Lay Down Sally
by Jack Coey
Sweeney sat on
the examination table in his
underwear and across the room was a young woman, maybe, two or three years out
of college with her hair in a bun and a business suit and horned-rimmed
glasses. She wrote down notes as Sweeney talked to help him find a half-way house for his recovery
after they found him unconscious in an alley. He told her the story of his
father. They say it was an accident when he fell overboard on a fishing trip
with his business partner who he knew had some unscrupulous stuff going on, but
Fish and Game investigated, and said he was standing up when a wave rocked the
boat enough to pitch him into the water. My Ma never was convinced of that.
“What did she think?”
She thought his partner pushed him overboard
to keep his shady dealings a secret. But the investigators said he was
intoxicated and couldn’t help himself when he went into the water. The accident
was never solved for us and it became like this presence in the house with Ma
and me. Don’t they say something about unresolved murders and how the victim
haunts the living for justice?
It was around that time Ma bought me a
violin and wanted me to learn how to play it. I think it was her way of trying
to move beyond the questions about my father. She made me practice in the front
parlor, and at first, I hated it. But then I started playing it the way I
wanted to, and it was so much fun! I made stuff up and it drove my Ma crazy. It
got so I played conventional stuff when she was around, and then, improvise
when she was out of the house.
“Sounds like you were becoming more independent from your
You make it sound normal when it was an act
of betrayal as far as she was concerned. We had some doozie screaming fights
over it. Finally, after graduating from high school, I ran away to the city. I
slept in the park and begged money during the day. One day, I saw the ad in the
paper, Maestro Van Lunenburg, Master Violinist. Now accepting students.
Fee Negotiable. 128 Foster Street, Second Floor Walkup. Audition Required.
I had no way to
pay the fee, but I was curious to see what he would say about my playing, so I
went to see him. I found the address and saw the sign that read: The Maestro’s Studio, One floor
up. I opened the door at the base of the stairs and heard the screech of a
poorly played violin. I started up the stairs. I stood outside the door with a
sign: The Maestro’s Studio. Through the door I heard,
“Relax the bow hand! Relax the bow hand! You’re
distorting the sound!” There was a momentary improvement in the sound until it
reverted to a screech. Then it stopped.
“You must relax in order for you to perform at
your maximum level. Ve must vork on relaxation before you even touch the
instrument. If you don’t teach yourself relaxation then you vill never be able
to perform in front of others, yes?”
I knocked on
door. It flew open. I jumped.
“Yes?” demanded a short man with a full head of
curly white hair and a Van Dyke beard and half-glasses hanging around his
“I would like to audition for you.”
“Come back in an hour.” Door slam.
I waited by the door an hour later, and as before,
the door swung open and there was The Maestro. I came into the studio and there
were music stands and several violins. There was an overstuffed chair where The
Maestro sat while students played. The Maestro sat in his chair.
“Begin,” he said.
I took several
moments to settle myself on a stool and began to play. After several minutes,
The Maestro waved his arms. I stopped playing.
“Do you read music?”
“All right, then, I vant you to follow me vhile
I show you the music.”
The Maestro took
up a violin and began to play the notes to a score. He played a bit, stopped,
and listened while I imitated what he did, if he was satisfied, he went on to
the next bit. I added my own flourish.
“No, no, no,” scolded The Maestro, “you must
play vhat I play!”
I tried to satisfy
The Maestro but couldn’t help myself.
“You play very nicely,” said The Maestro “but
you vill never play in an orchestra for you don’t take direction. There are
traditions that must be maintained, no? Having said that, however, you might
find yourself in a jazz combo of some sort vhere improvisation is desirable,
yes? I vish you the best of luck and I can do nothing more for you.”
I stood up from
the stool, tucked my violin under my arm, and let myself out.
talking. The social worker had her head bent, writing.
“It sounds like you don’t like structure,” she
Yeah, I suppose that’s true. I was on the
street begging when a street musician told me about a jazz club in the seedy
part of town. I looked for it and saw the sign: The High Note Jazz Club. I
went inside the dim, smoky room. There was a trio on stage playing and five or
six patrons bobbing their heads to the music. I sat at a table. It was a piano,
saxophone, and trumpet. I put my violin on the table. When the musicians took a
break, the saxophone player beckoned me to the stage.
