From the east, out of the shadows hanging over Brooklyn, a man in a tattered beige trench coat leads a little dog. The man moves with a lurching reel, as if he's been too many years in dry dock. The dog, an apricot poodle, shambles to a halt at her shin, and cocks his hind leg.
"Hey! Ger on!" The man yanks the leash. The dog reluctantly lowers its leg and disappears up the sidewalk, the man staggering along in its wake.
Breathless paces to where wires and cables coalesce. In the postcard she's studied for so long, this spot is the heart of the bridge, where workmen rubbed elbows, their rough community palpable. In the exact centre, a sax player stands alone, blowing. His music hangs, smoky as the light. Breathless stops, leans on the rail, waits for her heart to settle, watching his long fingers on the stops, listening as he riffs. He cocks an eyebrow and nods at her without lifting his mouth from the reed.
"'Giant Steps'?" Her voice is a rough whisper.
The player nods again, lips pursing around the reed. He's grey-haired, weathered, with the angular body of a basketball player, clad in t-shirt and chinos, his torso bending with the music he blows. His fingers slide from metal to metal as if the instrument is skin and soul.
When the music stops, she drops a folded bill into the open instrument case lying at his feet.
"No need," he says. "I play for my own pleasure."
Pleasure seems a long way away. Breathless turns to the view on the Manhattan side, to the Chrysler Building's majestic indifference. Tears slide down her cheeks. So many losses. Youth, lovers, opportunity, Gran, her ruined mother, hope, all the unwinding threads of her life. The tulips on the subway tracks. Then she looks up at the bridge's silver wires, spinning their own web above the city, its tugboats, stevedores and smugglers, their stowed secret cargo, broken, beautiful and tragic. Incomprehensible irony.
The music follows Breathless as she walks back into Manhattan. At the first open coffee vendor she finds, she stands next to its furled umbrella, sipping, pondering the scars on the jazz blower's naked forearms, what he has seen, how he continues to play.
She lifts her mug in acknowledgment, tells the barista, "Another, a double to go, extra hot," then strides back up the bridge, balancing both cups in a cardboard tray. He's still there, Rollins rolling from his horn as if the big man himself still straddled the bridge. Breathless sets the extra cup beside the musician's feet, nods to him, walks to the rail. Halfway through 'My Favorite Things' the sax player bends, drinks, missing barely a beat as he straightens. Notes slide from the horn, channeling Coltrane, Rollins, Parker. Breathless follows the melody into the beautiful depths, thinking about the centuries of differences between men and women, their desolations and separate longings.
She reaches behind her neck to unclip the silver chain holding her amethyst. Coffee cup in one hand, her elbow balanced on the bridge's cable, her necklace lies across her palm, fingertips fretting where stone and silver meet. All Breathless is conscious of, all she can absorb, is that its strands will tarnish and the amethyst will loosen in its setting. Letting go might be easier.
Finally he stops playing. Removes the strap and the reed, lays the saxophone in its bed. Breathless watches him tenderly wipe the metal clean, then strides toward her, his head gently bobbing, eyes blinking behind round glasses. An arm's length away, he stops.
His hands open at waist height, palms up. Her breath whistles as he plucks the necklace from her hand, opens it. Without touching her, his arms encircle her. Deft fingers attach the clasp at the nape of her neck. "Just don't quit. You hear?" He whispers, hoarse. Smooth fingertips brush across the amethyst lying in the hollow at the base of her throat. He walks back to his sax lying in its case. Picks it up and begins to play.