Friday, July 9, 2010

"A Burst of Heat" by Matthew Glasgow

The sun crashes to the pavement on a desolate street in South Philadelphia. The moon quickly takes its place. Sound has conquered vision. Taxi cab horns wail in the distance, crowds shout in the alleyways. Nothing is seen. Jockamo Ellis walks up the subway shaft with his finest girl, Ten-speed Jane, wrapped in his arms. A frigid burst of wind hits their faces, checkered wool scarves are pulled to their eyes with no delay. Pedestrians push past the couple as they attempt to embrace the city for only a moment. Tonight they are going to see Harvey Linkletter, a comedian that Jockamo read was very funny from local Entertainment columnist Thomas Cassel. Claiming that he has never missed an article, Jockamo holds Cassel’s opinion with the same blind allegiance of truth. “He has an unfettered perspective on life. None of his beliefs are tied to bias like most of his colleagues at the paper,” he proclaims of Cassel, “He is passionate, thoughtful and most importantly, he is right.”

Ten-speed holds an equaled allegiance to Jockamo. To her, he is perfection captured in a six foot tall ivory frame. His tongue; sharp yet delicate, capable of piercing deep into her core and sewing up any lingering wounds like the most skillful tailor. Images of Jockamo Ellis are scattered throughout Ten-speed Jane’s center city loft. Photographs in picture frames, etchings in art school portfolios, crudely drawn cartoons inside journals. She is new to the city, living her whole life in a small rural town in Western Pennsylvania. The name of the town was never important; she knew no one had ever heard of it anyway. Like many, the fast- paced activity enticed her. People were everywhere; she could not escape them if she tried.

The couple walks down the numbered street, squeezing each other closely for warmth. Their eyes both fixed on the pavement, keeping close watch for any remnants of snow or black ice from the previous storm. A door swings open as a restaurant patron signals for the rest of his party. Jockamo and Jane are temporarily comforted by the heat escaping into the cold air as they pass. Jane notices the elderly couple entering, and wonders what Jockamo will look like at such an age. Will he still be in good shape? Will he still have a full head of hair? Will we still be together? Will we be married? Have children? Will he love me at such an age?

A walk that seemed eternal is now over as they wait in line outside of the comedy club. Jockamo breathes out hard the air made visible in the night. Jane digs her hands deep into her gloves, hoping for heat that never comes. The men in line look as if they had just come from work or an important business meeting, their collared shirts and ties hidden beneath fashionable pea coats and scarves. The women, in cocktail dresses and miniskirts underneath furs, goose bumps trickled down to their high heels, legs convulsing while huddled underneath their men. Jane feels underdressed.

The club bouncer finally removes the velvet rope as the crowd filters in. Jockamo finds them a table right in front of the stage and makes a point to pull out Jane’s chair for her. A perfect gentleman. Before they get the chance to settle down, a waiter arrives at their table. “Can I start you off with anything to drink; we have a vast selection if you care to look at our menu.” “Hmm, so many options, Jane, please go first.” Jane holds the menu close to her face as she squints her way down the list of drafts, wines, and cocktails. “Why don’t you try a pale ale, honey” Jockamo suggests while fiddling with the utensils. “That’s a beer, right?” “Yes, of course it is.” “Okay sure, I’ll have one of those.” “Sure thing, Miss,” the waiter quickly jots down, “And for yourself?” “I’ll have a sangaree, port wine please.” Jockamo confidently announces as he returns the menu. “Port wine sangaree. Enjoy the show; I’ll be right back with your drinks.” Jockamo and Jane share a moment of pensive silence as the waiter turns his attention to the adjacent table. “I bet you’re wondering what a sangaree is, aren’t you,” Jane nods, “Well it’s actually a Spanish drink if I correctly recall. It actually means blood, or the act of bleeding. Strange name for a drink, now that I think about it. Half of the people probably don’t even know that, if they even know what the drink is in the first place.” Jockamo blurts out. “Does it taste good?” Jane innocently asks. “Yes, very good. The port wine is a very good sangaree; however, it comes in various liquors.” Jockamo replies while wrestling out of his suede jacket. Jane notices his collared shirt and tie. He is perfectly dressed. “They really have the heat blasting in this place. I’m sweating like a hog!” Jockamo exclaims as he blots his forehead with a napkin, “You’re not hot? Why don’t you take off your jacket, quit hiding that tight little body of yours.” “I’m fine,” Jane says, huddling her arms down to her lap.

