I’ve always been a superstitious man. Even the horoscope in the Tribune or the fortune cookies at Wong’s Happiness Cafe can give me pause, and God knows how hungry I was for change that night at the Zebra Lounge when Bobby Smythe got shot.
Bobby was in town for two weeks. And every night, I went to watch him play. Usually, I’d stand in the back of the room near the bar, but that particular night I sat at a dinky round table smack dab in front of the bandstand. It was the next best thing to actually being in the band.
I hadn’t been playing for quite awhile. I’d been on the road and one night, driving to my motel after a gig, I got into a head-on collision and smashed my mouth on the steering wheel. I had to recuperate and take stock. I put my trumpet in the pawnshop. I had three or four students, and Mavis, the building manager, let me slide on the rent in exchange for doing the odd job. I wasn’t much of a handyman but I could paint and change light bulbs and fuses, which is really about all Mavis expected, and since I knew a little something about it, I volunteered to tend the garden.
To tell the truth, I had ideas of quitting for good and giving up this life as a musician. And doing what, I didn’t know. But I was tired of the struggle and I wasn’t even sure that I could play again. Every day, I ran my tongue along the scar inside my cheek. From the inside of my mouth, it felt like a piece of cardboard had been sewn in. There was still numbness in my lips, and a slight swelling. But the day was coming when I’d have to give it a try. Meanwhile, I’d been going into the clubs and watching the musicians carefully, especially the other trumpet players, the ones who had arrived so to speak, and none of them looked all that happy to me.
I’d seen Bobby twice that night on his breaks: once, out front, smooching on a flashy blond before sending her off in a cab––he was known to have more than one lady in the house who thought she was his––and a second time in the john, standing at a urinal trough taking a leak before going on for his last set. He gave it a shake, zipped up, and gave me a nod.
“Now you can say you saw Bobby Smythe’s dick,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. I’d been listening to the man’s music since I was in high school. I could play his solo on “Stella” note for note. It was the first time I stood so close to him. He was tall, eye to eye with me, I’d say, but with a thicker build. His lips were thicker too and he had big tabs of teeth with a gap between the two in front. You could see a bit of shine above his upper lip where the rim of the mouthpiece presses.
“Seen you before,” he said, as he washed his hands.
“Every night,” I said.
“Yeah? You a fan? Or you just trying to steal my magic?”
“Maybe both.” I said.
“You got a union card, kid?”
“Yeah, sure.” I liked that he called me kid, but I didn’t feel much like one. Bobby wasn’t all that much older than me.
“I’ll keep you in mind. I’ve got this big band thing coming up. You never know, maybe there’ll be a chair open,” he said. “Can you play?”
“I can play,” I said.
“Yeah? People say they can play. Then you find out they ain’t that heavy. Can you play the blues?”
“The blues? Yeah, sure. I can play the blues.”
“Can’t play unless you can play the blues.”
“I know what you’re saying,” I said, and I did. He wasn’t talking that stuff about feeling the blues––though there’s truth in that too––but having a certain vocabulary to draw from, and a way of hearing it as your own and making it come out fresh.
“Even if the tune ain’t a blues you got to find the blues that’s lurking in it,” he said.
Maybe I knew that too but I’d never heard it put like that. I was going to think about that one. But I wanted him to know I was on the path. “I’ve been listening a lot to that Prestige side with Miles and Sonny,” I said.
“Yeah? You know that one? Not a lot of cats know that one,” he said, and he scatted the first bars of Veird Blues, radiating pleasure. “And what about Sonny’s solo on Blue Seven? He’s roaring on that one! Hmm, hmm, hmm… I can’t tell if you’re a player or not till I hear you but at least you can dress. That’s half of it,” he said. He straightened my skinny silk tie and then gave that raspy laugh of his and pushed through the door to go out to the bandstand.
The set had already begun when Anitra walked into the club. She drew a bit of a hubbub so I looked over my shoulder to see what the trouble was, to quiet it down with my look if I could. People tell me I’ve got a good look for that. But she paid me no mind. She could only see Bobby on the bandstand standing in the light. I had no idea who Anitra was at the time. All I saw was a heavy woman draped in dark, layered clothes like it was winter. But this was a muggy night in July.
Bobby’s eyes were closed. He was playing a ballad and he was in the middle of one of those dreamy licks of his, an arch of aching notes. He paused. A whispery, silver note hung in the air. Some say it was the gap between his teeth that got him that sound. The corners of his mouth smirked, his nostrils flared as he drew fresh air, the mouthpiece still planted on his puckered lips.
You’d wonder how Bobby would finish a phrase like that, how he’d pull it off. He might dip down for one of those fat low notes he was famous for, and gurgle and splatter upward to a high moaning scream. He was nothing, if not the master of dramatic effect. Or he might just let it trail off. However he finished the phrase, it would be right. Complete. Surprising, but inevitable. That’s why you paid to hear Bobby Smythe. You knew you’d get satisfaction.
But this night it was Anitra who finished the phrase. From the corner of my eye I saw a shining as she raised a pistol from her purse. She fired one shot. Then two more. Can’t get more dramatic than that.
Bobby opened his eyes, but was likely dead when he fell back into the drum set, sending the cymbals crashing. Bobby’s horn fell forward slow motion onto the carpeted riser, catching the rim of the bell. The horn turned and rolled and rested within my reach.
People stood up, stupefied. A woman in the back wouldn’t stop screaming. The owner was quickly at Anitra’s side with both of his hands on her arm––maybe he had seen her when she came in and had already keyed in on her. But she made no resistance. He palmed her pistol and slid it into his pocket. He and another man kept her in their grip but she wasn’t trying to go nowhere. She stared at the men standing around Bobby’s body. Ray Flanner, the bass player, was on his knees, bent over Bobby like he might be able to save him. Then Ray stood up and looked out at the owner. You could see it in his face. No more Bobby Smythe.
I stood among the stupefied. Any minute, the cops would show. I’m not good around cops. Don’t like talking to them, don’t like waiting on them to bring more trouble. Bobby’s horn fetched my attention. I looked around the room. People were babbling at each other. Their eyes were on the scene around Bobby. On Anitra. Not on me. Not on Bobby’s horn. I snatched it up, put it under my coat and slipped out the door.
It was a scary good thing to have that horn. I felt tight excitement in my chest looking it over when I got back to my apartment. I kept seeing the glint off Anitra’s pistol, Bobby falling backward, the horn rolling forward, the look on Ray Flanner’s face. Bobby Smythe was dead. That just couldn’t be. But it was. Not only that, no more Bobby Smythe music! I lay the horn on my armchair and I put my favorite Bobby Smythe side, Traveler, on the turntable and I stared at his horn as the music played. I’d listened to that album over and over when I was a kid and now I was hearing it like it was brand new, and I cried. I drank whiskey and I stared into the outward flare of the brass bell, into the darkness inside. I nodded off. Somewhere in the night, a dream washed over me. I dreamed I was playing Bobby’s horn. I was standing in a big white room blowing long-tones. Big sounding, echoing.
The next morning, as soon as I saw the horn, I remembered the dream. I felt colorful, expectant, but was still afraid to touch the thing. I mean Bobby Smythe’s lips had pressed against that mouthpiece. I put on coffee and splashed whiskey into it. The morning paper waited outside my door. It briefly noted Bobby’s death and the way everything went down and rumored how he always played around on Anitra, a longtime acquaintance and sometime girlfriend. And how sad are the times, the writer moaned, when someone would steal a dead man’s horn. Of course I never thought about it exactly that way. Stealing. It was more like I was protecting it. I mean, who did I steal it from?
I studied Bobby’s horn once again. The lacquer had been stripped off yielding a dull brassy surface. He must have planned to have it worked on and refinished, but never got on with it. Maybe he liked the look of it that way. But pitted and shiny were the pressure places where his hands had held it so many times. We had acid in our sweaty palms, acid that ate right into the metal. We both had that. Our pale pink palms. Sometimes I’d seen him hold the trumpet with a handkerchief when he played. I remembered a Western bandana somewhere in my bottom dresser drawer. I found it and laid it across my left palm and picked the horn up and blew. All I could muster were puny, eerie sounding notes. I couldn’t tell if it was something about the horn or my feeble embouchure. I hadn’t played a lick in six months and I’d never in my life gone so long.
Mavis passed by and knocked on my door.
“What’s going on in there? You all right, Fred?”
“Everything’s okay,” I said.
“You got a student in there?” she asked “I thought we agreed no students until afternoon.”
I went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. My lower lip had already begun to redden and swell.
Oh yeah, that trumpet took getting used to. It had a bigger bore than mine for one thing, so it took a lot more air to fill it. And for sure it needed fixing. There’s a little crook of tubing that comes into play when you press the second valve down. Bobby’s right palm had rested on that crook and the salts from the sweat of his hand had caused erosion there and other places as well. His palm had worn the brass down so thin that it had crimped like foil, and a small hole perforated the tube. Now you had to press your palm against the hole just so to seal it, until you could get it patched.
