Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Jazz & Roar - A Short Story



Inspiration is everywhere and most certainly lives in the most storied building in my little town. The Red Brick, once a school, now houses the Hatlen Theatre, home to all local drama troupes and host to Chautauqua, a council of music aficionados whose dedication and fine ears bring a collection of eclectic musical genres to town every season.
Last week I attended Chautauqua (I'm a season's ticket holder, dontcha know) and was struck by the energy alive in the old Red Brick. Partly it was the setting - they say theatres are most certainly possessed and perhaps this is true; theatres are a place where we willingly allow time, identity and even geography to shift - so why wouldn't something ethereal choose to be there?  Partly too it seemed energy crackled from the patrons themselves. There were lovers and seniors (who are not, incidentally, mutually exclusive groups). Sages and sourpusses. There were the married, the divorced, the single and the searching. It seemed to me, sitting there waiting for the curtain to rise, that every body was really just a walking story - and from that I envisioned what a vast lot of characters might have to tell me if they were patrons of Chautauqua in the old Red Brick School.
Please allow me to introduce two of them (and a smattering of others) to you now.... 
    

Jazz & Roar
Chautauqua One



 

For well over half a century, Jasmine Gavin had worn a crisp scarlet dress coat like it was her own stroke of paint. Fine wool, cut to the ankle, and with a shock of black buttons marching down its front, the coat matched her ebony boots with the stiletto heel. So did the calfskin gloves, a new addition. She spanned her fingers, considering both them and how ironic it was that leather, of all goddamn things, was now softer than her hands had become. Gnarled and twisted, it looked like her knuckles played tic-tac-toe with veins that were once faint blue lines but now had popped out and were ropey. They reminded her of the tree roots emerged from the walking trail coiling 'round the outskirts of town.

    Sixty three years ago some of those roots had not even been there yet, but she recalled one, buckling the earth, and as she’d nimbly dodged it, a man, green eyes and a softly shorn ink spill of hair, had rounded the corner toward her. Rory Gavin had made her knees weak that day.

    Not that she’d ever admitted it. Not even on their wedding night when his tie was undone and her white cloud of dress was half off and askew between them. “Tell the truth,” he poised over her, delighting her by being already breathless. “You loved me from the start.”

    She flicked this away. “I lusted for you from the start.” Her hands searched, discovered, and made his eyes wide. “That’s how it was.”

   “You lie, Jazz. You curse. And you never speak but when you do you purposely shock everyone with what you have to say.” He flipped her then, put her on top. “And that’s why I’ll never leave you.”

    Yet he did leave her. Tonight, like decades of nights gone by, she was coming to the Hatlen Theatre in the old Red Brick School alone.

    The crowd outside parted as she approached even though she did not, and never had, expected them to. “You have no idea how you impact an audience, Jazz,” Roar had once said and he’d been right—but that didn’t mean she’d ever understood it. Why would she, a lover of art, of solitude and, later, of Roar, command this sort of unwanted attention? She was an observer to and critic of convention, someone who intentionally avoided forced interactions and unnecessary conversations…so why would she intrigue the imaginings of one single soul?

    “It’s not their imaginations you rouse, Jazz, it’s their intimidation.” Roar had laughed when she’d asked him. “You scare them because they don’t understand you.”

    “And they never will.” The reply was not arrogant, just fact; for while others did not belong in her world, neither did she fit into theirs.

    Not that that had ever stopped many locals from trying to cajole and convince her to be part of their lives.

    And not that she’d ever stopped dodging and hiding.

    “This spot,” she’d once told Roar, turning in an arc just off that walking path ringing the town, the scarlet skirt of her dress coat billowing. “Let’s live here.”

    Roar had surveyed the small clearing, hugged and hidden by forest, thoughts calculating behind his green eyes. The land was zoned as a green space, yet somehow he’d purchased it, and the cottage they built had been all Jazz, all Roar, and for thirteen perfect years nothing outside had ever been needed.

    Until that Sunday when she’d had to call the ambulance.

    Those paramedics had been the last visitors to their cottage. For the fifty years since only her feet—sometimes in these stilettos, other times in moccasins—had ever crossed its threshold.

    An aortic aneurysm. What did that even mean?

    A nurse had tried holding her hand. “His heart exploded for you, Jasmine.”

    For her?  Like some sort of gift or a favor? Unspent profanity had blistered her tongue and her fingers, still soft then, had recoiled, pressed tight to her heart. Yet she’d wondered….had Roar loved her so much his heart burst?

