Learning to Play on a Borrowed Guitar

Bath, England, 1960
Everyone who lifted the guitar’s case was surprised by its pull, its heft, the sturdy Gretsch dead weight in the cloth-lined box. The first officer to open the taxi’s trunk (the two American musicians and the girl hustled off to hospital, the driver already booked for driving too fast) grunted, the only sound he’d made since surveying the accident: the lamppost tilted as if in a gale, the Ford’s hood crumpled like waste paper. When the tire blew, the driver had no chance, not really, of avoiding the collision. One of the men was tossed from the car, right out a bloody window, and they found him in a huddled mess on the wet pavement. The other man was moaning in the back seat, his leg crushed, the girl beside him stone silent, eyes glazed. Better to find her weeping, they all said. By the time the one man died the next afternoon, his brain swollen like an over-ripe tomato inside a size- too-small tin, the next officer had moved the guitar to the storage room. No one thought to claim it; not the musician’s manager, not the girlfriend, none of the family back in America (though they had requests from a few of his crazed teen fans), so a cadet took it home a month later, a month he’d spent eyeing the case on the shelves, next to worn, ugly purses, a year’s worth of overcoats and umbrellas, a faded blue radio, a box of paper- back novels no one in the station wanted to read. But the guitar whispered Dave’s name: take me home, take me out of this case, use me, use me, this is no place for me to stay, and I can’t be ignored. Eddie’s back in California. They’ve buried him already. Don’t bury me here.

John A. McDermott’s work has most recently appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Cutbank, Florida Review, Juked, and Seneca Review. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, he now teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX, where he coordinates the BFA program in creative writing.