The One-Man Chorus


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From Ontario, California. Currently the Academic Coordinator of the Bridge Program at Temple University's Japan Campus  [+]

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“You told us you were the President of the Lytle Creek Jubilee Singers! You gave us names! Your secretary, your treasurer, your librarian, your pianist! You invented them all?!”

“I am here professing my intent to participate fully. Please, do not turn me away.”

“I shall have a word with Mr. Hook at the lodge about you. While I can’t remove you from the premises, and I assume you are free to enjoy the festivities, in no way will I allow you to join the chorus.”

Glen was dismayed. His phantoms betrayed him. He had perfectly executed the forgery from his fictional secretary, Ms. England, on the parcel sent to Mr. Turner, the festival organizer. He had already extended his stay at the lodge two additional nights, paid in advance with no chance of a refund, due to the increased demand for bookings. He had memorized the music – pieces from Hayden’s Creation, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and St. Paul, Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, Rossini’s Moses in Egypt and Stabat Mater, as well as Mozart’s Twelfth Mass, all for naught.

In a stupor, Glen perambulated through the festival. Ice cream and chocolate bon-bons. Tapestries and linens from Sweden. Jewelry from Santa Fe. Cigars. Soda water. Bicycle wheels. A livestock auction. Sioux boys on display. He stopped in front of a soup stall. French lentil with spicy Toulouse sausage and a side of extra crispy bread for thirty cents. He was furious.

Glen muttered.

“Monsieur?”

“I said your soup smells wonderful.”

Merci.”

“Transporting that sausage all the way from Toulouse must have been quite the task.”

A man in a brown waist coast. Blonde hair.

“We make it locally. Our butcher is also from France.”

“Is that right?”

Her shop signage listed Bernal Heights, California as the location.

“Do you spend much time in Russian Hill?”

She was silent.

Glen sucked his teeth. A woman and child came up to the booth. The child whispered in the woman’s ear. The woman ordered cream of tomato. The vendor replied with a sing-songy “O-oui!” She filled a bowl and topped it with a sprinkling of refined sugar. The vendor handed it to the child. For her health, and a little something for her dent sucrée, the vendor chirped.

He was to perform under the direction of Zerrahn. He wouldn’t have the second half of his train ticket reimbursed, for he wouldn’t attend the debriefing meeting. His eyes glassed over.

“You sound more Creole than French. Missouri?”

She stirred her soups.

Glen turned his back to her stall. Across the way, a man was giving a public lecture about America’s expansion into the Pacific. Knocking at the gates of China and Japan. America is a cherub. A new era dawning. Early birds. New dawns.

A man and woman walked from the talk over to the soup stall, brushing by Glen. I’ve been to China, you know. Hang-chow, the capital of Chekiang, the man told the woman. No, have you? What brought you there? Two lentil soups, please. O-oui! A missionary tour. More than anything, it became a learning experience for me! How so, the woman asked with sincere interest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a community of people take care of each other as well as the Chinese. Orphans, widows, aged, infirmed, all loved. Public hospitals. Free schools. Good countryside living. A fine country, he proclaimed.

Glen turned back to the stall. He walked up behind the couple.

“She’s not from France.”

Nothing.

“That soup you’ve just ordered, just paid for... it’s not real.”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“It’s not real.”

“My boy, steam doesn’t just come outta nowhere. That soup is as real as anything else,” the man chuckled.

“She’s a fraud.”

“Come again?”

Glen was from Ogden by way of Boston. Five years prior, he had moved to Lytle Creek, a settlement in the San Bernardino mountains. He went in search of zest. When labor has taken its toll, the revitalization of one’s zest is in order. While in Boston in early March procuring supplies for the expansion of his settlement, he saw the circular. The festival was to take place in June. The organizers were calling out to choral societies across the country to participate in a grand performance. If these societies would report their intent to participate, the organizers would send them, free of charge, a library of music for practice. Accommodations at the festival would be provided for performers at a very low cost, and railroad fares would be reduced by half. His soul would be invigorated.

Glen found himself standing behind the cattle auctioneer’s stage with the vendor woman in front of him, her arms crossed in front of her.

“Why are you doing this?!”

All you Northern men unaccustomed to Texan cattle, well, here’s some advice: don’t find yourself in the corral with one of these bullocks alone, the auctioneer sang.

“You’re a fraud. A charlatan.”

“But I didn’t expose you! And I knew your secret! Why do this to me?”

“I came in search of zest. You’re cheating people. You came to take their money and peddle your fake products.”

He took a horse-car from the train station to the coliseum. She disappeared into a crowd headed for their lodgings. He thumbed through the book of music in the car. Upon arrival at the festival, he would confirm that his chorus was guided by the baton. Yes, we’re all fine using our eyes instead of our ears to follow along. Oh, and just for your information, we can easily transfer some of our sopranos to the alto section if the conductor likes. He rehearsed these lines in his head in anticipation.

Back at the stand, a small crowd had gathered, empty soup bowls in hand. You know, we have lentils in Omaha as well, ma’am. I could have made this at home myself. I came to this festival for something authentic. I’ve never been to Paris. But it doesn’t seem like she has either, now.

Portraits of Leland Stanford. Season concert lists for Boston’s Music Hall. Piles of manure.

She had given up the accent. She would refund anyone who wanted to be. But if they would be kind enough to let her keep her earnings, seeing as she had already spent on the supplies and the travel out here. The soup was good, was it not?

Being inauthentic comes at a price, someone said.

Glen knew of many choral societies back in Utah, but getting organized with them to form a functioning group in time for the application would not have been feasible. He used his real name and gave himself the title “President of the Lytle Creek Jubilee Singers.” His small yet respectable chorus would be made up of eight sopranos, seven altos, five tenors, and six bassos. They would bring God’s love to the masses with the hope that future fratricidal nightmares like that of our nation’s civil war would never again be experienced. He sent the application to Mr. Turner.

Someone had thrown cow dung at her signage. It dripped down the front of her stall. She sat with her knees folded up against her chest. Her eyes looked glassy.

He made it to San Francisco before dusk on Sunday. The next morning at 6:39, he would board the train for Sacramento. Then, it was on to Promontory and beyond to the festival. 690 miles in less than 24 hours. Amazing.

Aboard the train, Glen met a woman named Fay. She lived with her mother in Russian Hill. Fay made a living singing and playing banjo in local saloons and music halls. She was born in Missouri. Her mother moved them out to California to escape from the girl’s father, a drunk. Fay said she was coming to the festival because she heard her father might be there. He sold plantation memorabilia that survived the war. Glen told her about his planned ruse at the festival, and she laughed.

Glen stood watching crews bring anvils in to the coliseum for the grand finale of the choral performance. He thought about his wheat crops that had been devoured by the cricket and grasshopper invasion last season. He had met a nice clerk at his lodge by the name of Hook. He would ask Mr. Hook to send circulars about future events to his home in California, with postage paid upon delivery.

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