Sublime Splendor of the Morning Star

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Logline or Premise
Sublime Splendor of the Morning Star asks this provocative question: Is it better to conform to society’s rigid, archaic norms or to accept one’s true self, even at a great personal cost?
First 10 Pages

The restaurant location seemed ideal. A garden separating an industrial zone from the residential quarters. Though despite a glitzy name: ‘Merry Orchards’, it was just a narrow strip of shrubbery occasionally sprouting fragrance-free florets. Still, it had some advantages. The laborers returning from their shifts could not help but notice the bright lights and mouthwatering aromas. Disappointingly for the diner's management, the factory wages fell far short of the restaurant's prices. As a matter of fact, local salaries failed to cover even the basic needs – school breakfasts and new shoes – let alone bankroll luxuries, like restaurant dining or daily showers.

Even more lamentable was the level of local gastronomical ambitions limited to simple meat-and-potatoes fare. And those favorites were better suited to individuals’ kitchens, rather than a fancy eatery.

Thus, the restaurant had to rely on visitors from the other parts of the town, and it was hardly even quarter full, with a notable exception of two days a month when the local workforce received their paychecks. On those occasions, temptation of a high life overwhelmed considerations of budget and taste and the workers feasted at the restaurant, ordering from the menu with the abandon of the penurious squandering their last coin. Despite the occasional largesse, management understood that two profitable days would not sustain the business. As a last-ditch solution, the restaurant erected a small platform next to the back wall and invited a local musician to form a band in hopes that live entertainment would draw the well-heeled clientele.

The restaurant did not have a budget to pay the orchestra but like many other cafes it allowed the musicians to collect the tips. The newly named ensemble leader, who prior to this offer languished for years in construction despite the undeniable talent, endeavored to create a fisrt-rate jazz-band. Initially the company consisted of the leader – himself a skilled pianist, a drummer, a bass player, a tenor saxophone, and an alt-sax. All the musicians played together in the past and were able to effortlessly improvise any request.

Regrettably, their success was hampered by the lack of a gifted vocalist. The restaurant continued to flounder until one of the regulars introduced a young woman with a beautiful, warm voice. Her able singing and, especially, sultry looks rapidly began attracting new patrons. The word of mouth spread, enticing the moneyed clientele. The restaurant revenues spiked, and the musicians’ tips reached the level that could provide for a comfortable lifestyle.

A few weeks later a cagey young man offered his skills as a trumpet player. Despite apparent hesitation on the part of the band to add a male outsider, the leader insisted and proved to be correct. With the trumpet addition, the fame of the band grew exponentially and soon the restaurant was full every night.

The only drawback of the swelled attendance were drunk brawls among the diners. Fortunately they never endangered the musicians directly. Following the unspoken street code, the fisticuffs always took place outside. The band leader had an uncanny intuition, acquired over the years spent on construction sites, to anticipate the scuffles so he routinely sheltered his band in the kitchen during the flareups. On the other hand, up until their violent resolutions, quarrels roused the diners, prompting them to compete more enthusiastically in the band requests.

Of course, the gorgeous singer also induced licentious attention, but the young woman likewise had a supernatural aptitude in evading such interest. When a soused patron became a nuisance, she would simply not return after the last break, instigating the scorn of the overly amorous visitor by the other guests.

That Saturday in September was not unusual in any way. The band expertly waited out the fight. Then, at the end of the evening, when the band leader distributed the loot that was vaster than average, nobody was more pleased than the trumpet player. After hiding the money in his sock, he informed the band that he would be away for a few weeks. The leader shook his head disapprovingly and left with the original members. The trumpeter and the singer continued to finish their complimentary glass of wine. The young woman asked the trumpeter about his travels and after listening to some polite prevarications, hastily finished her drink and left. The young man savored his drink, placed the empty glass in the washing station and walked out holding his trumpet case under his arm.

