Sonja didn’t tell her everything. She didn’t tell her about her father’s cackling. But she did tell her about the origin of the pink ribbon. She did mention Rick’s name. And she did tell her that Mickey met his late partner because he couldn’t get over the pink ribbon on Mickey’s horn as he played.
She told her these things on purpose, to see if it really was what it really was, about Leticia, about her and Leticia. Though in the end, the test was superfluous. Their meeting eyes and touching hands told her everything she needed to know. Still, it felt good to be able to talk about Mickey’s life with someone else.
“When you left the band,” Sonja said, “it was like . . . it just became another class, where before it had been fun.”
“Aw, what a sweet thing to say!”
They watched a DVD together that Mickey had lent to her, about women in jazz. He got it from a friend at Jazz 91 in San Mateo. Their fingers knitted into each other’s as they sat on Sonja’s bed with the lights off, the black and white picture glowing on their faces and the swinging sounds of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm rocking their ears.
“Do you have any of their stuff?” Sonja asked.
“On 78s, girl, from my great aunt! She knew one of them. That one there, playing the baritone.”
“I always wanted to try baritone.”
“You should! Then we can do ‘Saxhouse.’”
“They’re expensive. I can’t afford another horn.”
“Oh, just borrow Stan’s. I could sweet talk him into anything.”
I bet you could, Sonja thought.
Heads touched shoulders.
Sonja clicked with one or two of the guys, but too many of them were Rick clones. Leticia acted as their equal. They couldn’t touch her. And when she was still in class, she put Rick in his place in front of everyone, the worst sin possible.
How quickly Sonja tried to write Leticia out of her life after she left the band. She told everyone that Leticia disappeared or that she didn’t know how to reach her. All lies. They came too easily, the lies.
“That’s you!” Sonja said, pointing to the soloing trumpeter on the screen.
“I do not have hair like that,” Leticia said.
Sonja sucked her teeth. “But you play like that.”
“Nah. I wish I played like that.”
“Yes, you do.”
During the last visit, after he told the pink ribbon story, they went out to see the sunset again from Venice Beach. She watched it as intently as he did, no longer distracted by passersby or wondering why were they there. Then Mickey said suddenly, as the final limb of the sun ducked beneath the waterline, “A self-imposed lie can out shine the truth and make it disappear.” She didn’t know exactly what he meant at first, but asked no questions. Instead, she focused on the colors that lingered as the sun’s glare waned. In time, she understood.
“Mickey said his father told him that he had a double threat to live with,” Sonja said. “I guess we have a triple threat.”
“That’s right, sister. And that’s why we’ve gotta work five times as hard, and make it fierce.”
“Yes,” Sonja said. She snuggled closer.
A large, shady tree stood in a patch of grass next to one of the low-rising buildings on the far end of campus. That’s where they hung out with their horns. They stood next to each other, against the trunk of the tree, and started blowing. It took a minute to find each other and the notes they wanted. After a few tentative moments, they looked into each other’s eyes and went for it: Lee Morgan’s “The Gigolo” blew hard from both of their horns, sans rhythm section. Both maintained the harmonies set by Lee and Wayne Shorter. Then they backed each other up for a few choruses of solos.
As Leticia played, Sonja couldn’t take her eyes off of her. Her green tank top revealed the muscles in her sexy arms flexing and flowing as she held her trumpet. And when Sonja soloed, Leticia shouted “yeah, girl!” between the notes of the ride. When they finished, a group of hands clapped for them. They had no idea they had attracted such a crowd, so lost they had become in their own playing and each other. The tree’s shade and the tuffs of grass created an ideal setting for lunch-goers to hang out and listen to the sisters jam.
Sonja’s sax stayed in its case for the length of time it took to get from the shady spot to band class. She took it out and started fiddling with the mouthpiece unaware that Rick stood right behind her.
“When did you learn ‘Gigolo’?” he asked.
She turned around. “Oh, you know, I just like to play along with it at home.”
“Nice playing,” he said as he walked away.
Though his stiff body language stood at odds with what he said, Sonja took it as a compliment anyway. She couldn’t remember the last time he paid much attention to her playing. But the glow faded as class droned on. She fell back into her usual supporting role. How she missed Leticia. She would have given Rick some lip for ignoring her during class after telling her how nice she played at lunchtime. Sonja couldn’t think of anything, though. It wasn’t in her nature. Instead, she went up to Rick after class to ask a serious question.
“How about letting me and Leticia play at the show together?”
“Because, you said we sounded good.”
“Yeah, but the problem is Leticia isn’t in the band anymore, is she?”
“Mr. Lawson, we’ve had other guys come back for our shows when we needed them.”
“Right, to augment a part we needed. If you want to do a duet with a trumpet player, we got three others. Go play with one of them, and then we can talk, alright? I’m sorry, Sonja. I know you like Leticia, but the program is full enough as it is. I can barely fit in the enrolled students. There’s no need to add someone to the show who’s no longer in the class, is there?”
He always ended with his pronouncements with a question, the final flourish to demonstrate how logical he was and how stupid you were. Sonja turned her glare from Rick as he walked out of the room to the guys with their trumpets. She walked over to them.
“Heard you playing with Leticia at lunch,” Michael said.
“Yeah, sounded good,” Leon said.
“Thanks. Do any of you guys know ‘Gigolo’?”
“Naw,” Leon said, “I don’t do Lee Morgan.”
The conversation steered back towards something else, something else other than music, something else other than Sonja. She walked back to her case and packed her horn up. She left the room alone.
To be continued. . .
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.