Song in the Dead

The night I found the club… it seemed so strange at the time.
It was raining. My violin was in its case under my arm as I ran through the steady discomfort of the cold water falling upon me as I jog towards the bus station ahead…
I curse as I see the bus leaving… even an Olympic sprinter on speed couldn’t catch that!
I stagger to a halt, breathing heavily and trying to steady my cold, shaking hands.
I don’t have anywhere to be tomorrow. I just wanted to be home tonight. And that bus was my last chance to get there without paying through the nose…
Well. If I was paying for a taxi, I may as well be drunk. So I turn and look for a pub.
The neon signs and loud music would look ripe pickings to anyone else. But I hate too much noise and mindless idiots all shouting louder than the last as they repeat themselves.
I sigh and sweep my sodden hair back over my shoulder.
“How blasted tiresome” I mutter to myself as I lean against some door to catch my lost breath.
Still breathing heavy, I eye up the only pleasant looking bar and focus my rain-blurred eyes on the loud women inside wearing fairy-wings, L-plates, devil-horns and bunny-ears between them.
I let my head fall back and the rain splatters my face, making me shudder. I hate the rain.
The door opens and I fall back, grabbing the doorway and knocking my violin case hard against the brickwork as someone inside caught the door
“woah, easy friend” the stranger said “take it slow and steady” he said.
I felt a warm hand steady my shoulder as he stepped past, helping me regain my feet before he opened an umbrella and stepped out.
I looked at the man. He was unremarkable but pleasant-looking. Clearly a little drunk and breathing ever-decreasing smoke puffs as he looked around the rain.
He smiled and laughed a little “I am the punch-line to this wonderful joke.” I thought I heard him say as he walked off down the street.
It was strange watching him walk.
He was weighed-down by his years and troubles… but he was carrying them with the strength of someone with neither!
You never realise it till you see it. But people weigh more than pounds and kilos. They weigh time and life. He was so full of life that his time was all but weightless!
I smelt a strange smell from inside the doorway. I looked about into the warm, badly-lit interior.
The smell was like cigars and incense all at once. Harsh as breathing it up-close but somehow softer like the air at the end of a party.
I jumped as the door closed behind me. Suddenly surprised that I had actually walked in without meaning to.
The door has a open / closed sign. Apparently whatever this place is, it’s open.
The room is tiny! I could touch both walls by extending one arm.
The photos on the walls are old. None of them seeming to be of anywhere local. Places and strange artwork. Even a child’s crayon sketch of a big, strange-looking house with basic-shapes for people in front of it.
I frowned and looked ahead. The room ended with stairs that sloped away steeply. Turning to the right near the bottom.
Wiping my eyes, I take a tentative step. Then grab at the handrail as I fear falling down the smoky stairwell.
The banister is smooth but rubbery. Hard to slip on even with my wet hands. I take a few more steps. The steepness seeming less daunting with every step. Almost like it was welcoming me. Drawing me in.
I smiled a little, reaching the faint turn. There was another door. It looked like an old front-door. A little glass fan at the top and two half-way up. A gentle push and it swung gently inwards.
I heard the music now. Like a slow jazz or blues tune that I half-remembered.
I suddenly feared that the place was closed and that the music had been let on low for the cleaners benefit. But there was a man at the bar, a glass in hand. He looked up and smiled at me, beckoning me in.
I was a little surprised and confused… but as I walked into the room, the door closing almost silently behind me, I saw a few shadowy shapes sitting at tables.
The barman extended a hand towards the taps and to the spirits that lined the wall. I looked them over for a moment before I spied my regular drink.
I pointed with a smile and he returned it with a nod.
I look around for the source of the music, breathing in the sweet smelling smoke that gave everything a mahogany and violet hue.
I saw a wall of shadows. Smoke-instruments for ghosts I muse… perhaps I could join in with my fiddle if they didn’t mind… wait. I need to make sure that the knock earlier didn’t damage it!
I place the box on the bar, regretting the loud, hollow knock it makes as the hard-case hits the old wood of the bar.
I open it and look at it. Looks fine. A careful and gently plink of the strings tells me that it’s still in tune too.
I breath a sub-audible sigh of relief as the barman places the glass of my favourite liqueur on the bar next to my hand. I quickly get my wallet out.
The barman places a hand over mine and then takes my hand to the drink, giving me a warm nod and wink, waving me towards the seats and the band.
I take my glass and case… bemused and somehow… well… soothed…
The room is quiet. The music as close and ethereal as the smoke it waved through.
I couldn’t remember the song properly but I could swear I knew it.
I walked towards the shadows on the far wall. Seeing them get a little more defined as I approach.
