You are walking down a dark alley late at night. You are lost. You don’t know your way home, but you don’t want to turn around. You look down at the phone in your hands. It has powered down. Totally drained of battery life. Still, you keep it in your hand, hoping nobody will notice that you are without any means of contacting the outside world. You keep up the charade for a few minutes and then put it back in your pocket. You walk with purpose, hoping not to arouse any suspicion. There’s a man up ahead sleeping in the gutter. Is he really sleeping? You approach him slowly, give him a quick look, decide that he’s no harm, and then press on. You reach a crossroads. You don’t want to seem indecisive. You make a quick right. But he wasn’t sleeping. Now he’s right behind you. The sleazy saxophone starts blaring and you know you chose wrong.
You thought you’d save a few bucks. Why pay all that retail markup when you can find a stranger on an app who’s willing to sell you the same thing for a rock bottom price? You remember something your dad told you long ago: Never go with a strange person to a third location. You realize you messed up. He looks like Ratso Rizzo and his eyes are darting around the whole time he’s showing you the merchandise. It’s too late to back out now so you take out your wallet. The sleazy saxophone stings in and punctuates the air like a punch in the face.
You were bound to hit eventually. Or so you thought. The first couple of hands were going your way. You felt energized. They were crowding around you, the hangers on, the strangers. Suddenly you were somebody. Then your luck started to change. I’ll tough it out, you thought. This can’t go on forever. You lost it all. You met somebody. They said they could help you. They could lend you a little bit just get you started again. You’d pay them back. Sure you would. You’d win enough to make you both rich. Just as you are about to deliver the bad news, that old sleazy saxophone chimes in first.
You’re crumpled on the asphalt hoping nothing’s broken. Your wallet’s gone as well as your dignity. You look up into an old brick-arched window overhead. That’s when you finally see him for the first time. Hey, Sleazy Saxophone Man, you ask. How do you always know where to be when your musical touch is needed? It’s what I do, is all he says, sliding his shades back down to the bridge of his nose and delivering the goods like only he can. ❏
Jeff Kulik is a lifelong Chicagoan who has been published in American Bystander, Quarantine Cavalcade, Two Fifty-One, Defenestration, Literally, Stories, Adelaide, Public Organization Review, and Arcturus, the literary magazine of the Chicago Review of Books.