(“What’s in Buffalo?”…check out his horn) Literati! Today, I am older and wiser. My bidet wa—oops~! B-Day was yesterday. So I am hoping the time has come for me to put aside the follies of youth and get back down to biz with A Word with You Press. Robert Marazas is a duly qualified semi-finalist, …
(“What’s in Buffalo?”…check out his horn)
Today, I am older and wiser. My bidet wa—oops~! B-Day was yesterday. So I am hoping the time has come for me to put aside the follies of youth and get back down to biz with A Word with You Press.
Robert Marazas is a duly qualified semi-finalist, and I would like to remind everyone that when you submit an entry to the Towers, it must be as a separate word attachment. If I don’t see that little paperclip in my inbox I assume that the email is part of the deluge of fan mail I receive and it may be overlooked. Fortunately, the very observant Parisianne Modert alerted me to the fact that Robert’s work was never posted.
Here is the prologue that helped Robert into our semi finals:
And here is his semi final entry into our contest, Once Upon a Time.
Dimensions In Ego.
Brad drives as if they are following him because they changed their minds about his freedom after three self-exile years and want him back. The Fifties are half gone and he’s in a hurry. He drives nonstop except for gas, coffee and restroom breaks, steady north, through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York State. Radio on, volume up to keep alert; dial twisting until he finds jazz, twisting again when the station fades. Radio sounds clash with music in his head, culled from hours hunched over a piano. Notes on paper jammed into his Army duffel, title scrawled across the top sheet. First Movement: Blues For A Legend. Jazz suite for orchestra.
Route 59 westbound begins. A mile later he crosses the Axton County line, shoulders and neck knotted, staring at the dusk shrouded yellow line. The Painted Bridge sign looms ahead. He fights the urge to turn right, picturing the sharp curve onto Bridge Street, the mile long incline that flattens and narrows to one lane across the bridge. Painted Bridge will be grimy, empty storefronts and bunched row houses showing years of neglect, the sign above the bar faded by years of dirt and bad weather. If he stopped he might glimpse Maggie Chance behind the bar through the wavy glass in the door. Worse, she might see him.
Maggie’s voice echoes: Don’t come back here, don’t ever come back!
He cranks the window, grateful for wind roar muffling her yell. He accelerates, through Oak Falls, West Oak Falls, Bandireo, but slows down in Setonsville. Buffalo lies an impossible ninety miles away. He can’t do this. He turns onto Alfalfa Avenue, drawn by restaurant and bar lights, and eases to the curb past a bus stop. A block away a hotel sign blazes five floors above the street. Forest Hotel. He slumps, engine idling, eyes closed, waiting for his chest to stop pounding.
What’s wrong with you? Isn’t there another way to Buffalo? Did you have to drive past Painted Bridge?
Don’t worry Maggie, I’m not home, just a ghost passing through.
He can’t remember ever feeling he was home.
Steve McClint nurses a beer in the Forest Hotel lounge while he waits for Helen Hornell, when the kid comes in. Steve is down because the band still sounds off to him, the bandleader is moody, and Steve has goofy feelings about Helen. The kid stops, framed in the doorway between lounge and lobby. He wears creased slacks, sharp sport jacket, white shirt, tie, mirror-polished shoes. His light brown hair is military crew cut. He carries an Army duffel bag and a trumpet case. His eyes are narrowed and his mouth a grim line. The kid moves to the front desk to check in. Steve shakes his head. Fate? Talk about omens.
In the doorway Helen pauses to hold the railing as she steps down. Great smile, straw blonde hair, good legs, enough to chase the kid from Steve’s thoughts. They fall into the routine they’ve perfected since high school, a bantering how-was-your-day patter. Where are they having dinner? He wants to avoid the circuit, too many faces they both know. He spent all afternoon with the band and is sick of them. She doesn’t care as long as they don’t meet any of her college co-workers. He wants her alone, no ritual laughter and grabassing, some serious talk about where they are headed with each other. Are they headed anywhere? He wants to ask but hasn’t been able to do it.
