Short Fiction Contest-winning story 47: “The Happy Thing of Bayou de Manque” by Erin Larson

March 15th, 2018

.

.

New Short Fiction Award

Three times a year, we award a writer who submits, in our opinion, the best original, previously unpublished work.

Erin Larson of Tomball, Texas is the winner of the 47th Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award, announced and published for the first time on March 15, 2018.

.

.

 

 

 

 Erin Larson

.

*

.

 

Erin Larson is an undergraduate student studying English Composition at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. She hopes to pursue a career in the publishing industry. She has written travel and culture articles for The Culture-Ist and has had literary pieces included in various school publications. This is her first published short story.  

.

.

 

_____

.

.

 

photo by John Messina

.

The Happy Thing of Bayou de Manque

by

Erin Larson

.

_____

.

 

“Repeat after me: I will not hunt alligators while Désirée runs deliveries.”

Léon blinks at me, rich hickory eyes peering up from a face darker than any glancing touch of the sun could produce. He wriggles in a barely-perceptible fashion, bare heels grinding ringlets into the muddy deck, a creature of obstinacy and faux innocence whose smile mystically exiles all suspicion from my mind.

“’course, Dezzy,” he says. “There aren’t any alligators around right now, you know—they ain’t come out ‘til nighttime.”

“They don’t come out ‘til nighttime,” I correct him, swiping a hand over the top of his head. “Stay out of Dad’s room, okay?”

He dips his chin obediently and thumbs the bamboo shaft of his frogging gig. Though his subtle grin persists, keeping my skepticism at bay, I am certain he is deceiving me. Recently he has talked about a new friend named Ruth, but my theory is that she is not a two-legged sort of friend.

I regard Léon ten seconds more as he crouches over a small ice cooler, then I shrug and clamber into the flatboat. Certainty is overrated, after all.

Satchmo, Bayou de Manque’s community mongrel, leaps from the deck to join me as I putter out into the main channel. He squirms between the crab coolers, nearly knocking one over and employing the same innocent expression as Léon after I scramble to catch its handle.

“Damn dog,” I mutter, scowling at the unblinking obsidian-bead eyes scrutinizing me from Satchmo’s pointed porcelain face.

     Are you going to yell at me like your Daddy yells at you? he seems to ask.

But I don’t yell. I succumb to the sense of timelessness and deep serenity that the bayou offers as the flatboat slides between cypress trees, sluicing through the dark waters of the Macon River, and I’m moving too fast for my anger to catch me, though I know it tails behind in mad pursuit. I know, too, that it will stay far behind, unaided by the lazy Macon that oozes rather than flows.

Much like Bayou de Manque, the Macon River is indifferent and bored. Its history is lost, having failed to be memorialized in any sort of sign or map or visitor’s center. It has no history, save for the sighting of a bird thought to be extinct and the brief surge of visitors and money that came with it. With the visitors and money and prospects of fame now long gone, the river knows its purpose is not to be glamorous, but simply to exist.

I follow the Macon to Bayou de Manque’s trading hub, passing worn houses with dark, wormed wood poking through tired paint until I reach the strip of land cluttered with boats. The clearing beyond the boats teems with some of the bayou’s hundred-odd residents, all of whom embody the picture-postcard, stereotypical backwoods hillbilly. My arrival is hailed by joyful hoots and hollers, and sun-browned men splash down the muddy embankment to help unload my coolers. It is a good season in Bayou de Manque, where some seasons produce food and others produce desperation.

I catch sight of Mr. Dagobert leaning down to greet Satchmo. He is a man whose other features are rendered unimportant by his toothy, all-encompassing smile—it’s the sort of smile that looks as if the sun had toppled out of the sky and made a home right there on his face, radiance made flesh.

“Miss Désirée!” Mr. Dagobert exclaims when he sees me coming up the bank. His grin momentarily blinds me. “Y’all have been all but hoggin’ this mutt since Betsey hit—sorry about the school, by the way, I’m sure they’ll have it up and runnin’ again in no time—but I was starting to wonder if we’d ever see ‘im again.”

I open my mouth to reply, but he tweaks my chin.

