Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Saxophone Man's Soul

An oldie, but a goodie. Appropos for today. Was originally written out of love for the humanity of an old musician. :)

The Saxophone Man sits on a lawn chair at the corner of Desperate and Lost. His tarnished instrument points the way to Heaven and his music weeps for a tormented soul. Cottony white hair is both a crown on his ancient head and a frame for his weary face. He hauls himself to this corner daily seeking deliverance from the pain -- his song both a petition and a warning.
Most days, passersby look away and atone for their happiness by dropping money into his battered case. They listen to the sounds, but don't dawdle lest they catch what he suffers from. If they glance too long at his face and catch him looking up, Saxophone Man's gaze pulls them into his mournful red-rimmed eyes, revealing a spirit so tortured even music can't express the depths. Mostly though, Saxophone Man's liquid brown eyes remain downcast, painfully penitent as he plays.
Saxophone Man's skinny feet rattle around in his old shoes. Sensible socks cover his thin ankles. His faded jean legs are rolled up one time, six full inches, as if to avoid a sudden flood. Flood of what, is the question? Emotion? Memory? Pain? Only the Saxophone Man knows, and he's not talking. He wears a white cable knit sweater, an incongruous artifact of days gone by and a more genteel life somewhere—else. His arthritic fingers dance familiar steps on the keys of his instrument. His right foot taps in time. One. Two. Three. Four. 4:4 time.
The blues. Saxophone Man plays them, plays them for a fool. Lays them down and makes them beg. Lays them down and makes sweet love to those blues, loves them till they're crazy from love and for love. Then he leaves those blues, leaves them alone and hurting. Leaves them crying. Leaves them begging for him to come back, but he never comes back.
But when Saxophone Man plays the blues, people gather. They can't help themselves; his blues grabs them and holds them and refuses to let go. The notes weave, first circling the people's heads in swirling, teasing clouds of introduction then invitation. The notes whisper in the people's ears, promising love, promising passion, promising the world—if just for a little while. The people let the notes into their souls, let the music flow to their innermost private parts where it touches them in places no one's ever been before.
The people close their eyes—to keep them open is an insult, a sin. And the music swells within the people, growing larger and larger, filling the people, crowding their hearts, pulling at their tears--pushing them out until the people want to stop listening or risk losing their souls. And even then, the people cannot break the spell.
Saxophone Man keeps blowing his horn. It whispers. It wails. It whines and cajoles. Magic flows from its mouth, magical music that resonates within the very cells of the people. The music spreads like a fog, thick and heavy. It swirls around the people's heads and cloaks them in its spell. The people breathe in the music-fog, their lungs fill to the brim with the hum. The music seeps into the people's bloodstreams and resonates all through the people's bodies until every fiber is full and overflows and they exhale the leftover notes. The power pulls the people in, it draws them like moths in an endless night to the promise of a flame. It holds them tightly like a lover. People who walk too near get seared by the heat and sanctified by the sound.
When the sun sinks below the skyline, the keening stops and Saxophone Man sucks thin brown nectar from a dented silver flask until it's as empty as his soul. He gathers the money--dimes and quarters and wrinkled dollars--and lays his horn to rest in its battered black case, then plods back to Hell, toting the lawn chair under his arm.
One foggy morning, a girl-child appears from the shadows. She wears a frock of vivid colors, blues and purples and greens and oranges and reds. At first she sways imperceptibly then her slender body flows and becomes one with the notes. She dances unselfconsciously, leaping and spinning on the sidewalk in front of the park bench.
Saxophone Man plays to his Muse. His long, gnarled but nimble fingers find a song never heard before in this world. He teases and cajoles the instrument until an avalanche of ecstasy bursts forth that lifts the old man's spirit. Tears stream down Saxophone Man's full mocha cheeks as his heart fills with joy. His soul is redeemed.
A crowd forms. No one wants to miss this miraculous moment, the flawless marriage of lyrical dance and perfect accompaniment. Each observer hopes the music will never end.
The girl-child's footsteps are so light they don't contact the cement. She floats on the notes themselves and dances on their vibrations.
Saxophone Man's foot slaps in time with the music. His floppy shoes keep a strange side-to-side rhythm. Perspiration drips off his wooly old head and saturates his thin blue cotton shirt as the music rises heavenward. His red-rimmed eyes roll back in his head. His chest swells and empties like a bellows.
Still, he blows his horn.
A zephyr from the East glides in and dances with the notes. A white man with dreadlocks and a shirt that proclaims "Jah Know" puffs on a clove cigarette. Its smoke joins the breeze and melds with the music.
The girl-child is now only a colorful blur, a riot of rainbows, her features indistinguishable. She is pure motion and emotion at the same time. Saxophone Man blows a note with no beginning and no end – an enduring resonance of joy. Onlookers dare not breathe. Time ceases and nothing moves but the indistinct dancing form and Saxophone Man's blurry brown fingers and tapping foot.
The reed splits, rending the endless perfect note, and the man slumps forward. He crumbles onto the cracked sidewalk; the saxophone buckles beneath his weight.
The girl-child's blurry form shimmers and fades away.
The people stare. The people are lost. The music stopped too unexpectedly; they cannot keep up. They cannot reply, respond, react in time. Cosmic sound still rings in the people's ears. The silence is too complete, too awful to absorb, too terrible to consider.
A hooker with dilated pupils skitters forward on neon green heels and drops a rumpled bill in Saxophone Man's case. "Thass beautiful, man," she says, and aimlessly stumbles away.
A thick woman in a khaki trench coat punches keys on her cell phone and calls for an ambulance. She knows the City won't hurry for an old black street musician. She knows the ambulance will pull in at a placid pace, its flashing lights belying its traveling speed. She knows the workers will go through the motions when they arrive, but they won't make the effort. She knows she just witnessed Saxophone Man's last concert. This knowledge, this realization of the way things are catches in her throat and a choked sob escapes. She swallows it back down.
"I don't know his name. He's the old Saxophone Man who plays every day in front of the stadium. Please, hurry. I don't think he's breathing . . ."
As the power of the music fades, its spell ceases and releases the people and one-by-one they drift away, back to their work and their homes. They are changed, and unchanged. They have witnessed a miracle but most remain unaware.
Unobserved by the dwindling crowd, the girl-child gracefully extends her hand. Saxophone Man's spirit reaches out and grasps it.
Together, they soar.

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