“The Music Man”

I play a bad hand, with a bad face and an empty wallet, and when they take down my high stack, I feel those hideous blue lights on the walls of this water-logged Toulouse Street hole in the wall burning so damn hot that I think my forehead is melting over my eyes. I got a short stack left, but that won’t get me by. I never ask for much other than to get by, and this just wont do it. So on the next hand, when I see that river flip and I know I got the right colors paired with the right numbers I know I have to get it all back. No half-steps. The ante in this stack ain’t high enough, but I got something else; that sax down below the table by my feet in the bashed up King case, and I know it’s worth the high stack, maybe more, and they know it too. See, they know me as a music man, true as they come. So I stand up and I put it on the table.
Metarie Jack, the old white man with an even whiter mustache sitting across from me with my chips lined up in front of his big puffy satin-shirted chest, he leans over and says to me, “Listen here, Mikey. This ain’t no patio game. No iced tea and no pantry pretzels. There ain’t no take backs, no do-overs, no flip-flops, no run-arounds, and they sure as hell ain’t no backdoor welching.”
I stay standing with my hand on that King case and I look Jack right in the eyes and I say to him, “I don’t like your tone, old man. My daddy never welched, and his daddy never welched, and his daddy never welched neither, ‘cept he died far too young to have much chance to do so. And sir, this sax here on this table says I take down that stack, and you with it.”
“It says that, does it?”
“Mister, it says everything.” I open up the King and the blue on the walls lights up the gold inside and old Jack can’t help but squint. “Polished every day for seventeen years,” I say. “And I mean to polish it again tomorrow.”
Metarie Jack nods and I see him smiling underneath that mustache. “Alright,” he says. “Set it off to the side. It’s too big for the pot.” And he pushes that high stack front and center.
And it’s called, and I lay my fate down, and he smokes his damn cigarette, the thin fancy type with the ivory hold, and he lays down the ugliest pair of ladies I’ve ever seen, all done up in cheap high-colored threads with the slap-dash jewelry and the painted face that you’d see smiling at you from the saddest corner of Treme, winking at you, curling and uncurling a bony finger that pulls you to an early grave. You see, those Treme ladies love the music men, but when they take that music from you, ain’t nothing left but an empty stack and a boiling blue light that makes you vomit up the song that brought you there.

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James Elens

About James Elens

James was born in the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific and raised along with Florida Gulf Coast, and we can't imagine living too far away from the water. He is a graduate of the Creative Writing M.F.A. Program at Florida International University in Miami, FL. He currently lives, writes and swims back along the Gulf Coast.