The Mummer’s Parade by Zev Edwards
Zev is this month’s winner of $272.50 for his story on love and how it changes and grows throughout a lifetime. This is what a love story should be - complex, poignant, and beautiful.
Born and raised in Northern Michigan, Zev Lawson Edwards has lived and taught in Australia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. He has previously self-published one novel, The New Punk, a whimsical and humorous YA adventure about an orphanage in Detroit where the orphans sabotage adoption.
Without further ado, “The Mummer’s Parade” by Zev Edwards.
How we happen to meet again after forty years is almost as much a miracle as how we met in the first place. Years bring people together. They also tear them apart. Forty years. Hard to believe, my old love. Hard to believe.
* * *
New York, circa 1975. December, in the rain. Early morning coffee and conversation was how they started their Sundays, especially in the rain. It was always raining that year.
“How can you be so selfish?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“The people’s struggle.” Despite the drowsiness on her face, her eyes were wide awake. “How can you say it’s more important to focus on yourself when so many people are suffering? Whatever happened to being the change you wanted to see in the world?”
“Listen, Gandhi,” he said with a smile. “Being the change starts with you. Do you think Lennon could be Lennon ‘the activist,’ without first being Lennon the Beatle? I have to do me first and then become the change.”
“Can’t you do both?”
“It is what it is.”
She hated that saying. Couldn’t say why, but she did. Perhaps, it was the way he said it or how he was so easygoing, acting as if he hadn’t a care in the world and moving like fire from one thing to the next. She was more of a slow burn, taking her time, flickering in and out. She wasn’t always that way, but then Nixon happened. Her optimism turned to night. Her heart saw the truth: there’s a darkness in humanity that no light can touch.
“Tell me again why you have to move to Europe?” she asked.
“You mean,” he said with another smile, “why we have to move to Europe?”
“I told you already. I can’t go. My place is here, with the theater and the—”
“Movement.” The smile retreated from his face. “What’s left of it anyway. Come with me to Paris. Don’t you want to be there with me, my love?”
“I do, and I don’t.” She stared down into the darkness of her coffee mug. She always drank it black, while he had a spoon of sugar and a touch of cream. “Why can’t you stay here . . . with me?”
“Why can’t you go . . . with me?”
In the silence that followed, he didn’t have to say what they were both thinking.
It is what it is.
* * *
Our time together was marked by coffee, cigarettes, and wine—cheap wine. Neither of us had much money back then. In all my years, I have never tasted wine as good as the ones from those days.
* * *
Philadelphia, circa 1973. New Year’s Eve. They met at the Mummer’s Parade, the oldest folk festival in the United States. The festival was old, but they were young. He twenty-two and she twenty-one. Both living in New York City. Both escaping to Philly for the New Year.
Ironically, they were the only two straight people at the party. He came with a gay coworker and she a lesbian friend, both playing their natural gender, while their friends dressed in drag. He came as a ragtag jester, put together last minute, while she wore a daisy yellow-and-white dress of 19th Century fare borrowed from a friend.
Her friend made the introductions. “Wait, you’re straight!” he said with a smile, and together they stepped outside for a smoke.
They say a woman’s orgasm begins with laughter. She never met someone so naturally funny before and at first, wasn’t quite sure if it was a ruse—one to go with the costume—or his personality. Either way, she was intrigued and wanted more.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into me,” he said. “I’m normally so morose.”
“Oh, please. I can’t see you being the slightest bit morose.”
“No, it’s true. Most of the time, all I think about is dark, heavy things like funerals, depressing poetry, Bob Dylan lyrics, the great unknown, and, of course, the moon.”
“But the moon’s not dark.”
“Sure it is. Take away the sun and what do you have? Just a big rock floating in the darkness of space.”
She smiled. “Your morose side is boring me. Go back to being funny.”
The hours passed by like seconds. Their conversations touched on so many things: Love, loss, politics, philosophy, New York—their city—and brushed on the mundane. It was so effortless, easily chalked up to the drinks or atmosphere—all the people dressed up in exuberant costumes, some comical, some sad, all candy for the eye.
But in their hearts, they knew it was something deeper. Love lurks in the shadows, always there, just needing the right amount of light to make an appearance.
