“Speakeasy” a story by Matt Hayes, was a finalist in our recently concluded 47th Short Fiction Contest. It is published with the permission of the author.
by Matt Hayes
I was recently at a speakeasy in Tbilisi, drinking wine and tapping my foot in time with a jazz quartet, when I noticed a dishevelled French magician approach the mysterious black-haired girl I’d had my eye on for the past ten minutes. This irked me less than it might have, because the Frenchman was clearly a drunkard of dubious repute, and the girl was plainly uninterested in him, not deigning to respond to his advances with so much as a word. He performed endless coin tricks and card tricks for her, and loudly complimented her exotic beauty. But eventually, tiring of her silence, he looked around for someone else to annoy—and before I had time to glance away, he met my gaze and lurched towards me.
“Where are you from?” he slurred, jovially clapping his hand to my shoulder. I decided on a whim to pretend that I was mute. But to my surprise, as soon as he saw my wordless gestures, he began to communicate with me in fluent sign language. A little shamefaced, I had to indicate— mutely—that I could not understand his signs but could hear him well enough.
“Well, in that case, I hope you’re in the mood for a story,” he shouted over the music, taking a seat next to me. “Because I have many to tell.”
Any curiosity I felt about his stories soon faded when he began to tell them. They were all vulgar tales of sexual conquests, illicit affairs, and farfetched dalliances—and they all showed him to be a man of little scruple and ample selfishness. Though he obviously intended to impress me, I found myself looking for a way to get rid of him—a resolve made more difficult by the fact I was supposed to be mute.
“. . . Which reminds me of another girl, from Morocco,” he continued relentlessly. “Now that was an interesting one. It’s the story that first entered my head when I found out you were mute—but I wanted to warm you up with a few others, you see.
“I’d been living in Marrakesh for two years and was making some money on the side as an exporter of chess sets. Well, one day I had to do some business with a humble old man, a chessboard maker, quite poor and in need of a lucky break. He invited me into his shop, and we chatted and sipped tea for a while, and our discussion went very well. Not only did we come to an arrangement entirely satisfactory to both of us; he even listened to my complaints about my landlord, and graciously offered me a room in his house.
“Well, his house was tiny and the room was a big step down from what I was used to. But—” (here the Frenchman paused and winked at me grotesquely) “—it just so happened that the old man had not one, not two, but four wonderfully attractive daughters sharing the small space with him. Needless to say, I moved in the very next day.
“I fell in love with all of the daughters, but it was the youngest who truly captured my heart and my imagination. She was mute, like you, and she was deaf to boot. More importantly, she was exquisitely beautiful, with soft skin and a slender waist, and breasts so new and enormous that she was constantly knocking things off tables. Since I had a lot of free time on my hands, I asked her to teach me sign language. It was of course an excuse to gaze at her delightful face for hours on end. Many times I pretended to be confused about the precise execution of a sign, just so she’d have to guide my hands into the correct position with her gentle fingers.
“How tantalizing those afternoons were! So unworldly was this girl, so unfamiliar with the ways of men, that she assumed I wanted nothing more than to master her unique language. And initially I played along. But how I yearned to kiss those serious brown eyes, that succulent lower lip that she would bite in concentration as she gently touched my hand . . .
“Her father spent every day at his shop and suspected nothing, and her sisters had modern views, so it was the perfect opportunity for a Moorish fling. I used every trick in the book to woo her, and eventually my patience bore fruit. The girl fell desperately in love with me. It was obvious. One day, just to test her, I made it clear to her that I was feeling tired and would have to skip our daily lesson. As I lay in my bed, I could hear her wandering about the house listlessly, unable to think of what to do with herself.
“Eventually I had mercy on her, and called out to the eldest sister: ‘Please tell Soraya to come.’ Almost immediately, Soraya appeared at the threshold to my bedroom, and I weakly beckoned her to enter, as though I had fallen terribly ill. She came and kneeled at my side, her eyes full of concern. I motioned at her to close the door and lock it. By this time she was so enamoured with me that she could hardly refuse anything I might ask of her —so she obediently closed the door, bolted it, and returned to my side.
“ ‘Shut the blinds,’ I gestured. She shut them, and the room became dark.
“ ‘Now light a candle,’ I ordered, ‘because I think I may die soon and that is the custom of my country.’
“She began to sob, in the strange strangled way that deaf people sob. But she lit a candle and placed it on a shelf. And with her delicate hands she signed to me: ‘What else can I do, my dear, to ease your suffering and make you more comfortable?’ Well, perhaps you can already guess what I asked her to do.”
“You’re a monster!” I yelled at the Frenchman, slamming my fist against the table so that everyone in the speakeasy turned to look at us. “How could you treat an innocent girl so ungallantly? I’ve never heard such a cynical story in my life!”
The Frenchman looked at me strangely. “So you aren’t mute after all,” he said. “Well, consider your own sins before you hurry to cast stones. And don’t jump to conclusions so easily. I asked her to marry me. There she is over there.”
And I saw that the black-haired girl in the corner was watching us curiously.
Matt Hayes is a writer from New Zealand. He works as a copywriter by day and a fiction writer by night. One of his most cherished habits is listening to Coltrane’s Alabama whenever he packs a suitcase before a long journey. Read more of his work here.
Read “The Happy Thing of Bayou de Manque,” by Erin Larson, the 47th Short Fiction Contest winning story
Details on how to enter your story in the 48th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest