CHAPTER FOUR: REALM (1/4)

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The band played well enough but without much heart

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The band played well enough but without much heart. Sol smiled and tapped his toes to the rhythm, but it was more for appearance than enthusiasm. The music felt as rigid to listen to as the few people dancing were to watch. White men and women drifted in endless circles about the dancefloor, as mechanical as the workings of a pocket watch, providing passable entertainment for the majority still drinking and dining. But it suited their needs well enough as a distraction from the awful events occurring in Europe.

After a few songs, Sol had settled into his boredom. He would have joined in with the flutes and clarinets if he could, but Anton, the band's conductor, had scolded him quite severely the last time he dared deviate from the sheet music, so Sol just stood there with his sax in his hands while he waited to perform his transcribed solo at the correct moment. Better than washing dishes, he told himself. Private parties like these were the only time he was allowed to play at all.

When his time eventually came, Sol played each note with perfect skill and precision, though he could feel Anton's eyes upon him for every single one of them. It was almost a relief when he could lower his sax and return to watching the dancing.

After an hour and a half, Sol reckoned he'd played for no more than two or three minutes. He was no longer bored, however, for something had caught his eye which both intrigued and uneased him.

One of the waitresses had taken to watching the band from the bar with keen interest, and while it was hard to tell from across the large room, Sol was convinced she was looking at him. She was perhaps a decade older than he was and entering the twilight of her beauty years, but her gaze was quite alluring. He might have enjoyed it... if it hadn't been for the fact she was white.

When the last song had ended and the party was over, Sol was dismantling his saxophone when he was interrupted by a woman's voice.

"You play very well."

The waitress was standing by the corner of the stage, and this time there could be no doubt she was looking at Sol.

"Thank you," he mumbled, keeping his eyes down.

"I wish the conductor would let you play more. I could have listened to you all evening."

"I just play what they tell me." Sol stuffed the body of his sax into his case and shut the lid.

"Do you play anywhere else?"

"When I have time."

"Where? I'd love to come and listen."

It was clear she was saying more than her words implied, and it was making Sol uncomfortable. He knew it shouldn't, that he was doing nothing wrong, but all it took was for the wrong person to get the wrong idea and he'd be out looking for work.

"I don't have anything lined up right now," he said, and he picked up his case and marched off stage—but the waitress blocked his path.

"Is something wrong?" she asked.

"I'm running late."

"I see. Then perhaps I'll see you around. I'm Valerie."

"Solomon. Good evening."

Sol stepped around her and hurried through the staff door.

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