‘Til My Fingers Bleed

The old guy was good, I have to give him that. Too good to be busking on some street corner late at night for spare change. But that’s where I met him. I listened for a while. Tossed some coins into his guitar case. Listened some more. He nodded his appreciation and kept playing.

The wind was whipping up and I got a chill. There was a convenience store just down the block so I went in for a coffee. What the hell. I got two cups and took one back to the guy making music. I held it up to him. He sort of grinned and said, “Thanks, but I gotta keep playing ’til midnight.”

“What,” I said, “you got a contract or something?”

“Exactly.” And he kept on playing.

I set the cup down next to his case and listened for another minute or so. Then I continued on my way home. But there was something about the way he played, the way he looked, that I couldn’t get out of my head. I wandered around for a while sipping my coffee and near midnight I found myself back on that street corner. No one else was there, but he kept on playing.

“It’s almost quitting time,” I said.

He nodded.

“Coffee’s probably cold by now. I can get you a fresh one before the store closes.”

“Thank you,” he said, “but you’re my audience. That’s all I needed.”

“That part of your contract too?” I smirked.

“Yep. Just like he promised on the crossroad.”

Oh, great, I thought, another one of those ‘deal with the devil’ whackos. I should get on home now. But I stood there just the same.

His fingers flew over the strings in a way that didn’t seem humanly possible. He grinned. He knew he had me hooked.

“All I wanted,” he told me, “was to be the best and to always have an audience willing to listen to me play. Maybe I should have asked to be rich and famous too, but I didn’t. So that’s not part of the deal.”

His guitar was making the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard.

“I can always get a gig,” he continued, “as long as I’m willing to work for tips. Or for free. And there’s always an audience, but sometimes that’s whoever passes by on some street corner like you did. Sometimes it’s just an old wino even more down on his luck than me.

“I play every night ’til midnight. Sometimes ’til my fingers bleed. I never dreamed that playing could become a chore, that I could ever lose my love for it. All I wanted, or thought I wanted, was to be the best. But one of these nights I’ll find myself back out at the crossroads. I’ll stop playing. Lay down my guitar. And die.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re a hell of a guitar player, if you’ll pardon the expression. I never had a talent for music. I’d give anything to play like that.”

I was startled by a voice from behind me that asked, “Anything?”


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  1. Oh no be careful what you wish for! I loved this Tim it kept me reading from beginning to end! ‘When you dance with the devil you’d better know the steps!’ (quote from Collecting Double Barrel Al one of my stories).

    • Thanks, Helen. I think it’s one step up and two steps back. [Not that I’ve ever done that dance.] ~Tim

    • Thanks, Deanna. I’m working on a longer noir piece and I guess that voice carried over into this one. ~Tim

  2. I hope he’s a little bit more careful in how he phrases his wishes than the guitar player was… Y’know, like “Oh, and I wanna be rich and famous too”, but then again it probably wouldn’t help much, that there Devil fellow knows every trick in the book when it comes to double dealing. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Steve. Yeah, it seems that no matter what we wish for it never turns out the way we expect it to. ~Tim

  3. A well-written play on the old tale, Tim. I wonder if the narrator will notice he happens to be stood at a crossroads himself, right now… πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks, Michael. It’s funny. I almost threw this story away because I thought that crossroads-related stories had been done to death [no pun intended]. But I reworked it instead looking for what I hoped would be a unique angle. I’m thrilled with the response. ~Tim

  4. And he was such a good hearted fellow too, getting the old man coffees and everything – hope he can wheedle his way out of this one, Tim!

  5. Funny how often we say things like “I’d give anything…” or “I’d kill for…”. I like the idea you present of loving something until one is forced to do it all of the time, day in and day out, at which point it becomes a (sometimes odious) chore.

    • Thanks, Lisa. I think our desire to feel like we always have a choice can affect our attitude toward doing even those things we love the most. ~Tim

  6. Really beautiful execution on this one. For some reason musician stories usually make me squicky, as do “deal with the devil” stories, and yet I liked this one a lot. I think it’s because you didn’t go overboard with the description of the music or the original crossroads event.

    The last line made me flash back to the old chocolate bar ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu066haghDQ

    • Thanks, Katherine. I’m so glad I didn’t make you squicky. And thanks for the link to the ad. What a cool flashback. ~Tim

  7. Well, it’s a fine line between pleasure and pain… This is probably one of my favourites of yours, too. An “old” idea but so well executed.

    • Thanks, Lee-Ann. As John Dryden wrote, “But dying is a pleasure / When living is a pain.” ~Tim

  8. I wondered when the horned one would show up. Always out there to make a deal! A nice new take on the crossroads deal.

  9. Brilliant short Tim.. you’re on fire at the moment.. have you done a deal with the horned one?? har har..You evoke a wonderfully terrifying atmosphere.. I am now compelled to go and listen to Led Zeppelin.. Pray for my soul!!

    • Thanks, Tom. I suspect that if I vehemently denied any such deal it would only serve to confirm the suspicion. Rock on! ~Tim

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