    No.

    If that were true it would mean he’d felt the same combustion and lust and longing she’d felt whenever their eyes met and that…that was impossible. No one loved anybody that much. No one should love anybody that much. It scared her then and now that she did.

    Afterward, and numbly, she had cleared his closet, and when the empty hangers clanged together like wind chimes she’d screamed, the sound ripping a seam in the silence. Her old Nana once insisted that wind chimes were the trap of the Devil and Jasmine had believed it. She still did. And she could still feel the flash and fury of her arm as she’d swept those dancing hangers from the rod. They’d burst into a startled bit of song then clattered to a heap on the floor, silent.

    She too had crumpled, not silent. The sobs tore her chest out and fifty years later, tonight, she could still feel the ragged, phantom hole over her heart. I miss you. That empty pit ached. I still miss you. Time, in perhaps some macabre retribution for her own innate preference, had punished her with decades of the solitude she’d once craved like cream, back before she’d been on that footpath, met Rory Gavin with his green eyes and ink-spill of hair.

    And heard wind chimes too. She shivered. They’d pealed that day, chimes, and as they’d continued on the trail, stepping newly in tandem she had heard them, around another crook in the path, a caress of song against the sky. She had stopped, searched, but the stiff grays and browns of barren fall branches camouflaged them until she’d gasped, gaze landing. The chimes were bits of dried bone, hewn together with what looked like (yet she’d hoped wasn’t) sinew. Her feet, arrested in the carpet of leaves, could not move and Roar—then new to her and still Rory—had cocked his head, eyes following the path of her gaze. “Ah.” He’d approached the chimes while she froze there, heart in her throat. “A sinister effigy. Or maybe just a bad joke.” He’d swiped a finger against them, sent the bones dancing.

    The image and sound had been ghastly.

    Roar had smiled. “Is this windsong the chink in your armor, Jazz?”

    The abbreviation had shaken her out of fear. No one had ever called her anything but Jasmine (or Ms. Brophy) yet on that day and every one after, her name, from him, was Jazz. ‘Jasmine’ had not left his tongue even during the only fight they’d ever had—ironically, and chillingly— about wind chimes. They’d been headed to berry pick, using the private path they’d forged in the woods. She’d halted before a set of glass bells hung from one stretching poplar, feet grasped by the overgrowth of hemlock and creeping ivy. “What the hell?” she’d said and the chimes sang. She fixed Roar with a look she hoped captured the wound. How could he?

    “They’re beautiful, Jazz. They sing even though they hide here in the woods with no one to hear them. Or…maybe that’s the reason they sing.”

    Was he crazy? The damn things weren’t singing. They were calling. And beautiful? Of course they were beautiful. All evil things were. But she knew better than to employ an over-used and misunderstood word like evil with Roar. So instead— “They’re…other-worldly,” she’d said.

    “Yes. Like you.”

    What the hell did that mean?

    “Can’t you see that?” he said. “Listen.” He caressed a piece of glass and the chimes trilled, as though they liked being touched.

    She’d wanted to bat his hand away from it, keep him safe. “They…they trap your soul, Roar.”

    “Yes,” he replied, no shortage of rue. “I’m aware.”

    His heart exploded for you.

    Had Roar been saying that he loved her in spite of, maybe even because of, everything she was? It confused her. Sort of scared her, and when he’d compared her to those goddamn wind chimes it out and out terrified her. “I…I want these damn things off of my property!”

    “It’s my property too.”

    “I want them buried in the deepest patch of muskeg you can find!”

    “Then you’ll have to do it.”

    He’d known she’d been too scared to touch them. “You…you did this to hurt me!”

    “I did this to love you! To show you everything that you are!”

    Bones jingling on the wind? Cut glass dancing on air with the song of a siren? Was that what she was?  Her mouth spluttered, scarlet sweater flapping.

    Roar got near her then, body heat and scent; musky adrenaline. “Swear at me, Jazz. You’ll feel better.”

    Mockery? How dare he? “Fuck you!” she’d shouted. “Fuck you and whatever the hell you’re trying to say! So I like privacy. Hate mediocrity. Despise small talk and small towns and small minds. That’s not evil!”

    “You’re right,” he’d agreed. “It’s beautiful.”

