Starfish & Coffee
By Susannah Melvoin
I remember Fall in Minneapolis vividly, the air smells like water and earth and the lakes that spread throughout the city become deserted of people, they now walk around the lakes bundled up in what is the last fall jacket one can get away with wearing. I loved it and I loved what was to be an extremely beautiful time in my life.
Instead of the long drawn version, I can narrow down one particular day in the fall of 1986? maybe 87? That was to be the day I wrote Starfish and Coffee with Prince. Sitting around the kitchen table was Prince, his engineer Susan Rodgers, and myself. It was a time Susan and I spent every day with him either recording or keeping each other company
Prince and I spent many hours together, either in the studio working, or driving around Minneapolis talking to each other and listening to music. We talked about our histories and our secrets On a few of occasions I told him stories of a 12-year-old girl named Cynthia Rose. My sister Wendy and I knew Cynthia intimately because we shared six years in a classroom with her, plus a bus ride to school It was the Bus rides that I got to know Cynthia.
Cynthia never had much interest outside of her own personal space, so watching her was an unedited version of what was going on her head. I’m certain if Cynthia were in school today? she’d still be as interesting and extraterrestrial as she was then. I think Cynthia was dropped off from another world filled with extraordinary images. Images only Cynthia knew the’ meanings behind. Her Favorite number for Many years was the number 12. I knew this because she’d rock back and forth in her seat asking you if you knew what her favorite number was for the day… It was always shocking to her that you knew what her favorite number was I would inevitably say “I think it’s twelve, right Cynthia?” She was amazed and joyous that you guessed it right. Once more I’d watch how she would ecstatically experience the world.
Cynthia would tell you over and over again how amazing and meaningful the number 12 was. I’d always indulge her query Nevertheless her answer never changed, her resolution was always the same, she’d say “it makes me happy”, and at the same time with her finger she would etch on the damp foggy bus window countless happy face’s Much of those bus rides Cynthia sat rocking in her seat gently whispering and repeating her favorite number.
Cynthia would also reveal what she had for breakfast. Consistently it was STARFISH AND PEE PEE. I never understood the combo meal. Furthermore, as a consequence nobody else could. Here it seemed like the deal breaker for most kids. Above all the kids in our class had no interest in how Cynthia came to get her morning breakfast. I considered it tender and funny, and listened to her tell me anything she wanted to say whether it was firmly planted on earth, or from her planet of tender hearted people who love numbers and draw smiley faces.
Sixth grade was our last year together. It was these early bus rides that year that I knew something was different about Cynthia. She sat quietly not moving in her seat and staring out of the window. When we arrived at school on one of these mornings, and as the bus pulled into the lot, Cynthia turned my way, looked me in the eyes and asked calmly If “I wanted to know something special? I couldn’t wait! We stepped outside of the bus, walked a couple feet, when she leaned into me and said…”DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT MY FAVORITE NUMBER IS?” Naturally I said, its twelve right? Cynthia’s answer? ….. IT” S 20!!!! Suddenly in her beautiful Martian like way she smiled wide eyed and into her hands and said,” because it really makes me happy!” then running off in her Groucho Marx, Martian kind of way, repeating her new favorite number 20.
That year turned out to be a very silly year for Cynthia and myself. On one occasion I happened to leave class to use the ladies’ room I was just about to walk out of the bathroom when I hear water splashing and giggling in one of the stalls. I somehow had a feeling it was going to be Cynthia Rose, the giggle sounded unattached to a real person, it sounded naive and desperate almost like the sound of crying into soft fabric; muffled and hysterical. So, I knocked on the stall door and asked if it was Cynthia. Then just more giggles. I looked under the stall and as I expected I saw Cynthia’s shoes. I asked what was she doing in there? At that same time, she threw the door wide open’ and with a big red apple in between her teeth, her hair soaking and wet face, took big bite of the apple and said “I was bobbing for apples in the toilet!” “it’s so much fun!”. Here you wanna play? I was horrified and startled by what she was doing. Cynthia stopped and looked at me for what was the last time we would have eye to eye contact, she became long faced and reflective, something I’d never seen her experience, Cynthia dropped the apple and took my hand while I grabbed as many paper towels I could gather to dry her off. Cynthia just looking at my hands dry hers without a peep or word from her.
This is the story about the exceptional Cynthia Rose, who was just one of 25 kids named, Kevin, Christopher, Wendy and Susannah just to name a few of us. That in fact spent everyday together for six years. Moreover, every day for those six years we started off greeting Ms. Kathleen outside her classroom door. All of us would be in line outside the classroom, she’d open the door, and one by one we would greet her and shake her hand then walk to our seats for just another day at school. All of us were pretty ordinary except for Cynthia Rose.
This is my true story I would tell Prince every so often when he asked about it. We both agreed that she was worth writing about. Cynthia being so tender. We both wondered if Cynthia was still living and number’s drunk. It was clear it made her Happy. It was this fall afternoon in Minnesota at our kitchen table when Prince came up the stairs from his studio, sat next to me and asked if I would to tell him the whole story of Cynthia Rose in detail. A few hours later he asked if I’d write it down
On that afternoon when Prince asked if I’d write this story, I would have no idea what was about to transpire downstairs in his studio. Prince requested that I not go downstairs until he was finished with the track. Although just before he went downstairs he sat next to me at the table and said “the Pee Pee ‘s got to go. “then laughed and asked if Coffee was a doable alternative. I also laughed and said yes, yes yes of course...
Ten hours later Susan Came Upstairs to get me. I walked into the studio, Prince was standing at the console with a tired gentle smile on his face. and said “here it is”!
The rest is history.