“Be proud and strong, Lucille, in the knowledge that you were beloved of such a man.”
“Words are never adequate at times like these, but it must be some consolation to know that you were married to, and loved by one of the most beautiful men of this or any century.”
-excerpts from condolences sent to Lucille Armstrong upon Louis’s death
The mail had come again today. She’d never known so much mail in her life, even when Louis was getting fan letters and requests for autographs on a daily basis. It took her two trips just to get all of the condolences to the kitchen counter. She’d worried the other day that the postman might be irritated by the inconvenience; but then, he’d recently given his condolences, too.
The house was quiet. No tape machine running, no children on the front step—even the Good Humor man seemed to have given it a rest. She hadn’t been outside much, either. It was July, surely too hot to be out.
She opened a few of the condolences, reading but not really absorbing. It was strange, like being spoken at but not to. So many people, with their own stories, their own mourning, their own lives, cities and states and countries away from her. Louis was wonderful. Louis was fine. God must have needed him. They’d see him again.
They all read, Dear Lucille, Dear Mrs. Armstrong, Dear Madam Satchmo, Mrs. Pops. But they weren’t messages for her, she began to suspect. It felt like some kind of sick joke someone had planned to confuse her, to make her doubt. But what did she have to be doubtful about? There it was, in telegrams and on stationary: she was Mrs. Satchmo Armstrong. The letters said it, and so it must be true. The wife of a legend.
A car backfired in the street, and she jumped. Her heart was pounding, and she felt a moment of real terror. Who was she, really? Who was this Lucille that the whole world wrote to every day, now that it was summer? The heat was confusing her, perhaps. She was the wife of a genius that all the world loved dearly, but what did that make her? Not even his only wife, she was the most recent in a pretty long line of wives for one man—count them, one, two, three, Lucille makes four—even if that man was Louis Satchmo Armstrong. And was she really the last woman he’d have loved? Or had he just up and run off, leaving a widow at random? If he’d lived longer, would they have parted, too? She could imagine the headlines: POPS TURNS 190, MARRIES 12TH WIFE AT BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION!
What was he doing, letting her outlive him, anyway? You’re not supposed to outlive legends, even if you are married to them. Was this his way of moving on? Had he left her for another woman, a celestial beauty somewhere up there? Were earthly women not enough anymore? Was he trying to tell her she was not enough? She remembered he’d told her that, if he went before her, she should get herself another man. Was that because he’d be getting himself another woman? She was furious; her hands shook. Card after card reminding her to be thankful, to remember that she’d been lucky enough to marry the old dog, and there he was, somewhere she couldn’t get to, making eyes at every singer and piano player in a tight dress that passed him by!
She caught sight of her own reflection in the letter opener. Her eyes were wide and wild, and her hair looked a mess. She smoothed it, tried to stop her hands from shaking. This heat—it had to be the heat. She couldn’t keep thinking right now. She should sort through some of these cards, get them ready for the scrapbooks. Scrapbooking might help ease her mind—it had before he’d gone, she didn’t know why now should be any different. She scooped up all of the cards and telegrams from the counter to bring them over to the table for sorting. As she walked with the pile, one card fell to the floor. Setting the rest of the condolences down, she turned, and with a little effort and a small groan to prove it, she bent and picked the card that had fallen off the floor. She glanced inside.
“Thousands acclaim Satchmo for what he was—a great man—a fine musician. I’ve always thought of you as a pretty great person also, who contributed an immeasurable amount to Mr. Armstrong’s career.”
Well. Maybe the wife of a legend is more than that because that’s exactly what she is. And she’d miss him, wearing that pink shirt, grinning at her from under those big old reading glasses of his, that crackling laugh, that laughing smile.
Sorting the mail could wait. She felt like taking a walk. She slipped her shoes on and stepped into the thick, bright Queens summer.
Melissa Bobe holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Translation from CUNY Queens College. In 2011, she was a writer-in-residence at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. She founded a creative writing workshop for teens at her public library, and has also taught writing at Queens College and at Rutgers University, where she is currently pursuing a PhD in English literature. Her work has appeared in Anomalous Press, Steel Toe Review, and The Glass Coin. You can keep up-to-date with her on Twitter (@abookbumble).