Now, while he has courage. But he spots the kid back in the doorway. Helen follows his gaze and her lips part. Steve recognizes her something-about-him look. He must have looked the same when he first saw the kid. He thinks that wherever Helen’s headed he isn’t going along.
The kid’s face flashes disappointment that he has to share the bar. He glances at Steve’s guitar case and skirts around and picks a stool on the other side of the bar curve, close enough for conversation. He orders a beer, loosens his tie and undoes the top shirt button, drags fingers through his hair, takes a long swallow and lights a cigarette. Fidgety, charged, reluctant to make eye contact. Steve thumbs his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and tries to get the kid’s attention. Helen stares. The kid looks up. Wary, ready to bolt.
Steve can’t let it go and doesn’t know why. “Long day?”
The kid blinks and pauses, clears his throat. “Long drive. Tired.”
“Where you headed?”
Steve points at the kid’s cigarettes. The kid nods and slides the pack and lighter along the bar. Steve shakes one out and orders two more beers. “What’s in Buffalo?”
“Looking for a job. I’m a musician.”
“Yeah, I noticed the trumpet. Steve McClint.” He leans forward, hand out. “Most people call me Mac. And this lovely thing is Helen Hornell.”
The kid shakes hands and nods at Helen. “Uh, Brad Chance.”
“So you on to something in Buffalo?”
Brad’s expression darkens. “No. Guys in the Army told me Buffalo was wide open, lots of bands looking for people.”
“You were in the Army band?”
“Three years stationed in Maryland and DC, but I sat in off duty every chance I got. I can play jazz.” Defensive. He finishes his beer and jams his cigarettes and lighter into his jacket pocket. Bar stool scrapes the floor as he shoves it back.
“Do I know you?” Helen asks.
Mac looks at her. “What kind of lame come-on is that? For shame!”
Brad freezes. “No.” He ducks his head and hurries away.
Helen is puzzled. “Was it something I said?”
Mac calls, “Hey Brad!”
Brad pauses in the doorway but doesn’t look back.
Mac takes a deep breath. What the hell am I doing? “You want a real job get on 59, that’s Main Street, head west through Axton toward Buffalo, you’ll see a college on the right. Club Cool’s across the road up on a rise, you can see the sign from the highway. Owner is Andreas Pelleactis, I work for him. He happens to be looking for a trumpet. Imagine that. I’ll tell him you’ll be there about noon. Little break on your way to the big city, won’t cost you too much time.”
Brad stalks out. Mac is irritated with himself for wanting the kid to stay. Something about him.
“What was that all about?” Helen asks.
“What was that about don’t I know you? Pretty brazen.”
She frowns. “I do know him from somewhere, I just can’t figure out where. I’ll bet he’s from around here.”
“If you weren’t so starry-eyed you would have heard him say he came up here from Maryland.”
“He was in the Army in Maryland, what about before that? I know I’ve seen him somewhere around here. And I’m not starry-eyed.” Her voice has an edge.
Mac shrugs. He won’t argue with her about some kid.
She turns the challenge around. “You seem eager to take the poor lost soul under your wing. What’s with getting him a job at the club?”
“You believe in fate? Destiny?”
“Oh brother! Take me to the Balboa and feed me and you can tell me all about it.”
Trumpet gleams in the open case. Brad slides fingers over the surface and remembers his first horn, now in a Baltimore music store, shine gone, triangular dent in the bell. He almost didn’t trade it in.
He remembers the Oak Falls pawnshop. He stood on his toes and peered in the window. Maggie walked ahead and he was anxious he would lose her, but the trumpet mesmerized him. Maggie missed him and turned back. For the first time he noticed her limp, pronounced because she walked fast. He wanted to ask her about it, but the trumpet distracted him. Maggie’s hair fell forward as she bent, eyes reflecting his excitement, and she brushed it back, laughing. “You want it, don’t you, you really want it.” He was speechless, bobbing his head as she took his hand and led him into the pawnshop. He squealed with delight. He thought his heart would explode. He forgot about her limp until the day he discovered she wasn’t his mother.
