THE SAX MAN
She eyed him closely as he signed the lease agreement. Being the landlady, Mrs. Harper, was usually suspicious of all her tenants but this young man was distinctively different. Was it the clothing? An oversized trench coat that was not dirty but definitely needed a good pressing. Olive in color much like the military clothing many of the kids I the neighborhood were wearing. The white shirt and dark pants hung loosely as if he were in need of a few good home-cooked meals. Young people today, she thought, dressed as if they were wearing their fathers clothes. Maybe it was the style, although Mrs. Harper was not quite sure why people wanted to look like at one time they were large and now they are not. Even though his hair was long and pulled back in a ponytail, it smelled clean and fresh like someone who had just showered and allowed it to dry in the afternoon sun. In fact, this young man was remarkably pleasing, with even the hint of an expensive cologne. Very uncommon for the people in her building.
First impression aside, Mrs. Harper was very glad about this new tenant. There was a strange peace while in his presence, a giddiness, like the first time she met Mr. Harper. That was such a long time ago and they were both so young but she never forget the overwhelming love that swept over her that day. It was the kind of love that lasts beyond one’s own lifetime. Even now that Mr. Harper had been gone over ten years the feeling was just as strong, a pure love, almost divine, not like the love they are selling on the T. V. today.
“Thank you for renting me the room,” his words brought Mrs. Harper back to reality, regretfully.
“Let me take you up and show you the room Mr., uh” looking down at the lease agreement and noticing the young man had not written down his full name. “I’m sorry but you forgot to put down your last name.”
“Is it necessary, just call me, Daniel,” he responded with a smile. That smile somehow washed away the fear that this man was obviously hiding something. Why else would he not want to give his last name? For what ever reason it seemed unimportant at this moment and Mrs. Harper simply dropped the subject.
“This way, it’s at the top of the stairs. I’m afraid it’s all I have left, but you’re young and could probably fly up these steps if you wanted to.”
Carrying a duffel bag in one hand and an instrument case in the other, Daniel looked up toward the top of the stairs and with a strange smile said, “Why yes, I could.”
After reaching the top of the stairs, Mrs. Harper was wondering why she offered to show Daniel the room. The climb was a reminder of her age, and that was something that didn’t need reminding. Going through the many keys and looking for the one that would unlock the two locks brought back the memory of Mr. Harper and how he had gone through the whole building installing them. He was so good at just about anything. Stopping for a moment and staring at the lock, Mrs. Harper thought it was strange that today since this young man arrived all she could think about was her late husband. Not a day went by that she didn’t miss him, but this unusual flood of memories kept her from focusing on things at hand. Yet, for some reason Mrs. Harper didn’t want them to stop for they were memories of the good times, times of the great love they had.
Like the day that Mr. Harper came in from work all excited with some good news.
“I just borrowed money on our future,” he said with great enthusiasm. “Honey, we are now the new landlords of a six story apartment building. We’re finally getting out of the rat race and moving up.”
“What are you talking about?” Mrs. Harper asked, almost afraid of the answer. “You haven’t touched our savings, have you?” She usually trusted Mr. Harper to make all the financial decisions for them, but at this moment fear began to creep in having not heard just what it was he had invested in and with what. Usually he was so cautious.
“Now, Honey, hear me out before you go jumping to conclusions. I’ve been studying on this a long time, and I know if you will just give it a chance, you’ll see I’m right.”
She relaxed just a little. His words reminded her that he was not an impetuous man, always examining everything carefully. Why it took him sex months to decide on the Buick and it is still the best care they’ve ever owned.
“You know Jekins down at the plant? Well, he has an uncle in real estate, and there was this property for sale at a really good price. I had to use our savings for the down payment, but I know you’ll agree with me that this is the smartest thing we’ve ever done.”
She was no longer relaxed. “‘We!’ What do you mean ‘we!’ We’ve never discussed any of this. Until now, I didn’t know you were even thinking about taking our life savings for, for.... Just what is it that we’ve bought?”
Hanging his head sheepishly, Mr. Harper answered with a slight smile hoping to disarm her, “We bought an apartment building down on the east side.”
“On the east side! That’s at least a 20 minute drive, one way! How do you plan to be available in the middle of the night when someone calls you about a broken pipe or a furnace that won’t light?” she asked, halfway hoping her husband had not thought about such things and would see that this was not such a good decision after all.
“Well,” answering with another slight smile, “if we live in the apartment building itself, it won’t be a problem.”
“Leave our home! How could you be so thoughtless? Surely this is a matter for discussion.” Tearing up, Mrs. Harper lowered her head and muttered, “My home... How could you expect me to leave my home?”
Another smile, although somewhat awkward, “I sold the house to help raise the money for the building. I really thought that the surprise would be bigger than what it’s turning out to be. Guess I was wrong. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you about this first.”
The news that Mr. Harper sold the house shocked her; it was more than she could stand. How could he? Mrs. Harper left the room quickly trying to hide the tears and anger. They had never disagreed on anything like this before. Sitting down in a chair by the bedroom window, just like every morning, she stared out into the little yard full of flowers and vegetables that hr hard work had made into a showpiece for the neighborhood. There was a lot of pride in what had been accomplished with only a few garden tools and even less money. Mr. Harper walked in and quietly put his arms around her.
