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Guitar Gifts, part IV

A short story in small installments.

So, the long day went.

Now the sun was sliding earthward behind the Water Market clocktower. Gifflet’s feet hurt and his sunken belly was complaining. He went to the kiosk where he always got dinner, where it was cheap, even if the quality wasn’t the best.

“Hello, Gifflet, how’s business?”

“Hi, Laura, the same. You?”

“Nobody’s buying flowers today—who knows why? I’ll have to throw most of them out now. But otherwise, there were no earthquakes or floods, so I can’t complain.”

“What are you reading today?”

“A murder mystery,” said Laura, holding up a very tattered paperback with a cover that was so worn, the picture on the front could no longer be made out. There was a lively traffic in books amongst the street vendors who circulated them until they fell to pieces. “The Jellyfish Conspiracy. I was so engrossed that customers had to keep calling to get my attention.”

“Maybe I can trade you for it next,” said Gifflet.

“What’ve you got, then?”

“It’s a travel adventure—about a man who sails around the world, and he gets into trouble at every port.”

“That sounds good. Okay, I’ll trade. You almost finished it?”

“Just a couple of chapters left.”

“Good, ’cause I’m burning through this one.”

Gifflet bought two round loaves of stale bread (discounted)—a large one for tonight and a small one for next morning, a half dozen grilled sardines wrapped in newspaper, a small wheel of sheep’s cheese rolled in cumin seeds, and a very large packet of fried potato wedges. And he got a rosy apple for Arrietty; he couldn’t afford one for himself.

“We’ll never feed you up at this rate,” said Laura as she put everything in a bag. “You’re too skinny, Gifflet.”

Gifflet only shrugged. What could he do? He ate from what he earned.

“Wait,” called Laura as he turned away. “Take some flowers with you. How about these? I can’t sell them tomorrow.” She handed him a bouquet of slightly wilting carnations.

“Thank you!” he said, surprised and pleased. He held the flowers gently all the way home and, before going to his own room, he knocked at Brasilia’s door.

“Hi, Gifflet, how was your day?”

Forgetting to answer, he held up the carnations. “Here are some flowers for you—and Arrietty,” he said, suddenly very embarrassed.

“Gifflet!” shouted Arrietty, who had pelted to the door at the sound of his voice. She gripped him around the knees.

“Princess!” he said, lifting her and throwing her into the air. The bag of food in his hand banged against her, and she laughed.

“Look what I got you,” said Gifflet, pulling the apple out of the bag.

“Apples!” shouted Arrietty.

“Just one,” said Gifflet.

“Thank you, Gifflet,” said Brasilia. “You’re too kind to us.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Gifflet, come in!” said Arrietty.

“Leave the poor man in peace, Parakeet. He’s tired from work and he needs his dinner.”

“Well, goodnight, then.” Gifflet headed towards his room at the far end of the skip, walking past the others who were gathering on the deck with their suppers.

“Hey, Gifflet.” “Hey,” they said; but he didn’t feel like joining them tonight. He shut his door and sat down with a sigh. Why, why, why? He thought, and he didn’t even know the exact why he was asking.

Why?

The others were chatting and laughing, teasing Professor Vespers about the tumbling monkeys, and Doctor Dolci was giving him advice. Gifflet’s stomach cried out and he unwrapped his supper, laying everything on the crooked table he’d fashioned from odd bits of furniture abandoned in alleys. He tore a hunk from his loaf and chewed. The bread was hard, but it tasted good. His thoughts drifted—and then he heard his name.

“—Gifflet today. He really lost it.”

“What happened?”

“The freakish images again.”

Gifflet clenched his teeth. He didn’t know he’d been seen; he hadn’t known Julia was in the street, watching.

“Poor fellow,” said Professor Vespers. “That never used to happen. I wonder what set it off?”

“People were getting irked and I thought they might start heckling,” said Julia. “He left, but not before shouting at innocent bystanders. I mean, how does he expect to busk if he does that? Why’s he so angry with people?”

“The guy’s unhinged,” said Charming Tom.

But Doctor Dolci said, “He’s not angry. He’s disappointed.”

“Disappointed?” said Julia. “He was shouting!”

“Yes, disappointed. Heartbroken. It can make you shout. Why would all the capricious powers that be give him such a passion for singing and for B—” he broke off. “Well, without the gift for it?”

“He should stick to just playing guitar,” said Julia. “That seems pretty simple.”

“Ah,” said Doctor Dolci, “there’s no use hoping for simplicity. Human beings . . . we’re very complicated.”

There was a long silence then, and in the deepening twilight of his room, Gifflet put his hands over his face and groaned.

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