by Bruce Memblatt
“Yeah, sure,” Dikon muttered under his breath as he took his sax out of his case. Then he stepped onto the plank of wood that Virgil called a stage, and he thought, A stage is a stage, and he pulled the instrument to his mouth. He paused, looking out over the small crowd, at the dark tables, the dark faces. He took in the dusky feel of the room and he trembled inside, because he couldn’t feel the music in his head.
Something was throwing him off. Virgil’s was all wrong. The sadness he had sensed when he walked into the club suddenly began to drown him, as if it was swallowing him, stealing his music and his soul. Who was Virgil, what was this place?
He screamed in his head, No one can stop the notes. No one can stop the sound. Not the moon, the sun, not even God! And he felt the music driving back to him in a rush. Then he took in a deep breath and let out his single note, his E, and he held that one note longer than he had ever held it.
The shadowy faces stared across the room in anticipation and then he slid right into Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess.
Summertime and the living is easy... He wailed it out as if he was crying, the world was crying. And the faces just stared, Dikon thought in awe, and he knew he had them.
He had the crowd in his hands, when suddenly out of nowhere,Virgil tapped him on his back and said, “That’s enough.”
Dikon’s head spun around. What did he mean that’s enough? He just played the life out of that song; he played it to the top and all Virgil could say was “That’s enough.”
He saw a pattern developing. Was this how it was going to be? Some mysterious dude just whipping out short orders at him? Where was the rest? Where was the whole? When was it all going to unfold? There was a reason he was in this strange place. Everything happens for a reason. What is it? What’s going down? he thought, as he stared into Virgil’s eyes, hoping for some kind of answer, some kind of something.
Virgil squinted back at him and said, “That was real good, real good, Dikon, but save it for later when she gets here.”
“She” who? What was Virgil conjuring up? His mind began to churn. Some rich lady? The puzzle was getting harder. And in the pit of his stomach he felt a sudden urge to scream out loud to the world: Stop! Then his thoughts returned to the expected stranger. Why would anyone rich or famous come down to this dark street to this sad dark club?
Then Dikon cried out. “What is going on here, Virgil? What the hell is going on here? I’m just a sax player, a homeless saxophone player. I just make noise. What do you want from me?”
“Rumors say your music once cured a blind girl. Is that true, Dikon?”
“There are all kinds of rumors. I have no accounting for rumors. All I know is she cried one day...”
“She cried? Why?”
“Because she saw something too unbearable to see when she was hanging onto my high E.”
“Well just so you know, there are no miracles here, Dikon.”
“I’m not expecting a miracle!”
“Oh yes you are, Dikon. That’s why you came with me.”
Dikon sunk inside like he was about to cry, because deep down he knew Virgil was right. He suddenly felt naked. He was expecting a miracle, something to save him, to save them all. And if Virgil couldn’t supply a miracle, Dikon was scared to death that his music couldn’t protect him, protect them from the unexplainable horror that the little girl had seen, that they both had seen but couldn’t define.
Dikon suddenly turned around because the room felt too quiet, and when he turned his head, all the tables were empty. The faces in the crowd, everyone was gone.
He spied around the room, the tables stood vacant like they hadn’t been used in ages. The chairs sat on top of the tables like they do in restaurants when they’re preparing to close. The cocktail glasses were gone. It was as if he had dreamt it, but he hadn’t, because people had been sitting enraptured with his performance just moments ago.
The saxophone fell out of his hands and onto Virgil’s stage when Virgil said, “They all went home. You know, things to do, preparations. Not that there’s anything one can really do, but it makes them feel better to prepare for what’s happening.”
What was happening? Dikon said there were no miracles there. But this mystery appeared to be something huge, something large, like a miracle. He was certain the whole would come pouring over him like sparks of light too painful to bear with Virgil’s next words.
With trepidation, with confusion, he said to Virgil, “Prepare for what, prepare for what?”
Virgil walked to the end of the bar and pulled a glass from the counter. The mysterious dark man seemed to be becoming even more elusive just at the moment Dikon was certain the riddle would be solved.
Dim light fell over Virgil’s head as he held the glass in his hand up to the source of the light, a simple bulb that hung above the bar. He said, “You know what people are preparing for. C’mon Dikon, it’s time to put your head in order. You have a job to do. Your job is to play soon, when all hell breaks loose, when the spit hits the fan, when the...”
Virgil’s words broke off because they were both staring at the door. The light in the room seemed to bend towards the door, and then she of whom Virgil had spoken entered slowly, dressed in white, with wings like an angel, with light hair, and eyes intense and black.
Dikon thought she must be an angel. He must have died. This run-down club on the darkest street in the world must have been some kind of ironic bizarre entrance to Heaven. Suddenly he heard music surround him, soft music, and he wanted to cry, because he knew he would never hear it again.
“Do you see her, Dikon?” Virgil said, still holding his glass up to the light bulb. “Now, as I was about to say, when the lights go out...”
When the lights go out? Dikon wondered anxiously, what did Virgil mean, “When the lights go out”? It was too strange. Everything was becoming too strange. The music spun out of control. His head began to pound because the answer he was waiting for seemed to be racing further away. The notes were getting darker as though they were dying.
His mind drifted to the day his father brought home a saxophone when he was five years old. There was an eclipse that day. He remembered how scared he got because the thought the sun was dying. That sax never left his hands since that day.
He just stared at Virgil again as she, the woman entering the room, drew nearer and the light surrounding her grew brighter.
The light couldn’t go out. It couldn’t! “What do you mean?” Dikon shouted. “The light, the light is growing brighter, not darker!”
“Now you know what’s going on.” Virgil turned to Dikon and softly said, “You’ve heard the reports. You’ve seen it. It’s time for you to wake up, Music Man! Everyone knows the sun is dying. It’s going to burn out in a glorious burst any moment now. You know that. You know that glass will break. Glass will break everywhere.”
Glass will break. Glass will break everywhere. God, those were his words, his thoughts! Dear God, he knew, he knew what was happening. Suddenly he felt very warm. His body could feel the extreme heat that his mind had been shielding him from. And for one horrible moment there was nothing but silence. Silence so deep and so empty that Dikon thought he might fall into it forever.
Then his eyes slammed towards the bar. Virgil was gone. The angel was gone. The tables were empty. And suddenly he heard it, like all the world’s music had gone sour. He feverishly prayed for the notes to come alive but all his ears could hear were the sounds of glass crashing everywhere.
Everywhere he could hear and everywhere he could see, he heard it shattering, slicing, falling to the earth in shards and unbearable thuds and blasts. Everything inside him awakened for his death. There had never been any Virgil. Virgil was a man he created in his mind to protect him from the light, from the crash, from the end.
He fell to the ground and grabbed his sax. The sax lay on the sidewalk. He wasn’t inside a bar. He had never been inside Virgil’s bar. There was no bar named Virgil’s. He had made it up in his crazy head. He finally saw it, the great realization, when a flash of light filled his vision.
He felt bright hot light surround him, surround everything, for what seemed like just a second, and then everything that had ever been disappeared: the earth, everything. Everything was gone. Before him only space, black space, but for a reason beyond his comprehension he still had his sax in his hand.
Instinctively, he pulled the instrument to his mouth, ready to blow out his unshakable high E, when he heard a far-off voice say in a whisper, “Blow, Gabriel, blow.”
Copyright © 2012 by Bruce Memblatt