When Dracula played jazz (draft 40 minutes)

The War was over. Finally. He didn’t really care except for the fact that he was lonely and friends would be returning home. There would be more company for smoking and taking walks soon. Everyone seemed to back changed, though: insular, afraid almost.

They came back to their families and homes and stayed there for what seemed to be an eternity. The Count felt like a petulant child wondering why no one would come out to play.

When they finally did start coming out people began talking more and more. Now everyone seemed paralyzed. Dracula, more out of annoyance than anything else, began talking to the locals; and then he couldn’t stop. He talked until people’s mouths were parched and they couldn’t talk anymore. After that he knocked on the doors of his friends who had gone. “Is this all true?” And so much more, they would reply.

The radio reports came in. The longer newspaper stories followed. Everyone crowded the cinemas to see the moving images. They all looked like his victims up there and he too was scared, in shock.

It was policy to not interfere: They were all alive and they would all die; there’s no reason to. But now he wished he had not stood so idle. On nights when he celebrated people had been rounded up, humiliated, and sent away. Their skin would gradually tighten over each bone in their bodies, and when their wills were broken it would began to compost in the open while others continued to come in and repeat the grotesque process.

Dracula was paralyzed now, too. He listened at all times to the radio and any new developments. He fell asleep and awoke under a blanket next to the box of tubes.

Something interrupted his slumber. It was a trumpet, but in a way he had never heard before. It wailed. It howled. It cried. He sobbed to himself in his fortress; something like this hadn’t happened in years. The sounds became his therapy, a reflection of what .

He didn’t sleep for days on end, always hovelled under his swaths of fabric listening for more and more and more. The Count eventually fell asleep but could only dream of the atrocities and the sounds.

From being constantly on, he learned more about what he was listening to, but it was still limited. It was the only thing that gave him any relief or pleasure anymore and he wanted to see it in the flesh. The next night he set off across the country. Along the way he could smell the death still lingering and the moonlit destruction. He steered his coach in the opposite direction.

When there were no remnants of the recent past the songs came into his head. He knew them all from memory now and his favorite pastime had become to play the drums alongside them, the horse’s trot serving as a metronome. Chunks of the night would pass by while his eyes were closed during an improvisation. Realizing he had let a horse guide him while he imaginarily played drums, a small smile crossed Dracula’s face. It was the first one in a long time.

Three weeks after first leaving Romania the Count arrived in Paris, itself a shell of what it been months prior. People had started coming out of their home here, too, though and they were all listening to the radio. It seemed to be constantly dreary and the Count scurried for protection from awning to awning. At least he heard the faint sounds of a vibrating reed from a saxophone emanating out of a cellar door. A man stepped out and the volume increased. The Count stepped in. It was all in half-time and through plumes of tobacco fog. Cool eyes turned in his direction and then refocused on the career men plying their trade on stage. It was loud and then gentle and then chaotic and then measured and then nothing except for silence, but it was always everything.

He came back the next night and the one after that. The Count bought a pair of drum sticks for the third night and entered the club with more trepidation. To not fully state his intentions he kept them guarded beneath his cloak, but he could feel the ends jabbing into his ribs. His feet fidgeted with the beats beneath the table.

He shot up from his front-row seat in mid song, paced a little in plain sight of everyone, and tentatively made his way to the drum kit. The drummer stared–everyone did–but kept on palying. After the song, he stared some more with expectation. Draclula, tall and gaunt, pulled out the sticks and pointed to the percussion with worried eyes.

“Yeah man, sure.”

They switched positions and a sputter of brass notes came out. It was brasg and only increased the Count’s nervousness. But then the play smoothed and his foot signaled to the bass drum. And then the snare. He was playing.

There was no comparison, but if this was how everyone felt who was alive, then he was truly sorry for all he had done. What had been therapy–the mirror of his feelings–was now the exhaust. Technically he was not the best drummer ever but he could hold his own. Besides, it was his first night, his first song. The other players didn’t push him offstage.

These were his type of people: They lived at night, they drank, they smoked. They all played this music.

Night after night they assembled to feed off one another. The two drummers would rotate back and forth, sitting right on stage to the other if not playing. Everyone talked and laughed but it was mostly about playing. The crowd were all part of the ensemble, too.

A few weeks passed and a new guy showed up with a saxophone draped over his neck. He sat down and listened to what the others were playing. Dracula signaled for him to come up and join in–after all, he knew how the guy was feeling. The new guy wasn’t as good as the pros, either, but he was genuine. They all carried on for hours.

There was a break in the set and the two rookies started talking at the bar. While the others went back for another set, Dracula and John sat talking. While the Count spoke english perfectly he mostly wanted to hear about John; he would eventually have to lie if he spoke too much and he never enjoyed that. Besides, John had a family in Chicago and knew all these players and records Dracula had never heard about before. Stories about long nights in American basements were almost just as exciting as playing. John had also been in the War and spoke of those stories, too. The shame came back but Dracula had to listen.

All the other musicians had packed up for the night and the two conversationalists moved outside, walking the still-damp streets. A bakery was opening up and they ordered croissants and coffee. Dracula had never had a croissant before, which he instantly regretted.

The conversation came to a lull as they digested and sipped on park benches. Sunrise started to creep up and they both stared, eyes bleary with sleep. Dracula sat still with worried expectation as John finished the last drops of his drink. The sun came up completely and the Count looked around: People were coming out and walking the park, enjoying their own breakfasts and mornings. Everything was okay.


About

Etcetera is the weblog for Michael Wachs. Michael—known as “Mike” or “Wachs” to his friends—has lived in Austin, Texas for the past seven years but from 03.01.07 until 05.02.07 will be wasting cash and seeing sights in Europe, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel. He feels obliged, and yet cliché, for having a blog.

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