Jan/Feb 2007  •   Fiction  •   Special Feature


by Kenneth Shand

Artwork by Ira Joel Haber

Artwork by Ira Joel Haber

If music be the food of love, then Ramirez, he be the chef of it. I'm talking five Michelin stars. I'm talking his own TV show, cookbooks, aprons, the lot. The way that guy plays a horn, it would make the coldest-hearted woman you ever saw melt right down into sweet hot chocolate for him, begging him with those bedroom eyes, and him always standing in those slick-as-an-oil-well suits, with that fine moustache and the hat. Always the hat. Ramirez, see, he's big on the hat. It's his trademark.

That night we was playing the Orleans Harp, Papa Bill on drums, myself on bass, Spherical Johnson on trumpet, and we was hitting all the right notes. Ramirez, man, he looked like the devil taking up a new instrument, and I guess he finally met his match. This lady in a red dress, the way she was dancing, all long limbs and movement like a cat, she was beautiful, she was graceful, but man she was cold, and I could see Ramirez was smitten with her. During the break, Papa said something to him.

"Just go and talk to her. She wants to talk to you, Joe."

But he was just standing, scared like a schoolboy, with two shots of whiskey in his glass. Spherical was telling me he'd like her for himself, but that guy was full of talk. He was standing with that tiny silver fork of his, eating sardines out of a can. That's right. Wherever we went, even when they served us lobster, old Spherical still only ate canned fish. He was telling me about it then.

"See, canned food is healthy, cause it's cleaner, see. All the bacteria gets cooked out of the food, see. And it's bacteria's gone kill you." Now if he was right or wrong about that, I'm not sure, but with that big gut of his and always stinking of fish, and with that tiny little fork he carried, it was hard to take him seriously, so I joined in with the fun conversation.

"I'll put $10 on it," I said to Ramirez. "$10 says you won't get her into bed tonight."

"That's cheap," he said.

"I'll match your ten," said Papa. "I got faith in my man over here." He slapped him on the back.

"Don't go changing money over a thing like this," said Ramirez, and we went back on stage.

The second set was intense, and it ran on and on. The room was shaking by the time we finished, and sure enough Ramirez left with the lady on his arm, the two of them smiling and chatting, wide-eyed and excited, with that hunger new lovers have for each other.

When he surfaced in the morning, I placed $10 next to Papa Bill's plate, as Ramirez waltzed in whistling some old song. Papa picked at it, but Ramirez, he took it from Papa's hand, brought another from his pocket, folded them together and handed them to me, running his fingers through his hair with the broadest grin I've seen. He'd left his hat behind. That's how I knew he was in love.