Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Tiny Voices Considered

It is dark and murky, the production muted like the sound of the lone clarinet in the bar as our protagonist contemplates infinity. The piano is an upright, tight against brick, tinny and sharp. A tired Wes Montgomery treats his guitar like Monk, a flourish or chord breaking through to illuminate a single word. On stage there’s a tape deck like in elementary school, the rectangular one with the single speaker that makes every word sound like a mumble from a backwards megaphone: “I’m Falling For You - Falling For You.” No loops needed as there is time to rewind.

The singer slumps on his stool, the Jack of Diamonds in the band of an old tan pork pie hat, and he sings “When you held me tight against you, I mistook your heart for thunder.” The cigarette burns down then out, left untouched in the ashtray. One smoke for one song, a collection of broken promises leaving cinders like snake skins shed and abandoned. Our protagonist looks up when he hears the PA clip and fuzz through blown speakers, any deep bass the rumble of a truck on an overpass. The piano player grabs a shaker and rubs it on his leg, waiting for a sign to care - a quick glance, a short chorus on the keys and back to the shaker. At the bar, the bartender says to no one, “it sounds like a tired blind man rattling for change,” as he checks his tip jar.

A middle-aged man and his daughter (she must be going to Columbia) dance the stilted waltz that non-lovers do, the stiff armed march with a slow rotation. The daughter sighs as her father rolls his shoulders. She smiles weakly and leans into him, but only her head. The arms are outstretched like paper dolls, her head turned with the left ear on the father’s left collarbone. Eyes don’t meet, and tenderness averted. Our protagonist lights another - one puff and done - as the singer pauses for a sip of some dark liquor that once knew the cool touch of ice. The hat comes off and sits like a child on singer’s knee. A hand comes up and tussles his hair, an uncomfortable gesture.
Monk is back on guitar - do do d. do do da do do. do do d. The drummer holds his sticks like spaghetti, the wet noodles resonating like the tender raspberry sound of a teasing lover. The bartender stops cleaning the glasses and wiping down the bar and stands enraptured. Our protagonist hears a soft vibraphone and peers through the smoke and the haze but sees only bass and drums, guitar piano and horns. And the tape deck is covered, wearing the tan porkpie hat with the one-armed man in red.

The singer stands, questioning, “Can you see the smoke rise, and curl? All the way, from your side of my world?” The middle-aged man and his daughter stop dancing and listen. The bartender leans on his towel, and from the shadows come a few young men and women, meeting near center. Our protagonist watches all their reflections in the mirrors, and sees the young woman let go her father’s hands and mount the stage. She stands in front of the singer, back to the audience, and echoes his words. Abruptly she turns and steps down, her father reaching up his hand to help. The band stops playing, and as the lights turn down the singer grabs the porkpie hat and our protagonist sees the tape deck is still playing. With a nod, the singer hits stop.

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