The Flute Player

The Flute Player

Enrique stepped out into the rush of midday traffic. Cars screeched to a halt. One car ran into the back of the car in front of it. The driver in the front car leapt out and screamed at the other driver. The other driver screamed back. It was chaos. In the meantime, Enrique went on his way.

The traffic began to flow again, except for the two unfortunate cars involved in the crash. They were crowded to the side of the busy street waiting on the police to arrive. Enrique hadn’t noticed. He moved carelessly down the sidewalk.

He stopped in front of Zeppo’s Coffee House, asking himself if he felt like a cup of coffee. He entered and walked through the crowded tables to the counter and ordered the house dark roast. When he turned around, there were no empty tables. He stepped back outside. It was a warm spring day and he enjoyed the sunshine. He sat down on a bench along the busy street. Passersby hurried to get somewhere.

The coffee was hot and strong. His destination was the library, but he would get there when he finished his coffee. There was no hurry.

A young woman carrying a leather briefcase walked by. Was she a lawyer? He had used a lawyer once, during his divorce, even though the divorce seemed simple enough. He and his wife didn’t have anything, so where was the need to hire a lawyer? But he did. It is what people did when they divorced. After that, however, Enrique decided to stop doing the things other people did since everyone else seemed unhappy.

He stared at the young woman as she continued down the sidewalk. He would have liked to have said hello, but she was so intent. Nonetheless, he would have liked to have said hello. Sometimes, even though he did whatever he wanted, he felt lonely.

Enrique finished his coffee and took his empty cup inside. People buzzed at their tables, ignoring their loneliness.

Inside the library, Enrique walked between the rows of books. He slid out a book, flipped through the first couple of pages, read the first paragraph, and slid it back into place. In the end, he checked out two books by authors he’d read in college.

Earlier that morning, sitting in front of his computer, he’d read Leeza had died. He’d often wondered about her. Every girl after Leeza, he compared to Leeza. He knew this wasn’t fair to them, but long after his break-up with Leeza, he still felt the sharp pain.

What had drawn him to search for her this morning? He’d tried finding her before with no success. But she hadn’t died before. When you die, you get written about. There she was staring out at him from the computer screen. It was Leeza all right. She had died after a valiant fight against cancer. Valiant. He thought about that. She was a battler all right. And unique, always doing her own thing. He guessed that is why she broke it off with him. Or maybe he’d been too needy. After she broke it off with him, he swore to himself that he’d never be needy again.

Enrique had met Leeza in the college library. She was in graduate school, he was struggling to get through his undergraduate studies. He’d already left school twice before, the first time to move to San Francisco, the second time to Seattle. He’d just got back from Seattle when he met Leeza. He bumped into her in one of the rows of books in the library. He actually bumped into her. Otherwise, he’d never have met her. No, it had to be accidental.

She turned to him and asked if she could help him.

“What?” he said. Yeah, it was a stupid thing to say, but that is what he said.

“Can I help you?” she said. “It is a big place, maybe you are lost?”


“Well, obviously you are confused by space-time. Two people can’t occupy the same space at the same time.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bump into you.”

“I’m sure you didn’t. Obviously, you are just wandering through space.”


“Forget it,” she said. She turned her attention back to the book she held.

“Can I make it up to you?” he asked.

She looked up from her book.

“I mean, can I buy you a cup of coffee?” he asked.

She looked back down at her book, but he could tell she was considering his offer. Finally, she said, “Sure. Why not?”

“Great,” he said.

They walked to the student union. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. They talked and laughed for over two hours. He never wanted it to end. But it did. He went home with her, and they spent the night together, but they didn’t make love. They slept on the floor of her apartment, and he stroked her stomach all night. He didn’t sleep a minute while she slept like a baby. In the morning, he woke up stiff with a dull headache and she stretched and yawned and stood up naked and walked to the bathroom.

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” she yelled, sitting on the toilet.

“Sure,” he said.

“Sorry, but I don’t have any. Do you mind going out to get some?”

“Sure. Can I pee first?”

She stood naked in front of the bathroom. “You’re in luck. I paid the water bill this month.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” he said. Her tousled hair framed her thin face. He glimpsed at her tiny breasts and bristle of pubic hair, kissing her mop of hair on his way into the bathroom.

When he returned with two cups of coffee and doughnuts she was sitting at the kitchen table, one of the only pieces of furniture she owned. There was no bed, no couch, no chairs in the living room. Only the kitchen table with two chairs. Off in the corner of the living room, there was a small table and lamp. He sat down and handed her her coffee.

“Thanks,” she said.


He reached across the table to kiss her tousled hair. She looked up at him. She was wearing big-rimmed glasses that slipped down on the tip of her nose. He loved it when she smiled because her dimples showed.

She was wearing big-rimmed glasses in the picture that stared out at him from the computer screen. She was smiling her dimpled smile. He wondered when the picture was taken. She was standing on the front porch of what he assumed to be her house.

She’d gotten married, he knew. He never thought she’d get married. But she did. And she had a son. The obituary didn’t say much about her, other than she taught children’s literature at a small college in New Hampshire. It didn’t mention her husband, so he assumed they were divorced. She had two sisters, one in California, one in Colorado. Her son lived in Massachusetts.

After his divorce, Enrique moved back to Colorado. He had saved some money, enough that he didn’t need to work if he didn’t go crazy. He didn’t need anything, so he didn’t go crazy. A couple of beers in the evening, coffee in the morning, it wasn’t much, but it was enough. He lived comfortably in his small apartment. It reminded him of Leeza’s college apartment. Except he had a bed and dresser and a chair in the living room.

