Solo on the Drums

by Ann Petry

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 584

As Kid Jones approaches the Randlert Theater at the corner of Broadway and Forty-second Street, he pauses for a moment and looks up at the marquee where his name is emblazoned in lights below the name of his orchestra. He feels a sense of pride as people rushing past one another on the crowded New York City street stop, look up for a minute, and smile, recognizing his name. This is what he has always wanted, but his moment of triumph is immediately overshadowed by the memory of something that happened as he was about to leave for work that morning—an occurrence that brought his world crashing down around him. The dissolution of his world was accomplished with two simple words, “I’m leaving,” uttered almost casually by the woman he loves as she told him that she has fallen in love with someone else.

When the show is about to start, the house lights go down and the orchestra members take their places on stage. As they begin to play, Kid Jones is intensely aware of his surroundings—the light-flooded stage, the smoothness of the music, the disembodied heads of the audience. As he strikes his drums lightly, the spotlight focuses on the trumpeter, who begins his solo, and Jones observes, with pleasure, how perfectly his drums accompany the trumpet. As the music of the trumpet grows louder, his thoughts begin to drift, and he begins to slip slowly from the world of reality. Finally, he can no longer perceive the music as music; the sound of the trumpet becomes the voice of his wife repeating again and again, “I’m leaving, I’m leaving, the guy who plays the piano. I’m in love with him and I’m leaving now today.”

As the trumpet solo ends and the spotlight focuses on Jones, he returns to the present and begins his solo on the drums. As he plays, another spotlight picks up the piano player. At the sight of his rival, the Marquis of Brund, Jones becomes infuriated, and his fury is expressed in a savage attack on the drums. The sound is so intense, so jarring, that it startles the other orchestra members, but Jones takes no notice of the heads that turn in his direction as his drums leap with all the fury in him. In his imagination, he is fighting with the Marquis of Brund. He is choking him, sticking a knife in his ribs, and slitting the throat of the man who has stolen his wife.

Then Jones becomes one with his drums, and the theater again begins to fade. He is transported back into the past, this time into his ancestral past, where the great African chieftains wreaked terrible vengeance on their enemies. Then he moves forward to a more recent past, recalling long-buried incidents of his childhood—a childhood spent with a mother who hated him because he reminded her of his father, a man who seduced and deserted her. He remembers the many women he has used and discarded and, finally, the woman he loves who has discarded him.

So engrossed is Kid Jones in his music and his reveries that he is oblivious to the applause that greets the end of his performance; it is only when another member of the orchestra kicks him on the foot that he returns to the present. He stares for a long moment at the Marquis of Brund; then, slowly and deliberately, he bows, again and again.

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