Listening to Miles Davis on a Bus in Argentina

He singles in on the gentle trickle of gin over ice cubes, and the hummingbird thrum of metal skimming glass as the bartender mixes a drink. He blocks everything else out until this tiny alcoholic waterfall is the only sound in the world. And then, beat by beat, and with controlled countenance, he lets the noises of the evening back in.

Trumpet: mournful or, better, melancholy, its drunken walk punctuated in boozy outbursts of staccato trills and worbles. Now the bartender peels lemon rind. The scratch of his knife has a pleasant grating effect on the man’s ears – to which the trumpet acts like honey.

Paper crackles. Fields burns in the night. At a table behind him a young woman lights a cigarette; in a vacuum of sound, her lungs burn. The trumpet cries out, a soda bottle fizzes open and glacial gin gulps it down. Like a steam train’s sigh as it slumps to a stop, the woman takes a long, slow exhale and a star dies. The trumpet moans a low relief.

Gently, gently the man at the bar lets the mother’s scolding chatter of snare and hi-hat back into the room: their constancy is reassuring. For the most imperceptible hair of a second this new, quickened tempo excited him and he loses control and symbols crash in the same moment glass tumbler clanks on oak, cigarette hisses a pantomime hiss in an ashtray, and the trumpet shrieks joy! before collapsing into hush.

His eyes still closed, the man screws up his brow at the silence.

But then – by the light of gas lamp and candle – ivories pound out a solo soft as newly laundered cashmere, teasing back to the fore: trumpet, excited to have made new friends; gin, lapping at lips with the gentleness of dusk; drums, whipped up in a frenzy that quickens the man’s old heart; and in place of fire, the gleeful laughter of the two women behind him – unabashedly soaring through the tumult.

He walks in bass fingers: steady as a clock’s tick, but punchy and sincere as black hole sound waves. They want to move faster, grow louder, but he won’t let them. Their energy is palpable. The trumpet trots through a few simple scales at pace, the drummer clatters his sticks on a tom-tom’s metal rim, another man at the bar forgets to savour his drink and chokes on scalding gin, he coughs and laughs and applauds with dry slaps to hide his embarrassment, one of the women whoops with delight and her friend does similar, they light cigarettes simultaneously and flames roar out along fields of paper. A man roars. By the stage a man roars and the man at the bar listens to the slickness and slaps of wet skin as the man by the stage shakes his sweat-drenched shirt loose.

The man at the bar stops holding back sound. The bathroom door slams shut: a double-treble on the bass pedal as it rattles in its frame. An anonymous party clink holy glasses in the corner and ice swirls with the gurgle of rain in a heavy gutter. Numerous short gasps for air – koi surfacing a pond – rise from stage punctuating in time with the snare. Trumpet builds into a testosterone Howl, machine gun tats erupt from the drums and the bassist stops holding himself back, the piano bites with velveteen fangs and plump, black lips in chords of two three four gigantic seconds the pianist barks at the moon the man in front tears his shirt stamps his feet out of time back in time back out the women blow noisy clouds of denseness into the ether and somewhere next to the man another shouts an order to the bartender and the bassist thumps his bass and wood vibrates hollow for miles, trumpet groans orgasmic climax and trumpeteer cries scat blasphemy to a tearful crowd who shiver… and clap, and whistle, and curse under their breath.

At the bar an unexpectedly vacated stool wobbles back to stability, offended.

Outside, in a flurry of quiet snowfall, the man relishes the rustle and rub his gloves make as he thrusts them deep into his pockets. He hears the crunch and slush of ice beneath his shoes. He whistles with the enormity and beauty of an orchestra: the high notes of gin on ice.

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