“Raymond, is that you?” A familiar-looking man lifted his shades to inspect me further.
I took a step back and pulled the saxophone I was carrying closer to my chest. The instrument was my crucifix to repel those who wished to intrude on the privacy of my post. It was a good spot, parcelled off to the side of a thoroughfare that led right to the downtown mall.
“Raymond! It is you. It’s me, Owen. We were at Sullivan ampersand McKenzie at the same time.” He gestured toward himself, expecting some reaction from me.
I knew him all right—a haunt from my former life. I stared at him blankly, hoping my face didn’t belie my recognition.
His smile dropped almost imperceptibly. “We worked together on the Hatterman case…remember?”
“Donate or leave.” I gestured to my saxophone’s open case on the ground. Inside lay a couple crumpled dollars weighed down with quarters, nickels, and the occasional penny.
He hesitated and leaned in as if he were sharing a secret. “Is everything okay? Look, if you need some help, we’d love to have you back at the firm.”
I gestured to the case again and drew up my mouthpiece. His face lost a tinge of exuberance as he realized he had made a mistake in recognizing me. Owen asked me something else, but I drowned out his incessant inquiries with the soothing tunes of my soprano saxophone. A dash of red struck across his cheeks as I puffed out the notes to “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” He muttered something and slowly receded into the passing flow of zombies.
I had already forgotten what he looked like amongst the sea of indistinguishable faces. All of them milled about their day-to-day, merely carrying out the motions of their lives. I used to be like them. I used to tumble in the breeze, lighter than a feather, a victim to a world dictated by others. Very much like…damn, I already forgot my old colleague’s name.
I tried to recall it, but the music overrode my thoughts. Music was the only thing that mattered. I lost myself to the process, concentrating on keeping my fingers close to the keys and letting my training command my motor skills. Something awakened in me every time I played. A momentum of feelings ballooned within, my sax its only outlet.
As I relaxed into my musical trance, a violent shadow passed so fleetingly ‘cross the sun.
The majestic life embedded in her eyes tugged at my soul. The laugh lines on her forehead and around her cheeks crinkled, and my heart swelled at having helped to create them. Her soul brimmed with the force of life, and I shared that shine with her.
Awareness shrank to just us. She lingered with me and the music. I channeled the warmth of her presence through my skinny horn.
As I came to the end of the song, my entire being yearned to play forever. The end meant our connection would wane. But for this moment, I honored Greta. I reminded death that even though it put up a good fight as it tried ripping us apart, it was fucking with the wrong hearts.
I closed my eyes while I played the last note, unable to endure saying goodbye to not just my lover or best friend, but to my soul mate.
She was gone again. I sensed the others around me instead of the weight of her presence. I heard the shuffle of people’s feet, the hydraulics to the kneeling city buses, and the pigeons taunting their aerial freedom with the flapping of their wings.
When I opened my eyes again, the wetness blurred the faces of those staring at me. A few dropped money in my case. No one met my gaze while doing so. “I’m not a freak show,” I wanted to yell out. Yes, I appreciated their charity, but I didn’t appreciate the silent, sidelong glances.
After the sun dried the wells of my eyes, the gawkers moved on—the moment passed. But I didn’t play for them. I played for my memories. I played to remember all that I’d lost. Every day I came here to play and see Greta. I was never sad for long because she was still mine. Nobody would ever know her like I did, and that was why I called her my baby.