Rolling ice cubes through bourbon, gazing into the gradations of alcohol, he swirled the heavy glass tumbler on the table. Savoring the moment; they’d share nights like this forever. Time seized in amber, a solid state sharing the character of depth and clarity of the liquid he was drinking. Feeling the liquid washing across his tongue moving with the erratic sway of the jazz flooding the bar. Even the lively conversations, rarely capable of moving beyond the dim candle light of the tables, sat softly under the sound of jazz.
Gus paused, teetering on the cusp of a second sip, enjoying the anticipation. Inhaling the raw heady notes of corn, orange peel, reminiscent of the courtship he shared with Lucinda. Their time blossoming from tender hopes to a romance of the ages. Young and vibrant, as such love always is; holding hands everywhere, feeling the urgency of each step, personifying spring. Exciting, comfortable, liberating; they possessed a place to be daring and fun, a time when they would hold a fragrance in their lungs for length of an accented note, or the pause while the soloist gathered his energy again.
Lucinda was sharing the table’s corner as much for the view of the stage as for the ease of reaching to his hand. Beads of condensation forming on her mint julep, Dizzy Gillespie filling the air. She was as radiant as ever, softly nodding, carried along with the music. Cool air stealing into the bar when the door opened occasionally, or a slight stirring as someone passed their table was the only interruption to the warm still atmosphere they shared. They could have been listening to anyone, it was a time they filled with music. Nights that paired jazz with smoky bourbon as much as their love matched their peace. Parker, Armstrong, Davis, Hart; icons that marked the epoch of their time. Tonight it was Dizzy with his bent horn, tin Harmon mute, and flowing improvisations. It was a time when clubs like this became their aerie, a time when the thinning blue of evening stretched into a pale dawn. Nights of too much bourbon, where they leisurely grazed on charcuterie, as vibrant as the music was, it was the energy between Gus and Lucinda rippling through the air and electrified him. He would always feel a palpable excitement that leapt from her fingers to his skin as the slightest touch.
“How’s your drink?” Gus softly asked filling the gaps that music afforded. Reaching her hand towards him and closing her eyes, still nodding, to the music rather than his question; allowing the moment to consume her.
Smiling, watching her content and radiant. Amid the smoke and stage lights, her splendor radiated beyond shadows flickering from the candle on the table. Filling his senses like the bouquet of his drink, he felt a lightness, an intoxication beyond the liquor. Drawn to the subtle curves of her hair falling off her shoulders, dark and lost among the shadow and imperfect light, yet still, he could count every strand that called his attention.
Of course life wasn’t all frenzied nights, roused with be-bop. Savoring ample evenings punctuated with soft swaying and velvety crooning of Ella and Nina, walls would fall away as lyrics rolled around them, sincere as blankets. Nights they folded around each other, warm from the cool spring air, Lucinda’s perfume mixing with seasonal lilac and jasmine. Endless nights where their skin would taste the crisp chill of the night air in contrast to the soft warmth of their contact. A dampness, intimate, and appetizing. Flavored notes that lingered on his pallet, mingling with the orange and vanilla from the aged bourbon. Their bodies welcomed together, contrasts between firm and yielding; moments lost among promise and temptation. Lucinda’s firm embrace, her muscular back filling his hand, his fingers resting among the groves of her ribs, while the softness of her breast brushed intermittently against his arm and chest. His excitement left at each fleeting erratic contact as though it was a riff heard anew.
Dancing for hours, Gus would lead, never a great dancer, but owning an ear for the rhythm and a boundless imagination. Later, with sore feet and dry throats, they’d sit listening to the sticky jazz, their eyes locked, smiles flickering across their lips, in quiet conversation. Content in the intimate envelope provided by the music and their companionship.
“Take me to Congo Square?” she whispered into his ear.
“Not during Mardi Gras.”
“Of course not, but you’ll take me?”
Falling into her eyes, Gus caught his breath feeling the thrill of acceleration, no different from when he first caught her eyes. That night, that seems as close as yesterday, when he saw her standing at the bar. Lucinda’s gaze penetrating the smoke and noise of a crowded nightclub, more exciting than the free flowing riffs that were filling the air, drawing him to her. A ripple of excitement coursing through his heart, causing a short gasp of anticipation as his excitement began releasing adrenalin. Reaching for her hand, their fingers folding into each other’s, combining as his adrenalin mixed with his blood, the tether of self-control being pulled taught. Regardless of where they were, the freefall of passions consumed him.
Escaping from the city for a weekend excursion yielded new excitement. They had stumbled upon a pool at the foot of a small waterfall in the woods, and shared that same sensation of elation, a mutual experience of discovery, calling them to swim in the cool waters. Hours later they emerged from shivering and giggling, basking naked in the hot sun, embracing on the soft carpet of lichens and mosses, lost in the improvisation of aquatic notes, the calls of insects and birds, and their excited rhythmic breathing.