Every day, I blew long tones. I didn’t know what would come of it and I was in a sort of fever the whole time, but in about ten days, a sound started to come together. Just like the one I heard when I dreamed I was standing in that big white room. I felt like I was blowing big bubbles of dark gold! Even Mavis rapped on the door and called in to say that I was getting better. It was excruciating that sound. To be able to make it. It made my hair tingle. And maybe anyone else who might have been listening. I have to admit, once or twice I thought Bobby might be.
Meanwhile, I had gone to Bobby Smythe’s funeral. It rained gently like it was supposed to. That was the first time I felt like a thief, standing there with the rain pattering on my umbrella. Bobby’s old friend and colleague, Johnny Bertolli, had put together a trombone choir and they assembled under a canopy. Great idea, great sound, all those trombones. Johnny took one of Bobby’s licks and stretched it out into a whole composition. People lingered afterwards talking. Some of the faces knew me and I knew some of them but I stayed on the edge.
One evening soon after that, the telephone rang. The truth is it hadn’t been ringing much in those days.
“Fred Atwater?” the voice said.
“Yeah?” I said.
“This is Cal Stone over at Ruby’s. We’re short a man in the trumpet section tonight. I was wondering if you’d like to come down and sit in.”
“Tonight? I don’t know. I haven’t been playing much. Don’t know if I have the chops for it.”
“You got a C? That’s all you need, man, a C. It’s the jazz part. We need someone who can blow. You come recommended.”
“Yeah? I was wondering about that. Who gave you my number?”
“Someone mentioned your name a while back. Might have been Bobby Smythe as a matter of fact. Someone pointed you out to me at Bobby’s funeral and I just now got around to looking up your name in the union book.”
Bobby Smythe couldn’t have told him my name. The whole thing was mysterious and I was feeling a little spooked but I couldn’t miss a chance to play in Cal’s band.
Cal, you probably know, had moved back to Oakland about a year before all this. He’d worked a lot around Texas playing R&B, but finally got homesick. He put together this big band he called The Hairy Brouhaha and they played every Monday night at Ruby’s Music Palace. Cal fronted the band in his easy-going, personable way. Some of the best young players and arrangers in town were associated with the band. No money in it but no one expected to make money Monday nights anyway. People who showed up at Ruby’s felt like they were a part of something whether they were a player or a listener. There was a two-dollar cover charge that went to the band, with a no drink minimum. A big hall. A mezzanine. Good acoustics. I liked that you never had to sit down in one place. You could mosey around and chat with people, eat fried catfish or pickled pig’s feet and drink beer.
Cal Stone was a big friendly guy. I felt accepted by his handshake and his smile before I blew a note for him.
“Where you come from?” he asked me.
“Right here. Oaktown.”
“Where you been, then? How come I’m just now hearing about you?”
“Been on the road with R&B bands out of Detroit mostly. It’s been a long road. Ten years long.”
“I hear that,” he said. “Did some of that myself.”
For some reason, nobody in the trumpet section scared me much. I’d either played with them at one time or another or knew them some other kind of way. No one seemed surprised to see me either. There was this kid, Tod Bellois, this up-and-comer white boy, who had attitude. Pale and plump and wore bangs. Doughboy, I used to call him. He could play lead and his jazz was okay. But mostly, he’d be running a lot of modal shit. He knew circular breathing so he’d sit up there and play long-winded solos just like a saxophone player. I always got lost trying to follow a Tod Bellois solo, know what I mean?
It was Johnny Bertolli in the trombone section who made me nervous. That guy could play. He was on all those Blue Note albums. If you were on Blue Note, you knew you could blow! And Johnny Bertolli would check you out and if you were fake, he’d know it and you’d know it too. You didn’t want him staring at you if you had any doubts about yourself. I’d seen him around but I never looked the man in the eyes before. And if you follow the music, you know Johnny used to work with Bobby when they were kids.
Then there was Johnny’s protégé, the chick trombone player, Betty Bernow. She made me nervous too. She was sitting in and playing lead. Betty with her terrific posture, busty in her cashmere sweater, working the slide trombone. What a sight! I couldn’t pick out her sound really except she was riding on top of it all. Very homogenous and smooth that trombone section, maybe cause they all studied with Johnny. I never could play as clean as those guys. In a string of notes, I’d always crack one or ghost it.
