It’s funny how this story came about. I was watching Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle with my kids and was moved by how both of those movies represented the ‘magical’. Far from the way western stories represent fantasy, Asian fantasies don’t bother trying to explain it – it just is. Deal.
I loved that! It was so refreshing. Needless to say, I have become a huge fan of Eastern/Asian storytelling and wondered how I could incorporate some of those elements in my own work. I wanted to shake the foundations of reality to see what was still standing in the end.
Thus came the inspiration of The Girl and the Guitar. As much as I wanted to represent the fantasy element in a more boldly unexplained way, my first attempt at this story telling style didn’t work out the way it wanted to. I still feel the story is a good one, but not what I envision it to be.
It actually ended up being way more autobiographical than I intended, dealing with fears that I had as a child and the threat of divorce of my parents.
It also ended up to be much sadder than I had planned. Which is surprising for me. Most of my work tends to be lighthearted, or if heavy, I will try to lighten the mood with humor.
Not this story. It was pretty sad all the way through until the end. And even the end is a bit bitter-sweet.
But, I learned a lot from writing it and am interested in what others think!
So, here’s the first chapter:
The Girl and the Guitar
By R.A. Hobbs
A Sad Song
It was the sound of the key in the front door that woke her. Her daddy was home late again after singing at a local cafe. She could tell by the slow creak of footsteps as he climbed the staircase that he was tired.
After pausing at the top and letting out a slow sigh, he drug his feet down the hall and stopped at her doorway. He held his guitar, his body blocking the light from the hallway that cast a shadow across her bedroom floor until it touched her bed.
She was afraid to let him know she was awake and didn’t want him to sing to her tonight. She kept her eyes barely cracked open and her breathing slow and even.
He slowly slipped into her room, carrying his guitar case. Crouching down, he set it on the floor with care, pressing the chrome buttons on the latches to pop them open.
The tangy smell of leather and varnish met her nose as he lifted out the guitar. It was a familiar smell, but one that made her afraid.
The guitar’s flat and glossy surface gleamed in the light from the hall as he picked it up, turning it to rest on his knee. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor now, his fingers hovering over the strings.
But she wasn’t looking at Daddy anymore. Her eyes were riveted on the guitar case that lay open on the floor, its long black mouth wide and hungry. The case seemed to shiver once, then give a dry whispery moan. Her breath caught in her throat.
Her daddy’s fingers brushed the strings lightly, his fingers holding the C chord, walking up to E7 then back down to A minor. It was a sad song, reluctant and full of regret. She had heard it many times before. It used to be a comforting song that he would play for her at bedtime, but things had changed now. He was playing a song called, Yesterday, and ever since her mommy and daddy started speaking in sharp angry whispers when they didn’t think she was listening, the sadness of the song had become too real, and the threat to her family too present.
Her daddy repeated the chords, his fingers walking up and down the fret, picking out certain notes and holding on to others, pulling out the vibrato. He turned his head slightly into the light and she saw wetness on his cheek.
She bit down on her blanket and squeezed her eyes, her heart threatening to cave in and leave a dark hole in her chest. She wanted to leap out of her bed and run into his arms and have him tell her nothing was changing, that everything would go back to the way it was before and mommy and daddy would love each other again.
But a deeper fear held her back. A fear that he would only cry more and have nothing of comfort to say and then the emptiness she felt would only become more real. And she didn’t know how to live with that yet. Not yet.
He strummed the last chord of the song, the note swelling within the body of the guitar then slowly fading, deep and throaty. He sighed, his breath catching slightly as he stood up with creaky knees.
She watched him with large eyes as he turned and stepped back into the hall still carrying the guitar, the case forgotten and left in her room.
Her breath quickened as she stared at the empty case left open on her bedroom floor. It seemed to yawn open wider, its hinges creaking dangerously, threatening to snap.
“Daddy!” she whispered hoarsely, her voice caught in her constricted throat.
The guitar case trembled slightly, straining, leather squeaking, and then slammed shut with a loud hollow snap.
She pulled the blankets tight over her head and began to cry. “Daddy!” She sobbed, “Daddy! Put it back!”
She heard the guitar case creak open again and angrily slam shut. Finally, between sobs, she was able to catch her breath and screamed, “Daddy!” His heavy footsteps came running back down the hall to her room.
“Daddy, put it back! Put it back!” she sobbed.
He flicked on her bedroom light breaking the spell. “Helena? I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
She sat up in bed, trying to stifle her sobs and rubbing her eyes. He came to the side of her bed, knelt down next to her and held her, brushing the hair out of her face. He searched her face and she noticed his eyes, although normally a bright glacial blue, had been dulled with exhaustion. “I’m so sorry.” he whispered. His sandy blonde beard brushed roughly against her cheek as he gave her a kiss.
She looked past him toward the guitar case, which was open and waiting. “Daddy,” she whispered back, and pointed at the case.
“I know, honey. I will, okay?”
He scooted over to the guitar case and laid the guitar back in as carefully as he had taken it out. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to the case, “I was very tired tonight and forgot.”
He looked back over his shoulder at her as she watched him, her blanket wrapped tightly around her shoulders. He tried to assure her with a little smile before he turned back to the guitar case.
“Truce, okay? We should be able to trust each other by now. See? Here she is, nice and safe and back in the case.” He ran his hands around the curves of the black leather lid, “Now stop scaring my daughter!” he growled, shutting the case and snapping the latches shut.