The Immortal Life of Penny Baptiste

by Deah Mitchell

Her raspy seductive voice made the audience clap and jump to their feet. Her young years and semi sheltered life had not prepared her for the lyrics, yet her voice seemed mature enough to know what everything meant and she believed it herself. She had never felt so alive. The expression of the crowd when the song concluded made her want to sing another song but coin- cidentally they also brought her back to reality. Her nerves kicked in again and she remembered who she was. Just a church girl from Farmington with a borrowed dress and Myrtle’s rouge on her cheeks. This was definitely not her reality.

She took one step off of the stage and disappeared into the dark crowd to find Myrtle and her brother. The crowd parted like the Red Sea and stared in amazement. She felt awkward and wondered what they were thinking. Most of them grinned big toothy grins and the man who had guided her was nowhere to be found. 

“Girl! What the hell??? When did you get nerve to hop up there and sang like that?” Myrtle laughed and squealed with delight. She clapped her hands and hugged the life out of Lu. 

“I guess I did ok?” Lu giggled. 

“Okay?? Okay??? Are you kidding me? Girl do you even know who you was sanging with? That was Louie Armstrong and his band! Some people call him Satchmo and he really liked you! “ Myrtle could barely catch her breath as she continued, “They say he gone be famous before too long!” 

“Really,” Lu began as she tried to comprehend it all. “I don’t even know how I got up there! One minute I was singing out here and next thang you know I felt a man behind me.” She stopped abruptly as if she had just remembered. Where was the man? And what exactly had he meant by “You still got it girl” and when he defended her to Satchmo he seemed to think he knew her. But how? 

The rest of the night was filled with more dancing, eating good food being sold from an old shack outside, and drinking moonshine. As they stood out-front and waited on Louis to pull the car around the front she caught a glimpse of the man. He was dressed just as sharp as he looked too smooth. He saw her staring and headed in their direction. Lu adjusted her dress and fidgeted nervously with her hair before tucking it neatly behind her ear. 

“Oh Lord, Myrtle girl. Here he come.” 

She tried to remain calm but her stomach was doing the jitterbug. He approached her and smiled again, this time revealing his perfect teeth that were worthy of their own toothpaste advertisement. His wicked smile was replaced with a confused stare as he came closer. 

“Excuse me but are you actually getting younger girl? You know that’s not how genetics works huh?” He laughed but seemed to be serious. 

“Hi mister. I’m afraid there has been a mistake. You thank you know me or something?” Her face was reminiscent but her speaking voice was mismatched “I heard you left this life behind ya and moved back home.” 

“Back home?” Lu questioned. “Yeah. You know back up north to New York or whatever city you from.” Lu and Myrtle laughed. “Mister I know you must have the wrong girl because I ain’t never set foot outside the state of Louisiana, except for one time when I was about nine and we rode the train to see my cousins in Alabama. 

“You kidding me?” He asked again with a confused look in those kind eyes. “Listen, I don’t know what kinda game you playing. But you don’t have to pretend with me Penny. You know I’m the one you can trust.” 

The thought of this man peering into her eyes in an almost intimate way scared her. No one had ever looked at her that way. She almost forgot he called her the wrong name. She smiled politely and coyly said, “My name ain’t Penny mister, and I definitely would have recalled meeting you.” 

The forwardness of this greeting must have surprised Myrtle as well because she looked at her like she had two heads. 

“Uhhh, come on and let’s go find Louis.” Myrtle interrupted. 

She grabbed Lu by the hand and led her into the night toward the row of cars. 

“Lu I don’t know what done came over you tonight girl but I think I like it!” She jumped straight up into the air and squeeled again while clapping her hands rapidly. “You wait till Lizzie hear tale about this! She gone be so jealous!!! I’m gone tell all the kids at school about this and they gone wish they was here to see it.” 

“No! Don’t go tellin all our business, Myrtle! I swear to God gal you can’t hold water! You know good and well if you tell Elizabeth she gone tell her brother Eddy and he ain’t gone approve! Then my mother will kill me!” 

Myrtle seemed to take all of this into consideration and she skipped backwards to the car he brother had warmed up. “Well, maybe I’ll consider not telling nobody if you tell me what that was back there with that man. You sholl didn’t seem too worried about him thinking you was somebody else.”

“What man? That man back there? Shoot girl I don’t know either! You heard him, it’s just an innocent case of mistaken identity.” Lu smiled her brilliant smile and her eyes tightened. She ran the sharp edge of his business card along her thumb.

“Yeah I know. But he seemed so sure.” Myrtle’s voice trailed off as they opened the door and drove off into the night. The combination of the events of the evening made for an exciting ride back to Farmington.