Leo the Snake had told Cricket it was the best panhandling spot in San Luis, on the sidewalk under a sprawling Carrotwood tree. Droves of downtown office workers passed by. They’d have change to spare. They’d appreciate her music, feel sorry for this pretty Indiana girl, so far from the heartland.
Cricket rosined her bow and played a Strauss waltz, slowly with lots of vibrato. Her case lay open at her feet with pennies, dimes and nickels scattered across its purple felt. A fat man barrel-rolled toward her. He had a body shaped like a pear with a sweptback receding hairline; nickel-sized moles spotted his scalp. She’d seen him a few a times before. But he’d never left anything… never even slowed. This time he stopped and turned on her.
“That’s a fine violin. Is it German?” His voice was surprisingly deep, with precise edges.
Cricket let the note die and lowered the bow. “Yeah. It was my father’s. You know fiddles?”
“My wife used to play for the symphony and I sell them in my store.”
“Le Grande Music…around the corner and down a block.”
“Oh, yeah, I think I know the place. Looked like mostly guitars and band instruments. I didn’t see any strings.” She pushed long strands of blond hair from her eyes and gazed up at his pale face. A middle-aged creep one stogie away from a heart attack, she thought.
“I just got a shipment of full-size violins from China. Do you want to, ah, try some out?”
Cricket’s green eyes narrowed. “Nah, better not. It’s almost noon and that’s when I make the most money.”
He jammed a meaty hand into his pants pocket and extracted a money clip. “Here, I’ll give you ten dollars. That should cover it.”
“And just what do you get out of this little arrangement?”
“What do you mean? Oh… I…I think you have the wrong idea. I just enjoy your playing and thought you might want to – ”
“What? Fight you off in the back of some grungy stockroom? No thanks!”
“I understand why you’re suspicious. Sometime when you’re not, come by the shop. I’ve got some demo strings from Corelli that you can have. Free.”
He pivoted and shambled down the street, turning into the Best Ever Café. Cricket continued playing her waltz. There’s something not right with that guy… he doesn’t look at me like most… stares at my face and fingers and not my chest. Got to do something about that. She tugged the front of her tank top down to increase the exposure. Office workers trooped past; the tinkle of their coins in her violin case was music to her ears. She’d have enough for coffee in the morning and a good breakfast.
Late that afternoon, Cricket found the music shop on a quiet side street and pushed inside. Racks of guitars, bins of sheet music, and glass cases with brilliant brass instruments filled the narrow store. A tall white guy with Coke-bottle glasses and an Afro haircut stood behind a counter, gawking. Cricket set her backpack and violin case by the door.
“Hi. Is the owner around?”
“He’s in his office. Can I help you?”
“Nah, don’t think so. I busted an e-string. The owner said he could help me out.”
Afro Guy eyed her coldly. “And who are you?”
“Just tell him it’s the violin girl… and my name’s Cricket.”
He froze in mid-stride and turned toward her.
“Didn’t catch that name. Say it again?”
“Cricket, ya know, like the bug that chirps.”
His face turned chalky. “Shit, this is not going to be good,” he muttered and disappeared.
Minutes passed. A chorus of angry voices filtered in from the back room, then silence. A stocky man wearing goggles and a stained leather apron pushed through the curtained doorway.
“SO WHAT KIND OF SHAKEDOWN IS THIS?” he bellowed.
“Jesus, mister. Ya don’t have to yell. Get a grip!” Cricket turned to leave.
“No, wait, wait. Sorry.” Mr. Goggles reached up and twisted the controls of two huge hearing aids. “Had these damn things turned down. So what do you want with Gerald anyway?”
“If that’s the owner, I met him this morning. Said he had some violin strings he was giving away. That’s it. I’m not trying to shake down anybody.”
“Yeah, right. Look, I’ve been repairing band instruments here for ten years… never seen him so… so destroyed.”
