“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14
Sax Henry carefully removed the dog-eared photo from his wallet and took another drink of tonic water. Why did he hang on to this old snapshot? Twenty-eight years would probably have changed her beyond his recognition. All he could remember of her voice were her haunting cries for help. If only he’d stepped up and done something instead of turning up the music and pretending to be somewhere else. Coward!
His ex-wives had all told him that he should see a shrink—that his misplaced guilt made him a slave to the past and unable to enjoy the present. But they weren’t the ones saddled with the nightmares. And the regret. And the emptiness.
Sax tipped his glass and drank the last of the tonic water. He crunched an ice cube, aware of the blue and gold lights flashing on his wall, reflected from the Burgess Hotel across the street. He glanced out the window at the blazing western sky, which almost seemed to bubble like hot lava as the sun dipped below the horizon in the Big Easy. His band was on at ten. He would have to leave for the club soon.
He set the photo on the coffee table, then got up and turned down the air conditioner another five degrees. He reached into the closet, took out the navy blazer he wore onstage, and spotted two bronze urns on the top shelf. Even now, his parents were a powerful presence. He couldn’t decide whether to scatter their ashes in the Gulf—or dump them in the landfill. So there they sat in the dark. Seemed fitting.
He pushed the door shut with his foot and poured another tonic water. So what if the guys in the band razzed him about being a teetotaler? He’d seen firsthand what booze could turn a man into. He was a failure on many counts, but drinking wasn’t one of them. Every time he had entertained the idea of taking a drink, his hand would shake and he could smell whiskey and vomit—and almost feel a fist slam against his cheek.
He set his glass on the coffee table and flopped onto the couch, then picked up the photo and held it gingerly with his thumb and forefinger. What had his sister done with her life? Had she ever married? Had kids? Or was she turned off by men? What did she see when she closed her eyes? Surely her nightmares were worse than his.
He lifted his gaze to the shiny sliver of moon held in the night sky by the arms of gravity. What kind of all-knowing, ever-compassionate Being could allow innocent children to be victims?
But that was a long time ago. He wasn’t a victim anymore. And he didn’t need God. If judgment day was real, he would surely go to
hell. Fine with him, as long as he got the chance to tell almighty God what he thought of Him first. And ask why he’d been born. He really wanted to know.
He couldn’t keep a wife. Couldn’t father a child. Couldn’t hold a real job. Didn’t have any close friends. Most of his life, he’d survived in an aching vacuum with no reason to get out of bed in the morning except for his music. The saxophone had been his drug of choice for years. But even that wasn’t enough anymore. He wanted peace— whatever it took to get it. However long it took to find it.
He had to find his sister and make things right. If she refused to see him, he would just keep coming back. Even if she hurled insults and pummeled him with raw anger. Or simply slammed the door in his face. He would deal with it. But unless he found her and accepted responsibility for leaving her to fend for herself, how could he hope to silence the guilt?
Sax carefully put the photograph back in his wallet and picked up the Post-it note with the name and address of a woman his sister had worked for. The gig at the club would be over in three more nights. Then he’d have two weeks off before they started a road tour. He would drive up to Les Barbes and find this woman. It might prove to be another dead end. But what if it didn’t? It had taken him three years to get this far. What did he have to lose?
Sax rose and stood at the window. Even if his sister didn’t want a relationship with him, she should be told that their parents had died and have a say in how the ashes were dispersed. He owed her that much. The cruel irony was almost laughable: their father had gotten drunk, staggered out in front of a delivery truck, and died without ever knowing what had hit him. Yet their mother, after enduring years of marital abuse, had suffered from lung cancer for six months and died a horrible death. God was just full of surprises.
All Sax had now was three ex-wives, the scars of childhood, a mountain of guilt, and two bronze urns in the closet. He had to find his sister.