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“I hear you made your guitar.”
Sammy looked up from his strumming to see a young lady looking down at him. He shifted uneasily in his seat.
“Folks say a lot of things.” He looked back down to his fingers, hoping she would go away. “Only music speaks truth.”
“Is that why yours sounds so pained?”
Sammy breathed in deep, the bitter smells of smoke, beer and ruin filling his nose. Goddamn it, even his favorite haunt was wracked with hurt. But he pretended not to notice.
The young lady sat down next to him. The dark corner he was sitting in made it hard to see her, but she seemed pretty. It was hard to pinpoint, but she also seemed familiar. Or perhaps it was his eyes. Being 89 and finding little use in doctors, he never bothered with glasses.
Doctors. Sammy scoffed as the music he played took a new hardness. What do they do besides fill people with pills and promises?
The lady’s stare forced him to look at her again.
“What do you want, anyway? I’ve got nothing for anyone.”
“You did. Once.”
Sammy nodded. Maybe, perhaps, when his guitar played angel songs. But she couldn’t have known that. That crowd was all gone, dead with his past.
He hid his tears behind a raised beer bottle. He’d take all night to finish one, if he even touched it. The staff never seemed to mind. Never charged him.
“Play like you used to. Back in those happy days.”
“Now listen here. The music speaks truth, sure enough, and the truth is there is no happiness to be had.” He took another swig of beer. “Not for me, anyway.”
“Don’t lie to me. You had it, alright. Just because it was fleeting doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.”
Grimacing, Sammy started up to leave. Who was she to say anything about it? What does she know? Try as he could, however, he found no true will to leave his chair.
“Those days are gone.” They died a long time ago. And yet, there was a stirring inside his brain. The face of his wife, her smile beaming and wide. He pushed it down. She was gone, too. Like everything else.
“Do you remember the happiest song you ever sang?” She moved in her chair, but a sound wasn’t made.
“What do you care?” A lullaby he sang, a melody he couldn’t stand any more, swirled around his soul. “And just who are you?”
The lady wouldn’t talk and Sammy could feel a tiredness in his body. It felt wrong to act so angry with her. She did nothing but talk to him. But he knew what the problem was. She was helping him to remember the nights long past. His life was made up of sadness and strife.
But only because he had made it that way.
More time passed. The lullaby still played. He couldn’t believe he still remembered everything about it. He remembered writing the notes down, the words. The joy on her face.
Through the laughs of the patrons, the clinking of glass, he could hear that song being played. For a moment, he feared he lost his mind. But, closing his eyes, his listened.
The lady was humming. She was humming his daughter’s lullaby.
“So,” Sammy said after she finished, “you’ve been dead for 60 years and now you come to haunt me, Bean?”
“Of course I do.” Sammy put his guitar down and started drinking his beer. “Just didn’t want to.”
60 years ago. 60 long years of never giving up the past. And now, his past came back to him.
“I want to tell you, you don’t need to hold on to this any more.”
Sammy shook his head, glaring at his daughter’s form. “Listen to me, Bean. When the doctors told me everything would be okay with you, I didn’t say two words. When they told me something was wrong, but they’d fix it, I smiled. When they told me there was nothing more they could do but ease you out of pain until you went, I was thankful that they did the best they could. But I hurt, Bean.” There was no way to hold the tears now. The salty water that hadn’t run down his face in years wet his leathery skin. “I hurt so bad. And when your Mamma got my belt–” Sammy buried his face into his hands, wailing.
“Mamma’s at peace. I wish there was something more to say, but she’s at peace now. But you, you won’t ever be if you don’t listen to me.”
Sammy picked up his guitar and stood up. He couldn’t do this any more. He wanted to curl up into a bottle and drown in it. This wasn’t his past. It was all the suffering coming to do him in.
He felt a coldness on his hand. Timidly, he turned to his daughter.
A little girl sat there, her face bright. Black hair flowed past her shoulders and her smile was just like her mother’s.
She looked just like he remembered her. 60 years. She was as perfect as ever.
“Sit down.” She said. “Play me a tune.”
“I don’t play much any more.”
“Maybe this will help.”
As Sammy sat down, she stood up and walked over to his side. Settling the guitar in his lap, she stood on her toes and gave the sweetest little kiss he could have ever ask for.
A lightness came over him. Years of heartache, years of hate, just decades of sorrow lifted off him. His fingers did not wait for any command. The sound drifted into the bar. It was hopeful, filled with love.
As the music cleared the door, he heard an “I love you, Daddy,” drift by his ear.
The music spread, out into the city. For Sammy, it might have spread out into the world. All that matter was that it came from a place long thought gone. A bittersweet joy filled him now that he was able to put his past – and his daughter – to rest at last.
No one could tell how long he had been playing, but that night, everyone felt as if the world was right. For all the pain there was, there was just that much more joy.
Sammy went home that night, feeling like he finally got what he needed. The next night, when he didn’t show up at the bar, a waitress stopped by his apartment. She found him in bed, the biggest smile on his face.
© 2012 Jeremy Corter
Image © http://musicwalls.org
Jeremy Corter is a full-time writer, husband, and father.