the short story project


Awbrey Collins

All That Jazz

The (B flat) key on the piano’s resonator was stiff, but the key did not stick. Across the bridge, broken by the air, the cars waited to cross to ghettos in the outer-skirting metropolitan area. Echos in the chamber made an artist and the harder working at his craft. Outside his window, Barry could hear his many things to do, for his job piled up like traffic. For net time, the work to be done is provided in the older, the intrinsic; the aesthetic.

A stale echo of his classical piano, like an old cat sawing on a cello, reverberated as if there was a flow of electricity within the rebarb, like his concrete apartment complex he called home was his palace. Below in the basement, the occupants of Barry’s complex listened for the ringing (B flat) key, Barry’s writing and rewriting songs from the city’s air wafts through open doors and open windows.

He was no Mozart, and Bach’s court has only critiqued him cynically. His beating heart beating only comes with the reminders from all of the advice and former trainings leading him to the revisions of his songs and melodies. The taxis outside honked, and the children with mindless mothering were cooking in their kitchens,  whose mothers’ adding in occasional hammering on something adds percussive instruments. In addition the song of taxis horns and children cries attempts the ride across the road.

An orchestrated bird slyly swift above the now collapsing trolley bridge adds to the garbage barge sounds as it blares the bugle of being tardy, trudged down towards the south-side of town. Barry had forgot to take out the trash, on Thursday. Thursday morning was trash day, but Wednesday he left for his seventy-two hour firefighting shift. It was now Saturday, and the room wreaked of rotting cabbage and picked clean fish carcass.

The only reason the complex was reprieve from having listened to that ringing (B flat) key, how they found out he was a firefighter, they hoisted the piano from the street listening to their inner-music. During the move-in, using the rooftop moving crane to the ninth floor, everyone crossed their fingers the piano did not stop outside the windows of their floors.

Marney was fast at work, already baking up treats for a goody basket. She saw that the piano was floating in air above her window when she noticed that her new neighbor moving into the room next to hers would have a piano.

Suddenly, there was a single knock like a password from Barry’s apartment room door. From the piano he flew with his quickly dampened anger satisfied that writing classical music was difficult. Now, from the disturbance of his instinct and interruption of his virtuoso, Marney is on the other side of the eye hole and he opened the door wide to her. “Yes?”

“Next door studying yoga is very hard with a ringing in my ear.” Barry would not be able to tell if she was kidding or not. “Do you mind calling it quits for today? You have been at this for some time.” Gift basket girl had suddenly turned from firefighters friend to archnemesis.

Barry hid his smile below as the door swung shut. He was less concerned with who, but more concerned with what. His (B flat) key had to get fixed upon some verge of becoming irritating to hisself, and then it started to rain. “At least now fire can be put out by itself,” he thought. Juggling his thinking, through his memory he searches, with his closet for his umbrella he normally would lock up. His apartment has two locked doors before setting out for his seventy-two hour shift.

His fingers were tired yet his eyes were fresh, his mind is sullen by the work due to virtue. He was capable of being multi-lingual, classical pianist by day and firefighter by night.

{city sounds: [Beep] [Honk]} Inbetween heard taxi honking, and again before a bus honking at the car, [bRRRRIiiiing] the telephone next door. [Police siren], another siren and then more honking. A swifter, [tweet, tweet] as a bird swoops by open windows, and cooing of less beautiful pigeon and crow thriving off trash picking. [Chirp, Chirp] a more beautiful bird then is rudely interrupted by another [Honk!!!]; as, separately a trash trunk is heard rumbling, burning its diesel fuel, and trying to beat the garbage barge to the southside of town. Another telephone ringing, another “beep”, and more sounds like the daily commute from another side of the digital world through the city. “Bing, ching”, a small bicycle bell alerts sidewalk traffic…



Barry heard a recognizable jingle. Maybe it was Marney’s television, left on. Maybe, it was another late night $19.99 sales pitch. There is a familiarity to the tune, running swiftly through his head. He chases it, follows the dream. He arrived at a building which looks like his, until he was revived to the coursing alarm bells from the fire station’s ringing alarm bells. Feeling his way into his boots and pulling up his suspenders, Barry rushed to the fire pole and slid down to the cool fire truck. Hot air poured into the garage. He used jazz fingers to signal the driver of the cab of the truck, before clambering back into the rear tiller.

