Rachel Kapitan — the notion …
“the notion that discharge of primary neurons might be in some way synchronized by an efferent system”
My daddy told me I could write songs if I wanted, like him, but I had to listen. ‘How implausible hearing is, a waving motion partially caught as it passes, funneled and hammered, made electric and coded, sent to the brain, processed, sorted, associated, stored.’ He explained it, but I didn’t understand that process. I didn’t recognize my hands as I paid the clerk at the lunch counter for a hamburger and as I paid, a song travelled, mouth to mark but not quite. I took my lunch and pushed baby’s carriage to the park.
First time I saw Fiddler, when I’d never heard his name, I ate my hamburger and jabbed a soft serve ice cream cone to little baby mouth, saying eat this baby, for me because it dripped down my hand and ran the length of my forearm, tickling and sticky. I told baby, lookie there, lookie at that as a man came sack in hand, and a guitar case he put on the cement floor of the gazebo. Park in the center of town, mind, middle of the day. Baby, what’s he going to do? Baby reached for the ice cream, stuck baby hands in it, and I dug in the bag the burger came in for a napkin. Lemme wipe you up baby, ice cream melting river down my arm, napkin stuck to the chocolate and vanilla mess baby made.
My eyes locked on the guitar man in the the gazebo, and I brought the ice cream cone to my lips and my tongue took care of the drips. Now just a whisper of ice cream on the mushy cone wrapped in paper, so I handed it to baby. Here you go, you eat it yourself. Because I stared at the man, I almost forgot to take the paper off of the cone. I don’t want you to choke, baby. The man went from the gazebo to the grass and that’s when I knew an angel came down from the Kingdom in that one, that man I would come to know as Fiddler. God gave him ears to hear the unheard. Fool to recall it, but the ground groaned as he stretched in the grass, guitar on his chest, to rest. He breathed and the guitar rose and fell. Baby made little sounds and hush hush hush baby so I could watch the man in the grass. His fingers heard something and began to tap on the body of the guitar, thumps, pads of his big fingers, a reverberating tippity-tap. He sat bolt upright and grabbed the neck of the guitar, spun it with control, and before I prepared for it, his fingers strummed and welcomed the same sound as the tap. I saw him hear something and catch it, then send it back away, a complex heartbeat of how and why, from mouth and fingers to brain, back and gone.
Baby stopped making noises and leaned over the side of the carriage, turned, dropped the mangled and gummed cone to the ground and gaped, we both did, as the unexpected man in the park in the center of the town, uninvited and unabashed, started singing and all the far off places inside reconciled. I remembered chocolate birthday cakes, and the time a jellyfish skimmed atop of my foot, the mirror I broke in a thousand pieces, a bad whiskey sick, the slick feeling of unexpected lips, flashes of a hospital bed rail and tendrils of iv tubes, goodbyes, and at the chorus’ repeat my pulse quickened. He sang he left home to find home, left to find, home’s home.
The song stopped, baby realized the cone was gone, started wailing and I almost picked the cone off the sidewalk to shut baby up but ants overtook it. Hush now, baby, be quiet. Baby screamed louder. I needed to take baby home. The unnamed-to-me man did not see me, or if he did, he did not remember me. He came to Oconie, came to me, and brought a life’s story in song, damn good story of the misunderstood, a damn good song.
Second time I saw Fiddler he did see me, I made sure. Not much music in Oconie outside of the Choir of the Unreformed Baptists hallelujah, and the bluegrass improvisational Friday nights in the TwistyTwirl parking lot. Daddy played there. Only other place to hear music was the bar, MacCool’s, that drew in vans of long haired boys that somehow knew they could play for a tab. I figured the man would play there. What devil possessed me I can’t say, but I announced Saturday night, you gotta watch baby, to baby’s daddy at our house.
I ain’t watching that baby he said right back, staring at the television.
I called Sissy and she said, bring baby on by because she and her second husband had six children between them and didn’t notice another. I put on a dress and makeup, everything, and baby’s daddy didn’t even tell me, like he used to, to be good. Just stared at the flashing screen.
MacCool’s was still empty when I got there. I saw the guitar case from the park on the little stage in the corner. I got a beer and sat right in the front. He came up on stage, name’s Fiddler he said to less than a dozen of us including the bartender. He sang, and I crawled like a nerve outside the body feeling too much, listening for this song of life eating death, pulling people from the their graves. Who was this man who came here and how did he do it?
He played his own songs and I listened. Course some fools got drunk eventually and shouted you know any Johnny Cash? those drunk fools play some fucking Skynyrd and they laughed.
Fuck you, I said without turning, let him play. He nodded at me then sang the evening’s duration. When he finished I stumbled into the parking lot gravel in the night and I did not feel like an empty Styrofoam cup.
First time I talked to Fiddler was Sunday morning, when I told baby’s daddy I was going to church then skipped it for pancakes at the diner. Had to go to the market after to get milk for baby and some ginger ale, because my stomach twisted. The kingdom of heaven voices the mute –miracle at the Winn-Dixie. Fiddler was there, buying Coca- Cola. We stood together, and he said – I saw you last night at the bar. You shut those drunks up.
