Sax-ual Healing by Jennifer Anthony

20 July 2008

Every day for the past week, Graciela had awoken sweaty and bewildered from sax dreams.

The Friday before, she’d seen the instrument for the first time at S.O.B.’s – Sounds of Brazil – in SoHo. Her salsa band, which consisted of Javier on bass, along with the timbalero, the trombonist, the trumpeter, and herself on vocals, had decided to add a guest musician to the troupe for the two weeks they were playing at the new venue. And when Graciela stepped onto the stage that evening to prepare for the show, the saxophone was already extended in mid-air, about to get warmed up by its owner.

It was big.

It was brassy.

And it was profoundly phallic.

Next to it, the trumpet – and even José the trumpeter, who was six feet tall – seemed to shrink in comparison.

“Graciela,” José said, tucking the trumpet under one arm. “This is Fernando. He’s joining us tonight and next week.”

“Hola,” Fernando said, extending out the second syllable of the salutation a couple of beats. “Mucho gusto.”

Graciela tore her eyes away from the shiny instrument for the first time and noticed its attachment, a long torsoed, thin man draped with a thick ponytail of black hair and a white, embroidered guayabera. She had begged her boyfriend Rickey to wear one a thousand times.

“Hola,” Graciela said, and cut her eyes back to his instrument. “So, what can the saxophone add to our equation?”

“Graciela –” José admonished.

“No, it’s okay,” Fernando said. “What would you like to hear?”

“How about some Paquito D’Rivera?” Graciela asked. She had just finished reading the legendary Cuban musician’s memoir, My Sax Life.

The musician shrugged and said, “Como no? He’s a master of Latin jazz. And an interesting choice. He’s always been very open to adding different musicians to his ensemble.”

When he raised the saxophone to his mouth and began to play, Graciela reached for a chair to collapse onto. She focused on a picture on the far wall, reminding herself to keep her eyes open and her mouth shut.

But he played only enough notes for her to swoon, then stopped. “That was Sin tu Cariño. I’d play you some more of his music if I had my clarinet with me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to grab a drink before the show starts.”

Graciela wondered what he was getting at by playing a song entitled Without your Love. She smiled inwardly at the thought that it might have been a come-on.

As Fernando strode toward the bar, saxophone in hand, José clicked his tongue. “Real smooth, Graciela. We’re lucky to have Fernando play with us, and you treat him like that?”

Fernando didn’t say a word to her the rest of the night, but Graciela barely noticed or minded. His instrument spoke sweetly to her throughout the performance.




When Graciela returned to the club a week later, Fernando was seated at the bar, quietly making his way through a plate of pork and black bean empanadas. She ordered a caipirinha, nodded hello at Fernando, and glanced over to see that he had left his saxophone on its stand in the corner of the stage. She tried to look away, but her eyes returned to it again and again as she sipped her drink.

Fernando took a long sip of his mojito and said, “You have a beautiful voice, Graciela.”

“Thank you,” Graciela said, unable to tear her eyes from the stage. “And you have a beautiful instrument.”

Fernando laughed. “Francisco is amazing.”

Graciela rested her drink down on the bar and stared at him, puzzled.


“My sax,” Fernando said. He took one last bite of his empanada and pushed the plate away. “I’ve named it, just like B.B. King named his guitar Lucille. My sax does the talking for me, just like his guitar does the talking for him. Francisco’s a charmer.”

“Well, he – it – is intoxicating. I’ll say that,” Graciela said.

“José tells me you’re engaged,” Fernando said.

Graciela nodded.

“So I’m sure it’s confusing, having all those dreams about Francisco.”

Graciela stood. “How dare you.”

Fernando looked down at the napkin on his lap. “But there’s no need to be confused,” he continued, as if he didn’t see her standing over him, breathing hot air through her nostrils like a bull. “It’s only a sax.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Graciela said.

Fernando wiped his hands on the napkin, sat still a moment, then said finally, “You’re not the first one to fall for my instrument. And you won’t be the last.”

“You’ve got to be one of the most arrogant men I’ve ever met,” Graciela said.

“Graciela!” a voice cried from the other side of the bar. She turned to see Rickey striding toward her.

“That must be your fiancée,” Fernando said. “He’s hot. Too bad he’s not on my team.”

Fernando had a smug smile on his face.

“Are you –?” Graciela started.

“Gay?” Fernando said. “Yes. So your dreams about Francisco are just that – dreams about Francisco. You can leave me out of it, and stop feeling guilty.”

When Rickey embraced her, Graciela could see the saxophone over his shoulder and felt a little chill. But for the first time in a week, she was guilt-free.

It was only a sax.

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