Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man (Excerpt) by Frank “Doc” Adams and Burgin Mathews

Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man, released this fall from the University of Alabama Press, chronicles the life of Dr. Frank Adams, a local jazz icon and a ceaseless and inspiring educator. Drawn from more than two years of interviews with collaborator Burgin Mathews, the book presents Doc’s incredible story in his own words, telling along the way, too, the often overlooked story of jazz in Birmingham.

In this excerpt, Adams recalls his experiences playing with trumpeter Joe Guy at a spot, well on the outskirts of Birmingham, called the Woodland Club. A figure largely unsung in the history of jazz, Guy had performed and recorded with Coleman Hawkins’ influential orchestra; he had helped comprise, with pianist Thelonious Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke, the house band at Minton’s Playhouse, the after-hours New York nightspot that witnessed the birth of bebop; he had been involved, professionally and romantically, with Billie Holiday, whose band he briefly led. In 1947, in a raid on their New York hotel room, Guy and Holiday were busted for narcotic possession. In the trial that followed, Holiday was sentenced to a year and a day in a federal reformatory; Guy was acquitted, broke his ties with Holiday, and slipped back home to Birmingham. Today, Joe Guy most often appears as a footnote in the history of jazz, a promising player whose career was cut short by addiction and whose story ends with his severance from the legendary “Lady Day.” According to one of Holiday’s biographers, Guy “permanently dropped out of music” after the trial and split; in the words of another, he “faded back down South where he was born.”

Back in Birmingham, Guy teamed up with Frank Adams, who had just begun his decades-long career in education and was putting together his own band for what would become a fourteen-year weekly run at the Woodland Club. In Adams’s reminiscences, Guy emerges as a warm if eccentric mentor and friend; a master musician, even after his fall from the jazz elite; a good man and a powerful artist haunted by the demons of his addiction. Guy passed away in 1962, at forty-one years of age. Eighty-four at this writing, Frank Adams remains today a tireless and inspiring performer, teacher, and storyteller.

The following excerpt is printed with permission from the University of Alabama Press.

I had some of the best years of my life when Joe came back home, with all his experience and all these things he would tell me. We would be playing. And you know how people like to collect memorabilia, or they want to be related to some great artist or something. You run into these kinds of folk: they want to impress you that they’ve been there. This guy would come in the club and he would say, “Listen.” Said, “Joe, I know Billie Holiday. And I know you had some problems. I’m so sorry that you and Lady Day had to break up.” Said, “I’m going back to New York tomorrow, and I’m going to see her.”

Joe’s sitting there. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, I’m going. What do you want me to tell her?”

He thought a minute. We were listening.

“Just tell her . . . a little dog says: bow-wow.”

Joe worked for me for years and years at the Woodland Club, and he would often have to go to Lexington, Kentucky, for a cure. I remember one time, which was probably prophetic, he came to the home and we were sitting on the porch–he had just gotten back from Lexington–and I said, “Joe, we missed you.” I said, “Look how wonderful you look,” and I talked about what we were going to do together–he said, “Well, we can do some things, but it won’t last.”

“What do you mean, it won’t last?”

He said, “It just won’t last. I’ll be back out there again.”

I said, “No–look at you! You’ve picked up some weight, and you’re thinking good, and your skin looks good–”

So he told me something I never will forget. He said: “Once a junkie, always a junkie.”

He said, “You just can’t cure it.” And he said, “If I ever see you try it, I’m going to kill you.”

I remember Art Pepper, the saxophone player, said that the first time he got high off of heroin, he knew that that was his life; he didn’t want anything else. He just did it ’til he died. Joe was like that. And even though I was a mature man–he wasn’t much older than I was–he was very protective of me. He was like a brother: “Don’t you ever, ever try it. I’d come from anywhere and kill you–because you don’t have to do that.”

I remember that, and I always have a soft spot with Joe.

Something I often think about: you had these guys in the music business that had these wonderful minds, and you wonder–what could have happened to them if they hadn’t gotten hooked on drugs?

I found out–one reason that musicians turn to narcotics–they hear this music in their head. I do. You probably do. You hear these things in your head, but you never, never can produce exactly what you hear. It’s critical to musicians. You get a guy who hears these demons in his ears–you hear him playing and you say, “That was magnificent.” But he says, “I didn’t do what I wanted to, man.” He hears something else. He could be sitting down, trying to work it out, and he can get some of it–but just when he gets that, before he finishes it, here comes something else. So he says, “Maybe if I can get a little taste of something, to make me relax, I can reproduce it”–but that drives him further away from it. He goes back again: “Maybe this time I can do it.”

It’s like searching for the Holy Grail. You can’t find it. And a lot of musicians lose their sanity.

Some people, like Ellington and other great musicians, had sense enough to say: development comes in time. Duke Ellington would say, “Wait ’til next year.” And Sun Ra: he made a decision that he would hear these things from outer space, but he would take his time in dealing with them. But the anxious say, “Hey, I hear it, I hear it; up here I hear it, man. So let me get something to make me cool down and do it.”

It’s like Shakespeare said: some people can succeed, but they have that one damn spot. That one damn spot. That no matter what you do, that thing’s going to come and get you. You step on the worm, but the worm’s going to eat you in the end. That’s the kind of thing some people have. We all have our frailties.

Some of the things that Joe Guy played were beautiful–most of them were–but there were nights that Joe would be sickening, because he’d hear these things in his head and he’s got to go and get a fix to make it come out. He would try to get something that could make him climb to a level that wasn’t natural for him to climb at that time.

I noticed Joe’s behavior could be bizarre.

He lived not too far from me, and we’d take him home. I remember one night, we got home real late–it was just before day in the morning–and Joe said, “Can I come in a minute?” I said, “Sure.” I thought he needed to use the restroom.

My sweet mother was in there, asleep. Joe went back to Mom’s refrigerator and started cracking all these eggs and swallowing them: just cracking eggs, cracking eggs, and swallowing them. Mom got up: “What in the world are you doing?” She had never seen anything like that. To the day she died, she would say, “What was wrong with that boy, eating up all my eggs?”

Joe had two trumpet mouthpieces. Both of them were old. He would take a mouthpiece, and he’d play something, like “Winter Wonderland by Night.” If he missed a note, he’d take that mouthpiece and slap it–“You’re no good!”–and put it back and get the other one. In about an hour, he’d slap that one: “You’re no good, you rascal.”

He would say–what was the word?–“Shuckaluckaduck.” Shuckaluckaduck. He would say these things, and we didn’t know what they meant, but we knew he was happy when he’d say that.

Shuckaluckaduck. Joe Guy.

Joe was another one who opened me up to a lot of things. We would play together, and he said, “Turn your back; your back to my back.” We’d put our backs together and play–and we could really hear each other. I had never thought of that.

He’d say, “Anytime you pop your eye.”

“What are you talking about?”

He said, “I’ve watched you, and when you pop your eye a little bit”–I didn’t know I was doing it–he said, “then you’re really playing, man!”

Joe’s thing was, he wished I could be in “fast company.” That I could have been another Charlie Parker if I had been around fast company. But he said sometimes I’d be playing and I’d pop my eye–and then the real Frank Adams would come out.

I remember, we’d be at the Woodland Club, and we’d have somebody come and sit in with the band. They’d come after hours, after we’d played our regular set, and they’d bring music for us to read. All the young arrangers, some of the well-known white composers—they’d come with their little pieces: “Play this,” and “Play this”; “Play this,” and “Play this.” Joe would sit there like a soldier, in this militaristic pose he always had. He’d have his horn in his lap, straight up, like a rifle–he wasn’t going to play anything.

They’d say, “Let’s have a jam session.” You’d get ready to play, and Joe would hit you: “Don’t play nothing. They’ll steal everything you’ve got.”

One thing about Joe: he had class. He had been around classy people, and he had class. He knew exactly what to do, and he knew exactly how to do things. He did not put down any music. You might hear another fellow say, “I don’t play anything but bebop,” or “Those guys over there are dumb.” For example, the things that Louis Armstrong did back in 1920 were marvelous, but somebody would say, “Oh, that old crap–I don’t want to hear that old slavery-time music” or whatever: “Man, get hip, get modern.”

Joe never did that. He always found something good in music. And whatever he did wrong, he did to himself: it was his self-destruction.

Once we were playing at the Woodland Club–these are things I remember so vividly–and Mr. Red [the owner of the Woodland Club] was drinking heavily, as he would usually do. He had some of his cronies around the bar. I guess he wanted to show off. It was after one of those big University of Alabama games, and he was really inebriated.

At this time Joe was really himself: he hadn’t had any drugs or anything, he was just Joe Guy. He was doing fine.

Red was the one drinking. He stopped Joe at the bar, and his friends were there with their beers. He said, “Joe, they tell me that one time, according to DownBeat, you were the third greatest trumpet player in all the world!”

As I like to say, Joe was like a soldier. He had been through all of these things, and he was at home, nowhere to go. He’d wear this old blue suit–a lot of musicians have these blue suits, where they’ve worn it out, and the stripes break loose, and they shine and all.

