The Corner I
Finding a parking spot was easy. Hardly anybody came to this part of town on a Tuesday night. He felt safe parking his car in this lot, especially since a police station stood right across the street. Still, he rolled up his window and locked his car. He headed towards the corner, moving between other parked cars.
His car was not a fancy car. Nor was it sporty, sleek, fast, or painted in any bizarre colors or patterns. It didn't have to be. It went from point A to point B and that's all he really cared about. As long as it ran, he'd make good use of it.
He reached the corner of the intersection. The roads that met here were ordinary roads. Most of the lines marking the lanes and crosswalks had smudges or brake streaks or pitted with potholes. At one point in its history it had been one of the major intersections of town. That's when it got most of the damage.
Looking up, he saw the moon. Not quite at half moon, but it reflected the light from the sun with a stunning brilliance. Pollutants drifted away from this part of town most of the time. He could see a few of the craters on its silver surface. He breathed in the warm air. It was stale, like most cities. He caught a scent of the dumpster and its rotting contents. It came from behind the diner on the far corner. Tomorrow night it wouldn't smell. Trash pick-up was on Wednesday and Saturdays. Otherwise the scent of the city permeated the air. Dust, motor oil and fuel, garbage, asphalt, and other stuff added to the city air.
Red turned to green on the light in front of him. He was the only activity in the intersection. Rush hour had longed since passed. The walk light started to flash red as he passed the halfway point. He took his time, sidestepping a pothole about the size of a coffeepot. Caused by wear, tear, and neglect, the hole drove motorists crazy heading into downtown in the left-hand lane. He reached the corner with time to spare.
A page from this morning's newspaper flapped in the breeze created by him. The rustling died down into the natural sounds of a city at night. Once in a while, someone would honk his or her horn. A siren would wail somewhere off in the distance. A driver would rev his engine occasionally. Someone, somewhere shuffled something creating some noise. Cat meows and dog barks came and went.
He looked down to see the paper that made the noise. It sat half buried in dust, empty beer cans, and other garbage. He then glanced to his left at the diner. A few people sat at the counter while a lady ran back and forth, delivering food and picking up money. A cook ran behind an opening in the wall, making the food to serve the customers.
Then, he turned his attention to the door of the nightclub. If it weren't for the red sign of the club above it, the door would be like any other along the street.
A bouncer stood sentinel at the door and asked to see his ID. He showed his license and went in to pay the cover charge. He wondered why the bouncer always asked to see his ID. He had been coming here frequently. The owner knew who he was. The owner took his usual five bucks and put it in his drawer. By the owner's estimate, tonight was going to be a slow night. It was not expected, though. Tuesdays were the slowest of all. Tomorrow night would be better, Leather Night.
He passed by the owner after receiving a hand stamp. As he opened the door to the inner sanctum, he heard the owner sit back in his metal chair and drink from his coffee mug. A mug that had been a gift from a lover long since dumped. The metal chair groaned under the owner's weight.
Inside the club he noticed the band setting up the small, corner stage. Surveying the landscape, he found the usual regulars in their usual seats. He found his table, a green C-shaped booth with a small square table and nobody in it. The booth was not the best seat of the house, nor was it the worst. It was not located near the stage or at the very back but in the middle against the wall. He crossed the dance floor and sat at his booth.
From the outside, the club looked small, however the owner utilized the interior to create as much space as possible. The restrooms and the bar occupied the back wall facing the entrance and the corner stage. Along the sides walls sat all the permanent seating in the form of booths. Their colors alternated between red and green. Temporary chairs and tables sat in the back half of the room. The rest was the dance floor. On most nights, when there was a lot of people present, the owner would store the temporary chairs and tables in a closet behind the bar. Then, the club could easily hold over a hundred.
He sat patiently for the band to get ready. As they moved, the light glinted off their instruments. Varnished wood, brass, and silver each had their moments in the light to his eyes. The stage and the band sat under the spotlights, drawing everyone's attention to it. All of the party and dance lights hung dark from the ceiling. Who wanted flashing strobe lights and disco balls for this type of music? No one. Small, regular light bulbs surrounded the dance lights fixture, spaced a few feet apart. Flames flickered from a candle on each table.
He swept his hand over the flame feeling the warmth. A gentleman a few feet away lit a cigarette. He watched as the gentleman drew in his first drag and slowly let it out in a constant stream of smoke. Softly, the odor of cigarette smoke intensified. Although he did not smoke, he always left this nightclub with the unmistakable scent of smoke. Laundry always solved that problem.
