“Mozart in Barstow” – a short story by Mark Bruce

February 12th, 2024



“Mozart in Barstow” was a short-listed entry in our recently concluded 64th Short Fiction Contest, and is published with the consent of the author.






“Palm Trees in Barstow,” a photo by Carol Highsmith





Mozart in Barstow

by Mark Bruce



…..Mozart mutters low while I eat dinner alone at the table. You always hated it when I played that boy’s music while we ate.

…..“Mozart should not be background music,” you sneered.

…..     But I’ve been talking with that old boy, and he tells me that a lot of his stuff was written to be played while fat German aristocrats ate their pheasant and venison and other rich meats that gave them gout and made them impotent. It didn’t seem to bother ol’ Amadeus, so long as he got paid.

…..     Other than the boy genius of 18th Century Vienna, no sound intrudes on this rainy night in Barstow. I can hear the roof dripping in the living room, the ding ding ding of raindrops hitting the pot I’ve placed under the leak. It makes a weird sort of syncopation to the elegant waltz music.

…..      Anyway, you’ve been gone a while, my love. Mozart and I are getting lonely.

…..    I eat the bachelor’s special of white rice, chili con carne, and cheese, a dish you refused to share with me. It disgusted you, you said. But it’s tasty and filling and you’re not here to belittle my cooking prowess. Chili is the food of the gods. Ambrosia comes in a poor second.

…..   You might even say that chili is the official dish of Barstow. It’s spicy yet bland. Filling yet empty. Easy to make and hard to eliminate. Like Barstow itself.

…..    How I got here and how you are not here, that’s something I don’t really want to think about. As the old expression goes, Barstow happens.

…..   When I’m done, I place the bowl in the sink and run water in it so the cheese won’t meld  to the side like concrete. I’ll wash the dishes later. Much later. Like, when I have a mountain of dishes waiting to be washed, a height to be scaled with spiked shoes and heavy-duty dish soap. Right now there’s only a small hill, so I’m good for the night.

…..       I walk to the living room and Blondie is sitting on her stand, her arms crossed, chastising me. Blondie, you remember her. My six-string acoustic Ibanez with the yellow-blonde wood of indeterminate origin. She still sounds as sweet as the day you disappeared. She doesn’t miss you at all. But then, I don’t play her much these days.

….. …..      I pick her up, pulling on the strap. But no. Not right now. I can’t think of playing her right now. I put her down and she sighs.

…..    Not tonight, baby.

…..  But it’s been so long.

        …..    I know, darling, I know. But not tonight.

…..    I close my eyes for a moment. I don’t want to have a vision, but one comes anyway.

…..  There you are, pounding on the piano as if you were trying to kill it. I’m shooting chords out of Blondie like she was a punk girl spinning in a ragged dress with no inhibitions. The music rattles the windows. Barstow echoes with our cacophony. Almost better than sex. Almost.

…..    You miss her, Blondie tells me.

…..  No I don’t.

…..  Liar. Liar.

        …..    It was just one of those things and I’m okay now.

…..     Then why don’t you play me anymore?

        …..    Don’t feel bad, baby. I’m not playing much of anything these days. Except playing the fool. That I do real well.

…..    You’re gonna turn the TV on again, aren’t you?

         …..   Maybe.

…..  That slut. She’s no good for you.

          …..  Seems to be my M.O., picking girls that aren’t good for me.

…..  Except me.

          …..  Yeah, baby, except you. You’re my one true star.

…..   Mozart still mutters in the dining room. I should go turn him off, let the poor boy take five for the rest of the night. He should be getting pretty damned weary at this point.

…..     But when I go to turn the stereo off, those three notes from The Magic Flute parade past the speakers. I freeze. Then I lean in and turn it up.

…..     As the orchestra starts skipping and racing and leaping, I jump around the dining room like a madman. I wave my hands in the air. I yelp like that actor who played Mozart in the movie, a performance I wasn’t enamored with at the time but which now is iconic. What the hell. I’ve joined the citizenry of idiots. I am vice-president of foolery. I am the duke of dingus.

…..     Then the overture ends. I lean over and flip the stereo off.

…..      Nothing but the rain remains.

…..   I go back into the living room. Blondie is still there, glaring at me. Something about a girl who’s mad at me that won’t let me leave well enough alone. Something you, my love, knew well.

…..    I pick her up. She’s surprised when I put her on my knee and begin to strum a few little chords. Nothing special. Nothing that will make me rich and famous. Just a little thing.

…..       Oh for a girl

       …..     That would walk with me

        …..    Forever in the rain…

       …..     By the end of it, Blondie and I are both weeping. I hang over her for a long, long time, hurting and trying not to remember. But I might as well stop breathing. And don’t think I haven’t tried that, too, since you disappeared, my love.

