My Life As A Trumpet

I loved the music store. Music went through me every day and I had friends. Children played me. Grandmothers played me. Lovers took turns playing me. The drums told me jokes. The violins told me stories about cities around the world. The harp taught me about fashion.

I sat in a glass case next to the cash register. A gold embossed wooden plaque under me said, “New Trumpet $50.” Mr. Cornwall, the store owner, polished and oiled me every day. Mr. Cornwall had owned the store for forty years. He could play every instrument.

A man in a baseball cap, a woman in a sundress, and a girl in a frog T-shirt entered the store.

“Can I help you?” Mr. Cornwall asked.

The man pointed at the girl and said, “Emily here just turned fourteen. She needs a trumpet for her music class. School starts next week.”

Mr. Cornwall picked me up, handed me to Emily, and said, “Try this one.”

She turned toward her father and blew off his baseball cap.

“I’ll take this,” Emily said.

Mr. Cornwall gave Emily a card with the notes of the musical scale. He gave one to every student.

The family piled into a blue minivan with a ski rack on top. Emily held me on her lap in the back seat. Emily’s father talked about “bugs” in the system. Her mother complained about “crazy clients” and “stubborn judges.” We drove up a hill to a three-story house protected by an iron gate as tall as a pipe organ.

Emily took her seat in the band room on the first day of school. Everyone, including the teacher, stared at us. The other instruments stayed in one piece thanks to duct tape. The string instruments ignored me. The brass section whispered, “Look at the brand-new, shiny trumpet. Thinks he’s better than we are.”

I didn’t think I was better than anybody. I just wanted to be friends.

For three months, Emily and I practiced every day and I had fun. Then we practiced three times a week. Then once a week.

Then she texted her friends all day while I sat on a shelf.

A year after I left the music store, Emily’s mother put me in a yard sale. A red pencil cardboard sign said, “Almost new trumpet thirty dollars.”

A woman in a flannel shirt and blue jeans got out of the front seat of a subcompact car. A boy popped out of the back. The boy wore striped short pants. The woman’s golden hair swept over her shoulder. Her skin was as smooth as a drum, her teeth as white and straight as piano ivories. Her smile exuded kindness.

“I was sorry to hear about your husband, Jennifer,” Emily’s mother said to the woman. “How are you and Billy getting along?”

“It’s not easy on an office manager’s salary, but we’ll get by. I’m looking for a used trumpet. Billy saw Hello Dolly on TV. Now he wants to be the next Louis Armstrong. I’ll have to work overtime to pay for music lessons. But this has been hard for a nine-year-old boy.”

Billy picked me up, weighed me in his palms, tapped my keys, turned to Jennifer, and said, “Mom, this trumpet’s almost new. It’s only thirty dollars.”

Billy and Jennifer lived in a fourth floor two-bedroom apartment. Billy’s artwork covered the walls. Photographs of Billy with his mother and father in a soldier’s uniform sat on the mantelpiece.

Mr. Ben, the music teacher, regaled Billy with stories of concerts with Al Hirt and Miles Davis. He lived in an apartment/studio over a delicatessen. A green headband held his shoulder-length hair. Three days a week, he gave Billy a lesson in the kitchen.

Billy and I had a blast. After three months, Billy played “When the Saints Go Marching In” like Satchmo himself. Between Mr. Ben’s lessons we jammed in the kitchen until Jennifer came home from work.

As Billy played “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” Jennifer tumbled through the door three hours early. She carried a printer paper box.

Jennifer sat on the sofa and put the box on the floor. She took from the top of the box three pictures of Billy and a red clay turtle. She lowered the items to the coffee table.

“Mom, why did you bring home the turtle I made you?” Billy asked.

Jennifer said, “Billy, honey, come sit next to me.”

Billy carried me to the sofa and sat down.

“I got laid off from my job. The company has been losing money for a long time. They even tried to sell the scrap paper in the office.”

“Don’t worry, Mom, we’ll get by. I’ll help,” Billy said.

She held his arm and said, “You just worry about school. But we can’t afford trumpet lessons until I get another job. The landlord said we can have a yard sale in front of the apartment building next Saturday.”

Billy looked at his mother and said, “I’ll sell the trumpet.” Jennifer squeezed Billy until he dropped me. I knew I was going to miss Billy. But I was proud of him.

I sat on a card table between a tray of costume jewelry and a teddy bear. The price tag tied to my keys said in blue ink, “$10.” Billy sat on a folding chair next to the table.

A young blonde man with a ponytail, sideburns, and a goatee, jumped out of the driver’s seat of a pickup truck. A middle-aged man slid out of the passenger seat. He towered over everyone at the yard sale. Both men wore a hardhat, blue jeans, and work boots.

The tall man’s ebony, wavy hair covered the top of his ears and his tanned forehead. His body was as well-proportioned as a bass fiddle. His eyes radiated intelligence. He carried a book in his left hand.

