Now, a few days later, Gifflet was struggling with his anger again. He had waited until Professor Vespers left the shady corner of the park—his act a riot of mishaps, as usual, but still with a lot of money coming his way because it made people laugh so hard. Gifflet regarded Professor Vespers. He was laughing, too. Maybe that was what made people toss their coin his way? At last, the tumbling monkeys ran into the hedges. They’d evaporate soon enough.
Gifflet hurried over so he could start playing before the crowd dispersed completely. He’d chosen this spot because he wanted to avoid buildings and structures. No more hideous pictures appearing on walls, he thought. Just yesterday, he’d been visited by a giant cat’s face, purple and snarling with its mouth agape, and covered in at least half a dozen angry orange eyes. The passersby had hissed and hurried away.
The song in his head today was one he’d written himself. He announced his act with a loud strum and heads turned.
Oh, my lover, you left for another.
And he’s as nasty as sin, he’s a downright sin.
How could you do that?
My heart was smashed when I saw you with him.
I could have bashed his head right in.
I’m so disgusted and my life is busted—
That’s when the heckling started.
“You should bust your guitar!”
“It doesn’t even rhyme properly.”
“Hey, there are kids here! You can’t sing about violence in a public park like this.”
Gifflet faltered. He didn’t want to hurt children. His hand slipped and the guitar let out a harsh twang. That was when the oranges started springing up. People turned away and he fell silent and looked in dismay at the fruit all around his feet—shrivelled and brown. The park emptied.
Gifflet picked up an orange. It was as shrunken and hard as a walnut. He dropped it back into the grass. The next moment, he was surrounded by a half dozen tumbling monkeys, snatching up fruits and then wrenching them out of each other’s hands. A couple of them had managed to open the leathery skins, and when they bit into the flesh they shrieked with fury, pulling back their lips to show their tiny, fearsome teeth. They pelted the oranges at Gifflet.
All the other monkeys followed suit, and he was hit on the shoulder, on the head, and then a missile bounced off his guitar with a reverberating thud.
“Hey! Leave it alone!” He dropped his guitar and chased after the beasts, flailing his arms; but this only seemed to enrage them. Gifflet dug in his pocket for the nuts he’d been saving for a snack and flung them into the hedge. The tumbling monkeys ran after, screeching.
Gifflet picked up an orange that had been torn open and gingerly touched his tongue to the fruit. Ugh! It was as bitter as chewed aspirin. He flung it away.
“No good?” said a voice.
He jumped. He hadn’t noticed that a young woman was sitting on a bench nearby. Her head was shaved all around, save for a tumble of black curls on the top, and she was dressed all in black, too.
“No,” confirmed Gifflet. “Bitter.”
“They look it.” She got up and walked over to him. “May I?” she pointed to his guitar, lying upside down in the grass.
Normally Gifflet wouldn’t have let anyone touch his guitar, but he was so dispirited that he didn’t protest. Taking this for assent, the woman picked it up—gently, he noticed. “Sweet ax,” she said. “A real antique, but in such good shape.” She ran her hand over it. “You care for it well.”
“It was my mother’s,” said Gifflet, “and she had it from her mother. Everyone said Mother was a guitar goddess, but I don’t remember it. She died when I was a tiny.”
“That sucks,” said the woman. She tuned the guitar for a minute and then began to pluck a happy tune. Gifflet watched her fingers, flying, flying—not just across the strings, but over the whole guitar so that it sounded like she had drums, too.
“Do you play percussion?” she asked.
Gifflet shook his head.
She sat down cross-legged in the grass. “Here, pull up some turf. Let me show you.” Gifflet sat down, too.
“First, watch my hands,” she said. “I’ll go slow.”
Gifflet watched, but even slow was too fast to really see what was happening.
“Now you,” she said, passing the guitar to him. “First, fingers in and a palm slap on the guitar—that’s it. Now a downstroke.”
And so, they spent the better part of an hour passing the guitar back and forth. Gifflet shook his head. All the things you could call forth that he’d never known about!
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