Gift Of Ravens

For every guitar there is a legend. I'm not sure I believe this one, but the guy who told it seemed pretty sincere. That midnight Telecaster still has those two raven feathers tied up around the headstock.

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I was born Fred, son of the seventies and alcoholic parents. We were poor, pretty much living off what mom could catch and whatever dad didn't piss away. It wasn't always like that. I remember mom and dad smiling. But that was a long time ago, before we moved into the shack.

Our little shack on the river wasn't much, but it was our everything, and the flood of '82 took it all away. I didn't miss it. There was only one thing in that shack I ever loved: my white guitar. It was a Telecaster knockoff my dad got from a catalog. I even had an amp for it for a while. It sounded just fine when it wasn't plugged in. I must have got a real gem from that factory in China, or maybe my young ears just couldn't get enough of those bell like tones from the upper frets, the growl from the open chords. I'm still after that sound. Every time I get up on stage, that's the guitar I want in my hands. I hear it when that first rush takes away the pain, my eyes roll back and I drift on that twang.

Sometimes I go down to the river and imagine I could just duck under the rapids and there would be that dime store plank. One day the river will give it up. I think the white of the rapids is hiding that six string, taunting me. Calling me names. Playing keep away. Sometimes I hate the river.

I went to live with a woman everybody called grandmother. She played a beat up old Martin. Said her dad traded a skin for it. She never let me play it. Kept telling me its not my time. She brought me a little toy ukulele. I played it, sure, but it just didn't have the soul of that white electric.

Well she was old and it wasn't long 'for she moved on from this world. So I took that beat up old box down to the township and I played. I played for the punks but they wouldn't hear a kid on acoustic. I played at the bar but I'd get too drunk and the chords wouldn't play. I played for the old folks, but they didn't like my songs so I played on the street. Nobody pays you nothing on the street.

Once in a while, that little bit of nothing can get you high. You run with the right kids and you can get your hands on whatever they sell.

It wasn't long before I found a band that would have me. Changed my name. Grandmother used to call me the Thunderbird, the way I cried, and the way I fought. She said the great bird came down to the river when the chiefs were at their greatest need. There was a couple months of rain, hail, and wind. The river was swollen so bad the men couldn't fish, and the forest so battered there was nothing to eat. So the chief asked the great spirit for help. He sent the Thunderbird. Lightning flashed from his eyes, and his massive wings darkened the skies. The earth trembled with the peals from his wings. Then the storm passed. For two days the river raged as the storm waters ran down the mountains, but no rain fell. Then the storm came back just as hard as before. Hail pummeled the land and the trees buckled under the winds. The river passed the banks (damn that f--king river) and the people thought it was the end. The storm eased. The debris piled up in the bends of that cursed river, gone. The very next day there was a run of salmon the people had never before seen. They say the Thunderbird called down the storm to fill the river and clear the debris so the salmon had a clear run. I think the river had it in for us.

We do alright, for what we are. We're the local blues band, if that's what you're after. We play a lot of covers. People around here don't go for the original. Well, at least not our original. Play most night's down at Kai's bar. We go down to the big city sometimes, gig around, score some dope.

A couple of the guys work a day. Not me. Can't dig on that early morning brown bag commuter chaos crap. I still get by.

The pain of sobriety picks you up in the night. It breaks the glass and unlocks the door. It takes your change and tosses your drawer. It won't sleep until it hits and then it wets himself and won't come back for days. It gets him kicked out of his apartment and it hawks his amp. It has its own pocket. You can't put anything in it but the brown and his rig. It tells me my blood is poison when I'm sober. I'll die if I don't fix.

You can get yourself cleaned up at the church. Get yourself some black wings for your black heart. Maybe food, if you can stomach it. Ask the preacher if he'll buy your guitar for five bucks. Old man never gives me any money so the pain comes in and takes some from the plate, looks around for anything else it could hock. But its not enough so it pawns that old Martin for fifty bucks and it finds itself in the woods three days later. *******

Too often these days I wake up in a dream.

