I ain’t never been much of a writer. My spelling ain’t so good – EJ said it didn’t matter but I don’t want to make no fool of myself. Now, writin’ music, well, I’m much better at that. Penmanship like Bach himself, Manny tells me, not that he were around when Bach was composin’ his fugues an’ all, but writin’ Manny’s music out for the band means it’s got to be neat and tidy so as no one plays an F sharp when they ain’t supposed to. I know it’s jazz, but there still shouldn’t be no wrong notes.
I’m fond of Manny. He’s a good man, and he writes music you wish you’d written yourself. You wouldn’t think it to look at him. He looks like Schubert, little glasses, wild hair, pale skin and a permanently worried expression. He writes a damn good song an’ all, but it’s more Jelly Roll Morton than the Maid of the Mill. But then, he’s got Tommy Anzonetti to write his words for him, not some miserable German poet. Tommy, who turns the head of every girl he passes, but only has eyes for me. Tommy who can make you laugh and make you cry in the same line, rhymin’ clever and tellin’ it how it is. His shows don’t make the world seem perfect, but then that’s ’cause it ain’t. He knows that well enough himself, only I’d rather he didn’t know just how imperfect my world is. Tommy, who makes the breath catch in my throat when he looks at me. Tommy, who was writin’ songs for me even before we met.
I wonder sometimes what would’ve happened if I’d walked just one block west that day, and hadn’t walked past Manny’s family piano shop. I wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t convinced the landlord of The Ale and Anchor down Mile End to let me play ragtime on his piano on a Friday night. I wonder how my life would be different and I wonder if I could’ve lived with it being’ just the same, day in day out, the rhythms of New Orleans in my head drowned out by the rattlin’ sewin’ machines in Mr Goldberg’s overcoat factory up Whitechapel way. Dreams are all very well, but only if they come true.
I’m not ungrateful. You should know that, you should remember it when you read my story. I could never have imagined a life like this for myself. That’s the thing about dreams. They only come out of what you know. You can’t imagine how different life could be ’cause you ain’t got nothin’ to build it out of. This, all this— playin’ jazz piano for a Broadway show— how could I ever have dreamed that? But it ain’t been easy. In truth, it’s been a livin’ hell. I’m lyin’ every moment of every day and I ain’t proud of it. But what else can I do? It’s lie or die. I can’t go back to London, not after what I did. It was self defence, but I still killed a man. But I’d do almost anything to stay in New York. I might be married to the man that rescued me, and in love with someone else, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The first novel in Lucille Landau’s adventures in New York is Broadway Murder of 1928, as told by EJ Knight. You can buy her story at all Amazon sites, including UK, US and Canada. The next adventure, Tin Pan Allies and Enemies will be published in 2014.