Thursday, June 18, 2015

J, Stephen Howard writes


The storm had raged on, despite the concerns of Willy or my father, both of whom were consumed by it, never to return. That crack in the basement ceiling was an angry mouth that never got to clench its teeth around me. However, I did watch it spread wider in fury, but the ceiling would hold as well as the rest of Belle de las Santos. I often try to wrap my brain around why my father and Willy would leave the shelter of the most solid structure on the island, but it's pointless and painful to reflect on the past.

I left the guitar Willy had given me, in mistaking me for his dead son, in the basement. It seemed the best place for it, since I felt I could never accept what had, in fact, been intended for someone else. Also, I couldn't escape the haunting notion that something evil or at least spectral was down in that basement or perhaps in the guitar itself.

Willy had called me his dead son with no lack of certainty in his voice. And while he could have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, I thought this unlikely. As I mentioned, the drinking he had done the night before should have rendered him immobile. Maybe Willy should've had a couple of bottles more. It might've saved his life.

As for that guitar with special markings running the length of the fretboard, it could have stayed in the basement for generations or as long as Belle de las Santos stood. But my mother had other plans.

My father never got around to remodeling the basement and turning it into that nightclub I mentioned, but my mother had plans to convert it into a shrine for Mother Mary. After the Great Flood, she became obsessively religious and believed that if she made a prayerful refuge devoted to the mother of Jesus, our home would be spared should future storms or devilments arise.

I didn't, which I thought at the time was wise of me, point out how Belle de las Santos had ridden out the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the area without putting anything religious within her bowels. As I've pointed out, Dad and Willy would still be here if they had remained hunkered in the basement with me.

It's not as though I had anything against Catholicism, for I am still of that faith on good Sundays after bad Friday and Saturday nights. It's just that when my mother began considering all this, she found old Willy's guitar still in the basement where I'd left it--on a body-length pillow that had been used on occasion by individuals such as Willy himself after a spectacular bender. I didn't want the beautiful, though eerie-inducing instrument, to get scratched even as I hoped no one, including myself, would ever lay eyes on it again.

She brought it upstairs with her one Saturday. I don't remember the year, just that it was when I was a young man in high school, but certainly other things, say pretty ladies, were on my mind when she held the guitar up for my inspection.

"That's that old drunk's guitar, isn't it?"

My mother didn't have a keen appreciation for music, definitely not for the blues, and she hadn't held a strong opinion of Willy while he was still with us.

She looked up at the ceiling, from which hung a crystal chandelier. "May his soul rest in peace." I wondered how many such prayers she'd said for my father who'd died in the same hurricane that took the troubled musician. However, I didn't like to dwell on this or any other sorrow. As I said, at this point I was a hormone-crazed boy trying to find satisfaction in life's beautiful curves.

"It's not yours, is it?"

"It's Trevor's," I said, the name falling off my lips before I could catch it. I hadn't thought of the guitar or Willy or how he'd called me by his son's name the day of the Great Flood. In truth, though, it did belong to the blues man’s son whose untimely death had caused poor Willy to take up the vice of the agonizing blues; this, in turn, brought with it a case of alcoholism that allowed pious people like my mother to typecast him as a drunk.

In an instant, it came back to me, that moment in the basement with Willy. He looked through me, as if seeing the ghostly body of his son, instead of the real, live boy in front of him. If I followed the telltale signs of voodoo, like my old nanny, I would have taken that as an evil omen. Perhaps I should have listened to Hazel.

"Trevor's? Who's that, some friend of yours?"

Why would my mother know about Willy's son? She only tolerated that old drunk because my father had loved him so much.

Then I didn't know what came over me, but I found myself saying, "Okay, Mom. It's mine. You got me."

She gave me a strange look and placed the guitar in my hands. "I don't care if you play music. I didn't know, but I don't mind."

The guitar looked as it had several years before, except it was shinier. There was a furniture polish gloss to it that was confirmed by a lemony smell. Of course my mother had cleaned it.

It was at this time I noticed my mother rubbing the palm of her right hand that she would've used to clean old Willy's, or what should've now been Trevor's, guitar.

"What's wrong with your hand?"

My mother, a beautiful and imposing woman who wouldn't flinch at a rattlesnake, seemed to shrink an inch as her face turned a crimson shade. "I don't want to talk about it."

The strange carvings running up and down the guitar fretboard illuminated with a sharp yellow. For a moment, I thought the instrument itself was hot. More out of concern for my mother than anything else, I set the guitar down on the sofa and got up to examine her hand.

"Did you burn it?"

The red from her embarrassment drained quickly from her face, and a blank stare replaced her regal blue intelligence. "I felt a poisonous itch, and I had to relieve it. I turned on the oven burner, and stuck my hand over it without any thought. No thought whatsoever."

I knew immediately what had happened. It was the guitar, which my mother had so indelicately touched, that had caused this strange behavior from her. I felt a sudden
compulsion to be rid of the thing. Not wanting my mother or anyone else to touch it, I grabbed it, went up to my room, and stuck it under my bed. After releasing the guitar, I rubbed my hands, which had warmed up considerably, on my pants.

Why I didn't just throw out that hateful instrument, I'll never know. That plan had been in the back of my mind, so maybe, like everything in those days, I was just putting it off.

I should've taken care of that chore before my friend came over later that day.

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