Gibson (Flash Fiction)

The guitar was a gift on my fifteenth birthday. It was my only gift. Mother, a proper Parisian matron, didn’t approve. A frivolous request, she called it. Her view was justified—I could barely play guitar, and my historical commitment to investing in any singular hobby had proven ephemeral, at best. But my mother’s dismissiveness only served to further encourage my desire to possess the guitar, and with stubbornness only an adolescent can possess, I insisted that no other gift would suffice. So I devised a plan.

Normally, I would have expected my father’s response to my birthday request to have been a flat no, his lack of emotional involvement providing none the same traction as my mother’s disgusted denial. Lately, however, my father was willing to adopt contrarian positions with my mother for no other reason than the power play that would inevitably ensue. I knew this, and I used it. I played up the universal need of men to possess beautiful tools and machines. And I emphasized how mother couldn’t possibly sympathize with our shared primal instincts. My father, unable to resist the opportunity to exert his parochial control, convinced my mother to let him purchase the guitar for me, despite her strenuous objections.

It was the best birthday gift I ever received.

Two weeks later, my parents announced their divorce.

I wasn’t surprised by their separation. But I felt responsible for accelerating their inescapable end. I was incapable of admitting my guilt to either of them. Instead, I radiated palpable waves of anger and resentment, and walled myself off from the world with music. I plugged in my headphones into my guitar amp and plucked my new Les Paul from dusk to dawn, letting my blossoming ability as a guitarist ease my guilt and pain.

My father left without ever speaking another word to me. His silence wasn’t a measure of blame, necessarily, but that’s how I took it. It took me years to forgive him. By then, it was too late to reconcile. He’d passed away.

My mother never let me forget my part in their end. And the guitar I clung to with increasing desperation was a clear, physical symbol of my selfish, manipulative nature. Like a dowsing rod, the instrument kept tugging me towards the door, away from the relentless blame. Just weeks after my father left, I’d had enough as well. In the middle of the night I packed a bag with my tiny amp and a few changes of clothes. I slung the bag over one shoulder and my guitar across the other, and I left.

Those first years on the roads of the French countryside were hard, but simple. I traveled lightly, begging for whatever food, shelter, and company I could find. The guitar strapped to my back served as a badge of sorts, automatically affording me entry to a cabal of like-minded bohemian musicians spending their time on the road. Visiting with these folks, my ability with my guitar quickly grew, and I began to use my music as a means to earn a living. There were still many long winter nights spent strumming power chords through my tiny amp, waiting for enough money to be tossed into my case so I could afford a baguette and a train ticket to the next town. But sometimes my skills earned me a spot playing backup for a local band or playing at a neighborhood coffee shop. Those days I could afford a bed at a hostel and a warm meal.

I met Marie during one of my jaunts across the Channel into London. I heard her reciting poetry at an open mic night at a bookstore, and afterwards waited outside for her to leave. She didn’t. Turned out she owned the shop and lived upstairs. She found me asleep on the stoop the next morning and took pity on me. Two cups of coffee later, I was in love. Marie seemed intrigued by the idea of rescuing me, much like a stray alley cat.

I spent three years in London. Marie and I had a beautiful baby girl, Josephine. I retired from my guitar-slinging days and tried my hand at settling down, working in the bookstore with Marie and taking care of our daughter. It was a good time in my life. But eventually the restlessness that had begun with my flight from home began tugging at me once more. I found myself drawn once more to the Gibson I’d stored in the closet. I’d sneak down the hallway at night to take out the Gibson, and I’d strum it softly for Josephine while she slept. But I always made sure to put it away before the night was through.

Until one night I didn’t. Marie woke up to find me sitting at the kitchen table, the guitar and its case propped up in the seat next to me.

“Go,” was all Marie said. She might’ve smiled. I’ve never been sure.

It’s been many long years since my fifteenth birthday. Mama’s still alive. She frets away her final days in a tiny apartment just outside Paris. I stop in on her sometimes when I’m playing in the city or I’m in between jobs, but my visits seem to confuse and upset her. I don’t know if she always recognizes me. She may think I’m a scam artist there to steal from her.

Not much has changed since my first days on the road. I’ve got a few more wrinkles, but no more wisdom.

Sometimes, late at night, I peer along the frets and headstock of the guitar, as if looking across the bow of a great ship, and wonder where it will lead me. But I know better. It’s merely a musical instrument. There is no rudder of fate to guide my travels. I point myself in any direction, and off I go, my instrument slung carelessly across my back.

Just an instrument. A vessel. Nothing more.

4 Comments

  • Jason Arnett says:

    Something different from you, Ted. I like the feel of this, and the wanderlust of your character. Well done!

    • Nancy Cayton Myers says:

      I really like this, Ted. It makes me feel so many different emotions. I definitely relate to what I sense as the hyper-selfawareness of the character mixed with the inability to know how to, or if, one should or can change, and to what. The seeker’s job is to seek, I guess…

  • R.L. Naquin says:

    Nice job, Ted. There was so much meat in such a short story. Well done.

  • Ted Boone says:

    Thanks, everyone. The picture really did speak to me. When I discovered the musician was part of a French rock band, the story came to me in its entirety.

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