I’m a piano player, not a pianist. I started as a pianist when I was eight or nine, but then I heard Honky Tonk Train Blues, or something. I heard James Booker and Professor Longhair, all the New Orleans guys, and it struck me. I had to sound like that. I never will, but I keep on trying. They’re the greatest piano players ever. The rhythm, the music. Spiritual music. A sound like that can heal a broken heart.
And Ragtime. I love that too. Still piano players. All the styles are linked. You can hear Scott Joplin in every note that Booker plays. New life flows from old. The trace of the melody makes you smile, caught in a tearful night long ago.
I was twenty when I left college and started to play piano in a bar each night. Not a great move prosperity wise, but a release for the soul.
I met Emily at the bar. Close your eyes and you can see us in the hazy lamplight.
She sat with a group of friends and when I took a break they called me over. They left in turn until we were only two together fumbling over words, embarrassed to have been set up in such an obvious way.
“We seem to have been thrust together. I hope you don’t mind,” I apologised.
She laughed and ran her finger around the top of her glass nervously. “I think they’ve been plotting,” she smiled.
“Oh, I’m sure they have,” I replied. “They enjoy doing that.”
We talked for some time, swapping information, until it became easy and relaxed. I explained my life, and she explained hers. We came from two different worlds that were not so very far removed from one another.
I had to return to the piano. “Will you wait until I finish?” I asked.
“Of course,” she smiled.
The band took over later.
“You can knock me down, but I’ll slow drag up again.”
Emily explained her dilemma. Being single suited her, but there were times when she longed for security, for someone to be there. Sometimes loneliness crept up on her and took hold. It was wrapped around her tonight and she felt its heat. As she drank more, it radiated from inside.
Her friends all had someone and she envied their touch and their kisses. But being single suited her.
“I’m sorry,” she sighed. “You don’t want to hear my problems.”
But I did. I wanted to know everything about her. I wanted to hear each soft note of her voice and begin to understand her.
“I don’t want to be alone, but I can’t share myself.”
“But you are sharing yourself,” I replied.
“Then I just don’t want to be alone.” She swallowed hard. She was not normally so bold.
She said she lived in a flat almost opposite the bar and I offered to walk her home. We left arm in arm into the hot night with the music fading behind us.
The night was blue, shaking with freedom, unending. Emily said that at that moment all lonely souls were looking to the stars for comfort. She said that pain could only be lost and irrelevant when thrown into such enormity. Tears were too small to be seen, and therefore they did not exist. The moon had large grey scars across its white face, and these demonstrated pain greater than one human heart could ever experience. But still the moon reflected light and sat in the midnight sky glowing above the neon city. Emily found her paucity reassuring; in the grand scheme of things her troubles were nothing. They did not exist.
Jack disagreed. He believed in the value of tears and told Emily that none were wasted. Each desperate move was noted. Each single prayer was answered. He believed in order.
When Emily questioned how billions of silent requests could be heard together, Jack replied that he had no idea, he just knew they could.
As they argued playfully on the balcony, the stars swung madly around the silver moon.
The street below was empty but for the occasional couple, hot from dancing, making their way home arm in arm, high on wine and love and laughing. The sound of their chatter drifted upward. They whispered sweet nothings, teased, vowed, and gossiped ruthlessly.
The girls wore summer dresses, and their men had collars pulled open and their ties pulled low. The night was filled with pretty people who walked side by side, bumped against each other, and laughed and swayed up the street until they disappeared from view.
Emily guessed they made their way to homes, and then to bedrooms, and then to beds to fuck. She pictured them tugging at each other’s clothes, until they were naked, bathed in orange light, kissing madly.
Jack lit a cigarette and watched her closely. He saw her eyes sparkle when she turned towards him, and her hands in descriptive animation. He loved the way she smiled.
They stood leaning on the balcony rail and continued to watch the night.
A cat prowled lazily back and forth in the shadows and sometimes called for its mate with an almost human cry. It fled when a distant train rattled through the city.
They surveyed the windows opposite.
Most were lit through net curtains which disguised the movement behind, and Emily said that this was exciting. The apartments held many varied lives and all the windows were thrown open against the warm night air. Translucent curtains flickered in the light of television screens, and shadows danced back and forth. The walls were thick with grime.
