SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME
It’s just after midnight and the rain is coming down harder now, pouring from the sky in sheets. I am dry inside my still new 1945 Buick Century, my fingers curled around the steering wheel, trying to settle the last swig of bourbon from tearing open my gut, eating away whatever heart I have left. As I look up through the windshield, the cascade of rain almost brightens the midnight sky, rattling the roof above me and my heart tries to keep the beat, doing double, even triple-time. I had to park clear to Saginaw Street, since cars are lined up along Harrison. Must be a packed crowd inside the Leaf tonight, which is good, it’ll bring in some dough and that’ll make up for a bummer of a birthday yesterday, my thirty-fifth. Jesus, I’m old and bitter but really, I don’t need anything unless it’s wrapped in a greenback. That’s the truth. I brush my hand over my lips and open the door.
The rain blankets my shoulders, soaking my jacket along the arms. I pull my fedora down over my eyes and sidestep a large puddle in the middle of the muddy street. Two headlights bounce towards me and then a Packard passes by. “No place to park back there, bub,” I say, over my shoulder. I jump over the curb and see the faint red of the club’s sign through the rain, GOLDEN LEAF CLUB, MEMBERS ONLY. Huddled in the doorway of this two-story house on the northside of town, which serves some of the best jazz in the Midwest, is a thin man with a large smile. Jimmy “Bamm” Patton is one of the best drummers I’ve ever heard and the proprietor of the club. He looks at me and shakes his head.
"I thought you were coming earlier," he says. “I was expecting to see your ugly mug hours ago. I got this for you,” and hands me an envelope.
"I meant to come," I smile back. "Things got a little messy. I had to wait it out. You know how it is.” I hand him my coat, which he drapes over his arm, and I lay my hat on top. "Say, is she here?"
He laughs. "Oh yeah, you know it. She better be here. You see all the automobiles out there? The lot’s full and Harrison’s lined, trunk to trunk, clear on down the block. The Leaf’s packed and they’ve paid their way to hear that woman sing,” Bamm says. ”And buy several rounds of drinks, too!” He laughs a deep, raspy laugh and smiles wide. “She was asking about you, alright, fidgeting, looking all around. She says she don’t sing nothing right if you ain’t here." Bamm has seen and heard everything in his sixty years of living, no doubt, and he looks to me and points a finger. “I told her to just calm down and let the music do what it does. She’ll be alright. That woman can sing in her sleep.”
I smile in agreement, “Yeah, I think you’re right.” I straighten my tie and thank him. “She’ll be alright.”
“She just started her set,” he says. “House table’s still open.”
I brush my right hand over my double-breasted suit jacket, and then tug gently at the bottom, removing any wrinkles, trying to revive any crispness. I walk down a darkened hallway, past some framed photographs lining the forest green walls. From there, I hear the muffled horns and drums and some clapping, and silence.
I hit the cigarette machine, release a pack of Pall Malls, and stuff it in my inside jacket pocket. As I enter the main room, I am struck by the mass of silhouettes amid a haze of smoke, lingering in the air, the stage somewhere through it all. The room is packed, just like Bamm said, more so than I’ve ever seen.
I move closer to the bar and nod to The Duke who pours me a drink. I set two bills on the counter and try to make my way around several large men. Faces in the room appear through the smoke, softly exposed by the stage lights, and disappear and then reappear again. I hear the piano and then a voice, drawing me through the darkness.
There's a saying old, says that love is blind
Oh, sweet Jesus, I gasp. That voice.
Still we're often told, seek and ye shall find
So I'm going to seek a certain lad I've had in mind
I look to the stage, but the band remains in silhouette, swaying to the rhythm. Tiny, the pianist, moves his head ever so slightly and though the haze, I see Ella.
Looking everywhere, haven’t found him yet
He’s the big affair I cannot forget
Only man I ever think of with regret
I’d like to add his initial to my monogram
Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?
She takes a step closer to the microphone, wrapping her fingers around the top of the stand, just under the large mic, bringing it closer. Her eyes twinkle, the softness of her lips belying the sheer power of her voice filling the room.
There’s a somebody I’m longin’ to see
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone who’ll watch over me
I’m listening as if for the first time, for she is different to me now. Her voice is like velvet - in such contrast to the seediness of the club - so smooth, and pure like the first time I heard her, years ago. Her phrasing has matured: the way she holds off singing that beginning note of each line, her voice poised, until the last possible moment, which makes each word pulse with such longing.
I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good
To one who’ll watch over me
I close my eyes and I remember us in the late morning. I can almost taste the feeling of her close to me, her fingers on my chest, the warmth of her hips. The fresh aroma of flowers, a garden. Now, I look up and see the woman she’s become, the roundness of her hips, her body. As she sings, she moves her hands in soft sweeping motions in front of her and then rests her right hand on top of the slight roundness of her belly, now catching the light, and looks to me. She smiles at the secret between us and sings.
Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key
The mix of the bourbon and the music fill me with hope and at the same time, a sorrowful dread, and I can’t bear this, not here, not now. I put my drink down, flicking the glass meekly at the base with my finger. She doesn’t need me now, she has the key nestled inside her.
Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh, how I need
Someone to watch over me
I mumble those same words under my breath, "Watch over me." I rise, slowly, so slowly, and steady myself with my fingers pressed against the table top.
Someone to watch over me
I move back along the bar, stumbling through the darkness, ducking through the hallway, past Bamm and out into the rainy night.
David Bontumasi’s stories have recently been featured in Hypertext Magazine, The Write Launch, Modern Creative Life, The RavensPerch, and Black Mirror Magazine. His novella, OF THIS EARTH, was set in Sicily and Michigan in the 1920’s and he’s hard at work on his second book, an untitled collection of short stories. David lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons. Visit him at davidbontumasi.com