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The Blues Singer, a short story

The soft low cry of the blues guitar, sounding as if it were weeping to the world in a deep, sad, voice lingered heavy in the air. Amber twangs reached into the darkness, gliding through the room, cutting through the smoke and light and mumbles from the scattering of bodies sitting in the bar. The guitar was captivating and almost none existent at the same time as the weight and lightness of the music drifted aimlessly. Her fingers glided with ease up and down the polished and worn frets, while the fingers of the other hand moved with effortless precision and speed, working the strings in a language that she and the guitar clearly understood and communicated with. When the woman playing the guitar began to sing, her voice eased across the room as if it were warm water flowing across the floor after spilling from an old cast iron bathtub. And like the water on the worn pine floor, her voice ran smoothly, but took twist and turns as it slipped in and out of crocked, splintered, cracks, creating a raspy sweetness that was drenched with passion and regret. The bass of the song was lonely while the tempo oozed despair, and the lyrics dreamt of hope, dim hope, but hope nonetheless. Her words, her life, they clung to the ever-present hope that love, always slipping away, would somehow come home to rest someday in her rain drenched world.

She sat slouched on a stool that had been the temporary dwelling of one artistic soul after another, night after night, season after season. The small table sitting beside her on the stage held nothing but a chipped, yellowed ashtray with her Marlboro burning into the air, and an almost dead Guinness Stout waiting to be finished off. Watching her from halfway across the room she looked like a woman-child who had not been wandering earth long enough to be telling this story of pain and despair, yet there she was. She was a twenty or thirty year old devil-angel, running on empty, and looking at the world through eyes wise beyond her years. Her song was too sad to be true, to sincere to be made up, and he wondered if anyone could imagine this kind of pain without experiencing it. Then he wondered why someone would want to imagine it if they didn’t have to.

It crept in on him as he sat in drifting consciousness, and there could be no doubt that her music, her song, her story, were her reality whether it was imagined or not. Like a moth drawn to the flame he fluttered into her world full of heartache and introspection. He imagined her loneliness and then claimed it as his own. He felt the heavy hand squeezing her heart and understood that their souls were connected. She and he had both been in thatworld. They understood what it felt like to know that a tidal wave was coming to take their world away, while all others were unaware. She clearly knew what it meant to lose love, and he somehow knew what it was like to die.

The waitress came over and asked if he wanted another drink and he held up the almost empty glass of scotch without saying a word. She scribbled something on a pad and turned away, heading back towards the bar. He wondered for a minute if she, the waitress, felt what he felt. In the smoke filled room it seemed as though it would be impossible to escape the strange universe where the blues singer and the lonely man seemed to exist in, but as he watched the waitress work her way through the tables, she smiled and joked with a young guy in a denim jacket, and he knew that she was not part of their world, not tonight.

The young-old singer ended the first song, but held her fingers tightly on the strings so the vibrations continued to linger in the air. As they started fading away, she took a long drag on her cigarette, held the smoke in her lungs for a minute, and then let it drift out into the dim spotlight that shone down on her face. Just before the guitar faded into silence, her fingers strummed the heavy strings and then started picking and lightly strumming a quiet blues rhythm. Once again, her fingers seemed to be an extension of the guitar or the guitar was an extension of her hands, he couldn’t quite decide which was which. Her thumb rhythmically tapped on the face of the hollow wood, sending the thump of a heavy heartbeat into the already thick air. Her eyes were hidden behind the soft silky eyelids that protected her from everything. The music, the smoke, her eyelids, probably her cigarettes, maybe the Guinness, they were all protecting her from the sharp edges of life. She, just like him, knew that it was the small jagged outcroppings that were the most harmful, the most painful. The huge, beautiful, curling, glassy ocean waves were themselves quite harmless. It was the merciless coral and rocks beneath the surface that did the damage. Life somehow didn’t seem all that different. She didn’t quite know how she ended up in the state of heart and mind and life that she seemed to dwell in. Reflecting back in time, it seemed she’d always known she would end up here, just as he always knew when it was all said and done, the day would come when he’d have to face it all. That time hung in the back of his mind, in his dreams, and in his life for nearly as long as he could recall. So when she strummed and began to moan in her thick, cherry sweet voice, without having a conscience thought, he knew they were coming from and going to the same place.

The perky waitress returned, set the glass of scotch on the table, and smiled.

“You like the music?” she asked, not caring about the response, not experiencing life pulsating from the small stage.

He smiled, raised his glass in the motion of a brief toast, then put it against his lips and let the liquor do it’s warm burning magic. It wasn’t music that anyone really “liked.” It was music that captured him, took him prisoner, and reminded him that he was not the only broken soul in the universe. Throughout the bar, people of a different world than his milled about the room making small talk, while they overlooked the dark clouds that hung in the rhythm. The stringed vibrations gently swept through the air, her full lips began to open and she called to him, cried with him, loved with him, and eventually died with him. Her songs, like her life, were a complete contradiction of love and loneliness, of hope and despair, yet they somehow worked. On the written page the words spoke of love sublime, but the rhythmic music rang of an illusive love that almost was, but had not yet come to be. Perhaps it was for a while, but then it wasn’t. A love held tightly in her arms, and a love that slipped easily through her fingers. Life.

Her warm, raspy voice oozed of life, of love, and of heartache. She asked questions already answered. She asked again hoping for better answers that would not come. Then she dreamt sweet, sad dreams and shared them with those who would listen.

As your head lies on the pillow what thoughts run through you mind?

Are they tales of love unending?

Are your dreams the same as mine?

Loving you’s the only thing I need.

Loving you’s the answer to my dreams.

When the lights go down on the edge of town

Shine your love on me.

Your sweet caress and tenderness are answers to my dreams.

Loving you takes my breath away.

Loving you gets me through each day.

Loving you’s the only thing I need.

Her voice cried like a fallen angel. She sang words of love, but the music, the rhythm, her voice, they all made it clear that it was an illusive, longed for love. It was the dream that quickly faded when she awoke from blissful sleep and faced the hard, loneliness of life.

Clouds blow in from stormy seas and darken clear blue skies.

Rain runs down the window pain

like tear drops in my eyes.

Your sweet love blows the storm away.

Loving you gets me through each day

Loving you’s the only thing I need.

When the lights go down on the edge of town

Shine your love on me.

Your sweet caress and tenderness are answers to my dreams.

Loving you takes my breath away.

Loving you gets me through each day.

Loving you’s the only thing I need

The guitar hummed like the devil herself. The words were the lie that the music revealed.

Rainbows reach across the sky like pastels from a brush.

Your tender kisses steal my heart

I’ve fallen for your touch.

I’ve tried to lie and say it isn’t true.

Can’t believe I’m so in love with you.

But loving you is all I ever need.

Her voice faded as she sadly repeated the chorus. She sang to him, she sang to herself, she sang to everyone, and she sang to no one. The words drifted, then faded. Memories drifted, then faded. Love drifted, then faded. Life drifted, then faded. She drifted, then faded.

Another scotch. Another cigarette. Time to go.

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