Standing at dawn
The strap pinches my neck. My fingers poise above the keys. Moonlight highlights the skeletal frame of my alto saxophone.
I stretch my eyes out into the darkness. To the left, stands the couple next door and their border collie. Lyndsay leans against her husband; a crocheted poppy pinned to her cardigan. Dressed in a thick jacket, Terry reaches down occasionally to ruffle Ruby’s ears. I notice the duct-tape shoes. I wonder if they were a Lockdown project.
Directly across the street, a bundled-up dressing gown stumbles down her drive. Untamed curls pile in a wild nest above her forehead. She stands alone on the curb, hugging herself. The silence is chilling.
To my right, a small family huddles, Mum with two children either side, a New Zealand flag draped across their shoulders. Dragon breath escapes in small clouds with muffled giggles.
"Hey." My brother’s whisper stirs the stillness. "It’s six o’clock. You can start".
I inhale; fill my lungs with frigid air, feel the cool keys against my fingertips. I raise the mouthpiece to my lips, in a vignette of concentration.
A single note slices through the silence.
I exhale through the phrases and, in the distance, I hear other instruments too, delayed melodies creating faint, syncopated harmonies.
We stand apart in our driveways, but in this moment, we’re immersed in the music together, an escape from reality and from our fears. I reach the last bar, ritardando. Neighbours hold their breath as I let mine out. There is an eerie calm as The Last Post finishes.
A man steps out of the blackness. He’s dressed in a blazer, medals strung, like clothes on a line, across his chest. He leans on a wooden stick, straggly white hair hangs past his ears. Another few steps closer, and I see the tears in his eyes. He beams, wrinkles gather like ripples across his cheeks.
"I was asked by my old captain to let him know if anyone bothered to show up." The corner of his mouth twitches. "I’m going to tell him he needs to learn how to play ‘The Last Post’ on the saxophone."
There are a few chuckles at this, and we form a circle two metres apart in the centre of the street. Ruby’s wet nose nudges my leg. I stroke her ears, listening as the last trumpet dies down.
We exchange air-hugs, and retreat back into our bubbles. Even in the chilled air, our hearts have been warmed.