The Southpaw Guitarist

Submitted for Contest #38 in response to: Write a story about someone learning how to play an instrument. ... view prompt

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Apr 20, 2020

General

Dashed by the heavy rainfall, a chestnut-haired boy boy made his way inside before being trampled by the hail. He slammed the door behind him, which would have been much to his Mum’s disapproval. Completely soaked, he ran his fingers through his hair and shook it, although leaving his soggy boots on.

There was mischief in his eyes, a smirk growing underneath his lips like moss grows underneath a window pane.

Scurrying through the corridor, the child ran around with water dripping behind him, leaving a trail. A sweet giggle laid underneath his breath as he breathed in the warm air. In his hands was a delicate possession, wrapped tightly with his coat. Earlier that evening, he bought it from Mr. Aleswood’s Thrift Shoppe, but he didn’t anticipate bringing a case to carry it in; nor did he expect for the heavy rain. When it began to pour, he sacrificed his coat to cover it. Traveling home in the pouring rain without a coat could have easily given him Pneumonia, but he couldn’t care in the slightest.  

I can’t believe I got it! He thought, grinning in pure delight, I can’t believe I got it!

Leaping to the staircase, he lunged into a sprint towards his bedroom. A ray of water flickered behind him. The rain droplets followed as he made his way to his room, soaking up the carpet. Once inside his room, he anxiously placed his prized possession on his bed, carefully unwrapping it. His adoring eyes scanned it and he giggled.

Laying dry in his coat was a used, scratched up acoustic guitar. His face lit up in a grin, a tiny gasp escaping his lips as he saw it. His hands caressed it, delicately wrapping his finger around the fretboard. His fingers lightly tapped along the strings, producing an out-of-tune buzz. He chuckled, his hands slowly guiding the guitar to his chest. 

He had been waiting for this moment for as long as he could remember. Growing up, his life was inundated with music. His father was a blue-collared musician, often bringing a variety of records and instruments for the boys to try. Gentle melodies and occasional screeches filled their house, often coming at the cost of noise complaints. It wasn’t until recently that the music vanished. What was once a lively house became cold, dark, and meaningless. 

Yet with this guitar at hand, the young boy knew he could bring it back. He had seen his father play guitar many times. Striving to do the same, the boy clumsily placed his hands on the guitar. His excitement filled to the brim, eagerly awaiting to hit his first chord. 

The excitement quickly shattered with a large thump from downstairs. It was followed by creaking, as someone made their way upstairs. He could quickly tell that it was his younger brother. On instinct, the boy rose to his feet, tucking the guitar underneath his bed. He ran from his room, but before leaving, he whispered “shh!” to his guitar. 

Standing outside the bedroom was Mike, his younger brother. Mike was the sunshine to his moon, a stark difference between the both of them. Grinning from ear to ear, Mike exclaimed, “Did y’get it, Paul?”

Crossing his arms, the older brother shouted, “I told you not to say anything!”

“I haven’t!” Mike shouted back, his face crossed in anger, “Stop blaming me for things I haven’t even done! Da’s not home, anyhow.”

“Where is he? Visiting Mum?”

Mike nodded, the excitement on his face slowly draining. 

Gently rubbing his hands, Paul said, “I wonder if the doc has anything new to say. He normally does.” He began to anxiously rub his neck, the fear of bad news crept into his mind.

Yet with a positive voice, Mike said, “He says she’s doing better.”

Paul glanced away, his eyes fixated elsewhere. In a low voice, he muttered, “He says that every time, Mikey.” 

Paul breathed in, heavily. The upstairs had the old familiar scent of his Mom. There wasn’t an inch in the room that had changed after his mother’s diagnosis. Even once she was admitted into the hospital, everything remained the same as she left it. The laundry was still laying out to dry, her coat was still sprawled on the kitchen floor. Even her purse was left hanging on the stair rail. Paul wasn’t sure whether Da was ever going to move it. 

“Da says that if the surgery goes well, she could be out by next month!”

Paul turned away, facing his door once more. He uttered, “Doubtful.” 

The smile on Mikey’s face vanished. Paul made his way back to the bed, where he gently pulled out his brand “new” guitar. He sighed heavily, staring off towards his wall. 

Things weren’t going to get better. The year was 1955, a time in which the world was too busy recovering from war and didn’t have the resources to solve cancer. Aggressive breast cancer, at that. Paul had heard the horror stories of cancer survivors from his classmates. Even if his Mum was going to survive, it was going to be a hell of a life. 

