I’d been busking on the same street corner every summer since I left high school. I had a guitar and a dream and I wasn’t planning on letting go of either, not now and not ever. When things got a little tight, I sold things. But never my old acoustic guitar.
It was a day like any other when he appeared. At first, I thought he would just walk by like everyone else as I strummed my chords and sang my own songs in a voice loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to bother people. He didn’t though. He didn’t look away or ignore me. He stopped and leaned against a lamp post, closed his sky blue eyes to listen. He had on a suit in a shimmery blue so dark it was almost black and long hair that fell loose to his shoulders. When I finished the song, he smiled and I had to look down. It was almost like staring into the sun. But he stepped closer and dropped something into my case.
“That was some beautiful music. From the heart. Be proud of it.”
I started to look up, to say something. What do you even say? But he just stuck his hands back in his pockets and walked off, humming the chorus I had written. I felt my legs going to jelly as I looked down to see what he’d left. I picked up the $20 bill with hands that shook. No one had ever given me that much. And there was something folded in it. It dropped from my fingers and I knelt to retrieve it. A business card for the Sunburst, a club up town. And there was a note on the back.
Call me if you want a performing gig. It really was that good. -A
walking in a forest grove
only birds sounding
my footsteps crunching leaves
eyes watch me on all sides
following me in the twilight glow
the wind blows, dancing in the fallen leaves
the boughs sway to and fro around the sylvan path
a song fills my ears as I walk along
a clearing lies ahead of me
entering, I see a lad clad in leaves and vines
in his hands, he cups a flute
and plays the forest to sleep
a sparrow on his shoulder, wolf pups at his knee
I stood and watched as animals slept all around this boy
he played a song of twilight and shadows
a song of sleep and dreams
as his song came to an end, the stars twinkled their glee
the moon rose to say good night
I looked again to see him
he raised his head with a wink and a nod and vanished before my eyes
forward I walk, through sleeping beasts
when caught my eye, a small thing on the ground
I lifted it gently, holding it to my lips
Take care of it, spoke a voice, for now you hold time
and blew a note, low and long
to watch the universe’s beginning from swirling infinity
The guy was always at the subway station playing guitar with his case open for tips, until one day he wasn’t. The guitar was still there, but he wasn’t. Stepping closer, I looked to see if there was any sign of where he’d gone. But no, just a guitar case with a few bucks in it and the guitar propped against his stool. I’m honestly not sure when I reached out and ran my fingers across the strings, listened to the tone. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on that stool, strumming quietly. It didn’t seem to matter that I’d never played before. The music flowed from my fingers like a thing alive. Trains came and left, but I didn’t get up off that stool. Most people just walked by, not a single one of them noticing that I wasn’t the guy who usually sat there with his jeans and t-shirt and cap. They never noticed the pressed suit with a jacket and a tie. And I never once thought of the board meeting that I wasn’t at. All that mattered was the music. I had to keep making the music. I was always there at the subway station playing guitar with my case open for tips, until one day I wasn’t. The guitar was still there, but I wasn’t. Not that they could see. And when a young girl came and began to strum, we were all there, those who played the guitar and became one with the music.
It was their song. It had been playing on the radio when he’d sat down at the counter in the diner for the first time and she’d leaned over to ask him what he’d have. Of course, neither of them remembered that. What they both remembered was it playing on another radio on another night when the pair sat in his car down by the river and watched the stars.
“Don’t worry, give it a few months and we’ll have licked those Krauts. I’ll be home for Christmas.”
“I promise. We’ll be right back here, Trace. Lookin’ out at those same stars.”
It was playing on the radio again when the news bulletin broke in to tell the world that the Allies were on the march. And again when she was up with the sun, to meet the sickness which had plagued her mornings. When she got her best friend to take her to the hospital, the song was ending just as they arrived. When their son was born, she sang the song to him in hushed tones, telling the newborn babe that soon he’d get to meet his papa.
“He’ll be home for Christmas, he promised.”
When the telegram came, the radio was as silent as the tears on her face.