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The Memory

June 7, 2009

The man strolled around the musty antiques shop because, like many other middle-aged men bound by marital ties, his wife had dragged him there. So he wandered through the shop’s maze of shelves, which bore an array of jumbled trinkets and knickknacks. Was any of this junk ever useful? It’s hard to believe, he thought to himself as he eyed a collection of figurines, although he had had his share of useless trash. The smell of the place surrounded him like a living being, and it reminded him of his grandmother’s house, now long gone. It was the scent of objects that had collected too many years of dust and called to be taken up again, to be put to use once more.

From somewhere in the back of the shop came the din of an old record player, floating toward him. It was playing lighthearted Dixie jazz, “Like they used to play it in New Orleans,” he mumbled to himself. He unconsciously gravitated toward the sound.

A slight glance to his left brought him to an abrupt halt. There on a shelf amongst the odds and ends lay a rectangular instrument case. He was silenced by his transfixion. His eyes never left the case’s black leathery surface as he walked slowly toward it. The rusty latches resisted his touch and made a slight clink as he opened the case. There, in that velvet-lined treasure chest laid a tarnished gold-colored saxophone. His mind was rushing as he reached his dark hand toward the instrument, and when his skin made contact with the surface, his memories flooded over him, washing away every other thought.

He looked out from the small stage into the shabby nightclub. Through the darkness he saw clusters of wooden tables surrounded by men with afros and women adorned with floral dresses, their black hair swept up into headscarves, or teased up to an enormous size. Their chatter filled the hazy air. They came to escape from a faraway war. They came to escape from the lack of civil rights. Outside, there were struggles for peace and for power. The culture was the counterculture. But inside it was just them, and they knew were beautiful because their skin shone dark like the night.

The man’s young eyes glanced over at his friend who sat at the upright piano, cuing him to begin. The upbeat groove rolled throughout the darkened room, drifting through the air to mingle with the myriad of voices. The man’s saxophone gleamed in the spotlight as he took it up, filled his lungs with smoky air, and began to play. In that moment, he was the embodiment of Soul. The gospel-funk, which was popular in that time, drew in the listeners in the club, and when he began his improvised solo, all the dark yet gleaming eyes in the room were on him. He closed his eyes and let the music take over his fingers, which ran up and down the saxophone’s padded keys with soft but quick thunks that accompanied the instrument’s distinct sound. The brassy music was the breath in his lungs, the beat of his heart. They gave each other life.  He was not in this world over the next few minutes—or was it an hour? A day? He finished, and there was a wave of applause. He and his piano accompaniment looked at each other with gleaming smiles, smiles born of the joy that comes only after one experiences the creation of something beautiful. “Nice work,” the man mouthed to his friend, words that contained more than themselves, and he nodded in return. And the man looked down at his saxophone, which seemed to smile as well.

The memory ended, and he was in the antiques shop again. He was looking down at that aged instrument, suddenly remembering. He closed that treasure chest, set the latches back in place, and carried it back toward the front of the store. With just a few minor repairs, it would play almost like new. Though it had been many years since he had picked up to play such a treasure, he knew that with practice he would be able to play like he once had, and return to that state, that love, where the world fades away and all that is left is the music.

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