38. Everything Must Go

Second and final part of the 'Guitar Lessons' series. (Previously.)

ALTHOUGH I DROVE PAST Cal's guitar store several times a month, I'd drop in on him once or twice a year - usually some time around his birthday and some time around Christmas. He never seemed too pleased to see me, and over the years I began to ask myself why I even bothered. The last time I saw him, I was coming back from a recruitment drive in Chesterfield. It was near Christmas, and it had been snowing. Painted on the guitar store window in neon colors was a 'Closing Down Sale' sign, 'Everything Must Go', and a few other signs along those lines. Inside, Cal was on his own. He told me the store hadn't worked out, the music business was changing, kids weren't interested in learning the guitar anymore. He said he was leaving, and I asked him where. He said he wasn't exactly sure, he knew someone in Georgia or South Carolina somewhere. He said all he wanted was to settle down somewhere else where nobody knew him and where he knew no one and to start again and be happy with the little he had. He said he owed some money to a few people and he needed to keep his head down for a little while. It was the most he'd told me in years. He said I probably wouldn't hear from him for a while, but that he'd be back in touch as soon as the coast was clear. I could tell he was choosing his words carefully, as if any one of them could explode in his face at any time. I asked how I could get in touch with him if I needed to, but he said he'd do it. I made him promise. Then there was a lull in the conversation, just a little one, no more than a couple of seconds, but that was all it took. Looking down at his half-eaten donut and half-drunk coffee, he mentioned something about the mountain of paperwork that needed to be done. I told him I should go, too, but before I went could he play me that American-made six-string that he kept out of reach, the one that when you strummed it you could hear the notes mixing together and making new notes. He stretched up and took it down from the wall. Even at half price it was way more than I could afford. Cal asked what I wanted to hear. A song, I said, but he said he couldn't think of any songs just then. Play me a chord then, I said. Play me an E major chord. And he did. I listened out for those extra notes, the magic notes, but I could only hear the six notes of an E major. I asked him to play another chord, and he played a G. Again, just the six notes. Play a D, I said, but I could only hear the five notes of the D chord. Damn, doesn't sound anything like what I remember, I said, pulling out my wallet. It probably needs a tune, he said with a sigh, putting it in its case. It only ever gets played what you come along. I took that guitar home that night and it's been lying in a corner of my apartment ever since. In all that time - maybe two, three years - I've never played it. I haven't even taken it out of its case. But every New Year, I write out the same list of resolutions: quit smoking, take up exercise, get some guitar lessons, find my brother.