Rhapsody in blue, the easy version

Jim Esch
9 min readDec 30, 2021

Sad guy drinking at a Texas hotel piano bar. Where did his life go wrong?

Note: It being the end of the year, when many look retrospectively in the mirror with a cocktail mix of nostalgia, remorse, and regret, I thought the time was right to share an old story (with some new edits). It was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio in the year 2000 — the first time I ever got paid for a piece of creative writing.

I don’t know why I left her. She, most beautiful woman, hyacinth girl — in her youth, in her prime, her doe-like legs, her jewel-like eyes. That’s why. Because I romanticized her too much. Formalized her, so to speak. Didn’t let her just be a wife. She had to be my idea of a wife. You recognize these things when you’re alone in a big room that you’ve never been in before.

Tonight it’s the big room at Austin’s Driskill Hotel bar and lounge — sitting astride an ebony piano, watching a pretty woman sing old standards — drinking cognac and requesting every romantic song that comes into my head. I’ve run out of them, so I ask her to make some up. Play me something that sounds like the others, I say.

Driskill Hotel bar and lounge, from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/DriskillHotel-2008-06-a.JPG

The singer and I, our eyes are wet. Maybe she’s left someone too. I want to tell her how much these songs mean to me — where I first heard them, when this one took on a new meaning, when another echoed bitterly.

I wonder what her name is. Her aura is so pure for a lounge singer, like she walked out of an old movie. Alabaster skin, you know who that reminds me of. Voice of silk, the slight trill when she hits a high note.

What’s your name, I ask. I must know it so I can remember this moment. Don’t think this is a pickup line I tell her. It really isn’t. I wouldn’t do that to you. Too much of a sniveling idiot for that. No, I just want to know your name.

She smiles. Her eyes glisten. Doris, she tells me. I reach my hand to her. Doris, you have the most beautiful voice…. Thank you, she says and starts into a Gershwin tune. I know this one. I can tell she appreciates the compliment. The song concludes. A few soft diminished chords fall on the piano like a limping weight.

She asks what I want to hear next. I stuff a twenty dollar bill into her glass. How about “Someone to Watch Over Me?” She…


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