There are two dreams. In one I am flightless, clawing at the ground to move, but only slow down, lurch, to crawl, to writhe in place. I've never known what I'm trying to run from. The worms creep past me, mocking my immobility as the monster coldly marches after me. The concrete is soft and my hands dig right in, but its like the muddy ground after the rain and my hands find no grip. And every time it seems the beast gets closer, his hot breath on my neck a taste of the hell that awaits me. And I wake, and that hell is here.

The other dream scares the shit out of me.

I am awake, aware, in a familiar place. I am at the bank of the river, where it bends on its way to the big city. I'm playing my old guitar, but it won't keep time and I can't turn it up because the amp is in the river. The patch slithers among the rocks and disappears in the 60 cycle froth; the pedaling ring of the crowd I've always wanted. My dad behind me now, son, he says, this shack is all you'll ever know. And the electric crowd rushes up the bank and I let go of the guitar, easily, like I trust the river to give it back to me one day. And I wake.

In a foggy corner up above the old highway, I'm not sure I've ever been here before. The roar of the river taunts me like it always has. Shh, it says, hush, it is cars on the highway, a truck belches past, on its way to somewhere better, no doubt. It is a brash, pulsing sound. Haw! It laughs at me. Haw! I close my eyes tight, if I don't see it, it can't hurt my junkie heart. And I realize the fog isn't real, the truck isn't laughing at me, its a bird. A bird so black it has me blind! The bird is laughing! Haw! I am a little boy again, the ugly kid, the stupid one, the one with no parents. Haw! Again I wake.

Still that fog; that sound. I wonder if they are the same. Dull laughter, a long forgotten memory come calling, only I can't remember his name and he won't look at me. And I'm still blind, lost, and tiny. Grandmother reaches out for me and I run. It hits me, the poison blood, the headaches, the pain; all absent. I'm either dreaming or I'm high so I settle into it.

There is debris all around me, pallets, driftwood, old tires, and a raven has parked himself among the broken chairs. He watches me as I brush off some of the dirt, rub my stubbly chin and look at the mess. I've shit my pants and I have puke all over my shirt and the front of my jeans. I smell bad, but I don't care. The pain is gone, I'm awake, so I must have had a good night. I kick the empty bottle of whiskey at the bird and a wall of dirt smacks me in the face. I push away from it, turning, and I'm on the ground again and my mouth tastes like mud. Its probably better that way. I manage a sitting position. The raven hasn't moved, it just stares, like it wants me to do the talking.

"I'm not in the mood," I growl.

Haw! Haw! The raven laughs at me again, motionless, he laughs. He's not looking at me, he never was. He is brooding over the pile of wood and debris. Broken pallets, dressers hacked to pieces, a door, and a dirty shard of white.

I've seen that bit of wood before. A little metal ring on the bottom curve, near the strap peg. There would be a big scratch on the front, the result of dragging out from under the bed a bit too quickly when I was ten. The three way switch is bent and the knob missing since the day I got it.

The pick guard is melted near the switch where mom dropped her cigarette on it. Its smooth all along the back of the neck, not a single mark. Fretboard worn out in patterns, at the top, second and third frets, and at the twelfth fret up to the C#, wear patterns shaped like the blues. I want it across my lap with its comforting weight, slick neck. I want to tap my foot, count out four, and play.

I focus on that bit of white sticking out of that pile. It consumes me. I feel like the first time I hit. I'm finally alive. I lean forward from my repose into a crawl. My head is swimming in fire and my vision is blurry. I scramble forward, in slow motion. It reminds me of that dream and I get the sensation that I'm being watched. The raven laughs at me again. The raven. I can't see it anymore, but I'm sure he hasn't ruffled a single feather. Its days before I can see where I'm going and my throat is getting dry. I have to move a busted up coffee table before I can lift up the pallet that's sitting on my guitar.

