“All Our Fields” — a short story by Jay Franzel

March 30th, 2020

 

.

.

“All Our Fields,” a story by Jay Franzel, was a finalist in our recently concluded 53rd Short Fiction Contest. It is published with the permission of the author

 

.

.

.

 

 

 

“Spinning Tennis Ball” by Martyn Fletcher/(CC BY 2.0)

.

.

 

All Our Fields

by

Jay Franzel

.

 

…..I’m in bed, my windows open to the summer breeze, when I hear the guy outside again, singing. The curtains shift, as if with his voice, and glow a little, from the streetlight nearby. I’m thinking about the Apollo nose cone bobbing in the waves, about catching a tennis ball thrown high over the road. My dog’s on the floor, wedged between my bed and the dresser. He’s a Dalmatian, a big one. He got mean for a while—for weeks he’d try to bite whoever came near us. He nipped Walter Meynen on the finger one day, and Walter vowed revenge. During a softball game, Walter stole my sweatshirt off the lawn near home plate. Walter’s dad had gotten a Doberman they were training to be a guard dog, and Walter told me how he’d swat Hans on the face with my sweatshirt. He’d shove the shirt into Hans’ nose and say, “Kill, Hans, kill!”

…..It’s late, maybe two AM, but I’m still awake, a habit I still have, when I hear the guy singing. It’s not like you or I might sound, not even English, but Italian, and so loud I still hear him long after he’s passed under my window. The guys making pizza at Salvatore’s taught me some Italian—swears mostly—but this guy’s singing opera. Night after night I hear him,but only when it’s late, a summer singer wrapped in black curtain, his audience behind locked doors.

…..I figure I’ll ask some guys at the park about him. We played softball and basketball down at the park, which is what we called the schoolyard behind the junior high. The field was concrete, its rough surface like petrified cottage cheese. It turns out some of those guyshave heard the opera singer, too, but nobody knows who he is. We talk about staking him out some night, but mostly they just make fun of him then forget it.“Hey opera-loser,” they say to me,“you playin’ or what?”

…..We’re playing three on three hoops, at the court behind what would have been deepest center field for the guys playing softball, and we stop our game as a long fly ball sails in from the softball field. Eddie Epsteinjust stands there, nonchalant in the lane, as we all duck away, the outfielder panting toward us. The ball fills the sky like an Apollo nose cone arcing seaward, so to me it suddenly seems darker, and everyone moving in slow motion. Eddie catches the ball barehanded, flipping it to the outfielder. When the ball pops Eddie’s palm, a light snapsin my darkening sky.

…..Eddie was an Orioles fan but he got a tryout with the Tigers. He told me, “I can guarantee you two things if I make it to the Majors. I’ll steal fifty bases and be the biggest flake in baseball.” I imagined Eddie coming home winters, telling us stories about life in the major leagues.

…..I watched all those NASA nose cones come home, on TV, diving into the sea. It was like they’d crossed back from an unreachable world, after stitching a tent in the sky. I tried to imagine being an astronaut inside one, but I couldn’t.

…..Weeks passed, and I never saw Hans, nobody did. Some guys would say to me, “There is no Hans.” Walter said they didn’t want Hans around people so he’d get meaner, and be a good guard dog. And he kept trying to steal more of my clothes.“Don’t worry,” guys tell me, “Walter just wants to scare you.” Truth is, he’s doing a good job.

…..We usually played softball at the intersection, Fifty First Avenue and Morini Lane, not on concrete but asphalt, smooth, black, cross-patched over the years. That’s where Walter stole my clothes. Anyone could play, it didn’t matter how good you were.

…..From home plate the road ran straight over third base. The curb was foul, so the third baseman basically played left field, a ways down the road. Eddie used to hit ground balls to third—we hit fungo—then he’d just stand in front of the curb at home plate, waiting for you to catch it. And when you did he’d look at you, like he was daring you to throw him out, holding his bat at home plate, crouching down with a little smile while you squeezed the ball, caught by that look. Finally, you’d wheel toward first, where the tar patches met, and fire the ball, only to see Eddie somehow beat your throw. I never threw Eddie out, but used to think I really wanted to.

…..We played soccer there, too, though we didn’t know the rules. Sidney played a few times. He was older than us, no one even knew who he was. He wore street shoes, black dress pants against pale skin, white button-down shirt. I thought he looked like a ghost. I even have a picture of him, I don’t remember why or where from. One day he just shows up at the intersection, watches us for a while, then starts chasing the ball.He runs kind of funny, on his toes, with small, street shoe steps. He gets red-faced and sweaty and says his name is Andy, though for some reason we call him Sidney.

…..Meanwhile, I keep seeing Hans in my head..We’re in Salvatore’s, sauce dripping like thick blood from Hoffman’s slice as he folds it into his mouth, the triangle of pizza a muzzle, white mozzarella a wall of teeth. Hoffman says, “Maybe there is no Hans,” but he doesn’t sound very convinced.

…..I’m in the intersection, playing back of third one day, when Walter comes over the hill with Hans. Hans is less than a year old but already a giant, and when Walter sees me he marches right into the game, unhooks the leash, points at me and shouts, “Hans, Kill!” The game stops and everyone steps back as Hans charges, gaining speed as he runs.

…..Right around that time we find out that Andy, who we call Sidney, is the guy walking around the neighborhood all night, singing opera.I think of an interview I heard with Bob Dylan. Dylan’s putting the interviewer on, says, “I’m just as good a singer as Caruso. You have to listen closely, but I hit all those notes. And I can hold my breath three times as long if I want to.” I tell Sidney this because it’s all I can think of remotely connected to opera. I don’t even know exactly who Caruso is, maybe he used to walk around his neighborhood all night singing, too. Sidney says, “Dylan? Dylan doesn’t sing—he talks. I’ll show you what singing is.”

…..He takes me to his house, a brick house on a small hill. We go upstairs, it’s dark on the narrow stairway, and I don’t really know this guy. We’re alone, I’m thinking, “‘Phantom of the Opera,’ why did I come?” I start walling myself off inside, I suddenly think, ‘like I’m in a spacesuit.’We go into a little room, he puts on some music, the opera, and he starts to sing.

…..There’s an explosion of notes, like a hundred-ton rocket rising, and I’m suddenly empty, the fear that I felt on his steps burning away. Hawk on an air current—no need not to feel anything—and when he’s done I tell him, “I never heard anything like that before, it’s like going to a different world.”

…..“Ah, I was cheating,” he says, “singing along.” I don’t really know what he means but I know this guy can do something special. “Yeah,” he says,“I maybe could’ve done something—if I didn’t fuck up my throat.”

…..Rocket burns up, nose cone plunges into the sea—what if it doesn’t come up?

…..I guess I asked him about his family.  I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he didn’t seem to get along with his parents. Back then who did? He said something about Law School, and failing the Bar Exam, and fucking up his throat.

…..I don’t tell anybody about it except Hoffman, who says, “We gotta get your dad’s tape recorder and record this guy!”

…..We used to play with my father’s big reel-to-reel. When Hoffman would leave, I’d sit, running my fingers over the thin tape, flat brown on one side, glossy on the other, wondering how it could capture our voices, and why, when I spoke to my father, he couldn’t hear me.

…..When Hans came charging at me over third base that day, I froze from fear. I tried to relax, but I could hear his nails clattering over the asphalt. As he got closer I saw him yap his mouth, his neck muscles tightening, but I never heard him bark. Then he leapt for my face.

…..But when I think of games on that lopsided, asphalt softball field, I think of stickball games, too, further up the road. Not the intersection now, just the road, by John Lee Bateman’s house, curbs marking foul territory. And after a stickball game, John Lee would come out and throw us younger kids high pops—throw after throw, sky high they seemed to me. He’d just materialize—we’d be playing and toward the end of the game I’d notice John Lee leaning on a parked car in front of his house. His pointed Adam’s Apple shivers when he breathes, his arms loose and long at his sides, and what I most remember, and maybe it was just in my head, was this sadness around John Lee..His body seemed as lost in soul as the earth in space. And I remember the yellow tennis ball, coming back down, like one of those nose cones, after stitching a rent in the sky.

…..So one day, I’m sitting here, forty years and four hundred miles from all that, when I hear about an incident in the old neighborhood. It’s on the news: A guy kills his mother, his father, three friends, and wounds two others. He drives off, breaks into a house, takes a couple of older people hostage, faces off with the cops then kills himself.

…..And it’s Sidney, though they call him Andy, and everyone’s saying, “Why?”

