Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Sallie Israel

Jelly Roll Lee lay on his back, feeling the springs of the bed through the thin prison mattress, staring upward.

In these brief moments after lights out, before his eyes adjusted to the dark, he liked to believe that there was no ceiling above him. That the space stretched out into an endless forever, instead of stopping abruptly at a cold concrete wall a few feet from where he lay.

He sighed, and rolled over to his side.

There was a familiar pulling ache in his fingers. They missed running up and down the neck of a guitar, dancing out a ballad on the frets.

He hadn’t held a guitar since that night he was busking on Beale all those years ago. He’d broken his across the face of punk who’d tried to snatch money out his case.

He’d never meant to hit him that hard.

Not hard enough to end up left with nothing but a life of jail time ahead of him.

He started to hum, using his mouth to make the sounds he heard in his head.

They could take away his freedom, wall out the light, but they couldn’t take away the music in his soul.

Memphis Note
Blues is sometimes referred to as the music of prison, likely because of its subject matter, and also because nearly every one of the early Delta bluesmen spent at least a few years of their lives behind bars.

Amanda Yarbro-Dill

“I don’t know what to say, Mister Church.”

The reverend, normally a verbally adroit man, was utterly unable to express what the paperwork spread across the table before him meant.

“I think ‘Yes’ or ‘Thank you’ is a generally accepted place to start, and please, call me Robert.” Robert Church was gathering up his copies of the documents, a smile on his face.

“This is just such a shock, sir. We’re a church. We’re not used to receiving charity. We’re used to giving it.”

“Who ever said this was charity? You’ll pay that loan back.”

The reverend flipped a few sheets of paper over and pointed to an empty section in the middle of the page.

“You left the interest rate blank, and the repayment period. I don’t know of any bank that does something like that.”

“We’re not any bank.” Church put his had on and extended his hand to the reverend. “The Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company was founded to help the black community in financial ways we couldn’t before, and keeping the Beale Street Baptist Church out of foreclosure seems right up our alley.”

The reverend gladly shook his hand. “I’ll see you on Sunday, Robert.”

Memphis Note
Robert Church was one of the most benevolent people to ever live in Memphis, and probably the first black millionaire in the South. Most of his giving was focused on bolstering the culture of the black community in Memphis. He also helped to found the first black-owned bank in Memphis since Reconstruction. If you ever need a role model, just look to him.

Alpha Newberry

The addict, crouched in a boarded up doorway half way up the street, eyed the two men warily. He probably wasn’t used to seeing people dressed this nicely in this part of town. Or anyone for that matter.

There was no reason to come down this way anymore. Beale was dead. The stores closed, the buildings boarded over, the music gone quiet. The birthplace of rock and roll was now a rotting corpse stinking up the rest of downtown.

One of the men kicked at a chunk of broken asphalt, mumbling to himself.

“I don’t know why you’re apprehensive about this.” Said the other man, an annoyed tone in his voice. “The City Council botched the last try at this so horribly, as long as the buildings don’t fall over we’ll be hailed as the saviors of downtown. We’ll be heroes.”

“And if we don’t pull this off, we’ll be ruined.” Responded his companion. “Just like all this.”

“C’mon. A little glitz and glam can go a long way toward fixing that. This place used to be a regular Sodom and Gomorrah. People want that again. They expect it. And we’ll be the ones collecting twenty percent when it does.”

Memphis Note
Beale Street has not always been the neon-lit and alcohol-fueled stretch we know today. For a large part of the 20th century, Beale was little more than a boarded up side street. The city bought the buildings in the 70s, but their attempt at urban renewal was an utter disaster. It wasn’t until the current management company took over in the early 80s that anything started to change for the better.

Scott Brown

He stiff arms the wooden door, pushing it open into the wet summer air, breath and anger mixing in his throat. Both upset at what’s happened and at himself for letting it affect him so.

He knows the hardest hits never come when you’re ready for them. That’s what killed Houdini, after all. Felled by a sucker punch to the gut when he wasn’t expecting it.

Just like how the scent of juniper in the in the fall coolness still reminds him of the lotion used by the first girl he ever made love to under an open sky. And how it completely disarms him to this day.

Or how a certain type of wood will glow in just a particular way when warmed to exactly the right temperature by the sun, leaving him utterly decimated in remembrance of a house that no longer exists, the special bed that was built for him there, and how good sleep was then.

As he stalks down the street, dodging the tourists, the barkers and the peddlers, he remembers all of those things, and more, now that he knows that kind of unprecedented heartache that comes from A. Schwab’s being up for sale.

Memphis Note
It’s true. After a hundred plus years of voodoo-tinged service, the building and business that A. Schwab occupies is up for sale. But, along with that comes a stark change to the voodoo corner and the cluttered attic-cum-museum of the half story landing. Change has finally come to the unchangeable.

Joe Leibovich

You’ve never know asphalt until you’ve run over it on a raw summer’s day in naught but bare feet. The jagged edges of rock and glass tearing into your feet; the searing heat cauterizing the wounds closed.

The pain gives knowledge, and the knowledge understanding.

“‘Til you are as hard as what you touch you are not done!”

This is the refrain of our clan. The refrain of the modern, urban ninja.

No longer bound to an ancient culture, we are freed to spread a hidden power, for hire to those who can pay.

As a boy, newly brought into the fold, I was amazed by the brazen openness of our secret.

So obscene, so obscure must the fact of our existence be to those that drop money into those pro-offered buckets that they simply dismiss us as acrobatic children with a braggart’s swagger.

Now, as I watch the next generation acrobatically twist through the air on Beale, tourist dollars filling their buckets, I know that with but a word I could command those children to kill everyone within eyeshot and the Mississippi would be tinted red for days.

But thus is the power of the Beale Street King.

Memphis Note
Every day down on Beale Street, there’s a squad of the most acrobatic kids you’ve ever seen. They spend their days flipping and twisting through the air, over cobble stone and asphalt, carting around a bucket between acrobatics for whatever tips you can spare. Check them out, drop a dollar in their bucket…or else….