For a moment he stood inhaling the fruity smells of the autumn night, that even the factory’s industrial stench could not obliterate. When he reached the corner, a gruff voice stopped him mid-step: “Hey, Louis-Armstrong, in a big hurry?” The trumpet player sensed the troubles and tried to decide which direction to run. Unluckily, a moment’s hesitation cost him, and he found himself surrounded by four burly men, in nearly identical zoot suits. The outfits were complete with grey striped shirts, cream-colored, broad ties, and two-tone wingtips. All garments were of a local imitation quality rather than the original designers and gave the gang a silly rather than an elegant appearance. Damage to their faces made the men seem less comical and more menacing, in a deranged-clown way.

Recognizing the losing group of that night’s brawl, the musician decided to be respectful. He smiled: “Must rush to see mom…”

The same voice, with a faked concern, retorted, “Tsk…tsk…tsk…That’s too bad. We came all this way to hear you play. But the unfortunate circumstances…he-he…” He chuckled covering his mouth with a bruised-knuckle hand sheathed in slapdash tattoos, “…forced us to depart early.” The man snorted accompanied by the hoots from his companions, making the trumpeter realize that they were seriously drunk. He grew nervous, conceding that his skills at appeasing inebriated ruffians might prove inefficient.

“I am sorry to hear that.” He tried to maintain calm appearance.

“Good,” the man clutched the musician’s shoulder, “Would you fashion a few jingles for us?”

“I can’t,” responded the trumpet player, “Mom will go to bed soon.” He continued in the most peacemaking tone: “Come back tomorrow and listen to the whole band play…”

“That’s a hell of an offer,” the leader of the gang responded in a soft voice, matching the musician’s benevolent intonation, “but we are a wee busy…a-ha-ha…so we can’t.” Then he continued in the same hush tone, but somehow it lost all its munificence: “We are free tonight. Why don’t you be a good boy and play for us as we…politely...” meaningful pause, “…asking?”

“Sorry,” the trumpeter shook his head, “I’ve got to go.” A pointy wingtip connected sharply to the top of his calf, dropping him to his knees. The man standing behind bent over and hissed in his ear: “Stop acting like a fucking virgin. Start fucking playing before I gets fucking mad!” The humiliation made the musician’s chin quiver. He realized that even if he chose to play, he would not be able to produce the right notes and prepared himself to be roughed up.

“Boys, boys, boys…” a new voice broke the momentary silence, “That’s not very nice.” The leader turned around and saw the singer. He grinned: “What a lovely surprise. A doll-face joining the party. Would you sing for us?”

“I hardly think so.”

The man who kicked the trumpet player earlier, appeared in no mood to play the game his leader enjoyed so much, “It’s time to open a can of whupass.” He turned, clearly eager to follow through. But the girl quickly yelped: “Wait! Wait! Look at me!”

When the man complied, the first thing he saw was a barrel of a huge handgun. The young woman waved the pistol in the air: “Nobody is going to be fucked up today.” And noticing the mesmerized eyes of five men trained on her firearm, added: “And if any of you are thinking of doing something stupid, remember that the next move will result in a meeting with my father.” She narrowed her eyes: “Y’all know who my father is, don’t you?” She swiftly transferred the gun’s aim to the leader. He turned around and began running in a jagged fashion, apparently trying to evade the aim. A moment later, the rest of the gang followed and for a while the trumpet player and the singer heard the drum roll of their heels.

The young man watched the fleeing posse until they vanished, turned around and looking with a genuine awe asked: “Who is your father?”

“His Excellency Consul-General…Let’s go.”

“Oh…that was embarrassing.” Leaning on his trumpet’s case the young man slowly got up. “Thanks”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Can I walk you home?”

The young woman responded with a sly grin: “Perhaps it should be the other way around.” Noticing a grimace of discomfiture on the musician’s face, she added benevolently: “Sure…you can escort me home.”

For a while they walked in silence until the young man asked: “Where did you get the gun?” The singer murmured: “Where did you learn to play the trumpet?” The young man coughed to cover his unease. The woman continued in a mocking tone: “Perhaps it’s best for our pasts to remain undisclosed.” She grabbed his arm above the elbow: “What’s your favorite food?” Since the young man failed to come up with an answer, the singer rephrased her question: “If you were condemned? What would be your last meal?” This time the trumpeter quickly responded: “Lamb chops over applewood coals…It’s the charred flavor…primeval and savage…You?”

“Aaah…I don’t have favorites,” The singer giggled, “I just love to eat. I will try anything. At least once. Perhaps I even I prefer food to sex.” After a thoughtful pause she added: “Nah…that’s not true. Shagging is still my favorite amusement.” She took a quick peek at the face of her companion then added in a more neutral tone: “Still, for the last meal I’d choose a whole fish in a salt crust…a mullet…” she licked her lips in a way that was as sensual as it was innocent, “…or a snapper.” She noisily sucked air through her narrowed lips: “Whew…with rosemary, thyme…or better yet…tarragon, lemon, and lots of olive oil.”

The trumpeter tried to steal a sideway glance at the woman without being too obvious, failed on both counts and asked: “Did you grow up by the sea?” The singer pulled on his arm: “Aghm…the past does not exist. Remember?” She quickly returned to the previous topic: “Or I could request Fillet of Beef, à la Wellington.”

“What’s that?” Reluctance was audible in his voice.

“Oh, it’s scrumptious: filet mignon, pate-de-foie-gras and mushrooms, wrapped in ham and puff pastry, then baked.”

“Sounds decadent.”

“Because it is…Or something simple…steamed artichokes with homemade mayonnaise…or…” The young woman stopped: “Thanks for chaperoning me. That’s where I live.” She pointed at a five-story apartment building. The trumpet player was surprised to realize that he was saddened that the evening came to such an abrupt conclusion.

The young woman let go of his arm and ran towards the egress, waving goodbye over her shoulder and disappeared behind the brown door. The trumpeter stood for a moment, pouting, trying to understand what he felt, failed at that simple of a task and began to walk away, when he heard the door open and the familiar voice yelled at his back: “Hey, you want to come up for a bite to eat?” As he spun around a wide smile appearing on his face, the singer added: “I am famished, and I hate to eat alone.” The trumpeter recognized he too was hungry and briskly walked towards the building, stopping right before the door: “Erh…What about your father? Won’t he get mad about a late-night gentlemen caller?”

“Don’t worry…ha-ha-ha…he is away…on a top-secret assignment…in Rio…” She ran up the stairs.

Once the trumpeter arrived on the third-floor landing, he discovered four doors. The second one on the left was wide open. He quietly entered and found himself in a small foyer. The only item of furniture was a hanger rack with a dark-grey raincoat dejectedly dangling on one of the hooks. The other three pegs were missing. The rest of the decorations were limited to a grimy wallpaper. The musician carefully closed the door, turned the lock, and jammed the safety chain into its groove. The hallway way was lit by a reflective light. He followed the illumination and, in a few short steps, arrived in a narrow kitchen furnished with a small table, a couple of shabby stools, a sink and a two-burner gas range with a soot stain above.

He found his companion holding a cast-iron frying pan: “I only have eggs.” The tone was unapologetic, “Omelet? Or fried eggs?” The young man indicated a preference for the former.

The singer-turned-chef pointed at one of the stools and began fussing over the stove. The trumpeter carefully leaned his apparatus against the wall and lowered himself onto the seat that proved to be as uncomfortable as it looked. For the next few minutes, he was treated to the view of the young woman’s back and found it to be as eye-catching as her front. The silence was a bit unnerving, but naturally shy he could not bring himself to strike a conversation. Fortunately, in about ten minutes, his hostess turned around holding two mismatched plates. She put the more attractive one in front him, slid the other, with a conspicuous chip, toward the opposite edge of the table, dropped the frying pan into the sink, and filled a battered kettle placing it onto the burner.