…..I thought of his house on the hill, the steep stairs to his music room where he sang that aria, now soaking up blood. And I remember, I have this picture of Sidney still—I could contact the National Enquirer—I could say, “Yeah, I knew this guy, years ago.We recorded him singing opera on the sidewalk. He played soccer with us sometimes. I’ve been away, but, look, here’s his picture—black street shoes, dress pants, white shirt hanging over pot belly, fists out in one of those Wallace Beery poses”—and I could tell ‘em some stories and maybe the Enquirer would pay me a whole lot of money.

…..And I remembered the tennis ball touching the sky. I loved the schoolyard, the intersection, the side street—all our fields—where anyone could play—and John Lee—his long skinny arm, wrist twisting, elbow snapping off throw after throw. And with every flight of that tennis ball, I felt this secret arcing sadness quietly carve its way through me, till there wasn’t room for much else. One day John Lee’s family moved away, and it struck me how I never really knew him, yet somehow always knew, something in John Lee I saw with my heart, something in both of us. We can’t talk about it, but he can throw the ball up high and I can catch it,and then go home with a nod when it’s dark.

…..Hoffman became a Rabbi, and Eddie—someone said something about selling lizards and snakes. I know he hurt his knee and never made the majors. I like to think he would have. I guess Sidney’s buried somewhere, maybe near his mother, who he stuffed in a hole in the basement, sealing her up after he killed her—it took the cops over a month to find her body.

…..I didn’t cry when Hans leapt at my face, I guess I was too scared. But it turns out if I had, he would have just licked the tears. Turns out, too, Hans is mute. When he barks, you see his throat muscles tighten, but all you hear is a breath.

…..I took Hans for a walk one day. We circled the bases at the intersection, Hans sniffing the asphalt, taking a drink from Kavanaugh’s big sprinkler like he’s gonna swallow the nozzle. We walk up the road, sit on the curb in front of what used to be John Lee’s house. I say to Hans, “I was really scared of you, man. Before I ever saw you, I prayed you’d get hit by a car, or eat poison. You were supposed to be mean.”

…..Hans wags what he has of a tail,and starts licking me. Eddie’s still got two good knees, Sidney’s still got opera in his soul, John Lee’s already gone. Hans is licking my salty face, he’s trying to bark and I can’t say anything else but I watch his mouth open and close and I wonder if that’s how I look to my father sometimes, and why I can’t just lick his face.

…..I never called the damned Enquirer, but I looked up all the articles about Sidney in a news archive. People called him Crazy Andy, and talked about how he rented out porn videos, loan sharked and ran bets for people. How he stared at strangers and shot car windows out with a BB gun, played golf on neighbors’ lawns and cast a fishing line over the curb—but they never mentioned soccer in the street, not even the opera.

…..Maybe he felt like nobody heard him, but,somewhere along the line,.I guess he just stopped singing.

.

.

_____

.

.

.

Jay Franzel lives in Wayne, ME, recently retired after working with at-risk youth for over 30 years. He has published poems in numerous journals and anthologies and received poetry grants from the Maine Arts Commission and St Botolph’s Foundation. He is the organizer of The Bookey Readings, a spoken-word series at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell, Maine.

.

.

.

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

"Nina" by Marsha Hammel
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Winter, 2024 Edition...One-third of the Winter, 2024 collection of jazz poetry is made up of poets who have only come to my attention since the publication of the Summer, 2023 collection. What this says about jazz music and jazz poetry – and this community – is that the connection between the two art forms is inspirational and enduring, and that poets are finding a place for their voice within the pages of this website. (Featuring the art of Marsha Hammel)

The Sunday Poem

photo via RawPixel.com
“Style” by Laurie Kuntz

Poetry

Proceeding From Behind: A collection of poems grounded in the rhythmic, relating to the remarkable, by Terrance Underwood...A relaxed, familiar comfort emerges from the poet Terrance Underwood’s language of intellectual acuity, wit, and space – a feeling similar to one gets while listening to Monk, or Jamal, or Miles. I have long wanted to share his gifts as a poet on an expanded platform, and this 33-poem collection – woven among his audio readings, music he considers significant to his story, and brief personal comments – fulfills my desire to do so.

