Where Readers & Writers Connect
by Tracy Krauss
1 Samuel 16: 7b – For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NASB)
FIRST MOVEMENT: Overture
Smokey tendrils drifted in time to the soft strains of jazz music that filled the dimly lit lounge. Russ Graham surveyed the clusters of patrons at each small circular table, resting on the troupe of aging jazz musicians for a moment, before focusing on the amber liquid swirling in his own glass. It was not the kind of place he normally frequented, but business had brought him out to the island for a few days and there wasn’t much else to do in the evening – alone.
Earlier he’d noticed a sign in the hotel lobby advertising the Jazz ensemble. “Jack Burton Band” the sign read. Russ had a vague recollection of that name and thought he might as well check it out. He looked a little more closely at the aging troop and decided that Jack Burton must be the one wielding the saxophone and counting out the time. He was small and wiry, with thinning hair- probably in his early to mid sixties. Next, there was a burly, white haired, black man on the drums; a gangly, hawk nosed man bending over the piano; and a stocky man with longish gray hair and a mustache leaning on a big, bass violin.
Despite the band’s aging appearance, the bluesy jazz that came from their instruments seemed to transcend all barriers of age and time. Russ closed his eyes for a moment and let the strains of music wash over him. How long had it been since he just let himself relax? Just let go and be. Too long. Much too long.
He quickly opened his eyes. Guilt and pride – his two constant companions – would not allow even this brief reprieve. He should probably just head back up to his room. He needed an early start tomorrow in order to finish up his business and head back toWinnipeg. Mark was in good hands at his mother’s house, but he didn’t like leaving him for too long. He took his responsibilities seriously, and he didn’t like pawning his son off on others – even his own mother.
Russ raised the tumbler to his lips and downed the rest of the fiery liquid. As if on cue, a pretty waitress was there to whisk the glass away and offer another. “Um … I guess another wouldn’t hurt,” Russ said, glancing at his watch. It was only9:30. He didn’t drink much, as a rule, but one more was no big deal. Besides. Who was here to see?
As the waitress retreated on her errand, Russ glanced around the room once again. What little light there was in the room cast an ethereal glow about the crowd. His gaze stopped at a young woman, sitting completely enraptured at a small table near the stage. Her hair, which was very short, appeared to be some shade of red, although it was difficult to tell in this light. Large hoop earrings hung at her ears, swaying with her in time to the music. She looked awfully young to be in a bar, but then again, there was also a sense of worldliness about her – a strange combination of girl and woman.
He was jolted back to reality by a resounding slap across the back. “Hey, bro! Fancy meeting you here!”
“What the …? What are you two doing here?” Russ sputtered.
Ken Graham, Russ’s older brother, stood next to him grinning, his wife Kathy hovering nearby. The contrast in appearance between the two brothers was as marked as their personalities. Ken was well over six feet tall, broad and well built, with sandy blonde hair and twinkling eyes. Although he was already thirty-seven, his boyish expression allowed him to pass for a much younger man. Russ, on the other hand, usually wore a firmly set look about his chiseled features. His dark blue eyes held a deep intensity and his hair, which was dark and wavy, he wore in a neatly trimmed, conservative style. Shorter than his older brother, he still maintained a powerful, trim physique.
“Didn’t I tell you me and Kath were coming out to Hecla for the weekend?,” Ken asked as he plunked himself unceremoniously into the chair opposite Russ.
“No, I don’t recall anything about it,” Russ muttered.
“Hm. Must have forgot,” Ken shrugged. “The company’s having a sales convention. Wives are invited so Kathy came along.” Ken raised a hand and caught the eye of the oncoming waitress.HeclaIslandwas a popular spot for business meetings. It was a scenic location just a two hour drive from the city ofWinnipegand offered first class facilities. “What about you? I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“My firm does their books, remember?” Russ answered, his scowl deepening as the waitress arrived with his scotch.
“What have we here?” Ken queried, raising his eyebrows. “Looks like we caught you red handed.”
“I’m not allowed to have a drink?” Russ asked.
“No, go ahead,” Ken laughed. “It’s just good to see you take off your priest’s collar once in awhile.”
Russ clamped his jaw tight. He wasn’t about to react to his brother’s jibes. “Where are the kids?’ he directed at Kathy.
“Your mother’s,” Kathy sighed, as if that explained everything.
Russ frowned. “Oh. I guess three isn’t too much for her to handle . . .”
“Relax,” Ken said. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. At least your kid isn’t a brat like some people’s.” He jerked his head in Kathy’s direction.
“They’re your kids, too, remember?” Kathy quipped. “Or have you forgotten already?”
