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Copyright Frank Westcott, 2021. All rights reserved.

       This story was published in 2021, June, in AND I THOUGHT LITERARY MAGAZINE, U.S.A. . I wrote this story in Canada.



“Anybody seen Winter?”



Typical about Winter.

They’d see him for days on end, weeks on end it seemed, then he would disappear without a word, or phone call, or anything. He’d just be gone. Where he went no one ever knew. But when the truth came out, it all made sense.


I was on my way to a piano-playing gig in Biloxi, Mississippi. My last gig. My keyboard was in the back with enough clothes to last a week without washing. I was twenty hours from Biloxi, and needed some rest, a drink, something smooth and wet to ease my throat and clear the cigarette taste from inside my mouth.

Excelshire was small. Maybe ten thousand people. Nothing like I was used to. Winter lived in Excelshire and hung out at “Squirrels ‘n Nuts”. It wasn’t fancy. It was cheap. And it was all I could afford. Piano players don’t make much.

The heat was unbearable.


So many times I’ve done this. Stopped over in some small town on my way to nowhere. I called them all nowhere. Some place in the middle of nowhere, and me on my way to somewhere to play piano in Nowhere’s Bar for a week, maybe two. Then off again to another nowhere, somewhere.

That’s why I’m telling you about Winter. So I can purge the last eight years on the road, and the dust, and living alone on the road, seeing people only through the smoke and dark lights of a bar, shaking their hands, hearing their stories between gulps of draft and sloshing jugs clomping on the tables, sloshing, and foaming-frothing-white at the top. Bare-armed waitresses. The same routine. Over and over again. Different names. Different bars. But the same people coming to get drunk and go home dulled from the day, and dulled for the night till the next day began with coffee and cigarettes, to go to work at jobs they hated but bought the beer at the end of, and at lunch if they could handle the booze through the rest of the day and work. They sagged in the afternoon if they drank at lunch. But they didn’t really seem to care. They didn’t seem to care about their jobs. It’s just the road. Too long on the road. That’s all. Sometimes one of them would ask, “Anybody seen Winter?”

Every town had a Winter.

Not the spring-summer-fall kind of winter, the winter of the seasons, but Winter the person, a little different from the rest, who could see into you, and carried deep pain somewhere inside, a pain so deep that it permeated all he did and showed through his skin, even as he slouched, or walked slouched, or straightened on a good day as he walked in long strides on thin legs, his chest a thin, fragile rectangle above his waist, a long-sleeved-cotton-sideways-rectangle, bordered by dangling arms swinging at his side and large, delicate hands slapping once-in-awhile the ridges of his denims; and above his torso, a long-goose-like-thin-again neck, too long for his body, yet long and thin like him, reaching up to his hawk-like head with the hawk nose and piercing black eyes under heavy-thick-black eyebrows; and his feet, size twelves, big-snow-shoes-walking-under-him in sandals, and socks on cool days, and no socks on hot days like today, when it’s hot and the heat steams from the hot pavement, making translucent air-mirrors, shifting, moving, dazzling above the asphalt. Clear heat moving, shifting, always ahead of you as you walk, wanting to catch it, and put your hand into the heat and grasp it and hold it so you can tell for sure that it’s real, that you’re seeing heat, and not a mirage created in your mind as you walk the sidewalk leading out of the gravel parking lot into “Squirrels ‘n Nuts”.

Like I said, Winter hung out at “Squirrels ‘n Nuts” when he was hanging out, and there, and not away somewhere else, away, and not seen by anybody for days, or weeks, or months at a time.

They said Winter had class.

“He must have had money,” they said. “…sometime, he must have had money.”

He had the manners and the style. Even when he slumped at his table right in front of the stage and the girl, he always had class.

Winter never got drunk. Happy maybe. Never drunk. He would sip silently, chatting with whoever came by, and sip some more.