"It was never yours, bird brain," the raven caws. "That guitar always belonged to the river."

A chair tumbles off the pile on the other side and its free. My guitar. White. Light. It must be the dawn.

**************

When I wake up, this time its real. Eyes are savage balls of rusted steel, tearing at my eyelids. My teeth are each made of vile electrical wire, parallel, and hooked to 12volts DC. The earth, my bed for now, is soaked in rain that must have been ice not long ago. My aching skull, the unwitting participant in the river only knows what. My legs feel like tubes of cyanide. If they move, I'll blackout and the beast will have his way with me. I don't want to go back to the dream but I don't want to be awake. I roll over onto my back and something jabs me in the kidney. f--king rocks, I mutter, and swoon my way to sitting.

I'm in a junkyard. Some hoarder lives out here in the woods and collects shit. There are all shapes of bird feeders hanging all over the place. An old VW bus rusts its way back to the oblivion it came from. Wood piles every which way featuring every imaginable piece of broken, burnt, cement-covered, or otherwise used wood. One piece even looks like a leg. At least I have my pair, I spit, even if they are trying to kill me.

When most people wake up in the morning they eat. I can't. My appetites pull me in another direction.

As I survey the wreckage I find myself in, I'm looking for anything of value. Give me an antique treasure and those nasally Brits and their "I sawr this piece at auction six year ago go for three thousand sterling." Tell me the owner has a grow op out back I could pinch a bit to trade back in town, wherever that is. Pickings look slim. There might be a carburetor in the van I could lift, given time and a wrench.

As I put my hand down to try to stand, it comes down on frets, and I'm right back in the night, raven looming over me. As I pulled the wrecked guitar from the pile, my elation turned to that foul morning when you know the hope you held out was for nothing. And the raven just laughed at me.

A black bird perched atop a broken, leaning flagpole. It looks at me sideways in that roadkill eating bet-you-can't-catch-me way. It looks almost wooden the way it just stares. That eye a little black marble I can't hide from.

"You humans are all the same," he crowed. "You covet such fleeting things." Not a flutter of wing nor a flick of his head.

"This was my life," I whispered.

Raven's midnight beak frozen in a malevolent smile croaks, "It is a piece of wood."

Its my old guitar alright. The fat curves of the butt so familiar, and so trashed. Streaks of red-brown pour over that once pristine white. A massive crack has opened up from the strap button to just under the peeling, rusted bridge. Every crevice is a sandy, heartrending gash.

"You have lived so much since that far off day." The raven's coarse cackle is a tendril that drives for the deep water; that which hides under my own black feathers. "The river teaches. It has been there for men for millennia as a mother. Provider."

This reminds me of Grandmother's words. I always thought she was trying to soothe me. She said the river never meant you harm. The river is our life. It collects the far off snows that fall all winter long all over the lands. It stores them up. In the summer and fall, when the land bursts with life, and the salmon run, the river slows down with the pain of birth. Trees and rocks and mud clot the narrows, and she strains. The tributaries fare no better. She never goes a season without letting go. That tragic year you hate saw much snow, then rain, then drought. Our people are lucky we walked away as we did.

She always said it was a shame we didn't heed the lesson.

Two of the three brass saddles are gone and the bridge is hanging by a screw. A few bits of the pick-guard still adhere where the screws hold it down, but it is otherwise smashed, dusty pearloid shards. The lipstick neck pickup has been removed, by the scavenger who found it or by the torrent that took it from me.

I sob, "The only thing thing that river ever gave me is pain." What comes out is a babble. Something about the river should give me a fix. If it was such a mother, it wouldn't let me live near it. It would have never taken away my home, my family.

The neck plate is rusted to shit, all four screws still hold it together. The crusty serial number mocks me. A great scar runs along the fretboard. A chunk torn from the pocket to the eighteenth fret, sand spills out as I turn the guitar. The headstock is cracked nearly in half along its length, with four pockmarked tuners remaining. The once sinuous curves now a jagged cliff. My hand forms that familiar claw, but where I expect strings and fret wire, I find only a fretboard made of canyons. It will never play again.

I am wracked by tears. I need a C. I need it to ring out through the forest. I need an E minor. Maybe if it reaches the river it will know my pain. If I could stop crying long enough to play a G you might hear that I mean it. And if I had Grandmother's Martin right now I'd show you what real D sounds like. All I can do is slump down in the dirt. What I really need is a fix.

"You've got a show tomorrow." I think the raven is incapable of anything but laughter. "You've found what you always wanted," it says with a raucous giggle, "go show the world. Show them your waterlogged childhood."

So there I am, dirty as shit, no idea where I am or whether I can even stand, and I've got to get to town. Get a shower, get cleaned up, sleaze a few bucks, maybe lift a thing or two from the market. Not for me. For the gnawing, boiling, lethal blood running through my veins. I find myself walking along a weedy path dragging my battered Telecaster. I feel I'm some sort of beast, some immortal, stinking myth. I am the waking nightmare. Only those who walk between worlds would understand. My blood sings an icy dirge that drags me toward the highway.

A thousand hours pass along that path downhill. A thousand steps toward a thousand more. A thousand ravens trail behind me, laughing, wheeling joyfully about in the sky. A thousand years I've wandered these hills, a thousand streets I've crossed to cheat a thousand men. A thousand songs I've sang and never once told the truth. A thousand notes crying out a thousand days of anguish, but the faces remain stoic. A thousand stares that don't understand the language. A thousand shows over a thousand nights and no one can see the pain. A thousand watts couldn't bridge the chasm.

As my tired heart pulses burning poison the highway answers with its drawn out, "Hush." Each step is excruciating. I am so far from home and the daylight accuses. The shame of reality weighs me down. "Shh," the highway beckons. It is an answer, the highway. No matter the direction you choose, you're going somewhere better. As I come nearer with every slow step its whisper becomes a hum, hum becomes drone, and drone becomes roar. The canopy of the forest opens as I draw near and the path steepens. My feet barely find a step as I stagger along the path. The clearing of the road is to my left, with only the lush weeds separating us. Nettles, blackberry, and long untended grass. A frenzy wells up, I'm so near, and I batter my way through the tangle, swinging the useless guitar madly. Each thrashing arc flattens more and more of the weeds and I wobble over the large stones. A final sweep and the momentum carries me through.

Before me is the river. Grey stones in every direction. Birch and blackberry bordering everything with their pale green. The dark evergreen with its swirling fog creeping high up the steep mountains, shading the day. Rocky ledges peer down at me. The river is a roar here; all the people I've stepped on or left behind accosting me. As it flows incessantly, it tells everyone how it tore down the canyon in the spring one year, a cold, brown, frothing lash. The river flails its way past a little house on the bank and decides that little boy who lives there has too much, he needs to be taken down a notch. It reaches its muddy tentacles under the embankment. A tree falls. Hunks of the sandy shore cleave away and the river just swallows them up. It's hunger known no bounds and the bank shears ever closer to the rickety house. A man and woman rush outside, a young boy in tow.

The rage swells and the family clamour towards the safety of the road. The splintering of wood pierces my heart. The bank gives way under the already battered house and the walls are puled into the river. The shattering of glass is lost in the great, "Hush." Part of the roof remains on the diminished bank. Not long though. The river wants it, needs it. The black peaks slide under the milky brown wash. We watched unable to look away from the anger, the insanity, the loss. I should have gone back for it.

It is cool down here, the air pierces my wet clothes. I have it, that broken old memory. Look at what it has become. A cracked, rusted bludgeon, draped now in thorns and ivy. It is this disheveled has been. A worthless, wooden symbol.