“I just want an e-string, for Christ sake. What’s the big – ”
“You wouldn’t understand. But you might as well come on back.”
Mr. Goggles ushered Cricket down a short hallway and through a heavy door into a surprisingly large room. Sunlight poured in through high clerestory windows. A Bunsen burner flickered on a workbench cluttered with brass and woodwind instruments in varying stages of disassembly. Caustic air burned Cricket’s eyes and throat. She gagged and turned to flee.
“Here, let me open the back door,” Mr. Goggles said. “I’ve gotten used to the acid… nasty stuff.”
Cricket nodded and blew her nose into a paper towel. In a closet-sized cubical in one corner, the Fat Man sat at a desk with head in hands, his shoulders shaking. Afro Guy stood in back of him and scowled, but motioned Cricket forward.
Gerald looked up with red eyes. “Ah, it’s the violin girl.”
“Sorry to… to upset you, but you said something about free strings and…”
The shop owner’s lips quivered into a smile; but he couldn’t hold it. “I don’t know what came over me. I remember you playing on Monterey Street. You are quite good… quite… good.”
“Yeah, thanks. But I snapped an e-string and – ”
“Snapped…yes… I… I know about snapped…”
“Look, I can come back another time, if now’s not –”
“No, no. James, give this young woman a set of Corellis.”
“Pop, are you sure?”
“Just do it. And… and Cricket, please come back again. Nobody here knows much about fiddles and my wife’s no help. She’s stopped playing. Only has a few students that…”
He lowered his head. The Bunsen burner sputtered; Mr. Goggles worked obliviously at his bench. On Gerald’s desk, the framed photograph of a smiling blond girl, maybe in high school, peered back. She could almost be my sister, Cricket thought. Could almost be…
“This way,” James mumbled and steered her by an elbow out of the workshop.
“You gonna tell me what all that was about?” she asked.
“None of your business.” He reached under the counter, retrieved a packet of violin strings, and handed them over. “Just leave it be.”
“But that girl in the picture…”
“So you noticed. That’s my baby sister, Daddy’s little princess.”
“She dead or something?”
“Or something. A couple years back she went berserk. Took a tire iron to her boyfriend and beat his brains in. She’s now in the State Hospital. They’ll never let her out.”
“Jesus, that really sucks. She does look a lot like me…but there are plenty of blonds and – ”
“Not a lot called Cricket.” James swiped at his eyes and hustled back through the curtained doorway.
At sundown, Cricket took the Number 3 bus to the homeless shelter for a crowded night’s rest. Sitting on her cot, she strung up the German violin and played her favorite classical pieces, keeping the old bums with the sad eyes at bay, keeping alive the memory of her symphony days. But the memory of the big man at the desk, shaking, filled her mind. Nothing comes without strings anymore, she thought. I’m either somebody’s lost daughter or somebody’s whore…can’t win. Cricket leaned on the bow and began a sonata by Schumann. She thought about running into Gerald on the street again; it made her lose her place. I’ve been in this town three months. Maybe it’s time to hitchhike the hell out of here. Or maybe they’re ripe for the picking. I’ll just have to play it by ear.
Webb pushed the goggles onto his sweating forehead and frowned. Heating the crumpled bell of a trombone over the Bunsen burner was taking too long. I’ll be here all morning. Gotta get it together. Damn, why did Gerald ask me to do it anyway. He’s the one on a guilt trip. Sliding a curved steel dowel down the horn’s mouth, Webb positioned the instrument and gently tapped on the hot wrinkled metal with a miniature hammer. Gradually, the brass smoothed, much like his life had after coming out of the Army. But now, there was this new wrinkle.
Tap, tap, tap…can hardly hear myself play bone anymore… tap, tap, tap… I sure as hell flushed that career… tap, tap, tap… if it wasn’t for Gerald I’d be on the street… tap, tap, tap… just like that blond bimbo… tap, tap, tap… Christ, what am I gonna do with her?
At eleven o’clock, Gerald touched Webb’s shoulder.
“You should go now before the noon crowd shows up.”
“YOU’VE GOT TO GO NOW!” Gerald yelled.
“But I’m right in the middle of a job.”
“That can wait. Just get going…and remember what I said.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s your shop.”
Webb found Cricket near the fountain outside the Old Mission Church, sawing away on her violin. A group of Japanese tourists listened politely. When she was done, the Japanese bowed and deposited single dollars in her case. She smiled as they blazed away with digital cameras.
“Do you remember me?” he asked.
“Nah. Should I?”
Webb pulled his goggles from a shirt pocket and slipped them on. “How about now?”
“Oh yeah.” Her voice rose. “What do you want?”
“Gerald sent me to talk to you.”
“Look, he seems like a stand-up guy… but I got my own problems.”
“That’s what he wants to help with.”
“Why?” Her smile faded.
“Why do you think? Gerald wants to save the whole frickin’ world.”
“You don’t sound convinced that he should.”
“Look, if it wasn’t for Gerald, all of us would be up shit creek… even his sorry-ass son. I just don’t know if he should take on another…”
“What? Another loser?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Why don’t you just tell me what this is about.” Cricket let the violin hang by her side, from an arm filigreed with tattoos.
Fine lookin’ mama, he thought. But being next to her all day? Christ, she’s young enough to be my daughter, if I had a daughter. “Gerald figures that since you know violins, you can help me fix the ones we get in from the schools… you know, new strings, soundposts, setups, that kind of thing.”
“How much what?”
“How much will he pay? I don’t do anything for free.”
Webb grinned. “Didn’t figure you would. Ten bucks an hour… that’s way over the minimum.”
“So I’d be workin’ with you?”
“Yeah. Is that a problem?”
“Can’t be any worse than hanging with the creeps from the Shelter. But you’ll have to train me. I can play just about anything with strings, but I know nothing about repairs.”
“I figured as much. I’ll deal with the major work and show you what we do with minor stuff … and Gerald wants you to handle the walk-in traffic.”
“Sounds like maybe I should get paid more?”
“Don’t push it, sister.”
“When do I start?”
“Now. Here’s fifty bucks. Go buy some clothes… something with long sleeves. Come by the shop when you’re done.”
“Aren’t you afraid I’ll split with the cash?”
“Would suit me fine. But I don’t think you’re that stupid.”
“Ah, a thinking man. I could use a change.”
“My name’s Webb, by the way.”
“Well, see ya later, Goggle Man.”
Cricket packed her violin and wandered off. Webb lit a Camel, sucked in a lungful of calming smoke, and admired the retreating swing of her hips, the undulation of her bare midriff. This is going to be tough. Gerald wants to save her and I want to…
Gerald sat in his cramped office with eyes closed, concentrating. The wet spot on his massive knee grew as spit dripped from the end of his clarinet. His sausage-like fingers flickered over the keys, producing long strings of notes that climbed, dipped and warbled. He stopped playing, his face clammy, breath coming in gasps. I used to be able to blow all day long. Now, it feels like my chest will explode… got to lose weight…got to stop smoking…got to stop kidding myself. Gerald smiled at this last private joke.
“Not bad,” Cricket said, interrupting his reverie. “You’ve got some pretty good chops for an old guy.”
Gerald spun around in his chair. She was dressed in a tight knee-length skirt. A high-necked blouse covered her front and arms. Cricket had even tied her hair back in a French braid. She looks so much like…how am I going to stand seeing her?
“So you’ve decided to join us.”
“Yeah, at least for the summer.”
“There’s no time limit on your employment.”
“Look, I know what’s going on here. I’m not stupid. You’ve got a whack job for a daughter that looks like me and now you want to make up for – ”
“I suppose you’re right. But so what? Why should you care if I… I just want to help out a fellow musician. Where’d you learn to play like that? You’re almost as good as my wife and she was good.”
