Winter Saxophone

winter-saxophone

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #9, published in February 2011. Words by Jamie McNally. Illustration by John Hinderliter.


The winter was wet, with waves of cold rain arriving from the north or the west every few days. It was wet enough to finally break the two-year drought that had parched the rivers and creeks and left their docks forlorn and suspended, as if on stilts, over stands of little bluestem and buffalo grass.

I was only outside for a portion of each day, but the regularity of it, and the repetition, even for brief periods in the early morning and late afternoon or evening, made me vigilant for what happened in the sky. Mornings, cold and still, with light high clouds that colored the city a soft gray. Late afternoons were darker still. The air was infused with warm moisture that, often as not, coalesced into a soft rain. A rain so thin it was without droplets. Evening’s darkness usually brought a chill—and often, a harder rain.

One November afternoon, a friend visiting from out-of-town met me in the city. We drank wine in a fancy specialty food store that occupied the first floor retail space in a high-rise condominium tower. We’d gotten wet crossing the street and now we watched the water run down the pavement, splashing over and pooling up against curbs and gutters, finding its way into Shoal Creek, which, in this part of town, marked the business district’s boundary. Eventually, he took my umbrella and crossed over the shallow sea that had backed up in the street and returned to his car while I pedaled home.

The dark pavement was empty that night. The high school’s parking lot was deserted. Everyone had abandoned the trails that ran on both sides of the river. My tires kicked up double rooster tails and I flew through the trail into the blackness and the silence. And then I heard, rather than saw, something in the rain shadow of the interstate’s roadway as it soared above me. The first few notes plaintive, rolling up out of the dirt lot as I slid by. At first, I thought I imagined the melody, somehow mistaking it for the sound of the small waterfalls funneling down the drain holes in the pavement above me, but it was separate.

The notes floated out from the darkness and braided together into music, and as I sped along I noticed a dim light illuminating an open car door and the metallic brightness of a lone saxophone, and the musician blew and blew his notes all alone against the rain and the cold and the dark.

I saw him more than a few times that winter. Always when it was already dark as I pedaled homeward. And only when a cold rain kept the dirt parking lot by the walking trail where he played empty. The pavement above not only kept him dry, the steel and the asphalt and the cement in the pillars reflected the sound. Bent it back on itself and amplified the notes.

Each time I rode by, soaked and cold, there were just the two of us and he must have seen my headlamp through the blackness. His jazz melody floated in the air between us—and, at first, I imagined each of us wondering about the sanity of other. But then, as winter wore on, I imagined we stopped wondering.

After the rains dried and the Mexican plum and red bud trees along the river had bloomed white and soft purple, the path grew more crowded and I stopped hearing music when I crossed over the river. It was as if the fragrance and the warmth and the light had pushed out the notes. It was if the seasons had changed.

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