Concert for the Dead
Ashley Brown


St. Agnes’ Cemetery was desolate and quiet, just the way Ella Perry liked it. There were no old ladies frowning, guys giving her looks that made her feel naked, or the infuriating curious stares of young children as she paraded by them in turquoise and black hair and gothic attire. Today she wore a corset that matched her hair, a layered black skirt the breeze played with, and giant black and silver boots that exaggerated her 5’10” height to 6’0”. Long streaks of black mascara ran down her face, but her hands were too busy carrying the music stand, the green folder of sheet music and the heavy trumpet case.
Sharon’s grave lay under the protective shade of an enormous elm tree. The ground had not settled yet, but it was “chocked” with a hill of flowers and cards, resembling the grave of a celebrity instead of a humble nobody. Ella’s flower, a lone black rose, lay across the granite top, and she would be giving her last gift before she departed for college.
“Hey, Sharon,” Ella whispered, letting the tears fall a little harder and the mascara run a little more. “I hope you’re in heaven, though you don’t believe, and I hope God let you in because he saw all of the good things you did on the earth . . . I came to say goodbye, I got accepted into Illinois State and I made the jazz band . . . God, I wish you were here.”
She had met Sharon as an awkward freshman in Mr. Spelling’s band class when Sharon had told the controlling Emma Broad to go to hell for giving Ella a hard time for forgetting how to finger an A on her trumpet. “Its the first valve, then the second . . .” Sharon quietly told her and their friendship blossomed out of a single “thank you, I like your shirt . . .”
Unlike gothic, loud Ella, Sharon was quiet and wore preppy clothes, though she had a love of rock music and loved anything from Led Zeppelin to The Offspring, not to mention her saxophone solos reminded a listener of the Big Band Days. For the next three years they were inseparable; they performed as a duo at the winter Jazz concerts that left audiences begging for more . . . and at Thursday Night Live at Cafe Agua. Weekends were spent at heavy metal concerts or at Sharon’s house watching hours of Monty Python sketches and movies. Life with Sharon had been like living in a bubble, and Ella began to take it for granted that Sharon would always be there with her saxophone, her beautiful smile and her “Life of Brian” quotes.
Then, like a hot day in the middle of winter, Sharon was gone. She had been in a car accident that claimed her life that past spring, and Ella wandered in a daze for two months. She remembered the numbness, the persistent emptiness. Would she ever be able to move on while Sharon slept forever under the earth?
Ella raised the gleaming trumpet to her lips, a river of mascara running to her chest, and played a jumpy Nat King Cole song, an Ella Fitzgerald ballad, then the modern and sad “How to Save a Life” by The Fray, which they had played many times at Cafe Agua. Before she packed up, she played Sharon’s favorite song, a song the pep band always played: “Barbara Ann.” As she played, she could have sworn she heard a saxophone playing along with her. It was like a sign from Sharon: I’m in a happier place, don’t be sad.
Ella felt a surge of peace as she left the cemetery, the first she had felt in a long time, and as she made her way through the iron gates, she couldn’t help but wonder if she turned, would she see the dead standing on their graves, applauding?