“How many times have I told you to stay away from them? They’re so — crepuscular.” Chad and I had just broken up.
My mother was talking about musicians. Ha! As if she’d ever taken that advice. I told her she was right even though I didn’t believe myself, didn’t believe her, didn’t believe that her bias could hold any power. What does my mother know? She knows her shitty experience. She knows my long-gone dad, my sister’s long-gone dad. A guitarist, a bassist. That’s how she defines them. She doesn’t know Chad.
“Is that so bad?” I grimaced. My coffee was too bitter.
“And his name? A red flag in itself. Right from the get-go.” The rosette on her latte changed shapes with each sip. We sat at an uncomfortable oblong booth in my least favorite coffee shop. I never could tell why, how, she preferred this café to any other. The decorations were kitschy. An abundance of cute clocks. My mother, I suppose, has always had a thing for kitsch. The mustard couch to our left, almost serpentine in its stretch, invited cool but obedient kids of all ages. Madeleine Peyroux radio infiltrated the yellow-lit corners.
My place plays Ella radio.
“There’re coffee grounds on your lip, Shan. Good god, did they even use a filter? Try my latte.”
Things my mother doesn’t know:
· How Chad drives out to the prairie, plays for me in the starriest, most secluded spots we can find. (And this isn’t just his ego — I ask for it and he bashfully delivers.)
· The bending, the twisting, the pauses — the starts and stops of his horn, his existence. I won’t say soul. Overtones and harmonics that suggest he understands things the way I do. But to communicate these things aurally, for me, is new — is revelatory.
· The dream I had just before we started dating — that Chad’s merest kiss brought on orgasm. Imagine that the saxophone is there between the two of you. That when he puts his lips to the mouthpiece, when he tongues the reed, the vibrations surge through the instrument, all the way to your clit. I would never tell my mother this, so she could never know. I imagine my mother has no clit, anyway.
My coffee grew cold as I outlined my list. After just three bulletpoints his name grew uglier, even simpler in my mind. Chad. Chaaaad. No music there. A block of particle board — that’s all.
When we first started dating, I’d find saxophone reeds all over my house, those little popsicle sticks, made of natural cane, he’d explained. I met him for dinner one evening and brought a handful of these I’d found, along with their cases. “Sorry,” he said over his Malbec (he stopped pretending to like wine after the first month), “I’m just a reedy little bastard.” He liked me because I liked his jokes. My mother had taught me to use any word but bastard. She liked schmuck, but that word wasn’t ours; we weren’t Jewish.
At his gigs I’d watch him just before he’d go on with a trio or a quartet, sucking on his reed, no evident focus on the task, his eyes wandering around the bar from tenebrous table to tenebrous table, blasé bandmate to blasé bandmate, usually eventually to mine before a raise of his brows, a here we go, as if ever there was anything to worry over. Afterwards, in dim parking lots behind bars or in my still-twin-sized bed, I’d kiss him fully, feeling for the swelling brought on by his playing, by the instrument, ready to taste the cane flavor he’d absorbed throughout the night. Usually as these kisses began I’d catch his faraway eyes, inhibited by a kind of fog. He’d kiss me with the same remote gaze he’d have while prepping his reeds, like he was looking at me during the kiss and also at me, later, during sex — or maybe at me, later, after sex. Or maybe at himself, later, after me.
· And, then, I guess I have to be honest about my list. The first bulletpoint isn’t true. The time in the prairie — it’s only something I’ve imagined. He never took me there, played for me in the starriest, most secluded spot we could find. (And it would’ve been for his ego if he had — I would’ve asked and he would’ve delivered because it’d give him the edge.)
Otherwise, this new ending to our story would be something more tragic, would be darker, gloomier, less of a fizzle. More of a loss than simply a failure, a flop. Cuckoo clocks ticking all around. But wouldn’t it be dreamy? Dreamy as early daylight’s ghost-like glow, the gauze of morning battling the night’s haze.