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

February 12th, 2024

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“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.

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

 

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Mozart in Barstow

by Mark Bruce

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…..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.

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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.

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

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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)

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