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Jazz Legs by Travis Keys | flash fiction | #thesideshow

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Sitting in my wheelchair outside of the jazz club, I just want to dance. But to dance, you need legs, and all I have is thighs. My knees, calves, ankles, feet, and whatever else anatomy comprises a person’s legs, were blown off, mostly, when I stepped on a landmine in Vietnam.

The Army gave me prosthetics, a hearing aid, and a Purple Heart in exchange for my lower appendages. The hearing aid is the only item I didn’t sell. I kept it so I can hear the alto sax calling to me like Jesus to the paralyzed man to get up and Jitterbug, but only one of us has the legs to answer.

The club has a handicap parking spot, no ramp, and steps to get inside. I’m the proverbial horse that has been led to water, but with no head to drink. Instead, I settle for snapping my fingers and sipping from the brown paper bag I clutch, which keeps trying to seduce me into dancing on my stumps.

It’s not dancing like I desire, but it’s not being dead either. Been almost there before, and there’s no jazz to enjoy. Just ringing ears and writhing on the ground in agony with the remnants of your legs looking as crooked as the z’s in jazz. That’s its own sort of dancing, and not the kind I want to experience again. I’ll make do with the muffled sound of trombones and saxophones and trumpets.

Maybe I’ll use my free hand to turn my wheelchair. It’ll be a lot like line dancing, except, in hyphenated, never ending circles. Well, that is, until the musicians put their instruments away and the jazz club is hushed and black again.

The worst noise in the world is hearing the silence of your own scream in the vacuum of space between life and death. The second is the empty air when the jazz music stops. You fall flat back to earth amid the reality of the lonesomeness and quietness of your nearly immobile existence.

With a fire in my belly from the drink and the electric charge in my heart from the defibrillator that is jazz music, I’ll push myself home in a zigzagging pattern—the sound of the blues heavy on my liquored breath. But I’ll be back at the jazz club again next Friday, because, I just want to dance.


Travis Keys lives ten miles from the proposed Mexican border wall. His work has appeared in Matador Review, The First Line, and Toasted Cheese.