From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
…she, Laura she, sat up on the stage, altar or whatever they called it in U-U church land over in Waterville that cold winter night (Universalist-Unitarian showing an interesting weave of Protestant schism when they joined declining forces about forty or fifty years ago and always at the ready for the good of the cause from folk concerts to anti-war struggles), waiting to do angel-voiced back up harmony with her friend and musical companion on a selection of one of that friend’s homemade songs. He, Peter Paul Markin, could tell, tell even from a row in the audience about four or five back, that she had that faintly determined look, that certain tightening of her jaw when she was a little bit nervous about doing some task to perfection. He called that look her “swimming stroke” look, the look he would notice most graphically when she did her little doggie paddle in some sunny land swimming pool in California or Florida and was determined to get from point A to point B in the pool on her own terms come hell or high water. That look however this night was not the look that he was focused on as he got ready to do his sound check, his own personal sound check of her performance. No, that check was not some technician’s sound system gismo affair, far from it, he would not know step one of such a procedure, and would in any case be waved off, decidedly waved off, by knowing hands if he tried anything so rash. He merely lowered his head during the performance, put his elbows on his knees, placed his hands on his eyes and closed them. And listened.
And it was while he was doing that ritual listening, listening to get his ear tuned in to that angel thing she beamed out to the world, that he thought about other looks, looks that counted, counted a lot in her favor, the ones that made him glad, glad as hell, that he was sitting in just that fourth or fifth row seat that night, and other nights too for that matter. The look he was thinking about had started way back when he first met her, first met her in some Harvard Square gin mill, all smoky and dark enough to hide in for listening to the live music, mostly country rock in his country minute days, old Johnny Fleet’s, long gone now, of blessed memory, when he, she too, was looking, looking for something to take the curse out of the night, something to hold onto, hold onto tight, in a ramshackle world, a world neither of them had created, and certainly had not been asked about creating either. That night, the night they met (or “re-met” but that has nothing to do with looks and so is a story for another time), they sat together at the bar, fumbling a little at first to say things that made sense like a lot of people, like a lot sensitive or shy people, like a lot of waifs in this wicked old world do.
What he noticed was that she would look straight at him when he had something to say, would look at him with a slight whisper of a smile, her headed at a certain angle like she was urging him to go on with what he had to say. Like what he had to say, important or not, was the most important thing for her to hear in the whole wide world. There is a picture of her with that look, or the instant photographic representation of that look, on the wall of her dining room, taken up in some desolate summer music camp in New Hampshire that she love-hate’s to attend each summer in order stay connected to her muses. With a pinkish orange summer sleeveless blouse on and sporting a slight summer tan which made a lady not born for colds more perky anyway she gave off that look aura, a picture Peter Paul never tired of peeking at when he wanted think about that look. That is the look that intrigued him, held him to her that first night, and many nights thereafter, and still held him.
And that “still held him” was what took up most of Peter Paul’s thoughts after he flashed on that look. He would, and gladly, harness himself to the work, spent an eternity trying to figure out how a woman who had had her fair share of miseries growing up, growing up in some foreboding upstate New York farming community with farm-centered (he was being kind here) parents, her fair share of feeling like the odd-person out as a result, her fair share of never feeling quite good enough, her fair share of hurts and slights could rear back and kiss the world of those around her like that. Then he thought about her struggles to find herself over her life, her eternal search for some mystical connection, some one-ness with universe, some sense of purpose and some late-found written expression of that search through her music, her simple sweet mama music. And it dawned on him then that that mystical search, a search that he, more prosaic and this worldly-driven, could not take, was what produced that world user-friendly look.
Oh yah, her performance that night, that head-in-hands night. Weren’t you listening before? I said angel-voiced back-up, didn’t I- if angels had voices, and if they were capable of that winsome look.