Tim set up his drums, occasionally glancing around the street in irritation. Nearby, Mario played a few scales on his saxophone, but their flutist had slipped away that morning and was now late. A girl on her own in a post-pandemic city could come to almost any kind of harm, and although Tim wasn't one to readily disclose his feelings, he had become fond of Cee.By now, Mario was warmed up to his satisfaction and was looking around, as well. "Where did she go?" he asked.Tim shrugged. Although she had lived with them for several months, Cee had never made a sound or given any indication that she was capable of speech."I'm tired of waiting. We have to eat.""If she's not along in a few minutes, we'll reduce her share," Tim said. Having an affection for the girl didn't mean he had no sense of fairness. Playing music on street corners beat the heck out of looting and scrapping in order to survive, but he was damned if he was going to feed anyone who didn't do their share of the work.The boys were debating which of their well-rehearsed jazz standards could best be played as a sax-drum duet, when Cee finally appeared around the corner, sallow and coltish, with a cotton tote slung over one shoulder and an inexplicable pot of yellow flowers in her arms.She approached them as if her late arrival was entirely natural, set the flowers near their sign requesting tips and bookings, and then took her battered Gemeinhardt case out of her bag."You realize you're late," Mario said.Cee gave a shrug and began putting her flute together.Tim gazed at the pot of marigolds in dismay. Where in this blighted city had she found them, and why had she brought them here? "We can do without the flowers," he said.With an attitude of blissful unconcern, Cee blew a few practice notes.Mario rubbed his chin. "I like the idea of trying to dress things up a little," he said, eying the marigolds critically, "but flowers are aren't really the look I had in mind the other night when I said we needed to upgrade our image.""Too girly and flamboyant," Tim agreed. "Take them back to the apartment if you can't live without them, but they don't work here."Cee put down her flute and gave each of the boys a look from under her dark brows and lanky hair."They're fine for now," Mario said, "but Tim has a point. After today, no flowers."With a sigh of exasperation, Cee brought her flute to her lips as if to say they needed to get down to business, and Mario led them into "Mack the Knife."As always, their first set didn't get them much business, but that was okay. They needed to warm up and get a crowd going. By their second set, they started getting some tips: a can of beans, two cans of peas, half a sleeve of stale saltines, a box of raisins and a bottle of water. It was enough to quell their appetites for a little while, but it wouldn't tide them over until the next morning.After sharing the raisins, water and saltines during a break, they started their next set, but just as Mario was beginning his solo in "Perdido," a scuffle broke out among the young people who had gathered to listen. What it was about, Tim couldn't tell, but the shouting quickly turned to punches, and then one of the boys lunged toward the pot of marigolds. Before Cee or Mario could react, he picked it up and hurled it at his enemy. The other boy ducked and the pot dashed to the sidewalk.While Cee rushed to save her marigolds, Tim and Mario chased after the boys who had dared disrupt their set. They followed them down the block, shouting, but couldn't catch them and at last turned and walked back.By now the crowd had dispersed and only Cee was left, kneeling by her ruined flowers with tears in her eyes. Mario paused, unsure what to do, but Tim didn't hesitate. He knelt beside her and put an arm around her thin shoulders. "I'm sorry," he said. He picked up a few shards, jumbled with mangled leaves and clumps of dirt. A few of the flowers were beyond hope, but most were only bruised, their roots still clinging tightly to the soil.Tim began scooping the dirt into a mound and signaled for Mario to bring him a plastic bag from his saxophone case. Tim helped Cee put the salvageable flowers inside, packed with some of the soil he had recovered from the street."We'll find you another flower pot," Tim assured her. "With a little water, they'll be fine."Cee nodded hopefully and the little trio returned to their places. Disruptions or no, they still needed to work if they were to eat. Tim and Cee looked to Mario for guidance, and Mario looked at the bright yellow marigolds for inspiration. "How about 'Sunny'?"Cee gave a little smile and Tim picked up his sticks.
This was written for Sunday Scribblings 2 and The Sunday Whirl. More information about Steal Tomorrow and the Jazz Gang can be found in the embedded links, labels, or the sidebar.