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Flash Fiction
773 words
SHJ Issue 10
Fall 2014

Happiest Black White Man Alive

by Dan Gilmore

“Little Harlem,” they call it behind the Santa Fe station middle of LA’s black ghetto. But when you walk inside that building half the size of a football field with a ten-foot high ceiling and a dance floor moon-dented by years of spiked heels and shined by see-yourself-in Florsheims when you walk inside carrying your drums and cymbals and you make your way through that thick cigarette smoke trapped by that low ceiling you’re not anywhere near the train station. And if you’re me, you’re inside a scared white boy’s skin, an 18-year-old last minute fill-in drummer for Ray Byrd’s all black big band.

And when I walk in and the talking stops and I hear whispers, Who’s the white kid? I trip over my feet and do a little hop and try to walk with that black-swagger thing but I feel like a performing seal.

First set goes okay. We play every My-man’s-done-left-me song, every All-I-want-is-my-baby-back-so-my-heart-can-sing song, and I’m laying down the money beat that sharp back beat on two and four and I’m feeling good.

Then at break Byrd says, We gonna turn it up a bit. And I say, You mean faster, louder, longer? And Byrd says, Yeah. One-eighty for the full set and I say...Fine. But I know when I play that fast for that long my body locks up can’t move my feet can’t feel my hands can’t breathe and I’ll sit there a statue of myself entombed in my own flesh turned to stone.

So Byrd counts off—one-two, one-two, ugh ugh. It’s fast all right. Trombone guy solos five minutes then a little trumpet player dude then Byrd honks his tenor sax for twenty minutes—on his knees, on his back, humping the air while cigarette smoke snakes through the room through a thousand perfumes thick bourbons Scotches all mixed with face sweat breast sweat crotch sweat fish-net thigh sweat and the dancing doesn’t stop. It’ll never stop as long as I can keep hitting that back beat but I’m tightening up and I’m scared I’m gonna miss it and the whole place will freeze in disgust because the white drummer kid just blew the fuse on a thousand black souls because he hit on one and three instead of two and four. I’m counting and praying I can last for twenty more minutes so I can stop jerking-off atop this ticking metronome of white logic.

Just then Byrd gives me that sulfur eye that vaporizes me because it’s his Time-to-take-your-first-solo eye. So I start real soft like brushes on white bread. People start drifting toward the bandstand. Someone snickers. More join in. Not knowing what to do and afraid to keep doing the same thing, I kick the bass drum, BOOM, switch to sticks and start this double-time riff off the left hand. It sounds good. Where it comes from I don’t know. My right hand tumbles from little tom to big tom while my bass keeps that BOOM BOOM ba-ba BOOM thing going and my high-hat is crisp as Byrd’s big wink. Heads start nodding to my beat bodies too. Then the sound of my drums bounces off all the walls and we’re all back in some jungle part of ourselves circling a fire hands flying cinders popping. Life, I mean LIFE is flowing from a place where nothing is good or bad, just IS and there’s almost too much happiness and I give the eye back to Byrd who is wrinkled-eyed smiling. And I hit a final lick, pause a beat then BOOM kick the band back in. Trumpets squeal bones moan saxes join in with a rocking riff and the whole band rides that same riff. Trumpets go higher and higher until it’s impossible to go higher then damn if the little dude trumpet player goes even higher up a whole octave and holds that high note while the band riffs louder and louder and if you’re there inside my electric skin you’re thinking the trumpet player’s head is going to explode then Sweet Jesus, he goes higher yet and you stop thinking and everyone is clapping and grooving and it doesn’t surprise me when I look down I see my hands have turned black arms too all of me has turned black clear through and there’s that feeling when old pains and pasts old fears and loss don’t exist and nothing is left ’cept ALL that’s good and pure and me smiling so big it hurts, ’cause I never felt this full before, ’cause I AM the happiest black white man alive.


SHJ Issue 10
Fall 2014

Dan Gilmore

has published a novel, A Howl for Mayflower, and three collections of poetry and monologues, Season Tickets, Love Takes a Bow, and Panning for Gold. He has won the Raymond Carver Fiction Contest, the Martindale Fiction Award, and multiple Sandscript Awards for Short Stories. His poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, San Diego Reader, Aethlon, Blue Collar Review, The Carolina Review, Sandscript, Loft and Range, and Serving House Journal.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury