A sound came from somewhere down the sidewalk. The other girls sauntered into the saloon, the cheers of an already rowdy crowd pouring out the doors along with the sound of guitar sound checks. As the doors closed behind them, the sound from down the road rose again. Voices. Voices singing.
The dark asphalt road glowed with puddled yellow light. Betty strolled to the nearest light pole and stopped, listening. Her head bobbed along with the music; the harmony buzzing through her belly. She walked to the next light pole, stopped again, one hand against the humid wood. “My Girl”. She loved that song—the harmony so sweet, it brought a craving to her tongue. She swallowed hard.
She looked back toward the saloon, then forward again toward the sound. It was coming from one of the small shotgun houses on the other side of the street. It wasn’t a record. People were singing. No instruments, only voices. A cappella. Like the hymn mama suggested last week at choir practice, mostly to put that haughty organist Vera in her place. Betty leaned toward the source of the sound, then pulled back, anchored to the post.
Whoa, whoa, whoa…they improvised, somehow, in harmony. The voices sang on about all that honey and those envious bees. Tantalizing. Her mind filled in the trumpet hit. She set her jaw tight and tilted her head, then stepped out toward the next light pole. She stopped between posts, pressed her clutch against the front of her skirt, clenched her knees together with a shudder. Her shoulders swayed to the rhythm, a rhythm snapped by fingers on a porch across the street.
There were figures. Five men on the porch, singing and snapping The Temptations song. Her mother didn’t even like their name, let alone their music.
But her mother wasn’t here.
Betty couldn’t turn away.
Her eyes adjusted to the light of a single bulb and the glowing tips of cigarettes fluttering like fireflies. A man stood in each corner of the tiny, weathered porch, each singing their parts, their heads tilted toward each other as they found the harmony. Against the front door frame, a tall, narrow man leaned on his shoulder while he crooned the melody. The bare bulb shone down like a spotlight between them. Betty closed her eyes and imagined herself part of an audience, like on The Ed Sullivan Show. Her shoulders rocked as she swayed.
The melody trickled down and stopped, giving way to a melodic hum.
“Live, from the porch on Edison Avenue!”
Her eyes flew open. They’d seen her. She froze.
“Hey, that’s all right now! We love an audience. Don’t we, boys?”
The harmonizing stopped and they chimed in agreement.
“Sure we do!”
The tall one came down the stairs and stood across the street. His eyes glinted golden brown in the yellow moonlight and a wave of black hair swooped up from his smooth brown forehead. He wore a collared shirt with short sleeves tucked into pegged trousers. She looked at the ground, but her eyes found the grass at his feet. His shoes were wingtips, brown and polished to a high shine. She focused on them, studied them, to keep from looking up at him. But she didn’t walk away.
“You’re not lost, are you, ma’am?” he said. His voice was warm and smoky.
“No,” she said. It came out dry and squeaky. She coughed and touched a knuckle to the tip of her nose. “No, I’m not. I’m out here, down there, with my friends. To hear a band, at the West Tavern, yonder.” She raised her chin and the golden light highlighted the flush on her smooth, pale cheeks.
“Is that right?” he said. “Because, and pardon me if I’m mistaken, but it looks to me like you’re down here. Listening to us,” he tilted his head toward the porch and smiled, a crooked grin, exposing the brilliant whiteness of his teeth behind his wide, full mouth. She bit her own bottom lip.
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