He walked over to an elderly lady who struggled to put a garden chair into the trunk of her sedan. He smiled as he lowered the chair into the trunk with one hand. She reached up and patted his shoulder.

He joined the blond man at our table, smiled at Billy, and asked, “Why are you selling that nice trumpet?”

Billy said, “My mom lost her job. We have to sell everything or we’ll lose the apartment. Mom used to work an extra two hours every day to pay for lessons.”

“One of us has gotta buy something, Rick,” the tall one said.

“Danny, you’re the engineer who makes the big bucks,” Rick replied.

Danny picked me up, gave Billy a twenty-dollar bill, and said, “Buy your mom lunch.”

We all left in the truck. Danny tapped my keys. Rick drove to a field. I saw piles of concrete and metal. “I’m glad this is the last Saturday we have to work,” Danny said.

After work, Danny and I got in a jeep with more dents than the trombone in Emily’s band. We arrived at a brick bungalow on a dead-end street.

Overflowing bookshelves lined Danny’s bare walls. Two trophies sat on the mantelpiece. I saw not a speck of dust or dirt. On the kitchen table sat a desktop computer like the one Mr. Cornwall had bought for the music store three years earlier.

Danny got up before the sun rose the next morning. He wolfed down a piece of cold pizza, guzzled a Coke, and googled “online trumpet lessons.” On the screen appeared a tuxedoed twelve-year-old boy, a bald wannabe Bond villain, and a girl with golden hair in a pink top. He clicked on the girl.

Danny and I practiced until the sun set. He learned all the fundamentals in one day.

From then on, we practiced all weekend and all evening during the week. We came home from work at seven o’clock. Danny threw off his jacket, plopped into a chair, sighed, and ate some pizza. I sensed that he liked his job and house, but he wished he had someone to talk to.

Danny picked me up at eight o’clock and stood in the middle of the living room. He closed his eyes, and tapped his foot as we played. We practiced until midnight. He smiled, patted me, hummed a tune, and went to bed.

I had never felt so happy. After a year, Danny played Louis Armstrong, Haydn, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

On a clear, seventy-degree day in May he summoned the courage to play on a park bench. As we played “Summertime, Summertime,” a woman in an ankle-length jean skirt and a Moto jacket sat next to Danny. A knit hat hid most of her blonde/purple hair.

“Hi. My name is Jan. I like how you play the trumpet,” she said.

“Thanks. I’m Danny.”

She said, “I own the Best Day Café, just off Second Street. I need a musician from twelve o’clock to two o’clock on Sunday. You get tips and all the coffee you can drink. You can start next week.”

Danny nodded, smiled, and said, “I’ll be there.”

The red brick walls and oak floors of the Best Day Café reminded me of the music store. People drank coffee at wobbling wooden tables.

Danny sat on a stool in front of a stone fireplace. He closed his eyes. We rocked the house with jazz, rock, and the blues. He forgot to sip his drink between songs. We didn’t notice if anybody let our music interrupt their conversations. And we didn’t care.

At two o’clock, Danny jumped off the stool and counted his tips. A woman as thin as a trombone with hair as dark as black piano keys led a toddler to us. She shook hands with Danny and said, “Hello, my name is Carol O’Brien. This is Caitlin.”

“I’m Danny. What can I do for you?”

“I’m giving my nephew a birthday party at my house next Saturday,” Carol said.

“I love birthday parties,” Danny replied.

“It would help if we had some music for his party. But we don’t have a lot of money. How much would you charge?”

Danny patted Caitlin on the head, grinned, and said, “Ice cream and cake.”

Carol squeezed his arm and handed him a piece of paper.

“Here’s the address. The party starts at eleven o’clock.”

We parked in front of a one-story, red brick house. Children dressed like Batman, Superman, Catwoman, and other superheroes rolled and jumped in the yard. A sign over the front door read, “Bat Cave.”

Danny rang the bell. A Spiderman as tall as a music stand and almost as thin opened the door.

Danny said, “I’m here to play for the party.”

Spiderman tapped me and said, “You brought the trumpet.”

He turned and shouted, “Mom, it’s the man who gave me twenty dollars for the trumpet. The twenty dollars I took you to lunch with.”

Spiderman removed his mask to reveal Billy.

Jennifer ran up in a Wonder Woman outfit. She stared at Danny. Danny stared at her.

“It was wonderful what you did for Billy,” Jennifer said. “He told me how generous you were. Thanks for the lunch. But he didn’t mention that you are so tall.”

Danny replied, “He told me how hard you worked for the trumpet lessons. But he didn’t mention your smile.”

Danny handed me to Billy and said, “Here’s your birthday present.”

Danny and Jennifer got married six months later. Paintings and photographs hang over the bookcases in Danny’s house. Billy’s red clay turtle sits between Danny’s trophies on the mantelpiece.

Danny bought another trumpet, so now I have a friend. Danny and Billy play us every day. They perform together in the park, in coffee shops, and charity events. Jennifer watches while she holds Billy’s new sister.

I’m as happy as a trumpet can be.