The guitar comes down with a ringing crack. A shard of the alder comes away with astonishing force. I lose sight of it in the glare of the sky. The wood still sings, a bitter vibration. I raise it high above my head and it comes down again on the rocks. Part of the butt shears off. The remains of the bridge spring loose and ricochets over the rapids. A final clang somewhere in the middle. I spin, and all the pain, all the rage, all the unspoken and true, all the regret send that plank up high over that bastard river. "Take it!" I roar. "All of it, take everything! Take me!" For a second, it hangs above me, a dove, a cloud, and it is whole again. A shining phosphor-white Telecaster copy with chrome hardware and a maple fretboard. Those thin strings speak a language all my own. The frets a highway to a better place. Tones of home ring out from every stop. It turns, and again it is that broken man standing at the river, once and forever lost. It drops silently down river, a soundless splash and its gone.

***********

The midday sun cracks a smile as I walk along the river. I know my way from here. The bend is about a mile upriver, the canyon highway running along the bank and the little town just on the other side. I'm a mess. My hair is still barely caught up by a band at the back of my neck. Its crusted with vomit and strands of it stick to my face where they don't fall wildly. It feels full of sticks and mud. My eyes burn like I haven't slept in weeks. I taste blood in my mouth, a refreshing change from the bile and acid. My face feels lopsided and heavy with pain. My right cheekbone is too large and I get the sense it is dribbling down my face. There are fresh tears in my jeans, jacket, and hands, like a crow raked its needle talons over me.

I'm not afraid of those townsfolk. They can stare all they like. I've got no choice: get into town, clean myself up, and get onstage. Barrett can loan me an axe and tomorrow I can go back to the pawn shop to get my guitar out of hock. For once, however shortsighted, I can see a future. This time its not about a score. The pain of plastic, jittery blood doesn't lead me to a foreign doorstep or garage. It tries to reach back to that flood and pull me back but I walk on. The grease that flows though my veins just wants to crumple to the ground, sleep it off, wake when its dark and creep back to town. I am buried under the rock-slide of lies and theft. Everyone around me are those people waiting in '65, after the first slide for crews to clear the highway. All smashed when the mountain came down across the valley a second time.

***********

Tonight is the night. Tonight I'm going to find that sound. Tonight I'll play with such feeling, I wont need to run out the back and tie-up. I'm playing an unfamiliar guitar. It feels like the first night I got up onstage. I'm nauseous, thirsty, and I'm buzzing in tune with the P.A. I'm sweating so bad I wonder if the crowds going to think I wet myself. I probably have. We're on in a half hour.

Barrett's loaner is a nice guitar. I usually rig Grandmother's guitar with a pickup for shows, but tonight I gotta play a solid body. It feels small. It wont be the first time I've played it. Barrett brings it along as a backup in-case-of-emergency-break-this-shit-out he likes to say.

No one mentions my shiner. I look them each in the eye when I get the chance. Johnny has a little warm-up spot mapped out in the back. A few old stools and a bucket for a kick. As he thumps his muted beats out, he tries to stare me down. Kid's straighter than a prairie highway. I've never seen him more than three beers deep. Real slow, I follow his warm up rhythms. I nail that click that runs in his head.

Barrett has known me since we were kids. We used to jam in the back alley all summer long. The guy can read me like sheets. My eyes sting with sweat and I haven't touched the pint the waitress plunked down. He knows where my guitar is. The scratches on my hand and the welt on my cheek burn under his gaze. He thinks the constable ran me in; had to rough me up I was in such a state. If only.

I'll never get Shane. Bass players can like, hear with their fingers, and they taste with their eyes. Their wires are all crossed up. He shoots me a look that could be, "lose the the beat and I burn your house down," or, "shit, man, you taste good." I can't be the one to f--k things up tonight.

Its the last song of the night. We've had the sparse crowd singing along, dancing, drinking too much. We do the CCR version of Heard it Through the Grapevine like nobodies business. Great way to end the night. We can ramble and jam as the crowd sees fit. If they're getting tired of our musing, we can bring it in short. Tonight they seem to want it all. The jam goes on and the kids dance. Kai is giving us the signal to cool it off. The lights come up and we break it down. Smiles every which way in the small bar, from the old man in the corner to the fresh couples dancing the night away. I'm stoked, and frightened.

