The frozen air snapped at Sol's heels as he made his way south across Union Square Park. His trousers were an inch too short for his legs and the socks he wore beneath them were thin and full of holes. All he could do to stay warm was turn his collar up, pull his hat low and take small sips from his paper cup of coffee as he soldiered on.
The temperature hadn't risen above freezing for three consecutive days, though it had frequently plunged much lower. Sol had hoped the bad weather might start to improve once November was over, but so far the first day of December had yielded little luck.
While the pale sun raced for the horizon, taking what little warmth it offered with it, the people of Manhattan raced for their homes, eager not to be outside for a moment longer than they needed. One particularly spritely old lady in a fur coat overtook Sol at quite a pace in the direction of the subway station, despite the large bag of shopping slung over one shoulder. As she sped past him, a breeze plucked something from the bag and dropped it on the path. Sol saw this and stopped to pick it up, finding a card with a drawing of Father Christmas giving a gift to a little girl. She had rosy cheeks and blonde hair and they were standing in front of a roaring fireplace where three stockings hung stuffed with presents.
"Miss! You dropped this!" Sol shouted, but the old lady had gone beyond the limits of her hearing and did not turn back. Sol gulped down the last of his coffee and chased after her.
"Miss," he shouted again as he caught up to her, and this time the woman did hear—but when she turned around and saw the tall black man running towards her, her eyes widened with fear. She screamed and nearly tripped over her feet in her haste to get away.
"You dropped this!" Sol said, holding out the card, but the woman didn't turn back. He watched her run all the way to the subway station where she disappeared down a flight of steps. With a sigh, Sol tucked the card into his coat pocket and proceeded on his journey to Fourth Avenue.
Like much of Manhattan, Fourth Avenue had its own identity that made it feel almost like another city altogether. For six blocks, dozens of second-hand bookstores lined the streets, most of them fronted by stalls of cheap books which littered the pavement in an attempt to lure passers-by inside. No two shops were the same; some devoted themselves to fiction, others to rare editions or memorabilia, history or cookbooks—the choices were as good as endless. Locals called it Book Row.
Half-way along, Sol passed a particularly small bookshop sandwiched between two much bigger ones. There were no stalls outside—perhaps because that would have prevented anyone from reaching the door—but a green-and-white hand-painted sign reading 'Alexandria Bookstore' hung askew over the entrance.
As Sol passed it by, he looked through the window and caught a glimpse of Mr Debogorski sorting through a pile of books. He'd only ever spoken to the store's owner once before and it hadn't been a pleasant exchange. The old man had made it quite clear that Sol wasn't welcome in his shop, even though all Sol had done by that point was step inside. Sol didn't argue, though, and left peacefully.
Turning his back on the Alexandria Bookstore, Sol crossed the street and approached another shop which had closed down a few months before. He walked right up to the darkened doorway and, once there, he crouched and placed his small case on the floor. He thumbed open the latches and lifted the lid, and a golden light reflected in his eyes. Then, as he had done a thousand times before, he began his ritual.
He removed the saxophone with the gentlest of care, lifting the strap over his head to rest the instrument's weight on his neck. Next, he retrieved the mouthpiece from its special section in the case and pushed it firmly onto the neck of the saxophone. Once that was secure, he reached into his coat pocket and took out a small, dented tin which he opened, revealing a thin sliver of wood: the reed. This, he placed in his mouth and wet it on his tongue before positioning it carefully over the tip of the mouthpiece and smoothing any wrinkles out with his thumbs. Finally, he secured it in place with a small hoop of metal which tightened around the mouthpiece with a couple of small screws.
YOU ARE READING
* Updates every Wednesday * Manhattan, 1929. The City is on its knees following a devastating crash in the stock market. Thanks to the Prohibition, criminals are making a killing off illegal bars while thousands of honest labourers can't find a sing...