by Bruce Memblatt
|part 2 of 3|
Dikon sensed something strange in the way Virgil tossed off his answer, as if he wasn’t joking, as if somehow this had all happened before. Maybe it had, he told himself. Maybe everything had died before, maybe it dies over and over, and people don’t notice it. Maybe something has to happen to make you notice it, like meeting Virgil.
Suddenly, Virgil stared at Dikon like he’d just seen the end of the world. “You’ve got a lot of theories don’t you? Well get them all out of your head. I’m just a club owner, that’s all I am. Let’s go,” he said, turning to go.
Dikon shook inside. For a moment he felt like running away, grabbing his sax and escaping into the setting sun. But he followed Virgil, sax case under his arms, an eerie feeling in his belly that told him things were changing. Glass would crash. Under his breath he felt the stone-cold feeling of fear mixed with the sizzle of the anticipation of a great mystery about to explode around him. He held his saxophone case tightly as they walked down Broadway.
Silence seemed to sit everywhere. He hated the sound of nothing. He craved the sound of life in the air, of music in his belly. Silence was death, it was the grave. All he wanted to do was pull out his sax and connect to everything, to the concrete, to the steel, to the glass, to the big ball of fire in the sky, and never stop, because he couldn’t stop. If he did, he would die. Everything would die.
The sun was edging off into darkness. Maybe this was the last time Dikon would see its light. The thought struck him like a match, as the window panes in the buildings turned black and the street lights began to emerge, not as they did in the past, but still enough to put on a show.
He thought about light. He thought about his next move. What would he play for his debut at Virgil’s? Something dark and bluesy, that must be what Virgil wanted, he thought as they turned onto Fifth Street and began walking east towards Avenue A, towards Alphabet City, to Virgil’s.
The small brownstones that lined Fifth Street looked like they could fall over and crumble away with one good blow. Dikon imagined himself taking out his sax, hitting his high E, and watching the buildings tumble away like clay.
That’s when Virgil stared at him as if he knew what Dikon was thinking. But all he said was, “three more blocks to go.”
“That’s all you have to say? ‘Three more blocks to go’? Something is happening in the world. I can sense the strangeness everywhere. And all you can say is ‘three more blocks to go’? What is going on, Virgil? Why is it so quiet? Where did everyone go? I know you know something. I wish I could pull out my sax and play right now, like a demon. I wish I knew what you know.”
“You can pull out your sax anytime you want, Dikon. No one is stopping you. But I’m hoping you won’t. I’m hoping you’re not just some common rambling bum. In order for this to work, you have to be someone special.”
Dikon cried, “For what to work? What are you talking about, club owner?”
“Nothing,” he said, shaking his head and looking down towards the cement.
Dikon felt as though every nerve in his body was going to peel out and explode into thousands of fiery balls. For what to work? What was Virgil talking about? What was he thinking? Dikon wondered as he took a tissue out of his pocket and wiped the sweat off his brow. Suddenly, all he wanted to do was play his sax and make the world go away. He didn’t want to connect. He wanted to escape. It was the first time he could remember wanting to hide in his music.
“C’mon!” Virgil shot out. And there they were on the corner of Avenue A and Fourth Street. More brownstones and old buildings lined the way, bordered storefronts, broken ATMs, ripped billboards etched with graffiti like Angel was here, God doesn’t care spread across plywood that covered broken windows and battered doors. It was the darkest street in the world. And in the middle of the street, between Fourth and Fifth on Avenue A, a blue neon sign that said simply “Virgil’s,” hung over a plain wooden door with a panel of thin glass in its center.
The first word that came to Dikon’s mind was “seedy,” and then he quickly remembered he was a lowdown homeless saxophone player. Occasionally he’d forget, he’d even come to believe he had a place somewhere, but it was just a wish in Dikon’s head, a memory of easier times to get him through the rough times.
But in fact, against the backdrop of boarded windows and the broken bottles and cans that lined the street, Virgil’s didn’t look half bad. There was a soft glow around the door. The glow emanated from the dim light from within the club and made it look mysterious. Even in the dingiest of places, there are rims and specks of light that can induce beauty, Dikon thought, a sad kind of beauty.