With the automatic doors finished rising, the sun was shaded from his eyes through his uniform’s helmet.

Barry hoped she had not been smoking. Over the garbage smells, Barry could smell Marney through the walls of her apartment by the signature smells of her hookah, burning. In the end, he had found her out, that her cat had knocked the coals from the top of her still lit hookah she had left burning.

The learning of an address from hearing the calls coming across the secure frequency for his concrete palace, he sensed the fire left crackling, simmering like a cooking fire over hot coals. Beneath his conscious attempts at staying prepared for anything, a fireman’s dangerous job. All of the firefighters hopped off the truck because another truck has already extended its ladder to the ninth floor, and has been blasting gallons of water into the apartment complex. There was no need for a secondary.

Water flooded out of the building, raining on them as they entered the evacuating building with chainsaws, axes and roof hooks. The air in his oxygen tank began to take over, for his air supply, as they broke open the door to the ninth floor and began battling the out of control blaze.

Supply trucks, with no time to kill, had already patched the next street adjacent’s water pressure to supply the emergency hoses within the building. Barry’s detail used the activated emergency hoses to battle the blaze from within the building. The pressure was too much to bear for one man, the firefighters worked together and over radios at putting out the blaze. At one point they thought the fire had spread to the floor above and they had ripped the entire roof out to seek inconclusively. One of them even had to chainsaw into a next room’s bathroom, through a wall, hearing the sounds of a crying dog.

“Just words.” Barry thought snidely. He could smell burnt tobacco the second they had entered the floor. The smell was musty; but, it was more different this time because it was porous and there was also an odor which smelled of burnt carpet, fur and hand written music: barely recognizable to Barry, but recognizable to Barry only.

They never found the cat, and the cat never came back. One of Marney’s other neighbors handed a brew to Barry, as he looked over the burnt ruins of his former life. Most of his music has been torched by the blaze, and his piano was reduced to a stack of half burnt firewood. The ivory keys looked like the teeth of the devil looking back at him.

A horn outside resounded. It must have been the garbage barge, actually running late on an unusual day.



The taxis frantically fought for position in the streets; in a frenzy, they honked an unrecognizable tune this time. A flock of white birds stole the sky, like vulturous eagles disguised like doves. As unrecognizable discourse refrained, retesting the fermata of anger Barry wanted to show Marney — had she only been found by investigators when they had arrived to examine the cause of that blaze. She must had heard of the accident and decided not to return to the scene, even though it was an accident and not arson. The sketches of notes, that were once on the images from crispy white pages danced black notes like translucent specs of surging anger from temple to temple. A temporal aperture opened, as the neighbor’s brew seeped into the deeper of his digestives, breaking his wills and intentions; the devil’s teeth snapped out for his fingers and tensing him to tremble loose his memories of living ‘what was’.

The Harlem Jazz Clubs still took to their vehicle, street sweeping through the reddened stop lights of early light and asking only for the spare change to pay the taxes. Transactions that leave too much room for homelessness were never meant for a bank, and do better for making tips than being thankful. By the measure of change going from the vehicle, a bass-line does not slack jaw and requires tight, white, fine line to measure how far you truly are. And; for some whose entails take the melodic line a little harder, than to believe again, improv is hard to balance, harder for measuring success; and, improv saved the world.

It made more sense that a band without a piano man needs a bassist, but a bar fire is always going to be better than a library attendant who smokes. Forgetting the means to communicate a silent pain, there needs more than nihilism and bitterment. The state of the spoken epic are within a tune, stakes bring rush to a crippling melodic blow that takes on the tones of true pageantry. Accepting that true change does not come from within is a harder opinion to bear; but, so is giving up Jazz. The music of the city changes you, but monsters do not approach true colour, truer colours approach the monsters and make a comic less of a fool to a room that has become silenced.

If the jazz does not speak to him, the unspeakable silence of men who listen will vanish, and all that Jazz will be nothing more than pageantry. Easier to bear than the improv of a slackjawed nigger. Uncle Tom makes it seem more formal, but is knowing Marney’s fault the burden Barry speaks from within and from experience, character? It is quite costly to insure a tax dividend of someone’s who spent it in the most raising high hell of the heavens, instead of waiting for the bass-line and melodic lines which harmonize. It is harder to kick a slum-drunked loser from your bar who is frequent and vibrant with colors of drunkenness, from a bar that is to silence by the progress of change. The colours of change has no colours to offer and the side commentary is just as explicit of having someone said something to you only to provoke such response.

Somewhere beneath his work was a permanent burn scar, now tattooed against light which reveal truer colour, began to pour through all of the windows of his life. He was so unaware of his surroundings, now — his mind followed the loose leaf music enveloping him like the common cold.

Underneath the kicked over ruins, he looked down upon the unburned scraps that had (B flat) notes still showing. The rolled up piano wires were now shaped like a wadded ball of yarn, a jazz clarinet solo, material for a cat to spend much too much time playing with. He wanted to hear his ringing (B flat) beneath the song he had once called noise, remembering it was not there beneath the black rage of the city. The jazz club has a ringy, untuned piano with more than just a (B flat) key, he thought. (Another frenzy of thought]

His spirit morphed into a phoenix; some bird had landed in the broken window sill, flew away into the sun. Searching for the lifelong tune to harmonize, the unserved community, and youthful ears.

The tempo drags as the the youthful community vivifies whom rides the bus, the union worker getting back to exercising besides lawyers, runs next to small business owners and the preacher’s son. The call of Moses takes him back to his family, and looking in the looking glass remembers the mirror, the opportunity that the streets provide. The classical training that was now burned like fried chicken on old fry oil, which would have been collecting dust.

He scours the base-line, the phoenix observed being the albatross, the albatross observed being the peregrine falcon. His mind speeds like the maltese cat under the moon’s zither, a cat’s meow; and, a want to purr up next to the silent barfly. The music he cannot stand next, the lonlieness. All that tantalizing Jazz that made her keep him from coming to the club, much less take offers to fill in for the piano man when sick. When the taxi stops, his shadow steps out into the dark night. Like his memory possesed, down the stairwell keeping the drunks out, he can hear the drummer’s high hat tuning and snare. The bones and the phones are emptying warm up spit from their elbows. The lucky music bag, that contained everything not classical, in his possession, he is blinded by the lights as he sits behind the piano.

And all her jazz, stunned, he has one opportunity tonight to leave that kind of doubt behind. She sees that lucky cat, before Barry sees her. He actually has a chance to put that fire out tonight. The sharps will lead by the clarinet, flutist will take the skat from having the two collide incidentally; instead of the vibrance, the skat will not shrill. She snaps at the microphone. It makes the crowd erotic. His insider, who gave him the weekend gig, she was wearing extra white face with redder lips than usual. She did not even give him a look. All her jazz, and the only thing left was the tune.

When the music stopped he looked up at a full tip jar. Her lead was stopped by hoarser laughter and the trombonist and saxophonist looking at him with pleasure. Everyone spent the time to nod and take in the experience of successful collaboration taken the place with the fill in pianist. This didn’t mean that he would be with the group next week though… He went to the bar to order a drink and douse the fire of gypsy woman burning down his apartment, trying to destroy his collection of classical music. The music he collected was worth more than the piano. The silent woman who had eyed him at the piano when he arrived, approached through the crowd to the bar. He rushed his mind through the flat conversation, as he felt sharpened as she had approached. The conversation seemed easy to close. He had ignored every sense of formalism as he only took in the things he could hear above his own thoughts. Compared to normally, Barry would have thought the conversation a bore. She asked, “Where do you live?” Cats always land on their feet.

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