I don't sleep a wink that night. I told Barrett to keep my share. Meet me at the pawn shop at ten, I said, if I walk with that cash, I hit. I hit, I probably don't come back.

He didn't hesitate, "Done."

I writhe all night, a sweaty mess. Thankfully sleep never comes. Another nightmare and who knows where I'd end up; what animal I'd be talking to. It seems like darkness always serves to amplify your pain. When we are deprived of our sight, our nerves bristle at the slightest touch. Some long unused endings wake up and confuse the sweat on my skin for spiders crawling up and down my body.

The mornings are always cold in this part of the canyon and I'm out with the dawn. Its socked in as usual and the bench is wet. This town sleeps late. The coffee shop is open down the street, and the Driftwood is serving breakfast. A couple blocks to my left the canyon traffics picks up. A few city folk stop to eat at Rolly's, some gas up, most just fly by. Trucks, campers, bikes. None of them can find more than fuel or food. Nothing they can't get a few miles up canyon.

There is always an eagle wheeling about above the river. I know how she feels up there. I've been that circling carrion bird, waiting for the hunters to drop their riches. I'm still that bird, without all the poise and the silence. With my body tense in withdrawal I'd never be able to stay so still. I'd fall from the sky.

I'm either so numb or in so much pain I hardly notice Barrett sit down beside me. I don't want him to say anything. I don't trust my mouth to say the right things. If I open my mouth I'll beg for that cash. I'll be down at the payphone dialing the fixer, blink, and I'm tied up in an alley. I don't care that its broad daylight and there are people all over the place. Nothing could be finer. Barrett puts his hand on my shoulder.

"I wont let you fall, Freddy," Barrett says. Its too late. When you climb down as far as I have, there is no climbing back. You've got to just let go, hope there's a soft landing.

I don't say a word. I just match his eyes, stand up and walk across the street to the pawn shop. It doesn't matter what city you're in, pawn shops all smell the same. Its mothballs and dust, like a crypt for dead dreams. There is something inefficient about the lighting. Its not dark, but it is as if the light can't reach every corner. A force slows it down the farther it tries to reach. The greasy owner is always there. He is waiting for me to pull a gold chain or drill or some other obviously stolen thing. I'm empty handed and sheepishly look up at the blonde acoustic hanging accusingly. She is Grandmother's disapproval. I'm going to go clean, Grandmother. I'm not going to disappoint you anymore. Barrett takes the guitar while I scrawl my name on the ledger the pawnbroker keeps.

The bell hanging from the door clatters against the glass door as we walk back into the real world. I shoulder the guitar and pause. I feel crushed. I'm determined not to give in to the hunger. I reek of toxic sweat. The cool, gentle wind is the soft hands of a healer. A couple lines would sort me out, knock the headache down a bit.

There is a flutter of wings above us. Clicking talons on the tin flashing at the top of the wall. A raven alights on the pawn shop. He shuffles a few steps along the edge of the roof as if to get a better look at me. The big black bird drags his beak on the metal edge then cocks his head to look right into my heart. My breath catches in my throat.

"Shit, you're jumpy," Barrett prods, "its just a big old crow. You look like you've seen a ghost."

Not a ghost. More like a bully you never thought you'd see again, or a fear you thought you could control. Across the street on the bench where I spent all morning is a long black case. No one around so it looks like an easy score. I'm across the street before I realize I'm moving and thoughts are spinning out of control. Whatever it is I'll have to be quick. Grab it and fade out of view. Hand snatches the handle and I lift it off the bench. In my mind, I'm already shopping this prize around. I don't get a step when Barrett steps right in front of me.

