Kazoo Nocturne

By Louis Kummerer

Todd’s an ass, and I really don’t want to have dinner with him. But it’s Carol—Todd’s long-suffering wife—who calls to invite me. I detect an undertone of desperation in her smiling voice, a hint that she, more than Todd, wants me to come.

So Saturday I drive to their Scottsdale home. By the time I arrive, Todd is already three bourbons into the afternoon. He and Carol are arguing about where to eat, but Carol is mostly nodding and agreeing, because nobody wins an argument with Todd. He’s in the mood for Italian and wants to go to Giovanni’s.

“It’s just down the street from the Sandstone Lounge,” he adds with finality, as if that ended the discussion, as if that geographic oddity were the decisive factor. 

Carol calls the restaurant and makes reservations. As we prepare to leave, she grabs my elbow and pulls me aside.

“I think it’s best if you drive,” she whispers. I nod, and she pats me gently on the forearm.

Todd climbs into the passenger side, relegating Carol to the rear seat, where she sits quietly, isolated from the mainstream of the conversation. But it doesn’t matter because the conversation is mostly Todd expounding on how well things are going in his new job.

“They get me there,” he explains, “That last place: We weren’t singing from the same songbook.”

He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a brightly-colored kazoo with a company logo printed on it. He waves the kazoo in front of me.

“This was my idea for the last sales conference,” he says, “Kazoo karaoke. They loved it.”

Giovanni’s is already crowded when we arrive and there are groups of people standing at the entrance and sitting in the bar area waiting for a table. Fortunately, we are on time for our reservation and we don’t have to wait. That’s a good thing, because Todd doesn’t need another bourbon at the bar before dinner. 

We order food, which, at Todd’s insistence, includes a $70 bottle of Saint-Émilion. He finishes two glasses of wine before the food arrives. We eat, and, between drinks, he continues chest-pounding about his new job. When we finish and are waiting for the check, I take advantage of a lull in Todd’s ramblings to ask Carol about her teaching job. 

Before she can answer, Todd stands up, pulls the kazoo out of his pocket and launches into a loud rendition of “Summertime.” He steps away from the table, and continues playing, closing his eyes and arching his body backwards as if he were Branford Marsalis playing at the Blue Nile in New Orleans. The steady rumble of conversations in the restaurant dribbles away to silence as the stunned diners watch him in dismay. When he finishes, they offer a smattering of polite applause. Todd turns toward them and takes an exaggerated theatrical bow.

We stop at the Sandstone Lounge, because Todd says that’s his happy place. We sit at a table and, when a young waitress comes over, Todd puts his arms around her waist and pulls her towards him.

“This is my girl, Sandy,” he announces loudly.

Sandy smiles uncomfortably. She pulls away from him and takes our orders, then quickly returns with our drinks.

I’m drinking water because I’m driving. Carol nurses a glass of red wine, but Todd gulps down a double bourbon and heads to the bar for another. Instead of returning, he sits at the bar, puts his arm around Sandy again and begins talking to her.

Carol looks on, not really angry, not really embarrassed, simply resigned. I stare at her for a moment and think: she’s smart, she’s attractive, she’s funny. What is she doing with Todd?

“Things seem to be going well with Todd’s new job,” I say, trying to break the awkward silence.

“Yeah,” she says. She pauses and glances over at Todd. “I hope so.”

She takes a sip of wine. 

“Todd was out of work the last time for almost a year,” she continues, as if she were blurting out a secret, “We burned through all our savings…” Her voice trails off.

Todd has once again taken out the kazoo, and is now on his feet, staggering around crowded tables as he belts out a sloppy version of “The Trumpeter’s Serenade.” The bartender comes over to our table and asks us to get him out.

Carol and I each grab one of Todd’s arms. He continues playing as we guide him out the door and maneuver him into the back seat of the car.

“Did you see the tits on that Sandy?” Todd says loudly, as we buckle him in.

“They were amazing,” Carol responds, “The highlight of my evening.”

By the time we get home, Todd has dozed off and we struggle to get him out of the car. He is barely conscious as we drag him into the house and plop him face down onto a bed in the guest room. We pull his shoes off and leave him fully clothed on top of the covers. He is already snoring when we turn off the lights. 

Carol takes my arm and leads me to their front door. We stop there briefly and she gives me a goodbye hug. To our mutual surprise, the hug suddenly turns into a kiss. She clings to me eagerly for a moment, her lips pressed against mine. Then she abruptly pulls away, opens the door and pushes me through it. 

Outside, the faint aroma of citrus blossoms permeates the night air. I breathe deeply and look up to see a meteorite. It streaks white-hot across the sky and explodes in a brilliant burst of light.

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Louis Kummerer is a technical writer working and living in Phoenix, Arizona.

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