He didn’t feel like going back to his apartment after he left the library. He walked to the park across from his apartment building. During the middle of the week, there weren’t too many people in the park. Mostly retired people. And the homeless. He thought they must be relieved now the weather had turned warmer. It had been a cold winter and a wet spring. He didn’t see them in the park in the winter. He wondered where they went.

He walked for a while and then sat down on one of the benches. He read for a while but couldn’t focus. He watched the people walking along the path around a large open field of grass. In the summer, they held concerts here. And other events. A local brewery put on a music festival. He had gone once, but it was crowded. Loneliness is a terrible thing.

He thought about Leeza. Why had they broken up? They had been happy. College seemed good then. He thought with Leeza he’d be able to stay focused long enough to graduate. She would have had her master’s degree in another year. They would have made out just fine. They never talked about marriage, but he thought about it all the time. He never dared mention it to Leeza.

They moved in together. He bought a chair for the living room and curtains. And a bed, even though they enjoyed making love on the floor. After he bought the bed, they never made love on the floor again. He thought now he should never have bought the bed.

He walked back downtown. The restaurants were beginning to fill up for lunch. Because it was warm, the patios were filling up first. People always liked being outside when it was warm.

He never thought about eating lunch. In the afternoons, he played one of the three flutes made by his friend, Ira, who had also taught him how to play. Enrique played every afternoon. Afterward, he would walk downtown to one of the restaurants with a bar and have a couple of beers. He liked sitting at the bar squeezed in between two other people, sipping his beer slowly. He was never in a hurry. Once in a while, someone would strike up a conversation with him. It wasn’t serious. They just talked. Now with the elections coming up, people liked to talk about politics. He didn’t. And since he didn’t know anything about sports, most people found him boring. No one knew anything about Native flutes.

His ex-wife had never liked his flute playing. She hated the time they spent on the reservation. It was probably one of the reasons for their divorce. But there were lots of reasons. They just stopped talking. He didn’t know why. He played his flute more and more, and she hated it more and more. He didn’t do it to upset her, but he knew it did.

After his divorce, he met a woman on the reservation. They enjoyed each other. He thought. When he got fired and had to leave the reservation, he asked Laani to go with him, but she said no. She said she would never leave.

“Why?” he asked her.

“This is where my family is,” she said.

“But I thought I was family,” he said.

“We are lovers,” she said.

“And that means nothing to you?” he said.

“It means something, yes, but we are not family,” she said.

It was hard for him to leave her. He was alone again.

He didn’t really have any destination in mind as he walked slowly down the sidewalk in the bright afternoon sun. He sat for a while on one of the city benches. He only needed to get through another couple of hours before it was time to play his flute. He had gotten pretty good at it. Ira had been good once but had gotten old and short of breath. One thing you need is good lungs to play the flute. When you lose your breath, the songs become broken. Ira had been a smoker. Lots of his friends on the reservation were smokers, but he never said anything to them. Who was he to say anything?

They had a going away feast for Enrique before he left the reservation. Over a hundred people came to the feast. They gave him a blanket, a medicine pouch, a turquoise bracelet, and a beautiful cedar flute. It was the best flute Ira ever made. He died a week later. Enrique has never played this flute. It hangs on his living room wall. He takes it down every morning and wipes it down with a soft buckskin cloth. He is careful not to disturb the turquoise inlay and the soft strips of leather that hold the block in place, but he always touches Ira’s engraved signature: I. Lonedog, 2011.

Now, in the warm afternoon spring sun, he thinks about Leeza. He probably wouldn’t have found her, after he’d given her enough time to begin to miss him, even if he’d tried. He should have tried. Life gets away from us.

He walked back to his apartment. He would play his flute until it was time to go down to one of the restaurants along Main Street, where he would drink his beer slowly and sit unnoticed among the other people at the bar.

Tonight he thought about Leeza, just as in the past he’d thought about his ex-wife and Laani. There is always someone to think about. He wished one day he would meet someone who knew something about playing the Native flute. That would be something, at least.

He finished his second beer, and as he stood up to leave, a pretty young woman carrying a leather briefcase sat down next to him. He hesitated. She set the case on the floor between them. She smiled at him and said hello.

“Hello,” he said. He sat back down, after fiddling in his pants pocket. The bartender stepped over. She ordered a glass of wine, he ordered another beer. The pretty young woman had a nice smile.

“I saw you earlier today,” he said.

“Oh? Where?”

“On the corner in front of Zeppo’s. I wanted to say hello, but I didn’t. You seemed so intent.”

“I wish you had.”

“I should have,” he said. He looked at her in the long mirror. She looked back and he looked down.

He turned to her and asked, “Are you a lawyer?”

She seemed perplexed but then noticed him glance down at her briefcase.

“Oh, that,” she said. “No, I use that to carry around something someone gave me a long time ago.”

“A gift?” he asked.


“It must be a special gift,” he said.

“He was a special person.”

He shifted in his seat, looking down at the glass of beer the bartender set on the bar in front of him. He thought about Ira’s gift to him. The cedar flute had been hanging on his wall too long. Tomorrow, after he carefully wiped off the dust, he would play his gift from Ira. Ira would like that, he thought.

He noticed the young woman’s hand on the bar. He reached over and covered it with his hand. She turned to him and smiled. He noticed a slow teardrop in the corner of her eye.

“Maybe it is time you took your gift out of its case,” he said, “and show it to the world.” She said nothing but looked down at the leather case on the floor.

He pushed his stool away from the bar and stood up, placing his hand on the young woman’s shoulder.

“It has been a pleasure,” he said.

“For me, as well,” she said. She glanced at the glass of beer sitting untouched on the bar and turned around just in time to see him push through the door and walk out into the night.








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