"What are you doing? I'm not letting you take that." He's right in my face with his jaw set. I can't meet his eyes. I know its wrong to steal things. "I didn't come down here to watch you walk right back into that pit." I shudder out a breath. My shoulders relax a bit. I put the heavy case back on the bench. We both turn to look at the case.

It is clearly a brand new guitar case. From the heft of it, the guitar its meant for is still inside. The familiar stylized Fender is painted in white on the corner. We've both seen a hundred similar cases. This one is spotless. Curiosity visibly overcomes Barrett. He flips open the catches. One of them locks, but it's not engaged. The lid swings open soundlessly. On a bed of midnight velvet, a heartbreaking shape.

Like I have been staring at my old guitar for too long and the image has burnt into my retinas, this guitar before me is its negative image. A gleaming black block of wood, sinuously carved. The only white a trace around the classic pick guard. I could trace those curves in my sleep. I can hear the sound of those pickups ringing from so long ago. I can see every note on the pristine maple fingerboard. I've played each a million times. Six silver cables draw my eye to the angled headstock. Six chrome tuners glint in the morning light. Fender Telecaster in written in black on the double curve side. Two long black feathers are tied up, just behind the nut. I can't help myself, I reach for it.

"Whoa, whoa, T-Bird," Barrett grabs my hand, "you don't want your prints on this baby." I desperately do. There is not a speck of a greasy print on it. "We'll walk it down to the police station. Someone will come looking for it." He's right. I can't take my eyes off it. How could someone just leave this on a bench?

Not unusually, the street is fairly quiet. A few people wander around down by the park. Barrett carries the Fender and I have the Martin over my shoulder. No one seems at all interested in us or the guitar. In fact, no one is even walking in our vague direction. Like anything in this little town, the cop shop isn't far away. I don't like this place so I wait outside.

I've been clean ever since that weekend. I've never felt better. We are all down at the Foxes' Den, a corner of an old converted warehouse a minute up the highway. Johnny's beats drive my syncopated chords. Shane licks a smooth line with his thick fingers, and Barrett unloads a hot little melody. The stage lights come up and the little crowd gives us a solid cheer, a cat-call or two and a whistle before settling in to our groove.

I think about those strange dreams I had. The Raven is a teacher of men. He is also a patron. In that old campfire story he stole for man the light of day, and fire, at the cost of his beautiful white plumage. I don't know what exactly he tried to teach me that night. He might have showed me that path that would permanently scar me, leave me blackened. Maybe he had to show me the light I've always had, tend the fire that I let burn down. He made me remember, and remember to let go of things I've lost. Most important though, is he showed me the guitar.

In the first few weeks of my recovery, I thought of that black guitar. It drove me to play on, fight my enemy face to face, and play on. I would save up all the cash I used to piss away, and I would walk out of the guitar store the richest man in Hope. I got a day job sweeping up at the grocery store. The extra money helped pay for the treatment. It took forever. Even today I could curl up in a dirty washroom somewhere and cook up a hit. A few bucks here and there would come in and go right back out to pay the bills. The pangs were there everyday. They never really go away.

The day I got that guitar, I wasn't the richest guy in Hope, I was the luckiest.

Months after we turned the Telecaster in, Constable Brown came around. Cops still make me nervous. He said he wanted to talk to me. I expected the usual, "where were you on January 15th, around 9pm?" Or, "Mrs. Carvington said she saw you pawing around in the Johnson's' garage last night." No, he reaches into his car and pulls out a rectangular guitar case. They searched up and down. No one ever reported it stolen. No one called it lost. No one walked in to claim it. It doesn't do anyone any good gathering dust in an evidence locker.

"Lots of the townspeople are talking about you. They are starting to trust you. Well, a few of us figure you've earned this, after all you've been through."

First time I plugged her in, I knew I'd come home.

I'm not going to make any claims about those two feathers tied up around the headstock. They are pretty common around here. They stand as a good reminder of a night that gets farther and farther away with every song and every show.

By Peter Speers

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