Reading Time: 2 minutes
"Solo" originally appeared in Issue 20 of Tahoma Literary Review. This flash essay achieves in a single, solo sentence a series of reflections that reveal a challenge to assumptions, resulting in a small but significant change in its narrator. I'm interested in how the narrator's pace subtly changes, too.
I run the narrow gravel path alone, passing other able-bodied men and women wearing masks or not, some waving as I lift my gator over my mouth and nose, which I do to protect the older ones, the ones my parents’ age, though I’m not sure it makes much difference outside; late October, sunlight flat but warm, one of Maine’s last T-shirt days till spring, and I reach the one-and-a-half mile marker of Back Cove Trail, my blood oxygenating wonderfully and my mind loosening more so than my calves and hamstrings, which I’ve forgotten to stretch after yesterday’s run, and I feel my healthy, low-risk lungs burning, wishing I’d avoided the vending machine M&M’s amidst my stressful day teaching masked freshmen, and I am thinking of my body’s vehicular nature (and the shit I put in it as fuel) when I notice three men in motorized carts—wheelchairs—parked across the road from the trail, facing the sunlight, their heads hanging like wilted sunflowers, their bodies bulbous and slack, skin a bit too white, the not-quite-rightness of their crooked, gnarled arms, all three of them motionless, as if wax figures of themselves and not living, breathing creatures, closer than six feet apart from each other, and I wonder if they are waiting for someone to come and get them, and I worry they’ve been forgotten, left in the sun by some absent-minded but well-intentioned worker, until I am nearly past, my legs churning at a pedestrian 8-minute-mile pace, when I hear the music radiating from one of their smartphones: frantic-fingered guitar solo, minimal reverb, no distortion, a hectic conglomeration of notes, a scale like a man running up and then down and then up a steep flight of stairs, and I wonder which of them is playing it, and if he plays it often for his friends or if they’ve tired of his selection, and as I pass I see their faces lit by the same sun that burns my neck, their expressions not of helplessness, nothing to warrant pity, but instead a kind of unabashed contentment, and I lift my long and mobile arms to play along, air-guitaring my invisible Fender as I near the two-mile mark, and I realize the three men are not waiting for someone to fetch them, it is I who was awaiting their arrival, as my legs propel me around the cove and back toward the parking lot not as quickly as they used to, my body blading toward its thirty-eighth year, and suddenly near mile marker 2.5 I’m in the concert venue, massive and dark, with retired numbers hanging from rafters, a crowd of warm and upright bodies pressed against mine, and on stage one of the men in the wheelchairs sits with his head leaned back and his fingers flailing the fretboard of his invisible guitar, soloing, the music he makes washing over the crowd, over me, notes rushing in like the tide filling Back Cove, each note clearly and totally his own, and for a little while I forget the ache in my knee and my desire to quit, so that I’m just a man in the pulsing crowd, with the stink of my neighbors filling my nostrils, aware of our collective and wretched beauty, all of us breathing the same air, unmasked, arms raised for the guitar player, lost for a while in his music.
Reprinted with permission of the author
Brod had this to say about "Solo":
On a recent morning run I contemplated bodies, fuel, distancing, privilege of movement. My mind constructed narratives about the strangers I passed. I ran by three men sitting in motorized chairs. I worried the men had been left behind, forgotten. In reality, they were listening to a guitar solo on a smartphone—enjoying music with friends. The essay grew from there, thoughts tumbling as I ran. Oxygenated blood awakened me to our undeniable connectivity, to the wrongness of my assumptions. “A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded,” DavidFoster Wallace said. The music stayed with me.
Ryan Brod (he/him) is an educator, fly-fishing guide, and freelance writer whose work has appeared in River Teeth, The Maine Review, and Gray’s Sporting Journal, among other places.