The Value of Greatness
The cheers were deafening. The spotlight blinding. Backstage was dim and crowded with actors rehearsing their lines dressed in a variety of costumes.
“Nice playin’ Conway.”
“Thanks.” I reply.
It was dark when I started walking to the bar. The only source of light was the moon. A couple of blocks away from the bar I was stopped by a man dressed in ragged clothes.
I gave him the extra money I made and continued walking.
The bar lit up the black night. The smell of whiskey and regret perfumed the air.
“The usual, Conway?” Ashley asked.
Ashley had short hair and you wouldn’t know she was a woman unless you saw her curves.
“How’d you play tonight?”
“Fine. How’s business?”
She smiled as she reached into her bra and pulled out a wad of ones.
“Good as usual.”
I frowned and downed my scotch.
“Oh come on, don’t be like that Conway.” she said while fiddling with a curl in my hair.
“I must be going.”
When I got home I laid down on the couch and left the light on.
I woke up the next morning drenched in sweat. After I showered I lit a cigar and checked my phone. Ashley sent me a long text apologizing. I ignored it and got dressed and decided to go out for coffee. When I made it to the cafe a petite brunette wearing sunglasses sat across from me.
“All it takes is a meal.”
“What do you want me to order you?”
“I’ll have what you’ll have.”
The coffee and eggs satisfied us both.
“I’ll order the taxi then we can finish our business.” she says while taking off her sunglasses.
Her eyes were skyblue with an aura of pain.
“Don’t bother. I don’t want you.”
Her face looked disgusted and insulted as she quickly went away.
I enjoyed her company.
I went to go see Ashley that evening. She was laughing and joking with male customers when I arrived. When she saw me she put on a face of stone and the men looked at me and scowled.
“How are you gentlemen?” I said while taking my seat next to a rather large man.
“This your girl?” the large man said.
“Her? Never.” I said
Ashley stopped pouring scotch.
The men next to me quietly left the bar.
“Yeah. I need a woman of value.”
“Conway if you don’t…” her voice was raising quickly
“Don’t cause a scene here. Please.”
“I’ll do whatever I want!” she said while slamming her fist on the counter. The chattering began to die down.
She stopped and looked around. All eyes were on us. She gave me my scotch and said
“Drinks are on me. I get off of work in an hour.”
I didn’t drink anything she gave me.
The hour went by slowly. The chatter eventually came back but went away as the customers did. Ashley kept glancing at her watch the entire hour.
“I’m off. We’re going back to my place.”
“Why can’t we just do this here? You wanted to talk.”
“I want to do more than just talk to you.” she put her hand over mine and her hazel eyes began to dance.
“Ashley… that won’t work.”
The dancing stopped.
“Why aren’t I enough for you?”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You can’t do anymore damage.”
“I’m worth more than you.” I said while I searched for a hint of life in her eyes.
I woke up the next morning to no new messages. I cleaned my saxophone and practiced for an hour. I showered then put on a dress shirt and khakis. I put my instrument in the trunk and began driving.
The jazz club was lively considering it was a little past noon. A combo was already playing on stage. I took my seat then a waitress approached me
“I assume you’re here for the jam session. Anything I can get you while you wait?”
She smiled then said
“Just that? Most saxophone players order something a little stronger.”
I looked her up and down. She had a curvy body and perfect ivory legs. Her jet black hair and green eyes were complimented by her soft pink lips.
“Any idea why I only asked for water?” I asked her with a smirk.
“That’s easy. To make sure your reed stays in good shape.”
I glanced at her nametag.
“Great answer Emily. I’m Conway-”
“I’d love to continue talking to you but I have to get you your water and take more orders. Play well.”
She came back a few minutes later with water in a glass bottle then quickly went away.
The band played a few more songs then opened up the stage for volunteers. I quickly rose my hand.
“Alright! What’s your name man?” The drummer shouted.
“Conway? Alright then my man, you’ll open up the next set. Right now we need a break!”
The bass player nodded. The pianist chuckled. They went backstage.
I got onstage and began warming up. As I was warming up I noticed another saxophone case on stage. I smiled.
After a few minutes the combo came back on stage. Everybody took their positions.
We started off with a slow blues. Emily kept watching me while I played. I made sure to make eye contact with her while I played.
After the blues the audience showered me with applause. Emily rose an eyebrow then kept working.
“You can play young cat.” The drummer said “Wanna play anotha one? The audience loved ya!”
I looked around the room. The audience was transfixed.
“Come on Conway. I expected more from you”
I look down and see Emily grinning.
“I thought you were too busy to talk to me.”
“Look around. Do you see anybody worried about their food?”
She was right. Everybody’s eyes were on me.
“I’ll play another song if you dine with me after work.”
She began to laugh hysterically “You must be joking!”
I chuckled and began to reach for my saxophone case. “Wait, you’re serious? I’ve only just met you.” she said.
“I bet I can motivate him to stay!” a voice shouted.
