“Guy Ryan” – a short story by Alice Sherman Simpson

May 22nd, 2023

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“Guy Ryan,” a short story by Alice Sherman Simpson, was a short-listed entry in our recently concluded 62nd Short Fiction Contest, and is published with the consent of the author.

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This story is a chapter from author’s book-in-progress,  One For Sorrow.

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photo by Lalesh Aldarwish/via Pexels

photo via Pexels

 

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Guy Ryan

by Alice Sherman Simpson

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…..Guy Ryan was the Cyclone at Luna Park—a non-stop roller coaster, an adrenaline-charged ride, and Victoria had come to believe that she had loved him too much; that she could never allow herself to do that again.

…..After rehearsal, when she’d stopped off at the Village Vanguard on Charles Street and Greenwich Avenue to hear some jazz, have a glass of wine, and he was at the piano was as clear as a minute ago. His chord combinations caught in her throat. Each the perfect color—relaxed and unnerving in their complexity—the combination of notes he chose—in and around familiar melodies. The way he managed to hang around those melodies and still swing. His phrasing was poetic. Each told a story. She fell in love with his profile. The way his hair fell in his eyes. The meditative way his eyelids half closed as though he were listening to his muse. The way he swayed to something only he could hear.

…..She’d asked the waiter to send the piano player a drink; by way of thanking him for the music that night. The waiter suggested bourbon. Victoria liked taking the initiative. It took men by surprise. He had turned to search for her in the half-light, sitting on the banquette in her Good Luck red dress, surrounded by the red drapes that wrapped the intimate room. He nodded in her direction. After the set, the waiter told her that Guy had asked her to stay until he finished playing.

…..Guy Ryan’s hoarse, whispered voice had surprised her—like wind blowing through dune grass. Quiet. Drum brushes—keeping time. His gaze was unsettling. She’d never been much for blue-eyed boys; associated them with cool youth and innocence. His were marbles, blue with a dark outer ring, and fringed by girlish black lashes. ‘My mother’s eyes,’ he always said. Danny had his father’s. She should never have told him.

…..There was something like electricity between her and Guy when his leg leaned against hers under that small round table. She could still close her eyes and feel that touch—remember everything about that night—as if it was last night.

…..There was thunder, lightning, a deluge of August rain that greeted them when they stepped out of the Vanguard at the end of the evening.  It waited for them, Wagnerian.  But they’d laughed. They only wanted to be tangled in one another’s arms.

…..Their prayers were answered. The gods  had sent a taxi to the door, and they made a run for it as it emptied.

…..The cab made it through the splash and mist with the curtain of relentless fury that played like drums on the roof. It created a foggy scrim through which the world disappeared. Oh, those first kisses, like the most beautiful of songs.

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…..The taste of bourbon when he kissed her on their way to his place. They could barely get their clothes off fast enough that first night. Sex—wild—noisy—and sweaty in the hallway, just inside his door. They were both soaked; shoes, clothes, hair. His breathing, her moans mingled together in union. The temperature of his hands against her bare wet skin. Just the thought of it made her shudder. Like jazz harmony.

…..Wherever he touched her, that touch was hard, insistent—reached under her flesh, connected to the fiber of her nerves, muscles, bones—right into her soul. His passion touched something no one had ever reached. Poetry and fervor at the same time. They were so perfectly fine-tuned—could never get enough of one another. Ever. His limbs intertwined with hers, as if they were starved for touch and vibration. For the heights they reached together. Splendidness, he called it. And there was always music playing—somewhere close by. Love and jazz.

…..She’d never known a man with such warm hands. She had believed in palmistry then— the practice of fortune-telling through the study of the palm, and tried to convince him that his particular hands indicated that he was practical, wise, disciplined, and patient. It made him laugh. He claimed to have no ability to problem solve or invent new things, beside sounds. He slept  late and denied being full of energy or having a goal-directed attitude. She loved his spatulate fingers, his lined palms, hard and firm, that made such beautiful music, yet contradicted everything she’d learned. He was unable to concentrate on his strengths or work accordingly. When she told him he was predetermined by his hands to achieve great heights of success, he protested. He contended it was simply piano magic— jazz and improvisation.

…..There was not one moment of sorrow in that precious year with Guy. Two analogous careers collided. His music and her dance, flesh and sweat, rehearsals and performances, lovemaking and laughter, downtown lives, food and wine and occasional weed. She would come to know and love every scar, fold and pore of his body. She adored the way his mind worked, the quiet way he had about him. How he wrote songs for her, and she danced for him. She wished she had written down the reasons he told her he loved her—tangled in the sheets—in the mornings. She never expected it to end. A year was just a moment. She longed to hear him say her name.

…..Looking back, she wondered if it would have been possible to sustain that speed and fervor. Passion dwindles. He might have left her. He would never know that he was going to be a father. The war called and he had to go. The news of his death came the same day she got the call that she was pregnant. Life and death in one day.

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Listen to the 2023 recording of the Bobo Stenson Trio playing “Kingdom of Coldness,” with Stenson (piano); Anders Jormin (double bass); and Jon Fält (drums).  [Universal Music Group]

 

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Alice Sherman Simpson  is the author of the forthcoming  The Winthrop Agreement (Harper – November 2023). Ballroom was her debut novel, published by Harper in 2015.   Eldridge Street, 1902  (Fall 2022) and  Aboard the Coastal Starlight (Winter 2019)  appear in Persimmon Tree Magazine. Dreams of Buenos Aires  was published by Words & Images Journal (U. of  Southern  Maine). Simpson was nominated by The Writer’s Voice (NY) for Best New American Voices.

She is also an accomplished visual artist who taught drawing and design at F.I.T, NY, The School of Visual Arts, The New School and Otis College of Art and Design. Her unique, handmade artist books about dance are in more than forty private and international Rare Book collections including; Lincoln Center Library for Performing Arts, Yale, Harvard, and The Victoria & Albert Library.

She lives in Southern California…and still dances tango.

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Click here  to read “Mr. P.C.,” Jacob Schrodt’s winning story in the 62nd  Jerry Jazz Musician  Short Fiction Contest

Click here  for details about the upcoming 63rd  Jerry Jazz Musician  Short Fiction Contest

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