“There is no retribution in Winter,” they said. “He can’t have retribution. He lives the pain inside,” they said. “It’s there and there is no way from it, no matter how he might try to walk away, it was there. And you could feel it like the heat. It was there. And around you. Clear. And there around you. Around you like Winter spreading and touching you so can feel him, and then his hand reaches into your lap and begins gently stroking your cock. Under the table his hand is gentle. Your legs open slightly, and you feel the stroke, and you come inside, not wanting to, yet you do. The touch is so gentle, you want it. And you remember all the women you’ve been with. And Winter shakes them out of you. One-by-one. And cleanses 

 so you can begin again. The past gone forever. Erased from your soul.”


A bare-armed waitress comes over to my table. I smile, recalling the images. The fantasy. I nod. And smile back at her. The flesh of her bare arm brushes lightly on mine as she reaches across the table with her free hand, tipping a clean ashtray on top of the full one, lifting both ashtrays off the table, setting the full one on her tray, and then setting the clean ashtray back down on the table.

“You smoke too much. Should quit before it kills you.”

In those brief milliseconds of thought between act and react, a billboard flashes in my mind. There’s a pack of overturned Camels smoking. And burning. And a camel, a two-humper, grinning , lying dead and bloated in the desert behind, its mouth full of smoking cigarettes. And smoke coughing out its nose and feet and ass.

I light another one. The last one. The last cigarette. No more in the pack. I’m quitting in my mind while I’m waiting for Winter, and resting, not wanting to drive the next twenty hours to Biloxi. What if I never get there? What if I never play another note? My ears are shot anyway. They ring at night when I go to bed. What if it all ends here?


A tall rake of a man enters the dark, day-lit bar. Sunlight from the street streaks across the floor in front of the door. The is man wearing a black, wide-brimmed hat with an oval crown to keep the sun off. In the doorway, with the sun behind him, he looks like he is dressed in black from head to foot, with black cowboy boots, and no sandals on his feet. The door closes behind him and the light changes. His jeans are brown denim and the boots are brown now, and he’s wearing a matching sheen shirt of brown cotton and a wide, smooth, brown belt.

“He died with a cork in his mouth,” the belt said, and the wide, smooth, brown belt was standing in front of me.

A black-and-white cat sat at the belt’s feet. Reminds me of Sheila’s cat. Black-and-white. Black-on-white. All or nothing. Sheila.

“What’d you say?” the belt said.


“Who’s Sheila?”

“My mother.”

“Oh. You a pianer player?”

I could feel the dryness in my lips cracking at the corners.

“Was.” Past tense.

The belt nodded.

The waitress came over.

“Thought I saw a pianer in the back of your wagon! Where you going?”

“No place now with Winter dead.”

“You know Winter?”

“Sort of.”

“Maybe you could play here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Get you another beer?”


The waitress’s flabby arms were bare and protruding from her white T-shirt. The shirt was emblazoned with a big, dark brown nut, like a walnut, on the front, with a black, bushy-tailed squirrel sitting on top, tilting a mug of draft into its mouth. The shirt had “Squirrels ‘n Nuts” printed in a brown arc above the squirrel’s black head and was tucked into her blue denims. A dark brown table-wiping cloth, tucked into her left rear pocket, flagged her ass for bulls.

“Well, that’s it, Sheila. That’s it.”

“What did you say?”

The waitress is back, her dark brown rag table-wiping in front of me. Left hand lifting glasses. And ashtrays. I have two now. Can smoke with both hands. Maybe get two mouths. One for cocks and one for cunt. Her bare arm brushes against mine. I see her. Baby-blue-belt now. With silver western buckle.

“No place like home,” I said.

“That’s what they say, don’t they,” she said.

I want to play “Georgia.”


Sheila’s cat sits on the piano. Four opened pages of white sheet music sit on the opened key cover. There’s a large, palm-like plant growing in the corner of the room and the rug is green. Room-wide windows open in front of me, looking out from the apartment’s living room, out onto Sheila’s balcony. It’s hot. I see Sheila through the window. She’s sitting in one of those high-backed brown wicker chairs you get for patios. A yellow bandana is holding her hair back behind her head. She’s had a perm. The curls struggle, intertwining on top of each other, a mass of coils pressed together.

I press the piano keys. Smooth, white ivory under my finger tips.

Georgia, Georgia no peace I find…”

The words change. 

