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Guitar Gifts, part XVI

A short story in small installments.

The next morning, he took Arrietty while Brasilia went to get her medicine. He was worried that she might faint along the way—she was so weak—and he asked if one of the others would go along. But she insisted on going alone.

“She doesn’t want us to know what she’s suffering from,” said Doctor Dolci, looking sadly after her

“There’s no shame in being ill,” said Julia.

“Many people feel that way, though,” said Doctor Dolci. “Sometimes people confide terrible things to me, and they say they’ve never even told their families.”

“That makes no sense,” said Julia.

Doctor Dolci only shrugged

Gifflet and Arrietty haunted the Water Market in their usual way, and he kept her much longer than he needed to. But eventually, Gifflet took her home and found himself on the streets alone and feeling lost. He wandered around the Plaza of Statues without settling anywhere, went back to the high street, then to Copper Lane, walked to the docks and back again. He felt naked. Finally, he stopped in front of the Old Fort wall and muttered to himself very sternly, determined to busk, come what may. He put down his cup.

I went to the place where I knew she lay waiting.

People stopped and stared at him, their faces puzzled.

Under the marble and the snow.

People rushed past, looking annoyed. He kept singing.

“Man, he’s butchering it,” Gifflet heard someone say. But he had to sing. How could the world just go on and on and not know that he’d lost the thing that gave him his gift? That he was right now probably losing the person . . . He couldn’t think it

But she said, go back, go back to the world—

“Man, I hope he goes back to where he came from.”

They weren’t even bothering to keep their voices down, and Gifflet had to clench his jaw to stop himself from shouting or just bursting into tears.

And on the wall opposite he saw the beginnings of the worst apparition yet, spreading quickly to fill not only that wall, but the cobblestones under his feet and the entire wall behind him: a siege of fearsome crocodiles with enormous, hungry jaws and triple-rows of jagged teeth; and they had multitudes of stumpy legs like centipedes, and writhing tails made of snakes, the heads hissing and snapping. People shrieked and children began to cry and Gifflet stopped singing, watching in horror as the things grew and grew. The only way he knew to make them go away was to leave—and he left running.

That night, Julia said, “Those were quite the monsters you conjured, Gifflet. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“You saw that, too?” said Charming Tom. “That was mental.”

“I can’t lie, it scared me,” said Professor Vespers

“It was impressive,” said Doctor Dolci.

“I don’t believe it!” Gifflet exploded. “You all saw that?”

“It was hard to miss,” said Charming Tom.

“Can we just not talk about it?” said Gifflet.

“But what were you doing without your guitar?” asked Professor Vespers.

“Yeah.”

“Yes.”

“Oh, sure, rub it in!” cried Gifflet.

“Rub what in?”

“My guitar’s gone, okay?”

“Gone? Where?”

“I sold it! Okay?”

“But why? How’re you going to make a living without it?”

“I don’t know!” he shouted.

“What’s the matter with you—?”

But Doctor Dolci cut across everyone quietly. “You sold it to get money for Brasilia’s medicine, didn’t you?”

This jolted everyone into silence. At length, Gifflet said almost pleadingly, as if he were trying to convince them—and himself, too, “It’s an antique. It’s worth quite a bit of money. It was the only way. She needs her medicine and it’s expensive."

He saw them exchanging looks. He knew what they were thinking: Gifflet could barely scrape by before. What will he do now without a guitar? What will he do now that singing without a guitar seems to throw the very bricks and stones into spasms? How stupid to sell his only asset! What will he do now?

He didn’t know. He didn’t know.

Doctor Dolci gripped Gifflet’s shoulder. “My boy,” was all he said; and everyone dispersed.

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