Jarret McClough

Contributor: Alex Grover

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He was a prominent clarinetist of the 1940s, and in another life and time he was as famous as Elvis.
Jim, eighteen-years-old in 1943, loved what people called “McClough jazz,” elevated songs that stayed sincere with simple grace. Jim wasn’t rare; Jarret McClough was a household name. His music helped people through the war when their sons and fathers had died in combat. When the war ended, people remembered how McClough had gotten them through and they celebrated him and his music for the next ten years.
But, in the nature of celebrity, McClough’s fireworks banged and gumble-hoed; by 1960, he was a name only. Although living, Jarret McClough was forgotten. Jim, thirty five by then, married, working at an office in Wilmington, had forgotten him too—until he found McClough playing in his closet in the middle of the night.
At first Jim thought it was a joke, that his wife Tori had set up a record player in the bedroom closet to spark some old memories. But the music was live, and when Jim opened the closet door, he found Jarret McClough, donned in a suit and tie, wailing on his legendary clarinet.
“What the hell?” Jim gasped. “Mr. McClough? What are you doing here?”
The clarinetist gave no reply and continued to play.
Jim had been a dreamer when he was a kid, but the office had dulled his imagination. He was sullen most times, bored, tired: he was the embodiment of disaster to be. However, in those moments of discovery, Jim became happy again, to see the war-hero clarinetist in his closet playing for him, playing almost for remembrance. The couple didn’t bother to call their neighbors with the news; who would believe them? Not to mention if the neighbors did believe them, why share such a miracle?
That night, Tori hadn’t seen him smile so much since their wedding two years before. The music was beautiful.
It was like this the second night too.
And the third night as well.
The fourth night was a little different. The music was giving Jim a headache, despite its beauty, and he kindly asked this form of Jarret McClough to stop. But he wouldn’t. He continued playing. Jim wanted the clarinetist out, but Tori insisted that McClough would fade away, as all things do.
They slept in the living room for the next week, and every night, though Tori assured otherwise, McClough kept at his clarinet.
At the end of the week, Jim was furious.
“I’m sick of him! I’ll call Ted and Jan to see what they think.” Ted and Jan were normal people, and Jim considered their opinions with high regard. So he called, and Jan picked up.
“There’s something odd in our closet,” Jim said.
“Oh no,” Jan replied. “You too?”
Jim walked over with Tori, and found Jan with Ted attempting to escort another Jarret McClough out of their closet.
“We’ve tried this several times,” Ted said. “He keeps reappearing.” As soon as Ted had taken Mr. McClough out of the room, his body disintegrated and magically teleported back into the closet. And, of course, he was still playing.
After several bouts of telephone calls, the two couples realized that Jarret McClough was in the closets of the other neighbors as well. Ted called Mayor Bumbridge and he, too, reluctantly admitted that McClough was in his closet. He said he didn’t want to know how the public—or the press—would react.
It turns out that the whole nation had been too nervous to talk about their “McClough epidemic” as the masses called it. The next morning it hit the papers. Community support groups branched all over the country. Anti-McClough Censor Bureau arose to banish the music. It was a strange time in that America.
Months after the epidemic hit the nation (and it only hit the United States—no one else in the world cared about Jarret McClough, let alone heard of him), no one knew what to do. Some argued that the Soviets had somehow secretly installed high-tech gizmos that terrorized the good American people. McClough, having helped Americans in World War II, was now going to be the cause of World War III. Tori, pregnant, cried every night listening to the perpetual clarinet, knowing that the jazzman had cometh and was to reap her country dry.
One day in 1960, the real Jarret McClough, old, eons old, came out of hiding, called the president, and planned a televised speech on Washington. The McClough Speech drew thousands to D.C. to hear what the ancient clarinetist had to say about the plague of himself.
For an hour, Jarret went on in a low and raspy voice about his life. He told them about his rise in fame and his inevitable, bitter decline. He told them about his wonderful marriage and about his wife’s death and his ongoing legacy through his five children. He told them what the average day entailed for Jarret McClough, that sometimes he listened to his records. At the end of that hour, he told the audience he was sad they were miserable because of him, and that he had a solution: he told the crowd (and the rest of the nation that watched) that because they finally knew the tiniest details about him, knew him for what he was, their misconceptions and idealistic imaginings would disappear. And, almost instantly after the speech, almost all of the Jarret McCloughs went away, and the nation rejoiced McClough’s name once more.
Jim and Tori successfully had their son, enjoying a nice life with Ted, Jan, and the other neighbors in finally quiet suburbia.
Yet, there was one McClough double left—though this was nothing new. He tirelessly performed every night, every waking moment, for an old man with old musician’s hands, who had heard himself in his own closet ever since he learned the clarinet, who had watched his aspirations linger there even after his prime, whose double would never disappear.

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Alex Grover is a third-year student at Rowan University, having been published in Outrageous Fortune, Postcard Shorts, Trapeze Magazine, and 50 Word Stories. He is editor-in-chief of Avant, Rowan's literary magazine, as well as Yorick Magazine, an online venture he began with Cody Steinhauer in 2011. www.yorickmagazine.com
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