I have no idea how long I’d been asleep. Maybe an hour or two, maybe less. Someone was playing guitar – quite well. Better than I could have. But so late – in the middle of the night. I tried to block it out – to roll over and bury myself in the pillow – but it was too loud. Maybe Judith upstairs was getting her own back, playing music to teach me a lesson in her own crazy way. But this was close. It sounded like it was in the room.
I was sleeping with a guitar in the bedroom for the first time in months – nearly a year. But I was alone in the flat. I gave up on sleep and recognised the sound of a Stratocaster being played unplugged. My heart almost leapt into my mouth. In a near panic, I reached for the light switch.
David was sitting in the corner of the room on the laundry-basket. He seemed quite at home. It was his guitar, after all. It sat across his lap, dark tobacco sunburst with a rosewood fingerboard. He was playing something I didn’t recognise – we had different tastes, apart from the usual Beatles stuff.
He looked up. “Alright, our-kid?”
It had been a long time since anyone had called me that. Quite a while since I’d heard it, in fact, Gallagher brothers excepted, and even that was some years ago.
“What are you doing?”
“Just having a play.”
“But why are you here?”
He carried on and smiled at me as he played “I Dig a Pony” from the Beatles’ “Let it Be” album. I’d been trying to play that tune during the day from a guitar tab I found on the Internet. The difference was that he could really play. He’d always been better than me – more committed or natural talent, who knows? He played it with a richness and fluency that made me instantly jealous and yet proud – as I’d always been.
“I wish I could play it like that.”
“It’s just practice.” he answered.
“It’s good to see you David.” I said, only half aware of tears misting my vision. My eyesight’s failing anyway. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t know. Just felt like playing this.” He patted the body of the guitar. “How’s mam and dad?”
“You don’t know, then?”
He looked at me and shook his head. I tried to work out his appearance. I don’t remember what he was wearing the last time I saw him. It could have been a Leeds Rugby shirt, or maybe an England one – white, with the rose emblem. To be honest, it’s so long ago. He’d put on some weight by then from socialising around York’s pubs. Now he seemed slimmer, maybe slightly younger by a year or two.
“My dad’s dead.” I told him. I don’t know why I was surprised that he didn’t know.
“Our dad.” He corrected. “He was my dad as well, don’t forget.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just been so long. You get used to it – eventually.”
“When did he die?”
“Do you know what year it is now?”
“No. Not really.”
I looked at him. My breathing was heavy. I was a mess of emotions and nervous excitement.
“It’s nearly three years since he died, David. Old age just caught up with him. I never even realised he was old.” My throat ached and the words came with difficulty.
David changed position slightly and the laundry-basket creaked. Oddly, I made a mental note of the fact that he had weight. A physical presence. How else could he play the guitar?
He began playing again. That, after all, was why he was here.
The Strat has quite a nice sound played without an amp. A gentle acoustic sound with more sustain than you get from an acoustic guitar. He improvised a little blues sound for a while, then picked up Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, which might seem a little twee under the circumstances but was a piece he used to love playing. I often went up to his room to listen when I was home visiting and heard it.
“What about mam?” he asked, without looking up.
“She’s doing alright.” I answered. “Managing really well on her own. Better than we thought. She had an operation on her foot last year. Took a while to get over it, but you know her – she’s a fighter.”
“Is she old now?”
“Yes. I suppose she is really. She’s still young at heart, though. Still her old self.”
“Where are you living? Are you still in York?”
“No. I moved. I live in the south-west now. By the sea.”
He turned slightly and looked at the closed window blinds. “I bet it’s nice.”
He stopped playing. “I’ve got to go now, our-kid.”
I shook my head slowly. “No. Don’t go yet.”
But the light went out and the next I knew I was waking again. This time it was the heating coming on and coursing water through the radiator. I turned the lamp on and looked to the corner of the room. The Strat was leaning against the laundry-basket. I just sat and stared at it, as grief rose and flowed unchecked. A voice in my head – as clear as day – said “Come on, our-kid”.
But tears still fill my eyes as I try to write these words. Time to face the day.
Copyright Kevin Buckle 2014