excerpt VII Inside the Road: By paul r. harding “If what? Who is stupid?” His big round brown animated eyes opened almost as wide as the sallow plains the road pulled back like a banana skin. “If we know where the hell we are.” “Somewhere between El Paso and Indigo…” “Really, Joe… Really?” In the passenger seat beside him, her arms stretched up, in a half yawn positioned one bare foot up over the dashboard. “Can’t see how you can tell…” “Tell what, East? Relax now. We are not lost.” Joe was driving rather fast but Easter didn’t mind. She couldn’t sleep. A good turn-out in Houston before a poor but enthusiastic audience in San Antonio, neither of them was satisfied nor bored, restless nor comfortable, and twilight over the south western highway made still beaming car-lights unnecessary. “Joe, you sure we ain’t in Mexico?” “No East, we ain’t in Mexico. You wish now we were in the sky on that plane with the rest of the band? Why, for the life of me, did you insist on driving, anyway? I mean all the way from Buffalo! Damn, honey-girl. You wanted a tour, you got one, that is for sure.” His resolve for an answer coming only from the empty highway stretching ahead. “Wherever we are. Maybe we ain’t, but don’t tell me to relax?! Just tell me where we been or goin’. Maybe lost from the jump and ya know I don’t just mean on this highway.” “East, I wish if you have something you need to say, you would just come out and say it, honey-girl.” “Some things shouldn’t need to be said.” “And some things, some see and some do not… then maybe something needs saying.” “Like, ok. Well, you see something? I mean like right now, Joe?” “See? In fact, yes, I do. Well, I have seen it before but was too young, I suppose, to see just how long twilight takes to become dawn, to be morning, out here. When I first came up North, the road did not mean anything but no sleep and hunger. Now I see more.” Lighting a cigarette, sarcastically, “Really?” Then seriously, “How did it start, Joe? I mean, when you first came on the road?” Joe turned to his right for an instant to look into eyes that said one thing, while he knew they were asking something else. “Came? Not so as I would say came…but more like met. Like we were waiting for each other.” Again sarcastically, “Oh, you mean like love.” Laughing at the road before him, “Like a marriage maybe but not sure I would call it love.” “Not the love of music? Even though you knew playin’ Jazz wasn’t going to put you on gravy street? Musta been a hard relationship. Goin’ from one place to another not knowin’ most of the time what was gonna go down. Especially that Jim Crow shit.” “I knew old Jim, long before I started my affair with the road.” “So what kept you together? Bop… on the road. I can’t imagine.” Pausing, drawing long on the cigarette, then changing tone, slowed her words. “What made you stick it out, Joe? There was a lot more money to be made in Rock n Roll with those Chess brothers in Chicago or even Gordy in Detroit. I figure it had to be more than…” “Than what? Listen… Ohh, I have done my share of studio work for those kinds of men, believe me. You might be surprised what Pop records you have heard that I play on.” Easter looked over at him a little surprised, wondering which, if any, “hit” songs his horn had graced. “You are asking more than you think, more than you might think you understand, honey-girl.” “Try me,” she said swiftly, examining her big toe from an awkward angle from the dashboard, cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth. “Not like there was, you know, really much of a choice for a black, never mind a black artist. Obviously, it was not the same road for us. Charlie Parker, a gifted genius, came to no end on it. And you know what happened to Nina Simone, a black woman rejected by the conservatory, had to turn on the road. All that has to do with a sickness — we all know down in the stomach of this country — but it also has to do with choice you do not choose. Something you have no say about, something inside. But God! God knows I wish you did not have to smoke those nasty things,” looking dead ahead, half-hidden disgust on his face. Wildly, Easter laughed. The fainting moon was a steam iron pressing a faded yellow curtain down a long flat ironing board sky. “I suppose it was a stupid idea… I mean Wil asked me what the hell was I thinkin’. Now you askin’ me. You know I argue with her when she goes on about how stupid men really are… but now I don’t know… if…” Excerpt of Novel Manuscript Easter.