I don’t know why it’s named The Beanery because it was here long before I was. I moved to this city for a good job and found myself alone in the world. Although there were colleagues, I was in a senior position as department head. As a new guy parachuted in at the top, I was not warmly received.
I found accommodation that suited me. I could walk or bicycle to the office through a nice park. My flat was on the second floor of an old sixplex and my front balcony ran right across to the other flat on my floor. There was an external, spiral staircase to the tiny lawn. I didn’t meet the tenant with whom I shared a wall. The landlady told me she was away on business for a few weeks.
I began to spend my evenings in a small club where they offered reasonable prices and good live music. They had a very good little jazz combo with a keyboard player, a drummer and an upright bassist. The bartender told me they sometimes have a vocalist, too. The place had a small kitchen, so I sometimes had dinner there. Simple hamburgers or roast beef sandwiches, spaghetti with spicy sauce and chicken salad sandwich. It was basic stuff that went with some really good jazz.
One evening after supper, the musicians started up and suddenly there was a vocalist with them. She approached the microphone and I was smitten before she even sang a note. Her dress was forest green, off one shoulder, tight fitting to a really remarkable shape and flowed softly to the ground with a thigh-high slit in front. Her complexion was black. I don’t just mean she was a black woman, I mean that her colour was really black, like ebony. She was so black there seemed to be a touch of purple in her colour. And she was simply gorgeous.
For the first set, there were not many people in The Beanery. I usually sat at the bar in the back, away from the stage light. I just wanted to watch and listen to fill the loneliness until I started meeting people. I took my plate and my draft beer down to a ringside table to better enjoy this intriguing woman. When she sang it had the beautiful fullness of a young Ella Fitzgerald. Her eyes shone out of the black face and her lips gleamed in the blood red colour she’d painted on.
I watched her gently swaying movements as she sang and I was captivated. I stayed for her second set half an hour later. Then I began to feel like an idiot so I left while she was on her break. When I got home I tried to read but my mind kept rerunning the vision of her singing. I tried to watch television, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I gave up and went to bed early. I had no dreams.
I stayed away from The Beanery for the rest of the week and was very busy anyway. I was stuck in the office until eight or nine every night, trying to get the department organized the way I preferred. I was fighting opposition at every turn, as is always the case with a new guy with new ideas. I just carried on. I spent Saturday at the office too. I could get a lot done with the place empty of annoying people. Saturday evening I went home, ordered a pizza and watched news and Saturday Night Live.
Sunday morning I did some housework and then took a chair out to the porch to sit in the sun and watch the soccer game in the park across the road. I noticed there was a lawn chair like mine on my neighbour’s side of the porch. I assumed she’d returned from her business trip. I went into my kitchen for a moment to get a mug of fresh coffee. When I returned, my neighbour was seated in her chair, drinking warm lemon water.
I looked at her at the same moment she looked at me.
“You!” we both said in unison.
“You’re Edna Ward! You’re the singer at The Beanery!” I said.
“You’re the guy that sat down in front watching me so intently,” she said.
“I hope it didn’t annoy you,” I said. “I thought you were gorgeous at first glance. Then, watching you and listening to your wonderful voice, I realized I was smitten. I’m not going to lie about it. I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind.”
“I was looking for you all week,” she said. “You didn’t come back.”
“I had no idea you’d be looking for me,” I said. “I needed to stay away to get my senses straight, so I buried myself in my work.”
“I hope we can be friends as well as neighbours,” she said.
“I hope so too,” I said. “You make me feel hot, so it might be a problem.”
“You make me feel hot,” she said. “So there’s no problem. Let’s go in out of the hot midday sun. That double-white skin of yours must burn badly. My bedroom is very cool at this time of day.”