   And with that the wind chimes remained, a tangible d├ętente of one story interpreted two different ways. To date they still hung there, sun-bleached now, broken, yet intact enough to still cry out with one or two notes of song when the wind was right.

    In fact…she hesitated upon the cobblestones leading to the Red Brick School. Were wind chimes trilling right now? Her gaze scoured the two maples flanking the sidewalk, searched their branches. No wind chimes. Instead someone—maybe the Chautauqua council itself—had netted the trunks and branches with blue lights shining ethereally and turning her scarlet coat into amethyst. She gazed at it a moment, enjoying the altered state the blue cast created. Hadn’t she always adored things that shifted reality?

    “Ms. Brophy?” A patron waited, behind her. “You okay?”

    For God’s sake. When you were old it was a fact that your slightest anomalous movement made people think you were about to drop dead on the spot. She wheeled slowly in the direction of the speaker but when she spoke she shocked herself for sounding soft, not sharp. “Mrs. Gavin,” she corrected, then resumed moving, nimble on her stilettos yet knowing she wasn’t; even back home in their cottage and shed of shoes her gait routinely surprised her these days with unpredictable stutters. Not tonight. As stately as the Red Brick itself, she traversed the wintry sidewalk. And as the building swallowed her it occurred that perhaps it was the only thing in town older than she was. 

    The foyer stairs to the lobby were gleaming. Chautauqua nights brought out the best the old building could be and she of all people had seen it; Chautauqua had started back when Roar had still been alive and, hearing of it, they, the town’s most mysterious recluses, had purchased season’s tickets on the spot. Music was their lyrical literature and they drank deeply from every genre, dancing on their cottage’s waxed hardwood, drunk on the huckleberry wine they bottled themselves from berries picked in a private patch undiscovered by greedy locals who tended to hoard all the fruit. Back then it had been such a boon to have an arts group committed to bringing acts into town who weren’t the same cookie-cutter boot-stomp two-step tedium hired for every local dance she and Roar never attended. The progressiveness was something neither of them had ever dared hope for and they lost themselves in Chautauqua, never missed a performance, Jasmine always in her scarlet coat, and Roar wearing his charcoal fedora, a paint stroke of his own paired with jeans, suits, or sometimes crisp button-down shirts. He’d never walked out the door without his signature hat and Jasmine had worn it every day since he’d died—including tonight.

    A compere offered a playbill and she took it, gnarled hands still hidden by calfskin. The Red Brick was cold tonight, unusual. Though aged and with a soaring ceiling and doubtless fissures allowing winter to pour in, the theatre itself had spotlights and mashed-together seats. Sitting within the stifling cluster of bodies typically felt like a sauna. In fact last season Nettle Moran had passed out from the heat.

    Although had Roar been alive she’d have speculated to him that perhaps Nettle had just heard her juiciest bit of gossip to date. And he’d have shushed her, reproached her, yet laughed. She moved in the direction of her seat, muscle memory prompting her toward the spot she’d occupied for decades. Last season as well, and unbeknownst to her, the Chautauqua committee had started the show by honoring its longest-standing patron. The spotlight, alighting her seat, had been appalling yet she’d stood, gracious and with her scarlet coat smartly buttoned and Roar’s fedora covering hair he would not recognize. Shorn and coiffed, white, it was no longer the spill of sable silk she’d once let fall to her waist and that, for some inexplicable reason, had set a sadness down into her soul. Did she grieve the loss life had handed her? Every day. Did she grieve a long life? Never. Not a single trip ’round the sun had been in vain and she cherished every book read, every song heard, and every piece of art viewed—even the bad ones. For poor art only amplified the truly outstanding stories and paintings and music she’d been so privileged, in her lifetime, to hear and see.

    Regardless of the fact that she’d appreciated the vast majority of them all alone.

    She took off Roar’s hat, stroked the scarlet feather she’d long-ago tucked into its band. I miss you.

   “Mrs. Gavin.” Wren Lasting, Chautauqua president, folded his hand in the crook of her arm. “Allow me.”

    And she did allow him this atypical familiarity. Chautauqua council had always been exempt from her embargo on social niceties for she genuinely, and quite simply, enjoyed them. In her estimation each member was a walking summation of the books, art, wine and music they loved. Embodiments of their own brands of culture, each wore their paint strokes unselfconsciously the way art devotees often did. Their very existence celebrated every soul who’d ever dared to color outside of the lines. She adored them. Adored their keen, beautiful ears that brought nine different doorways into her life every year, two hours of sound rich and new and sometimes surprising. Like that harpist two seasons ago whose grating giggles dissolved once her fingers touched strings and awoke angels. Or that black vocalist, hair a tribal riot, who’d crooned in a language life had never given her the opportunity to learn.  

