He stood eyes closed and let the notes wash over him as he leaned against the wall, a Diet Coke hanging from one hand. He barely allowed her to speak when she arrived. “Take it out and play something,” he said. She complied. First came the stomper, now crooned the ballad. It threatened to lull Mickey to sleep, or so it seemed to Sonja as she entered the final crescendo. But as soon as the last flourish faded into the high ceilings of Mickey’s condo, his eyes popped open. He brought the can to his face and took a final swig.
“Good,” he said, “that’s good.” He walked around into the kitchen area of his great room. “Let’s go for a walk, OK? It’s cooled off enough. Should be nice.” Sonja looked lost. “Just leave you horn on the sofa. It’ll be alright.”
He tossed his can in the recycling bin and went to the door. Sonja soon joined him. They exited.
She had taken the Blue Bus into Venice, and then walked the narrow side streets to Mickey’s address. A white duplex, he said, with a carport to the left of the walkway. Now she was leaving again, only without her ax. They crossed a busy street and continued down a narrow alley. The beach and boardwalk loomed ahead.
“This is why I live here,” he said. “The sunsets.”
When they reached the boardwalk, its bustling activity gave way to the nightly sky show brought on by the colors of the setting sun over the waves of the Pacific. They stood behind a little wall that separated the boardwalk from the bike path. Boarders and bikers whizzed by while strollers held hands, their faces turned westward.
“I never miss it,” Mickey said.
Sonja had skated Venice before with friends. She had never been there during twilight, though. Frisky tongues and hands came out at that hour. Besides, she and her girlfriends usually went up to Santa Monica for dinner. Somehow the sunsets just sort of happened, a backdrop to their activities, never the main event. Even now, she seemed more interested in looking at Mickey’s reaction. Then he said, “That’s the real music, that out there. We’re just imitating what nature does for a living.” That caused her to turn her head and watch as the colors mingled and deepened with the close of the day.
They walked down the boardwalk for a bit, taking in the last of the late summer color. Friday evening and the day’s heat brought out the bodies and characters, as colorful as the sky show. They stopped to watch a man dressed in silver loins, jewelry, and bells around his ankles play hard on the violin. Even the roller-skating guitar player stopped his troubadouring and lingered at the edge of the crowd.
Sonja couldn’t take her eyes off of his outfit, or lack there of, but Mickey nodded his head with the pulsation of the music. When the violinist stopped, the whole crowd erupted. Some poured money into his case. Mickey went up to him. Sonja stared as he embraced the man.
“You know him?” she asked as they walked away from the crowd.
“Oh yeah, we played together in Central Park once. If you want a challenge, try keeping up with his playing.”
She turned her head. The violinist started playing another piece, just as wild as the one before. She stopped for a second. It was the ballad she had played for Mickey earlier.
“You want something to drink?” he asked as they reentered his place. He went straight to the fridge to get another Diet Coke.
“Just water, please,” she said.
“So you got Rick as a music teacher, huh?”
“He runs the jazz band at Hamilton.”
“And he don’t let you solo, huh?”
She sat on one side of his counter and he on the other.
“Does he say why?”
Sonja sort of rolled her eyes and her lip curled a bit. “He just likes the boys better, that’s all,” her voice trailing off at the end.
“Uh-huh.” Mickey made a slurp and put his can down. “Are you the only girl in the band?”
“I’m the only one left. The only other one was Leticia, but she quit this year.”
“Uh-huh. What does she play?”
“You ever play with her?”
“I don’t know if she’s still playing. She sort of disappeared.”
“Call her. Get her to play with you. You two need to support each other. And you both can’t be the only girls in the school who play. Find each other, and start playing.”
“That’s why my dad said. But I told him I don’t want to be in a girl’s band. I don’t want to be segregated like that. Why should I?”
“So you can play. So you all can play. Look, I’m gonna tell you like it is. There are lots of Ricks out there, but you can’t let them stop you from playing. If you wanna play, play.” He got up and walked around the counter into the living room area. “He has his way of looking at things, but if ain’t what you’re about, then you need to move on. I’m not saying get out of the band. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t limit yourself because of his bullshit.” He put on a CD. Soon a baritone sax pumped out a hook. Then drums and more saxes joined in. The whole room pulsated with the sound. He brought the CD cover to her: women, all women.
“I’ve never heard of them.”
“They’re from Seattle. She’s a friend of mine,” he said, pointing to one of them.
Sonja’s head and feet got into it, tapping the air. Next thing she knew, she was putting down the cover and going to the sofa to grab her horn. She played along. Mickey nodded his head. When the track finished, and the next one started, she returned to the counter to drink more water, beads on her forehead.
“I liked that!” she said.
“I’ll rip it for you.”
“Real musicians just play. That’s all there is to it. Either you jive or you play. Those ladies know how to play.”
“And Rick jives?” she said, giggling at the antiquated slang she’s heard from her father so many times.
“He knows how to jive, yes. But if you get together with your friends, you guys can start something. Start busking like Sutekh does, maybe on campus or something.”
“The violin player.”
Her eyes hit a spot on the other wall, near the stereo. She walked over with her water. It was what she thought it was, a big pink bow and ribbon framed and behind glass.
“What’s that?” she said.
“Can’t you see? It’s a pink ribbon.”
“I mean, why is it framed?”
Mickey paused, even as the horns growled and moved over the stereo. His mind returned to the phone call with her father. Lionel beat around the bush. Their conversation, though rather short, seemed longer due to its numerous pregnant pauses. Mickey heard everything he wasn’t saying, every apology that wasn’t, every excuse that wasn’t. And when it came time to sign off, Lionel back-peddled. “At the end of the day, though, it ain’t about us, Mickey. It’s just…it’s about Sonja, alright? I just want to help Sonja see her full potential. Alright?”
Then whatchu call me for, you fool! he wanted to say, but didn’t. If it wasn’t for the past, our past, then why would you be calling me and begging me to see her? Instead, Mickey just yeah-uh-huh’ed him and hung up, rolling his eyes in the process. Lionel didn’t know that the ribbon sat so prominently in Mickey’s place. He never visited. Mickey knew Sonja would find it sooner or later.
“I’ll tell you about it some time,” he said.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.