“Sheila, Sheila…”

The rhythm rides. 

A flycatcher-on-the-wing. 


Soaring away. 

With the melody.

Sheila coughs on the balcony.


“The cat was on him when we found him. Laying across his chest flat with his feet stretched out pointing down Winter’s boots. 

Thought the cat was dead too. Somebody should’a checked on him ‘cept Winter was like that. Would come and go. Never knew about Winter. Sometimes wouldn’t see him for months. Always like that. Somebody should’a checked on him. Aint right somehow. You want the cat? Was Winter’s cat. Bin fed an’ all. New food in the cupboard. The dead smell’s gone. Cat nearly dead when we found him. Was the smell told us he was dead. He’s in the ground here till you decide what you want to do. No stone. Take him home if you like. You can do that. So, do ya’ want the cat or not? Key and papers in the envelope here. Said you was a musician. That true?”

I nodded. “I’ll take the cat,” I said.

The belt walked out between the back-lit pillars covered in grey, hand-stuck-on stucco that held up the building. A flat brown envelope lay flat on the table in front of me, and I could feel the key pressing out from the inside, and under my fingers sliding lightly across the envelope. 

“Georgia… Georgia…”


“Come on cat.” I picked up the black-and-white cat, cradled my arm, and held the cat against my side. I could feel the cat’s warm body pressing heat against my ribs. “You’re heavy, cat.”

Outside, the bright sunlight hit like lasers penetrating my eyes. I blinked. Repeatedly. Clearing the scorch. Allowing my eyes to adjust. No hand-gobbed, stucco-covered pillars out here. Just cracked sidewalk, me, and the cat, and the envelope.

I pass a drug-store. Variety store. Shoe store. And a small grocery with vegetables on tables in front.

At the corner, there’s a grey steel pole with a white metal sign and black, raised letters: Winchester Street 202 to 286.

I turn the corner. White picket fences. No higher than my knee. Housing in rows. Small yards. Short verandas. Massive, gnarled maples split the yards. White fences stop at the trees.

The road is paved, tapering down to the gutter from the middle hump. The heat is there. Rising. Above the asphalt. Clear heat. You can put your hand in.

I turn into 214. The walk is made of two-foot-square patio stones. There’s the grey enamel veranda. Green trim. The front window is full of plants and there is a white lace curtain behind the plants. Light brown front door. There is a window in the door. A brass door knocker the shape of a horseshoe. Below the brass door knocker there are four tarnished, brass-coloured name-plates.


I turn the handle. The door opens into a long corridor. Brown stairs at the end.


I set the cat down and climb the stairs. The banister is slatted. There’s a large cylinder at each end of the staircase with a softball-sized wooden ball on the top. The stairs are painted green like the porch trim, and have brown, plastic mats nailed into each step. Fine ridges in the mats. The house is quiet, and the air inside is thick with the heat.


The cat follows.


Up the stairs, I turn right and go down the hall. Two pebble-surfaced, black plates. A 2-A nailed to the door. No nameplate.

The cat walking limousine-like brushes against my legs, making figure-eights between my legs.

I break the seal on the envelope and remove the key. A normal house key. Thick with finely cut edges. I insert the key into the round receptacle below the doorknob.

The cat rushes in ahead of me and goes straight for the water dish beside the fridge. Winter’s apartment is one large room. The dead 

smell is not gone, only masked. I smell Lysol. The window overlooking the street is open. There’s a pull-out couch along the left wall. I sit on it.

Sixteen years and I am here again. I throw the brown envelope across the room. What the hell am I supposed to do now? Pack up his stuff? Sell it? Jesus. Twenty hours from Biloxi. My last gig. Shit, Sheila.


“You Blake?” A fat lady in a grey-and-pink, flowered cotton dress is standing in the doorway.

I nod.

“He died smiling, son. He went smiling. That’s all I kin say. Some don’t. Winter did. He went that way, smiling.”

"You know him well?”