    Wren parked her before her seat. “Thank you,” she said and touched his hand, a gesture she’d never offered. Affection became meaningless if overused and yet…a sharp certainty had just occurred: she and Wren would not indulge in one of their critiques during intermission tonight, there would be no quiet discourse while everyone else escaped to the hospitality room and she remained, blessedly alone, in her seat.

    But why that made her throat close she had no idea.

    Wren remained, not hovering as if over some old person, just standing, a gentleman for a lady, until she sat down. “Enjoy your evening, Jasmine,” he said, and for a flicker it seemed something predictive drifted across his face and that he felt it too, her inexplicable melancholia. “Goodbye,” she said.

    He looked startled.

    “Goodnight,” she corrected. Christ. Maybe she really had turned into a dotty old lady, finally at one with the masses.

    “Goodnight,” he replied and she sat, took her gloves off, folded them over the playbill on her lap so that tonight’s show would remain a mystery. It had been a game she and Roar played, wanting to be surprised by the music, their anticipation adding to the magic of each Chautauqua evening.

    Overhead the house lights flicked and patrons replied; bustling to their seats, shedding coats and ceasing their bee-buzz of chatter. A loud silence descended once they all settled down, the sound of expectation.

   Then the curtain rose and Jasmine’s gaze followed it, always followed it, watched the arched beam over the stage swallow it in one velvet gulp.

    When she lowered her eyes the scene on the stage locked her throat in a scream.

    Wind chimes. Everywhere. Every style. Seashells, bamboo, cut glass and…oh, Lord, were those bone? Her hand flew up, covered her mouth, the other following as insurance. Beneath her fingers her skin felt like tissue paper and the bones—my bones!—really did feel knotted and lumpy.

    On stage the wind chimes began trilling and she wondered—what would her ruined bones sound like as wind chimes? The accompanying image was all the more shocking for not being morbid and, in memory’s ear, she heard him again—“They’re beautiful, Jasmine. Like you.”

    No. She shook her head. That wasn’t right. These wind chimes…they were neither beautiful nor ugly. They’re instruments. Just instruments. Percussion. Like a pulse.

    “Yes. A pulse,” she whispered, shaking. “The Devil’s heartbeat.” Shivers wracked her. The Red Brick was so cold tonight.

    No one else seemed to feel it. Goggling the stage, sometimes clapping, other patrons appeared to love the way the wind chimes sang to the air. Jasmine, though, welded to her seat and with Roar’s hat on her lap, stared at them, heart thundering. Don’t listen! Be careful! Was there some way to stop them?

    How? It would take a dozen set of hands to stop these wind chimes from trilling.  

    Eternity passed before the curtain fell for intermission.

    Then she breathed. Let her hands slide off her mouth and down the front of her coat, the backs of them catching on the wool and leaving miniscule tufts of scarlet behind on her fingers. Winter skin. Dry. She’d saturate her wrecked hands with lotion later, the lavender cream she’d picked up when she’d replenished her Revlon lipstick, Scarlet Siren, at Switzer’s. She liked Switzer’s, appreciated its utilitarian directness; plain metal shelves and sparse selection sending a message that was clear: we are not going to dress up all pretty to please you. You either want to shop here or you don’t. She respected that. Made every cosmetic and pharmaceutical purchase there. In fact tonight when she got home (and right after she soaked herself with lavender cream) she’d make a list of things she needed from Switzer’s. She nodded, decisive and grateful for thoughts plain vanilla and mundane. They kept her gaze from darting to the stage to try and peek behind the curtain, see those goddamn wind chimes.

    Jas-mine!”

    Her gaze snapped to the right.

    Nettle Moran lumbered up the steps to her row, feet staggering on the risers. Jasmine at once pitied her clearly bawling knees. “Good evening, Nettle.” She fixed her face with a smile, polite yet dismissive.

    And how many years would she try this expression before she learned that it did not work on Nettle?

    “Hello!” Nettle panted a bit, the exertion of the steps way too much. Why the hell didn’t she ask the committee to seat her in a spot where she needn’t climb?

