The old man ran his hands over her, longingly, lovingly. He even puckered his dry lips, softly kissed her neck. He only wished she could kiss him back, it was so long since he’d felt a kiss with any real affection attached to it. He stroked her tenderly, remembering how she’d come into being.
He’d been helping his father all those years ago when they’d taken out the old fireplace and the idea came into his head, the idea to make his own guitar. All those years ago, and here she was, still with him when so much he’d known had gone. He knew her. His hands knew her contours, her moods. Sometimes he’d been a man playing a guitar, but often, usually even, they were one being. Those times it wasn’t just his hands that played; it was his whole body communing with her, and both of them communing with the audience.
The door opened swiftly; no knock, no ‘excuse me’, just pushed open and in marched Nurse Cook, as usual.
“Come on now, put that old thing away. It’s bedtime. Chop-chop, pyjamas on!”
He didn’t need to look at the digital clock glaring out 20:30 in eye-wateringly bright green numerals. Same time every night. Tonight though, the Sunday of the last weekend in August, it was harder than usual for the old man to stomach. Still he did as he was told, unbent himself from the bed and carefully shuffled to the wardrobe. Meanwhile Nurse Cook had swished across the room, switched on the dim nightlight and clicked off the main light on her way out of the door.
the old man muttered, pleased with the cutting tone he’d managed even though only he could hear. He paused and realised that though he’d picked up his pyjamas in one arthritis-knotted hand he was still holding the guitar in the other. His grey hair brushed against his shoulders as his head shook. Was he trying to clear his thoughts? Reject his current plight? Or was this just a defiant, directionless NO aimed at nothing and at everything?
Whatever it was, something seemed to snap into place with the motion and he threw the pyjamas back into the wardrobe, reaching instead to the back of the rail. His guitar was laid on top of the duvet, waiting patiently as he changed into his costume. He fastened it slowly, feeling his bent back straightening as if he was donning an orthopaedic device. Opening the window he grabbed the guitar and clambered out before half running, half shuffling across the lawn through the twilight. There was a phone box on the corner and, ignoring the many cards that offered all sorts of human contact and earthly pleasures, he sought out one, a minicab company card, made the call and waited.
He ignored the smirk on the cab driver’s face when he gave the destination and wound down the window to breathe in the air; it might not be fresh but at least it didn’t have the astringent urine stink of the care home. He breathed in deeply, revelled in the smells of petrol fumes and takeaways that signified normal human existence, as opposed to the stilted limbo of non-existence he’d suffered since arriving at ‘Sunnyside’.
Through the open window he could hear a familiar sound as they got closer to the venue and it poured into his ears like aural medicine. He flexed his fingers and felt his knuckles unknotting as that elixir of youth, the adrenalin of anticipation, surged through his old bones, sinews, muscles, nerves. He hadn’t thought through what would happen next but the minicab driver, still wearing his smirk like a secret sign, drove confidently up to the gates.
“VIP guest coming through!”
He slowed but didn’t stop as the security man, fazed and unsure, tried to look into the back of the car. The car was almost past before he managed to focus on the old man sitting in the back, eyes shining with so-recently rediscovered vigour. The old man grinned and nodded as if in a happy trance.
The security man was waving frantically trying to get himself in front of the cab, to force the driver to a halt. The driver gave up, shrugged.
“Never mind, mate, nice try”.
The guard motioned for the driver’s side window to be wound down, although the rear window was still fully open.
“Stay there. You can’t just drive through like that, hang on.”
The guard quickly disappeared but was back almost immediately, waving a laminated badge. He handed it to the driver,
“You’ll need to give him this”.
For a moment the old man’s mind jolted to those days when the staff wheeled him down to the shops in one of Sunnyside’s communal wheelchairs. Nobody ever talked to him, they always asked the person doing the pushing
“What does he want?”
and even, once, in the little teashop that made him feel like a fully-paid up member of the undead, the classic-
“Does he take sugar?”
Then his mind was back in the minicab, almost back where he belonged, so very nearly there.
“It’s an ‘access all areas’, he’ll need that”.
The old man tried to focus on the guard’s face. He felt his own eyes filling with tears, then realised that that didn’t explain the wet smears down the younger man’s cheeks. The minicab made its way around the edge of the festival site and through several checkpoints to the rear of the main stage. At each one there were exclamations of recognition, each like an intravenous injection of vigour. When the car stopped the old man was out of the door before the driver could move and, gripping his guitar like a life support system, he made his way with surprising speed to the only place he needed to be, the place that needed him.
The young front man was holding one hand up, fist pumping as the rock music soared over the surging crowd. The sudden roar took him by surprise but he was used to thinking quickly, reacting to events. He soon realised they were looking past him and for a moment he seethed. That plank of a drummer was upstaging him again. How many times? He spun round to see what he was up to now and fell to his knees, spontaneously, without, for once, any hint of showmanship or forethought. Nevertheless one part of his brain was thinking
"Wow, good move, bet that looked great”
as the other part was screaming at him in incoherent shock.
He stood and his showmanship fought with his hero worship as the old man walked across the stage, straight backed and lithe of limb, and plugged the beloved guitar into an amp. The old hands stroked the strings, fingers pushed firmly down over the frets, masterful and yet a servant to his instrument. The roar from the crowd could have lifted a rocket into space as the young singer waved an arm towards an ageless man, communing with an ageless guitar, and yelled into his mike in a strangely ceremonial manner,
“Ladies... and... Gentlemen.... ... BRIAN ..... MAY!”
The old man shook his head again. His mane of grey hair brushed his shoulders as he sat on the edge of the bed and slowly lifted his tired legs into his pyjamas. He looked at the twisted ropes of his fingers, lifted them to his eyes and rubbed. The old man pulled the duvet over the shoulder of his guitar and stroked the elegant neck resting on his pillow. The bright green numerals were easily outshining the nightlight in their never ending competition to keep darkness at bay. He closed his eyes in a vain attempt to find sleep, covered his own shoulders, and sighed.