Veronica sits at the bar smoking a cigarette, her long honey blonde hair drawn over her shoulders, gazing at Matt at the piano, lazily playing the keys; smoking with the gentle smoke rising up by his eyes so that he squints. What’re you playing? Matt looks up. Round Midnight. A Monk piece. She nods; looks at his greasy hair; his doglike eyes; his thin fingers on the keys, moving them carefully; his head to one side as if he wanted to view the keys from a different angle. A scar is above one eye where she’d hit him with a bottle of scotch some weeks back, after finding him in bed with some bitch from the office, and in their bed, too, the little whore, running out of bed so fast she’d tripped and fell against the door; Veronica’d hit at her backside as she went passed; heard the little madam squeal like some stuffed piglet as she clambered the down the stairs with her clothes following her one piece at a time. Veronica pulls a face. The memory is still sharp in her mind; hangs there like a nasty smell; occasionally rises up; makes her snort and sigh. She watches as Matt hangs his head the other way, looks over at her, and gives his best smile. She doesn’t smile in return, but gives one of her sultry looks; eyes him coldly as if she is going to hit him with another bottle of scotch, but a full one this time and not stop until he is singing with the angels…Matt pauses. He looks away from Veronica. She’s still moody over the office girl, what was her name? Jackie Somethingorother. He can still feel the pain over his eye where the scar lingers. Never seen her as mad as that. Thought he was a goner that night. One minute making love, the next bang; the lights went out; so did the little girl with her red backside; her little legs shifting down the stairs two at a time with her clothes chasing her, a shoe hitting her thigh as she tried for the door. He laughs softly. Some sight that must have been. He raises his eyes to Veronica. She’s talking to Tony the barman. Look at her. Fine woman. A figure of a goddess. Temper like a mule. He stops playing Monk. He tries a Bud Powell tune. Yes, that’s it. Love that. He looks at her again. Still talking. Nice skirt she’s got on. Short. Shows plenty of thighs. Bet Tony notices too, the slime ball. Friends don’t do that; don’t gawk at another friend’s woman. Isn’t the thing. He plays more. Gets in the mood. His cigarette hangs limply…Anytime, you want a break from him, just give me a call, Tony informs, studying Veronica. She shakes her head; turns to watch Matt again. She wouldn’t give Tony the time of day let alone the night, in her bed with him? Some laugh. He must think me a softhead. What’s he playing now? Different tune. She looks at his limp cigarette almost burnt out, at his fingers moving over the keys. Ought to have broken the damned things. She stubs out her cigarette butt in a glass ashtray; sips her scotch; wonders what she’d do if he tried that on again with some other tramp. He’d be dead and out. No third chance. No fingers either. I’d break them. She smiles in thought. He plays a nice tune though. Always could. She remembers meeting him at Ronnie Scott’s place years back. What’re you playing now? Matt doesn’t hear; he’s away in dreamland as he calls it. She takes another cigarette; Tony lights it; nods his head at her; smiles like some kid who’s found the sweetie jar…Look at the backside on her. Tony lets his eyes glide down to the barstool. Sighs softly. Wishes. Even a toad can dream he guesses. The skirt reveals as much as it hides. Matt’s a fool. If she were mine, I’d not fool around. God no. I’d be like a miser with gold. Wouldn’t let her out of my sight. Or bed for that matter. God the idiot. He washes a few glasses, watches Veronica slide off the stool, walk over to Matt at the piano, and stand beside him with that look she has. God what a dream she is. If only…Veronica stands by the piano looking at Matt. What’s the tune? Celia. Bud Powell. Matt grins. I played it when we first met. Remember? She does. Yes. The slime ball. She smiles. At least he remembers. She leans on the piano. Looks at his hands move, at the fingers. To think those fingers and that bitch. What did they do then? She stiffens. Stands up. Her face hardens. Must try to forget. She sighs. He doesn’t notice. The tune is catchy. She likes it. She has a fine collection of jazz record back at her flat. They often sit and listen in the dark; let the day’s troubles flat away on the air; sip their drinks and smoke. Then if she’s in the mood they go to bed; if she’s not he gets kicked out. She brushes her finger through her hair; feels anger rise in her; tries to dampen it; looks away; sees Tony giving her the stare with lust dripping from his lips. Men. All the damned same. She gives him her blank gaze and he looks away. Good. God knows what his thoughts are. Best not to know. Dark, dim, and silky black like her underclothes. Yuk. She draws on her cigarette, lets the smoke rise, and watches it with her eyes. Her father did that. Puff smoke and let it rise into rings. It made her laugh then. Does still now. Only it brings bad memories, too. The creep. Didn’t realise it at the time. The things he did to her mother and the other creeps she had round after he’d gone. She turns; watches Matt lift his fingers from the piano; pause from playing, looking at her. What you want me to play? She doesn’t care. What you want. She sips her drink, stares at his fingers, and sighs. I’ll sleep alone tonight. Have the bed to myself. Not share. Not have those fingers near me. Not yet awhile. What’s he playing now? What the tune? Matt smiles. That sickly, You-must-remember-this-tune kind of smile. She doesn’t. She’s tired. She wants to go home alone; play jazz; sit in the dark; imagine she’s got Tony Curtis with her or maybe Brando. She closes her eyes. Listens to the piano. Smells the air; the smoke and bodies; stale booze and the closeness of too much humanity…Matt closes his eyes. He played this tune when she said yes that first time. I’ll get by. It cracked her up. Made her soft and puttylike. That was a good night. Sweet and heavenly…Veronica opens her eyes; looks about her. The dim room depresses. The eyes take in the dim images and bodies and the smoky feel and touch of it all. I’m off. See you some time. You leaving, now? Matt opens his eyes. Yes. See you another time. She gives him the glance; shrug of her shoulders. He understands. Depresses him, but he understands. She turns; takes a long look around her. Tony has his eyes on her. His thought bubbling over with wishes and his secret lusts. The piano plays on. Matt his head to one side watches her go. Will he won’t he? Better not play around. His fingers next time. She goes up the steps to the door onto the late night street. Rain. Damp and silky looking. Alone tonight. I’ll get by. Yes, I remember now. That tune. Slime ball. Damned slime ball. She walks on and into the night with the tune playing gently in her mind.

© Terry Collett

Terry Collett is a 59 year old poet who has been writing since 1972. He has had two slim volumes of poems published in 1974 and 1978. Since that time has had poems and short stories printed in anthologies, magazines and newspapers. He is married with eight children and eight grandchildren. He lives in England.