“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
She walks, she talks, she sings a little song.
THE TAXI PULLED AWAY from the curb. Krista stood on the sidewalk, her smiling eyes taking in Mike and Susan Manning’s turreted 1897 Queen Anne Victorian, a tired but comely presence on the wee hour’s moonlit stage. The old girl, all done up in gables, spindles and curlicues, always seemed dressed for the party inside.
Krista was touched by the dignity the once fashionable house still managed to assert, sandwiched as it was by two three-story apartment buildings built on the bones of several less-loved queens. Only a few blocks from the Gilded Age mansions cresting St. Paul’s Summit Avenue, she imagined the house must have always stood between the have-a-lots and the have-less. A lot like me. Stuck at the threshold. Had the house also once breathed with desire, its heart pumping with longing? It was hard to tell, since age had taken its toll. While from a distance, the night airbrushed its flaws, close up, the house wore its chipped paint like yesterday’s make-up.
Susan shared with Krista that she and Mike would have preferred to restore the Victorian, even though people were telling them they were fools to consider sinking money into such an old house, especially in town. Why bother? People wanted modern designs, sleek lines like suburban ramblers. But like Krista, Mike and Susan thought the old houses worth saving. They just couldn’t afford to do the restoration. They’d only been able to hang onto the place by filling the extra four bedrooms and attic space with musicians. At least, Krista thought, they’d slowed the home’s descent and rescued it from demolition like the neighboring homes.
She stepped onto the sweeping veranda. Light within illuminated figures moving to and fro and cast an inviting glow from every main floor window, while the sounds of musicians playing free and loose charged the air with electricity. Krista closed her eyes and drew in the heady jam session atmosphere.
Once inside, it wasn’t long before Mike motioned for her to join the band for a few numbers. She squeezed in between him at the piano and a new guy on tenor sax, adjusted her tunic where her woven belt with beaded tie-strings cinched her waist, then took the mic from its stand and began to boogie with the beat. This was a new tune for her, a jazz standard with plenty of opportunity to do scat.
She stopped moving and smiled impishly at the familiar faces in the audience while Mike played extended bars of intro.
“Hi, everybody. I’m gonna do a song I haven’t done for you before, but one I know you’ll all recognize. I think you can hear what it is already: Duke Ellington’s signature Billy Strayhorn tune, ‘Get Aboard the A Train’.” With that, Krista swung into the song perfected by Ella Fitzgerald—Were there any songs Ella didn’t sing perfectly?—followed by a Cole Porter song.
She sang the last bars of Toots Thielemans’ “Bluesette,” and then, barely skipping a beat, eased into a coy but sexy rendition of that old standard with lyrics by Sammy Cahn, “Teach Me Tonight.” When the final notes came to rest, she absorbed the warm applause, giving back with a radiant smile and hand to her heart.
A man in a shiny suit was focused on her, his pupils large and dark like his Elvis hair. Pretending she didn’t see him, she moved from the band area to the back wall and sat down on the giant floor pillow that Susan always saved for her. She stole a glance toward the guy and found him sprawled diagonally on an overstuffed chair, one of his legs hanging over the arm, a conceited smirk on his face and eyes still fixed on her.
During the next hour or so, Susan came and went from the cushion next to Krista as she periodically checked the coffee urn and kept the bar organized. Krista considered the seat Susan’s, so she was surprised when a male voice rasped in her ear, “Waiting for me?” Startled, she spun her head around and found the slick-suit man settling down beside her. Habitually polite, she started to smile, then caught herself and turned away. She pretended to focus on the music while casting her eyes about the room for Susan, who was nowhere to be seen.
The guy sat facing her, one knee raised with his wrist resting on it and hand dangling. Leaning closer, he spoke in a low voice, “The way you sang that song, ‘Teach Me Tonight’, that was really something.”
“Thank you,” Krista mumbled, glancing his way and thinking his greased hair matched the sheen of his attire. She didn’t like the man—the guy even reeked of some god-awful aftershave—but she didn’t want to be rude.
“Oh, you are welcome, sweetheart.”
She could feel his half-lidded eyes crawling over her, and his position with crotch blatantly displayed was unnerving. The musicians played on and hum of conversations continued, more and more merged and muffled in her ears. An odd sensation crept over her, as if she was drifting in fog, searching for a safe landing place.
“A beautiful girl like you singing a song like that? I dunno . . .” He leaned closer and placed his hand just above her knee. “Makes a man wonder if maybe she hasn’t had a good teacher.”
Krista flushed, her breathing quickened. “It’s only a song,” she said, her words wrapped in a nervous titter.
. . . (continued) . . .
(END OF EXCERPT)
Learn more about The Woman Inside Her plot, characters, and the setting and times in which the story is set, and see an image of the Botticelli painting, The Birth of Venus, which the statuette that Krista finds in the art gallery is modeled on (though in the painting the young goddess is not winged).
Copyright 2020 Martta Karol, All Rights Reserved