At the stroke of midnight, he kissed her cheek. She wanted it to be on her lips, but he was always the gentleman. Fireworks bloomed above and in their eyes. A New Year, a chance encounter, and 1974 didn’t seem quite so bad.
When the ball was over, the crowds thinning and the lights once bright, now dimmed, the two of them walked the streets of Philly. Drunk stragglers howled and masked couples danced. A lone saxophone played. The night was far from over. For a jester, he was quite modest, for it was she who offered her arm to him. He took it, and their closeness made the night buzz.
It started to drizzle. He offered his coat, and she accepted. Their bodies pressed closer to fight the chill. The rain was gentle enough to touch but not soak. They walked with slow steps and misty breaths, neither wanting the night to end.
“Where’s your hotel?” he asked. “I can walk you there and then take a taxi to mine.”
“It’s just a few blocks this way . . . I think.”
“Yes. I think. Are you okay with getting lost with me tonight?”
“I’d get lost with you anywhere.”
She laughed. “Even a cornfield in Kansas?”
“Even a cornfield in Kansas.”
He smiled. Rain shone like tears in his eyes, making him appear both happy and sad. There was something in that smile that struck a chord and stuck with her for the years to come. She didn’t know she loved him then, but later she would think it started with that smile.
They walked aimlessly, commenting on the buildings and the characters—most loud, obnoxious, and clearly inebriated—still inhabiting the streets. The rain set the mood, trickling down beneath the yellow silhouettes of street lights.
At the footsteps of her hotel, they hugged and though her eyes begged him to kiss her, he was a gentleman to the very end.
“Let’s meet again in New York. We both live there. I can take you out on a proper date. Dinner, perhaps?”
“Wasn’t this a date?”
“No, of course not.”
She punched his shoulder and gave him a look. “What was it then?”
It was a good answer, one fitting the night. They said goodbye with eyes far from tired. She saw him again a few days later in New York—their city—home to their first kiss.
* * *
Life calls, you answer.
* * *
New York, circa 1974. Spring. Rain again. It came down in sheets, ricocheting off the pavement. She ran barefoot, her heels too slippery to wear. She clutched them in one hand, purse in the other. A tight-fitting black dress hugged her body like a dark cloud. White, skinny legs flashed like lightning across the sky. She moved gracefully, feet splashing in the puddles. Hair a mess, but she didn’t care. A smile slipped through the tangles and she couldn’t let it go. She was a girl all over again.
He followed her on his bicycle—his only mode of transportation in those days. Riding slow to keep pace. He kept one eye on the road, the other on her, mesmerized. Later, he would realize, he fell in love with her at this moment. The way she moved. How even in the rain, with her makeup running and everything in disarray, she still looked beautiful, perhaps more so.
She ran, he rode, both racing towards his apartment. The number of dates now was too numerous to count. Their first kiss months past. Dinner. Drinks. Movies. Long conversations. Empty bottles of wine. Crumbled cigarette packs. It was real. It was magic. And it was like rain, unpredictable, yet necessary for the world to thrive and grow.
By the time they reached his apartment, they were both soaked through. He toweled himself dry and changed. She did the same, wearing one of his shirts. It was too big and came to her knees like a dress. Beneath, she wore only her underwear. Her hair was dark, untamed rivers running down her face.
“How do I look?” she asked.
“Like a dream.”
“More like a wet dream.”
They both laughed and then sat on the floor, next to the radiator, allowing themselves to dry. A bottle of wine opened between them. Simon & Garfunkel played on the record player.
“What is art?” she asked him.
“An expression of love.”
“Even the bad art?”
“Yes. The bad art more so than the good.”
“Bad art makes us appreciate the good art. Just like all of our past lovers make us appreciate our current love. You need the opposite to understand what makes something good. Without darkness, light would just be blinding, impossible to appreciate. It wouldn’t have its grandeur, you know?”
She did. There was nothing more refreshing than someone who swam in waters as deep as yours. She loved his smile and his lightness, but it was his ability to turn those off and enter her deeper, darker world that made her truly adore him.
“What is music then?” she asked, hoping to dig deeper.