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Guitar Gifts, part II

A short story in small installments.

Daytime found them scattered around the market. Doctor Dolci was usually first out, putting on the white lab coat that matched his snowy hair. He had a stethoscope around his neck and carried a blood pressure cuff and a clipboard. Doctor Dolci was his busking name and nobody knew what his real name was, though they knew he certainly wasn’t a real doctor. He circulated amongst the coffee shops and restaurants looking wise and made his coin by giving health consultations. There were some who came to find him again and again, and he would spend a long time talking with each customer, never hurrying to the next. And there were quite a few tourists who, in the midst of consuming mounds of fried meats and plates of cheeses and towers of oozing desserts, suddenly felt they should have their blood pressure checked along with a friendly—but serious—chat about their health. Doctor Dolci did pretty well.

Julia was usually next out, since her customers featured a lot of young children. Earlier was better, before the parents got too harassed and no longer felt like dropping money into the cup. So, she would set up her painted stage and disappear for the puppets to take over. She had a mad array of them, birthed from her turbulent imagination, and she was always making new ones. But Gifflet thought it was a shame that she, herself, was never on stage—for she was quite as arresting as any of her characters, with her towering height and her long, long cornrows woven with jewellery, and her raven, glowing skin. Gifflet was a bit afraid of her, to tell the truth. But she was always nice enough to him, if a little distant. And what she did with puppets . . . well, it was magic. Gifflet and Arrietty had spent many hours watching her shows.

Then there was Professor Vespers—nobody knew why he called himself Professor—who never seemed to make up his mind about his act. Recently, he’d been dressing as a wizard and playing a battery-operated organ he’d salvaged from somewhere; and between sets he read people’s auras and palms. He’d had mixed reviews, but it was going better than the stint as a street-side psychiatrist or the previous one as a statue of an avid reader. Or any of his other gigs.

But unlike Professor Vespers, Gifflet was focused on one and only one thing: playing guitar and singing.

By a mutual agreement that had developed over time and was never spoken, he spent mornings with Arrietty while Brasilia disappeared to another part of town to practice her performance of the day with her drummers. Later, he and Arrietty would hear them coming into the Water Market, the drums first, echoing and multiplying in the narrow streets, and then the clack of Brasilia’s heels striking the stones. By the time the troupe came into view, every eye was on them. Hackett always came first, then Sax, and Omar would follow—their shoulders pumping, drumsticks ablur, sweat running from their brows. And Brasilia came last, whipping and turning in her short skirt, dancing every time as if it would be the last. Arrietty would squeal and jump, and Brasilia would turn and flash them a blazing smile, and Arrietty would clap, and Gifflet’s heart would flail like a netted fish. The drums would build, louder and faster, and Brasilia would step quicker and harder, and Gifflet was always afraid she’d turn an ankle on the cobblestones; but she never did. The sun followed the little group, even on gloomy days. There would be a moment when Brasilia’s eyes closed, as if she were transported to another world, and jasmine and frangipani blossoms would spring up behind her, glorifying the very air. Then the patrons bent to scoop the flowers into their arms and shower them over Brasilia, crying, “Hurrah! Hurrah!”

When the hat went around, nearly everyone put in something. Brasilia had to first pay her drummers, and before she counted her own earnings, she always slipped something to Gifflet. “For minding Arrietty,” she’d say. Gifflet would look down, embarrassed; but he was grateful, because little coin came his way.

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