Lost & Found
It’s fitting that they use the phrase, “tickling the ivories,” because pianists can sound like they’re doing just that—flirting with the notes, teasing them, warming them up before the big crescendo. The keys hit lightly, as if they themselves are surprised by first contact, taken aback before responding to the touch.
I’d seen him there for a while. The Lost and Found was the kind of place where you saw the same people again and again, knew them even if you never spoke. I ran into the woman they call Lucky at the mall once. She looked exactly the same: bright red hair done up in Princess Leia buns, slim torso squeezed slimmer by a leather corset. We embraced as if we were long lost sisters, but fell back to perfunctory nods and indifference the next time we met at the bar.
I like to imagine him sitting back against the cracked red leather booth, barely distinguishable in a cloud of cigarette smoke, but of course that couldn’t have been right. We were both devotees of Ivan Johnson Trio Thursdays, when Ivan took his post at the piano in the corner of the bar and his band mates hovered close to him, creating a makeshift stage just out of the way of the pool tables. Tonight they were playing through Straight, No Chaser.
He beckoned me over and called me by a nickname I never use. I didn’t correct him. We became old friends within minutes, his arm around my shoulder, nose inches away from my cheek as he spoke into my ear. My red nails tapping out the melody of the trio’s current song on the tight denim above his knee. We both loved jazz, we both loved Ivan, we were both too young and too vital for the Lost and Found. He wanted to make movies, but didn’t usually like to tell people that, because they automatically assumed he was some wannabe Tarantino or Wes Anderson. Guys like Howard Hawks on the other hand, he said, they didn’t write themselves into a hole, they could do anything, any genre, you name it. And hey, come to think of it, I sort of reminded him of Rosalind Russell.
We danced around the bar after last call and we could feel scattered pairs of eyes settle upon our wheeling figures. We gave them a show: this is what it looks like when you’re laughing and carefree and you still have it all ahead of you. “You’re a terrible dancer, you know that?” he said. “It’s a Box Step. You just make a box with your feet. You do know what a box is, don’t you?”
Music is something I feel in my body and sometimes I can’t even reason out why it makes me feel like it does. But I’m giddy in anticipation of that ultimate moment when the sounds swell up around me, crash overhead and carry me away. And when I spun out away from him and pressed back in, I almost believed that I could stay suspended there.
When I was a teenager and I first discovered alcohol, I loved the way it heated me up from within, transforming me into something graceful and wanted and capable of being known. So I kept going, hoping to drink myself into my body until, of course, I learned my lesson hunched over white porcelain one forgotten night. Sometimes we are able to spot our limits before we come up against them and sometimes we crash into them at full force, but either way it hurts.
I wait for those moments when all of the instruments play in unison, when all of the pieces work conjunctively to achieve something bigger than the sum of their parts.
I glanced over at Lucky as she held court at the corner of the bar, gesturing with the stem of a maraschino cherry as she told a story to a couple of drooling 40-somethings. Barlight bouncing off of her glittered cheekbones, posture perfect, she inflated under their gaze. Something like life flickering in their dull eyes as they locked onto her.
When he pulled me up, ironing out the curve in my spine, we could have kept dancing, but the charm had worn off. That’s the thing with charm: it wears off. The magic of intrigue fades and you’re exposed, clutching.
The bartender flipped the lights on and there we were, pressed against each other, swaying on the stained green carpet.
I’ve heard the saxophone ring as clear as a human voice, but articulate in a way that language can’t be. It’s simple to fall in love with strangers, to twirl around the perimeter of the room until people start to stare. You can call it whatever you want, but you risk spinning out into the revelation that you’re dancing alone. I pressed my hands to his chest. It hardly mattered whether I meant to draw him in closer or to push him away.
Samantha Barron is a writer.