The barmaid sauntered over to his table. He knew her. He had been coming here for quite some time and had gotten to know her. She brought his usual glass of water and a cup full of peanuts. She asked if he wanted anything. After a moment, he shook his head no. Leaving him content, she walked off to the man with the cigarette.
Finally, the drummer of the band tapped on the mic and thanked everyone for coming. A few members of the audience applauded briefly as the drummer returned to his seat. The audience grew quiet as the band members looked at each other. They had done this before. Tonight would be the same as any other. With a nod, the drummer let his band mates know what song to play first.
Softly and slowly, the band started the first piece. As they played he shifted in his booth putting his feet up on to the bench. He liked this band. Jazz music flowed into his ears. Delicate melodies and undertones came from the band as they continued to play the slow jazz. Slow jazz was the only type of jazz he liked. It relaxed him. He closed his eyes and focused just on the music. Beautiful sounds from the bass blended effortlessly with the piano notes and the drum. The band did stop between numbers but they all blended together in his mind.
When some time had passed, the band announced they were going to take a break. He and the audience did their polite applause as the band left the stage. They left through a side door into their own private dwelling. By this time, more people had come in to listen to them.
The barmaid came by and asked if he wanted to have some coffee. Again he shook his head no. She walked back to the bar to fill some of her orders. Just like the club owner, it would be a slow night for her. She enjoyed the music on Tuesday nights as well as meeting everybody at their table. The rest of the nights she worked she always stayed behind the bar. She didn't want to meet the weirdos.
He got up from his booth and went to the restroom. The first wave of men needing to relieve themselves had come and gone. Only two men stood in the stalls as he walked in. Surprisingly, the restroom smelled cleaned. He came to this club once with some friends on a Friday night. The place was packed and the restrooms had the worst odor he had ever experienced. From that night he vowed never to go back on Friday nights.
When he finished his duty in the restroom, he returned to his booth. The gentleman lit his fifth cigarette of the evening. He watched the flame dance around the end of the man's cigarette. He wondered how much a man could smoke in one night. Cancer obviously was not a concern of this gentleman.
Band members trickled back to the corner stage. A gorgeous woman joined them as they warmed up. Light dazzled off of some of the sequins on her exquisite gown. She pulled up a stool and sat on the edge of the stage. On cue from the drummer, she started to sing the blues.
He became enraptured with her voice. It sure was better than the group that played in this club two weeks ago. That singer performed on a slightly different key than the band. This one, however, just added to the music perfectly. In another world, she could have been a diva on the opera scene or an actress in a dramatic piece.
He looked across the room to see if anyone else noticed her exceptional talent. The man with the addiction to cigarettes gently waved his free hand to the music. He wondered if the man was the band's manager. The man dressed nicely and seemed to be in the possession of money although not a lot. This was also the first time he had seen the man with the cigarettes. He dared not speak to the smoking man for fear of embarrassment of misidentification.
Continuing his look around the room, he noticed an elderly couple dancing near the entrance. Alone on the floor, they moved gracefully along with the blues song. Once in a while they would pass through a spotlight. By their age and the look of love in their eyes, he speculated that they have been married for at least thirty years. They never looked around, only at each other.
He then noticed a man sitting very close to the stage. If there were to be an Adonis in this crowd, this man would be the one. Better built than the bouncer, the man by the stage looked like he spent hours a day in the gym. The possibility of steroid use by the muscle man crossed his mind. He scolded himself for having such thoughts. It wasn't nice to jump to those types of conclusions about a person.
The singer continued on. She had everyone's attention. He settled back into his seat and relished in the song. She never left her key. He definitely wanted to get any music that featured her voice.
At the conclusion, the audience erupted into cheers and clapping. He, too, joined them. A few shouts distracted his attention. Five women started to hoot and holler from a table near the bar. They obviously had one too many. One of the women had trouble sitting back down. She missed the chair and hit the floor. Her friends just laughed. He hoped they wouldn't create a nuisance later. Champagne glasses filled their table. He hoped they had a designated driver.
Behind them he got a glimpse at two men sitting at a booth. It was hard to see their faces because they were sitting between the lights. They had stopped clapping and sat down. He barely caught a glimpse of one of the men kissing the other on the cheek. One of the crazy women blocked his view as she helped her befallen friend.
When the singer started again, the applause ended. The man with the cigarette lit another and continued with his hand gestures. Meanwhile, the man from the gym got up from his seat and walked towards the restroom. When he passed, his strong cologne mixed with the cigarette smoke. Neither the muscle man nor the smoking man inhaled the resulting fumes, but he did. It made him slightly nauseous.
The singer continued on. She sat on the stool looking around the room. He made eye contact with her once. The singer was beautiful. Someone, probably the singer herself, did one hell of a makeup job on her face. The light seemed to emanate from her. He reverted back to the way he listened before: eyes closed and focused on the music and the voice.
More applause and cheers followed the end of the song. He did not notice the muscled man returning to his seat, this time with the two men from across the room with him. The elderly couple stayed on the dance floor. They never looked around, only at each other.
Suddenly, he heard a slap come from behind him. Moving to see what had transpired, he saw the barmaid giving a scruffy man a piece of her mind. From what he could hear, the bum tried to make a pass at her. The bouncer and the manager came to her side and grabbed the bum. Kicking and screaming, the dirty man reluctantly left the premises. People applauded after the manager returned.
Instead of sitting on her stool, the talented singer moved about the room in the next number. First stop was the table with the three men. She toyed with each one: ruffing the hair, massaging the shoulders, and the like. The elderly couple did not notice the actions. They never looked around, only at each other. With a fluid motion, the singer moved from table to table. Everyone, including the regulars and critics, enjoyed this change of pace. Before reaching the table with the crazy women, the singer veered in his direction. He could barely contain his excitement as she slipped on to his small table. She sang directly to him.
When their eyes met, a thousand fantasies and dreams sparked through his mind. Some romantic, some sexual, some serious, some funny, and some of them were down right bizarre. He wished this moment would last an eternity. An eternity to hold her, to be with her, to see the world through her eyes, to experience everything with her. Just as fast as she made eye contact she broke it. The moment passed. Yet the memory burned into his soul.
She lifted herself off the table and extended her beautiful, delicate hand. Caught off guard, he did the only thing he thought he should do. He placed his hand under hers and bent over to kiss the delicate hand. It was a gentleman's kiss: soft and brief. He looked up to see her face. She smiled as she continued on with her song. With a wink, she turned towards another table with another patron.
He sat frozen in his seat. The wink brought back the fantasies and dreams. He remembered the kiss, the beauty of her hand, the faint scent of perfume that seemed to cover her like lace, and the wink.
Looking around, he saw the man with the cigarette nod at him. The three men near the stage gave him a thumbs up. One of them wanted him to come over to their table. He declined politely. The crazy women spoke softly amongst themselves; oblivious to the singing going on around them. Most of the other patrons followed the singer with their eyes. A few looked his way. The elderly couple continued to dance. Neither partner looked his way. They never looked around, only at each other. The singer continued on.
She ended up back on the stage just as the song ended. Everyone rose with a standing ovation. She bowed, as did the band. He clapped so hard; he felt pain on his palms from the sheer impact on his hands together.
Next on the list was a faster paced piece. He didn't care for fast-paced music. It got him going which was precisely what he wanted to avoid. Slow jazz and blues relaxed him. He sipped the last of the water from his glass. What was left of the ice, only a few shards, tapped and clinked to the bottom as he put the glass on the table. No one but him heard the noise.
He decided to leave after this song. Tomorrow would be another day at the office, as usual. Another trip downtown to work.
For being a fast-paced song it sure took a while. Finally, the singer stopped. Quickly with stealth, he left his booth and walked to the exit. He left his usual tip for the barmaid. The three men seemed disappointed at his departure.
Standing next to the exit, a clear plastic jar sat on a stool. The manager always put it out in case anybody wanted to leave a tip for the performers. For the first time in his life, he left a ten dollar tip for the band. He had to find a recording of theirs sometime soon. He then left the hall and said his good byes to the manager and the bouncer. Both gave him a nod and went back to their discussion. The bouncer wanted more money. Currently, the manager paid the sentinel below average pay compared to other bouncers. Reluctantly, the manager acquiesced and gave the bouncer a small raise. It was a victory nonetheless.
He left the nightclub thoroughly satisfied. The bouncer closed the door behind him. It was five bucks well spent. Wondering what to do next, he took in his surroundings. Very little had changed. The silver moon had moved further up in the night sky. The air had more of a cigarette smell, mainly coming from him. He shouldn't have sat so close to the one man smoking machine. Otherwise, he could smell the dumpster from behind the diner in front of him. A few people, although different from before, sat at the counter. A woman and a girl sat next to the long window.
Curious, he ventured over to the restaurant for a late-night snack.
When he stepped off the curb, he noticed the newspaper and trash had disappeared. He found out why when he reached the entrance to the diner facing the police station. A rotating yellow light signaled a streetsweeper a few blocks away; its humming vacuum creating a bass tone to the night sky.
Faintly, he heard the voice of the singer from the nightclub. He entered the diner. The singer continued on.