Jazz night at Arbuckle’s

Soft, suspended chords drifted from the piano as Melanie looked out at the crowd. Even if she shielded her eyes with her palm she couldn’t see how many were out there, which was probably just as well. The muscular smell of steak floated from an unseen plate, causing her stomach to rumble and making her momentarily forget what she was about to say.

“It’s, er,” she began. Her long nails scratched at her neck and caught on a loose thread at the shoulder of her dress. She pulled her hand sharply away and felt something give. She hoped it wouldn’t show. “Thank you all so much for being here tonight, it means the world to us. This is our last song tonight.”

At the cue, Ira’s playing began to gain form, the background music coalescing into something more insistent, something with a purpose. Melanie closed her eyes and began to sway gently from side to side, willing herself into one with the sound. It had been harder lately to find the point at which the outside world fell away and left her cocooned in a blissful fog.

Somewhere a glass smashed, and a cheer briefly rose then was stifled.

The intro was finishing and Melanie could feel Ira’s eyes on her. She nodded, and found the first note. But as she sang her thoughts leapt to the ‘dressing room’, a narrow corridor that led to the fire escape. Ira would expect a repeat of the previous night, when she’d been unwisely drunk on gin cocktails (bought by the manager, who might have hoped he’d be the beneficiary of his largesse). In spite of herself, she was tempted. Ira wasn’t bad-looking, he had a wicked sense of humour, and, most importantly, he understood music. He would understand the late nights, the travelling and the exhaustion, the motel rooms and plastic-packaged service station dinners. He wouldn’t sit up waiting for her and hurl accusations of infidelity that eventually would come true, because if that was what someone was going to think anyway, why wouldn’t you?

She could do a lot worse than a man like Ira.

Back, back to the song. This was her audience and she owed them a performance: that was the cardinal rule, the one constant of the last fifteen years. Yes, you could phone in a set and people might not complain, but that wasn’t enough. You had to give them more than just the songs themselves. You had to give them you. If they didn’t want it, that was their problem.

The crowd were getting into it now, clapping along, which Melanie liked although she knew lots of singers didn’t. Always end on something upbeat, that was the key. You could serve up the most mournful set imaginable, but closing with ‘Hallelujah, I Love Him So’ or ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours’ as good as guaranteed a happy audience and a repeat booking.

It was only on the last chorus that Melanie felt she’d really done it justice, although it was good to know she still could. Ira’s playing slowed to signal the end, then he finished with a flourishing run. There was a moment of silence, punctuated only by the scrape of cutlery on cheap porcelain, before the applause started. It was a little too loud and a little too long, compensatory perhaps, but Melanie drank it in regardless. Someone was hollering and whooping like a madman, and Melanie wondered whether he knew her then decided he was just drunk.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you so much.”

The stage lights switched off and the diner music started up, some heartless funk. Undeterred, Melanie continued: “And please give a big hand for my pianist tonight, Ira Stone!”

She stretched out one hand towards Ira, the microphone still in the other. He took it, and together they bowed to their audience, the applause falling over them as light and fresh as rain.

13 thoughts on “Jazz night at Arbuckle’s

  1. Favorites: If they didn’t want it that was their problem / He wouldn’t sit up waiting for her and hurl accusations of infidelity that eventually would come true, because if that was what someone was going to think anyway, why wouldn’t you?

    I admire you for embracing the prompt and writing a singing set, that can’t have been easy to do. There’s very little dialogue and the story of her inner conflict…or acceptance of the way things are… came through. She drinks in those mistakes as long as that applause keeps coming. The only thing that didn’t settle quite right for me was “muscular scent” — could be just me but made me think of something a zombie might thinkg. 😮

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The worry about the relationship with Ira worked for me. Placing that conflict inside the world of a singer ending a set was a great way to treat it. Even though you told us very little about Ira, I could picture him well. There were two things that threw me. One was the phrasing of the line “left you cocooned in a blissful fog”. It brought me into the story in a way I’m not sure you intended since everything was around your main character. The other thing had to do with the age of the MC and Ira. The song “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” felt older than I imagined the MC and Ira were. Something about the MC’s thoughts and actions read young-ish to me – 30’s max.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Michelle – I agree about the ‘you’, will edit post-voting! On the song choice, I’m undecided as to whether the MC just appreciates the classics or whether it’s actually not set in the present… (which is a total dodge I know :P)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love all the little details in this – the thread pulled in the dress, the scraping of knives on cheap porcelain, the house music that was turned up a little too early. It all suggested to me that life on the road was becoming a little unravelled. I also loved how the singer’s mind is elsewhere when she performs.
    I couldn’t find much to fault in this, actually. It really transported me. Perhaps as previously mentioned, the ‘muscular smell’. Really well-written!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much Laura! 🙂 Really glad you enjoyed it; it was really fun to write too. I personally like ‘muscular smell’, but I can see how it’s a bit of a divisive one…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You nailed the setting and incorporated the two prompts very well, Jamie. Melanie’s strategy for winning over a crowd and her backstory with Ira made me believe this character. I would have liked to know more about why it was Melanie’s last night. Like when she says ending on a happy note will get you booked again. That isn’t her goal, is it? She’s done. Does she sing a sad song to mark the occasion? Does she decide to hook up with Ira? I wasn’t sure. It’s these unresolved plot points that make this feel like a character sketch more than a story to me.


    1. Thanks James – fair points, but I would defend this as a story, albeit a (deliberately) unresolved one that on the spectrum is nearer to a character sketch than others might be.

      Someone else I showed this to also thought this was Melanie’s final night singing, and I might revisit that, as I’d not intended it (at all – that wasn’t supposed to be a loose thread!).


  5. I actually loved the “muscular smell”. I thought it was quirky and I personally found it relatable (hmmm… I do have a soft spot for all things zombie, mind you).

    I felt transported to the setting and enjoyed allowing myself to be immersed on the stage with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lines like “a moment of silence, punctuated only by the scrape of cutlery on cheap porcelain” really put the reader in the scene. You made me care about your MC. I want more for this singer than someone like Ira and gigs like this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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