I’d carried Bobby’s trumpet with me wrapped up in a pillowcase. I wasn’t easy about it, but I’d put off getting my own horn out of hock.
I barely warmed up when, lo and behold, the second chart Cal called out featured a duet with trumpet and trombone in octaves, carrying a wordy but witty line racing along, with little punches coming in from the brasses, and swoops from the reeds here and there to goad the whole thing forward. Every note I played, Johnny was doubling one octave lower. I never considered myself to be a great sight-reader but I kept up with it, kept my eyes on the intricate path, followed its thread so well as to cause Johnny Bertolli to turn and look back at me when we finished. I hadn’t fluffed a note. He hadn’t either, of course. Then he looked at Betty, and then Cal, and back at me. I was in.
Cal closed the set with a Cuban montuño. At the end, Tod Bellois and I traded eights, then fours, and then all of the trumpets joined in. Everyone playing at once. A messy but exciting free-for-all.
Cal introduced the band to the audience, starting with the trumpet section.
“That was Bobby Costarella in the middle, playing lead. Terry Wright and Ned Thurston, Tod Bellois––Tod doing the screeching there on the finale––and Freddy Atwater, the handsome one, on the end.”
Funny thing to say, that. It wasn’t like he meant handsome, I don’t think. But I never did feel so handsome before.
This kid came up to me when I was at the bar getting my complementary whiskey.
“You blew Bellois away with that funky horn of yours,” he said. “That frat boy with his brand new nickel-plated Callichio and you and your dinged-up brass axe. You were smokin’ when you came out on that solo, man. The whole building rose up like a ship and sailed around the night and kissed the fuckin’ stars.”
“Thanks for your enthusiasm,” I said. “I appreciate.”
“You want to step outside for a taste?”
“No, no. I can’t play behind that stuff.”
“What kinda horn is that you playin’ anyway, man?”
“You know, just an old Martin. All the cats used to have one.”
“Yeah? Where you get it at?”
“You know, around. Off a bulletin board. You just got to keep your eyes open. Look in the union paper. You might catch one in the classifieds if you look regular.”
The last set of the night was always short. Cal called out a blues chart and anyone who wanted could stretch out. It went on way too long. You know how those saxophone players are. And most of the people in the club had half a heat on anyway by then. So everyone was having a good time but nothing too deep going on. That might have finished the night, ordinarily.
Then Cal put up a surprise. He called out number 93, a new ballad without a name yet, written by Gil Bennet especially for Cal’s band.
“Gil’s not here tonight but let’s check it out,” Cal said. “You up for it, Freddy?”
It was scary but I never felt so connected as I began to play. I understood it, the sense of it unfolded to me moment to moment as I played. At the end, there was a suspension chord with just me and the rhythm section playing, the bass playing a pedal note ostinato, and the piano player comping misterioso, and the drummer swishing on the cymbals with brushes. Near the end, I played long notes and bent some of them into moans and I heard a woman call out, Heavy and Oh yeah. I opened my eyes. For a moment, I thought I saw Anitra up in the mezzanine looking down at me, her eyes shining with tears. Couldn’t be though. She was in jail.
“You were ready for that one,” Tod Bellois said afterward. He wasn’t envious. The way he said it made me like him. There was room for everyone, the way he said it.
“Yeah, guess I was. I was,” I said.
Later, when we were packing up, Betty Bernow came up and asked me, “How come you don’t have a case for that horn?”
“I don’t know. Doesn’t seem right to get a case for it. Didn’t come with a case.”
“It’s funky but it serves you well, you should take better care of it,” she said.
After that I felt like I had to get out of there or my heart would bust. I’d done it, hadn’t I? I played with the best of them that Monday night. But I was afraid. Afraid it was all a fluke. Afraid they’d find me out.
Cal stopped me as I was leaving. “I want you in my band, man,” he said.
Me and Betty went for breakfast the next Monday night and started hanging out. Going to afterhours places, eating Chinese at Wong’s in the middle of the night, making out in taxis, living like bandits. People kid brass players for being good kissers because they’re always using the muscles in their lips and maybe there’s some truth in it because me and Betty did us some good kissin all right! She made me a velveteen bag with a drawstring to carry the horn in. She asked me if I ever wanted to have a baby.
One Sunday when Betty was over, we were having barbecue and I was working around in the back garden, catching up on my weeding and irrigating for Mavis. I had beans, turnips, radishes, and lettuce coming in back there. Betty told me she’d heard from Anitra, that Anitra had been hearing good things about me and all that.
“I didn’t know you knew Anitra,” I said.