He said, “That’s true, Mr. Hassler.”

Everybody was listening. “Now look at you. Man, you’re down here in my raggedy old place, playing out here with Frank Adams and all of them–you sure have fallen from grace. And they tell me you were the top of the line.”

We’re hearing this. Dot was getting angry. She said, “Why don’t you say something, they’re just insulting Joe like that?”

We knew Joe was a good guy. He’s dressed up in those shiny clothes, with this old, beat-up trumpet–but when we got married, the first telegram we got was from Joe. He was supposed to be such a down-and-out, but he had this class about him. I wasn’t getting disturbed, because I knew Joe could handle himself.

They were talking: “Yeah, Joe, you’re such a has-been, and washed out,” and all that kind of stuff. “What you got to say about it, Joe?”

Joe said, “Mr. Hassler, I’ll tell you one thing.” He said: “It’s better to be a has-been than a never-was.”

Boy, you could feel the climate in that club, and you could hear a pin fall.

He had this dignity about him. It’s like he said: “A little dog says, bow-wow.” When you reach the bottom, you’re at the bottom. How far do you want to deflate me? I’m a dog: bow-wow. Nothing I can do.

But better a has-been than a never-was.

That had a profound effect on Mr. Hassler, and it had a profound effect on the ones that were standing around. After that day, they still didn’t call him “Mr. Guy,” but you could see this respect coming from them. Before long Mr. Hassler was telling people, “I got the best musicians here. That’s Joe Guy.” And all those who would come down to the Woodland Club with their arrangements or to jam—they didn’t say it, but they knew that he was one of the greatest in the world.

That’s why they would come out there: after they got through playing their thing, they wanted to hear the real thing.

Burgin Mathews is a writer, teacher, and radio host in Birmingham. Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man, his new book with Frank Adams, was published this fall by the University of Alabama Press. More of his writing, including the self-published Thirty Birmingham Songs, can be found at Burgin’s “downhome roots radio hour,” The Lost Child, streams online at Birmingham Mountain Radio every Saturday (9-10 a.m. CST) and Tuesday (9-10 p.m.).

Dr. Frank “Doc” Adams is a lifelong educator and a master musician whose credits include work with Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, Erskine Hawkins, and others. For five decades he served Birmingham City Schools, first as teacher and next as director of the district’s music programs. Inducted to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978, Doc continues to teach free Saturday jazz lessons at the Hall of Fame, where he also offers deeply personal, informative and entertaining tours. Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man, his new book with Burgin Mathews, was published this fall by the University of Alabama Press.

“Blow, Satchmo, Blow Part III: That Gig in the Sky”

Read Part I

Read Part II

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.

BobeMelissa Bobe holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Translation from CUNY Queens College. In 2011, she was a writer-in-residence at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. She founded a creative writing workshop for teens at her public library, and has also taught writing at Queens College and at Rutgers University, where she is currently pursuing a PhD in English literature. Her work has appeared in Anomalous Press, Steel Toe Review, and The Glass Coin. You can keep up-to-date with her on Twitter (@abookbumble).

“Blow, Satchmo, Blow Part II: He Is Just Away” by Melissa Bobe

Read Part I

“Be proud and strong, Lucille, in the knowledge that you were beloved of such a man.”
“Words are never adequate at times like these, but it must be some consolation to know that you were married to, and loved by one of the most beautiful men of this or any century.”
-excerpts from condolences sent to Lucille Armstrong upon Louis’s death

The mail had come again today. She’d never known so much mail in her life, even when Louis was getting fan letters and requests for autographs on a daily basis. It took her two trips just to get all of the condolences to the kitchen counter. She’d worried the other day that the postman might be irritated by the inconvenience; but then, he’d recently given his condolences, too.

The house was quiet. No tape machine running, no children on the front step—even the Good Humor man seemed to have given it a rest. She hadn’t been outside much, either. It was July, surely too hot to be out.

She opened a few of the condolences, reading but not really absorbing. It was strange, like being spoken at but not to. So many people, with their own stories, their own mourning, their own lives, cities and states and countries away from her. Louis was wonderful. Louis was fine. God must have needed him. They’d see him again.

They all read, Dear Lucille, Dear Mrs. Armstrong, Dear Madam Satchmo, Mrs. Pops. But they weren’t messages for her, she began to suspect. It felt like some kind of sick joke someone had planned to confuse her, to make her doubt. But what did she have to be doubtful about? There it was, in telegrams and on stationary: she was Mrs. Satchmo Armstrong. The letters said it, and so it must be true. The wife of a legend.

