By Kate Mahony
He sits on the pavement, singing an off-key The Ten Guitars song from the 60s. He’s a terrible singer, in his 40s, one eye yellowed and rheumy looking. In front, he has a notice, handwritten: “I’m singing because I need to make enough money to get my guitar fixed.” I dig in my wallet and find a stray $2 coin to put in the cap lying on the street.
“Thanks.” A tooth is missing from the row at the top of his mouth.
I’m about to move on, but then I pause, stand in front of him. I’m curious now. “What’s wrong with your guitar?”
He reaches behind him for a piece of wood, broken off the neck. He drags the rest of the guitar out, too. The strings are missing.
“Yeah,” he says, looking down at the beat up instrument. “It’s because of my house mate. He brought drugs back to the house one night and that’s not allowed. So I told him and his friend to get out. The mate got angry and that’s when he broke the head of the guitar.” He touches it gently. “I could’ve cried.” He looks at me again. Sees that I am still there, listening. Waiting for something. “Yeah, I’ve had her for years. Love of my life.”
“So can it be fixed?” I stare at the remains of the guitar.
“Yeah, yeah, it can,” he sounds as if he wants to believe it himself. “It’ll cost $80 the guy in the music shop said, and it’ll all be hunky dory.”
We both look at the guitar, an instrument that appears to have had its life beaten out of it ten times over.
“So I need to get the 80 bucks.”
“What about the strings?”
“Yeah, he broke them off, too.”
It seems all too much. I begin to move away.
He fixes his gaze on me, takes a breath, and when he speaks his tone is higher, more urgent.
“Yeah, my dad gave it to me.” A sound whistles through the gap where his tooth should be.
I consider this for a moment. The age of the man in front of me. The age of his father. “Really?” I ask.
Maybe it’s my dubious tone. He shrugs and turns to stash the broken guitar behind him, the conversation now over. At least for him.
Something makes me take a $20 note from my wallet and stash it in his cap even though he doesn’t see me do so.
As I walk off, I tell myself: his story alone is worth at least that much.
Kate Mahony’s fiction has appeared in literary magazines including Takahe, Flash Frontier, The Island Review, and Blue Fifth Review. It was shortlisted in Fish Publishing Ireland’s short story competition and the New Zealand National Flash Fiction competition, 2015. She has an MA in Creative Writing and lives in Wellington, New Zealand.