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Back You are here: Home Stories Words for the People Short Stories Reap What You Sow, or Sing
Sunday, 23 September 2012 19:51

Reap What You Sow, or Sing

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In southwestern Virginia, just outside of Roanoke, it's summer, and it's hot. The hills lounge in their hazy, violet-tinted greenery. Down in the valley, in a weather-worn house, the musician sits at his kitchen table, drinking coffee, staring out the window at the birds that swoop and slice through the air, ignoring the heat. Every morning he rises, makes coffee, sits at his table. Sometimes he notices the hours melting past, but most often not. He sits. The coffee cools, congeals. He should try to be more constructive, should try to do something, pick up the guitar at least—he shoots it a glance, in the corner of his living room, propped up behind an end table. The instrument holds no appeal. It used to be the fire in which he forged the visceral into the expressible but now it sits, cold. For over twenty years, he plucked at those strings until they were hot beneath his fingertips. True, it's his livelihood. True, it bought him this house. But right now, he'd rather just ignore it, hope it will go away. Or, come back.

He's not sure.

He lost the girl with the harp a year back, and with her, the desire to play. She took his heart, which, for most artists, would be fodder. For him, he needed that blood pump to stoke his music. He needed that slow, soft reassurance of being alive. Now, what did he have? Bitter, cold coffee. The thud as the newspaper hits his front stoop. The newspaper he doesn't even read, just uses to wrap up the old coffee grounds.

She read the newspaper. Always with toast and marmalade. Before her, he had never met anyone who ate marmalade, but then, there was a lot she did he never knew anyone else to do. She played the harp, after all. That takes a certain stature, a certain acceptance of peculiarity. Guitar, drums, keyboards, bass—these were the instruments that guaranteed a long career of collaboration. Not harps. It worked for her. That is, she wore her idiosyncrasies well. He missed that uniqueness, the smell of marmalade and the perfume oil she wore. He asked the scent one time, it had a strange offbeat name and a sweet, green smell. Like fresh cut grass, green tea and new tennis balls, drizzled with some herb. Basil, maybe. Sage? They were all so similar to him, bitingly verdant. The greenness of the perfume was so lush, so mouth-watering, he wished he could bite into it. If he remembered the scent, he could buy it, along with an atomizer with a red squeeze ball like she had, and spray it around the house. Even if he could remember the name, he knew he'd never do this. Best to just get on with it, with life, no matter how empty or numbing.

It's wasn't just her food or her scent. Everything around her, everything she brought into her realm was strange, alluring. Her tiny little shoes with the pointed toes, gold embroidery, kittenish heels. The flowing patchwork dresses with all the buttons up the back. The books she read. He wasn't much of a reader—he read, but wasn't compelled to do it ceaselessly, nor did he feel the need to finish what he started. Novels remained half-read, splayed on his one bedside table, or on the chaise in the sunroom, covers blanching. He picked sentences like berries and discarded the shrubbery. This was enough to sustain him. She, though, read with a hunger. Saturday mornings were her time to go to yard sales, flea markets, the used book stores in town, seeking out new old books, books with leather covers, gold-leaf titles, musky pages. Those, all those books, were a bitch to move at the end. Small boxes—any larger would have been too heavy to carry. Dozens of them. Hundreds, it seemed. Back and forth, from the house to her friend's borrowed truck with the hitch and trailer. What knowledge, what sadness. He was not glad for the end, but was at least glad that particular day had already passed. She gave him a book once, wrote a dedication on the first page, the title page, in her swirling handwriting, purple ink. After she left, he stowed it away up in the attic, deep in the bottom of a chest. He hadn't read that one, either.

Sometimes, as he sits there at the table, his coffee mug between his hands, he wonders what brought the end. People grow apart, they say. People change. But do they? He felt mostly the same as he had felt every other day of his life. So is it just that everyone else changes? Is it that everyone else moves away? Was he the anchor, they the current? He wanted to be the water.

It had been two years together. Two years of music, playing in churches, and bars, and bookstores to audiences, some more rapt than others. Him lugging her harp from venue to van so she could stop to chat with the teenagers with tear-streaked cheeks and greasy hair, hundred-dollar jeans and Chuck Taylors. He didn't appeal to the younger crowd and he accepted this. Those who came to see him were more reserved, came with less a fiery fury, waited until the show was over to pat him on the back, say, "Good set, man," and then offer to buy him a beer, no fake ID necessary. She was asked for autographs, photographs, hugs. He got handshakes and Pabst Blue Ribbons—he felt he got the better bargain, since he also got to watch her, and climb into the van with her at the end of the night. Those days and nights on the road, in the van, just the two of them, fed him more than a religion ever could, taught him more than any university. A lesson in existence. She called this mindfulness, being present, in the moment. He called it allowing himself to breathe. He realized he hadn't done that before. Not when he was in New York, not when he was in San Francisco. Even when he had tried to slow himself down, give himself some space, everything felt as though it were closing in on him. Too many buildings, too many people, just too much. All too much. During the stretches of hours on highways, winding around America with her, he finally felt his heartbeat. He finally got it.

And then it was over. That morning when she looked at him with pain-puddled eyes and said, "I'm moving back to California," he had respected her—and loathed himself—enough not to ask why. Instead, he just nodded, rubbed his hands on the knees of his jeans and nodded some more. As though it were inevitable. As though he had been expecting this.

Finally he cleared his throat and said, "I guess it's going to get pretty quiet around here."

She turned and fled the room, her sobs trailing behind.

He was right. Days went by where the only noises were the dripping coffee and the evening rain against the windows. Once, he tried listening to the radio, flicking it to AM, trying to find the classic country stations. There had to be some, right? Eight million people in the state of Virginia, there had to be a deluge of broken hearts on any given night. If not country, what were those people listening to? All he found was static—where was Hank when he needed him?—so he gave up, unplugged the radio and shoved it deep into the hall closet. He didn't need any reminders of his failures, regardless of how small. Regardless of whether or not he was to blame.

So now he sits in silence, slowly sipping. If he were to try to open his mouth to speak, clouds of dust would fall out. If he were to look into the mirror above the sink in the bathroom, he would see a gaunt, heavy-lined face and hair more grey than he would like, but he doesn't look. He washes his hands with eyes lowered, sometimes not even bothering to turn on the light.

He figures that when he needs to see more than the mountain country outside his window, he will. And when that guitar calls to him in the low of the night and tells him, finally, to pick it up, play it and sing again, he will. He’ll ignite like a match to gas-soaked rags and will burn for hours until all that remains at his feet are embers of her memory and enough songs for his next album. Pitchfork will call it a meditation on the growing and dying flames of love and give it an 8.6 out of 10. On the road,

He’ll get offered more beer from guys nodding their heads, raising their cans and saying, “Been burnt one too many times myself. Ain’t it a bitch?”

It just hasn't happened yet.




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Last modified on Monday, 15 October 2012 22:26
Shae Krispinsky

Shae Krispinsky grew up in sub-rural western PA and graduated from college in Roanoke, VA. Now living in Tampa, FL, she is the singer, songwriter and guitarist for her band, ...y los dos pistoles, contributes to Creative Loafing Tampa and is an aspiring crazy cat lady. Her work has appeared in Corvus Magazine and is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, In Between Altered States, and The Writing Disorder.

(author photo by Nicole C. Kibert) 

Website: dearwassily.tumblr.com
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