“Of course I do. It’s a small community.”
“I guess it is.”
“People say you never used to have a sound like that.”
“Sound like what?”
“Like Bobby Smythe.”
“I hope that’s a compliment some kinda way.”
“I know you got Bobby’s horn,” she said. She had a tone and a certain way of arching her right eyebrow to exact the truth.
“What makes you think so?” I said.
“You don’t think anyone would figure it out? As well known as he is around here? A suitcase of clothes and a horn. That’s all Bobby ever had. And the horn’s been missing.”
“I got it out of a pawn shop. It’s a horn like Bobby’s,” I said. “A Martin. Everyone was playin’ them for awhile. They all look alike. Sound alike too. Depends on who’s playin’ on them of course. There aren’t too many trumpet players who didn’t get something from Bobby, one way or another.”
“That’s true,” she said, and let it go. Maybe she didn’t really want to know, or maybe making me feel the heat of the grill was enough.
I stopped and stabbed at the dirt with my shovel by the back fence. I watched water brim in the furrows.
It was right after that certain defects in the horn began manifesting themselves. Certain notes were hard to get in tune. On the trumpet the G sharp resting on the staff and the low C sharp below the staff are funny notes anyway. The G sharp with the second and third valves down, the C sharp with all the valves down. The extra bits of tubing alter the length to give a complete chromatic range, but not without compromise.
I took it in to Dave Peña’s shop to see what he could do. Dave and the shop are gone now. He was one of those guys who could play any instrument he picked up. He made his living repairing both brass and reeds. Pretty much everyone went to him to get his axe fixed. It was a dark little place except for the lamp hanging over a worktable that was littered with the carcasses of instruments cannibalized for their parts. You could smell valve oil, must, and the smoke and saliva that had been breathed through the multitude of horns.
He took hold of the trumpet like he was a doctor. Pushed each valve down so firmly it made a hollow knock. He took the horn by the third valve between two fingers and held it suspended, to see if the center of balance was true.
“I think I’ve seen this instrument before,” he said. “I think Bobby Smythe owned this horn once, or had one just like it. Same model, same deal here on the third valve slide. I think this might be the very one.”
“Could be,” I said. “Looks like it’s been passed around.”
“Yeah, some of ’em change hands alright. I think this horn has been tampered with,” he said. “Has a different lead pipe than it came with for one thing. And it’s been patched. A ding taken out of the bell. The valves are a little sleepy. I don’t need to pull them out to tell you they’re worn and need chroming. But if the pitch isn’t true, I’m not sure what I can do. The thing may be unplayable. Maybe that’s why the last owner let go of it.”
I didn’t tell him the luck I’d been having.
“Bring it in when you can leave it for a few days,” he said. “I’ll do my best. Too bad about Bobby, wasn’t it? It wasn’t just that the guy could play. Something special, magical. And that sound of his. You know, some say it was the gap between his teeth that got him that sound.”
I went down to the union hall later that same afternoon to rehearse with Cal’s band.
“Glad you showed up,” Cal said. “We don’t have full sections today. Everybody’s down with flu. But Gil’s here so I thought we could read through a few of his things.”
I didn’t have a good feeling about it. I could have shined it on, said, Yeah, not feeling too good myself. But I didn’t.
We began to read through Gil’s composition, “Frankenstein”. You probably know the piece. It’s got all these weird intervals and it’s a monster to play. It was going okay until we got to the middle section that features the trumpet section.
The phrase there starts out with a G-sharp. A whole-note G-sharp ties over into a string of eighth-notes that begin in the next bar. That long note sat there on top of the staff, like it had been placed there to unmask me. That note became my nightmare. I could not get it in tune. The chord was voiced funny anyway. Gil likes close voicings with clusters. Major and minor seconds, the notes right next to each other. And we were just the two horns. The missing notes would have explained the chord, tempered the two pitches we were trying to play, the two pitches that must have had the devil laughing. Some other time, we might’ve laughed too for looking so foolish.
We gave it another try. Gil gave the count-off. One. Two. One two three…. The gawd awful screech, we sounded like a public school band, my note fighting with Cal’s.
“What’s going on?” Gil said.
“I don’t think we’ve got the chops,” Cal said.
“We’re trying. We just don’t have the chops for it.”
Cal was being politic. What he meant was I didn’t have the chops for it.
“Whatta ya mean?” Gil said.
He looked at the score to see if we were crazy. We were crazed maybe but not crazy.
“It’s only a concert F sharp. Your G sharp,” Gil said. “Right? What’s the problem?”
