.

Soon, the Perishes once-tranquil yard became home to dozens of common waterfowl, assembling, it seemed, in response to Kate’s underwater sonar. Eventually, the neighbors began to bray in protest of the incessant cacophony.

The Lead Singer tried to remove the ducks via Italian opera; this only made them ever more willful—and the neighbors more resentful.

The Lead Singer won the role of Jesus in the local theater’s summer stock production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He imagined he could prepare for the part—and for a solution to the ducks—through prayer. One day, during rehearsal, it came to him: “I’ll host an adoption of the ducks on the last day, in a benefit performance!”

Curtain Call
His Kohl-dark eyes filled with mania, The Lead Singer was midway through another “Our Father” when the proscenium enveloped him in a waterlogged mess of timber and brocade.

Memories of his youth were a calming balm. They, too, came flooding in, reminding The Lead Singer of how much he loved the times his mother would sing her favorite Fats Domino song, “My Blue Heaven,” in French; and how Fats Domino, a close neighbor, would often stop by and sing to her on his nightly walks.

He remembered how much he loved when his dad would twirl him around until he dropped from dizziness. In a flash, the memories were gone.

In Other News
In the recent aftermath of Katrina, yet another body was discovered floating past the morgue yesterday. The unidentified (and unusually short) Acadian man was dressed in remnants of a severely tattered and bloodstained cloth robe, and a bruised left foot held on to the remains of what appeared to be a leather-strapped sandal.

The newspaper printed an obituary that read:
“Died.” In Hurricane Katrina, Thursday evening, August 25, 2005, The Lead Singer, son and only child of Kate and Smith Perish.

There will be no funeral procession.


It Was Burning Even Before I Arrived

AHHHH! Letting out a coyote’s yip while simultaneously mimicking its gait, she shifted around to see if her howl had been noticed. Turning back to the path, a dormant exhalation subsumed her series of choppy breaths, inviting her to relax.

What she called her “meddling mind” held her in afternoon captivity and, like a child anxious for the snowfall to end, she felt both determined and frustrated. She wanted only one thing: to surrender to her mind’s all-too-familiar reign of terror.

By now her anxiety was growing, and cornered her like a wild dog. She also knew that thrusting herself out of the laboratory that was her head and into something else was crucial.

That each step along the footpath felt like a chore made her imagine herself a reluctant pilgrim; yet, it also gave her a hint of hope. She focused on her breathing, and tried to imagine herself happy.

Her impatience was still rising, however; and she could sense it was not in the mood for bargaining.

Then the moment came. All her pent-up emotions were given a sudden release, like the unhinging of a turgid river’s clog. The melodic flow, latent and languid, like Polaroids’ developing in her mind, ran through it like a free-falling parachutist caught in an air eddy. And, for a second, she was held frozen in captivity over the serendipity of such a thing happening, and at just the right moment.

“It was burning even before I arrived.” Like an exodus of sparrows from the nearby bull rush, she exclaimed:
“Ahhh! My favorite song!” Giddy with happiness, her mind was hushed by the two words that fell, like stars, crystalizing the moment.
Solvitur ambulando (It is solved by walking).

Tilting her head up for a deep breath, she looked like a fish being fed. And, as her lips began birthing an exhale, a breeze brushed across her face.