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The Piano Player
(The prompt was the LP album cover of Frank Sinatra’s “No One Cares”)
A man is sitting at a bar. His shoulders are hunched and his wide brimmed
brown fedora is pushed back on his head. His hands rest on the bar in front of
him and his fingers are laced around an empty glass. A Juke box is playing blues
in the background. He looks up at the bartender and speaks.
“Know who that is, Barney? Y’know the song?” The bartender is wiping
glasses. He stops a moment to listen.
“Yeah, that’s Lena. She’s singin’ Misty. I hear it all day, Peachy. People
come in -- next thing y’know they stickin’ a quarter in the machine to play
Peachy disengages one hand from his empty glass and reaches in his coat. He
pulls a picture from his pocket. “There she is. That’s the way she looked when
she was with the “Peachy Trio.”
The bartender takes the picture and holds it under the lamp at the end of the
bar. He whistles softly, then turns with a puzzled look. “You’d hardly
recognize her, you sure it’s her?”
“Oh yes, I’m sure all right. I took it in the alley outside the stage door.
I ain’t much of a photographer. But how about the woman? That’s Lena all
right, the way she used to be.” He pushes his hat even further back on his head.
“When she sang for us she was Lena Umbarella.”
“Gospel truth, Barney. We were playin’ a downtown club on Third Avenue, and
this skinny kid in jeans walks in with her hair tied up in a knot in back of
her head and she asks me, ‘y’need a girl singer?’ ... How’s about one for the
Barney pours Peachy another bourbon just as the song ends. Peachy goes over
to the machine and puts another quarter in. “Hear how she does that turn? ...
‘would I wander through this wonderland alone ...’ I taught her how to do
that, Barney. I taught her all she knows. She’s got three damn Grammy’s and all
got is that picture.” They listen in attentive silence. “She’s got this
trick, y’know. Same thing all great singers got. When she sings you’d swear
you’re the only man in the room and she’s hangin’ it all out -- just f’you.”
“I put up the dough for her wardrobe -- every penny. She’d do a set of
upbeat tunes, y’know -- “Just in Time” “The Lady is a Tramp,” that kind’a stuff.
That’s the outfit she wore in the picture.” Peachy downs the glass of
bourbon, and Barney gives him back the picture.
“Sweet on her, wuz ya?”
Peachy shrugs. “Maybe. No more. ‘No mas’ as they say over on the West side.
Just about the time we hit it big Uptown, she tells me she ain’t handin’ it
out to no piano player.”
“What can y’do,” Barney sighs. “Sure makes for a sad story, Peachy.”
“Yeah,” says Peachy, “Kind of a thing y’hear late at night I guess -- don’t
think much about it during the day. But this time of the night ... ”
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