It was all Duke Masters could muster as his fingers froze above the piano keys.
“Just breathe Duke” he said in thought.
Duke took another deep breath before he began to play. Instantaneously music began to fill the silent room. Its melody was soft and light, with a lush sense of purpose behind each note. Duke smiled as he picked up speed, his hands moving in a mechanical grace across the keyboard. It felt almost like breathing to him as he released each key. The room was no longer spinning and his heart was no longer bursting. He felt the rush of the moment leave his body and now the only part that was left of him was the music that now drifted toward the small audience. It was in that very moment that Duke began to let go.
He smiled as his fingers danced across the keys to a melody that he had played in his heart a million times. It was a dramatic arrangement filled with spiraling and jumping notes before it transitioned into a gliding and sympathetic tone. The variety notated the transitions of emotions, the twists and turns of Duke Master's inner ambitions.
After a few moments, the soft applause from the crowd signaled that he could finally breathe steadily again. His heart had slowed to a steady pace. He felt alive on this stage. Truly alive.
He blinked for a few seconds to stop his tears. This was what the end looked like.
Duke turned and faced the audience before standing to give a stiff bow.
This was it. This was the final show for Duke. This was the final moment of blissful adoration. Yes the audience was small and scattered, but in his heart that didn’t matter. He had played his final show at the small bar that had given him so much joy over the course of the year.
Duke smiled before leaving the stage, and as soon as the lights dimmed so did his hope. He sighed before moving towards the bar, smiling as he found a familiar face.
“Well played Duke”
Bane Andrews grinned as he wiped down another shot glass. His plump frame did little to stop his speedy movement toward Duke. Despite his weight he had the grace of an athlete.
“You think?" Duke asked
"If only I had your talent..." he smiled
“Then you'd be in the the same shape I am right now” Duke laughed. "I'll take the usual"
Bane laughed slightly before shaking his head. He then pulled out a glass along with a can of soda.
“I’m going to need something a little stronger tonight Bane, do your magic"
Bane then proceeded to mix the soda with a can of ginger ale before mixing the drink with a spoon. "The drink of champions.." he teased.
Duke laughed before taking a gulp of the mixture, wincing as the burning concoction hit his throat.
“Don’t worry Duke, this might be your last night here, but you have many years ahead of you” Bane smiled.
Duke only smiled as he searched for remnants of the mixture in his glass.
“And who am I without a piano or violin Bane?” Duke sighed.
“A man?” Bane mused.
“If only my mother would call me that” Duke teased as he looked at his reflection in glass. His brown hair was slightly disheveled and his eyes appeared weary behind his black rimmed glasses.
Bane shook his head. “You may need a real drink tonight my friend”
Duke shook his head. “Being partially impaired is only going to cause trouble for me” he laughed before placing a ten dollar bill on the table.
"Sometimes you need a little trouble" Bane grinned.
“And I have plenty" Duke laughed before placing a ten dollar bill on the counter. "Take care of yourself Bane"
"Don't act like you're not coming back here..." he laughed. "The minute the next jazz band plays you'll be in the front row"
"I'm not confirming that" Duke laughed before slipping off of the bar stool.The bar was now thinning down to only a few loyal customers. There were only four patrons sitting in the corner of the room merrily chatting through glasses of beer. The light and airy saxophone was heard throughout the room, bringing warmth immediately into the atmosphere. To many,this sight would have been underwhelming in every way, but to Duke it was home.
The smell of gin and alcohol however had never been appealing to him. Most of the locals enjoyed round after round of Bane's concoctions, including the famous "Bane's Beer Float" that had been making headlines. The homemade beer and vintage wine was enough to bring in business from all around the town.
As Duke made his way to the exit, he turned to give the small stage a glance. In the center of the stage stood the majestic grand piano. Its edges were slightly chipped and worn...but the keys...the keys were as bright and dazzling as ever.
Duke tore his eyes away from it, stepping outside into the cold night. The city was alive with frantic citizens as he dove between the crowds. The night held a northern chill that embraced the city cautiously. This was a perfect night to go for a short stroll around town before the imminent blizzard would take effect. Duke pulled his black jacket closer to his body as he made his way down the street.
Through each intersection he walked through, he continuously played his performance over and over in his mind. He had known each melody like a memory. In fact that very song was a memory itself. It was crafted over months of work, impatience, and regret. The melody was his own personal piece of broken dreams and heartbreak.
“It’s over...I’m done…” he thought, placing his hands into his pockets.
He sighed as he passed a familiar coffee shop, taking in the aroma of fresh coffee. He was tired, beyond tired...or even more so mentally exhausted.
Duke searched his pockets for extra money, but to his annoyance all traces of it were gone.
He sighed as he continued down the long sidewalk, oblivious to the faces of the people that passed by.
He was only enticed by the gentle strumming of the guitar from a street performer, whom was grinning eagerly, anticipating at least a cent or two from the locals.
Duke had been walking for nearly fifteen minutes before the noise of the crowds began to subside. It was in that moment that his thoughts turned into anger.
“How dare they!” he thought. "I've given them one year of my life and they take it and spit on it!"
Duke stopped in thought as he arrived at an old abandoned building. Duke had discovered that it once had been a popular auditorium in the 1960s. Its circular structure was a beautiful contrast to the worn and dirty surroundings. Duke wondered just how many wonderful memories were formed here. In its day, it was the pride of the town. Adults would travel miles to listen to the music that would drift them away from their daily troubles. For all of its beauty, it was left to be tarnished. What was once a shining example of artistry was now wasting away.
“If only I could make this place great again” he grinned in thought. “People from all of the world would come..”
Duke sighed gently at the thought, a smile coming to his face before he began to walk again. He felt almost childish in the prospect of the dream of success. The soft ring of his cell phone in his pocket startled him out of his daydream.
“Yes….yes it was good...better if you were there”
“Money? Uh...no my last paycheck was Friday” he spoke.
“No I haven’t talked to..”
It was in that single moment that he spotted a red heel sticking out from behind a large trash bin.
“One second” he spoke as he pulled the phone away from his ear.
Duke walked closer and a pair of legs came into view.
“Oh my God!” he shouted.
“Oh my God! Ma’am!” he shouted.
Duke’s heart was pounding against his chest. He could barely feel the phone slip from his fingers and onto the concrete.
Duke’s voice croaked against the cold night air.