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That's Life

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Every Saturday night, James McAllister met his grandfather for a drink. They used to have a corner booth at Marco’s. The seats had been comfortable enough and nobody ever said much. But, this only lasted two and a half months because the pub lost its mind and stopped playing the music. McAllister men were never much for the soda can singers. So, now, they met at place off the square. The seats weren’t as comfortable but there was live music every night. Satisfied to just sit and listen, they took up residence at a small table by the window.

Jamie shook the snow off of his coat as he stepped through the door one night around a week before Christmas. The first act was already on. A long man at the piano was singing “New York, New York” with the house brass band. Every night opened with Frankie’s tribute. It was like an anthem of sorts, for those who loved the wail of the trombone and a voice with a body behind it. Jamie sat in his chair at the table set for two. He had a clear view of the stage that was set just off the bar. The Piano Man continued with his repertoire and Jamie checked his watch. The old man was late. Again. What did he have to come from? Jamie couldn’t tell. He only knew that the old man was retired from just about everything. As the minutes passed, the Piano Man stepped off the stage but Jamie’s foot kept tapping. A seventy-nine year-old man in alone New York City was reason enough for anxiety.

As the entertained couples, who all seemed to be twenty years older than Jamie, broke into polite applause, Jamie saw his grandfather enter the club. The old man caught sight of Jamie and, with a nod crossed the dining room to sit across from him.

“You’re late,” Jamie said, smiling all the same. He took his grandfather’s hat. The felt was still dry.

“Decided to pass through the square,” grumbled the old man. A trumpet wailed from the stage.

“Time Square’s not like you remember it. The sixties ended a long time ago.” Jamie flagged down a passing waiter.

“Isn’t that so,” the old man shook his head and wiped an unperceivable smudge off of his spectacles. “I remember the lights, but not so many. Coke’s still there though.”

“Can I get you something?” The waiter stood before them.

“Bourbon, please,” asked Jamie, “neat.”

The table fell into silence as the show continued. A woman in a black dress was on stage. Her skin was a dove white and her lips were a candy-apple red.

“She sounds like Ella,” smiled the old man.

“You don’t know Ella,”

“Just because I had never met the woman, doesn’t mean me and Ms. Fitzgerald weren’t on familiar terms.”

The bourbon arrived, and Jamie slid it across the table to the old man. The woman continued to sing. She did sound like Ella. The song shifted, taking on a new swing tempo. Louis Prima, thought Jamie, Pennies from Heaven. Her voice brought new light to the dining room. Everything sparkled. The snow that fell onto the city streets was whiter. The round glasses of wine and brass of the horns seemed richer. And the old man’s spectacles glinted with the remnants of a smile. On the stage, the lounge singer twirled with the microphone.

“You’ve got to be a real person to sing like that. Nobody with a voice ever got it easy.”

Jamie passed the hem of the white tablecloth through his fingers.

“Why’d you stop singing, Jamie?”

“You ask me the same question, over the same damned glass of bourbon. I just don’t sing anymore.” He breathed. “I just want to hear the music.”

Candidly, the old man nodded his head towards the stage. “You could be singing with her. A woman with lips that red…”

“Lipstick,” said Jamie and turned away from his grandfather. Their table fell into desolate silence.

They nodded their heads and mouthed the words they knew and they listened to the music until the music stopped. The girl left the stage and she was followed by a man who wore aviator sunglasses and sang the blues. His voice was rough and thick, harder than the calluses on his guitar player’s fingers.
A tick or two after midnight, the band left with their cases and waved farewell to the barkeep; but Jamie only saw the girl in the black dress with the red lips, and the voice like Ella Fitzgerald.

“Beautiful,” Jamie murmured, barely loud enough to be heard, as the girl passed the McAllisters’ table. She looked at him, confused, or possibly flattered. “Your voice,” added Jamie.

“Thank you,” She buttoned her coat and slung a scarf around her neck.

“Can I get you a drink?”

“No. Actually, I don’t drink.”

“Neither do I,” Jamie told her. The woman looked down at the glass of bourbon, puzzled. “Jamie, by the way,” He extended his hand, if only to get her eyes away from the glass.

“Penny.”

“Penny’s from heaven,” Jamie chuckled and Penny laughed as well. He told her that he came here every Saturday night to listen to the music.
“Do you always come alone?” Her eyes reflected certain sadness.
“I’d prefer not to. My grandfather would have loved to hear you sing. He introduced me to music, real music.” He told her that he used to be a singer.

“I don’t drink,” Penny said again, “but there’s this place a couple of blocks from my apartment that’s always open. They serve great pie.”

“Sounds delicious,” said Jamie as they headed for the door. “And I could go for a cup of coffee.”

Jamie followed the red-lipped lounge singer; whose name he’d learned was Penny. The table for two now sat empty, the glass of bourbon, untouched, as it was every Saturday night.



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