Nothing Plays Itself

By Juan Carlos Reyes

I set the pump in place. I told my kids to listen to their mother. I returned the debit card to my wallet and then crossed the divider, and then I almost returned to the van for my sweater. My double-take, first turning back to the van and then turning back toward the convenience store once I figured it wasn’t that cold, I ended up spinning in the middle of the gas station, and two guys leaving the store shouted that if I liked dancing so much I should probably do it in a disco.

I watched them walk away as I walked to the front door they’d left open. I didn’t smile and they didn’t smile back, and neither of us pump faked the other like anybody was edging for a fight. I was just confused. I don’t know anyone who calls anything a disco anymore.

The hesitation outside had me holding the door for a woman leaving the store, sipping on her soft drink as she tried to thank me past the straw. And then a squeal shook my skin alive, something of a jerk into and out of my arms, and I let the door go.

An old man had started playing the harmonica as he leaned against the beam that upheld the overhang. I grew up on street music, and my body, squared shoulders and all, has always faced the music, even when it encounters the pavement faster than the shock of it can skip off a bumper and skirt my legs.

Growing up, in the subway, on the bus, on platforms boiled by the summer and emboldened by the winter, and on street corners that found ways to go unnoticed even when lights flashing behind a violinist or cellist competed with the notes, my body always tensed with the strain of a contrast.

But nowadays I feel like a voyeur. I don’t always pay a musician anymore. I don’t carry change on me anymore, and the man’s hands, shivering as he blew through the reed plates, as he held onto the cover plates like his fingerprints could leave impressions in the metal, felt like they needed gloves. His pants looked like they needed a wash. His boots held no laces, and he used a rope for a belt, and there I went again. I was sizing him up. He left no cup at his feet, and the breeze didn’t necessitate a hat. But I sized him up anyway.

Shame is an interesting thing. You don’t always know why you have it, and I didn’t know if an ice cream had been enough to hand him after I left the store, but I figured to offer him what I would want. All that prefaced, of course, by the presumption that he’d wanted anything at all, and then that a hotdog and vanilla-chocolate bar would do, that it wouldn’t have reminded him of something better or even worse.

But I figured I couldn’t go wrong by giving something hot and also something cold.

When I got into the driver’s seat, my wife asked me what I’d been measuring. She said my eyes get a certain way when I process the distances between people, whether or not I draw any certifiable lines between them.

I shook my head and said it was nothing. I said I was just covering all my bases. I got the kids each a different thing, and I got her and I each a different thing. I figured, however we mixed our matches, our hands would dance their way to some kind of agreement.

They’d find their way.

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