“Maybe we should read through something else,” Cal said.
Johnny Bertolli looked back at me. He thought I was kidding around, messing up on purpose for some perverse reason. Maybe because I didn’t want to play the chart or something. “Aw,” he said, throwing his hand down at me. He knew I could play.
But I couldn’t.
It was Bobby Smythe calling his horn back, I’m sure of it. The valves turned sluggish. The spit key on the third-valve tuning-slide came loose. I had to rubber band it down.
“Then let’s play 93,” Gil said.
It was that ballad thing again. There was no way I wanted to touch it now. It was in the folder on my music stand but Gil said, “I wrote this arrangement especially for Bobby Smythe to play in your band, Cal. But since he isn’t here, I’d like you to play it.”
“I will,” Cal said. “I will when we perform it. But we played it the other night and Fred sounded great on it.”
“I mean, I’d like to hear what you do with it, Cal.”
“Yeah, why don’t you play it Cal?” I said.
“Sure. My pleasure,” Cal said.
Cal played pretty good. In the manner of, if you know what I mean. Homage. During the solo part he even stuck in some of those little curlicue figures Bobby liked to do.
But it was all strangely depressing for everybody. We took a break and Cal decided we should just call it a rainy day. The reed section stayed behind to clean up trouble spots.
I stayed up in my bed for a week in a funk after that last rehearsal with Cal’s band, didn’t answer the phone, didn’t answer the door when Mavis knocked, didn’t answer the phone when Betty called, and then one morning I walked down to the pawnshop and got my own horn out of hock and you know, it sounded okay.
I took Bobby Smythe’s horn and wrapped the bandana around it and put it in the velveteen bag Betty made for it and I went out to the back garden and dug a hole. I came across squished cans, roots, a corroded bolt, a blue Mason jar, ashes, a half of a brick. I kept on digging. I was talking in my head, saying stuff like, “I never wanted to be you anyway, Bobby Smythe. I know you lived it but I lived it too. You’re gone but I’m still here. I just wanted to get some of your magic and make ‘em ache like you did, Bobby.”
I don’t pray but I guess that was sort of a prayer. Maybe I overdid it. I was thinking to go a full six feet but I hit hardpan before that. Even so, I had to struggle to climb out of the pit. I let the horn drop plunk to the bottom and shoveled dirt over it.
It’s weird how things work out. Cal Stone never looked at me again with favor after that one afternoon. He just stopped calling. But somehow for Johnny Bertolli that incident added some kind of mystique to me. Work kept coming in pretty steady and months later, when I was driving to a gig, they were doing a tribute to Bobby Smythe on the radio on the anniversary of his death and interviewing Johnny Bertolli and he was saying, “I don’t know what it is. We got all these great trumpet players that come outta Oaktown. The late Bobby Smythe, Cal Stone, and now this new guy Freddy Atwater.”
I didn’t even know for absolute sure Johnny knew my full name. And there he was talking about me in the same breath with Bobby and Cal.
“Freddy’s gone through all these changes,” Johnny was saying. “He had this kinda Bobby Smythe thing going for awhile and now its something else altogether. Some say it’s that little scar he’s got under his lip that gets him that sound.”
I’ll never be as good as Bobby Smythe was, but I don’t let it cut me like it used to.
This neighborhood is getting old. I think they might bulldoze out here some day for urban renewal or some such after I’m dead and maybe come across that horn in the bandana and the velveteen bag and maybe wonder about it and then again maybe not. Maybe they never will dig it up. I’ll never forget the night Bobby got shot and the Monday night I sat in with Cal’s band and, of course, I still think of Bobby’s horn from time to time, buried there, way down deep.
When I was digging the pit for it, Mavis called out to me from her window.
“What you burying out there? Your dog die?”
“My dog died two years ago, Mavis.”
“That’s right, I remember now,” Mavis said. “My mind don’t work right no more. The way that dog used to howl when you started your warm ups! That’s some hole you got goin’ there. What is it you’re doin’? Planting a tree?”
“Just burying some old junk,” I said. “But it’s got me to thinking of starting a mulching pit back here near the fence.”
“That’s a good idea. I’ve been meanin’ to tell you. Heard you playin’ the other day when I was in the hallway. Sounded real good. Didn’t knock on your door. Didn’t want to disturb you. But it put me in mind of church music.”
“Yeah? Thanks, Mavis. Church music, huh? It was just some old blues tune I was playing.”
“Very satisfying to hear,” she said.
“Very satisfying to play,” I said.