It’s 3am, and we are headed home from the pub. Crossing the dimly lit side street, displacing the leaves that blanket the crusty surface. Holding hands, I trail behind both reeking of cigarettes and Guinness.
I follow him through a gap in the buildings to a sort of storage room behind a house, one of three on the property that are rented out to local musicians by Elizabeth, a woman of indeterminate age, who inherited the property in a wealthy suburb of an Australian city from her grandfather.
There was an old washer across the courtyard in a closet sized room but as in many homes in the city, dryers are not common. The rough nap of sun dried towels always reminds me of my time there. There is a noticeable absence of the sweet smell of anti-static sheets that have become a subtle definition of clean for at least 4 generations in America.
He unlocks the door of the drafty unheated 2 room flat, the only furniture an old table and two scuffed wooden chairs. The air is stale and musty, a large glass ashtray overflowing on the floor near the sleeping bags that served as his bed linens for who knows how many years. The tiny bathroom smells like mildew and mold never drying completely in the winter gloom. Funny that he never smelled as bad as his possessions. I never figured out quite why.
I loved spending time there. We smoked, we talked,we listened to music, and we made love. We dreamed, we dozed, we made coffee, and we got ready.
I bought him tennis shoes since he didn’t drive. That was a good thing since he went through shoes rapidly, because he walked everywhere. I suppose he took the train sometimes to get to a gig, or to someone’s home who would give him a ride. He played all sorts of places, paid and unpaid, in clubs, at parties, on cruise ships, with a big band at an RSL club. Trumpet. Always on him, except in bed.
Before this man I never paid much attention to trumpets on their own. Saxophones, guitars, the occasional piano maybe, but never trumpets. Now it is often all I hear.
For Christmas one year I had all his work clothes dry cleaned, the tuxes, the black pants, and the white shirts. He was always grateful. I somehow knew that he has always had someone to do this for him. Good Karma I think. And certain charms that even his mates would confirm.
I had never met anybody quite like him. He was kind of a cross between a father and a best friend. Looking back at my life, many of the men I’ve loved have had those same qualities.
What was that again? I was in the kitchen cleaning up, and he was on the sofa listening to Miles Davis, a Guinness and the ashtray carelessly arranged on the shag carpet within reach.
A BLT I said Bacon Lettuce Toe MA Toe sandwich. Wow that was good! I’ve never had one of those- it sounded like a salad but it wasn’t. Come here, leave the dishes.
I smiled to myself and hung the dishtowel on the stove handle. Yes sir, I said and flipped off the lights as I left the room.
Come here, he repeated and as I rounded the corner into the living room, I saw that he had stripped down, dimmed the lights and lit all the candles.
His trumpet case was sitting open on the chair in the corner and he had hold of the curved metal instrument by the neck. He pursed his lips, blew out a few times, and brought it to his mouth. That blowing action always cracked me up, and reminded me of the sound of a snorting horse, you know that sound the somehow dry and wet and blubbery, peppery squirty not quite disgusting sound.
My legs gave way and I caught myself on the arm of the sofa, lowering myself to the ground at his feet, not the first time, and hopefully not the last. The mournful sound, the wailing the night, jazz, God I loved him.
I sat in wonder watching his face as the music moved in for the evening, taking up residence in his soul. At times I found it hard to breathe when I watched him play. On his “on” days he was a star, his off days, barely off a beat, but the fire was dimmer, less focused.
How did we ever get to this place I thought? I really don’t remember.
The music stopped, I have to go to the loo, he said and stood up abruptly, flapping his way down the hall to pee. He was average height with a bit of a belly, and the hair on his chest was turning grey. His hair was medium length, thinning in places. The cut was forgettable, and every once in a while he’d try to hide the grey by dyeing it a sort of auburn color that was endearing. His hands were stubby and thick, but magic.
He returned and lay down again on the couch. Come here, he said, Lay on top of me. Yes, you can do it, stop laughing, be quiet, no; you aren’t too heavy, quiet baby, quiet. Listen to Miles..
He was a gentle man, self-proclaimed Buddist, never mean, sometimes coarse, always playful, nurturing and needy, creative, sensitive.
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