But as he glanced back, he saw Mikey, with his head hanging down. Paul’s heart pinged in pain. As Paul listened, he heard a tiny sniffle. Mike wasn’t much younger than Paul was, really-- two years his junior. But being the oldest, Paul was instinctively protective, no matter how much Mike drove him insane. There wasn’t anything too big that Paul wouldn’t do to keep Mike happy. 

“Mikey,” called out Paul, bearing a false smile. The best thing Paul could do was entertain. He wasn’t the best when it came to counseling, but he at least had his father’s talent for performance. Paul’s hands gently brought out the guitar. He said sweetly, “Would you like to take a look?”

“You did get it!” 

Mikey’s face lit up once more, although tears were sprinkled across his face. Grinning, the younger brother ran into the room and kneeled in front of Paul. He giggled and said jokingly, “Tsk tsk, Da’s going to kill you when he finds out!”

“He’s not going to find out!” scoffed Paul, giving his brother a distinctive stare. 

“I would have just kept the trumpet if I were you,” Mikey mumbled, “Da’s never been a big fan of rock n’ roll.”

The week before this night, Paul had celebrated his 14th birthday. It was a different kind of celebration, not the usual. His Mum had been admitted to the hospital the night before. With his Mum gone, he spent the day with his Da and Mike. Before the night was through, his Da gave him an oddly shaped gift.

-From Da & Mum. To the future Louis Armstrong- 

Paul already knew what it was before opening it. Laying on his lap was a trumpet, brand new and in mint condition. It astounded Paul that his parents could afford something like this, especially with medical bills piling up. Immediately, Paul grinned and embraced his father, thanking him a million times over. That night he dreamt of jazz, taking turns twirling around Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald across a moonlit balcony. 

“You said you wanted to play Jazz. Why did you trade it for a guitar?”

“Plans change,” replied Paul, his eyes glancing up. On his wall were posters of Elvis Presley and Perry Como. In Elvis’s hands was an acoustic guitar, polished and shining underneath his studio lights. It was the prettiest thing that Paul had ever laid eyes upon.

Each morning on his way to school, Paul stumbled upon the same pawn shoppe off Penny Lane. A man with the name of Mr. Aleswood owned the store, who would often yell at any children who came into his store. Every morning as he passed by, his eyes would scan the window. There was an oddity of things within, from antiques to wedding gowns. On his final day of school, it was there that he found it: an acoustic guitar, shining underneath a flickering lightbulb.

The only issue was the ticket price: 

  £25 or best offer.

At that time, Paul only had £8 to his name. Paul envied that guitar every moment of the days to come. When his father gifted him a trumpet, which would surely cost more than the guitar, he knew he had to make that trade.

It was going to be worth it… wasn’t it?

As Paul picked up the guitar, holding it gently, it felt strange in his hands. Rather uncomfortably, he tried to arrange his hands just as he had seen Elvis did. He glanced up to his poster, readjusting his hands to match Elvis. Yet no matter how hard he tried, it felt wrong. His face tightened in frustration.  

As Mike watched, he quietly asked, “Paul?”

Paul, rather angered, turned his head and hissed, “What now?”

“I… think you’re doing it wrong.”

“Really?” scoffed Paul, shoving his guitar towards his brother Mike, “How about you try it, y’ twat?” 

Mike took the guitar, which was much too large for him. Yet resting it on his knee, while glancing up at Elvis’s position, Mikey’s hands fell naturally into place. He strummed the strings a bit, a warm smile coming upon his face. 

In an instant, Paul snatched the guitar and muttered, “Get lost, Mike!”

Mikey continued to grin, slightly giggling to himself. Paul’s sharp eyes immediately dug into his, silencing Mike’s laughter. 

Rather meekly, Mike asked, “...Paul?”

“If you’re going to tell me that I’m playing it wrong,” muttered Paul, “I’m going to hit you over the head with it.”

“You’re left-handed, aren’t you?”

Paul paused for a moment. He glanced up towards Elvis, then down at his hands. He muttered, “I… y-yeah?”

“That’s your problem, Paul!” exclaimed Mikey, “You bought a right-handed guitar!”

“There’s no such thing as a left-handed guitar.”

“Of course there is!” Mikey protested, “There has to be!”

Paul’s face tightened and he crossed his arms, “Well, there isn’t.”

Not that he knew of, at least. To be quite fair, Paul hadn’t bothered to ask if there was a left-handed guitar. All his favorite rockers played right-handed, so it was his assumption that southpaws have no place in rock n’ roll. 

“But maybe…” Paul said to himself, flipping his guitar over, “Maybe I can make it a left-handed guitar.”

He places the guitar on his right knee and used his right hand to strum. As he struck a chord, it buzzed across the room. It was very off pitch, but to Paul, it was perfect. 

As he began to gain a sense of his new guitar, he became very aware of the strings. By flipping his guitar, the strings were backwards. At first, he didn’t mind. Yet staring up at Elvis, he realized he would look like a fool if he played it that way.

Paul got up from his spot, dashing to his drawer. 

“Paul?” 

Paul continued to dig into his dresser, until clasping onto a tool. He turned around, wielding pliers. He marched back and with his pliers, he began to remove the strings.

Mike shouted, “What in God’s name are you doing?!” 

As he removed the first string, he thought to himself, God… what am I doing? I just got this thing and now I’m destroying it!

Yet as he looked up, staring intently at his Elvis poster, he said with determination, “I’m making the first ever left-handed guitar.” He began to loosen the second string.

“Now Da is really going to kill you!” scoffed Mike, urgently grabbing onto Paul’s arm, “Stop it, you don’t know what you’re doing!”

“Lay off, Mikey!”

A second string popped off. Paul’s excitement grew as he continued to remove each string. He carefully laid them in order. Third, fourth, fifth. During the whole process, Mike begged him to stop, threatening to tell Da. Paul, too focused on his art, didn’t answer. As he popped the sixth string off, he looked at his now bare acoustic guitar. Mike, sitting next to him, stared at him, bewildered. They both stared, in disbelief of what he had just done. 

Before giving his little brother the chance to respond, Paul spoke in haste, “I’ve never seen a left-handed guitarist. What if I become the first?”

One by one, Paul began to organize the strings in the opposite way it was before. Tightening the strings back on was far more challenging for Paul, who clearly hadn’t the faintest clue on which to do. Yet after his first string, which he didn’t know was E, he was rejuvenated. The smile on Paul’s face flickered like lamppost and Mikey, a moth desperate for light, followed suit. 

Both boys giggled, Mike leaning over to help tighten the strings. One after the other, Mikey and Paul at last restrung the guitar. With the last string tightened, Paul placed it on his knee. His eyes glanced up, grinning as he saw Elvis. He muttered, “Just you wait, Mr. Presley. There’s a new kid in town and his name is--”

“Paul?” 

A loud voice came from outside of his bedroom. Desperately Paul tried to his guitar, but the figure standing in the doorway already saw it. Stepping forward into the bedroom light was Jim, Paul and Mike’s father. Fear swept over the boys, each of them tremoring as their father approached. Stammering, Paul lied, “I got it from a friend!”

Jim was at the doorway, only slightly shaking his head. Once he had the chance, Mike jolting from his spot by Paul and out the bedroom. Coward.

Facing his father alone, Paul continually lied, “It’s from a friend--”

“Mr. Aleswood off Penny Lane?” interrupted Jim, flashing a smirk. He approached Paul, standing over him. He leaned in and continued, “I was wondering what lucky lad would grab that guitar. I should have expected it would be my own son.”

Paul shrunk away, staring at his father in fear. Yet as he looked up, there wasn’t an ounce of anger on Jim’s face. His father, with a gentle smile, began to chuckle. His hand reached over to Paul. At first, Paul flinched, only to find his father gently combing through his hair. 

Jim, still in laughter, crouched down to his son. He said, “We should have bought you that guitar instead of a silly trumpet.”

Jim grasped onto the guitar. He inspected it, and finding that it was tailored to Paul’s handedness, he asked, “Did Mr. Aleswood do this for you? It’s an awfully nice thing for--”

“I did it.”

“You… what?”

Paul, rather meekly, lifted up his pliers. He grinned shyly and said, “If I’m going to become the best guitarist, I need the right kind of guitar.”

His father then laughed, his face growing bright red. Setting down the guitar, he immediately wrapped his arms around his son. A warmth grew between them, something that Paul hadn’t felt in months. Deep into his father’s grasp, he could smell the comforting scent of his mother. Paul breathed in. Gently in his father’s arms, Paul’s eyes began to water. In a croaky voice, Paul cried out, “I’m so sorry, Da. I’m sorry, I…”

"Don't."

His father’s grip tightened. Muffled in his father’s arms, Paul began to cry. It wasn’t very often that Paul would cry, at least in front of others. Jim held onto his son, hushing him sweetly as Paul continued to cry. Before Jim could help it, his eyes gently filled with water too. Much like his son, he wasn’t eager to show his emotions. He rapidly blinked, desperately dashing these tears away. Slowly, Jim released his son and ruffled his hair. He cleared his throat and stared at Paul, with warm and welcoming eyes.

“You never cease to surprise me, Paul McCartney.”

Jim leaned in, kissing Paul on the forehead, and embraced him once more.

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