Here is a repost of a short story I wrote in tribute to one of the greatest innovators of musical style and content,
April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984
“Now see what you did! You tore my favorite white blouse.”
Edison sat back and leaned up against the door on the passenger side. Somehow they managed to switch positions in the small cab of his truck and Elizabeth was now semi-reclining against the door on the driver’s side breathing heavily.
He watched with amusement as she pretended to admonish him with a smile on her face. He was trying to look sorry for the torn blouse but was enjoying too much the view it gave him of her heaving breasts stuffed into a pretty, lacey crème colored number that she bought, he knew, just for him. He tried again to look remorseful but it only came out looking like a devilish leer.
“I’m sorry Baby, but you know how I am. You know what you do to me. I couldn’t help myself. Forgive me?”
Yeah, she knew how he was.
They had met a year ago at The Children’s Art Carnival in Harlem, New York, where she had just recently procured a job as an apprentice silk screen printer. Elizabeth was so proud that she went in knowing practically nothing about the art of serigraphy–which she had learned was the technical term for silkscreen printing–and in a short time had learned to cut stencil overlays, properly prepare and ink up a screen and ‘pull’ beautiful art prints.
She worked for a very determined, hard working brother, Abdul Shabazz, who had learned to love the trade himself, under an apprentice program much like the one he started at The Carnival. He had a big shop provided by the organization where he was charged with teaching teen members to silkscreen and where he also conducted his own business–Harlem SilkScreen–that specialized in printing fine art limited editions for local artists. He was no artist himself, but Abdul knew how to get people with talent together and produce an excellent product for profit. That he was very good at.
Edison had come into the shop one day as Elizabeth sat at her workstation immersed in cutting out a very large and complex stencil for an art edition she was assigned to print later. It was the kind of tedious, detailed-oriented work that she enjoyed doing. Everyone in the shop knew to leave her alone in her corner space when she was ‘cutting’ but only herself and Abdul–who was busy cold calling potential customers in his office–were in the shop that afternoon. Edison walked right up along side of her large light-box worktable and waited for her to lift up her head and acknowledge him. She kept her head down and continued cutting hoping whoever it was would see that she was busy and would go find Abdul in his office. Besides, she wasn’t hired to be a secretary, she was an artist. And she was busy. He didn’t move. Finally she had to look up.
“Yes?” She hissed between clenched teeth.
He was a dream she had had.
Very tall and lanky but muscular in the arms and chest. A dark sienna complexion with a scraggly goatee and a two inch afro like a black wool halo surrounded his head. He smelled of sandalwood and vanilla.
His arms were too long for the worn dungaree jacket that he wore, but you could see that he was the type of man resolved with the fact that his arms were just going be too long for anything casual, and so he bought things like shirts and coats more for the colors and textures rather than a great fit. And the cornflower blue of the jacket looked so fine against his skin.
She remembered years later that he had a way of looking at her that made her feel as though she was looking at herself through her own eyes. And it felt as freaky as it sounded. Like one of those old fashioned ‘camera obscuras’ that she read about in art history class, that projected a picture through a pinhole in a box via a mirror in the back of the box. Pisces too I bet, she thought to herself the first time he gave her that look. They can look into your soul like that.
“…Oh.Uh, hi! Uh… I was looking for Ab—“
“Hey Eddie! What’s up brotha?” Abdul came out and greeted his old friend.
Now he comes out the office!?, Elizabeth thought with a snarl.
“Hey Brother Abdul!” Edison answered. “I was just talking to your new, very pretty assistant here. She’s doing a great job cutting that stencil. You taught her well my man.” He looked down at her, not at all trying to hide his eyes, smoldering like hot coals.
“Well, she’s studying graphic design in college so she better be of some use to me.” Abdul was hard with the compliments.
She found out that Edison was also an artist, a lithographer from the ‘old school’, still using limestone to create his printing plates, and had collaborated often with the renowned African American artist and printer Bob Blackburn who had a shop in downtown Manhattan.
