4 of 5 stars.
Jazz and Blues and the musicians that brought it to the people are already wrapped in rich folklore. One of the darker tales of the blues era is “The Devil at the Crossroads” about a blues guitarist selling his soul for talent and fame, the myth of Faust revisited. This tale outwardly acknowledges that tale, but spins an ambiguous second act with a new cast of characters.
Mr. Elling across the way has died of old age, his trumpet, Betty, at his side. Gillian cannot help but mourn his loss by sitting on her roof and staring out over the gap between their houses. Young Gillian and Mr. Elling shared an unspoken bond, somehow hinted at in the many stories he’d tell in the months before his death. He was her only friend in this new house her father had brought her to.
On this day, his voice drifts across the expanse between the houses to tell one last story: The Devil Under the Maison Blue. Mr. Elling, as a young man, had run from his abusive father and South Carolina in the days after his father’s beatings put his own mother in the ground. He ran to New Orleans to make it as a jazz trumpeter, which only went so far.
Gillian’s own mother is only 3 months gone from cancer, herself. But Gillian is already growing big with child at the hands of her own father. As Mr. Elling’s story continues, Gillian’s father comes home and sees her on the roof.
Young Mr. Elling was beaten in an alley by four white guys before what was to be his third gig in NOLA. In his disorientation afterward, he sees cat eyes peering from beneath the club, and he pleads for talent. What he gets is the courage to go back to South Carolina with his trumpet in hand . . .
This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’d previously read this author’s “I Do Not Count the Hours”.
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