…..     Damn. I should have stuck with Mozart.






Mark  Bruce  works as a solo practitioner in San Bernardino, California. He has worked in various Public Defender offices across the state and has tried nearly 150 jury trials as well as thousands of court trials. He won the 2018 Black Orchid Novella Award  for his story “Minerva James and the Goddess of Justice.” Ten Minerva James short stories have been published in magazines such as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and in three Dandelion Revolution Press anthologies. He lives in Barstow with a stuffed mermaid named Mariah and his writing support dragon Ferdinand. His only son lives in Michigan with a wife, a child, and a Ph.D in Aerospace Engineering. That’s right. His son is a rocket scientist.



Listen to the overture to Mozart’s Magic Flute, as performed by the Westminster Concert Orchestra.  [Symphonic Distribution]






Click here to read “The Old Casino,” J.B. Marlow’s winning story in the 64th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Click here to read The Sunday Poem

Click here for details about the upcoming 65th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest

Click here to subscribe to the Jerry Jazz Musician quarterly newsletter (it’s free)

Click here to help support the continuing publication of Jerry Jazz Musician, and to keep it ad and commercial-free (thank you!)







Jerry Jazz Musician…human produced (and AI-free) since 1999




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 by Bekzat Tasmagambetov/via Pexels
"The Lady Sings" - by Michael Keshigian

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem


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.


The Marvelettes/via Wikimedia Commons
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...Little is known of the lives and challenges many of the young Black women who made up the Girl Groups of the ‘60’s faced while performing during an era rife with racism, sexism, and music industry corruption. The authors discuss their book’s mission to provide the artists an opportunity to voice their experiences so crucial to the evolution of popular music.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Emily Jon Tobias’ MONARCH: Stories, and a reflection on our friendship


photo of Archie Shepp by Giovanni Piesco
The Photographs of Giovanni Piesco: Archie Shepp...photos of the legendary saxophonist (and his rhythm section for the evening), taken at Amsterdam's Bimhuis on May 13, 2001.


The cover to Joni Mitchell's 1976 album Hejira [Asylum]; photo by Norman Seeff
“Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada” – a poem (for Joni Mitchell) by Juan Mobili

Click here to read more poetry published in Jerry Jazz Musician

Calling All Poets!

News about a Jerry Jazz Musician printed jazz poetry anthology, and information about submitting your poetry for consideration

Short Fiction

Short Fiction Contest-winning story #65 — “Ballad” by Lúcia Leão...The author’s award-winning story is about the power of connections – between father and child, music and art, and the past, present and future.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician


photo of Louis Jordan by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 – 1960...Richards makes the case that small group swing players like Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan (pictured) and Big Jay McNeely played a legitimate jazz that was a more pleasing listening experience to the Black community than the bebop of Parker, Dizzy, and Monk. It is a fascinating era, filled with major figures and events, and centered on a rigorous debate that continues to this day – is small group swing “real jazz?”


Sonny Rollins' 1957 pianoless trio recording "Way Out West"
“The Pianoless Tradition in Modern Jazz” – a playlist by Bob Hecht...an extensive playlist built around examples of prominent pianoless modern jazz.


Excerpts from David Rife’s Jazz Fiction: Take Two – (Vol. 1)...A substantial number of novels and stories with jazz music as a component of the story have been published over the years, and the scholar David J. Rife has written short essay/reviews of them.  In this initial edition featuring his story essays/reviews, Rife writes about three novels that explore challenges of the mother/daughter relationship.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

In Memoriam

Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Remembering Joe Pass: Versatile Jazz Guitar Virtuoso” – by Kenneth Parsons...On the 30th anniversary of the guitarist Joe Pass’ death, Kenneth Parsons reminds readers of his brilliant career

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Jazz with a Beat: Small Group Swing 1940 – 1960, by Tad Richards

Click here to read more book excerpts published on Jerry Jazz Musician


painting by Vaino Kunnas
Jazz…in eight poems...A myriad of styles and experiences displayed in eight thoughtful, provocative poems…

Jazz History Quiz #172

photo of Teddy Wilson by William Gottlieb
Teddy Wilson once said this about a fellow jazz pianist:

“That man had the most phenomenal musical gifts I’ve ever heard. He was miraculous. It’s like someone hitting a home run every time he picks up a bat. We became such fast friends that I was allowed to interrupt him anytime he was playing at the house parties in Toledo we used to make every night. When I asked him, he would stop and replay a passage very slowly, showing me the fingering on some of those runs of his. You just couldn’t figure them out by ear at the tempo he played them.”

Who is the pianist he is describing?


photo via Picryl.com
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...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…

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

Coming Soon

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