UNCHANGE MY HEART
Aarhus, three train-hours northwest of Copenhagen, the Ides of March: Duties fulfilled at the WildWithWords Literary Festival, you wander the city, find yourself on Telephone Square where the Ha’penny Pub bartender sent you at closing time with the promise there would be a blues jam at the Antiquarian Bar. Staggering a few steps ahead of you on the walk along the Aarhus River is a tall man with a bushy black beard, carrying a baritone sax. He also has just left the Ha’penny where he had been blowing New Orleans jazz before asking the young raven-haired barmaid if he could have a Black Bush. She reached for the Irish whiskey but the sax-man said, “No I want a big black hairy bush. You got one?”
He reaches the Antiquarian before you, and to avoid guilt by association, you hang back, let him get well ahead. You puff a cigarillo outside the door, then step in. A quick look down the long bar and the cluster of tables convinces you that you have stepped into a 500-word story you once read by Richard Brautigan, entitled “The Old Bus,” in which the narrator climbs onto a city bus somewhere to discover that all the passengers are very old and very near extinction. From face to face, his eyes flicker but each new face is old and dazed and dusty, each and every one. Realizing that he has inadvertently climbed aboard the Old Bus, he jerks the stop signal and clambers off again, watches with relief as it pulls away toward its unknown destination.
However, the story you have just stepped into is “The Old Bar,” and the faces here blaze with life.
A short bulky man, long white hair dangling from beneath his grey cowboy hat, wearing a fringed, turquoise-studded buckskin jacket, holds a pint in each hand and shakes his hips to the music. Beside him, a tall bent dude in black leather, black cowboy hat cocked across his spotted bald pate, silver-steerhead string tie swinging, claps his hands, scrawny turkey neck bent forward, bopping, as he laughs with wide open mouth.
You order a pint of Royal Pilsner for a pittance and take a chair, spy a life-sized barrel of sealskin two chairs over and do a double take: a pair of ancient blue female eyes peers invitingly out of the sealskin barrel at you. The bushy-black-bearded baritone player is out on the floor now, doing the lindy hop with a lumpy old gal in a flowered dress, twirling her slowly with intoxicated gallantry. It occurs to you that he dies his beard.
On the stage the vocalist, sporting a shiny lilac-striped shirt and helmet of grey hair, is singing:
Lookin’ for some pussy on a Saturday night.
You know the kind a gal who really treats you right.
I got the hard-on blues…
People at adjacent tables – old men, old women – focus welcoming smiles upon you, raise their pints, call out, “Skaal, friend!”
The band starts a new number with a jivy, three-electric guitar opening, and the vocalist bursts out with, “Unchange my heart/Baby set me free…!”
You are about to correct him, shout, “No, no, it’s unchain my heart,” but suddenly you realize that his words are better. Your heart has been changed, and now you want it to be unchanged – unchanged back to whatever it was before.
An ancient duffer beside you goes into a wet, phlegmy coughing fit, just as you spot a babe with stringy long grey hair and no neck checking you out from the bar. A jowly face wearing your own beret is glaring at you from behind her – then you understand that is your own face in the back-bar mirror, and you down the rest of your pint and start backing toward the door. The old babe at the bar has turned full-face in your direction, doing a shimmy, smiling for you and you alone.
You salute her and clamber for the street, stepping smartly across Telephone Square in the direction of your CabInn budget hotel room. You do not look back. You know the destination.
Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy
copyright Thomas E. Kennedy
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