The waiter returns with a grimace and a pale ale, “I’m sorry sir, but our bartender doesn’t know how to make a sangaree, this is only his second week here.” “That’s fine,” Jockamo says with slight disgust and disappointment. “Is there anything else I can get you to drink before you order your meals?” “No that’s okay, we already ate. I’ll just go over to the bar myself, see what your bartender can make,” Jockamo says with a grin as he rises from his chair, “I’ll be right back, honey”.

Away from one another, Jockamo leans against the burgundy bar top, trying to get the attention of the inexperienced bartender. His shoulders brush against other shoulders; it is unwanted contact. Jane sits alone at the table, her eyes drowning in the drink before her as she takes a break between sips. The pale ale leaves a bitter taste in her mouth, but like Jockamo has told her before, “The most rewarding tastes are acquired through time.”

The lights are dimmed as Jockamo finally makes his way back to Jane. The show is about to begin. A spotlight is cued to the stage as a man emerges from behind the curtains and encourages the ladies and the gentlemen to please give a round of applause for the one, the only, Harvey Linkletter. The crowd obliges, the comedian grasps the microphone, ready to make everyone laugh. After a quick clearing of the throat, he storms through his routine; the punch lines, gags, physical humor, and every other comedic tool learned through years on the road, preparing each joke in front of the mirror of a lonely hotel room. The precious sound of laughter.

“Okay, let’s see who we have here in the audience,” the comedian says with exhausted breath. Jockamo whispers in Jane’s ear with a faint chuckle, “This is the signature part of his show, always very funny.” “Well this looks like a lovely young couple,” Harvey Linkletter says while directing his attention to their table, “Jeez, I can’t even think of anything, they look so perfect. Let’s see who else we got out tonight.” Jockamo gives a hearty laugh and Jane blushes as Harvey Linkletter makes his way to another table. “Can you believe that Ten-speed? Truly, truly hilarious!”

As Jockamo and Jane make their way to the exit once the show ends, Jockamo receives a small tap on the shoulder. “Excellent show tonight, wouldn’t you agree?” Jockamo turns to the stranger off guard, “Yes, it was a fine show.” “I saw that Harvey Linkletter picked you out. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Thomas.” Jockamo’s eyes suddenly light up, “Thomas Cassel?” “Oh yes, so I presume you have heard of me.” “Heard of you? Why I believe I have read every one of your columns,” Jockamo answers in awe. “Ah, it’s always good to meet a fan. And what is your name?” “I’m James, James Ellis,” Jockamo promptly shakes the columnist’s hand, oblivious to Jane’s existence. “Well, I’m on my way to the local watering hole on 8th street,” Thomas Cassel announces with a sarcastic chuckle, “would you care to join me?” “Sure I would love to,” Jockamo says while giving him an affectionate pat on the shoulder. “Do you want to come with us?” Jockamo asks Jane courteously. “No, that’s all right. I’m tired, I’ll just be a burden,” Jane answers with a feeble quake. “As you wish. Are you okay getting home by yourself?” “Yes, I’m fine. I’ll make it.” After a formal departing hug, Jockamo and Thomas Cassel vanish down the street. Jane walks in the opposite direction through the blistering wind.

(End: Act I)

After a lonely subway ride, Jane finally made it back to her loft. She could feel the warmth of the heater almost immediately as she walked through the door, and hung up her coat. The moon was shining through her living room window as she looked out onto the city, catching a glimpse of herself in the glass. Her cheeks were parched red, hair wildly scattered, and eyes welled with tears. Jane picked up her sketch pad and pencil. Tonight she would paint a self portrait.

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