Mudcat Café message #2426614 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #113933   Message #2426614
Posted By: Lonesome EJ
31-Aug-08 - 01:30 AM
Thread Name: Fiction : The Dead Man's Guitar
Subject: Fiction : The Dead Man's Guitar
It was not the kind of instrument that catches the eye of the serious practitioner. And he wasn't, not at all. A sometime strummer for fun and companionship, he had an overnight stay in a strange city.
It was late October and the weather in Denver was tasting of snow, overcast and, as the sun set, a far off lightening of the sky could be seen, as if reflecting distant explosions. The rolling vibration of the thunder was not loud, not even loud enough to obscure the hastening sound of dry leaves wandering on Larimer. It was Monday and he had a week of meetings ahead of him, close negotiations, friendly nods, and unspoken threats. It's tough out here.
But tonight, he was wandering with the leaves, his collar buttoned high against a hard breeze that came in off of peaks already in snow.
He had a drink in a lounge on 21st, sitting at a round mahogany bar surrounded by 25 year olds sporting tattoos and sipping very expensive whiskey. He had a vodka and went back out into the night. He had a brief thought about Sheila, what she might be doing. Probably watching ER, as he glanced at his watch. 8:29. Ahead a fluorescent glow turned the sidewalk blue, and he looked into the window, seeing a beautiful Martin D45, catching orange light from a row of luminous plastic pumpkins some one had strung above the showcase. That was what, he thought later, had brought him in. A great trick on the part of the Dead Man, he had to admit. Hell, he wasn't even looking to buy a guitar.
The clerk was reading a Grisham novel, narrow glasses perched low. "Can I help you" the clerk said, in a manner not interrogatory, but as if he were wondering aloud. He rubbed his hands together in a pantomime of a cold man warming them and said "getting chilly", an observation the man ignored, continuing "look around. Play them if you want. Just be careful".
And he gazed around him, in amazement at the sheer grubby, unprofessional bearing of the place. Dobros, banjoes, flutes, guitars, mandolins, a saxophone, everything had been arranged hap hazardly, on old wooden tables or hanging from nails in the wall, poorly lit. In fact, the proprietor had made a ludicrous attempt at a Halloween theme by placing cheap jack'olantern light strings all around the room. The permanent light consisted of a fluorescent tube directly under the showroom window, and two floor lamps with ancient ratty shades. He almost didn't see the classical guitar with the black body, leaning in a corner behind a ramshackle array of instrument strings. He later thought that, if it hadn't been for the gold embossing on the top, he might have just passed it by.

Held against the light of the lamp, the surface disclosed a queer image. It was a medieval scene, a castle in the background on a mountain, and in the foreground a beautiful maiden standing by a stream that seemed to flow down from the mountain. The maiden gazes in shy admiration at the figure before her, a mounted knight towering, fully armoured and fierce, yet he extends to her affixed to his lance a bouquet of roses. These she quietly accepts. A charming scene but for what she can not see that we can. He is unfastening the masque of his helmet, and his face is a memento mori, a grinning skull.
He thought he had rarely seen something as chilling. Yet the work was fantastic. He could see now that it had been finely carved into the thin top then gilded with something like goldleaf. "How much is this?" He had said. The clerk looked up and grinned, and then put his book down. "You like that one?" asked the clerk and he replied " I don't know. It's a beautiful piece." The clerk chuckled and said with scorn " piece! It's a fucking guitar. It's 155 dollars." He was somewhat surprised, but then the clerk didn't seem the brightest candle on the cake. Yes. It was a custom classical guitar, no maker's mark, well but cheaply made. But the top made it a magnificent bit of work, who cared if it ever played a note. "Is there a story?" he asked. the clerk had resumed his reading, but said "it's a dead man's guitar. His wife brought it in. She had kept it for a while but said it reminded her of him all the time. You wanna play it." He gave it a tentative un-chorded strum. The nylon strings were oddly out of tune.
Not badly, oddly. He was used to the sound of a well tuned guitar, and he certainly knew one that was sharp or flat, but this guitar was so slightly out of tune that one felt the dissonance rather than heard it. But he didn't like it, the way it sounded. He found it disturbing, but observed he would not be playing the guitar, but instead had a place on the wall by the living room fireplace for it. And so he bought it. He carried it back to the Marriott in a cheap case the clerk had donated. When he got to his room, a light sleet was falling and it made an occasional rapping on the wall. He stuck the guitar in the closet while he checked email, undressed, brushed his teeth. He had a sense of rushing excitedly through these ablutions and he knew why: He wanted to take the guitar out again and look at it.
He did this by the bed side lamp. In the silence he laughed at the grotesque humor in it. This kind of thing could never be matched by teen slasher films or halloween horror houses, or even the news on CNN. This was scary shit. This had something of Hieronymous Bosch in it. He wished Sheila was there with him. She would have a hilarious take on it. On closer examination, the roses held by the spectre-knight were a cluster of faces...demons, or ghouls, or tortured saints. Each was intricately carved and hooded in cloaks like rose petals. "This thing is worth 10 thousand fucking dollars!" He whispered. He wished he had a computer connection for his cell camera so he could take a shot and send it to Sheila.
Carefully, he sat the guitar in the far angle of the room, a pillow pushed up against it's base.
She wasn't there. After maybe 6 rings he got voice mail and left the standard message. Tomorrow he'd get a patch cable and send her a pic of what he referred to out loud and in a snarling cockney accent as "my treasure!" And as he switched out the light, he said into the dark "gollum."
He wasn't sure if he had dreamed he heard the guitar or if it had just spontaneously emitted sound, but as he lay there slightly short of breath, he was pretty sure he could still hear and feel the sound fading against his bedclothes.