“The Cardinal Club” — a short story by Carole Ackelson

April 30th, 2019

.

.

“The Cardinal Club,” a short story by Carole Ackelson, was a finalist in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. It is published with the permission of the author. 

.

.

.

 

 

 

.

.

The Cardinal Club

by

Carole Ackelson

.

 

___

.

…..Glo squares her shoulders, pushing through the dented metal door. The doorman barely glances over, waving her past, more intent on the front page of the newspaper emblazoned with the words WAR OVER! She holds the fur coat closer, a present from a Canadian soldier on his way overseas less than a year ago, hoping she doesn’t seem shabby. It seems long ago, what with the war practically over. Mend and make do nearly ruined her closet. She pushes all thoughts but music from her mind. All they do is distract, and Glo must be at the top of her game. Glo’s obsidian eyes take in the fierce competition. A line of young ladies snakes around tables all the way to the bar.

…..She orders whiskey from a balding bartender, since it’ll be awhile until it’s her turn. Each little bird sings a three minute song. Most are sappy, lovesick melodies from one of many musicals released during the war. Glo, personally, was sick of it. For the past decade everything was about constant glorification of violence and bloodshed. She wanted, no needed, something different. A breath of fresh air, a new life full of sumptuous clothes and delectable feasts in her enormous mansion, of no longer living on rations and counting every penny. She didn’t want to go back to the one room apartment she shared with three women to eat beans out of a can. Put simply, Glo wants to be famous and this would be her ticket to fortune.

…..All she needs is a chance. She’d beg, borrow, and steal to get an opportunity to prove she’s worthy. She watches the line shorten, sipping her drink, until there are few left. Glo saunters to the stage as the lady last comes down, smiling giddly. Glo grins back, remembering her first auditions. Apprehension flowing through your veins while a deafening heartbeat resounds through your ears as you’re up in the spotlight. After, coming down filled with sweet relief, knowing you did your absolute best as you step into the dark again.

…..“Next?” The piano man calls, his thick, square glasses catching the light. He flicks through sheets of music, as if she’s already decided.

…..“My name’s Gloria Walker.” She fixes the gardenia in her curly, black hair. “Do you know Ma Rainey?”

…..“‘Course I do,” he scolds, raising an eyebrow. “Who do you think I am?”

…..“Not many people have refined taste.” Glo wipes sweaty palms on her skirt. “Anything by her and I’ll sing.”

…..“Anything?” he asks skeptically, lighting a cigarette as if to create a smoke screen.

….. “My mother played her records endlessly. I know Ma Rainey’s music by heart, she got me through the past years. Go ahead,” she says, familiar warmth of the lights comforting her remaining unease. It’s been months since Glo was last onstage, yet it’s as if she’s returned home. She could kick off her shoes and start dancing.

…..“Yes, ma’am.” He scoffs, faintly amused as though betting on her failure. She smiles, the strains of ‘Put It on Me’ filling the air. Glo hums along, warming up her voice as she sways. The dance floor and tables disappear. The Cardinal Club, with scarred wooden floors and brick walls covered in faded posters, disappears. Glo pretends she’s the only one left in the world. The song’s slow, tempo staggered, nothing like jazz in clubs lately. She needs to make it new, switching it up during the refrain. The same old music continues as she swaggers about with a low, breathy voice. Glo’s inviting, enticing, provocative. Everyone knew what the song was about, the chorus hardly hid the meaning.

…..“‘It must’ve been women, cause I don’t like no men!’” Glo throws up her arms, kicks out a leg and holds the microphone close as she purrs, “‘Wear my clothes just like a fan, talk to the gals just like any…old…man.’”

…..A slow clap fills the room from the piano man. He stands, stubbing the cigarette out an ashtray on a table. She beams, curtsying twice, thinking she’s done something right. No one else received a standing ovation. All of them were nervous, clutching the microphone, refusing to move, to give passion to their songs. At least she’d preformed.

…..“You’ve evidently done this before. Where?”

…..“I used to be in a vaudeville act with my mother. During the last five years I toured these United States doing USO shows. We were an independent number, there’s four of us, and we were terrific. Known as the Sweethearts-” Glo stops, smile fading as she realizes she’s rambling. “You don’t want to hear, obviously. Yes, I have previous experience.”

…..“A showgirl, too?”

