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Guitar Gifts, part XV

A short story in small instalments.

He returned feeling like a fragile, empty vessel—and weirdly lopsided, too. If someone bumped into him, he would shatter, he was sure of it. He knocked quietly at Brasilia’s door. “It’s me. Gifflet,” he said.

“Gifflet!” shrieked Arrietty, and he heard Brasilia groan. The door opened and Arrietty flung herself at his knees

“Shh-shh,” he said. “Try to be quiet, Arrietty, your mother needs quiet.”

“I’ve come to take Arrietty for lessons,” he said

“Oh, thank you, Gifflet. You’re a life saver.”

“And—and—well, here’s something for you.” He rushed forward, clumsily shoving a wad of bills into Brasilia’s hands.

“Wha—Gifflet! Where did you get this?”

“Never mind. It’s for your medicine.” And seeing the look on her face he said, “I didn’t do anything illegal for it.”

“No, of course not! But—”

“No buts. You go get your medicine tomorrow.”

She nodded, unable to speak, and tears slid from her eyes. “That night when I asked you to babysit Arrietty for me—when I had to go out for the whole evening?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“I took the bus to Village North.”

“Village North! That’s outside the city.”

“Yes, that’s why I was gone so long. That’s where my family lives.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“No. I’ve never spoken of them because . . . well, I expect most of us here might be alike in that way. So many painful things. But I thought they might be willing to help with my medicine.”

“They wouldn’t? That’s appalling!”

Brasilia nodded. “All of you here have been far more family to me and Arrietty than they ever were. You, especially, Gifflet.”

Gifflet’s heart thrashed against his ribs. He wanted to scoop her into his arms, to say, Yes! Yes! We’re family, you and Arrietty and me! He wanted to very tenderly brush the tears from her cheeks and caress the worry from her forehead and then hold her so that she would know the force of what he felt for her. But he knew she didn’t mean it that way. He found he couldn’t speak, so he took Arrietty’s hand and turned to go.

“Do everything Gifflet tells you, Parakeet.”

“I will!”

And as they left, he heard Brasilia let out a long sigh.

***

He was swimming in a dark, chaotic river—no, he was in a safe, dry place—no, it was a meadow flooded with morning sun and he threw his head back, laughing, and raced through the tall grass. A lady approached—he couldn’t quite see her, he was so blinded by the sun—and they ran together until he lost track of her. After a while, from far away, he heard a sound that made him stand rooted, holding his breath. It was a woman, singing to the music of a guitar plucked as sweetly as a harp. It was something he knew! He recognized in it the shape of a lullaby he sang to Arrietty, only he sang it with inadequate words and holes in the tune. Now he was hearing the true song and he cried for the poverty of the one he’d invented. He sat upright in bed and he realized that the woman was his mother. In the dark, he wept for the loss of the song, for his lack of talent and his unworthiness of his mother’s guitar, and he sobbed for he knew not what—and for the absence of memories that were dear to him, but lost forever.

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