He glanced at the side of Virgil’s head as they walked down the street nearing the door. Virgil’s hat titled over just a bit. He could see the edge of a grin. Dikon wondered when Virgil was going to tell him. Something was happening, he knew it, but no one was saying anything. All he had left was the music in his head. That’s all that kept him from going insane. He had to let it out.
But he also knew there was something to steal from Virgil’s silence, because he wanted to take in the atmosphere. He wanted to hear the place he was going to play in. Dikon thought all places had their own special sounds that reveal their history if you listen closely enough. And if the glass started to fall he wanted to be the first to hear it, through everything; through the past, through the present and whatever was left to come.
A motorcycle raced down Avenue A, breaking the silence and Dikon’s concentration. Then Virgil pulled open the door and said, “Welcome to Virgil’s.”
The dim light hit Dikon’s face. He saw the back of Virgil’s hat against the light making it look like a shadow, making Virgil himself appear to be a shadow while he led Dikon into the club.
As Dikon had guessed, a bar ran down the right side of the room. Against the opposite wall, tables were scattered about: small, round, pale wooden tables. A few random shadowed faces appeared in wooden chairs around the tables.
Dank and musky was the feeling that came to him, as if they had just stepped into an old woman’s attic. There was another sense he got from the room: a sense of sadness, which he thought was unusual; bars usually had a sexy sense to him, even the cheap ones, but this one was sexless and dark with a kind of longing he couldn’t put his fingers on.
Old ceiling fans spun slowly, and on the walls, nothing, no pictures or bric-a-brac, nothing, just plain wood panel and some cheap lamps. But the light in the room, there was something about that dim light that brushed against his skin like waves of change, like something was about to happen. He wasn’t sure if it was going to be something good or something bad, or something in between, but he knew this light would play a part in his future. This may be the last light he saw, he thought, when Virgil turned around and pointed to a small slab of wood on the other end of the bar facing the tables.
“This is our stage. Okay, it’s not the Palace, but it is a job, Dikon, and everyone has a job to do.”
All Dikon could think was finally words, even if they were sort of the same words he mouthed off about jobs earlier at Union Square. Doesn’t this cat ever think about anything else? he wondered when he took another look into Virgil’s eyes, and he was sure he did. Virgil was just playing the boss man now. He had to wait till he eased in and things got comfy. Virgil would tell him things that would unravel the riddles in his head.
But looking even deeper into Virgil’s eyes, he felt something painful overcome him. Something that told him Virgil would make the music spin out of control, that everything would spiral out of control. Maybe he was worse than the devil. And in that instant Dikon felt like snuffing the life out of Virgil. He grabbed his sax case and held it tight in his hands like a baby craving the warmth of his mother’s breast for comfort.
“Why don’t you step up here?” Virgil said, pointing again to the stage. “Bring your sax, get nice and cozy. More folks will be here later. It’s early yet, so don’t worry if you mess up in front of these people.”
Dikon said, “I don’t mess up when I play. When I play everything’s connected.”
“I know, I just thought it being your first day. Anyway, later I’ll introduce you to the other players. In the meanwhile if you want something to drink Sid at the bar here will get you something.”
Dikon looked at the bar; he didn’t see a bartender, no one that looked like a Sid. Sitting at the counter he spotted more nondescript faces appearing in shadows on the stools, but there was no one behind the bar.
Then Virgil called, “Oh I forgot to tell you Sid is a midget, you’ve got to look down further.”
Suddenly he saw a glass pop up on the top of the bar, and he heard a gruff voice plow out. “Gin and tonic.”
Dikon just smiled to himself, Natch, when the thought occurred to him, it was something Virgil had said before about meeting the other players. What did he mean players? As in a band? He was a solo act. No one could follow him. No one could keep up with him. Once he began to play it was too intense. No one could block out his holy sounds.
He could connect to the world through his music, but not to other players. That was too close, too personal, too scary. He needed space. He needed the air and the sky. He needed to be alone, yet part of everything, which is why he knew he would never make it. He turned around to ask Virgil just exactly what he was getting at, but Virgil was gone.
Then from behind the bar he heard Sid say, “Well, aren’t you gonna play something, Music Man?”
Copyright © 2012 by Bruce Memblatt