“No, no, cher, don’t apologize. My suspicion is the Lord saw this bayou needed a happy thing and this dog goes where a happy thing is needed. How’s little Louisiana Jones Léon? Last time I saw ‘im he was haulin’ a sack of bullfrogs through my front yard. Your daddy used to bring him up here for deliveries, but I guess he’s grown to start his own business now, the way he’s out giggin’ frogs all day, but you should have ‘im come along next time—help you with those heavy coolers, yeah?”

I think of Léon, crouched over his ice cooler. The swollen contusions that decorated his jaw swim in front of my eyes, purple and blue and black, and I doubt he’ll be coming along anytime soon. I choose to remark on his proclivity for frogging instead.

“Those frogs aren’t caught for selling, I don’t think, Mr. Dagobert. I’m pretty sure he’s been helping a gator maintain her seven-hundred-pound physique. I’m actually pretty anxious to get back, if you’ll understand my rudeness.”

Mr. Dagobert’s smile flickers—almost as if a cloud flitted over the sun—but then he chuckles and flips open one of my coolers. “Certainly, Miss Désirée. These crabs are awful small. Where you been runnin’ your traps?”

“Off the crescent—I know it’s Mama Laveau’s territory, but no one else traps that far down, so I just thought—”

Mr. Dagobert drops the lid and takes a step backwards. “You run your traps in the circle?”

I don’t want to answer—men’s ears are angled towards me and Mr. Dagobert, waiting for me to confirm the superstitions they all deny possessing. Mama Laveau is Bayou de ­­­Manque’s very own voodoo queen, who lives on a point of land around which the bayou curves like a waxing moon. Through the woods that spread far into unknown regions she had drawn the form of her only mania, an imaginary line she dared not cross.

I don’t want to answer, but I don’t have to. Mr. Dagobert smelled the voodoo when he opened my cooler.

“No wonder,” he says, gazing down at the dog tangled between my ankles. I’m not sure he means for me to hear. “The Lord knows, don’t he?”

I cast a glance at Satchmo.

     Lord knows this girl can’t provide for her family, he seems to tell Mr. Dagobert.

“Keep this pup around, Miss Désirée, y’hear?” Mr. Dagobert’s smile doesn’t quite meet his eyes, and there’s a cautionary hesitation in the tremble of his lips. “You never know what kind of evils you’ll need warded away by a happy thing like Satchmo.”

I realize he’s sending me away. No one wants the cursed crabs from Mama Laveau’s circle. Even the spongy ground beneath my feet seems to pulse, attempting to rid itself of my presence.

A cool fire ignites in the pit of my stomach, welcoming the return of my anger as I lug my crab coolers back into the flatboat.

“These men don’t know what they’re talking about,” I say to Satchmo. “Daddy started drinking before the crabs ‘got voodooed.’ You’re no happy thing, are you?”

He ignores me, snapping at sprays of water as we skim back down the Macon. I leave my anger again in the frothing wake, steering the pointed bow of the flatboat through knots of floating vegetation in an attempt at therapeutic destruction—the water lilies remind me of a happy thing I once had, one that left me and Léon long ago.

It is centuries before I’m home again, and I see Léon with his three-pronged gig, creeping through the marshes past the deck, poised in wait of helpless amphibian prey. I watch him for a moment before tying up the flatboat and pitching the unsellable coolers of crabs onto the deck.

Inside, I put a pot to boil and risk a look into the bedroom through a crack in the door. My father’s lower body hangs off the mattress, out of view, with the rest of him sprawled across the quilt as if discarded by a greater power. He lies among a nest of empty bottles, undoubtedly having passed out after finding no one to interact with in his inebriated state. I imagine him believing this particular indignity, for once, was between himself and God. Deciding it is a rare Bayou de Manque victory, I leave him to his celebration and return to the kitchen.

When I dump a cooler full of crabs into the roiling pot of water, I imagine dark voodoo spirits rising with the steam and escaping through the open screen door, freeing our home from Mama Laveau’s curse. But no, it is not spirits escaping that suddenly lightens the rotting ache in my bones—it is Léon, bounding up the porch steps with unrivaled childish enthusiasm. He deposits a bursting sack of frog carcasses on the floor and inspects the pot of crabs.

“I couldn’t sell them,” I say, knowing no apology can satisfy his growing appetite.