“I played in the Ball State Symphony. Was first chair by my junior year.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you graduate? Why are you…”
“Had to leave… leave home; had my reasons.”
“But your parents must be worried. They must be…”
“Look, you don’t know anything.”
Gerald pulled up his wrinkled pants legs and stared into his lap. “I’m just trying to understand.”
“You’re a smart guy, can’t you guess?”
“I’ve decided not to second guess people after Cricket… I mean my daughter – ”
“Yeah, your son told me what she did. You’re not the only one with family issues, ya know.”
“I suppose not. But didn’t you like college?”
“They don’t call it ‘Ball State’ for nothing. I got pregnant and had an abortion.”
Gerald’s lips trembled and he stared into her green eyes. “I’m sorry, that… must have been difficult for you.”
Cricket dropped her head. “That’s not the half of it.” Gerald waited. The silence grew, like between two wounds. Finally, Cricket met his gaze. “Look, I have an older brother who’d… who’d get high on meth or angel dust, or some damn thing and jump my bones. So it wasn’t just any abortion.”
“Did you tell your parents?”
“Why would I tell them anything?” Cricket said with a laugh. “They’d take Stan’s side. You know how parents play favorites. It was easier to just get the hell out.”
“How long have you been on your own?”
“Four years. I keep moving, ya know. Doesn’t pay to get attached.”
“But still, your parents must be worried.”
“A big rig killed them on the interstate, about a year after I left.” Her face stayed blank.
“I’m sorry.” Gerald sighed and shook his head. He adjusted the clarinet’s reed and inserted the mouthpiece between fat purplish lips. A slow scale of half notes flowed through the workshop. If I just play sweet and clear, maybe the pain will…
“So what’s your story?” Cricket interrupted. “You were a pro once, right?”
“I suppose. I played for studio orchestras in Hollywood, way before your time. I got fat, had my first heart attack, and moved here and opened this store. My wife gives private lessons. You might want to –”
“Look, let’s be clear on this. I’m not looking for a new set of parents. I just need a job so I can start something, ya know.”
“Yes, I remember what it’s like to start something.”
“Okay then. And another thing, I’ll need to leave by four so I can keep my space at the Shelter.”
“That’s not a problem. But you can stay here at night if you want… just until you get your own place. There’s a restroom and shower in the back and a cot upstairs. You can use the hotplate on Webb’s bench.”
Cricket looked around the workshop, a sly smile curling the corners of her mouth. “Yeah, I suppose I could hang here.”
“I can use a night watchman…a watchperson.” He noticed the girl’s sudden sharp wariness. “And we’re both taking chances…don’t you think?” Cricket nodded slowly.
James’s frizzy head pushed past the door. “Pop, we got a teacher from Emerson who has questions about sheet music.”
“I’ll be right there,” Gerald said absently. He studied his son’s dead eyes and wondered briefly how they had gotten that way. But there was something new in that bland face… some new tightening around the mouth as James stared at Cricket. Oh Lord, I’ll have to watch those two, Gerald thought. Maybe this time it’ll be different.
James drummed his fingers on the glass counter top. He’d dusted all of the guitars, rearranged the sheet music and vacuumed the store. An overcast fall day stretched before him, one of dreaming about what might have been, about the destruction of his family by a single odd seed, one that was watered to excess and then exploded in violence. He remembered the phalanx of police cars outside his parents’ house when they came for her, the neighbors peeking from behind curtained windows, his sister struggling with the straitjacket, screaming, cursing them all, cursing the universe. James had envied her license to lash out. Still did.
Le Grande Music’s front door swung open and a woman with a pipe cleaner figure strode in, dragging a little girl bundled in an oversized parka. The blast of cold air pulled James from his reflections and he rearranged his face to appear alert and studious.
“Mr. Cutshaw at school said that we should talk to you about violins. Can you help us?”
