Taps

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Poetry  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: August 23, 2018

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Submitted: August 23, 2018

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when I was coming up
through elementary school
I knew early on
the whole works wasn't for me
but then there were glimpses in there
that kept it going

music mostly
and by the 6th grade
I was playing the trumpet
without much thought
it was a natural thing I fell into
pretty much straightaway
like confident girls and hot black coffee
I just took to it
and it had me

by the 7th grade
I was travelling on weekends
for private lessons at the university
and to perform in the closest youth symphony
I could find

by the 8th grade
I was giving lessons to younger players
and fudging my age to compete
with the older kids in solo/ensemble contests

I had a good guy as a band director
he pretty much just kept putting me in more and more
challenging circumstances
which is exactly how it works for me
and he wasn't too keen on the rules either

then one day that school year
I got a call
the notification
came through on the intercom in my classroom
I was to go to the office

I was convinced it was disciplinary

when I put the phone to my ear
it was an older man on the other end
"from the American Legion" he said
"I hear you can play Taps"

I had no idea what he was talking about
but I felt the skin on my arms raise
and the adrenaline made my scalp itch
"Sure" I said
"I can do that"
"That sounds good, can you play tomorrow morning?" he asked

I looked around the principles office
a place I'd been many times
a brightly lit florescent hive
the huge old Xerox machine pushing out green-grey papers
the secretary busy on another line
the thick glass window looking into the
suspension/sick room

"Yes, yes I can" I said
"I appreciate that, someone will be by tomorrow at 10. Make sure you have a jacket, its supposed to be cold"

"Ok" and I hung up the phone

after school that day
I went to the band room and asked my director what had happened
he just said he thought I was ready
and handed me Taps written out on a piece of paper no larger than an index card
"it's a bugle tune so its all open fingered" he said
then he shuffled around for a cassette tape
so I could listen

I had heard the tune before
and I knew right away
what it was suppose to mean

the whole song is just one sustained emotion

I played Taps that night
a hundred times on my lips
and a thousand more times in my head
Im almost certain I didn't sleep well

at exactly 10 a.m. the next day
the intercom called me down to the office

two older men in military uniforms
were waiting for me
no one said anything
I just left with them

I remember the brown 1984 Cutlass Sierra they drove
parked in front of the school
with the engine still running
it was cold that day and the exhaust made a billowing white cloud as we approached it
one of the men opened the back passenger door

I got in

on the drive to the cemetery
it was quiet
and I knew it was on purpose
I had so many questions but I kept my mouth shut
and watched these men
their thoughts reaching out far beyond the windshield

as we turned into the cemetery
the man driving passed a glass bottle to the other man
both of them taking their time
unscrewing the cap and tipping it back

"try to stand off a ways behind a tree or something"
the driver said
"after the last rifle shot you're up"

then he turned around completely in his seat
and looked at me
"are you nervous?" he asked
"a little" I said
"Good" he said as he handed me a soft five dollar bill

after the last rifle shot
I pulled my mouthpiece out of my front pocket
that kept it warm
and twisted it into the instrument

I played like I wasn't the one playing
at least it felt like it came without trying
and I took my time
as the sound bounced off the orange brick church
and wrestled around the gravestones
the echo was as good as I could get it
and I didn't miss a lick
it may as well have been a recording

afterwords
on the way back
the car seemed like a lighter ride
someone had turned the radio on
I was asked if I'd mind a call from time to time

I didn't even think of saying no
as they pulled up to the school
just after lunch period

I got out and carried my trumpet
back inside
where the other kids
were buzzing around
having no idea where I had been
or what it all meant

at that time I had no way to explain
that I was just 13
and already had a heavy heart

it was the first of many times
I played taps
for five dollars


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