To Long Meadow
By Charles Walowitz
The tunnel was dark with a suggestion of light entering from its distant end. I had walked from my apartment in Richard Meier’s sparkling glass edifice, across to the library, along Grand Army Plaza and into Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. I had woven around joggers, baby carriages, and cyclists to the path past the barricaded roadway. The path led downhill and around to the left and there was the portal to the tunnel leading to Long Meadow. It was early evening on a sultry August day and I was looking forward to combining a bit of exercise with the sweet smell of the foliage. I approached the tunnel with a sense of something being amiss. I really couldn’t define the feeling, just a foreboding without a name.
Stopping short of the entrance, I felt quite silly. Clearly hundreds of moms, nannies, and babies took this pathway to and from the meadow and there was no danger there. Yet I had a reluctance to enter. The tunnel was not only shrouded in darkness, but a stale odor faintly said, Beware. Music that emanated from within the tunnel added to the eerie sensation. It was a saxophone from within but out of sight. The music seemed an ancient and sombre melody. I could not see the musician but only hear the echo of his tune.
Steeling myself and feeling totally silly, I approached the entranceway. I did think it odd that no one else seemed to be either entering or exiting the tunnel. Passing the portal, I amused myself by repeating, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Lions and tigers and bears oh my!” Once inside the entrance way it was darker that I had anticipated. The ceiling of the tunnel was arched and partially covered with wood sheathing. The sides curved down to a bank of gray stone benches running along each side. The benches extended until they disappeared into the gloom. There was a smattering of discarded paper beverage cups and wrappers. The floor of the tunnel was hard-packed dirt with loose stones. I suppressed the strong feeling to turn around and take an alternative path to the meadow.
As I walked forward tentatively, the music did not so much become louder as nearer. There was a sense of the tunnel both lengthening and tapering toward the other end. The light from the exit never seemed to brighten or to come nearer. I still could not see the saxophonist and there were no other pedestrians. Continuing on, I knew that in a few moments I would reach the exit and be into the meadow. It seemed that the walk was longer that I had remembered and there was the unpleasant feeling of being swallowed by a dark mist.
In what must have been only half a minute but seemed much longer, I perceived a figure ahead standing on the left stone bench. The figure was playing a gleaming brass saxophone. As I neared the figure, I noted that musician was wearing an ankle-length black coat over a starkly white shirt. His shoes were black and highly shined. The musician took no notice of me whatsoever. On the ground below the player’s perch was an open black saxophone case with what appeared to be a black silk lining. I continued walking and tried not to make eye contact and pass quickly by. Nearly in front of the musician I could not help glancing to my left and upwards at the player. He seemed much too old to be standing on the bench. Below a black fedora he had stark white hair and a thick white beard that flowed onto his chest. Paying me no notice, the musician continued playing. His eyes stared forward out over my head. Looking back toward the tunnel exit, I estimated that I was midway between the ends of the tunnel, yet the exit portal seemed distant. The light from the exit was a dim wavering glow that fluctuated like a bulb about to die.
As I passed in front of the musician, I glanced inside his case expecting to see coins and some dollar bills. Instead there were what appeared to be photographs. The pictures were jumbled with some appearing new but many gray and ragtag. Most of the photos were of elderly people, but scattered among them were pictures of younger adults, children, and a few infants. The music continued unabated. I did not know what to do and, though the day was sultry, I was shivering with chill. Fearfully, I looked upward into the musician’s eyes. The old man stopped playing and removed the instrument from his mouth and let it hang by a golden strap around his neck. He lowered his gaze and looked into my eyes.
“Care to leave a donation, sir?” he said.
I did not, could not, respond.
“Just a few coins could be prophetic, sir,” the old man said.
I was anchored in place. What did the musician mean by prophetic? Desperately wanting to break eye contact and move away, I looked down again into the case. Among the scattered pictures I now saw images of my late parents and of relatives I presumed had perished in the Holocaust. The latter images all had charred edges as if they had been in a fire.
The musician then said, “Be kind, sir, I will play a tune specially for you. I promise that you will never forget it. Stay a moment and be generous.”
He lifted his instrument to his mouth and started to play the most beautiful yet the most solemn melody that I had ever heard. I forced myself to turn away and started to walk toward the exit. As the distance from him lengthened, the music seemed to become louder. The light at the exit from the tunnel was becoming brighter with every step. I was nearly there, nearly out of the tunnel, when the sharp pain in the center of my chest hit.
Copyright © Charles Walowitz 2011
Dr. Charles Walowitz is a 72-year-old retired maxillofacial prosthodontist residing in Brooklyn, NY and St. Petersburg, FL. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he served in the U.S. Regular Army for ten years. Dr. Walowitz was in private and hospital practice in Baltimore, MD for 35 years. He has been published in both professional and public media.