Air Shaft


Image Source: New York Times

1:17 AM: The percolator finished bubbling and Kevin Walton pulled himself away from the window to pour a cup. He had the cushiest day-job ever, working a four-hour shift schlepping credit cards, so he was free to keep whatever hours he wanted. And he was fortunate enough to have found an apartment in the back of a building, offering quiet and seclusion. It wouldn’t last, but it was perfect for the time. He often stayed up all night, listening to jazz, playing his piano and staring out the window at the action, or lack thereof, across the air shaft.

Hot night, windows open, Ellington on the stereo. “Harlem Air Shaft.” Kevin remembered a quote from The Duke that he read for an assignment in Jazz History class at U Maine Augusta. He still had it in a notebook. He found the notebook in a steamer trunk and flipped through to the page:

“Take ‘Harlem Air Shaft,’” Duke said. “So much goes on in a Harlem airshaft. You get the full essence of Harlem in an air shaft. You hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear people making love. You hear intimate gossip floating down. You hear the radio. An air shaft is one great big loudspeaker. You see your neighbor’s laundry. You hear the janitor’s dogs. The man upstairs’ aerial falls down and breaks your window. You smell coffee. A wonderful thing is that smell. An air shaft has got every contrast. One guy is cooking dried fish with rice and another guy’s got a great big turkey. Guy-with-fish’s wife is a terrific cooker but the guy’s wife with the turkey is doing a sad job.” Duke laughed. “You hear people praying, fighting, snoring. Jitterbugs are jumping up and down always over you, never below you. That’s a funny thing about jitterbugs. They’re always over you. I tried to put all that in ‘Harlem Air Shaft.’”
The New Yorker, July 01, 1944, Pg. 26

Kevin read that quote several times, staring out the window at his own air shaft, listening to the song that inspired it all, amazed to be living that dream. He thought of all those times walking across the campus at UMA, with the wind tossing up cyclones of crystalline snow, heading for another warm classroom filled with music. He thought of reading that Ellington quote and how much it resonated back then, and the feeling of sitting in class and thinking of maybe having an apartment that faced an air shaft one day. And here I am…

He looked out the window at the warm summer air shaft. He heard the guy in 6B yelling at family in San Juan. He got a whiff of curry – maybe a bowl of Mulligatawny from the Indian joint down the block. Somebody was playing salsa music somewhere. The night was alive in the air shaft, as alive as the Duke had made it. And here I am…

He thought of the amazing and unknown that is serendipity, and how some things just present themselves at precisely the right time. No known reason, other than perfection. And he thought of all the moments of serendipity in his life, from far past to near, that had aligned so perfectly. And here I am…

It was one of those moments when everything solidifies, when every thought and notion and dream and plan that had come and gone before suddenly is realized and makes sense. Nothing revolutionary, but still monumental. The lonely night wore on and Kevin kept the moment close, savoring the feeling of being the most content son-of-a-bitch in the building.

Read the article that inspired this post here:

And listen to the Duke:

25 comments
  1. Cool post: I especially ove the serendipity part. =)

    • It’s a rare bit of awesome when it happens. ;)

  2. Love this. Perfect soundtrack. Great image. Great slice-of-life feeling to the story.

    • Thanks so much! Great to read your thoughts.

  3. YES! Just YES! This short-short story is extraordinary, top to bottom. So, YES! I am so happy for you. And for me because I got to read this today. YES!

    • !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Merilee Mitchell said:

    I love this. I love everything about this post. Great way to start my day, sitting at my desk, nursing my first cup o’ joe. You now go straight to the top of the class…

    • *BLUSH*

  5. Merilee Mitchell said:

    The pressure’s on ;-)

    • Gulp! I shall do my best every Monday and Thursday, and thanks!

      • Merilee Mitchell said:

        No need to gulp, my man. Just make certain that it’s perfect, highly entertaining and beautiful….(she says, as she watches the sweat stream down his brow)

      • *saluting smartly*

  6. morezennow said:

    Your story has stirred up wistful thoughts of the Big City Life I never led. Reading this is a magical moment- I can smell the cabbage stew from days gone by as well. Good show, Mr. Westbye!

    • HAH! Love it! Glad I could take you there, morezennow.

  7. thanks for a good read, air shafts aren’t part of my life so I had to think a bit first. Thinkings good ;-)

    • My pleasure, for the read and the thought! C’mon back on Monday.

  8. Well done, sir!

    • Thankyah!

  9. Very nice post indeed! Airshafts are much like life itself. They both ebb and flow and you do not what either will bring to you next!

    • You got that right! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

  10. Really enjoyed your writing style. Relaxed, descriptive, and totally engaging. I’m trying to write a novel so I may drop by often for some inspiration. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you so much! I’m totally honored. Can’t wait to see your novel on the stacks!

  11. Love the imagery, dig the picture and live for the music. Bravo!

    • Always great to see you, Ms. Black; thanks.

  12. Reblogged this on brian westbye and commented:

    I’m taking this week off to re-charge. Here is today’s Fiction re-run.

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