“Are you interested in buying or renting a – ”
“It’s for Emily,” the woman said. The little girl stared wide-eyed at him. “She’s never taken lessons…so I think we’d better try renting.”
“We have some very nice student models to choose from. But let me get… get my… violin assistant to help you.”
James slipped the cash register key into his pocket and pushed inside the workshop. Some kind of classical music, maybe Bach, was thundering at flight deck levels from wall-mounted speakers. Webb sat at the workbench, bobbing to the sound. At the end of the counter, Cricket worked on a violin, orange plastic plugs sticking from her ears. Her forehead was wrinkled and lips compressed as she shoved a steel tool inside the tiny instrument and tried to maneuver the sound post into position. It wasn’t going well.
James placed a hand on her shoulder. In a single motion she whipped around and struck out with the tool. It sliced him across the cheek. “WHAT THE FUCK!” James bellowed and grabbed his face. Crimson leaked between his fingers and dribbled onto the stained concrete. The music quieted.
“Don’t do that, man,” Cricket growled. “You scared the shit out of me.”
James backhanded her across the face. “God, you bitch… who the fuck do you think…” Blood from his hand splattered the wall and Cricket’s cheeks.
She grabbed a routing tool and advanced toward him. But Webb yanked her back onto the stool by her braided hair.
“You idiots are lucky Gerald isn’t here. I’ve a mind to call the cops.”
“Shut up, retard,” James said.
“Here, wipe your face and get a bandage from the kit. It looks only superficial.”
“Nobody touches me without permission. Got it?” Cricket glared at both men.
“I got it,” Webb said. He dampened a paper towel at the rear sink and approached her. “Let me clean you up, then you need to get out front.”
Cricket trembled, her left cheek red from the blow. “I can do it, I can –”
“Just trust me, will you?”
“I’ve been trying.”
“Well, try harder. I’m worth it, ya know.”
Webb laid the towel on her cheek and gently removed the blood droplets. Cricket’s lips thinned into a hard line.
James held a rough rag to his cheek and scowled. His hands stopped shaking. He sucked in a deep breath. I could be a genius and the blond chicks will win every time. Why should I care… except now I’ll have to come up with an excuse. What’s Pop going to do to me anyway? Tired of feeling ignored…one step away from being forgotten. Jesus, what an insecure idiot I am. Something’s gotta change.
The cold December wind howled outside the clerestory windows. Cricket and Webb hunched over the workbench, elbow to elbow. Webb was gluing pads on a bass clarinet. Cricket carefully reamed out a cello’s tuning peg holes. Too much and they’ll slip, not enough and they’ll stay stuck, she thought. Gotta be real careful. She glanced sideways at Webb. Jeez, I’m surprised the stink from that glue hasn’t fried his brain.
Webb worked deliberately as he heated each key over the burner, removed the old pad, then positioned its replacement in the cup. The tendons of his bare forearms stood out, strong, covered with blue tattoos. Cricket noticed how their color was the same as hers. Huh! I guess we’re both marked people…but those things are damn ugly…people think the same about mine. Webb glanced over at her, smiled and pantomimed drinking. Cricket slipped two mugs from their wall hooks and filled them from the glass coffeepot. They didn’t speak.
I’ve been here almost six months and Goggle Man hasn’t made a move. What’s up with that? Cricket inserted the cello’s pegs and tested their resistance. Satisfied, she sipped her coffee and watched him work. Maybe he’s weird or something. Maybe he’s… nah, can’t be that! She unwrapped a set of Jargar strings. Reaching, she laid a hand on Webb’s forearm. He looked at her white fingers resting there. She stared into his eyes and smiled. He laid a hand on top of hers. The Bunsen burner sputtered then flamed steady. Finally, she motioned turn down the volume and Webb twisted the stereo system’s knob. The background roar subsided. Cricket removed her earplugs and restrung the cello, plucking each string until it was at proper pitch. From the corner of her eye, she saw him watching, his soft face cleanly shaved. She leaned over and kissed his smooth cheek, then those full, smiling lips and mouth. He tasted spicy, like some imagined sailor after a night drinking Caribbean rum. A loud buzz jerked her back. The amber light on Gerald’s office phone blinked.
