Gifflet felt a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to see a tall man in a crisp, white shirt. He looked vaguely familiar, but Gifflet couldn’t place him
“Very cool, man. Kids love you, it’s obvious, and they loved that song.”
“It’s just a story—I sing it because that’s how Arrietty likes it. I—I’m not much of a singer,” he said. The confession was painful.
“No, man, it’s not about the voice, it’s about the delivery. They were gobbling it up. Didn’t you notice how all the kids in the crowd were hanging on your every word?”
“I—no, I didn’t . . . There were more kids listening?”
The man laughed. “How could you not have noticed? That’s quite a gift you’ve got. Just like with that woman who was hit by the taxi.”
“You—oh! It was you who spoke to me then.”
The man nodded. “I noticed that you were pointing to each word with the little one there. Are you teaching her to read that way? Singing together?”
“Yes. It’s always singing that works best for Arrietty.
“Smart,” said the man. “We know singing aids memorization. Why not phonetics? Listen, I run a bunch of schools across the city. We start every day with story time. How would you like to come and try your method with our kids?”
And the man said quickly, “I’ll pay you for your time, of course.”
“Well, it won’t be much. It won’t be a true value of your gift, but it’ll cover your time.”
“G—gift?” Gifflet felt disconcerted, excited, bewildered. His thoughts were like the tentacles of an inky squid, writhing in the dark, and he let his mind float into a big bubble that was drifting by, squeezing past the rainbow into its peaceful centre where, through its pearlescent sheen, he could see properly. And, watching from on high, as the bubble floated heavenward in an updraft, he saw and heard a multitude of scenes. All the days standing on street corners and in parks, playing and singing, even with the rain coming down, his bones raw, his fingers so dead he could barely strum, his emotions ragged from the looks and the sneering comments; and the dreadful apparitions, right up to the last one, the worst of all, the snake-tailed crocodiles. Scenes flashed of him practicing guitar, polishing his guitar, the first time he had met Brasilia and he had played her a song and she had laughed and clapped. The first time he met Arrietty, her squalling piercing the air, and how he had sung acapella to her, embarrassed at the roughness of his voice—but it hadn’t bothered her, and instead she became calm. And how Brasilia had thanked him and smiled at him. And it seemed to him that moment was the start of everything good that had happened since. He heard, from far way, the word gift again and then—
He felt Arrietty tug at his hand, and he came back to himself. He looked down and, through the mess of tears on her face, she gave him her widest goblin grin. His eyes brimmed, seeing her face beaming despite all the hurt in her little heart, and he said,
“Can Arrietty come?”