It is July 1971.
Word on earth is, Gabriel’s real green over the way Satchmo can let it blow, and will, for eternity, and maybe a little longer.
Down in New Orleans, the Devil has a cafe he’s particularly fond of, with some tables out on the street, old world style, and every once in a while, just to try and rattle him, a few of the seraphim sit and have a latte or two at a table near his. They never seem to succeed in shaking him up, but it was on one of these days that a very young Louis Armstrong was playing in a dance hall down the street. When the first notes of his horn floated down their way, Lucifer glanced over at the table of seraphim, and noted the shift in Gabriel’s face. The Devil smirked in a, well, rather devilish manner, and called the waitress over to ask her to please put the tabs of those three young men sitting at the table near him on his bill. He gave her a 25% tip, and continued to smirk all the way back to Hell.
The Devil never challenged old Satchmo in all the years his horn warmed and sweetened the earth. He was a fiddler, to begin with, and even down in Hell, those swingin’ notes that Satch was playing made their way through the pits and the torture chambers, causing the fires and the demons to still, just a little, as they listened to something they could almost but not quite understand.
Now, on earth, there has been a great outcry at the loss of Louis Satchmo Armstrong. There have been an awful lot of people cursing Hell and Heaven alike. Lucifer doesn’t mind; he’s used to it by now, and has always felt that Louis was likeable, for a human. The angels up in Heaven, well, they’re a different story. Despite the fact that they ought to be used to bitter cries of “Unjust!” from mankind after these many centuries have gone by, they’re not like you and I—angels are jealous by nature, and vindictively obedient. It’s one of the reasons Lucifer up and left for Hell, as he maintains (although he never denies his roots if you ask him about them. Go ahead, next time you see him). Anyway, Gabriel is angry, angry, almost hopping mad about the arrival of the now actually immortal Satchmo, and he’s humiliated because all of the folks down on earth seem to know. He’s read what they’ve been writing: “Move over, Gabriel! Here comes Satchmo!” and “Gabriel will be alright now that he’s got the greatest horn there ever was to teach him a thing or two,” and even “God must need Satch to play that sweet music for some gigs up in Heaven, that’s why he’s gone,” the last of which Gabriel finds particularly insulting, because not only does it fail to mention him, but it also suggests that this man is more important than he could ever possibly be, a base creature like a human being. Where is the humility? Vain creatures, all of them, in Gabriel’s opinion. Lucifer catches sight of this opinion from down below, and laughs, It takes one to know one, Gabriel!
Meanwhile, up in Heaven, Louis Armstrong is getting his bearings. Always fast to make friends, and no stranger to bigotry, he goes right up to Gabriel and offers his hand for a shake. “You’re the cat I’m supposed to jam with at the end of time,” he says, smiling. “How d’you do?” Gabriel feels the other angels looking at him, and knowing he’ll never be able to face the Devil in New Orleans again if he doesn’t, he takes the hand that’s offered. “Now, about that gig,” Satchmo continues when Gabriel turns to leave. He stops, a little peeved that he is unable to make his escape, but more surprised by the fact that Louis seems to want to speak to him, and despite his unfriendliness, doesn’t seem to be discouraged at all. Gabriel nods, signaling Louis to continue; he’s not human, after all, and unless he’s smiting them, he doesn’t really know how to interact in a proper and socially acceptable manner. Pops goes on, “Listen, I was thinking—wouldn’t it swing real good if, when the fires come up on the earth, instead of those grand hosannas and fanfare type stuff, if you and I made it a day of blow, blow, blow on the horns, and played some real jazz to greet all those souls on their way to join us?” Gabriel looks at him, at a loss for words. Lucifer watches intently; he finds this incredibly interesting.
Louis continues, “Now, I know it’s not quite what you all are used to playing up around here, but it’s always been a good time for me, and with the earth in flames and all, don’t you think those folks that are seeing the world burning could use something they’re accustomed to? And me, well, I’ve got ‘em all accustomed to it by now!” And Louis laughs.
Gabriel still can’t seem to find any words. He can feel, all the way from Hell, Lucifer waiting for him to do something disgraceful. As if Pops can read the anxiety in him, beyond that impenetrably perfect angelic face, he says, “Well, why don’t you and I go and jam a bit in the meantime? We can talk about it more; we’ve got plenty of time, after all, and I’d like to hear you give it what you got. Have you got your horn around here somewhere?”
As a matter a fact, Gabriel’s horn is nearby. He goes to get it, and brings it back with him. Louis smiles. “Well, it may seem a little silly up here, but I just feel like playing ‘Saints’ right about now. You know that chart?”
Down on earth, the children in Corona, Queens look up at the sky. They hear something, but they don’t know what it is. Some of them think it’s the ice cream man, but that idea goes away as quickly as it came. The youngest of them, who can’t be more than five years old, smiles and hums a little. He sings quietly, Oh Lord, I wanna be in that number…The moment passes, the children resume their play, and the sun sets. A handsome figure walks down 107th street, pauses in front of number 34-56, smirks in a not so devilish, but rather unusual way, as though sharing a joke with a very old friend. He tips his hat, and continues along his way.
Melissa Bobe holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Translation from Queens College of the City University of New York. In the spring of 2011, she was a writer-in-residence at the Louis Armstrong House Museum Archives. She founded and taught a creative writing workshop for teens at the Rockville Centre Public Library for six years, and has also taught nonfiction prose writing as an adjunct instructor at Queens College. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English Literature at Rutgers University.