“Twenty-seven years he lived here. He was quiet. Never know he was in or out ‘cept for the footsteps on the rug when he went to the fridge, or water runnin’ in the pipes when he took his shower. Kep’ to hisself. We don’ press in these parts. Man wants ta keep ta hisself thas the way he wans it. We don’ press. Always paid his rent ahead.  No trouble dat way. Paid up to end of the year now. No trouble. Weren’t never no trouble. An’ he had a smile on his face when we found him. Boys took him out real quick cause o’ the smell. I saw a smile on his face, so I did. Lips creased up at the corners the way they always did when ya said sumpin’ dat amused him, an’ his eyes would twinkle like a Christmas tree. Bad smell. Couldn’t see no eyes. Boys closed ‘em. Saw the smile though. You kin stay here if’n you want to. Paid up till end of the year, so he is. No trouble. Winter never was no trouble.”

“I won’t be here long.” And I felt the death-chill come from the centre of the room.

“The cat’s yours if ‘n ya want it. Got my own cat. Somebody’s got ta take the cat.”

We both look at the window-sill with the cat stretched out across the sill, and the cat’s tail hanging down along the wall, flicking slightly, and facing us, and the cat’s face squinted into the room where the light was not so bright, and the Lysol smell covered the death smell where Winter was still in the room, and quiet, and in the ground with no marker ‘n case you want to take him home.

I looked around the room. There was an old, console-style stereo against the wall beside the couch. Black headphones with a curling, black cord winding itself to a straight, silver male plug were on the stereo. End-tables, with gold-green lamps with dark shades and gold fabric trim on the tops and bottoms of the shades, held magazines stacked neatly on their lower shelves. A card table and four collapsible metal chairs were across from the kitchen counter and small white, rectangular fridge, and two-burner, apartment-size stove. A light, pine-coloured buffet with a sliding glass front and shelves filled with books stood against the other wall behind the dining table in the corner, away from the window. Along the wall behind me, a door led to the bathroom and the shower, and a small clothes closet. I could see the books in the buffet were old.

I get up from the couch. “The cat can stay. I’d like to be alone now.”

The fat lady in the grey-and-pink, flowered cotton dress leaves, and the cat leaves the window-sill and pads across the rug to the couch, hops onto the flat cushions and hops again to the back, and curls up in the far corner. The cat closes its eyes and sleeps.

I go to the buffet in the corner. Open the top left drawer. Winter’s papers. Born 1920. I flip through his papers. A picture. A black-and-white snapshot with jagged edges from an old Brownie box camera. Winter is a lot younger. The date is hand-printed down the side in blue ball-point pen: 1957. He’s standing in the front yard of a small row-house with a low, white, picket fence around the front lawn. He has no shirt on and is standing talking to another man. The other man has on glasses and he has wavy, blondish hair. He and Winter look about the same age. There’s a baby carriage in the background. A white mosquito-net, fastened with wooden clothes-pegs, covers the carriage. A woman is sitting on the porch. An old woman, with a veil on her head, behind. I flip the picture over onto the buffet ledge. I pull out more papers. Bank books. Cancelled rent cheques. Old airline tickets. Paris. Rome. London. New York. Toronto. Madrid. Always for two. In the back corner, a letter-size book. Bound in leather. Inside a brown manila envelope, I find statements from Brown, Smith, and Kozak Publishing Co. The receipts date every year back to 1950. What looks like book titles are listed on each receipt. There’s a dollar amount beside the titles. A total at the bottom. An uncashed cheque for seventeen thousand dollars payable to W.H. Adams. I look at the book spines on the buffet shelf. W.H. Adams runs down the spines. The books are mysteries.

Sheila never said anything about this. 

Dammit. Sheila.

I go to the phone on the table by the couch. The cat is still sleeping. It opens one eye as I sit down.

And fuck this. What the hell am I supposed to do with this? This is going all to hell and I don’t know what the fuck to do with it except to keep on and take my chances and see what happens, dammit. I’m fucking up on this shit. What the fuck. What the fuck. What the fuck. And I don’t know what I’m gonna do about this. It is dead. And so is Winter. Dead. Gone. Gone for. Gone. Gone. For the winter, Winter. Why did you have to die? Leave me? Why, Winter? It’s too much. I don’t desire this, you know. So what if I was your son. Sheila told me. She told me, Winter. I’ve known all these years, Winter. You’re dead. Okay. Sheila’s dead. But, gawd, I’m so lonely.


And my arms are dead too. I can’t play, Winter. Not anymore. My ears are dead, Winter. My arms are dead. Like you. Without the dead smell. The smell is gone.



Winter had always been mostly a name to me. Sheila had talked about him. About how they used to spend a lot of time together, and how they wrote letters back and forth, and how he sent her daisies. Sheila never worked. The daisies were sometimes dried, flattened, flower daisies, and other times the daisies weren’t flower daisies, but were cheques. Cheques from Winter to look after her and to help look after me. When I was young, she said my father got killed in the war, and that Winter helped her out after that. My father was Winter’s best friend, she said, and that’s what Winter had promised he would do if anything happened to his friend. So the daisies came like clockwork. Every six months. Cheques made out to Sheila Armstrong. Sheila never had to work. She looked after me. Painted a little. Read books by W.H. Adams, and often had stacks and stacks of papers she went over with a pencil.

I went back downstairs and out onto the street. I turned back towards the hotel to go to my station-wagon. I opened up the back and took out my keyboard, my small practice amp, and my suitcase. The one with the brown leather shoulder-strap and zip-side pockets. I kept my shaving-cream, soap, deodorant, spare razor blades, tissue, and blank sheet music, and a binder full of charts in the case. I took the keyboard and suitcase back to Winter’s apartment, and set up in his living-room in front of the window where the cat was sitting now. I unfastened my keyboard’s legs, screwed them into their sockets, hooked up the amplifier, removed my headphones from the leather bag, took out a binder of sheet music, and set it on the metal music rack above the keys.

I turned to “Cat’s Cradle” and began the slow, melodic rhythm first, and slowly eased into the melody line with my right hand.


“What kind of pianer’s that? Don’t make no sound.” Dianne from the bar was hollering at me. I flicked a switch and the amplifier blasted out at her.

“You kin play, fella. Sure you don’ wanna play in at Nuts? Pay’s six a week, meals, an’ room.”

“I’m thinking about it.”

“So this is Winter’s place. Nobody ever got up here ‘cept the shy-boys.”

“The what?”

“The shy-boys. The boys Winter useda bring up here from Nuts. You a shy-boy? Blake weren’t it?”

Getting the drift. “No, I’m not a shy-boy.” I hit a Dm7 and then an Em7 chord. “Tell me about Winter. What was Winter like?”

“Quiet. Always came into Nuts Friday nights looking for nuts when he was in town.”



“Never heard them called that before.”

“That’s what we call ‘em here.”

“So Winter used to come in every Friday?”

“Yup. They say when he went lookin’ for cock he came to Nuts.”

“So he was gay.”

“Didn’t act like it, but folks says he was. Only ever bin seen with one woman ‘round here. Tall one. Redhead. Always wore a yellow bandanna in her hair. When he was with her there weren’t no shy-boys hangin’ roun’. Jus’ him an’ the redhead. Jus’ talked. Not much else. Jus’ talked. Never danced or nothin’. So you wanna play Friday at Nuts or what? You kin let us know Thursday. We’ll put a sign out.”


Cat sits on my arm. I want to go home. The phone rings.

“You the pianer player?” It’s Dianne.


“Want to play at Nuts tomorrow? Got a new girl.”

“Can she sing?”

“A little… You kin bring the cat. Cat kin sit in Winter’s seat.”


Time for the funeral. I’m coming home, Winter. I’m coming home.


The belt is in front of me. Dianne, the waitress , is behind me, and the girl is in front of me. Take your clothes off, girl, and make us proud. End of the line, Jake.


Everyone’s gone.

Just me and the cat.


I wipe the wet drink spills from the top of the keyboard. I want to play “Georgia”, but I can’t. My fingers won’t press the keys. My ears are gone and my fingers are frozen.




“Georgia… Georgia…”

“No Peace…”

The words start to come.


I let them come.


NOTES: GEORGIA ON MY MIND. Words and Music by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell. Copyright © 1930 by Peer International Corporation. Copyright renewed. International Copyright Secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.