Issue 35, Final Fringe

Variation on a Legend

by Jaydn DeWald Issue 29 12.05.2011
“Our most illustrious gardens, cathedrals, waterfalls, stone angels and so forth,” said the cabbie, leading us through the dark streets of the Tenderloin. I saw a man relieving himself under the caged light of a tenement building, and I gripped the sides of Stewart’s little copper urn, seeing as I couldn’t grip his hand. “Champagne, madam?” said the cabbie, raising a bottle. “No, thank you,” I said, “—I’m in mourning.” He steered with his knee, poured champagne into a flute, then handed it back to me. I saw a woman lean out of a high window, flapping a white sheet, and I drank instinctively. “Ahh, the scent of roast duck after a rainstorm,” said the cabbie, stepping out at the next red light. I stroked Stewart’s urn in my lap—as if I was stroking back his hair, soothing him, as I used to, after a nightmare. I felt the faintest mist settling around my ankles, the red light leaning into my eyes. “How much farther to the Jacksonville Hotel?” I asked the cabbie. “Just over the drawbridge, madam,” he said, crawling back in behind the wheel. The light turned green. The cab moved on. I saw a prostitute smoking under a neon-lit marquee, her brown skin flickering. When we pulled to the curb, it took me a moment to even see the place, so dark it was, so utterly black against the night sky. “I’m supposed to scatter my husband’s ashes in there, in a fountain,” I said. “I assumed as much, madam,” he said, opening the door for me. “Thank you for the champagne,” I said. “Please—it is our job to help you through this difficult time,” he said. Out of the darkness behind me, I heard a distant scream, then an awful retching—like a bucket sloshing up a well—and I clutched Stew’s urn to my chest. “I’m afraid of the dark,” I said. “Well, I might suggest you lift your veil, then, madam,” he said, reaching toward me. He lifted the veil, the darkness, from my face. I saw the sun breaking over the Jacksonville Hotel, a celestial outpouring over the picture windows, over the white façade, and I stepped out of the cab. My mule stood waiting. Golden mule in the white sunlight. The cabbie hoisted me up. “To the fountain on a path of violet petals,” he said, patting the animal’s rump. “You’ve been very kind,” I said. “Madam, your husband would be proud.” He bowed. The mule shifted beneath me. I spent a moment balancing Stewart’s urn up against the horn of the saddle, figuring we might as well enjoy this view together. Then I said, “Goodbye,” and disappeared at a brisk trot.

Jaydn DeWald

Jaydn DeWald

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Jaydn DeWald is an MFA candidate at Pacific University. He lives with his wife in San Francisco, CA, where he writes, plays bass for the DeWald/Taylor Quintet, and serves as an associate poetry editor for Silk Road. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, Columbia Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, West Branch, Witness, and others.