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Matthew Schroeder, 13 Sep '12

Where It Comes From
        
        ‘Do you know where “The Blues” comes from?’
        ‘From...your soul?’
        Okay Ben immediately started laughing in a chuckling, phlegmy, whole body shake. Brad had to laugh with him but with less life, less joy and with a little embarrassment. Okay went on for a bit and finished off the hysterics with a high-pitched and lazy ‘woooooooo’. He wiped his watery eyes, crossed his arms and leaned back in the dusty, black leather chair which was patched up with half a roll of duct tape.
        ‘Naw,’ he began shaking his head but still smiling. ‘I mean the term “The Blues”.’
        Brad thought about this for a moment. Okay watched him ponder. He obviously didn’t know the answer, but was afraid to speak before he at least came up with a guess that might impress Okay. Okay thought to himself, ‘How do white boys live like this? Just say, I don’t know.’ In kinder moments he would have interrupted the boy’s thought process with the correct answer, but for some reason he thought it was important to at least let him respond with whatever bullshit he was coming up with.
        ‘I guess I always just thought blue was a sad color, and “The Blues” is an expression of sadness,’ Brad guessed in his posh London accent.
        ‘You’re half-right’ Okay responded generously. ‘Blue is a sad color, but not just because it’s blue.’ He leaned forward and picked up his tumbler from the warped, wooden, clover-shaped coffee table with his thumb and forefinger, the only digits left on his right hand. He took a sip of the Johnnie Walker double, neat and let it burn the back of his tongue before swallowing.
        Brad hated alcohol. He hated the smell. He hated the taste. He hated how stupid it made people and the nausea it always conjured up in him, but for some reason he didn’t hate it with Okay Ben. To Brad, Okay was like a geological anomaly or some sort of giant, rare American tree. He was beautiful in every way. The scotch that fumed from his mouth like sulfur from a volcanic spring may have been vile on its own, but in the presence of Okay Ben it was a feature that signified the reality of this moment. Brad wasn’t looking at a picture. He wasn’t watching a video. He wasn’t listening to a record. He was there. He knew he was there because he could smell it, and he was enveloped in gratitude for this.
        ‘In the cotton fields, you know, back in the slave days,’ Okay began. He was speaking casually, but to Brad it sounded like a song. His voice was deep, rich and refined with age. It was scotch if scotch could talk. ‘The indigo plant that grew around the cotton would dye the cotton blue.’ Okay raised his eyebrows in mock surprise in a way that was so exaggerated that he would have found it comical if he were child. ‘And that’s where slaves sang the songs of their suffering, in the blues. So that’s it. That’s where “The Blues” comes from.’
        ‘I didn’t know that,’ Brad admitted and immediately wished he could take the words back. Of course he didn’t know that. Okay asked him if he knew, and he didn’t so he was told. Jesus, how did this man manage to be so cool, so relaxed? How could he talk so casually and be so interesting at the same time?
        ‘You really came a long way without much to say,’ Okay put forward.
        Brad didn’t know what to say to that. He picked up his glass of Coke. ‘I guess I wasn’t prepared to actually meet anyone as interesting as you,’ he said. He sipped through his straw and noticed Okay staring at him confusedly.
        ‘You mean you came all this way without even knowing if you were going to meet me?’ Okay asked with genuine disbelief.
        Brad loosened his tie with his free hand. ‘Well, I came all this way for work,’ he said. ‘I’m auditing a tobacco company which has a plantation near here. I asked the girl at the hotel if there’s anything I should do during my stay and she told me to come here and see Okay Ben sing and “blow the harp.”’ He made air quotes around that phrase. ‘So here I am!’ He smiled, leaned back on the red velvet sofa pocked with cigarette burns and took another sip through his straw.
        ‘So,’ Okay said slowly. ‘You’re just a blues fan who happened to be in the neighborhood.’
        ‘Yes, basically,’ Brad said nodding vigorously.
        Okay smiled broadly at him displaying surprisingly white teeth against his dark complexion. ‘Who do you listen to?’ he asked.
        ‘Ummm.’ Brad thought about it for a moment. ‘To be honest,’ he winced. ‘I don’t really listen to it that much. I just really like the whole vibe, the ambiance and the history that goes with it. I’ve always wanted to listen more and really get to know it, but I just never have.’
        ‘Hold the phone,’ Okay said holding up a creased, white palm towards Brad. His smile fell away and now his mouth drooped into a frown. ‘So you never even heard of me before tonight?’ he asked, already knowing the answer.
        ‘Well,’ Brad began nervously. He set down his glass and began wiping his palms on his suit pants. ‘I’ve listened to your music,’ he explained. ‘I looked you up online at the hotel.’
        All the joy that was contained in Okay Ben melted away from him onto the hardwood floor and mixed itself with the sticky, stale liquor and beer and would be mopped up in the small hours of the morning after close.
        Brad observed the silent deflation of this exotic attraction and hated himself. He tried to think of something that would lift the old man’s spirit. He could lie. He could tell Okay that he was joking and that he was a huge fan and had all his records. He was sure he could remember some titles from his Wikipedia page. He could fake his way through a friendly little Q & A.
        Okay just stared ahead blankly. Brad looked at his Rolex. ‘I should probably go,’ he said regrettably. ‘I still have some work to do on my presentation for tomorrow morning. But listen,’ he said as he stood up and buttoned his suit jacket. Okay did not look up. ‘I really enjoyed this,’ he said truthfully. ‘I really did.’
        Okay drained the rest of his drink and handed the empty glass to Brad without looking at him. ‘Tell the waitress to bring me another on your way out.’

Comments · 3

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  • Matthew Schroeder said...

    This is for the Untold Tales Entry. It's my first entry on this site and hopefully there will be many more to come. I didn't know what I really wanted to write regarding 'the blues', so I actually looked up the origin of the term and went from there. I'm pretty happy with where it ended up.

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Anthony Blackshaw said...

    Hi Matthew, welcome to Burrst - superb debut, I look forward to reading more from you.

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Matthew Schroeder said...

    Awww, thanks Anthony. What a great welcome. I look forward to reading more of The Twelve Giants. I love fantasy and you have a real hook of an intro.

    • Posted 7 years ago