“What ever you say,” Ken shrugged, taking a large swig of the beer that had just arrived. He leaned in toward Russ conspiratorially. “Greg’s not used to staying overnight without his mommy,” he snorted.
“He’s only five,” Kathy sniffed, digging for a cigarette.
“She keeps babying the kid. No wonder he’s such a brat,” Ken continued.
“I hated to leave them, the way your mother was carrying on,” Kathy explained, taking a long drag on her cigarette.
“Do you have to blow that right in my face?” Ken complained, waving at the smoke. “And just what did that mean anyway?”
“You know exactly what I mean,” Kathy said, expelling another puff of smoke. “She’s always trying to interfere with how we raise our children.” Ken grunted dismissively. “No, I mean it! She’s always pushing all that religious garbage at them. I’ve had it with them coming home and asking me if I’m going to heaven or hell. It’s scaring them.”
“A little fire and brimstone never hurt anybody,” Ken defended. “Look at me. I turned out okay.”
“Fine example,” Russ noted dry.
“Oh, right, ” Ken snorted. “Mr. Perfect talking.”
“Is he always this sociable?” Russ asked Kathy, striving for lightness.
“Only on good days,” Kathy laughed humorlessly, stubbing out her cigarette.
Ken tipped his beer back and guzzled the rest as if in some kind of competition. “Ah!” he breathed, followed by a loud burp. “What’s a guy got to do to get another drink around here?” Kathy just rolled her eyes. “Hey, bro. Order us another round while I take my wife for a spin,” Ken said. “How about it, Kath? Wanna dance?” He was already dragging her toward the dance floor.
Russ watched the pair with a combination of amusement and pity. Kathy was now laughing breathlessly up at Ken, obviously happy to be the recipient of some positive attention. It was a shame that it took liquor.
His attention was caught by another couple on the dance floor. It was the girl that Russ had noticed earlier, dancing with Jack Burton, the aging saxophone player who had laid aside his instrument while the rest of the troupe carried on. Mismatched as they were, they seemed to dance as one with energetic abandon. And despite what Russ considered to be her somewhat unbecoming attire – cut off jeans, a turtle neck sweater and hiking boots – there was something provocative about the way she moved with such grace and fluidity, totally unembarrassed. In fact, she seemed oblivious to any onlookers, so immersed was she in the dance.
When the song ended, the young woman and her partner retreated to her table, laughing. The other band members took a break and joined them. The older men seemed very familiar with her. Especially the leader. He placed a possessive arm about her shoulders and was leaning in close to whisper in her ear. Something rose up suddenly within Russ’s chest. Disapproval? Disgust? Envy, maybe?
He slammed back the rest of his scotch, wiping his mouth just as Ken and Kathy reappeared.
“Did you see that couple out there?” Kathy enthused. “Weren’t they great? Just like out of a movie!”
“The old man certainly seems lively for his age,” Russ offered with a shrug.
“I wasn’t lookin’ at the old man,” Ken guffawed with a wink. “Mm-mm. Them’s a great set of legs!”
“I didn’t notice.”
“Oh right,” Ken laughed. “You can fool most of the people most of the time, but this is your bro, here, man. I know you’ve still got some red blood in there somewhere, no matter what you want people to believe.”
“Whatever. She’s not my type.”
“She too skinny for you?” Ken asked.
“Just drop it,” Russ responded tightly.
“Maybe it’s been so long, you forgot how . . .”
“Shut up,” Russ clipped.
“I know Miranda was a bitch, but -”
“I said, shut up.” Russ rose from the table, his anger barely contained.
“Where you going?’ Ken demanded.
“To my room. Goodnight.” Russ turned sharply and headed for the exit. For a moment the three Scotch that he’d downed rather abruptly went straight to his head. He slowed his pace just enough to regain his bearings and then continued toward the door.
Directly in front of him, also nearing the exit, were the wiry old musician and the strange young woman. She had her arm slung casually around his shoulders, while his encircled her slim waist. Another wave of – something – flooded Russ’s body as he watched them. He told himself it was loathing, but other parts of his anatomy whispered ‘lust’. Probably just the Scotch. He wasn’t used to drinking anymore.
Who cared, anyway? What wayward girls did with aging jazz musicians was really no concern of his. So why couldn’t he get her image out of his head?
Interested in more? Play it Again is available in Paperback at Amazon.
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Tracy Krauss is an author, playwright, artist, director, and teacher. She grew up in small town Saskatchewan and received her Bachelor of Education Degree in Saskatoon with majors in Art, English and History. She has lived in many interesting places in northern Canada, many of them north of the 60th parallel. Follow her blog at Expression Express.