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Trumpet (Jackie Kay)


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  Aonight, I am tired from all the walking I have done, the fresh spirited sea air, seeing Mrs Dalsasso and hearing Colman's voice on his machine. I climb up the narrow, creaking staircase, round the corner at the top into our small bedroom here. I have just seized Anna Karenina from our shelf of books in the hall. Last night I woke up and reached out for Joss. Tonight I will put the spare pillows on Joss's side so that I need not wake up to that dizzy empty space; my legs scrambling about as if in mid air, trying to find the rung of the ladder. I stop at the first sentence: 'All happy families resemble one another, every unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.' A postcard drops out of the book. It is not dated. Joss's small writing goes right through me. It is as if he has just written it for me because I have just found it. It is his latest communication. 'You'd have a ball here. It's terrific. The views are colossal. Miss you like mad. If you could only just get up in the air and come and see me right now, I'd tell you a thing or two. And make you mine.' I turn it round and there's a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite myself, I smile.

I can hear Joss saying, 'For Christ sake, Millie, don't mourn me, celebrate me.' Modest to the end. 'Have a wee shindig.' Shindig, the word we've used for every party since Angus said it that time. Shindig. Perhaps that is what I should do. Go back down to London and face them all and organize a memorial party for Joss, get all his friends to play, make Colman come. Get a Celtic band as well. Joss's funeral wasn't right. Maybe that's what I will do sometime, but not now. I can't face the people right now. I can't stand to see the look on their faces.

I read Anna Karenina until I feel the book drop out of my hands. I put the postcard in as a marker and go off to the place where I know I will find Joss. As I unlock the door of our house, I know we've been burgled. I can sense the presence of danger. Something is not right. The window in the kitchen is wide open and there are potted plants knocked over the floor. Joss isn't there. I look for a note. Nothing. All our drawers are hanging open--mouths spewing clothes. The sheets have been ripped off our bed and someone has written something horrible in the mirror. But I can't read it because it is written backwards in mirror writing. His trumpet is missing. I search frantically everywhere but his trumpet has gone. That is all I care about. The bit of money we'd saved for our marriage is gone from under the bed. Where is Joss? Has he been taken away?

A small black girl climbs in through the window. She takes my hand and we walk down the stairs, down Rose Street till we come to Renfield Street, round the corner till we come to 14 Abercromby Place. She stops. Waves goodbye to me. I go into the stranger's house and there is Joss sitting in front of the dresser mirror in somebody's bedroom playing his trumpet. The light in the room is beautiful, religious. Sudden last burst of late light. Joss looks like God with a trumpet. His face glows. The music makes him blush. He is playing Millie's Song. His trumpet burbles and moans. The heat comes off the music. The heat comes off Joss. The sweat pours down his face. Suddenly, we are in a different country. Outside the window there's a mosquito net. A table with two cold cocktails on it. The music of animals and insects in the bush. Joss turns towards me and half his face is missing.

I sit bolt upright on my bed. Heart racing. I gulp down my glass of bedside water. He's gone now. I have lose him. I have lose him twice. I will go out again today, buy some more shopping. Somehow I have to find the strength in myself to keep going. Just keep going. That's all I need to do. Wash, eat, sleep. I go downstairs and put on 'Millie's Song'. Then I play 'Fantasy Africa'. That was Joss's first big hit. We never actually got to go to Africa. Joss had built up such a strong imaginary landscape within himself that he said it would affect his music to go to the real Africa. Every black person has a fantasy Africa, he'd say. Black British people, Black Americans, Black Caribbeans, they all have a fantasy Africa. It is all in the head.

We went practically everywhere else: Russia, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, the Caribbean, the United States, Chile, Peru, Cuba, Argentina, Paris, Germany, Italy, Holland. Joss's trumpet was like a magician's hat. The minute we came back from one of those places, he somehow managed to capture the atmosphere of the place and slide that into his music. It is not yet dawn. I can see the darkness will soon open up. But for now the sun is in hiding. I make myself some roast and take it back to bed. I climb into my bed and go to eat my toast. I've got a plate of butter in my hand. I go back downstairs and search for my toast. I find it finally in the fridge. I am definitely losing it. There is no doubt about it. I have lost my grip. Coming upstairs with my cold buttered toast, I have the sensation that the stairs keep taking a step back from my foot. The carpet is going from under my feet. I feel myself sink and come back, sink and come back. Since Joss died, I have lost my sense of gravity. I get back into bed and lie flat on my back. I lie still like this for a few moments, staring up at the cracked white ceiling. There are some strange bumps in the plaster I've never noticed before. I try to focus on one of the bumps. It looks to me as if it is getting heavier, as if the ceiling could just give in any day now. I tell myself I am being ridiculous, but I get up again and go downstairs holding onto the side.

It is raining outside. Horizontal rain, slicing across the sky in sheets. I can't really go out in this. I pick up 'Fantasy Africa' and look at the picture of Joss on the back. Big Red McCall (Joss's drummer for ten years) was quoted in the newspaper as saying that some members of the audience would make jokes about Moody's baby face and high singing voice. Big Red flatly denied this. He said, 'I'd fight anybody who said that. I never suspected a thing.' I look at the picture on the album cover, but no matter how hard I try, I can't see him as anything other than him, my Joss, my husband. It has always been that way since the first day he told me. I can't remember what I thought the day he firse told me. I remember feeling stupid, then angry. I remember the terrible shock of it all; how even after he told me I still couldn't quite believe it. I remember the expression on his face; the fear, that I would suddenly stop loving him. I remember covering his mouth with my hand and then kissing it. But I don't think I ever thought he was wrong. I don't think so.

I kiss his picture on the cover. He looks suave, sophisticated. 'What do you chink of it, Millie? Do you think it looks good. Do I look good?' He can't believe his luck. He has a wife and he has an album. He can't contain his excitement at his own success. He has got none of the blasé sophistication that he will acquire in years to come. He tells me it is all down to me, that I have created him, that I am responsible for his success.

He sings a Pearl Bailey song into my ear, changing the name to my own. Oh, Millie had to go and lose it at the Astor/ She wouldn't take her mother's good advice. We dance around the room, Joss kissing me and singing at the same time. Had to go and lose at the Astor, at the Astor last night. We make love on the living room floor. He pulls my hair and kisses me all over my face. He pushes himself into me. He mutters things in my ear. I am possessed.

When the love of your life dies, the problem is not that some part of you dies too, which it does, but that some part of you is still alive. Sitting here in our small living-room at Torr, opposite his armchair, what hurts me most is the fact that I am still alive. If it weren't for Colman, I would not be sitting here feeling this strange sharp pain of the living. Every single tiny thing I do has an odd feeling to it. Stirring my cup of tea. Opening the curtains. Making my bed. I can't sit at peace. I am up and down the stairs like a yo-yo. I don't know how to be myself any more. I don't even know if I am being genuine. I question my own actions as I might question the actions of an actress. The only thing that feels authentic to me is my past.

 
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Excerpted from Trumpet by Jackie Kay. Copyright © 1999 by Jackie Kay. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon Books, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Photo credit © Ingrid Pollard