“Aphrodite,” a short story by Mark Bruce

January 13th, 2023

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“Aphrodite,” a short story by Mark Bruce, was a short-listed entry in our recently concluded 61st Short Fiction Contest, and is published with the consent of the author.

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Aphrodite

by Mark Bruce

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…..      She was sweet. She was kind.  She cooked me good food and loved me all night long.  She cooed in my ear about how strong and handsome I was.  She had money.  She believed in my music.  She attended all of my gigs.  She was gorgeous—curly dark hair, glowing dark eyes, high cheekbones. She was built like the Goddess of Love.  People would see her listen adoringly to me and would go crazy for everything I sang.  She brought in crowds that otherwise would never have flocked to see this broken down blues singer. If I had stayed with her, I would have been a superstar.

…..  Which is why I left her.

…..  If I had stayed with her I would have had it all:  Love, sex, money, even an assortment of interesting drugs.  Did I mention that her father was a pharmacist?

…..    I left her.  I had to.

…..     She would strip naked and dance like Salome.  She inflamed my loins.  Making love to her was like being in bed with Aphrodite.  There was nothing she wouldn’t try, and she was superb at every naked callisthenic I could think of.

…..       In fact, her name was Aphrodite. Her father had named her after the Greek goddess of love. But I was more interested in Cleo, the muse of music. And Cleo is a stern, stingy goddess.

…..    Aphrodite loved me. Consoled me. Inspired me. But every song she inspired was sugar and caramel and whipped cream. The audience loved it and some record company executives even began sniffing around the little café where I worked.

…..          So I had to let her go.  To save myself.

…..       She murmured to me, while we were deep in bed on a Saturday morning, that she had friends, underwear models, who would love to join us sometime under the covers.  Or who would come to my bed alone so she could talk about it with them later.  Or who would let her watch.  Or who would let her videotape us.  It would make us closer, she said, if she knew I was desirable to other women.  She said that watching me make love to another would give her ideas for what we could do together when we were alone.

…..       Isn’t it clear?  This woman was nothing but trouble.

…..      How could you sing the Blues if you’re fat and happy?  How can you rage against life and fate if you had a gorgeous lover who paid for everything?  How could you sing about your deepest anguish if there was a sated smile in your heart? I sang songs of sugar and caramel and whipped cream but they tasted sickly sweet on my tongue.

…..       So I left her.  I might have loved her.  I loved the Blues more.

…..      But that was not my sin. My sin was what I did to Bernie.

…..       Bernie was my rival, a scrawny no-talent who spread ugly rumors about me to bar owners—saying I was a drunkard, a drug user, a drug dealer, a convicted criminal with a prison record.  Bernie was an idiot.  He didn’t realize that those things—none of which I was—are all selling points for a bluesman.  If you’ve done hard time you can sing the hard blues.  If you drink too much you know the whiskey songs from the inside.  If you’re addicted to drugs, you know where rock bottom is and you sing from there.

…..      Bernie hated me and I knew why:  His version of the blues was a pale pasty-faced lie.  He’d learned his chops listening to the watered-down blues of dumb heavy metal bands. He’d never dipped his toes in the real stuff—he was deathly afraid of Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King and John Lee Hooker.  He never got past the 12 bar blues via David Coverdale.  When he growled the blues it sounded like a Chihuahua barking at your feet.

…..         Bernie came to my gigs and tried to disrupt the show.  He booed, made raspberry noises. Aphrodite froze him with a glare and the management, getting the hint, escorted him out by the seat of his pants.

…..     Bernie swore he’d get me.  One night he came at me with a knife.  He almost got me, too—but only because I was laughing so hard I almost didn’t duck in time.  Fortunately, Aphrodite kicked him in the shins. He dropped the knife and ran.

…..       Bernie was a pretender.  I didn’t hate him, I despised him.  He was a talentless fool.  He sang macaroni and cheese blues.  I had to destroy him before he destroyed the music I loved.

…..      So I contrived to put Bernie together with Aphrodite.  I dropped a few little hints to my girl that Bernie was a sad and lonely guy who would never make it. Isn’t it a shame, I’d say, that a good woman didn’t come along to straighten him out?  Wow, I’d say, it would take a really incredible girl to make that fool into something worthwhile.  Then I’d go out and play a set and not look at Aphrodite once.   Instead I’d find some mousey girl and flirt with her. Bernie would sit in the corner mooning over Aphrodite and glaring at me.  It was too easy.

…..       So yeah, I’m singing in a dirty little bar in the belly of the city.  About six people show up when I play, but the owner of the bar is an old friend and he gives me a twenty and all I can drink.  And I can drink a lot.  Turns out, Bernie was right about me turning into a drunk.

…..        I saw Aphrodite on TV yesterday.  She was with Bernie, who is now a pop singer with million-selling albums filled with sugary songs of love.  Aphrodite looked like a cat lapping up cream.

…..        And Bernie?  He smiled weakly to the cameras.

…..     Only I saw the desperation in his eyes.

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Mark  Bruce  works as a solo practitioner in San Bernardino, California. He has worked in various Public Defender offices across the state and has tried nearly 150 jury trials as well as thousands of court trials. He won the 2018 Black Orchid Novella Award  for his story “Minerva James and the Goddess of Justice.” Ten Minerva James short stories have been published in magazines such as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and in three Dandelion Revolution Press anthologies. He lives in Barstow with a stuffed mermaid named Mariah and his writing support dragon Ferdinand. His only son lives in Michigan with a wife ,a child, and a Ph.D in Aerospace Engineering. That’s right. His son is a rocket scientist.

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Listen to the 1954 recording of Ray Charles performing “I’ve Got a Woman” [Rhino/Atlantic]

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Click here  to read “Equal,” Chris Simpson’s winning story in the 61st Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest

Click here  for details about the upcoming 62nd  Jerry Jazz Musician  Short Fiction Contest

Click here  to subscribe to the Jerry Jazz Musician  quarterly newsletter

Click here  to help support the continuing publication of  Jerry Jazz Musician

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