It’s Monday, and the house is dim and quiet like it is most nights here in the city. Except for the metallic, staccato clink of a sink full of utensils, the silence is heavy. An old guitar sits and stares, reclined in a corner of the dining room under a string of white lights. Dyed the color of washed chestnuts, it gleams from under its turquoise fabric strap, draped over the front. Neck stretched out to listen, the dusty strings are all out of tune with a Ryman pick lodged between them. This isn’t the only pick in the house. There’s one pinned to a cork board, and two on the black and white writing desk by the window.
Alone in the corner, the guitar sees a whole lot but doesn’t say much these days. Once a clever storyteller, it still has the power to hoist a heart over the hills like a dormant hot air balloon waiting for the west wind. Many different sets of hands have strummed it over the years, including my own—under stars, seeped in campfire smoke; in the back of an apple-red truck; near the wood stove in my family’s living room; or outside on an overgrown summer lawn.
I grab the instrument and lay it over my lap, plucking its teeth as they snap back and cough out tiny puffs of dust. A fly-away piece of metal juts out, left from the last time it was changed. Remembering the lovely songs once spilled from its strings, I stomp in frustration as all I can seduce out are a handful of sour chords. E minor, C, G. They squeak and slip and sound ghoulish, like the soundtrack to an M. Knight Shyamalan film.
I hate that I can’t make it sing.
Sinking back into the couch, I think about how fingers can lose callouses just as quickly as hearts can grow them. Pressing down on the metal strings hurts now. My fingertips that were once used to the sharp pain had turned soft and tender again in its absence; but the same can’t necessarily be said of my heart. I used to keep the instrument in tune a lot, making sure it was ready for the next pair of hands. Now I hardly remember it’s there until a friend points it out.
“You play guitar?”
“No, not really.”
“Then why do you have a…”
I still love that old guitar. But for now, it’s just for looks—a pretty piece of décor, quiet as the rest of the house on a Monday night. Like Cinderella’s slipper, it patiently sits and waits to meet its match. Oh, it’s fine if there isn’t one. But it’s not going to be played by just anybody.
On its silver stand, the chestnut guitar rests and listens as the world goes by one afternoon at a time. I can’t really blame it. What would it have to say, anyway? Attuned to the sounds of daily life, it refines its own sounds until the day they’re released again in song.
Third time’s the charm, they say. Either that or… three strikes, you’re out.