He was also an instructor of this technique of printing, also being offered to adults at the Carnival. He was eight years older than her but had the youthful exuberance and looks of an eighteen-year-old. And Lord help her–-he was a Pisces. She was twenty-one that year. The date was April 1st, 1983 and after that day, they became inseparable.
It was April Fool’s Day, 1984 in New York and in those days, because badass kids took to throwing eggs at couples (one year they just–stopped. No one remembers when or why. Someone probably got seriously hurt over it, most likely.) most lovers who knew the deal, would choose to hang out at secluded, obscure spots around the city together.
It was Elizabeth and Edison’s anniversary, one year together, and Edison was taking her to ‘his special place’ under the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge where he went to now and then to be alone and contemplate. He was saving showing her the place for a special anniversary gift.
It was on the ‘Brooklyn side’ of the bridge and they would take his red pickup and drive over there. She volunteered to pack something good for them to eat and they would pick up a bottle of wine from somewhere before they made it to the bridge.
When they got there she was floored by the view. The support buttresses of the bridge that were built ontop broad, man-made islands above the water were so immense from where they sat looking out in the truck, that she imagined them being some Godzilla-type creature’s legs emerging from the endless expanse of river that flowed with a whispering “swisssh-swisssh” sound before them. Lights twinkled all across the bridge like diamonds against the indigo night sky.
”It’s…surreal!…” She said in awe, the lights twinkling in her eyes too.
“See, I told you.” Edison had been sitting quietly, watching her take it all in. He slowly leaned in towards her and kissed her full on the mouth. Like being kissed by two sweet little pillows, she thought. When Edison sat back, he saw her smiling.
Once she took in enough of the view she turned her sights to her immediate surroundings. They parked in what looked like a giant black asphalt parking lot running along the water’s edge. Light posts were interspersed at regular intervals but far enough apart and high up enough to project giant, soft, yellow illuminated disks on the ground.
The spot had a cozy café feel with the bridge as a romantic backdrop. Elizabeth knew she was a cheap date, but took pride in enjoying the small things in life that people tended to take for granted: living in one of the most beautifully built cities in the world that was open 24/7; some homemade baked chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, a fresh spinach salad with corn and red peppers, and a bottle of their favorite pinot noir waiting in a cooler in the back seat of a red pickup truck, a patchouli air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror for ambiance and a her man sitting at her side, appreciating it too. Right then, life could not have felt sweeter to them both.
Edison reached back and got the wine from the cooler to pour into plastic cups while Elizabeth began opening containers and serving up the food in paper plates. He reached over to her side again but this time to turn on the radio. WBLS, the hottest black owned radio station in the tri-state area, was in the midst of playing their famous ‘slow jams’ session called, ‘The Quiet Storm’. It was about 10pm.
They ate and talked about their love of art, their dreams to make it big in the art world, their families, the books they wanted to read, the music they loved, the places they wanted to travel to together and how ordinary their lives had seemed until they met.
By the time they were through eating it was about 12:15 in the morning. Although she was twenty-two years old, out of respect for her mother’s house in which she still lived while she went to school part-time, Elizabeth wanted to call her mom and let her know she was going to be out late. In ’84, cell phones were not yet in the hands of the average joe so that meant having to pack up and leave the magic of the bridge to get to a payphone.
“Look, your Mama knows me right?” Edison asked.
“Yeeees?…” Elizabeth answered, smiling, because she knew where he was going with this.
“And she knows you’re out with me tonight and that I won’t let anything happen to you?” He asked again.
“Yes…but..” She said.
“And she loves me almost as much as you do, right?”
She laughed out loud. He was right about that. Her mother loved her some Edison.
Whenever he came over he’d always deferred to her as ‘Mrs. Thomas’, always grilling her about her upbringing in her native St. Croix, Virgin Islands and about her loving husband who died of lung cancer when Elizabeth was just a little girl.
