The singer left for a while, before too many folks arrived. When the sound-test finished and the back-up band took their places, somebody spoke the guest performer's name and he strolled back out, now with a hat on his head and a glass of something in his hand. He sat back down, and set the glass on the stage and opened his mouth.
Mourning flowed from him, rolling clouds of it; and joy too, in easy pillows. He vocalized unbidden and unchecked, briefly pausing to sip and tip his hat at the front row between numbers. He pulled a mouth organ out from a pocket at some point and sent its music wailing above the tiny Ozark town, into the heavens, shared with the stars. He slid it back into its spot without thought and opened his mouth again. He did not so much sing as he preached; did not so much croon as cry. He led the band and they followed with the valiance of youth, of lovers, of loyalists. And after ninety minutes the stage fell silent and the man stood, adjusted his hat, and softly walked off-stage while the small crowd stood at their seats and gave him a lusty ovation.
After the little concert, Marc introduced me to the man. I mumbled something about Kansas City and he surrounded one of my hands with both of his. He nodded, eyes gleaming. I wondered about the glass he carried on stage. I could see the lines on his face, the pitted skin, the grey around his eyes and the grizzle of his beard. He pulled away and moved towards his belongings, extracting a cigarette, reaching for a bottle. I watched him walk away and closed my eyes. His voice came back to me: I held onto that, as Marc and I strolled down the sidewalk to another jazz bar, another act, though nothing which could compare to the lingering echoes of the blues man from Kansas City.
Here in that city, twenty-three years later, my bones creak and my knuckles protest. The plates at Jazz provide a modest serving, which helped but even so, I awakened at 3:00 a.m. with jangly legs, a heavy stomach, and swollen hands. Gluten, grease, and salt: triple whammy. A wiser woman would feel regret. What I thought: But oh, so worth it. Every savored memory of New Orleans floods back to me now, along with memories of that extraordinary, star-lit night in Eureka Springs. What a life -- what a life I have led. Laissez les bon temps roulez.