Then she, with an exaggerated sigh, sunk onto the other stool. Now the young man was able to transfer his gaze from his colleague to his plate. He discovered a fluffy, golden, three-folded omelet alongside a slice of crisp bologna and a wedge of fried bread with the mouthwatering charred marks. The picture-perfect dish made him feel nostalgic. His hostess smiled and added with a wink: “I can also cross-stitch.” She shoved a large bite of the omelet into her mouth and muttered: “I keep no alcohol in zhe housh, sho we will have to limit ourshelves to tea.” And noticing her guest’s hesitation, she waved her hand: “It’sh only good when it’sh hot.” The trumpeter took a mouthful of eggy goodness and discovered a nearly forgotten taste, bringing tears to his eyes.

Noticing a change in his facial expression, the singer asked: “So…You like it?” He nodded and after swallowing murmured, “Perhaps the best omelet I’ve ever had.” In a moment, clearly uncomfortable, he clarified: “The second best.” He was going to add something but was stopped by a reproachful finger: “Errrh…no past…no past!”

They ate in silence and when the food was finished, the singer looked into his eyes with a longing that made him uncomfortable. Enjoying his reaction, she whispered: “I heard that the wind players are great kissers. Is that so?” The trumpet player bit his lip, realizing that his face turned red. His hostess walked around the table and lowered herself onto his lap, straddling his thighs: “And among the wind players, trumpeters are supposed to be the best.” While the young man thought how best to react, the singer carefully wiped her mouth, grabbed his face, and sharply pressed her lips onto his. In the next heartbeat, he realized that his lips parted, and, against his intentions, his tongue responded. He quickly gained control over the insubordinate body part, gently pushed the woman away and sighed: “I think I must tell you something.”

She lifted her eyebrow staring into his eyes.

“I’ve never been with a woman.” The words burned his tongue causing an instant and expected reaction from his hostess as she chortled. The trumpeter anticipated some questionable joke, but her words were somewhat surprising: “A virgin? Ahhh…That’s a challenge! Am I up for a virgin?” She replaced her palms on the sides of his face and added: “Yes, I certainly am!…I’ll be gentle…” She slowly stuck out her pointy tongue and leaned forward pressing it to the young man’s neck. Then she slowly began moving it over his chin, lips, right cheek, right eye, and forehead until the moist trip came to a stop at the hairline. She pulled back and added: “…Or not…” making a lurching, snake-like, motion as her white teeth bit into his lower lip, and her tongue fluttered over the throbbing flesh.

After she let go, he mumbled: “No…you don’t understand. I am not that kind of a virgin…” The trumpeter paused, tasting a tiny drop of blood on the inside of his lip. “I’ve never been with a woman.” Now he emphasized the last word.

The singer’s face became dead serious: “Oh…I see.” She wiggled her hips in an intricate pattern sinking further into his lap. “You didn’t think something silly like that would break my resolve, did you? In a certain way the difference between a man and a woman is rather…superficial?”

She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her breast. The trumpeter realized that she was not wearing a bra, not understanding how such a daring wardrobe choice escaped his notice earlier. A large and remarkably firm semi-sphere filled his hand, as the young man felt with anxiety…or was it exhilaration?…that a pointy bit of flesh became erect and despite the thick material of the blouse pushed prominently into his palm. He grew uncomfortable and tried to pull his hand back. In response the singer applied additional pressure. For a while the two locked arms pushed back and forth into the soft cushion of flesh, until the trumpeter realized that he was unlikely to win this contest and relaxed.

While he was intensely focused on his tactile experience, the singer continued in a sultry voice: “More importantly, if you’ve never been with a woman, you don’t know what other purpose that trumpet player’s lips and tongue are good for.” She giggled. “He…he…he…until now.” She slipped off his lap, turned off the kettle and pulled him further into the apartment: “You are about to find out...”

Stunned young man almost willingly followed her into the darkness of the bedroom.