We all turned our heads to the door.
“I left my instrument here, I came to pick it up, but man this cat can play!”
“Oh! Nigel you’re back!” the drummer seemed excited.
Nigel was tall. He had black hair and eyes just as dark.
“I was just on my way out.” I said
“You’re not leaving without playing with me!”
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” I said with a smile.
“A cat who can play! Let’s go man.”
He walked onstage and started assembling his instrument.
“You don’t know what you’re getting into man.” I said
He left with his head down after playing one song.
Emily sat across from me. Her green eyes looking me up and down as we waited for our food.
“If you have something to say; say it.” I said.
“Why’d you play with Nigel?”
“I wanted to protect my reputation.”
“Is that all? That’s a shallow reason.”
“It’s only shallow because it conflicts with what you wanted to hear; what did you want to hear?”
Emily’s eyes widened.
“W-well, it’s not that I wanted to hear anything specific-”
“Don’t lie to me. You probably wanted me to go on and on about the romance of music and how it’s had a profound effect on me.”
Our food arrived before she could say anything else. We ate in silence.
After we finished eating Emily kept a fixed stare on her plate.
“What’re you thinking about?” I said.
“You. You’re just so different. I don’t understand you.”
I let out a hearty laugh.
“How do you intend to understand me on the first date? I’m one of the most complex people you’ll ever meet.”
The bill came and we split it.
I rose from my seat.
“Have a good one, Emily.”
“Wait, when will I see you again?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care, but it’ll happen.”
“Can I at least walk you to your car?”
“I’d prefer you not. Goodbye.”
I woke up to the sound of somebody knocking on my door. I was displeased to see my lamplight went out. I answered the door and saw two men with bibles in their hands. They looked exactly the same. Short crew-cut hair and blue eyes.
“Hello sir! How are you this morning?” The one on the right said enthusiastically.
“I’m alright. You?”
“I’m happy to be alive with the word of Christ!”
“Really? What’s so good about his word?”
“His word is life changing, his word changed my life! Donny, didn’t his word change your life!”
The nut on the left finally spoke. “Oh yes dear Edward, Christ has changed my life!”
I wanted to close the door but I was too entertained.
“How will his word change my life?”
Donny took charge. “It’ll show you the importance of love and of selflessness, it’ll inspire you to be your greatest self through kindness.”
“What if somebody rejects the word of Christ?”
They looked as if I had just admitted to murder.
“W-we try not to think about those people. We’re scared for their souls.”
I tried to act as concerned as possible. “What happens to their souls?”
“They’re subject to damnation, and they roast in hell while those who allow their lives to be changed by Christ live in paradise in heaven.”
“What happened to love? I thought this was a religion of love!”
“Oh! It is, Christ loves all of his children.”
“Even those he subjects to damnation to roast in hell for all eternity?”
They went silent.
“Does he love them or not?”
“We aren’t sure… we’ll come back next week if you’re interested.” Edward added.
“Yes. Please do.” I needed something to toy with.
“Before we leave, is there anything you’d like us to do? Any trash to take out?”
“No, but thank you for offering.”
I decided to go the beach to enjoy my day off. I put my beach towel on the sand and sat down staring at the ocean. I admired the oceans freedom and individuality. Flowing on regardless of what goes on in or around it.
I began to daydream. The usual regrets.
The sound of lockers still rings clear. The bell piercing my ears.
I made it to the classroom and took my seat in the middle of the room.
The teacher introduced herself while I was staring at a well-developed girl. Blonde hair, blue eyes and square glasses. After the bell rang I approached her and introduced myself. Her name was Daniella. When we shook hands I noticed the cuts on her wrist.
After two weeks of talking to her I decided to address the cuts. She told me not to worry about them, and that she’d try to stop. I spent all of my time trying to fix her. Whenever she was abused I’d cry tears of heroic energy and try to protect her. That all changed the day she cheated on me. When I confronted her about it she tried to stab me, and told me that I’m nothing compared to the man she’s with. Selflessness almost killed me.
I started reading more and lifting weights. I began to play the saxophone and write. I realized the importance of selfishness; if you want to be great you have to be selfish. I practiced for hours, anytime I wasn’t practicing I was reading. As I became great I realized how sorry the world is. Instead of trying to change it, I decided to own it.
The sun was beginning to set and I hadn’t eaten dinner. It dawned on me I spent the entire day daydreaming and I smiled; there’s no better way to spend a day then remembering how you became the person you are today.
I stopped at a nearby cafe and enjoyed a bagel. A young man kept looking at me while I ate with widened eyes. I nodded at him and he understood. I paid for my meal then went home.
As soon as I stepped into my apartment I remembered that my lamplight was out.
I couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning all I could see were faces. Faces of those I’d stepped on to get to where I am today. Faces of people crying because I took their job, their wife, and everything they had. Faces of people who I sabotaged in order to take their place. I got up drenched in sweat and walked to the drug store nearby to buy sleeping pills. I downed them all.