I can just about see somebody playing Double-bass, a drummer, someone on a standing piano and a guitarist.
I smile at the tune, my mind beginning to add-in the parts I would like to play right then.
I realise that I have taken a seat and am staring up at a woman at the front. I had looked right past her as she gently hums into the microphone with the music… it’s so gentle that it all somehow sound muted.
I get out my fiddle and place it on the table… not sure why but I just felt the need to show it off.
I see her look down as the guitarist takes a solo that would lull even the most rowdy baby into sleep. Her eyes seem to caress my instrument and urge it to the stage as I had been urged down the stairs.
Her hand takes mine and I am already standing. She pulls me gently over the lights and up beside her.
The Pianist is the true image of a jazz stereotype. He offers a warm hand to shake and proffers a spare seat. I sit for a moment. Looking out at the club.
I can see the whole place. The lights that made the smoke appear thicker were not as blinding from this side. They only made faint panes of brighter smoke against the walls.
I saw a dark flickering man in the corner. A glass like smoke in his insubstantial fingers. He raised the glass in greeting. I raised my violin…
The solo ended without any burst of volume or even a brake in tempo.
The woman gently moaned into the microphone, her haunting melody seeming so much more intimate sitting beside her.
I lift my bow before I even know what note I’m going to play. Then I know. I match their key and gently play a long slow note with them.
She looks back at me with a smile and I see the guitarist’s teeth flash behind his five o’clock shadow.
The drummer gave me a few extra gentle beats as I got settles into the flow. It was a flow.
I never stopped. I just went from one note to another, never jumping, never cutting or trying to take over… it was like being in a warm stream with the rest of them. We were all there, going the same way and this was just how we altered it to our shape.
The drummer closed his eyes and I was tempted to do the same.
The tall, stringy man on the bass was swaying. The large instrument rocking with him like a dance partner.
The girl was tenderly humming and vocalising to the tune. We all were together and she took the mic in her hands and turned to face me, swaying her hips and shoulders to my chords and my eyes closing to her voice….
I couldn’t stop… but if I could I wouldn’t have. I wanted to play! I wanted to stay here and play all night long…
The tune went on and on. I never knew the whole thing but it was so familiar to me that I knew where it was going. every faint change was known and anticipated. I flowed.
We flowed and before I knew it, my eyes were getting heavy and wanted to close for the night.
I had paused to finish my drink. And when I placed the empty glass on my seat, the girl tuned to me and kissed me on the cheek. Her ruby-red lipstick feeling sticky and hot on my skin as she seemed to tell me I needed to go. That I had a bed to be in by morning.
I smiled at her and hugged her gently. Shaking hands with the drummer, bass and piano before sharing a bow with the guitarist.
I went to the bar and ordered another drink. The barman didn’t ask for payment this time either. He gave me a wink and a smile. A ‘come back anytime’ look at the band as I raised my glass to the room.
Those at the tables and in the wings raised their glasses to me in return and I looked back at the dark corner… the seat was empty.
I raised my glass to it anyway and finished it. Smiling at the barman and shaking his hand heartily as I headed for the door.
As I opened the door, the glass reflected the man who was in the corner. But when I looked he wasn’t there.
I shrugged gently. Never mind
I strolled up the stairs and called for a taxi as I opened the door to outside.
The rain was heavier and colder but bothered me so much less than before that I didn’t care as I gently strode towards the road.
As I reached it, the taxi arrived and I swept inside, gave my address and the driver drove off.
He was going very fast and used the breaks heavily… so chaotic and heavy.
I took out my fiddle. Closing my heavy eyes I played what little I remembered of the song I had played.
“Hah… haven’t heard that in a long time. That’s the one they play in dead, right?” the man said.
We were coasting now. Not as fast but not as heavy on the breaks. Not overtaking anything, just flowing with the other traffic.
I nodded, assuming he meant the club. “what’s that place called friend?” I asked
“Club Dead pal. A place I have been meaning to go back to for over a year… that barman still there? I owe him a drink” the driver said, leaning back comfortably in his chair as he negotiated the still black tarmac river we swam across with other glittering wheeled-boats around us.
I nodded, then smiled “I would like to go back. Will see how life goes”
See how life goes… because it is. Life simply: is.

Song in the Dead

Nathaniel Tempest

Redditch, United Kingdom

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Artist's Description

a fiddle player wanders into the club where he feels compelled to add his strings to the tune a while before dawn

Artwork Comments

  • SashaC
  • Nathaniel Tempest
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