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  The Elizabeth Sloan Tyler Memorial Award 2019
First Place for Literary
 where a crooked finger of smoke beckoned from the stone chimney. In the gray rain it was impossible to tell the hour. Time itself appeared to be put aside like a bucket of potatoes and a peeler for finishing at another meal. I went to the porch and tapped on the door and a man opened it without a word.
This was Connie, as I learned later. He signaled me in and led me past a room with a big rag rug on the floor and a snapping black potbellied stove. Various instruments sat by a piano. We passed through this room and went up a narrow staircase, hung with dusty photographs of performers, great and forgot- ten. He closed the door and I sat at a little desk to rub my eyes with hands as heavy as kettles.
about the Sisters, the orphanage I ran away from; my first guitar, my last cigarette, how old men taught me to fudge my age so I could play the roadhouses and honky-tonks and how I met the General and how I loved Lureen.
I admit I was completely curious to know what Miss Sugar could learn from a musician that had to be flown all the way across country, but I was too shy to ask this directly. I’ll state right here she looked a pleasant countrywoman of about fifty. Her hair was twisted into an indifferent knot and she wore a very nonentity of a dress and some well-worn boots that looked like business through and through.
After a while he returned with a dinner of stew and a square of yellow bread, pickles and compote of ap- ples and raisins that competed with the slice of pie, topped with yellow cheese for dessert. There was a mug of beer from which I licked the last froth. When I woke my boots were aligned beneath the four-poster and I was naked as the day I came into this world and tucked in tight as the day I will be when I leave.
I dressed and came down the stairs. Connie indicated where I should sit for corn cakes and some thick bacon and black coffee and a round egg in a chipped cup. By his mastery of the dishrag and his attention to my cleaned plate I surmised he was the damned good cook of the place. He showed me into the parlor and managed to express in gesture that the instru- ments were to be tuned. I was bent to the task when a door with an old-fashioned draught-monger on the top opened and a woman appeared.
“I am Annie,” she said, “Welcome here.”
She sat down in the rocker. I sat on the bench. She smiled at me and I smiled back. Perhaps living with a mute had made her so attentive but her steady gaze affected me right off. Soon I was telling her all
When she sang it was another thing altogether, but she did not sing that first day. She left that to my func- tional tenor that could hit notes the way old men spit, pretty accurate but not with any notable art.
“What can you play here?” said Miss Sugar.
“Well ma’am I am a bass player by training. I have a slight acquaintance with the banjo, and I can scratch out ‘Devils Dream’ on the fiddle but not quite as good as a cat looking for love.”
We went to work. She had me play a song I liked and then try to write one of a similar nature. There
are only three songs in the whole world said Miss Sugar. She said, if you are lucky. Then after lunch
we pegged thought to these wordless things with
a technique she called freely associating. She said. “Carl, don’t mince words but roll them out.” I told her I am everywhere known as Cotton because at the door of the orphanage I hollered when they tried to untangle my baby fingers from the holes of a cro- cheted scrap. “No one ever calls me Carl,” I said, “but you’re welcome to.” For some reason this speech
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