“I wish you’d finish your drink,” he said softly, barely audible above Dizzy, imaging the tart mint and oaky bourbon coating her lips. Lips that he longed to taste. “You’ve not even touched it,” motioning to the untouched glass on the table.
A portion of his own drink still lingering at the back of his mouth, holding the sweet grain flavor, recalling a shared embrace like their wedding night. A late summer’s night serenade with an ambient softness. The humidity of the short night sky, punctuated by the light of fire flies, distant stars, and patio lights. A mixture of diverse sounds; insects, their soft giggling, and distant music.
Music always halted time. Notes joining one another to become a riff, supporting the larger expression, perfectly preserving the moment, fixing a gaze or holding a sensation. The overwhelming love that emanated like the glowing candle between Lucinda and Gus, detectable but private, like the weakly lit table they shared.
Lucinda would say, “we’re just like that.”
“Like what?” he’d reply, squeezing her hand.
“Music. Alone, we’re just notes; isolated sounds with our own pitch and tone. A discrete duration. But together, we’re music.”
“Tenuto, a note held for its full time. You’re my tenuto I’ll hold you for all time.”
Summertime—easy living; jazz, bourbon; love, dragonflies having fun and butterflies on blossom filled breezes. Weekends filled with the weddings that populated their years. After her cousin’s wedding, the band still played in the distance, a mixed set of the classics, Summertime, Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby, Now’s The Time, familiar songs that kept the dance floor moving, but also enabled gatherings at tables for distant relatives to reacquaint themselves in the afterglow of feasts, exchanged nuptials, and flowing wine.
Quietly giggling behind the Pavilion, laying together looking at the stars freckling the velvet night, talking of planets and comets, lists of dreams and destinations.
“How far would you travel to meet me,” Lucinda asked?
“I would travel through the icy cold expanse of space”
“For a millennia”
“You said just one.”
“That would be millennium.”
“But how far?”
“Is forever a time or distance?”
“Both. Whichever I had to.”
She replied travelling forever is impossible, he countered that passion speaks louder than science.
The hot bite of alcohol attacking the back of his pallet, the burning sensation reminding him of winter. Shaking his head slightly, recalling a stinging cold, capable of burning your skin and burrowing itself into tissue, reluctantly dispelled. Nights that he and Lucy, he called her by then, would spend by the fire, or wrapped in blankets listening to spinning vinyl of the jazz giants there were blessed to live among.
Reaching through the soft aura of candlelight towards her hand, Gus replayed those years, flickering across his mind like an old film reel. Familiar memories, as fresh as a new sip of amber liquid languished on his tongue. Watching as Lucy reached her hands towards him, but then through her hair, arching her back in a stretch against the straight back chair. He watched her shake her hair as her breasts seemed to expand towards the ceiling, wondering how many mysteries she held. Talk of dreams and plans, children, vacations, a cabin at the lake; married but still a lifetime ahead. Potential was everywhere and yet never fully grasped, held over for tomorrow and not realized, potential never is.
“Freshen up your julep, love?”
Gillespie’s horn answered and then faded off. Gus rose to his feet shakily, testing his shoes against the sticky floor, longingly looking towards his beautiful wife. The room began listing; slowly at first, edges appearing soft, becoming fuzzy until the blurring surrounded him in a great loop. Rubbing his shaking hand against the stubbly beard, clinching his eyes shut, forcing visions of the bar away, bringing Lucinda’s image back into focus.
Opening his eyes and deliberately exhaling, his awareness of his suffocating apartment returned to him. Steadying himself on the back of the chair, finishing his drink and pouring another from the bottle on the table, he breathed in. Forcing himself past the piles of fetid laundry strewn across the floor, turning his back on the small kitchenette with its sink full of dishes and putrid overflowing garbage container.
“I’ll always love you,” he spoke aloud. “Just like today, on the cusp of tomorrow. We’re on the precipice of our dreams. Right, love?”
Lucinda sat indifferently to Gus and her drink bead in front of her. Gus watched her swaying to the music, filling his mind, she would always be splendid.
Replacing the Dizzy Gillespie CD with Charlie Parker he pressed play and surveyed his apartment. The wire brushes agitating the snare drum rising through a building introduction, Gus held his breath. Exhaling with the artificial sounding blistering barrage of Parker’s plastic sax, Gus’ apartment transformed back to jazz club. “I love you Lucinda. Life would be unimaginable without you.”
Without waiting for an answer, Gus sat down and drank deeply from his bourbon, imagining he could feel the cold of the ice that was no longer there, believing the clinking of the ice was masked by a mesmerizing sax solo, confirmation.
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