Edison insisted on helping with chores around the house Elizabeth’s mother owned in the Bronx. Sometimes he would be at the house waiting for Elizabeth to get home from work, watching TV with a big plate of some West Indian cuisine in front of him that her mother liked to cook for him every time he came over.
Her mom thought Edison was a little too thin for her liking. Edison was a country boy, Little Rock Arkansas, and was raised to be polite, respectful and accommodating to his elders. Besides that, he loved being around older folks. It made him feel a little more grounded. His parents had died long ago.
“…So she knows you’re safe out here enjoying yourself, and we really don’t need to call do we?” Elizabeth didn’t want to leave either. Edison took the empty plates and cups from the space on the front seat between them where they were eating and placed them in a garbage bag.
He tied the bag up tight and placed it on the floor of the back seat. He turned back around in his seat, and looked over at her and smiled with loving eyes.
They lunged for each other at the same time. Laughed when they banged their foreheads together and then tried again.
Outwardly Edison was a cool, soft-spoken, mild-mannered man but still waters ran deep in him. When they made love, Elizabeth felt all the fury of his passions and convictions–particularly that of his art–filling her up. He became excitingly demanding and arduous. And she had no problem keeping up with his passion. She thrived on it. They blended together like water and earth, making a deep, fertile, rich mud.
That’s how her blouse got ripped. Edison was impatiently trying to unfasten the many little buttons, when he was overwhelmed by a wave of passion and ripped it open, sending little pearly bullets firing against the windows and rolling under the seats.
“How am I gonna walk into the house with my blouse ripped all down the front Eddie!?” she asked.
“You can borrow my shirt.”
“Yeah, like my mom wouldn’t notice that.” She looked at him with mock exasperation.
“I’m sorry”, he said again leaning into her and softly shoving his hand under the cup of her bra massaging a hard nipple with the flat of his palm.
“You said that already, knucklehead.”
“I know, but you haven’t said that you’ve forgiven me yet. I’m waiting to be forgiven…”
“You’re forgiven.” she leaned forward and hummed into his ear.
“That’s all I needed to know Miss Liz.” He smiled down at her, his lips pursed just within reach of her other breast that he freed from the confines of the pretty bra….
Then came the news over the radio.
Marvin Gaye was dead! Shot by his father twice in the chest.
At first they thought it was a cruel, wicked April Fool’s joke. But after the dj announced it a second time there was no denying its authenticity.
Elizabeth remembered having read on numerous album notes and biographies that Marvin had family and marital ‘problems’. There were also the stories of him demanding more rights as an artist on the old Motown label that he was once signed to.
But you’d forget all about Gaye’s problems once he began to sing. Marvin’s voice did to her what Edison’s eyes did. They transported her to a place of magic where nothing else mattered but love and longing. She wondered why life had to be so damn hard and so completely unpredictable. She and Edison sat and wondered to themselves if loving each other the way they did would be enough to save them in this crazy world.
As they listened to the reports, they heard that physical abuse had been involved, perpetrated repeatedly by both father and son on each other. To Marvin–when he was a boy–and then later against Gaye Sr. when Marvin got old enough to defend himself against his fathers beatings.
The two looked at each other and sadly knew–for that night–the fire had been all but extinguished. After all, Gaye’s music had been the theme songs of their love together; Let’s Get It On, Come Get To This, I Want You, him and Tammi’s ‘If I Could Build My Whole World Around You, Sexual Healing…and oh God…the album of the century and beyond: What’s Going On. Elizabeth thought to herself, “He was a Pisces too”.
Edison gave her a soft kiss on her forehead and wiped the beginning of a tear from his own eye and they both began to pack up to leave their love nest.
As he was waiting for the engine to warm up, he reached over one last time to her side for the glove compartment. He fumbled around for a few seconds and without ever looking, pulled out a cassette. He loaded it into the player and punched a button a few times. Slowly emerging from the speakers, Marvin Gaye’s rapturous voice filled the cab with his loving, troubled presence, “Oh…if…I…should die tonight!…”
“Tomorrow night. Ok?” He asked pensively.
“God willing, yes.” She replied.