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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Life Stories:

Village Boys and Fret Boards
Jessica Patient

As soon as I saw the acoustic guitar I knew it was going to be your birthday present. Stopping my daily auto-pilot walk through the cluster of village shops to the train station bursting full of commuters all crammed like sheep in a pen, I moved in closer for an inspection. It was placed in the charity shop window by the edge of the display of tatty bedside tables and a mannequin in a faded twin set with imitation pearls. The guitar was there like an after thought.

Scarring the walnut guitar were scuff marks and faded stickers of unrecognisable bands. Probably the last owner knew the names and their meanings. Some had already been half picked with a fingernail or the side of a knife, and had left behind a stubble of stickiness. Three fraying strings sagged across neck. The nylon strands were splitting like the ends of unmanageable hair. One more pluck with a plectrum and they could snap. But the shell of the guitar seemed perfect from this side of the glass. It had a smooth, flat waisted body and a round hollow sound hole. Even the neck wasn’t warped. Obviously the owner had taken care not to leave their ‘precious’ by a radiator to let it get damp. The price tag dangled like a leaf from a branch. For ten pounds you could unwrap a present that would need attention and nurturing to bring it back to its full glory – a project for the weekends. Not just another throw away gift. The basics were there for you to turn this rejected guitar into a ‘beauty.’

Church bells started chiming for eight o’clock and pulled me back to reality. Around me the village was starting to revive from its slumber: a pack of four boys in scruffy school uniform huddled outside the corner shop with sweets and cigarettes; the postman strolled along with this pushbike and bugling satchel.
"I’m coming back for you," I said and put my hand against the cold glass.
Dashing across the road, I took one more look over my shoulder as I reached the other side. The machine heads glistened in the morning sun.

Thoughts of the guitar kept fizzing up during the day and popping with possibility. A meeting on simmering quarterly figures faded into the background like lift music. On your birthday it would be the last present for you to open. I would save it until everyone had gone home and it was just you and me surrounded by beer bottles and crisp crumbs on the carpet. The shape of the guitar would already be recognisable under the wrapping paper but you would still eagerly shred away the layers like a toddler who stilled believed in Christmas. And then you would see the guitar. A blossoming smile and then you would give me a muscle hug until my back cracked.
"Jess, what’s your report on this week’s stats?" said a distance voice like background vocals on a track.
The notes would wobble on those three strings but you’d get working on her straight away. It wouldn’t be another present to be slung into the corner. You would scrub with soapy water, trying to peel back the stickiness and turn her into a ‘splendour.’
"Jess?" My boss said, louder. His booming voice jogged the daydream just like needles on a record player skidded across LPs.
"It’s all ship shape," I said, sounding like a two dimensional business clone.
Across my notes for the meeting were doodles of quavers, crotchets and minims. The writing underneath was a backdrop.
"That’s great, you can chair the conference call with the Americans after work."

The pen dragged across the page and tore a hole. I needed to be handing over my crispy ten pound note to the dotty old lady at the charity shop, not talking to Americans about disappointing sales figures.
"Maybe we should wait and prepare a presentation so that we’re not fumbling around with bits of paper," I said, holding my pen so tight that it could snap.
A unison of nodding heads. The boss ran his fingers through his beard and sat back in his seat.
"Alright, twenty-four hours."
All I wanted was to leave the office on time or even sneak out through the side exit with the deliveries. Nobody ever needed me after three.

Back at my fortress cubicle, I shut down the computer, made a neat pile of paperwork and added a ‘to do’ list to a pile of papers. That ‘to do’ list had given that dull pile of paperwork more glamour. The ten pound note for the guitar stood upright, leaning against the monitor. The phone was for business or emergencies and this was a crisis. The only other present I had for you at that moment was a pair of socks.
"Hello, Cancer Research Bryson branch. Can I help?" A soothing old woman’s voice said.
"Yes, I would like you to reserve the guitar that’s in your window."
"No, I can’t, sorry dear," she said.
Sinking further down into my revolving chair and dragging the phone nearer, I whispered, "I am on my way."
Peering over the top of the cubicle like a meerkat, everyone was heads down and in computer comas. I snuck out from the confines of my battery-farm cubicle and took the ten pound note with me.

Rushing off the train, I was first up the thick concrete stairs and left the other commuters trailing behind. The guitar was still in the window but was now propped against a naked mannequin. The shop smelt old and musty with undertones of furniture polish. A woman in pearls, twin set cardigan and a blue rinse stood behind the counter. She was reading the customary Mills and Boons that every charity shop becomes overrun with until they have to put a sign up, begging for no more. The shop was busy and I had to join a queue of four boys in front of me. All were dressed in school uniform but looked like they had been through a battlefield on their journey home. Track marks ran up their trousers, shirts were untucked, grey and one boy had a huge ink stain across the back. There were mumblings about cider, cigarettes and heading to the car park.

One of the boys asked the woman for something but I didn’t hear. His friends were laughed about a message on a phone. The woman shuffled across to the window. She manoeuvred the mannequin further towards the battered bedside table and pulled out the guitar. Dread tingled through my body. She shuffled back and handed the guitar to the boy with a shaven head. Another, more mop-haired boy handed over two ripped five pound notes.
"I’ll buy that off you," I said as the boys walked off and left the woman as the till.
The shaven head boy glanced back.
"Twenty pounds?" I said, waving two crispy, virgin notes at him.
The three other boys looked at him, one nodded and another put out this hand. But the shaven head boy slapped his hand away.
"It belongs to me."
The door slammed. Through the window I watched them high-five each other. The boy turned back, glared at me and shook the guitar above his head as if a boxer waving around his new champion belt.
"I really wanted that guitar," I said
"Could you not have something else?"
I shook my head and moved away from the counter and allowed her to get on with her racy romance book.

Heading back home with nothing, I went the long way home across the village. The four boys were huddled by the train station’s car park wall. The shaven head boy was thudding an acoustic guitar against the brick wall. Shards of wood flew in all directions as the guitar broke up with each clunk. The boys cackled like plotting witches. An elderly man walked past and shook his head. The boy smashed the guitar harder and roared at the man. I tried to walk faster but I could not help but stare at the remains on the pavement.
"That’s rock ‘n’ roll," the boy shouted.
The boy stood on the wall with just the guitar neck and three dangling strings left. Liquid jumped out of the bottle of cider as he swung his arms around. His friends stood back and laughed. It felt like the boy was smashing the guitar against my chest.

© Jessica Patient November 2008

 Jessica has recently completed an MA in professional writing at London Met University. She is the winner of the Worldskills UK Creative Writing competition 2008 and has several flash fiction stories published on Six Sentences and poems pubished in anthologies.She is currently working on several short stories and trying to write a novel. Her blog is

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