Black History

The Harlem Globetrotters/photo via Wikimedia Commons
A Black History Month Profile: The Harlem Globetrotters...In this 2005 interview, Ben Green, author of Spinning the Globe: The Rise, Fall, and Return to Greatness of the Harlem Globetrotters, discusses the complex history of the celebrated Black touring basketball team.

Black History

photo of Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten/Library of Congress
A Black History Month Profile: Zora Neale Hurston...In a 2002 interview, Carla Kaplan, editor of Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters, talks about the novelist, anthropologist, playwright, folklorist, essayist and poet

Black History

Eubie Blake
A Black History Month Profile – Pianist and composer Eubie Blake...In this 2021 Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Eubie Blake biographers Ken Bloom and Richard Carlin discuss the legendary composer of American popular song and jazz during the 20th century

Feature

Jamie Branch's 2023 album "Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))"
On the Turntable— The “Best Of the ‘Best Of’” in 2023 jazz recordings...A year-end compilation of jazz albums oft mentioned by a wide range of critics as being the best of 2023 - including the late trumpeter Jamie Branch's Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))

Essay

"Lester Leaps In" by Tad Richards
"Jazz and American Poetry," an essay by Tad Richards...In an essay that first appeared in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poetry in 2005, Tad Richards - a prolific visual artist, poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer who has been active for over four decades – writes about the history of the connection of jazz and American poetry.

Interview

photo of Pepper Adams/courtesy of Pepper Adams Estate
Interview with Gary Carner, author of Pepper Adams: Saxophone Trailblazer...The author speaks with Bob Hecht about his book and his decades-long dedication to the genius of Pepper Adams, the stellar baritone saxophonist whose hard-swinging bebop style inspired many of the top-tier modern baritone players.

Interview

IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Judith Tick, author of Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song...The author discusses her book, a rich, emotionally stirring, exceptional work that explores every element of Ella’s legacy in great depth, reminding readers that she was not only a great singing artist, but also a musical visionary and social activist.

Poetry

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole is an occasional series of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film. This edition is influenced by Stillpoint, the 2021 album by Zen practitioner Barrett Martin

Playlist

“Latin Tinges in Modern Jazz” – a playlist by Bob Hecht...A nine-hour long Spotify playlist featuring songs by the likes of Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Ahmad Jamal, and Dizzy Gillespie that demonstrates how the Latin music influence on jazz has been present since the music’s beginnings.

Poetry

[Columbia Legacy]
“On Becoming A Jazz Fanatic In The Early 1970’s” – 20 linked short poems by Daniel Brown

Short Fiction

Christerajet, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #64 — “The Old Casino” by J.B. Marlow...The author's award-winning story takes place over the course of a young man's life, looking at all the women he's loved and how the presence of a derelict building informs those relationships.

Feature

George Shearing/Associated Booking Corporation/James Kriegsmann, New York, via Wikimedia Commons
True Jazz Stories: “An Evening With George,” by Terry Sanville...The writer tells his story of playing guitar with a symphony orchestra, backing up jazz legend George Shearing.

Short Fiction

Defense Visual Information Distribution Service/via Picryl.com
“Afloat” – a finalist in the 64th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest – is about a troubled man in his 40s who lessens his worries by envisioning himself and loved ones on a boat that provides safety and ease for all of them.

Poetry

The poet Connie Johnson in 1981
In a Place of Dreams: Connie Johnson’s album of jazz poetry, music, and life stories...A collection of the remarkable poet's work is woven among her audio readings, a personal narrative of her journey and music she considers significant to it, providing readers the chance to experience the full value of her gifts.

Book Excerpt

Book Excerpt from Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song, by Judith Tick...The author writes about highlights of Ella’s career, and how the significance of her Song Book recordings is an example of her “becoming” Ella.

Community

Nominations for the Pushcart Prize XLVIII

Interview

photo courtesy of Henry Threadgill
Interview with Brent Hayes Edwards, co-author (with Henry Threadgill) of Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music...The author discusses his work co-written with Threadgill, the composer and multi-instrumentalist widely recognized as one of the most original and innovative voices in contemporary music, and the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Poetry

art by Russell duPont
Three jazz poets…three jazz poems...Takes on love and loss, and memories of Lady Day, Prez, Ella, Louis, Dolphy and others…

Playlist

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“A Baker’s Dozen Playlist of Ella Fitzgerald Specialties from Five Decades,” as selected by Ella biographer Judith Tick...Chosen from Ella’s entire repertoire, Ms. Tick’s intriguing playlist (with brief commentary) is a mix of studio recordings, live dates, and video, all available for listening here.