Below the hotel’s fifth floor window, lights along Alfalfa Avenue point to Main Street.
Take Main west out of town, through Axton. Across from the college a club sits on a rise. He can’t remember a club. For two semesters he drove Maggie’s car west on Route 59, oblivious to passing towns on the way to school. The owner needs a trumpet. Why not, he could try it; this could be a new town, a new life. No one knows him. That girl he met doesn’t know him, he never saw her before. Never been in Setonsville. If he got the job he could stay, far enough away from Painted Bridge, thirty-five miles, Maggie would never know. He would be safe as long as he avoided Painted Bridge.
Ready. Shaved, dressed, creases sharp. Brad breathes deep, checks his image, skims fingers over his crew cut. Ready. Scans the messy room: scattered clothes, paperbacks, music charts, tangled bed covers on the carpet. He feels groggy from a poor night’s sleep and jittery from the first replay of the dream in years.
Early childhood formed the dream, vague at first, later building to a nightmare that wrenched him from sleep trembling and crying. Always the same; loud whump, high-pitched scream abruptly stopped, open car window, flying through the air and stopping, gasping for breath. Maggie always soothed him, whispered about a car crash and memory buried deep. He didn’t understand but he trusted Maggie. She told him it was all right.
He yanks the covers up, stuffs everything else into the duffel and shoves it into the closet. Snaps the horn case clasps shut. The door locks behind him. He passes the elevator to take the narrow stairs in motion, skids on the top step and plunges forward, grabbing the railing, windmilling his arm and clutching the horn case. He bangs his shin hard against the rail.
Dammit be cool, you want them to think you’re a hick, what the hell’s wrong with you!
He sweats and limps down five floors. His shin throbs and he thinks of Maggie’s limp. In the lobby he nods to the desk clerk, casual. He’ll stay tonight whether he gets the job or not. Another night won’t hurt. But he convinces himself the job is his.
Outside the sun shines bright and warm on crowded Alfalfa Avenue. Brad squints through glare at the hotel parking lot and curses himself for forgetting his sunglasses. An omen. Without the glasses the day will go downhill, he won’t get the job, he’ll have to leave and try Buffalo. Embarrassed by his superstition he strides to his car, ignoring rust spots on the wheel wells and bumpers. He sighs relief when the engine starts. Down Alfalfa he passes a row of bars. The Seton Inn, the Balboa, Tommy’s Alfalfa Inn, The Blob’s, and a dingy place with no sign above. On his left a triangular bus stop with benches spaced along a three cornered sidewalk, and a patch of grass with trees and flowers in the center. At the triangle’s narrow point, a black signpost holds a yellow metal flag with raised black letters.
WELCOME TO SETONSVILLE
THE RAILROAD CITY
A guy could get lost here.
His shin aches, a reminder that he’s alive.
He follows Main two miles to Axton which is smaller than he remembers. At the end of the business district the campus sprawl looms on his right. The changes since he was here surprise him. Close to noon Route 59 has little traffic. He slows, checks for oncoming cars and spots the entrance driveway to the club. He crosses the highway fast, watching the blind curve in the eastbound lane, and drives up the short incline to a graveled parking lot. A squat, one floor roadhouse sits on land surrounded on three sides by trees. A small neon sign perches on the slanted roof, lit but almost invisible in the sunlight. Club Cool. The front windows are blackened. A half dozen cars snug close to the entrance. He backs into a space away from the building facing the incline.
He walks across gravel, squinting and shading his eyes. The front door sticks and he yanks hard. He steps into a small alcove, stark change from sun to dimness blinding him as the door slams closed like a gunshot. He blinks. Spots explode behind his eyes. He can’t see the opening but gropes through, hand questing for something solid. Ahead he makes out the outline of a bar and two blurred figures.
“Help you?” Female voice.
Brad moves too fast toward the voice and slams into something and pitches forward. A barstool crashes into another and he falls in an explosion of noise.
“Jeeesuschriiist!” Male rumble.
Brad loses his trumpet and lands hard on the stool. For a moment he can’t breathe. Gasping, he clutches his stomach and scrambles to his knees. As his vision clears, he sees a slender hand reach for his horn case.
“Let me get that.”
“No I’ll do it!” The hand freezes. He climbs over the stool and grabs the handle. He hauls himself up, red faced, trembling, and yanks the stool up, almost losing it again. He rights the other stool, presses his stomach against the bar and winces at the pain. He grits his teeth and strains to keep from doubling over. Silence crackles.
“Let’s try this again. You are?”
A girl with long coppery hair and dark eyes stares. So does the egg bald man behind the bar. Brad rests his horn case on the bar and brushes himself off, avoiding their eyes. “Brad Chance, here to see Mr. Pelleactis for an audition.” His voice cracks. He clears his throat and blinks back tears, face hot.
The bald man approaches. “Yeah, we been expectin’ you, Mac said you’d be in. I’m Bennie, this is Linda, Pell will be out in a minute. First one’s on the house, after that you’re on your own, what’ll it be?”
Brad risks a glance at the girl. She sits on her stool, skirt riding shapely legs, smiling over a tall glass of something dark. “Uh, one of those, thanks.”
“Least Bennie can do after that entrance,” Linda says, chuckling an almost silent laughter. Bennie grins and shakes his head. Brad blushes. She winds down to short giggles as Bennie sets the drink down. She manages to raise her glass, mock serious. “To your next trip.” More chuckles follow the slightly sarcastic voice.
“Give it a rest Linda,” Bennie says. Brad drinks and feels the rum bite. He coughs, eyes watering, Linda’s laughter stinging his ears. His anger simmers and he angles his body toward the door.
Better get out now, audition’s shot to hell before it starts. They’ll laugh me right out of town. And I’ll belong nowhere again.
Mac figures somebody dropped a bomb in the bar but Pell says whatever it was let Bennie handle it. Pell is maybe a little pissed, god knows why; Mac got him a trumpet player. Ted Vandersant is no help, brooding as usual, five o’clock shadow already smudging his boyish face.
“So we know what about this kid?” Pell’s white lion’s mane hair haloes his head as he tilts it to blow foul gray smoke at the ceiling.
“I told you.”
“Played in an Army band. That recommendation ain’t worth squat.” Pell clamps down on the twisted black cheroot.
“I told you,” Mac says, “off duty he sat in with bands in Baltimore and DC.”
“So he says. We dump Poinsky, I don’t need another junkie.”
“Pell, the kid’s no junkie. He just got discharged, still wet behind the ears, Helen thinks he may be from around here. Poinsky is out. You need a trumpet now. The kid blows trumpet. See how that works?”
“Mike Fallon blows trumpet,” Pell says, stubborn.
“Mike blows valve trombone. When was the last time you saw him take his trumpet out?”
“What’s so special about this kid, Mac?” Ted asks.
What am I supposed to say? Something about him? This is fate, him showing up now, this band could use something, anything to get it off the ground? Sure, that should go over.
Mac shrugs, waves it away. No skin off his nose. Ted knows he doesn’t go off the deep end for anything. They’ve been together long enough.
Ted gets up. “So let’s find out.”
Mac is first out the office door and waves at Brad. Brad straightens, fiddles with his tie, and stands looking shaky. Linda and Bennie hold back grins, and Bennie gives Mac an I’ll-tell-you-later wink. Pell shoves past and thrusts out his hand like he shot the kid down, bellowing in his ground glass voice.
“Andreas Pelleactis. You gotta be Brad Chance, how you doin’?”
“Okay, Mr. Pelleactis.”
Pell widens his eyes. “Hear that? Mister! Kid’s got class!”
“That’s because he doesn’t know you yet, Pell,” Mac says.
Pell blows smoke at Mac. “So you already know this clown, you met Linda and Bennie. They treat you okay?”
Pell nudges Ted. “This is Ted Vandersant, he fronts the band.”
Another handshake. “Mac tells us you’re pretty good, ready to blow,” Ted says. Trying to put the kid at ease doesn’t work. Brad looks at Mac, eyes flashing panic. Mac smiles.
We’re in this together, kid.
“Let’s do it,” Ted says.
Pell and Ted surround Brad like tide flowing into the main room. Mac lags behind in case the kid makes a break for the door. Mac sees the room for the first time even though it’s the same room he worked since the club opened. Upended chairs atop tables, postage stamp dance floor, bandstand raised against the far wall, unused piano wedged into the corner. But something stirs the air today, something is changing. Something about this kid.
Onstand buzz of voices stops. Heads turn. Pell squeezes Brad’s shoulder. “Listen up, this is Brad Chance, plays trumpet, comes highly recommended, so try not to embarrass yourselves.”
Another wrong thing to say. Brad turns pale. Ted notices and urges Brad closer to the band. As Mac passes Ted whispers to Brad, “Don’t let him rattle you.” Brad is dazed during introductions. Mac suspects he can’t see the instruments or hear the names. Brad leans sideways as if poised to leave. Mac decides to tackle him if he runs.
Ted asks Brad if he wants to warm up. Brad nods and strides to the nearest table, snaps clasps, fits mouthpiece and mute, steps away and raises the horn to his lips, and closes his eyes. He runs scales, slow then fast, and blows phrases from songs Mac recognizes, and some he never heard. He paces and ignores the others. When he stops he looks to find everyone watching him. He flushes.
Mac groans. Not impressive, no big deal, what did I expect, why did I bother?
Ted shoots Mac a dirty look and turns to Brad. “All set?” Brad nods and mounts two steps up to the bandstand. He stands apart. Mac twists around to watch.
“Okay, go easy, rhythm give Brad some buildup, sax stays with me, trombone backs Brad up. Let’s do ‘Candy’.” Ted counts off. Mac paces the rhythm, drums and bass follow, saxes blend. Brad stays behind the trombone lead and watches for Ted’s cue to solo. And he breaks away, coils his body downward, head and shoulders thrust forward, knees flexed, elbows tight to his sides, horn pointed at the floor. Muted sound squeezes through the bell, dips, soars, bounces across the room clear and clean. Mac and Ted exchange looks. Ted shrugs. That twisted posture must be uncomfortable. They wrap it and Ted calls ‘These Foolish Things’, follows with ‘Moonlight In Vermont’. Brad comes in crisp on his solos, coiled like a spring, and pushes that sweet aching sound through.
Behind his stern look Ted hides a smile. “Okay, open it up, Brad take the lead, let’s hear it without the mute. Let’s do ‘I’m Beginning To See The Light’.” The others are tense, a bit tight, uncertain. Could the kid be that good? Mac hears clunkers from sax and trombone. When Brad takes off everyone sneaks awed glances at him. Sound blasts them and fills the room, echoing off the walls. Linda shivers in the doorway. Ted grins around his horn. After one scorching solo from Brad, the trombonist almost misses his cue, and cuts his solo short, shaking his head. They wind it down. Ted calls another tune. By the sixth number everyone grins and nods, leaning into the sound from the crew cut kid with the crazy stance. Brad is oblivious, somewhere beyond them, blowing like nothing they ever heard.
“That’s it,” Ted says. The quiet sings with the echo of Brad’s horn.
In the doorway Bennie nudges Pell. “We got ourselves a trumpet player.” Pell bobs his head and chews his cheroot. Linda leans forward, pulled toward the bandstand, staring at Brad with narrowed eyes. Onstand the bassist slumps over his instrument, pushing his hair out of his eyes. “Man, that was scary.” Laughter. They crowd Brad and pat his arm and shake his hand. Mac gives him a thumbs up. He smiles his gratitude. Pell yells, “You want a job kid?” The room quiets again.
“Yes sir,” Brad says, “I do.”
Pell grins. “Sir, he says! Class, pure class! You got it!”
Mac sits back and plucks a string. Something about him. Oh yeah.