Everything in the world is guitar strings and the scent of the pine-based bleach they used to clean his hotel room that morning, after the maid came in to find him vomit-stricken on the floor. Face down and so strangely-shaped she got to thinking straight away that he was dead. Started screaming, weeping off at stumbling pace down along the corridor. Lots of complaints from other guests later, about being disturbed, not only by her, but by him during the night. Him and his guitar. Open E string played so heavy and bent so deep, so often, that it wouldn’t let them take a wink of sleep.
Yet, when asked why they didn’t complain to him in person at the time, a few of them, the men especially, shrugged, said that they liked the sound of it, after all. Even at three thirty-five in the AM, or whatever the hell time it was that the music started.
The music and the drink. The couple next door, the least lenient in their reaction to his racket-making, claimed that they could hear the bottles rattle, and the glassy thud of his tumbler being placed back on the bedside table, time after time after time. Again and again with the shots of bourbon – Kentucky’s finest – and the empty tumbler banging on down. Almost in-beat with the riffs and rhythm the man put out. Hearing this, a couple of the bellhops looking at each other, trying to figure out if that meant the man’d been playing it one handed, open, whilst he drank. Looking at each other with repetitious admiration in the eyes, and in the smiles they tried to stifle, out of the expected sense of quiet calm in the wake of such a mess.
Wanting more than anything to break from the police investigation, shift themselves from the lobby chairs in which they’d been – less-than-politely – asked to wait, and request he play that way for them, demonstrate the technique, the tone. Wanting more than anything to step outside for a cigarette and watch him, or somehow travel back in time to last night, and wake up from where they’d been sleeping – far side of the motel from his room, out of earshot – to come and listen at his door. Maybe muffled knock and sneak inside and share his drink and sit crossed-legged and listen from right there with their backs rested against the wall or against the foot of the bed.
Wanting, as was in their nature – so their mothers always told them –, something they couldn’t have.
When the police arrived this morning, first thing that they did was drag him out of his room. That is, they woke him first, then slapped him – it sounded like – to help him sober up, then led him out through his doorway with his feet dragging and his knees almost low enough to reach the carpet too. Got him out through crowded lobby – people all told to back off, leave them be, nothing to see here – and into the bracing blueness of the 10 O’clock air. Only to have him turn back and run to his room for his guitar, chased all the way by the two officers, and half of the gathered crowd. Those officers then pulling him back down the corridor whilst trying to steal the guitar – acoustic, sweat-worn at the varnish but still brown and still lovely – from his playing hands, from his drinking hands. Finally wrenching it loose and taking the neck clean from the body with one smack against the outside-the-motel-door wall. Nearly clean. A few guitar strings still not broke and binding the two frayed and busted sections. Some witnesses suggested that he was crying as they put him in the back of the cruiser, after lifting the dregs of guitar-wood into a bin. None of the bellhops saw that part, though.
None of them saw anything they wanted to see, or heard it.
In the lull between questioning, though, one of them snuck out onto the forecourt, came back with three coils of wire, different lengths and thicknesses. Handed them to his fellow workers all secretive and holy, like dope, or like the bits of bread they broke in his father’s church. They sat there then, each of them rubbing the wire between their fingertips, holding it safe like butterflies in the midst of their cupped and sealed palms. Rubbing the grease and the dust from it. Checking, when they weren’t being watched, the string-bits more closely, for rust and other signs of age. Attempting to guess how long they’d been in use. Thinking on all the stages they might have played.
Thinking on seeing him, when he got out of jail.