club rio

…i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you
the way you walked
the way you talked
the things you used to say
i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you
i couldn’t say
for sure today
whether your eyes were blue and grey
i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you.

i’m through
thinking of you
i tell you i’m through
thinking of you

i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you

oh, what a lie
i shall think of you, think of you, think of you
till i die…

her voice cut through the haze of cigar smoke and the dim lightning like the sound of thunder on a clear summer’s day. i sat up straight in my chair, entranced by the sound of the voice boring towards my ears through the mist that surrounded me. i looked around – others had been equally affected by the singer’s voice, and were paying attention to her, instead of to their hastily abandoned conversations.

the year was 1987. i had been coming to the jazz club regularly for about ten years now, and this was the first time i ever heard someone of her caliber perform there. the usual fare of semi-talented musicians had passed through the doors, and had never stayed too long on stage. with her, i could tell that this time it was going to be different. the club would not let her go until her talent had taken her to the lofty heights that she was destined to reach.

her name was rachel armstrong, and she was new in town. she had grown up on a farm outside the city, and had travelled to the city to earn her keep through singing when the farm had closed down due to massive losses caused by the recent drought. i thanked nature for its mercy, as without the droughts she would never have had cause to leave the farm and would never have wandered up on stage at the club to delight us with her voice.

at the end of her performance, the applause was deafening. the crowd, mostly regular attendees, stood together and applauded her till she finally walked off stage. lubricated by the alcohol they had consumed en masse and fuelled by the soulful performance, the audience could not show enough appreciation for the music. i agreed wholeheartedly – i only wish my claps were more audible over every one else’s applause, because i had spent years searching for someone like her.

when she finally proceeded backstage, i left my table and walked towards the dressing rooms. i had to find out all about her, and how often she would be performing, because i planned to be there every night that she sang, just so i could soak up the radiance of her voice. i wound my way through the corridors that made up the backstage area until i found myself near the dressing rooms. the area was in a state of apopleptic chaos – everyone was talking in excited whispers and hushes about the performance, some genuinely appreciative of her talent, while most were more worried about their future with the club. i couldn’t care less about these selfish “musicians” who claimed to have talent that was never revealed when they were onstage.

i walked into her dressing room to find her seated with the manager of the club, who was having difficulty finding words to express his admiration. “my god, that was amazing,” i heard him say as i walked in. “i’m so glad i decided to hire you.” dear old mike. couldn’t stop praising himself for a second. no matter. rachel was a star that was soon going to outshine this crummy little joint, and there was nothing he could do about it. “i’m prepared to offer you a permanent job here at club rio. twice a week, an hour-long set, full publicity, the works. i’ll pay you twelve hundred bucks a month.” i cursed under my breath. mike was offering her much less than she deserved. i was shocked when she agreed, but then i realized that twelve hundred bucks must seem like a lot to someone who just arrived in the city from the brink of destitution. no matter. mike would have his hands full trying to keep other jazz clubs from poaching her from him, and in a few months, when news about her spread, he would be paying her much more than that, just to keep her on board.

mike left, and i sat in my chair, watching her remove her make up. she didn’t seem to mind my presence, which i appreciated. so many other performers felt annoyed when i came to speak to them, brushing me away like a mosquito. rachel, however, did not have a problem with my sitting there, just watching her. i was glad for that. besides, i couldn’t think of anything to say, because her performance had left me speechless. not too many other singers had ever done that before.

she got up and left shortly after, but not before i had found out where she lived – a rundown section of the city, famous for its crime and vagrants. i didn’t feel worthy enough to walk her home, so i watched her leave through the back door, followed by the envious stares of the other performers. i returned to my table, to watch the rest of the performers, all of whom i doubted could measure up to her performance. i was right. i left about an hour later, walking out the main entrance, the walls of the corridors lined with pictures of distinguished members and musicians who had played at the club and reached some sort of fame elsewhere.

rachel was back twice the next week, and twice a week after that for about three months, seducing everyone with the sound of her voice. i was surprised to see that every day the cigar smoke seemed to be thicker – it seemed that news of her talent had already spread, and she was drawing larger and larger crowds with every performance. i still had no difficulty getting my regular table, but there were many more new faces at the club every time. i tried to express my annoyance, but to no avail. mike was too happy with quantity, and didn’t particularly care about quality. i couldn’t blame him. rachel was a gold mine that he had just begun to tap, and he could therefore be excused for his behavior.

i didn’t see much of rachel outside of her performances for quite a while. mike, already worried about his competitors, had hired two large body guards who drove her to the club right before she went onstage, and then hurried her out of the club at the end of her performance. therefore, i was pleasantly surprised to find her sitting in the audience one day, watching the performers. it was a wednesday, and she wasn’t scheduled to go onstage, but her love for jazz had drawn her to watch these mediocre fools who were not even half as talented as she was. i thought i would mention that to her, but before i could sit at her table, she was joined by mike and her bodyguards, who took up all the empty chairs. dejected, i seated myself at a table near her, instead of taking my regular seat near the stage. no big loss. i was too focused on rachel to care about what was going on on stage anyway.

mike was his usual happy self, displaying the bright smile that had not faded from his face since rachel’s first performance. he was commending her on her skill, and her talent, and her voice, but i knew mike well enough to know that he was commending her on bringing in all the money he had made since her debut. selfish bastard, i thought to myself. i wondered if he was still paying her twelve hundred a month, or whether he had given her a raise yet.

rachel smiled at mike benignly, and i could tell from the look on her face that she was paying more attention to the music than to what he was saying. she seemed much happier now, and was still amazingly beautiful, even without the make up or the sleek red dress she wore on stage.

mike, suddenly devoid of any more praise, tried his best to seduce rachel. it was a disgusting sight – an overweight, bald man trying his chances with what was certainly a siren from the gods. rachel seemed not to notice, and i felt my heart leap at the thought. surely i wasn’t falling in love with her?

after several minutes of pathetic lines from mike, rachel decided to change the subject. “i’ve noticed,” she began, “that the table nearest the stage is always empty. why is that, michael?”

mike snorted. “well, you see rachel, one of the chief reasons this club stands here today is because, a few years ago, this slightly…er…eccentric jazz bassist named colter smith left his entire life savings – over 3 million dollars – to the club when he died, on the condition that that table should always remain unoccupied, in case he ever cares to visit. and since the money is in an account overseen by his lawyers, we have to accomodate his wishes. lord knows that that money has come in handy for repairs, maintenance and on the several occasions that this club nearly shut down for lack of profits. plus, the story is a fun one to tell new members, and adds to the atmosphere of the place.”

“interesting,” said rachel, and for a while she kept silent, listening to the music, while subtly evading mike’s attempts at seduction.

half an hour later, she rose. “i have to leave now, mike. i’ll see you on friday. oh, and can you save a table near the front for my husband? he just got back from the war, and he’ll be here to see the show.”

i was shocked, as mike probably was also. a husband? she was married? i had never even considered the possibility, probably because of her spouse’s conspicuous absence for so long. but then, of course he was off fighting for our country in the war. i was dejected, i have to admit. i had been feeling the first pangs of love for rachel, and it was difficult to come to terms with the fact that she could never be mine.

i sat in the club for about fifteen minutes after rachel and her entourage left, followed by a very eager to please mike. i felt i needed a walk and a breath of fresh air – stale cigar smoke, dark lights and jazz was suddenly not the kind of atmosphere i wanted to be in. i would, of course, be back on friday to watch rachel perform, so there was that comfort at least.

i walked out the main entrance, past my picture hanging on the wall. i noticed the plaque below it needed cleaning – one could hardly read the words: colter smith, 1923-1977.


Lyrics to song borrowed from Agatha Christie’s Yellow Iris.

1 Comment

  1. hey….that was soooo good.
    better than acid.
    i mean it.
    it seems as if you were tip toeing through the whole floor, carrying a drink at… roni scott’s.

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