Introduction:Its a few minutes after midnight and I’m back at “Jacks”. Jacks is a jazz bar. I found it a few months ago, part of the city i never visited but found by chance, or fate. It doesn’t matter what the name of my city is, its a city, and I’m learning that this one was just like every other city around. But in this one, I found Tabby. Tabitha, Tabby, depends on her mood.
Like I said, its a jazz bar. Its smoky, despite the no-smoking signs. No one cares here, we’re all looking for the end whichever way we can get it. There is a revolving list of ‘artists’ that frequent this joint. They range from young ‘hipster’ types, all about the feeling, to old men and women that have lived hard for years, waiting for the inevitable. We’re all skirting the toilet here, we’re embracing the decline.
I wasn’t always this cheerful. I had prospects and ambitions. Hell, maybe they’re not gone for good, but as long as Tabby comes in, I will sit and wait, and continue to put living on hold.
You see, Tabby is a vampire. A sucker of life, not of blood. She’s a drug, and I started on her one night back in September. She wafts in and I swoon. She wafts out and I swoon. She is my sun, my moon, my saviour, and my downfall.
Tabby has taught me how to feel and love, not just be. Tabby has also taught me how trivial this all is. I see the line between what is real and what is imagined. And, well, its faint now. But at least I know its there.
We don’t have what you could call a relationship really. I’m pretty certain I hold up the most of it. I’m completely certain that one day she’ll just be gone. And I’m beyond certain that when she’s finally gone, I might be gone with her. At least, the piece of me that continues to get up everyday.
But this is all magnanimous and overemotional drivel. I suppose I could start at the beginning. Not at the beginning of me, the start of this journey. How I got here. And why the future is futile for me. I only have right now, my two fingers of whiskey, stale air, bad music, and the possibility that she might drop in.
The Past:Boring Ben, that's me, went to a medium sized university, in a suburban area next to a larger urban area. I hung out with some really cool people. I had a presence you could say. I wasn’t the type of person that would walk into a room and just know everyone. I was the type that would walk into a room and know half of the people. I never hurt for conversation. I had a scholarship for sports, soccer, but it wasn’t a passion for me, a means to escape my banal upbringing. I studied and got above average grade. I partied with the masses, but, never hard enough to get in trouble. I had an easy smile, was easily liked, and easily acquired companionship. I was the status-quo. I should have stayed there.
But as college rang out its days, I became enthralled with expanding my influence. I was gonna take my degree and go to work. Big firm, work my way up, make a name for myself, make some money, get married, have some kids, pass on my wisdom to grandchildren, retire and eventually die. I’m sure in there I had plans to travel, to see the world, and be cultured. But it really wasn’t terribly impressive as a goal. I just wanted to have what everyone else had. And I did. I was predictable and boring. It was great really.
I graduated and after blanketing my impressive resume about, I interviewed for a entry level job, in a financial firm. I had a ‘business’ degree. That should take me anywhere right. I moved to this glorious city where all my friends were headed. It would be just like college, only better, cause, we wouldn’t be poor anymore, and could just keep the escapades going, until one of us would ‘settle’ down.
Me and a few friends shared a large apartment in a decent neighborhood. We all worked near each other. The first few months were great. I was eager and got “good job” at work at least once a week. I was doing drone work, filing, copying, taking phone-calls, running errands. But that was ok, cause, this was my jumping off point. No where to go but up. Up. Right.
We’d do “lunch” at a popular sub shop, and “dinner” somewhere in the city. It was spectacular. We met fellow up-and-coming execs. We mingled and occasionally would hook up with some beauty in skirt-suit ensemble. But nothing was terribly serious. We were living high. Still in line for our one way trip to mediocrity.
It was great for the first year. I never went long with an empty bed, and I had plenty of money to dress nice, have the nicest gadgets. I used public transportation rather than wasting money on a car. I put money into my savings. I invested in stocks, 401k, my future. This grandiose future.
Then one of my buddies got serious. Got a few minor promotions that added up to a bigger one. Started talking about finding “the right one”. The rest of us laughed and said “you’re still young, no rush”. He didn’t rush, he didn’t have to. One of his dalliances got pregnant. They got married. That was when a little lightbulb went off in my head that perhaps all this planning wouldn’t matter if there was chance involved. But then I promptly forgot about it and went back to the grind.
I enjoyed a little success at the end of my first year. I got a small promotion, I helped on a team managed some accounts. Its all terribly boring stuff, so I wont get into it, but, I was becoming a number cruncher. This was ok though, still, I had plenty of time. We’d gotten a new roomate to replace the old one. He was still in the city, but, in townhouse. We saw less and less of him. Eventually, I stopped really talking to him but except around holidays. We sort of lost touch a few months ago. I hope he’s alright.
One by one, all of my friends went down a similar path. Either they met “the one” or they got a promotion in a different part of the world, or they decided to go back to school and pursue something else.
Not much for me changed. Sure, I got some incremental raises, minor promotions, but I still didn’t feel like I had even come close to my goal. I lost track of all my friends really. I still kept up with a few girls, but, I never felt like it was the ‘right time’ or “right one” to get serious. I had time. Lots of time.
Then my parents died. I have a few older siblings, 2 brothers and a sister, they took care of most of the business with the will. They were living closer to my parents. They all also had at least 10 years on me, and I wasn’t terribly close with anyone but my parents. My parents died in a car crash. But, something changed when that happened. If all this planning I was doing for this “future”, if it all ended tomorrow, what was it all for. After the funeral I returned home. I missed my parents, but, I felt that I was missing more than that. I looked around the apartment and saw that I was the only original roommate. I was now 29 and saw that all my friends were married or relocated. They had all grown in some way. I wasn’t growing. I was staying even. I had some substantial funds to play with, but I wasn’t playing with them. I was waiting for something. Some great thing to walk through the door.
For several months I skated through work. I put in enough effort to get by. All my usual haunts felt empty. The light behind the sports bar would illuminate the pretty face of some bright-eyed thing just come to town to change the world. I envied that. I would manage to bring that optimistic naivete back home. I would woo the pants off of her, and send her home in the throws of a whirlwind romance. I would ‘date’ her exclusively for several weeks, I would dote on her, send her flowers, candy, jewelry. And I would delight in her responses to all of my efforts. I would appreciate her efforts towards me. And as soon as it would start to enter “serious”, I’d end it. It became a viscous circle that I couldn’t break out of.
Until Marie. Marie broke my cycle for me. I’d stopped returning her calls. I stopped frequenting our familiar placed. I’d really been a prick. I took a bunch of days off of work. Treated myself to a trip to the Bahamas. When i got back, I had my roommates handing me a stack of messages from Marie.
Marie was 5’6’’, with long blond hair, an average build, a slightly largish nose, and a boatload of insecurities. It was easy for me to hook her. Not so easy to get the hook out. I finally called her and told her I was sorry, but, I just couldn’t keep playing around with her. That I didn’t have any especial liking for her, and it wasn’t fair to herself for her to blame herself. I just sucked. I didn’t even give her a chance to respond. I then got all my numbers changed. She came by one night and knocked on the door and I refused to answer.
Eventually I called the cops. All she wanted to know was what she did wrong. I didn’t have the time. I was too busy being all about myself, and going nowhere.
Monday morning, I head into the office and start reading some emails. I hear yelling in the lobby and a ruckus coming down the hall. My boss stuck his head in my cube and told me that there was someone at the front desk for me and that he thought she was really “not quite right”. He even laughed and said “you got yourself a stalker I think”. I asked him to call the cops, he did, and I went into the lobby.
Marie was hysterical. She was sitting on the couch, the receptionist had gotten her some tea to ‘calm her down”. Marie was red eyed and disheveled. I knew that I had done this to her, but, I was beyond pissed that she would bring this here. I entered the lobby, and she looked up and was actually happy to see me. Whatever for?
“Marie, you need to go now, this is not a good time”
“But Ben, you won’t let me explain, we can fix this--”
“Nothing to fix Marie. I don’t want to see you again. I’m
sorry. I can’t do this with you”.
That's when the cops got there. She was arrested. She was hospitalized for
monitoring, she apparently started attacking them. She asked for me to come help “clear her name”. I didn’t.
So, she killed herself. They called me to let me know. She’d been pregnant. She wanted to get back together before she told me. God, I sucked. I paid for her arrangements. I felt guilty, but not enough to care. My boss had a talk with me about it when he found out. He said he found my “affect’’ disturbing. I told him that I understood, but that I was having trouble caring about anything. He suggested I take some time off to “ work on it”. So I did.
I saw a therapist. He found my “affect” disturbing as well. I related how I could have had all my dreams come true with Marie. I would have had a devoted, albeit unhinged, wife, and a child, and I had plenty stashed away to support it. But I didn’t care. I realized that there wasn’t much I cared about anymore. What was the damn point of doing all of this, if tomorrow, it was over. He told me to try some new hobbies, change my scenery. So I did.
I liquidated some money to pay up my bills for a year and determined that it was time to find my conscience again. I tried art classes. I was horrendous and uninspired. I said as much to this earthy-crunchy guy with dreads. He said that I needed to find some soul. He recommended this cafe with a poetry night. I went. It was self-indulgent BS, but the lattes were phenomenal. I thought one of the “barristas” was cute. But then I overheard her say something to a coworker about her disgust with my advances. I was like, old, or something. That was disturbing. I went to the bathroom. I looked old. I wasn’t eating right, looked gaunt, and I had several days of growth. I was wearing some faded out threadbare clothes from college, definitely not in style. I didn’t sleep much, refused to take meds for anything. And now, i was old. I thought to myself with a perverse little chuckle “no sweetie, I’m not old, I’m dead”.
When you realize that you’re actually dead, though technically living, as in breathing, you really have not much else to lose right? Wrong.
I took off and started walking home. It was one of those eerie fall evenings. It had raining and there was a sticky, cloying mist over the streets. There was an odd scent in the air, of dead leaves, mold, and cigarette smoke as it spilled out of the bars along the street. Ya know, the places where people are actually expected to smoke outside. I decided while walking I wasn’t ready to go home, and instead, I wanted to keep walking until I coudln’t anymore. About a mile or two after setting out, and it was approaching midnight, I heard this haunting sound.
I stopped dead in my tracks, it was a voice. Not just a voice, it was The Voice. The only sound I wanted to ever hear again. It wasn’t sad, it was depressing, it killed all the happiness I held. It replaced that with ecstacy. No really, it was. It was like breathing to hear this voice, and it was calling to me. I followed it. I waved past the bouncer outside of Jacks. I meandered my way into the crowd of barstools and tables and waitresses. I found a booth to the right, where I could see her.
She was beyond captivating. If she reached 5’3’’ in her heels she was pushing it. She had the darkest black hair I’d ever seen, it had a blue shimmer, and shined like black lacquer. It was swept to the side of her perfect oval face and held back with some flowers. They could have been silk, but I imagined they were real. Her skin was flawless in the spotlight. Not even sweating. Perfect painted eyes made them like blue daggers that were piercing my soul, from 20 feet away, and she gazed determinedly into my eyes. It was hard to breath under that stare. As far as I was concerned she was a goddess, and I was her only supplicant. I watched her reverently as she loosed out the melody, enjoying how her mouth shaped the words, the way she crooked a side smile, just to me. I took in her entire body, small, but shapely, in a 40’s style green dress. Slender fingers, bejeweled and manicured.
Sure, I could point out all the nasty things that I would love to do with that body, but, it would be sacrilege to mention it. The carnal pleasure were nothing in comparison to her voice. It opened up something in me, I don’t think I even knew existed. Time stopped and I was paying my tribute. A waitress came over for my order, I told her to surprise me with anything as intoxicating at the creature on the stage, without breaking eye contact with this sultry songstress.
And then the song was over. She bowed her head and the room applauded. I found myself standing, like an idiot, and she gave me a sardonic little smile before exiting stage right, away from me.
Music continued, rambling untethered explorations in sound. They weren’t anything like the performance I’d just been privileged with, but I stayed, hoping for another showing. The waitress returned with something. I stopped her, and asked “Who was that woman who was just singing?”
She smiled and looked at me sympathetically “Tabitha. But really, don’t bother getting attached. She doesn’t keep regular times here, granted, whenever she shows, we let her sing, whatever she wants. Then she’s gone again. She’s a friend of the owner’s.”
The Present:So now I sit here at this dingy bar with decent drinks and i wait for her to show. I’m here most nights, and she appears maybe once or twice in a week. They know me by sight, I don’t even have to place an order anymore.
I went back to the hippie shrink and told him about this revelation a week or so into coming. He actually seemed positive that perhaps I was finding something I cared about. We spoke alot about my drinking. He thinks I have a problem. I'd gone for a few “seminars” on it. They talked about addictive behaviors, and how they develop. Partway through I realized that perhaps I was an addict, only, my drug was not in a glass, but in a small frame with a voice like a dark angel. How do you put that into words that are coherant?
About a month into my foray’s someone let Tabby know that I was coming, and only for her. One night after her performance, her unique take on an Ella Fitzgerald, I sat wallowing in my glass thinking about how long it would be until I heard from her again, when i heard a voice ask “Is this seat taken?” It was her.
“No, unless you happen to be sitting in it” I replied, in my normal blatant idiocy. She smiled that coy little smile and settled in. The first thing that I noticed was that her eyes were not blue but an odd shade of violet-blue, too purple for blue, too blue for purple. Then i realized I was staring, hardly breathing and thought how desperately stupid I must appear.
“Do you mind?” she asked. I immediately thought that her tone was odd for being offended when I realized that she was pulling out a cigarette case.
I couldn’t stop myself before I said “Of course not, my air is your air”. What the hell kind of line is that? The same smile graced her face and I started to feel a bit warm.
“So you’re stalking me I hear?”
“Well,” she said lighting and taking her first drag, “I actually
had to be tipped off by Joe, the owner.”
“Yeah I hear that you two go way back. “I suppose that is a way
to put it. He lets me breeze in an out at my leisure. Its a
”But wait, this place is called ‘Jack’s’ but he is called Joe?”
“Yes, Jack was the original owner, back when this place opened
in the 20’s. Has changed hands three times. First was Jack
Wellington 1923-1948, then Sammy Stone 1948-1972, now Joe
Baker, 1971 to now. He is getting up there.”
“Oh. Know all about this place huh? You have other gigs that
you go to when not here,” I asked, anything for a lead.
“No. This is,” another pause as she took another drag, “a hobby
for me. Been doing it for several lifetimes it seems. When I’m
not travelling. I travel a lot, for business reasons. Jack’s
is where I go to unwind.”
“Ah. What sort of business?”
“Antiques. Buy, sell, trade. I enjoy old relics. The past is
so rich, and in modern society everything is so disposable.
The only thing that lasts is art and heirlooms, and only by
those that cherish it.”
It was hard to place her accent. She spoke English, but, there was an underlying quality beneath it that I couldn't place.
“English is not your first language is it?”
“Excellent ear Ben, I’m from Israel. Been living here for about
a decade. I’ll be back Tuesday.” She said as she stamped out
her cigarette and stood to leave.
“How did you know that my name is Ben, I didn’t actually tell
She leaned down close to me, I could smell a faint scent of flower, orchid, lily? She looked me in the eyes and smiled again. “But Ben, I wouldn’t have sat down if I hadn’t already known your name, that you pay with your Mastercard, and that you’re completely inlove with me already.” She kissed me on my cheek and I watched her saunter to the backroom. I sat there dumbfounded, sipping my whiskey and pondering her words.
When i felt a tap on my shoulder it was nearly 2am and an older gentleman, Joe
I guessed, said “Well Son, its closing time.”
“It is indeed. Sorry i dazed out.”
“Happens to us all. See you tuesday.”