Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How to Lose a Hummingbird and Catch a Gun – Part 1

The Hock Shop was at the top of Tilly Hill, at the county line and about two-hundred feet from Bill C's beer store. It was a place of old magic and unnamed smells, warm colors and strange music, of feeling up and down, depending on circumstance. Instruments of all types hung from pegs at the tops of the walls. Below that were still more instruments. Guitars, banjos, mandolins. Each one hung quietly like tacked up butterflies full of color and the possibility of beauty.

I walked slowly, deliberately down the line of guitars near the back of the shop. At the counter Norella Sizemore watched with a phone at her ear. The guitar case in my hand shuffled toward the floor and then back to the ceiling and again with each teardrop step I made to the Hummingbird in its place at the end of the wall.

It was my grandmother’s and had been here for five years, untouched, unwanted. Scratched, scuffed with spots of curved wood seemingly deadened by years, but deceptive in that way. Its sound was that of rich, aged experience, years and years on front porches and early evening church services, late nights cross-legged on the living room hardwood, heart pumping with industrial folk and deep blues. And the curves of the wood, the very insides of the instrument, had drawn all that into it and left its haunted mark.

“What’ve you got there, Greg?” Norella asked. She was still at the counter, the phone back in its place. Her voice carried across the empty shop, boredom bred from familiarity. She sat hooked across the counter, bird-like, her thin forearms covering a book of crossword puzzles. Her skin clung tightly to muscle like masking tape to tree bark.

This wasn’t my first visit, and where I stood now, in front of the Hummingbird, my grandmother’s guitar, was the usual spot. Inside the guitar case I carried was the 1966 Silvertone, my dad’s guitar which I inherited at sixteen. The fret boards grooved out with channels from his father’s fingertips over the years of practice and performance. I felt I had contributed nothing to those grooves, playing along fret boards, plucking strings, but never serious enough, never good enough, loud enough, inspired enough, to leave a lasting impression of any kind on anyone or anything. I placed the guitar case on the glass counter with the twenty-point diamond rings and necklaces and guns swimming like hot pavement underneath, popped the latches and said, “You seen this before?”

Norella took a pair of spaghetti colored glasses from beside the phone and slid them up the thin slope of her nose. “Yeah, I seen this before. You wanting to sell or trade?” She looked sideways across the room at the Hummingbird. When I said nothing, she shook her head, her small mouth lost inside smoke-soaked wrinkles. “What the hell for?”

“That.” I pointed to a dead black 9mm revolver under the glass.

“I don’t mean what for. I mean why?” She took the glasses off and leveled her eyes at me. She might have been beautiful once. Light blue eyes, thin, attractive features, a playfulness that could have been nice years ago, before the smoke and swapping in this dive of a shop had pressed in on her and took her energy, her youth, her ability to see the goodness in people. All that was left in her gaze was the sure notion that people would sell their father’s most prized possessions for near to nothing if it all came down that bad. She closed the case and took a long cigarette from under the counter, lit it and took a long drag.

“You know why that Hummingbird is still hanging on that damn peg over there?”

“Busted up guitar. Hard sell,” I answered.

“Bullshit. I could’ve sold or traded that thing years ago. Hadn’t been here two weeks and I had three or four offers. Folks like a guitar like that, especially if they play it, you know, give it a test run.” She took another draw from her cigarette and the smoke from the ember clouded up the space between us, carried in a heavy silence. “Your daddy should’ve never brought that thing in here.”

I snapped out my wallet and produced four ones and a ten, held them up. “Unless you think that’s enough to do it, then we’ll need to talk about trade.”

“Hell, I’ll give it to you, the Hummingbird.” I raised my eyebrows. “You think I won’t?” she asked.

“I need the gun,” I said.

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