them bones, part II

by Susie Applegate

Shaherazade said, “Shoot, ain’t that much changed. Just living in the wrong place can get you killed if you’re living where somebody else wants to be.” She lifted her chin up a little higher and sat up straight, as tall as she could. “Where some white folks want to live.”
 
     Neither Faith nor I made a motion to disagree with her. You can’t disagree with the weight of history without sounding like a fool or being one.
 
     Faith nodded. “Charlie showed up here in Germaine about three months after V-J day. We’d seen our share of strangers coming through and we had our share of war brides from other parts of the country and the world. But when Charlie turned up, he wasn’t just another stranger. There were some uneasy from the start. But he knew how to turn that. How to make people feel at ease and he had that saxophone. He went into The Roundup one afternoon and asked old Hallelujah if he’d mind Charlie playing a bit. Said he missed an audience and was tired of playing alone. Hal didn’t see any harm in it. His music drew people right in off the street and Hal could see the money in that. It wasn’t long before he was playing with other musicians in Germaine and other places all over Central and Eastern Oregon. They played mostly for dances in grange halls, armories, high schools and those private clubs like the Elks and Eagles. In those days there was a law in Oregon against people dancing in bars and restaurants.”
 
     Faith took a sip of coffee and looked directly into Shaherazade’s eyes. “Honey, I know what you want to know and you too, Susie Applegate. You want to know how Charlie and I got together. I was barely out of high school, but I’d been singing all my life. In church, in the choir, with my friends and with the Sagebrush Rounders, a country band. The other members were all men and older in their thirties and forties.” Faith laughed, “Well it was older to me then. Practically at death’s door. I had seen Charlie around. It wasn’t like you could miss him. And I had heard him play and danced to his music. I thought there was something electric and beautiful about him. He was playing with a band out of Bend. The High Desert Tones. One night between sets when I was at a gig with the Rounders, Ralph Purdy, the Tones base player, invited me to sing with them the next night. Boy, that was it for me. The Sagebrush Rounders were good at what they did, but it was all country. The High Desert Tones were something else.
 
     “We make decisions when we are younger that don’t have anything to do with anyone else. They’re all based on that feeling that doesn’t leave any part of you untouched. There’s nothing in the world more important than the way you feel. Charlie and I stepped into that world so fast we didn’t have time to look around us. Not that we threw ourselves into bed right away and not that we weren’t discreet when we did, but caution wasn’t a big item for us. Charlie had to have known what a risk he was taking. Me, I was my parents darling. I was the golden-voiced sweetheart of Germaine. I didn’t think anyone would dream of hurting me.
 
     Faith paused and looked down at her empty coffee cup. I offered to get her a refill and she waited until I was back at the table before she continued. While we had been sitting there in rapt attention a couple people had come in and were sitting at the closest table where they could see Faith and hear everything she said. One of them was Vernon Van Bibber. I noted that he looked pretty good for a man who had just fought off pneumonia especially considering he is 88 years old. He was sitting in a beam of sunlight, wearing a sheepskin jacket and a ten gallon Stetson hat. His hair was wispy, his skin mapped and pink and his eyes were that watery blue old people’s eyes seem to get. But when he looked at me, his glance was sharp and I do believe his jaw was clenched. Maybe the pinkness in his face was the flush of anger or maybe it was my imagination.
 
     “How many stories end this way. Young, foolish girl. Young foolish man. You mix those two things together and you always end up with a baby. When I realized I was pregnant, I hit a wall. Reality came down like the proverbial ton of bricks. I did not tell my family who the daddy was. Of course I quit performing. When I told Charlie about the baby, he started to laugh like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. Pretty soon he was crying. Charlie told me he would have to leave. ‘I’ll be like a thief stealing out in the night. Like a damn thief. You and me,’ he said, ‘we had all the us we get to have.’ Then he said something that made me lonelier than I have ever been. He said, ‘After the baby is born there is two things you could do. You could give it to me or give it to a stranger.’
 
“I wasn’t about to give my baby to anyone. To Charlie or anyone else. I kept expecting Charlie to leave. Everyday I expected someone to say, did you hear Charles La Fontaine has left Germaine, gone to Los Angeles, or St Louis, or New Orleans. But I didn’t go to see him again. I began to hear things.”

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