A car backfired in the street, and she jumped. Her heart was pounding, and she felt a moment of real terror. Who was she, really? Who was this Lucille that the whole world wrote to every day, now that it was summer? The heat was confusing her, perhaps. She was the wife of a genius that all the world loved dearly, but what did that make her? Not even his only wife, she was the most recent in a pretty long line of wives for one man—count them, one, two, three, Lucille makes four—even if that man was Louis Satchmo Armstrong. And was she really the last woman he’d have loved? Or had he just up and run off, leaving a widow at random? If he’d lived longer, would they have parted, too? She could imagine the headlines: POPS TURNS 190, MARRIES 12TH WIFE AT BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION!

What was he doing, letting her outlive him, anyway? You’re not supposed to outlive legends, even if you are married to them. Was this his way of moving on? Had he left her for another woman, a celestial beauty somewhere up there? Were earthly women not enough anymore? Was he trying to tell her she was not enough? She remembered he’d told her that, if he went before her, she should get herself another man. Was that because he’d be getting himself another woman? She was furious; her hands shook. Card after card reminding her to be thankful, to remember that she’d been lucky enough to marry the old dog, and there he was, somewhere she couldn’t get to, making eyes at every singer and piano player in a tight dress that passed him by!

She caught sight of her own reflection in the letter opener. Her eyes were wide and wild, and her hair looked a mess. She smoothed it, tried to stop her hands from shaking. This heat—it had to be the heat. She couldn’t keep thinking right now. She should sort through some of these cards, get them ready for the scrapbooks. Scrapbooking might help ease her mind—it had before he’d gone, she didn’t know why now should be any different. She scooped up all of the cards and telegrams from the counter to bring them over to the table for sorting. As she walked with the pile, one card fell to the floor. Setting the rest of the condolences down, she turned, and with a little effort and a small groan to prove it, she bent and picked the card that had fallen off the floor. She glanced inside.

“Thousands acclaim Satchmo for what he was—a great man—a fine musician. I’ve always thought of you as a pretty great person also, who contributed an immeasurable amount to Mr. Armstrong’s career.”

Well. Maybe the wife of a legend is more than that because that’s exactly what she is. And she’d miss him, wearing that pink shirt, grinning at her from under those big old reading glasses of his, that crackling laugh, that laughing smile.

Sorting the mail could wait. She felt like taking a walk. She slipped her shoes on and stepped into the thick, bright Queens summer.

BobeMelissa Bobe holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Translation from CUNY Queens College. In 2011, she was a writer-in-residence at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. She founded a creative writing workshop for teens at her public library, and has also taught writing at Queens College and at Rutgers University, where she is currently pursuing a PhD in English literature. Her work has appeared in Anomalous Press, Steel Toe Review, and The Glass Coin. You can keep up-to-date with her on Twitter (@abookbumble).

“Blow, Satchmo, Blow – Part I: The E Train” by Melissa Bobe

Note: This is the first of a three-part fiction piece. It is the product of a residency at the Louis Armstrong House Museum and Archives, where the author had access to the condolences written to Lucille Armstrong upon the death of her husband. The short quotations used are valid under the fair use act.

The E train at 3:00. You know what I’m talking about. The E train. It’s air-conditioned now, and has those little light-up schedules on either side, where you can see what stop you’re at, where you’re going, what lines you can transfer to (although you probably won’t want to leave the air-conditioning). The ride’s a little smoother, and at 3:00, it’s not quite packed yet. Rush hour is coming— you know it, I know it— but it isn’t there yet, and you can remain in the car between boroughs without feeling claustrophobic, and maybe even get a seat.

It was 3:00, well, okay, it was 3:14, on the E train, and everyone was plugged in. Mostly to iPods, although there were the occasional technological deviants who had those other mp3 players, feeling special because they hadn’t succumbed to a brand name, and meanwhile wearing Cons on their feet and Moleskines in their back pockets. Those who weren’t into their music were busy on Blackberrys, some Blackberrys were accompanied with music, and a couple even had iPads (those were the ones who had procured seats immediately). Pick your plug—it’s New York, after all, and what kind of city would this be if you couldn’t get your electronic drug of choice?

If someone on the E train had decided to unplug at 3:00 (by which I of course mean 3:14), that person would have noticed the man with the horn smiling at the boy in his stroller, monitored, but not actually watched, by his iPad-entranced mother. The boy was only three, so he wasn’t plugged in, and he was already three, so he was getting quite comfortable making acquaintances, and he waved at the man with the horn, who chuckled and said something to the woman next to him.