“In the morning I’ll see Jekin’s uncle and see about getting our money back.”
As he turned to leave, Mrs. Harper saw the light in his eyes was gone. She knew this was something he obviously believed in because it was not normal for him to make thoughtless decisions.
“Wait. Why don’t we take a ride and look at it, at least. Who know. Maybe it’s worth considering,” she said with the best smile that could be mustered up at the moment. This man was the only one in her life, and she loved him so much. Surely, a look at what their life savings had been gambled on couldn’t hurt. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, there would be something good in it. One thing Mrs. Harper knew was this man loved her and would never intentionally do anything to hurt her.
“I’ll pull the car around,” he said smiling again.
It’s been twenty years since that day. Even though the neighborhood had changed drastically, Mrs. Harper couldn’t leave. This was Mr. Harper’s dream and long ago she determined it would become hers too, one day.
“Want me to try it?” the voice brought her back to what she was attempting to do. Strange, all these thoughts about Mr. Harper all of the sudden.
“There, I’ve got it. These locks sometimes hang up. I don’t have a maintenance man around any more.”
“Maybe I can help you out once in awhile with a few things,” Daniel said. His voice was sincere, and Mrs. Harper knew the young man meant just what he said. “I can be pretty handy. You just let me know what you need.”
As the door swung open, immediately many small creatures scattered looking for a hiding place. Dark and hot, the room had only one window leading out to the fire escape. Mrs. Harper flipped the light switch on and one lone light fixture in the ceiling gave off only a little more light than the window gave. The apartment was small and the smells of the alleyway floated in through the window. They were the odors of humanity, and unhealthy fragrance from the poverty that lived below, poverty that produced a stench from the garbage in dumpsters that were never emptied quite enough. Humanity’s fumes of tobacco smoke and the coughing of someone who had too many years of using it. Smells of cheap wine and vomit. Cries from babies who in the heat were unhappy about life at this moment and the sounds of loud T. V.’s loud enough to help drown out the babies whose mothers wanted to escape from, if only for a moment. Noises of children playing on the fire escapes, too young for school, yet old enough to be wise about the conditions that surrounded them. Somewhere below was the voice of an unemployed man, yelling at his overworked wife about the injustices of life and the fact that his dinner was not served yet. And, as always, the sound of a siren was screaming in the distance.
The young man took all of this in as he set down his bag and case and stood looking down into the alley from the window.
“I’m afraid it’s not much, but with a little scrubbing here and there, maybe a coat of paint, it can be pretty comfortable for a single man like yourself.” Mrs. Harper was hoping that her words would make the appearance of the apartment somewhat more appealing. Turning around to face her, Daniel replied with another smile, “It will do just fine. And you’re right about the paint; it will help. I’ll see to it that the place gets a coat or two starting tomorrow. And anything else it needs.”
“If you want to do the work, there is some paint down in the basement where Mr. Harper kept all his tools and things. You’re welcome to anything you need,” she hesitated and said, “and I’ll even take it off your rent for the work you do.”
Knowing that the rent from the apartments was her only income and that obviously she couldn’t afford to keep the building up, Daniel responded back, “No, don’t adjust the rent; I’ll do the work for you and anything else you need. Just let me know. Okay?”
Overwhelmed with his kind offer, Mrs. Harper had to swallow hard to hold back the emotion she was feeling. What this young man was offering was exactly what was needed. His timing couldn’t be more perfect. “Thank you, I sure could use some help. And I won’t forget it, you can be sure. Well, I’ll let you get settled and when you’re ready, let me know, and I’ll open the basement for you.”
As Mrs. Harper left, Daniel turned to examine the apartment more closely. It was quite small with a few worn pieces of furniture here and there. Against one wall was a small stove with three burners, the kind you would expect to find in an efficiency apartment. Above were metal cabinets yellowed from the grease, and after rubbing them with his finger, Daniel discovered that the cabinets were actually white. I wonder if the previous tenant knew that? he thought to himself. Next to the stove was a small sink with faucets that dripped, leaving a brown stain on the old, white porcelain. A small counter top separated the sink from a short refrigerator with a door that did not shut properly, and there were noises as if this was the last day it would cool. A pantry on that wall completed the kitchenette, but there was the sound of something behind the door that had taken up residence and probably wasn’t planning on paying rent. Turning around and facing the living area, he noticed the furniture in the apartment was a combination of pieces from over the years. An old davenport couch was on the opposite wall from the kitchenette and had many years of use, or was it misuse? Stuffing was coming out of the textured, avocado fabric where it was worn and faded. One leg of the couch was missing and in place of it were a couple of bricks that were not quite the same height as the other legs. Propped against the couch was a T. V. tray that was being used to hold the lamp, a lamp who’s shade was missing as well as the light bulb. In front of the couch was a coffee table that was spotted with cigarette urns and sat on a dirty, braided rug that covered a worn spot on the linoleum. A broken Lazyboy and an old, three drawer dresser completed the furnishings.
Looking out the window, Daniel stared down at the alley below. Humanity with all its problems was something that he longed to be in the center of. This is why he was created. Turning and bending down, Daniel unlatched the instrument case and lifted the horn gently. While putting in the mouthpiece, he spoke softly to it, “Well, old friend, it’s time to go to work.”
Stepping through the window and out on to the fire escape, Daniel raised the sax to his lips and began to blow....