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THINK IN THE MORNING COMMENT: When I turned seventy and retired, I decided to do only what I wanted to do. No more doing what I thought I should do or what others thought I should do. Others includes both family and friends. So now I’m doing what I want to do. And, that includes reading Mitchell’s stories. I particularly like this one. To read other stories by Mitchell Zucker go HERE and HERE and HERE.
Hiccups and sobs drifted across the frosty meadow and through the cabin door, followed by twelve year old Juliana who had just broken her piccolo and wanted Maurice to repair it before the school bus came. He sat up wrapped in his mummy bag and studied it. “How much time?”
“Fifteen minutes or I’ll miss the bus,” she sobbed. “Please Maurice, see what you can do. I hear you playing the flute. Please. Please!” She let loose and bawled, ashamed to be new in school and unable even to hold on to a piccolo; and this was the first time they let her take it home; and her mother had no money; and “what a terrible thing!”
“Enough!” ordered Maurice. “Hand me that tool box then split. I can’t fix a piccolo with someone’s slobbering over me. And stop your wailing; there’ll be time enough if I can’t fix it”
The post supporting a key shaft was bent locking the key and necessitating the removal of the shaft to get at it. He rummaged through the box till he found an old jewelers’ screwdriver and needle nose pliers, then carefully removed the shaft screws and shaft while breathing on his fingertips. He slowly bent the post back into alignment while carefully checking for signs of cracking, tested the action playing a run. Faster and higher, until with the last screech Juliana burst into the cabin jumping.
“You did it! You did it! I love you Mister Wizard,” she screamed and hugged and kissed him. “Thank you Maurice I really mean it, you saved my life! You really saved my life!”
He mumbled something and watched her set the instrument in its case after closing it on her scarf and nearly dropping it. Then off she ran down the line of empty chicken coops and onto the dirt road leading to the paved road, shouting to the bull pines and fir, “Maurice is a Wizard! Maurice is a Wizard!”
The naked Wizard jumped out of bed and ran outside to piss. As his bladder drained, his senses began reeling in the cold air, until he was thoroughly stoned, laughing and rocking in place, pissing away with tears running down his face. “When it’s good it’s so good!” he shouted to a jay who had begun screeching at him.”
He had promised Val he would finish working on the road and spent the morning shoveling rocks into pot holes and setting them with a tamping iron made from an old truck axle. In the afternoon, Juliana’s mother Fern visited to thank him. They had recently moved into Val’s rental house and Maurice hadn’t yet met her though he was friendly enough with Juliana. Fern was a good looker, as well as his provider since her rent went for his salary. They chatted easily about jazz, and uneasily about auras pendulums, tarot cards and such. When he commented that he wasn’t into the metaphysical stuff but didn’t mind if others were, she explained how people in tune psychically need not have the same outer beliefs. It was the inner harmony that produced the most beautiful music. He liked that, and the fact that she didn’t ask questions. Alright, he would happily explore inner harmony with her and accepted her invitation to dinner.
Later, while putting tools away, he realized he had left the tamping rod at the end of the road. He was returning with it when the school bus arrived and let Juliana off. The driver handed her a beat up patched fiberglass sousaphone that was as tall as she was. “That should keep you busy Juliana,” called the driver, as she waved to Maurice and rode off.
“A tuba! What happened to the piccolo?”
“I didn’t like it,” she shrugged. “It was too small. And it’s not a tuba. It’s a sousaphone. You wear it wrapped around your body and you march in parades with the big horn over all the other players. It keeps the beat. Mr. Lee was gonna get rid of it because nobody in Middle School ever wanted to play it. But I fell in love with it and he let me use it. He thinks I breathe real good, that I can make a great sousaphone player. You know kow long it’s gonna take me to learn to play it ?”
“Eight years. Mr. Lee says there’s an old Chinese proverb that it takes eight years to grow a good persimmon. What’s a persimmon taste like, Maurice?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never had one. I think the inside’s bitter unless it’s ripe. Then it’s soft and sweet.”
“Do you know how to play a sousaphone?” “No. Only a little flute.” “Well eight years isn’t such a long time, is it? Hold my book pack. I’ll show you how to do it.” Eight years. he said to himself as she wiggled into the snail shell and positioned herself for marching. After eight your heart belongs to the joint and inside’s better than out was the way he learned it. It was the music got him through. They all said he was good enough to play with the pros. But then the gate swung open and he was on the outside and the music was gone along with the flute. His parole officer introduced him to Val who was looking for a handyman to help out on his land for a while, and he managed to score an old flute in pretty good shape in exchange for splitting a neighbor’s firewood. He played it at night in his cabin, and too often thought about the day when he was no longer needed and had to move back to the city and the old shit.
“Hey Maurice,” Juliana flagged her pudgy hand in front of his face. “Hello! Here’s a little demonstration. Just remember, it’s only my first day.”
As she began marching down the middle of the roadway he laughed imagining Fern’s reaction to the tuba. The late afternoon sun had broken through the clouds, making Juliana glow like ivory, with huckleberry rhododendron and fern lining her path through the forest. A beautiful fairytale snail child wrapped up in her shell.
“There’s only three valves to push,” she called back… “OOOOMMM OOOOOM OOOOOOOOOMP.”
A woodpecker was setting the time in an old bull pine. The ravens above the apple orchard began clacking and squawking the bass line. “OOOOOOMMMA.” In the lower branches, the jays were screeching melody. Off to the side, a kite was conducting the concert, dogpaddling over the electric lines. “OOOMMPAOOM.”
“She’s already entertaining the world,” Maurice called to the Jays, “and it’s only her first day. Imagine what eight more years could bring.”
And he marched off behind her, keeping time with the tamping iron.