It is a simple arrangement. There are a hundred songs made the exact same way, but it is beautiful in its melody and balance. G, E-minor, C, D, repeat. I rake the pick down the strings and G-chord punches through the church. The band follows. Bridge’s vocals are at first off-pitch and then smooth out. And so the song goes.
G-chord – and Sam now standing at the back of the church, the outline of a pack of cigarettes in his front shirt pocket. I push the bones of my hand into the neck of the guitar, squeeze it and feel old flakes of varnish chip away. Sam not even sitting down. Sam waiting at the back door by the sinner’s foyer where phone numbers of lost and moved-away church members were posted on the community board, ghosts. Sam dancing with the ghosts in the back with his cigarettes and his sorry face and his hands long and slender and eager. Sam dancing all through G-chord.
And then E-minor – a shift, a change in atmosphere and purpose. I can almost remember the scent of my grandmother. A lotion she wore to bed each night and the way the first knuckles of her fingers always bent and broke, buckled to get the chords just right without muffling the other strings. It is enough to stop Sam from dancing, thinking of her, and the song moves to a different place, away from Sam and away from Sheila. But the minor-major rise is coming. My fingers buckle inward, ready for the change.
C-chord – and veins climb across Bridge’s neck in conviction and beauty. Sam singing along in the back, lips wet and baritone with song, lips that had touched Sheila again and again while snowflakes dropped around their fisted hands. Lips that said I love you while kissing my wife. The church, with Sam moving again in the back, anxious, eager, and Sheila mute in the front, bored, over her shoulder.
And D-chord – bending down to bury me, close me up. Abrupt and fast, trying to bring back the dead and stir to life the living, then the Gibson slips from my thigh, drops off my knee in a rattle of sound. The last chord breaks away and drifts into nothing. All eyes to me and my scalded red hands folded in my lap, in prayer, in defeat.