…..“It’s New York.” She shrugs with a laugh. “You’re either a waitress or a showgirl waiting for a break. I wanna be the next Ella Fitzgerald.”

…..“We’ll see about that. You’ve got nice gams, pretty face, and a killer voice.” He studies her underneath the glaring lights. “You mind coming tomorrow so my boss can make the final call? There’s three of you, so hope you enjoy competition.”

…..“I enjoyed it today, didn’t I?” Her carmine lips turn up in a smirk. “I can take pressure.”

…..“Let’s hope you can impress her as much as you did with me.”

…..“Should I change my tune?”

…..“For your luck, stick to your script.” He offers a hand to help her down. “She might make you the first act, something to get everyone interested.”

…..“I’ve got to warn you, I’m no cheap date.”

…..“You can discuss contracts tomorrow, I’m the messenger,” he says, finally offering an amiable smile. “Keep safe, kid. I got places to be, see you tomorrow.”

….. Glo grins, hurrying past the doorman and out into the cold winter afternoon. Once she’s outside, immersed by strangers, Glo lets out a whoop of laughter as she jumps for joy. Nothing and no one could take this away from her. Not hunger gnawing at her stomach or doubt tapping her on the shoulder. She pushes the negative away allowing pride and satisfaction to gild her spine and shoulders. Glo stands straighter, with purpose as she walks home. She’s no optimist, but in this moment the whole world is bright and serendipitous, offering her exactly what she wants.

.

_____

.

.

.
Carole Ackelson was born and raised in Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Erie, finding inspiration from her cats, the world, and her amazingly supportive cast of family and friends. An aspiring writer since she was a child, this is her first publication. 

.

.

Details about our 51st Short Fiction Contest

.

.

.

Share this:

One comments on ““The Cardinal Club” — a short story by Carole Ackelson”

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In this Issue

Art by Russell Dupont
Twenty-eight poets contribute 37 poems to the Jerry Jazz Musician Fall Poetry Collection, living proof that the energy and spirit of jazz is alive — and quite well.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Book Excerpt

This story, excerpted from Irving Berlin: New York Genius by James Kaplan, describes how Berlin came to write his first major hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and speaks to its historic musical and cultural significance.

Interview

photo by Francis Wolff/© Mosaic Images
Interview with Paul Lopes, author of Art Rebels: Race, Class and Gender in the Art of Miles Davis and Martin Scorsese

Poetry

photo pxfuel/Creative Commons 1.0
"North Beach Offering," a poem by Kristofer Collins

Jazz History Quiz #132

photo of Dizzy Gillespie by Brian McMillen
This legendary saxophonist has worked with Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges, Dizzy Gillespie (pictured), Art Blakey, and Art Farmer, and has become known as much for his compositions as the greatness of his horn playing, having written standards like “I Remember Clifford,” “Killer Joe,” and “Along Came Betty.” Who is he?

Community

News about the poet Arlene Corwin

Photography

photo of Jackie McLean by Veryl Oakland
Veryl Oakland’s “Jazz in Available Light” — photos (and stories) of Mal Waldron, Jackie McLean and Joe Henderson

Short Fiction

Photo/CC0 Public Doman
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #52 — “Random Blonde,” by Zandra Renwick

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music, author Gerald Horne writes about the severe cultural and economic obstacles jazz musicians have encountered since the music's inception

Interview

photo by Michael Lionstar
In a wide-ranging interview, Nate Chinen, former New York Times jazz critic and currently the director of editorial content for WBGO (Jazz) Radio, talks about his book Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century,, described by Herbie Hancock as a “fascinating read” that shows Chinen’s “firm support of the music

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Pressed for All Time

In this edition, producer Helen Keane tells Michael Jarrett, author of Pressed For All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums about how the collaboration of Tony Bennett and Bill Evans began, culminating in the 1975 recording, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.

Interview

Photographer Carol Friedman
In an entertaining conversation that also features a large volume of her famous photography, Carol Friedman discusses her lifelong work of distinction in the world of jazz photography

Art

“Me, Thinking about Nona Faustine” — a photo-narrative by Charles Ingham

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Every Soul is a Circus," by Dig Wayne

Short Fiction

photo/Creative Commons CC0.
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, contributes a humorous short story, "Father Kniest: Jazz Priest"

In the Previous Issue

photo of Sullivan Fortner by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive