“Sketch in ‘D’ Minor” – a short story by Estelle Phillips

August 4th, 2022

.

.

 

“Sketch in ‘D’ Minor,” a story by Estelle Phillips, was a short-listed entry in our recently concluded 60th Short Fiction Contest, and is published with the consent of the author

.

.

___

.

.

 

 

photo via pixy.org

.

 

Sketch In ‘D’ Minor 

by Estelle Phillips

.

…..My mother used to take me here. It’s different in the dark; the metal frames lurk like gallows and the railings remind me of prison bars. I don’t remember her pushing me in the bucket seat, but I believe she did. I do remember the big girls’ swing: hours and hours we spent. She took the seat beside me; we leant and pulled together, stretched pointed toes, forwards and backwards, rising and falling, higher and higher, hands gripped on chains and our bottoms lifting as we peaked. I pick at the paint on a rusted spear and nick my finger. Blood trickles onto my palm. I lick it off and the taste is metallic, as if my flesh is made from city. Perhaps the city took over, where my mother left off.

…..  It’s Wednesday. This corner is where I start. The travelling, the hiding, and arriving are all right; it’s the afterwards I hate. I’m off to see Gran. Did she ever push my mother on swings? Thick, black flakes collect on my toes until my nail tears, and I stop. The binder flattening my chest digs under my armpit and I windmill my arm backward, elongating my breast. It’s time to go. I tuck my locket under my hoodie where its glint can’t give me away, double knot my laces, and jump; nothing rattles in my rucksack. Rank air wafts out from the tunnel – that’s the way to Granny’s, or “Gran” as she’s become.

.

…..        The tarmac’s giving back a bounce. I splash through shallow puddles and spatter droplets that chime the notes of a triangle; music lessons in the assembly hall and Mum waiting at the school gates, holding an iced bun in a paper bag; the pang of disappointment, when it came out bald. It feels historic, but was only five years ago.

…..     I set off slow and warm to the groove; shadows tower and shrink; bricks become concrete, become tiles, become windows, lit from the inside and revealing lives, or reflecting buildings as changing shapes in dizzy arrays of colourful lights. Sometimes I glimpse myself, a hooded runner traversing the City. I’m dressed for the night, all in black except the soles of my treads, and they are oxblood red. This is my domain and I hum the Chili Peppers song, “the City is my friend.”  So long as you’re moving, you’re okay. You don’t stop where I’m going, especially if you took a shortcut.

…..        I’ve worked on being invisible, and I’m not scared of other frat kids; the older ones don’t bother with me, except for Sabre; he’s Gran’s right hand since his dad got canned. Sabre’s promotion has gone to his head and he takes satisfaction along with payment, however much they beg. I’ve noticed his lips part at the sight of me, but Gran won’t have told him who I am – her dough’s too precious for a bint to be handling it. The irony is her cakes were the best; her chocolate chip had rocks of chocolate, not measly bits. Word is, that’s how she began; took a cake to the chef before her, pleading for her daughter.

…..           Mum’s getting worse; her mattress springs squeak when she hugs her pillow at night, and sobs herself to sleep. I get out of bed and stroke her hair.

…..        “Mum, it’s alright, I’m here.”  In reply, she mumbles his name. On Sundays, we used to go to his grave, but even that’s stopped. Plus, I’ve noticed her orders are getting bigger and she’s careless with her dose. Something needs to change, or my Mum is going to kill herself.

.

…..        Provided I don’t stray, it’s safe. I’m allowing myself to detour tonight, the first time for a month, and notes bunch in the back of my head anticipating their escape. I come off the designated route, jog down a corridor between patches, tack up the lane and enter Herne Hill station by the passage without cameras. It’s waiting for me at the further end, painted black and plastered in graffiti. Notes jostle as I stroke the curved lid, lift it and sit. The black and white keys are warm under my skin, and I play hood down, trying my piece; it’s written in D minor, and finding its way; mourning hangs in the dampness and wends up the stairs. Not ten minutes have passed and two girls approach; I see them out of the corner of my eye and one’s pulling out a phone. The screech of the stool ricochets from wall to wall, and I leave.

…..       Fast and hard, my feet beat the street. I concentrate, building speed and pain, and run the music out of my brain.

.

…..          There’s a new guy. Sabre’s brought him in and the minute I eyeball him, I sense he’s pagan. He sees Sabre notice me, and follows his leer. Swaggering close to smell his breath, I’m reading what his body lets, unease, or worse, excitement. There’s a creak at the back, and Gran shuffles in; muscles tense in the newbie’s neck and his fists ball, ever so slightly. I butt in,

…..       “Has he done his rites?” and Sabre swings on his heels to smack me. Gran hisses,

…..        “Red, this is Beech.” A faint lisp smoothens her voice with menace.

…..           I stare straight at him, insolent. He returns my look, and his soul breaks out: he’s told me too much and I’m sure; he’s not real.

…..      “Eager brat, Red is.” Sabre jabs deliberately; violence comes easier to me than it does any guy. Willingness to fight is the best disguise.

…..      Gran takes Mum’s dough between crooked digits; the tip of her thumbnail is yellow and ridged; it smothers the queen and blinds her eyes and only the regal chin is seen. Without counting the wad, Gran hands over the load; plastic crinkles reflect dim light, and Gran dismisses me early. In her sick way, she’s keeping me out of it.

.

…..         Mum’s waiting, agitating. She watches the bag emerge from my rucksack. She doesn’t notice me, or ask after Gran, her own Mum. Not that I blame her for that. Gran lost the right to be asked about over decades of sidelining my Mum for her denigrate son – that’s Sabre’s Dad, and he was always bad, but Gran indulged him. They say him and Gran started in business by accident, but the more I think about it, the more it seems strange, that Sabre’s Dad was there with a strap, when the chef rejected my Gran’s home baked cake. It suits them to keep my Mum doped up.

…..         As I go to the kitchen, the belt cinches the skin of Mum’s arm, and her veins rise in protest against the needle. Scummy water sits in the sink, its surface gummed with congealed fat, which clings to the sides as the water runs out. I wash a mug and plates, make some tea and two sandwiches of bread and margarine, and go back to Mum. The syringe and packet are on the coffee table; its glass top is cracked and smeared by Mum’s tongue. She was proud when she bought that table. I must have been seven or eight and we sat cross-legged in front of it, eating fish fingers, and bumping elbows. Afterwards, we watched cartoons, I rested my cheek on her shoulder and she kissed my head; she smelt of soap and the flat was clean. Now, she’s sprawled on the sofa, head rolled back. I enter the room and she looks through a haze; being high numbs her misery. I leave her a sandwich. The clink of china touching glass quivers the sound of loss.

…..      “It’s for you, Mum.”

…..      “Are you going to school?” Mum’s gone.

…..    “Tomorrow, Mum, it’s the middle of the night.”

.

…..             The piece is going round and round my head. It’s got to play out to finish itself. The last two Wednesdays, I’ve come earlier and hunched over the piano, searching for the ending while people scurried by.

.

…..            At Gran’s, I steer away from Sabre and Beech, and stand deeper in the dinge. Beech acts like I’ve not come in. Sabre’s getting cocky, and the tip of his tongue darts between his parted lips; his instincts are spot on. Rumours are he’s got a new girl; as Sabre ages, they’re getting younger. I’ve not got bum fluff, and my voice is too high, if I get near him, bile fills my stomache, and my breasts ache in their binding. I can’t let Sabre scent my fear, and practice talking falsely low, shut my mouth, and build a rep for fists being my speech. Last week, just out of the corridor, and into Gran’s patch, another frat kid came at me; he was off, and I went in quick, left him out. If he’d got my hood down, it would have been over. The swelling in my hand took all week to go and scabs joined across my knucklebones. A crust opened up and red dripped, bright and beautiful; my fingers skidded on the ivory and I couldn’t mold the notes. It’s important not to leak.

…..            “You been slippin’, Red.” Someone’s reported me and Sabre lopes towards me but stalls the second Gran comes in. Something’s in the oven and I’m excluded, but Sabre and Beech are all over it.

.

…..          The ending is teasing, and I stayed too long. Just out of the station, I trip and go flying. My tracksuit rips, my knees grate on road, and grit shreds my palms. I scrabble up to take off, but a hand grabs my shoulder, throws me back and yanks down my hood. A face appears. It’s Beech.

…..      “Hello, Ria.” Fuck.

…..      My lips dry, and eyelids freeze wide. The rounded spheres of Beech’s eyes fix over me; I see the glossy surface of his retina. “Give next week a miss.” I nod, not breathing. “Call this number for your Mum, say you got it off Beech.” He stuffs a tear of paper in my pocket, and leaves me winded on the pavement. Wall looms above, straight and strong and my hands crawl up its weathered bricks, reaching for the City.

.

…..         I slide into the room, acting nonchalant. Sabre turns and sneers at me. There’s a new set of scales and the bulge of a strap in Sabre’s belt; maybe it’s his Dad’s. Gran comes in, and the atmosphere sharpens with a secret between them. Beech just stands, ignoring me; our earlier chat could have been a dream. Straight after Gran and I exchange, she signals I’m dismissed.

.

…..          At the weekend, I go to a phone box. It smells of sex, and cards are pinned, advertising bodies. My feet trample greasy take away boxes, nudge between sticky tissues, and avoid a discarded condom. I fondle my locket and trace the reverse engraving.

…..      After, my hands are shaking, and the receiver drops, straining for the floor. I wrap both hands around its neck and carefully replace it. The door shuts heavily.

Instead of going home, I detour. Notes weave through the air and extend to an ending; I’m chained to the piano by melody, and my locket twists shards of shine on the ceiling as the music climbs to a crescendo.

.

…..         Foreboding creeps in the dreary hallway. Suddenly frightened, my hands jitter the key. I step inside.

…..    Nothing stops the quiet.

…..     “Mum?”

…..    My voice cuts through air choked with burnt out flame.

…..     The flat is too still.

…..    My fingers trail the wall to the sitting room. She’s there, akimbo on the sofa, one foot embedded in the elephant cushion, and the other propped on the floor. Her right arm is slung behind her back, and her face turned away from the door; her left harm hangs out, stiff and elegant, and the tightened tourniquet digs in.

…..      “Mum?” I shout, kneeling.

…..        The weight of the needle jags its tip through a pinch of translucent skin. Her veins have flattened, surrendered their objection. I grab her face; it slumps towards me. Her eyes are partially open, but my mother does not see. I slap her face repeatedly, but my mother does not feel. I scream and pummel her chest; the needle jerks, and I rip it out. My mother does not bleed.

…..           I yank off the tourniquet and fling it to the floor. It lands under her hand, beside the receipt for bread and milk. The cost has been defaced; my mother’s writing loops over prices, curling her apology.

 

.

.

 

 

Key

bint ……………………….female drugs mule

canned…………………..imprisoned

chef………………………..head of a gang

dough……………………..money, cash

frat kid……………………junior fraternity (gang) member

load…………………………drugs

pagan………………………an outsider (of a gang)

take satisfaction……..rape

strap………………………..gun

treads………………………trainers

.

.

___

.

.

 

Estelle Phillips’ publications include the BBC (“Reaper”, “The Trapped Doe”, “Dragon Child” and “The Hand of Hazard”), Mslexia, A Rock And A Hard Place, Anti-Heroin Chic, The International Times, and Cult of Clio as well as The Financial Times, TLS, The Independent, 7 Days and Verge. Estelle’s debut poetry chapbook “Motherhoodlum” is forthcoming with Jawbone (August 2022). Estelle was long listed for the Yeovil Literary Prize and the Fish and Strands flash fiction prizes, shortlisted for the Ukraine Institute’s Writers Lab and is a slam winner. Her performances include the Royal Albert Hall (Hammer & Tongue national finalist ’21), the Nuffield Theatre, the John Hansard Gallery, Russell Cotes Museum, Anthroplay Theatre, and Salisbury Fringe.

.

.

___

.

.

Click here  to read “Thrush” by Owen Duffy, the winning story in the 60th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest

Click here  to read “His Second Instrument,” by Dave Wakely, the winning story in the 59th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest

Click here  for information about the upcoming Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest

.

.

.

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

"Zambramomania" by Roberto Nucci/CC BY-NC-SA-4.0 DEED
“The Eye Tapes…Monument to my Jazzy Eye” by Anita Lerek

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 Thomas Leuthard/Wikimedia Commons
“The Winslows Take New Orleans” a short story by Mary Liza Hartong...This story, a finalist in the recently concluded 64th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest, tells the tale of Uncle Cheapskate and Aunt Whiner, those pesky relatives you love to hate and hate to love.

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