“I’LL GET IT,” she said.
Yanking the phone from its cradle she spoke smoothly. “This is Le Grande Music, may I help you.”
“Is…is, ah, Gerald there?”
“No ma’am. He’s left for the day. May I take a message?”
“This is Sylvia Le Grande. Is this… is this…”
A loud crack sounded, like the phone had been dropped, then nothing but dial tone.
“Who was that?” Webb asked.
“Jesus, what did she say?”
“Not much. Just hung up.”
“I can imagine why.” Webb shook his head and gazed at Cricket. “Now where were we?” He stood and took her into his arms. She was too tall for him, but it didn’t matter.
V. STRINGS REPRISE
Gerald slid the key into the lock and pushed inside the dark music store. A thunderstorm wet the streets and threatened to spoil the New Year’s Eve festivities, two blocks down. But for Gerald and James, the nightlong tedious task of completing the end-of-the-year inventory lay ahead.
James always felt strange being in the shop at night – like sneaking into the University on a weekend and wandering along dark hallways and through empty classrooms. But he liked the stillness, the simplicity of the work: the sorting, counting, and recording of every last item in stock. Taking stock… it was important. In the morning his Pop would take him to the Apple Farm Restaurant for breakfast. They’d sit at a corner table and stuff themselves with cinnamon-apple pancakes with honey-butter and maple syrup. They’d been doing this every year for five years. It was nice.
“So you want me to take the counter stuff or the instruments?” James asked.
“Doesn’t matter to me, son. But you can reach the instruments better than I can. That stepladder won’t support my body anymore.”
“You don’t need to be fat, ya know.”
“Yes, I know… and you don’t need to be jealous of Cricket.”
James stopped on the ladder’s second rung. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Webb told me about your run-in with her last month. I never did believe that story about you cutting yourself shaving.”
“Come on, Pop. It was no big deal. But I already knew whose side you’d take. I don’t need any more grief.”
“Grief… yes, grief,” Gerald said and stared at his son. “I’ve been waiting for you to step up and take charge around here and all you can do…”
“Really? Take charge? You’ve been giving Cricket more responsibility than you ever gave me. I’m the one with the business degree and what am I doing? Dusting guitars and making nice with the customers.”
“You really want more… more –”
“Look, I’m not gonna do this again. I thought it would be different after Cricket, ah, our Cricket was gone. But for you, I just sort of disappeared.”
“No, son. You got it all wrong. I wanted…”
“Yeah. You can’t even talk with Mom about it and it’s been four years.” James’ voice was bitter as acid fumes.
Gerald said nothing. Outside, the party down the street was finding its full voice. A rock band played “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest. James imagined Cricket spinning in the arms of some stranger, her blond hair flying.
“We’ve got a long night ahead of us,” Gerald finally said. “Let’s not argue.”
“Fine with me. But just so ya know, I have lots of ideas about how to make this business really pop. Face it Dad, you’re not a businessman. You should be –”
“And this is supposed to make me trust you?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you. But you’re a great musician and all around nice guy. You should be out here doing the ‘meet and greet’ while I should be in the back working the business.”
“Really? You never said anything and…”
“Why the hell did you think I got a degree in marketing?”
“I’m sorry. I guess Cricket’s problems took all my attention and…”
“That was then. What about now, Pop?”
“Yes, right now.”
“I suppose we could try…”
“Now you’re talkin’. Come on, let’s get this inventory done.”
James climbed down off the ladder and awkwardly patted his father’s sloping shoulders. “How about some coffee? I’ll put a pot on.”