They looked down into the street lined with basement bars and cafes. The neon lights congealed into one enticement which pronounced that satisfaction awaited those who entered, step right in and try. The closing hours had long since passed but music still spilled from one or two where private parties sat huddled round tables and listened to standards and blues. The sound of pianos and horns fell out of the open doors along with the late revellers and drunks.
Jack tapped on the rail, and watched Emily who now gently waltzed. She wore a white cotton shirt, silver bracelets on one wrist, and nothing else. She was beautiful.
Flicker on the silver screen. Like all moments where life springs, time stood still. You watched them kiss. Lips meshed, eyes closed. You were enthralled. You moved closer to the screen. You traced the outline of his jaw. You felt her full hot lips upon you. You felt the honey drip.
The silver screen. You moved closer still. Vision blurred as you kissed her too. A mass of dots made your tears swell.
Silver tears. You could taste them, and yet you were always so strong.
Her arms were thrown around his neck. Their hips ground together. Still kissing, they moved back, they merged. Her white shirt was his to pull and he was her prize now. They spun upon the balcony, and then backed into the shelter of her room.
Jack and Emily were the first young lovers on this madly spinning earth. They were the first to risk the madness of eternity. They were the ones upon whom the stars shone. They were important and real and magical and lonely. Jack and Emily made love upon a bed flooded in moonlight in a silver room which suddenly filled with colour.
In the morning they were tied together in hot sheets with the sunlight across them and the ceiling fan still spinning slowly. It blew red rose petals across the bed which fluttered over the white cotton and fell slowly to the floor. The blonde pine boards were strewn with petals and the perfume of morning filled the room. They remained entwined and smiling.
The French doors to the balcony were open as they had left them, and outside the street sounded busy; the chatter of passers-by, the mechanics of engines, and the beat of a loud stereo all competed, but today these were not distractions. It was Sunday and Jack and Emily silently resolved to spend the day clinging to one another, afraid that if they let go, the feeling would be lost. They had waited for this feeling for a long time.
Jack was the first to speak.
“This may be a silly question, but have we met before?”
“Of course not,” she smiled.
“I’ve never felt like this before. I feel like I know you so well. Can you prove to me that I’m not dreaming?”
She kissed him.
“I still don’t believe you,”
Emily pinched him hard beneath the sheets and he jumped.
“Okay, okay, I believe you.”
Jack had been waiting for Emily.
Each night in the bars he had sung, “Stranded in St Louis, Baby’s down in New Orleans,”
And this was not factually true. He had never left England.
But it was soulfully true, and it hurt.
He had always waited for Emily.
On the trains home he had watched the green fields race by, and he had waited for her. When he was young and alone, he had waited for her. When he had sat on the steps alone in the night he had waited for her. Before a word had been spoken, before a connection had been made, before he could be certain of her existence, he had waited for her.
In the cafes talking with friends over coffee. In the beds of other girls. In the dark hours when no one could get through. In the halls. In the rooms rented in the city. In the bars where he played through the night, he had waited for her.
And they had met at the most unexpected moment when he had lost all hope. The flush of hot headed love was only a memory from adolescent days, and then suddenly it returned.
She was his vision, his angel, his awaited soul mate. Her precious beauty was his perfection, and he fell at her feet. He had always been drugged by her poppy red lips, and always lost in her dust blue eyes.
Jack had always been a dreamer and little more.
He had always waited for Emily.
They could not be apart now. They had explored the world together; one breath, one heart. Everything felt right. It made you happy to see them. Unknowingly they revealed a glimpse of what life really offered. They revealed the diamonds in the road, the serpent, the carefree smile. They revealed the wine rivers, the Saturday night love affairs.
When she smiled her eyes lit up. She had deep blue eyes which put even the summer sky to shame.
They linked hands and ran through the busy city streets. They did not stop until they reached the river, and then they looked out over the water, breathing heavily. He told her he loved her and that he could never live without her.
“Then you would die without me?” she questioned.
“Inside,” he answered.
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<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/love-stories/piano-blues-part-3.aspx">Piano Blues Part 3</a>