Yessir I did. My daddy played the guitar, his own songs, so what they said, that bothers me.
He coughed before he spoke, People spend their time hoping to hear what they heard before. I can’t say I see sense in it. He tucked the Coco-Cola under his arm. My name is Fiddler, he said, forgetting he’s said it in the bar. I was glad to know him. A man on the road must like to talk, he seemed to.
You know anybody around here, is that why you came?
He did, a sister. I didn’t know her. He asked about my daddy since I just mentioned him.
Didn’t know him until I was grown, and didn’t know him long, but liked what I knew. I asked him about his songs, then it was five hours later, us sitting in the parking lot of the the market, him having drunk his Coca-Cola, me having the ginger-ale, both of having drunk it warm. Nothing in life is how I figured it, I said to him.
Well, what can you do? A thought of baby up from napping in the crib and crying passed through me, and the worry that baby’s Daddy just put baby on the floor to play, and baby liked to chew on light cords. Baby didn’t know about danger.
I have to talk to you again, Fiddler said, matter of fact.
Second time I talked to Fiddler baby was safe at Sissy’s and baby’s daddy was gone hauling chicken to Arkansas. We met at MacCool’s and split a pitcher.
Where do your songs come from, Fiddler?
I don’t know. Why’d you say nothing in your life’s like you thought it’d be?
I don’t know either, don’t know why I said that.
You said you didn’t know your daddy until ..
Until I was all grown up and he came back to Oconie after being away a long time. He was sick already. He knew he was dying. And it was too much talk of death, too soon. Impolite. I changed the subject.
Fiddler drank the last of the beer. The bar filled with people.
Let’s go somewhere else, I said.
We walked to my truck and I wondered why I couldn’t stop talking to him. He sat in the truck, fingers drumming the console, always hearing something. We talked — our conversation tore open the torso, voice exiting mouth, going away from you, lucky for a moment, a nerve’s pinch and flash in the brain — but- – the motion of the moment is an exit. His voice hung in front of me and I wanted to catch it in my hands and hang on, but you can’t do that; even as you love it, you mourn it.
My daddy said I could have learned to play the guitar, but should have been little when I learned. Do you think it is too late? I asked.
No, can’t say I do. You could learn. We drove to the lake and sat on a blanket I brought. I thought about feeling alive, then said, I don’t think I know very much.
You have to look to try to find. That’s from a song.
Maybe I loved him. People say that can’t be, you can’t love somebody fast like that. But it might be the best kind. Bright and loud, moving, here and gone, simple as knowing you want the person you are talking to just to keep talking. Please don’t stop talking. People don’t understand it, same people that believe in a God and other things that can’t see, they don’t believe in this, doubt the truth in it.
First time he touched me was after all those careful hours of words not touching, later into the night. I think I trailed off telling him more about music and he got excited about something and brushed my shoulder with his hand. We both noticed. We kept talking because neither of us knew what next.
Second time he touched me was after the talking, when dawn threatened the tree line, still on the blanket by the lake, throats hoarse from words, and finally there was nothing left to say. I knew all the songs he wrote, sang, and lost to the sky. He answered the questions then, about the songs, You just hear them from somewhere and you do not ask. You can’t know.
I knew what he meant.
Fiddler, well-mannered and formal for a guitar player did not want to overstep. Can I? He asked. I nodded and he gathered me to him, and like he sang you left home to find home, left to find. We lingered in the mad fascination of a momentary twin. Like when I heard his songs, in came an onslaught of memories, loud and then diminishing, a rushing past: fucked in the grass, deaf to the sounds from my own mouth, tree root to my spine and white flash of pain, bit his shoulder, got a rash, and went on with it.
He stayed a few more days, but told me, gotta go to Tallahassee. I wanted to follow. Leave baby with Sissy. This thought became my song, that our bodies would open always as we talked, I made a distinction in my heart what this was.
Had he asked, I’d have gone.
He didn’t ask.
Home’s home, I figured. Nothing stays.
I took baby to the park so I could say goodbye. Didn’t care I left baby to crawl in the grass and get a rash, baby allergic to grass like me, and I said, be good baby and watched Fiddler.
He waited at the gazebo, his guitar in its case, as I walked to him I kept my head down staring at my feet.
When you were singing about. . .
The sounds of baby choking interrupted me and I ran over, used a finger to swipe grass out of baby’s mouth, spit on chin, be good for just one minute baby, rocking and jostling a minute, back in the grass. Be good, please.
He, bus ticket. Me, baby. Music moves and you overhear only the edge. It made sense, but I won’t write any songs about it.
No more talking now.
I prayed years for this and when it came, standing in the park, at the gazebo, the earth split in two and the kingdom that came was a kingdom of crumbling castles, and I wanted one more song from him to stay in my ears but sound moves, it leaves. That is how it goes.
I turned back to baby, to a life of fine downed loss, baby’s hair against the grass, softness and scratch.
Easy to tell the song, forget the chords, forget the notes, forget the clef, no beat, no dynamics, no key nor sharps nor flats, nothing — easy to tell the song that.
It gets awfully quiet fast.