He rocks on his heels, fixing me with his impossibly bright stare, defying the chaos and ignorance that reared him. A small eternity passes before he speaks, and I’m lost in the liquid caress of his words when he says, “It’s okay, Dezzy, it’s okay…”

In Bayou de Manque, the crabs are just crabs and Satchmo is just Satchmo—but in Bayou de Manque, Léon is my happy thing.

 

.

.

_____

.

.

 

Short Fiction Contest Details

 

.

.

.

 

 

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

"Nina" by Marsha Hammel
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Winter, 2024 Edition...One-third of the Winter, 2024 collection of jazz poetry is made up of poets who have only come to my attention since the publication of the Summer, 2023 collection. What this says about jazz music and jazz poetry – and this community – is that the connection between the two art forms is inspirational and enduring, and that poets are finding a place for their voice within the pages of this website. (Featuring the art of Marsha Hammel)

The Sunday Poem

Miles Davis "'Round About Midnight" (1957/Columbia Records)
“You Never Forget Your First” – by Brian Kates

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem

Poetry

Proceeding From Behind: A collection of poems grounded in the rhythmic, relating to the remarkable, by Terrance Underwood...A relaxed, familiar comfort emerges from the poet Terrance Underwood’s language of intellectual acuity, wit, and space – a feeling similar to one gets while listening to Monk, or Jamal, or Miles. I have long wanted to share his gifts as a poet on an expanded platform, and this 33-poem collection – woven among his audio readings, music he considers significant to his story, and brief personal comments – fulfills my desire to do so.

Interview

The Marvelettes/via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the 60’s Girl Groups...Little is known of the lives and challenges many of the young Black women who made up the Girl Groups of the ‘60’s faced while performing during an era rife with racism, sexism, and music industry corruption. The authors discuss their book’s mission to provide the artists an opportunity to voice their experiences so crucial to the evolution of popular music.

Calling All Poets!

News about a Jerry Jazz Musician printed jazz poetry anthology, and information about submitting your poetry for consideration

Short Fiction

pickpik.com
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #65 — “Ballad” by Lúcia Leão...The author’s award-winning story is about the power of connections – between father and child, music and art, and the past, present and future.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Interview

photo of Louis Jordan by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 – 1960...Richards makes the case that small group swing players like Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan (pictured) and Big Jay McNeely played a legitimate jazz that was a more pleasing listening experience to the Black community than the bebop of Parker, Dizzy, and Monk. It is a fascinating era, filled with major figures and events, and centered on a rigorous debate that continues to this day – is small group swing “real jazz?”

Playlist

Sonny Rollins' 1957 pianoless trio recording "Way Out West"
“The Pianoless Tradition in Modern Jazz” – a playlist by Bob Hecht...an extensive playlist built around examples of prominent pianoless modern jazz.

Feature

Excerpts from David Rife’s Jazz Fiction: Take Two – (Vol. 1)...A substantial number of novels and stories with jazz music as a component of the story have been published over the years, and the scholar David J. Rife has written short essay/reviews of them.  In this initial edition featuring his story essays/reviews, Rife writes about three novels that explore challenges of the mother/daughter relationship.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

In Memoriam

Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Remembering Joe Pass: Versatile Jazz Guitar Virtuoso” – by Kenneth Parsons...On the 30th anniversary of the guitarist Joe Pass’ death, Kenneth Parsons reminds readers of his brilliant career

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Jazz with a Beat: Small Group Swing 1940 – 1960, by Tad Richards

Click here to read more book excerpts published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Poetry

painting by Vaino Kunnas
Jazz…in eight poems...A myriad of styles and experiences displayed in eight thoughtful, provocative poems…

Jazz History Quiz #172

photo of Teddy Wilson by William Gottlieb
Teddy Wilson once said this about a fellow jazz pianist:

“That man had the most phenomenal musical gifts I’ve ever heard. He was miraculous. It’s like someone hitting a home run every time he picks up a bat. We became such fast friends that I was allowed to interrupt him anytime he was playing at the house parties in Toledo we used to make every night. When I asked him, he would stop and replay a passage very slowly, showing me the fingering on some of those runs of his. You just couldn’t figure them out by ear at the tempo he played them.”

Who is the pianist he is describing?

Community

photo via Picryl.com
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Coming Soon

A new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive