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A Gravity of Jazz by Jamila Minnicks Gleason


Nina Simone once said, “Jazz is not just music, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of being, a way of thinking.” And we’re so pleased at CRAFT to find this sentiment brought to life in Jamila Minnicks Gleason’s flash fiction piece, “The Gravity of Jazz.” The narrative introduces us to a woman who knows all too well how jazz, life, and love can become intertwined—as this story unfolds, her former lover, “Two-Name” Xavier Alexander beckons her with his sultry horn. The evocative, sensory detail throughout immerses both protagonist and reader alike as we sit in the darkest corner of the club, “licks of cigarette smoke curling in the dim light,” while Two-Name pours out those “warm chocolate notes.” As Gleason describes in her author’s note, “There’s an intimacy without physicality,” which creates a tension that not only simmers, but smolders on the page. We hope you enjoy “The Gravity of Jazz” and that you’ll also check out Gleason’s author’s note to read more about the inspiration behind her work and process.  —CRAFT


 

When the drink arrives, it isn’t because I’ve ordered another. The server floats a short glass from her tray to kiss the back of my hand on the table. What was once, until recently, my favorite kind of short glass—clear liquor, no garnish, and no ice. But my fingers stay caressed around the stem of my wine, waiting to tap in time with the beat.

“Compliments of Mr. Xavier.” Her voice travels to my ear, sharing its wavelength with licks of cigarette smoke curling in the dim light. “I can bring you ice, but he said you wouldn’t want it.”

He’s right. I send her away and turn my attention back to the stage, where “Two-Name” Alexander Xavier and his ensemble are returning from their smoke break. So, it’s no coincidence the drink arrived when it did, although the light above this little table hasn’t worked in years. From the stage, it’s a black spot in the middle of an already hazy, charcoal space. But this doesn’t keep me from seeing anything. And from my view, Two-Name has no reason to know I’m here except intuition.

Just before drawing the horn to his lips, he turns his face down to the stage. And his ear to the crowd. As if the music should be coming from the audience and not the other way around. That smile crosses his perfectly full lips—he’s changing his mind right in front of us. Improvising is jazz. So, he turns to the band behind him and shakes his head. A nod to Eddie: Be cool dragging those brushes across the snare. Eddie obliges. Another nod to Lem: Strum a little of that double bass for me, man. For everyone else, there is only the back of his hand as he picks up the beat. Then, Two-Name faces the audience, pulls the trumpet to his lips, his still-smiling lips. And he starts to blow that horn.

Warm chocolate notes pour out that I drink as much as I hear, coating every inch of me inside. They’re mine, these notes, directed into the blackness where I sit, singing words that no horn has the right to say. The song washes over the audience. They tap feet and sway heads and grab the hands of ones sitting next to them. But the notes fill me, pull me, beg me to take my seat at the piano. The guy warming my bench is no great shakes, but no one else can be. Because they can’t consume Two-Name’s music the way I do.

I find myself a little jealous of his horn. Of the way his lips buzz the mouthpiece, the way his fingers tickle the buttons. Of its proximity to him when it was the closeness I couldn’t take. Not every day, anyway, or so I told him when I left. But something drew me here tonight in that black silk I know he likes. And that same something sends this song from his horn into the midnight where I sit. Because Two-Name and I have as much choice to stay apart as a splash has in deciding whether to rejoin the ocean. As he plays, I hear:

The very thought of you

And I forget to do

The little ordinary things that everyone ought to do

The song eases from his heart, past those lips, and through his horn. Still asking for my forever when all I ever gave was yesterdays and todays. Wanting me on the bench, in the apartment, back to him and a life I’d tried to put behind me. Yet here I sit; and there, he calls:

The mere idea of you

flows from his horn and pulls my body by its breath.

The longing here for you

asks to start with tonight, to see about tomorrow, and talk about forever some other time.

My fingers tap along on the stem of my wine glass until the piano solo nears. Until it’s time for me to take the last sip, pick up the short glass, and relieve that man from my bench.

 


JAMILA MINNICKS GLEASON works as an attorney in Washington, DC, and writes stories about the beauty, complexity, and joy of the Black American experience. Two of her pieces currently appear under the pen name Amina Adele in The Write Launch, and she has also been published in The Silent World in Her Vase.
 

Featured image by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen courtesy of Unsplash

 

Lyrics to Ray Noble’s The Very Thought of You used by permission of Round Hill Music

 

Author’s Note

“A Gravity of Jazz” came to me while I was steeped in era-inspired music for a current work-in-progress. When that sultry trumpet wailed “The Very Thought of You” through my headphones, the first line of the story demanded its own white space and my immediate attention. From there, I needed only to continue listening to figure out where the drink came from. And why.

To me, writing flash fiction is an opportunity for characters to put one foot in front of the other before there is a reason to tie shoes. An intimate, real-time journey through the narrator’s mind as they puzzle through their doings in a discreet life moment. Done right, this short-short form allows me to put to paper how my characters coexist with the air they breathe, the sounds they hear, the scents they smell, the sights they see. Slowing the time between their heart beats, although the world continues spinning on its axis.

Practicing flash enhances the richness in my writing. My first drafts tend to be a collection of ingredients included in the narrative before the honing begins. The challenging, but necessary, cutting, combining, and rearranging then brings everything together into the boiled-down stew. I know that I have finally reached the barest essence of a thought when I take a breath, nod my head, and smile at the words on the page.

My hope is that the reader recognizes an urgent, smoldering connection between the main character and Two-Name in this piece. Their never-lost love, reunited by something that caused her to wear that little black silk he likes and sit underneath a broken light. That same something causes him to utter her drink order and beg, with his horn into darkness where she hides, for her return. Something big. Like Zora Neale Hurston said in Tell My Horse, “A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it.” That is the first reason that I titled this piece “A Gravity of Jazz.”

But the second reason is the weight of the setting upon the protagonist’s senses. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are driven into confusion by the space she inhabits, and the reason she inhabits it. Words from Two-Name’s lips kiss the glass to the back of her hand. The server’s voice travels on licks of cigarette smoke. She drinks the notes he plays, drawing his music inside of her. There is intimacy without physicality.

I submitted this piece to CRAFT as a fan of their work, and only wish that every aspiring writer had access to such an extraordinary editorial staff. I wish to thank them personally for helping my characters shine. One of the most important things we can do as writers is to find the right home for our hearts. Katelyn, Kristin, and Tom’s edits demonstrated careful and thoughtful commitment to my voice and vision. Not only did their encouragement improve this story, but the novel-length work-in-progress that inspired “A Gravity of Jazz” is better for it. I believe that the craft of writing is not just about what we produce, but what we take away.

I hope that, once the reader finishes my piece, they, too, will take a breath, nod, and smile.

 


JAMILA MINNICKS GLEASON works as an attorney in Washington, DC, and writes stories about the beauty, complexity, and joy of the Black American experience. Two of her pieces currently appear under the pen name Amina Adele in The Write Launch, and she has also been published in The Silent World in Her Vase.