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I was beginning to realize that I’d never seen him so upset before. With another part of my mind I was thinking that this would probably turn out to be one of those things kids go through and that I shouldn’t make it seem important by pushing it too hard. Still, I didn’t think it would do any harm to ask: “Doesn’t all this take a lot of time? Can you make a living at it?”

He turned back to me and half leaned, half sat, on the kitchen table. “Everything takes time,” he said, “and—well, yes, sure, I can make a liv­ ing at it. But what I don’t seem to be able to make you understand is that it s the only thing I want to do.”

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He turned back to me and half leaned, half sat, on the kitchen table. “Everything takes time,” he said, “and
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“Well, Sonny,” I said gently, “you know people can’t always do ex­ actly what they want to do—”

“No, I don’t know that/’ said Sonny, surprising me. “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?”

“You getting to be a big boy,” I said desperately, “it’s time you started thinking about your future.”

“I’m thinking about my future,” said Sonny, grimly. “I think about it all the time.”

I gave up. I decided, if he didn’t change his mind, that we could always talk about it later. “In the meantime,” I said, “you got to finish school.” We had already decided that he’d have to move in with Isabel and her folks. I knew this wasn’t the ideal arrangement because Isabel’s folks are inclined to be dicty and they hadn’t especially wanted Isabel

“s o n n y ’s b l u e s ”

to marry me. But I didn’t know what else to do. “And we have to get you

fixed up at Isabel’s.” There was a long silence. He moved from the kitchen table to the

window. “That’s a terrible idea. You know it yourself.”

“Do you have a better idea?” He just walked up and down the kitchen for a minute. He was as

tall as I was. He had started to shave. I suddenly had the feeling that I

didn’tknowhim at all. He stopped at the kitchen table and picked up my cigarettes. Look­

ing at me with a kind of mocking, amused defiance, he put one between

his lips. “You mind?” “You smoking already?” He lit the cigarette and nodded, watching me through the smoke.

“I just wanted to see if I’d have the courage to smoke in front o f you.” He grinned and blew a great cloud of smoke to the ceiling. “It was easy.” He looked at my face. “Come on, now. I bet you was smoking at my age,

tell the truth.” I didn’t say anything but the truth was on my face, and he laughed.

But now there was something very strained in his laugh. “Sure. And I

bet that ain’t all you was doing.” He was frightening me a little. “Cut the crap,” I said. “We already

decided that you was going to go and live at Isabel’s. Now what’s got into

you all of a sudden?” “You decided it,” he pointed out. “I didn’t decide nothing.” He

stopped in front of me, leaning against the stove, arms loosely folded. “Look, brother. I don’t want to stay in Harlem no more, I really don’t.” He was very éarnest. He looked at me, then over toward the kitchen window. There was something in his eyes I’d never seen before, some thoughtfulness, some worry all his own. He rubbed the muscle of one

arm. “Its time I was getting out of here.” “Where do you want to go, Sonny?” “I want to join the army. Or the navy, I don’t care. If I say I’m old

enough, they’ll believe me.” Then I got mad. It was because I was so scared. “You must be crazy.

You goddamn fool, what the hell do you want to go and join the army





“I just told you- To get out of Harlem.”

“Sonny you haven’t even finished school. And if you really want to be a musician, how do you expect to study if you’re in the army

He looked at me, trapped, and in anguish. “There’s ways. I might be able to work out some kind of deal. Anyway, I’ll have the G.I. Bill when I come out”

“if you come out.” We stared at each other. “Sonny, please. Be rea­ sonable. I know the setup is far from perfect. But we got to do the best we can/’ >

“I ain’t learning nothing in school,” he said. “Even when I go.” He turned away from me and opened the window and threw his cigarette out into the narrow alley. I watched his back. “At least, I ain’t learning nothing you’d want me to learn.” He slammed the window so hard I thought the glass would fly out, and turned back to me. “And 1m sick of the stink o f these garbage cans!”

“Sonny/’I said, “I know how you feel. But if you don t finish school now, you’re going to be sorry later that you didn’t.” 1 grabbed him by the shoulders. “And you only got another year. It ain’t so bad. And I’ll come back and I swear I’ll help you do whatever you want to do. Just try to put up with it till I come back. Will you please do that? For me?”

He didn’t answer and he wouldn’t look at me. “Sonny. You hear me? ”

He pulled away. “I hear you. But you never hear anything I say.” I didn’t know what to say to that. He looked out of the window and

then back at me. “OK,” he said, and sighed. “I’ll try.”

Then I said, trying to cheer him up a little, “They got a piano at Isa­ bel s. You can practice on it.”

And as a matter of fact, it did cheer him up for a minute. “That’s right,” he said to himself. “I forgot that.” His face relaxed a little. But the worry, the thoughtfulness, played on it still, the way shadows play on a face which is staring into the fire.

But I thought I’d never hear the end of that piano. At first, Isabel would write me, saying how nice it was that Sonny was so serious about his music and how, as soon as he came in from school, or wherever he had been when he was supposed to be at school, he went straight to that piano and stayed there until suppertime. And, after supper, he wentback


to that piano and stayed there until everybody went to bed. He was at the piano all day Saturday and all day Sunday. Then he bought a record player and started playing records. He’d play one record over and over again, all day long sometimes, and he’d improvise along with it on the piano. Or he’d play one section of the record, one chord, one change, one progression, then he’d do it on the piano. Then back to the record.

Then back to the piano. Well, 1 really don’t know how they stood it. Isabel finally confessed

that it wasn’t like living with a person at all, it was like living with sound. And the sound didn’t make any sense to her, didn’t make any sense to any of them—naturally. They began, in away, to be afflicted by this pres­ ence that was living in their home. It was as though Sonny were some sort of god, or monster. He moved in an atmosphere which wasn’t like theirs at all. They fed him and he ate, he washed himself, he walked in and out of their door; he certainly wasn’t nasty or unpleasant or rude. Sonny isn’t any of those things; but it was as though he were all wrapped up in some cloud, some fire, some vision all his own; and there wasn’t

any way to reach him. At the same time, he wasn’t really a man yet, he was still a child,

and they had to watch out for him in all kinds of ways. They certainly couldn’t throw him out. Neither did they dare to make a great scene about that piano because even they dimly sensed, as I sensed, from so many thousands of miles away, that Sonny was at that piano playing for

his life. But he hadn’t been going to school. One day a letter came from the

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