“Jam, man?” he asked.
I was thrilled.
“JoJo, bring the gentleman a chair,” ordered
the musician to someone. The two other players came back and the saxophone
“Go,” to me.
I started to play The Birth of the Blues,
after a bar, the piano came in, then, the trumpet and saxophone. It was
tentative for a while, and then we clicked, and ended jamming. The piano
started the next song and I listened and joined in and each instrument took a
solo. In between songs, the piano player lit a joint and passed it. I watched
as the musicians took a hit, and figured I was to inhale it, and hold it. I
took the joint, and put it to my mouth, and coughed, and the musicians laughed,
and I got the smoke in my mouth, and inhaled it, and got lightheaded, and
passed the joint back to the trumpet player, and they started to play, and
between the music and joint I’d never felt anything like this before, and after
that, there was whisky, and the next I knew, I woke up on the floor with a
towel over me and a man looking down on me.
“You wuz somethin’, man,” he said.
The social worker
shifted her weight in the chair.
It was around this time I met Sally. I used
to hang in the waiting area of the bus terminal, and she was there looking for
johns though I didn’t know it then. She was the same age as me and looked to be
on the street. She had dirty blond hair, dirty, torn jeans, and a blouse with
no bra. I kept watching her and after a while she sensed I was watching her.
She saw me watching her and smiled. She smiled; I smiled back – she smiled, and
I smiled back; she stood up and walked over to me.
“Do you know what time it is?” she asked.
“Ten after three.” There was a clock on the
“You waiting for a bus?”
“Naw, just someplace to sit is all.”
“My name’s Sally. You play the violin?”
She looked around.
“What’s your name?”
“Oh! That’s different.”
“I got teased for it plenty.”
“People can be cruel.”
I looked at her.
saw her breasts through her blouse.
“You waiting for a bus?” I asked.
“Naw, I’m people watching.”
We were silent
until I asked,
“I’m hungry. Could I borrow five bucks to get a
“Oh! Sure. Come on, let’s go to the snack bar
and get something to eat.”
She stood up
so did I. When she paid, I saw a bundle of twenties. When we were eating, I
“Do you live here?”
“What do you do?”
“I clean an office for a businessman. You’re a
“Will you play for me sometime?”
“You like violin music?”
“I’m not supposed to?”
“No…no, not at all. Most young people like
electric guitars is the way I see it.”
“My mother used to…” pain welt in her eyes.
“Come on, let’s go to the common and I’ll play
I told her I
be at the terminal tomorrow in the afternoon if she was interested, and the
next day, sure enough, she was there, and we sat and talked. She had a lot of
money for cleaning an office and so I was always mistrustful of her in some
way, but then again, she had a meekness or timidity about her that was
irresistible. She invited me to her hotel room on the edge of town and we ate
Kentucky Fried Chicken and made love and it was the most powerful experience of
my life. I mean the lovemaking, not the chicken. And I was beginning to put it
together about how she made her money and that gave me pain.
“I can see that.”
I stayed with
in the motel and during the day I begged for money while she cleaned offices
which I never believed, and I gave her money that I’d begged, and we would
drink a bottle of wine together, and I played a lullaby for her while she fell
The social worker
stopped writing and looked at him.
I guess I hoped
I could love her in a real way, she would give up being with other men, and we
could get jobs, and even if we were poor, we could love one another and that
would make it all right.
The social worker
was still, looking at him.
You know I watched
a lot of movies on TV, and it always works out in the movies, and I believed it
was the same in life too, and so I asked her about giving up the other men and
she could get a job as a waitress or cashier even, and she acted overjoyed at
the idea, and of course, I wanted to believe it too. She got a job as a cashier
at a supermarket and we talked about getting a place together, and I was making
some money playing gigs at the Jazz Club or even on the street. My hopes were
sky-high until the day I came home and saw the police cruiser parked by our
door and she was led out by two policemen screaming,
It’s not true, it’s not true.
A quizzical look
came over the young social worker’s face.
“So, you have difficulty trusting others?” she
Jack Coey lives in