She was lovely, with a softer smile than the man with the horn, though it was just as kind, and her hair was piled high up on her head in a classic and elegant way. Her eyes were striking, because they were ever-so-slightly bigger than most, and her brows were articulate, solid and beautifully arched, giving her a look of combined wisdom and sweetness.

If someone on the train unplugged, they would hear the woman call the man Satch, and ask him if he didn’t have another little horn for that handsome little boy. They would hear the man call the woman Pearl, and tell her no, he only had the one horn, but maybe if he held it careful, the boy could get a real good blow or two out of it.

A man sitting opposite the two looked up from one of the free subway papers that are always given out at the entrances. He wore a double-breasted jacket, had a handsome pencil moustache and a gentle but oh-so-slick smile, one that, had they unplugged, the two ladies sitting next to him would have swooned for. “You never did do anyone harm along the way, Pops,” he said to the man with the horn. He took a cigarette from his sharp-looking jacket and patted around for a light.

“Say, let me get that for you, Duke,” a man with a soft baritone-bass voice said, leaning over and offering a light. His icy eyes would have made him appear harsh, had his visage and voice not been so kind and charming, accented by the beautiful, long-stemmed pipe he was biting on. Those two ladies sitting nearby were still preoccupied with their Blackberrys, and apparently no amount of good-looking men in their vicinity could break their focus. The little boy reached out his hand as the blue-eyed man lit the cigarette, and the man smiled and said, “I think you’re just a little young to start smoking, fella.” The man with the horn laughed, and the man called Duke said, “Just give him a year or two.”

A burst of laughter came from the other end of the car, a cackle more than anything, low enough to rival the voices of the men, and with almost as much static as the man with the horn.

“Darlings,” the woman said as she approached, “have you been having a party without me?”

The man with the horn nodded his head towards the little boy and said, “We’re just wishing we had another horn for this here cat to play.”

The woman bent down to meet the boy at eye-level and said, “It’s a shame I had to give up Winston Churchill—you’d have adored each other, Darling.”

“Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister?” the blue-eyed man asked the others.

“No,” said the woman called Pearl, “her lion cub. He was also Winston Churchill.”

“A cat named for a cat,” said the man with the horn, laughing.

It was now 3:17. The E train was approaching midtown. Some people got on, others got off, but no one unplugged.

“We’re almost downtown,” said the man with the paper.

“Remind me why we’re going there? I forget things so quickly,” said the woman who’d had Winston Churchill the lion. She was making faces at the little boy, who was laughing delightedly.

“Why, we’re going to see one of your films, Tallulah,” said the blue-eyed man. “It’s your turn this month.”

“Oh, of course, Darling! How exciting!” And she turned a cartwheel right in the center of the train car. The other four laughed, and the little boy clapped his hands—he was very well-mannered at three.

“Do you think any of these folks are going to join us?” the blue-eyed man asked, looking around.

“If they didn’t join us after that,” the woman called Pearl said, indicating the other woman’s cartwheel, “I don’t think there’s much hope.”

The man with the horn said, “It’s a real shame we can’t bring this one with us.” The little boy had taken his hand and was gripping two of his fingers tightly.

“Always a sucker for the kids,” said the blue-eyed man.

“And why shouldn’t he be? I adore children,” said the woman who’d turned the cartwheel.

It was 3:26. The train was starting to fill up.

“Time to leave, all,” said the blue-eyed man. They gathered their things, and moved towards the door.

“Once upon a time,” said the man with the horn to the little boy, “I’d have taught you to blow this horn on my doorstep.” The little boy waved good-bye as the subway doors opened, and one woman looked up from her iPad and started upon seeing the group. The man with the horn waved back at the boy, winked at the startled commuter, and stepped onto the platform. The cartwheeling woman took his arm. “Come, Darling,” she said. “The only person who enjoys the sound of their own voice more than you is me.”

The train doors closed behind them. The woman who’d looked up for an instant shook her head and returned to her iPad. The little boy kept waving as the E train pulled away, and 3:30 appeared on the digital clocks on the tops of the cars. The rush was about to begin.

BobeMelissa Bobe holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Translation from CUNY Queens College. In 2011, she was a writer-in-residence at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. She founded a creative writing workshop for teens at her public library, and has also taught writing at Queens College and at Rutgers University, where she is currently pursuing a PhD in English literature. Her work has appeared in Anomalous Press, Steel Toe Review, and The Glass Coin. You can keep up-to-date with her on Twitter (@abookbumble).