“All right. It can’t be any worse than that battery acid Webb makes.” Gerald perched heavily on his stool and sorted through boxes of Rico reeds, humming something by Beethoven.
“Hey Pop, you better come here,” James called.
“What? I’m right in the middle of counting. Damn it, now I’ve lost my place.”
“That’s not all you lost.”
“Come here and see for yourself.”
Groaning, Gerald pushed up and joined James in the workshop. He stood in the center of the room, open-mouthed, staring at blank walls where racks of gleaming tools should have hung. A small mountain of instrument cases with repair tags stamped “Done” occupied one corner. Everything had been swept, scrubbed and mopped clean.
“What happened? Were we robbed?”
“Sort of,” James said.
“Lord almighty. Webb’s gonna be –”
“No, he won’t. Here, read this.”
Gerald took out his bifocals and focused on a rumpled piece of binder paper covered with Webb’s distinctively slanted printing.
Dear Gerald and James:
Sorry not to give you guys any warning. It happened all of a sudden. I got a call from my brother who lives in Maryland. He’s been bugging me to move back east and take a job with Lawson Instruments. I think he’s afraid of what will happen when I finally go deaf. Well anyway, something just opened up in their repair shop, so I took it. I didn’t mean to screw you guys, but I have family in Maryland, and the pay’s better. Besides, it was just time to start something different, and you know me, I don’t like arguing with the boss, heh, heh. Thanks for putting up with me all these years. Gerald, you are the best. I hope you know that.
By the way, Cricket has decided to come with me, which should make James happy and definitely makes me happy. Wish all of us the best of luck.
P.S. Gerald, you should start calling your son Jim. James is just too geeky, the name that is. Sounds like you don’t even know him.
Gerald stood transfixed, his eyes blinking rapidly as he read the letter over and over.
“I know what you’re thinking,” James said nervously. “So just stay cool, okay?”
“But we have customers…and the schools are due to deliver repairs… and Cricket…”
“I know, I know. It’s gonna be messy. I can subcontract our repair work to Oak Tree Music in Santa Barbara… at least until we get somebody in-house. And we should find a grad student at the University to take Cricket’s place and – ”
“Take her place? But it won’t be the same… it just won’t be…”
“You’re right, Pop. It’ll be better!”
Gerald stared at his son and slowly smiled. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
A light tapping sounded from the front of the shop. James checked his watch; it was after midnight. Outside, the dense Carrotwood trees blocked the light from cobra-headed streetlamps. The black silhouette of a petite figure stood on the far side of the glass door.
“What the hell…” James muttered and moved forward. “Who is it? What do you want?” he demanded.
“It’s your mother. Be so kind as to let me in.”
“Mom, what are you doing here?” James hurriedly unlocked the door and ushered the trembling woman inside.
“I …I…I brought you men some coffee. That effluent you brew is terrible and…”
She stopped speaking and stared into her son’s smiling face. Gerald nudged him aside. “We’re glad you’re here. James… I… I mean, Jim and I need your help, Sylvia… help counting strings.”
“Yes, you’re the only one who knows anything about fiddles.”
The small woman took a deep breath, squaring her narrow shoulders. “Well, if I can really help…”
“She’s gone, Mom,” James said quietly. “Cricket.” He took a deep breath and then added, “Both of them. We need you now, Mom.”
Gerald’s big shoulders curved behind the tiny woman as he turned her toward the wall and glass-topped cases full of violins, strings, and rosin packets. Her eyes glistened like the night’s wet windows, but there was a new tentative smile on her face.
Terry Sanville worked as an urban planner for 30 years until 2003. His short stories have appeared in more than 25 literary and commercial journals and anthologies including, R-kv-ry Journal, Red Dirt Review, Falling Star Magazine, and Storyteller. Terry lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife, Marguerite Costigan (his in-house editor) and two cats (his in-house critics). He is also an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist who once played in a symphony orchestra backing up jazz piano legend George Shearing.
© 2007, Terry Sanville