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Guitar Gifts, part XX

A short story in small installments.

Gifflet and Arrietty were doing their usual morning prowl of the market when they heard drums echoing in the narrow streets.

“Mama!” shrieked Arrietty.

“No, Arrietty, no, it’s not your mama.”

But she jumped and clapped her hands and her face shone with such anticipation that Gifflet quaked inside

“Come, let’s go,” he said, but Arrietty ran towards the beat. Gifflet scrambled after her. Around the corner they came, first Hackett, then Sax, and Omar last, as always. And after them pranced a leggy woman, so unlike Brasilia, so plodding by comparison. Gifflet couldn’t help feeling angry that Brasilia had been replaced, though he knew that the troupe needed to make a living. Arrietty froze; then she started to wail.

“Mama! Mama! Mama!”

“Arrietty! Shh, shh, Arrietty, sweetie, shh—”

“Mama!”

“Arrietty, come, let’s get away from here.” He tried to pick her up, but she writhed out of his grasp.

“Mama! Mama!” she cried, and Gifflet’s heart broke hearing her heart break. He realized Arrietty was only now seeing that Brasilia was never coming back. How to comfort her, he did not know; he did the only thing that came to him. He sat down, right in the middle of the high street with the people walking around them, and he pulled out the book Arrietty was learning to read: The Bright Song of the Inky Squids.

The inky squids lived in the dark, dark sea, he sang,

At the very bottom where no light shone.

He gently tugged at Arrietty, and she allowed herself to be pulled into his lap.

“Mama, mama, mama,” she sobbed, her face red and sodden with tears.

He held her tight and kept singing:

Their rubbery arms went swish—And Gifflet sang the swish into Arrietty’s ear, and then a gentle “sh-sh-sh,” and he rocked her.

In the storybook, Gifflet had penciled in the names of everyone in The Old Boathouse in place of the squid family’s names, so that Arrietty might learn to read them. He recited them now, and slowly Arrietty joined in, running her chubby finger along the page, until they ended the roll call, as always, with “And Mama Squid, the wisest of them all.”

“M-mam-ma,” stammered Arrietty.

The squids danced in swirls, in whirling, swirling curls, sang Gifflet, and they sank together into the mesmerizing rhythm of the tale.

Arrietty was catching her breath in ragged gulps. Gifflet sang on. He felt a warm pressure against his side and saw, to his surprise, that three of the youngest Mockus children had come to sit with them. They were squashed together, straining to peer into the book and swaying with the rhythm. Gifflet sang on. He paid no attention to the people giving them looks; he paid no attention to his poor voice and whether people were screwing up their faces. He sang about how the squid family, with their little beaks, had no voices.

And they had no way to say, “I love you,” out loud,

So, they said it with dancing, and they danced in swirls

Saying, “Love, love, love.”

Gifflet didn’t notice that the footsteps passing around them had stopped or that a crowd was gathering. He held Arrietty firmly, with all the love in his heart, and sang. But then he heard sighs and oohs, and he stopped

“Look!” said Arrietty. They were surrounded by a cloud of bubbles, bouncing on the breeze, each with a little rainbow on its dome.

“Ahh,” sighed the crowd, and children detached themselves from their parents and ran laughing into the billows, leaping and trying to catch the dancing globes. Gifflet stood up, bemused, and Arrietty hung tightly to his leg, and they looked in wonder. “They’re d-dancing like the squ-squids,” said Arrietty, her voice juddery from sobbing.

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