    Because then she’d no longer be first row and centre, of course. Jasmine closed, then opened her eyes.

    Nettle was smiling and bobbing her head—gamely, as though she were cajoling a particularly precocious toddler. “How have you been keeping?”

    Oh, for Christ’s sake. She wasn’t a cucumber dunked into brine. (Though Roar may have made a case for the vinegar bit being accurate) “Very well,” she replied. “Thank you.” The lack of reciprocation—‘And how are you?’—was both obvious and purposeful. But nosy people never picked up on that cue.

    Nettle’s head continued to bob and it struck Jasmine that all this cajoling cheer teetered close to desperation. Nettle said “Well that’s good, Jasmine. Real good.”

    Mrs. Gavin. What would be ‘good’ is if you’d call me Mrs. Gavin.

    “We worry when we don’t see you.”

    ‘We’? Who were they? And what bullshit. They didn’t worry. They wondered.

    “How are you filling your days, Jasmine? Do you keep busy?”

    No. I piss myself and eat cat food. Isn’t that what old people do? It was galling to even consider sharing anything she did behind the mutton bar windows and scarlet front door of her and Roar’s magic cottage.

    More galling, though, to imagine what all those who wondered would contrive if she didn’t deliver some sort of answer. So she replied—and surprised herself with the truth. “I watch shows.”

    Bait gobbled. Nettle beamed as if she’d just watched a handicapped person struggle from a wheelchair and walk. Again Jasmine closed, then reopened, her eyes. Oh, Roar. Where are you when I need to mock?

    Nowhere. Everywhere. Time had not just punished her with solitude. It also tortured her with memories. And for what? Because she’d dared to prefer her own company to those with whom she shared geography? Because she’d had one, exquisite, love of her life instead of settling for monotonous monogamy that left her longing for (or indulging in) others—such as she’d seen play out in this small town, over and over, new players, different decades, same story for years? “Pardon?” she said. Nettle was still prattling. Wouldn’t shut up.

    “I said what sort of shows do you like?”

    Very few, actually. The sitcoms rewarmed one joke every episode and most of the dramas were cardboard; stock characters and predictable problems, the preference of a viewing audience whose attention span was short and expectations shallow. Some programs though, were outstanding. Complex. Colors outside lines which embraced her into their shifted reality. “Backstage,” she said.

    “What? Where? Backstage? You mean here?”

    No, you nosy twat and stop salivating. I’m not senile. I haven’t lost the train of this conversation. Backstage is a show,” she said clearly. “It’s violent. Graphic. Full frontal nudity and sex so vivid it’s downright pornographic. It’s disgusting.” She smiled. “I love it.”

    Shock folded Nettle’s face into scandalized disapproval, and Jasmine knew that Roar would have been exasperated by this deliberate provocation yet his eyes, underscored with delight, would have silently cheered. And back at home he would have said:  “Once again you’ve convinced the masses of your incorrigibility.”

     “And what bullshit,” she’d once told him, rolling on top, feeling instant heat and hunger. “What’s a mind worth of one cannot speak it?”

    “Nothing.” His fingers had woven themselves into her hair, his touch as exquisite as that harpist with her angel strings. “Nothing’s worth more than your beautiful mind, Jazz.” Their kiss had been every symphony, every ballad, every delicate clash of cymbals. Pornographic? Her heart swallowed a smile. She supposed so.

    “Jasmine?” Nettle’s tone teetered, uncertain. “You don’t look good.”

    Jasmine blinked. Was this busybody for real? Who said things like that? “I assure you, I’m fine.”

    The lights flicked once, twice, and Nettle straightened, clearly reluctant. “Okay,” she said slowly. “I…I guess I’d better get back to my seat.” Yet she moved away slowly, tossing looks over her shoulder, searching Jasmine’s face.

    Jasmine’s brows hopped and her mouth twisted, wry. Maybe I should have double-coated my lipstick. Or gone a little darker with the rouge. She regarded Nettle. Lonely. The word struck her and she knew it was accurate. Nettle was lonely. Spoken to and included only because she was always the one who had all the latest news. Find a hobby. The thought was not unkind, in fact it was more like a benediction, and it made her shudder a little as the curtain rose.

    Again chimes drenched the air, sweet seduction paralyzing her anew in her seat. It was impressive, she tried telling herself, that the damn things had been orchestrated in such a way that they played recognizable songs. Ignoring the performance, she focused instead on Chautauqua council, down in their spots centre-theatre. Trust them to have discovered such an unusual, fascinating act. She shivered. Trust them also to have their heads in their lovely, artsy clouds and not realize that one of them must have forgot to turn the heat on in the Red Brick. She exhaled and was appalled (and embarrassed for them) that her breath came out as frost. Poor Wren. He’d be besieged later, by complaints.

    The temperature seemed determined to drop, plummeted, really, and on stage the wind chimes at once fell to silence. Uh-oh. Had the artist become too cold as well? If so it was a Chautauqua first; a performer halting mid-act due to discomfort. She felt sick for the council yet…the theatre had succumbed to a deep, penetrating silence. She exhaled. Uncomfortable artist or not, it was over. Thank God the damn wind chimes were over.

   Then lightly, slightly, they began pealing again.

    Her eyes ripped opened (and when had she closed them? Why was she suddenly warm?) and she took in the music with a fresh sense of horror. Their wedding song? Those goddamn wind chimes had pirated their wedding song. Indignation, and hurt, seized her. Their wedding music…the score of that long-ago day still sang her to sleep when the wind howled, stretching the night into something far darker and longer than she could manage to sleep through alone.

    She shut her eyes but the chimes played on, ruthlessly caressing every note of their song. Stop. Please. Just stop. Tears gathered, leaked down her face, and when she raised her hand to brush them away it was jarring to see that the stage lights had gone dim. What on earth? First that queer (and deep) silence, now no spotlights? What was wrong? She glanced around but no one else looked the slightest bit curious. Yet why? The spotlights never dimmed when an act was on stage.

    Aha! Down a few rows and mid-theatre, a man (a silhouette, really—it was so dark!) stood.  Part of the tech crew? Was he going to fix things?

    The silhouette turned and faced her.

    Stunned recognition tore sound—mewling and small, yet nonetheless louder than the chimes—from her throat.

    “I’ve been waiting for you,” said Roar.

    Jasmine rose as if lifted, feet not nimble in her stilettos but not because she was old—more because shock, and disbelief, were shaking her to the core.

    And how was it—why was it?—that Roar regarded her face as if it was the most ironic thing he’d ever seen in his life?

    Life? He’s dead. My husband, my love, my every walk after dark, my every star in the sky, he’s dead.

    Yet nonetheless he shuffled, politely past knees and over handbags, until he reached the end of his row. Then he moved down to stand at the foot of the stage and beckoned her.
    She could not move. Was frozen.
    “Jazz,” he said. “I’m waiting.

    She did not think she could do it, yet she floated down the stairs, heels somehow meeting the risers and moving of a volition that was not, could not be, her own.

    Roar faced her, that ironic light still gleaming in his eyes. “Did you catch me in the sound of these goddamn wind chimes?”

    The mimic of her rhetoric should have awakened her tongue, yet when her lips moved no sound came forth. Still—Is that where you’ve been? She longed to ask him.

    He held out his palm. “Take my hand, Jazz.”

    What is this? Still, she reached with no hesitation—this was Roar!—and was stunned to see that her wrist was smooth and unmarred. Veins a mere whisper of blue beneath skin restored, soft and firm.  

    “And give me my hat, you sneak-thief.”

     She removed it from her white coif of hair, stunned when a mass of sable silkiness tumbled onto her shoulders.

    “Dance with me,” he said.

    Dance? She glanced. There was no room between the apron of the stage and the first row of seating; what the Hatlen Theatre held in charm it had always, sorely, lacked in space. Besides… ‘Dance with me.’ That had only ever ended one way—and they were in public.

    Roar hiked a droll eyebrow. “Really, Jazz? It’s not like you haven’t scandalized this entire crowd before just for sport. Like tonight. ‘Pornographic’? Really?”

    A grin twitched on her lips.

    Exasperation—and affection—lit his green eyes and though it shocked her (so familiar! Exactly the same!) she still managed to say “It served her right.” God! Her voice was unrecognizable. Lighter, and with no gravel pull of spent vocal chords. She swallowed. “W-what’s a mind worth if you cannot speak it?”

   He considered this and irony melted away, left him looking melancholy, like Wren and she had when the evening began. “I used to say nothing was worth more than your mind, Jazz.” Roar held her hands. “Now I know that your mind is worth being trapped for.”

    On stage wind chimes pealed and trilled. She whirled and faced them, horrified. “Is that where you’ve—”

    He pulled her close, kissed her, and it was again—still— every symphony, every ballad, every delicate clash of cymbals. When he lifted his head she was breathless. “And for the record, Jazz, yes: I really did love you the way you loved me.”

    Oh! “Y-your heart exploded.”

    “Yes.” He nodded, looking sad. “But tonight it started again. See?” He opened her hand, placed it on his chest.

    The whole theatre flooded with heat and “Jazz,” he said. “I’ve been waiting so long.” He flicked a gaze to the chimes, alight with old rue. “May I trap you with me?”

    Wasn’t that where she’d been? For fifty eternal years wasn’t that just where she’d been? Her head bobbed and it struck her that maybe the gesture made her look a whole lot like Nettle. She winced and Roar laughed, the sound loud enough to shake the ceiling.

    Yet not one patron so much as blinked. Although…Wren, front row. Was he smiling?

    “Dance,” Roar reclaimed her.
    She spun, scarlet coat catching air and floating ’round her ankles.
   Roar kissed her. “And Jazz never, don’t ever, take your windsong off my mind.”

 

Bonnie Randall, 2015

2 comments:

  1. Ms Randall captured the spirit and character of many small town theatres and their patrons beautifully! She portrayed the haughty, introverted Jasmine types, the extroverted Nettle types and the artsy types who genuinely love the culture and wanted to share that culture via places like ‘The Red Brick’ that could provide these things to a smaller community.
    I see little bits of Nettle in many of us in this story, myself included. Some of us are like social butterflies and we flit about alighting upon those persons that emit that glow of light that serves to attract our interest. Some folks we know better than others so we stop and chat a while revelling in the lively social atmosphere of the theatre. Others are cranky, dour looking types, like Jasmine and even we extroverts steer clear of them---and for good reason.
    Secret glances in the dark. Laughter, music, make-believe and time spent outside the normal ups and downs of life in a small town---escape from the mundane, this is what small town theater can mean to some. I loved that I could ‘feel’ all of those emotions flowing from the crowd waiting in anticipation for the curtain to raise, just as Jazz felt---these emotions were all there in The Red Brick that night too! I loved that this story captured that feeling and made me contemplate more of what those ‘other’ audience members lives may really hold?
    Love and loss…time and memories. The love shared between Jazz and Roar was a splendid tale in itself. And the haunting way Ms Randall spun that saga of lonely, heartfelt memories that Jazz relived throughout the evening at The Red Brick Hatlen Theatre was brilliant. I was captivated from start to finish…and yes, tears rolled down my cheeks. But, in the end, I could not tell if they were tears of happiness or sadness? Now that is a tale well spun. Bravo!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sincere and deep thanks for such a touching review. It is a writer's greatest compliment to have a reader say that a piece made them *feel*. I only spent two days crafting Jazz & Roar (I guess they'd expect me to call them Jasmine & Rory) but I nonetheless felt deeply touched by a love meant to be yet extinguished oh-so-quickly.
      And Nettle - ah, Nettle. We are ALL Nettle, aren't we? Or at least those of us who've ever lived and socialized in a small town certainly are. I really enjoyed employing a stock character like Nettle as a literary device because she illustrated a couple things your review so deftly touched on: 1. Extroverts, in small towns, are gregarious a million different times - yet taken a million different ways. Would a different theatre goer react differently to Nettle than Jasmine did? Undoubtedly. But Jasmine is who Jasmine is (so withdrawn), yet Nettle, in turn, is who she is too. Is Nettle offensive? I don't know. I don't *think* so. But is Jasmine offensive? Oh, God yes. She takes delight in it, even - Roar tells her this more than once - and, whether she likes it or not, she *is*snooty. (But I still love her) 2. Of course we see Jasmine die - and in dying she (unbeknownst to herself, clearly) comes to terms with / makes peace with those who remain in her life. She tells Wren goodbye 'accidentally' and then has that reflection on Nettle that is much kinder (as it should be) than her abruptness was. She grows as her last page, both figuratively and literally, turns and maybe that's partly why she's finally ready for her big reunion. :)
      All that said, it was with great joy that I tackled this small fictional study of a small town social event and I am so thrilled it moved you as much as it did. If you liked this you will LOVE anything written by a master of magical realism and small town dynamics, Sarah Addison Allen. Her stories, set in the deep south, just *sparkle* and I highly, highly recommend her wonderful, enchanting prose.

      Delete