Ally put his banjo up in the living room. no words or discussions, just hanging as a centerpiece to their lives. when george saw it there, he paused. his mouth dried and brow furrowed. a deep sigh and then back to life.
she would host dinner parties. couples would come and inevitably there would be questions. whose banjo? why there? will you play?
his mouth would go dry. his brow would furrow. a deep sigh would slip through cracked lips and he would mumble between mustache and beard, i don’t do that anymore.
Ally would smile and take the conversation elsewhere. to life in photography and what it means to be alive. they would discuss dinnerware, the container store, and whether or not Christmas lights were still worth it. she would take her company on a journey through the world of suburbia, and he would stay behind in the land of the banjo with a dry mouth and furrowed brow.
eventually the town started talking. it was small at first. Betty asked Jennifer if she knew something. Jennifer was closer with Ally, of course, and Jennifer reveled in this fact. she savored it like a fine wine. at first she would say i don’t know anymore than anyone. and she would smile a wry little thing and let her eyes glitter in just a way that says actually, i do.
Betty would wear her down. like a two year old desperate for a napkin after his birthday cake, she would pester and prod and eventually one sentence at a time, Jennifer would spill tidbits. things she might have heard, but couldn’t remember. things she said over and over until they were facts of repetition. at first, they were little things, but together they painted a story of george:
george started when he was 9. some guy wandered by with that banjo on his back and george saw the banjo and the man and there was some kind of connection. the man sat on the porch next to george and taught him to play. every day after school the two would meet. george’s mother was none to keen on this, of course, but over time she must have gotten over it, because, well, george sure can play.
- wait. you’ve heard him play?
of course, i have, Betty. haven’t you? at first it was coffee shops, you know? little dive diners that were looking for attractions to sell their crappy food. george and this guy would go and george would play and the guy would sing in this bluegrassy way that is coming back. you know? like those sons and that other band…what is it? nevermind. they would do this duet thing. george would play and the guy would sing.
eventually george got too good. it happens when you obsess over a passion, you know? he played every day. sure he’d do school work, chores and what not, but mostly he played. he wore through finger tips and strings almost as fast as a kid runs through shoes. he just kept playing.
the guy set up a tour or something, i guess. yeah, that’s right, a tour. by now, of course, george’s mom and dad knew the guy pretty well and it was a summer vacation so why not see the country? off george went with this guy to see the world. to play in front of crowds.
you’ve got to understand how good george is at the banjo. we’re not talking sunday morning church service good. no, no, no, Betty. we’re talkin’ julliard good. like, packed crowds and all that, you know? child prodigy, stuff. how do you not let a kid like that go on some kind of tour?
Betty, george went off with this guy – it’s probably for the best, you know? that was the summer - the summer after his folks, you know? – and he played to packed bars, coffee houses, restaurants, churches, auditoriums. heck, he played in the center of a freakin’ football field in arkansas. right there on that stupid hog or whatever it is! he played on the HOG, BETTY!
so he’s touring with this guy and wowing audiences and making the local news stations and getting a little buzz in the states he visits. inside entertainment section, bottom corner type coverage. for a 12 year old or whatever he was, that’s pretty gosh darn good, you know? then, one show he doesn’t show up. some guy comes out on the stage and apologizes. they have to refund a bunch of tickets and stuff. complete mess. and just like that – the tour’s over.
george comes into town on a bus. an old grey hound or whatever, i imagine. he just shows back up. banjo on his back and a suitcase over his shoulder. sits down on the front porch with his banjo over his knee like he’s about to play it and nothing. every day like that for a week. then he puts it in a box in his closet, i guess, and forgets about it. freakin’ juliard talent and he just packs it in. no one really knows why – or at least they aren’t saying. hasn’t played it since – er, except of course for the rare audience. tell me how that makes sense.
Betty would look away in disbelief.
mmmhmmm. really bizarre. i heard that the guy had a heart attack or some such. just up and died of natural causes. george took the money he’d earned and left the guy at the hospital. had no family or something. george was like 12, you know? what does he know? just heads home.
late at night, shortly after the thing was hung on the wall, george asked Ally why she put it up. she told him she found it in the basement, behind the boxes of children’s clothes and the old stuffed animals. why do we keep those things?
george hummed under his breath a tune old and flat. you know i bought that off ebay right?
yeah. liked the look of it. swore i’d learn to play the dumb thing. never did.
huh. i heard from Jennifer that you used to be JULLIARD good.
george walked away, still humming.