The Beer Garden

From: Tampa Review
49, 2014
pp. 24-30

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Beer Garden
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Birdhead. The Light of Eternity, No. 3 (detail). 2012. Black and white inkjet print. 20 x 24 inches.

Courtesy of the artists and ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai.

[End Page 24]

There were negotiations right up to the wedding day. Only afterward did the real battle begin. She was an unmarried woman who taught voice to high-schoolers. While Mudd taught boys in the art of falsetto, she trained girls in the technique of coloratura. A perfect match, two people providing out-of-the-ordinary opportunities for those savvy in the ways of college applications. According to Mudd in his introductory speech to his students’ parents, to have a unique skill in today’s college marketplace is not only preferable, it’s required. Specialty singing, Mudd was well aware, targeted a high-end demographic. To say nothing of the fact that since Fairchild’s departure, bringing on a Mrs. Mudd added some much-needed pizzazz to what had become a somewhat lackluster studio. To put it bluntly, although his interest was not motivated by any form of physical desire, his new wife doubled student enrollments and tripled income. For Mudd, Mrs. Mudd turned out to be the ideal business partner.

The negotiations, though. There was the question of hours: Who would teach when? They both wanted mornings, but then voices would be competing. And if they staggered hours, wouldn’t the opening and closing of doors for arrivals and departures be disruptive? And space: Did Mudd continue to hold lessons in the house’s coveted lower practice room, or did he share this? Practically speaking, one of them would be relegated to the kitchenette. Mudd squirmed a bit at the thought of any change to his comfortable routine. He had been on his own for decades. Touching one of his perfectly manicured nails to the tightly curled wig atop his head, he pursed his lips and sighed what to some might have resembled a pinched-nose sneeze or one long slide down a chromatic scale starting at high C.

The new Mrs. Mudd had been brought up a Sills, the assumption being she was related to Beverly Sills, the famous lyric coloratura. Everyone asked, and those who didn’t simply assumed that there must be a connection. She wasn’t, and there was none, that was the simple truth, but the popular narrative became a tale of mysterious connection that people, students in particular, speculated was real. There had been talk way back when someone had claimed to know of a relation. There was no denial, no word to the contrary, so the rumor circulated; like all great storms, it picked up speed and velocity, and with a certain lady too dignified to speak to it, by the time effort was made to quell untruths, momentum had gathered, fueling the mystique of a Sills connection. This is how over time Mrs. Mudd’s relation to Beverly Sills became more aura than wish.

So, who in their right mind would forfeit a name with such weight and interest? It was part of what made her who she was, a woman possibly related to greatness. She was a Sills and liked to talk of being mistaken for the actual Sills. She had taken phone calls meant for Beverly, received more than one piece of mail addressed to Beverly. It was this connection to greatness that if erased might never be redrawn. And without her name, how would she know who she was?

Of course, this posed a conundrum for Mudd. On the one hand, although he would never admit it, he enjoyed the air of celebrity the name Sills could add to his studio. To Mrs. Mudd he may have said he understood; however, few things trump business for Mudd, and control is one of them, which explains why only moments after their marriage, the celebration barely begun, he whispered in his new wife’s tender ear those words that marked the rest of their lives together. “Mrs. Mudd,” he said, and from that first utterance, he called her by his name—when discussing music with students, when stating his dear...