Poetry

"Jazz Trio" by Samuel Dixon
A collection of jazz haiku, Vol. 2...The 19 poets included in this collection effectively share their reverence for jazz music and its culture with passion and brevity.

Jazz History Quiz #169

This trumpeter was in the 1932 car accident that took the life of famed clarinetist/saxophonist Frankie Techemacher (pictured), and is best remembered for his work with Eddie Condon’s bands. Who was he?

Interview

From the Interview Archive: A 2011 conversation with Alyn Shipton, author of Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway...In this interview, Shipton discusses Cab Calloway, whose vocal theatrics and flamboyant stage presence made him one of the country’s most beloved entertainers.

Community

Nominations for the Pushcart Prize XLVIII...announcing the six Jerry Jazz Musician-published writers nominated for the prestigious literary award

Poetry

Gotfryd, Bernard, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“Devotion” – a poem and 11 “Musings on Monk,” by Connie Johnson

Photography

photo of Mal Waldron by Giovanni Piesco
Beginning in 1990, the noted photographer Giovanni Piesco began taking backstage photographs of many of the great musicians who played in Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, that city’s main jazz venue which is considered one of the finest in the world. Jerry Jazz Musician will occasionally publish portraits of jazz musicians that Giovanni has taken over the years. This edition is of the pianist/composer Mal Waldron, taken on three separate appearances at Bimhuis (1996, 2000 and 2001).

Interview

Leffler, Warren K/Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
A Black History Month Profile: Civil Rights Leader Bayard Rustin...

Community

FOTO:FORTEPAN / Kölcsey Ferenc Dunakeszi Városi Könyvtár / Petanovics fényképek, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
.“Community Bookshelf, #1"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Short Fiction

photo by Pedro Coelho/Deviant Art/CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DEED
“After The Death of Margaret: A True Novella” by S. Stephanie...This story -- a finalist in our recently concluded 64th Short Fiction Contest -- harkens back to Richard Brautigan's fiction of the '70s, and explores modern day co-worker relationships/friendship and the politics of for profit "Universities"

Short Fiction

painting of Gaetano Donizetti by Francesco Coghetti/via Wikimedia Commons
“A Single Furtive Tear” – a short story by Dora Emma Esze...A short-listed entry in the recently concluded 64th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest, the story is a heartfelt, grateful monologue to one Italian composer, dead and immortal of course, whose oeuvre means so much to so many of us.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Alyn Shipton, author of The Gerry Mulligan 1950’s Quartets...Long regarded as jazz music’s most eminent baritone saxophonist, Gerry Mulligan was a central figure in “cool” jazz whose contributions to it also included his important work as a composer and arranger. Noted jazz scholar Alyn Shipton, author of The Gerry Mulligan 1950s Quartets, and Jerry Jazz Musician contributing writer Bob Hecht discuss Mulligan’s unique contributions to modern jazz.

Book Excerpt

“Chick” Webb was one of the first virtuoso drummers in jazz and an innovative bandleader dubbed the “Savoy King,” who reigned at Harlem’s world-famous Savoy Ballroom. Stephanie Stein Crease is the first to fully tell Webb’s story in her biography, Rhythm Man: Chick Webb and the Beat that Changed America…The book’s entire introduction is excerpted here.

Short Fiction

pixabay.com via Picryl.com
“The Silent Type,” a short story by Tom Funk...The story, a finalist in the recently concluded 64th Short Fiction Contest, is inspired by the classic Bob Dylan song “Tangled Up in Blue” which speculates about what might have been the back story to the song.

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music, by Henry Threadgill and Brent Hayes Edwards

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Art

Designed for Dancing: How Midcentury Records Taught America to Dance: “Outtakes” — Vol. 2...In this edition, the authors Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder share examples of Cha Cha Cha record album covers that didn't make the final cut in their book

Pressed for All Time

“Pressed For All Time,” Vol. 17 — producer Joel Dorn on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s 1967 album, The Inflated Tear

Coming Soon

An interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 - 1960;  an interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow? An Oral History of the 60's Girl Groups;  a new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive