By R.P. Redridge
In the shadow of the cathedral, people form neat, straight “queues” as the locals call them. These queues convey people to attractions designed to catch the overflow of cathedral tourists. The overflow grows, and the queues continue to expand until they meld together and form a rigid square of tourists. The queues are made of people that have come from all over the globe to do the same things. As if programmed, they wait to spend their money, take their pictures, and show the world how sophisticated and cultured they are. Their heads are slightly bowed in silence as they scroll through the photos they have already taken at other such attractions.
Seemingly imprisoned by the square of queues is a fountain. Below the fountain’s bubbling life, there sits a man who has come, like many of the tourists, from halfway across the world. Casually dressed in a white shirt and well-worn jeans, he holds a battered guitar. At his feet, an empty hat sits on the ancient cobblestone street. Though he has played all morning, the hat sits empty. While most would be angry at its emptiness, it is doubt that fills the man’s heart.
*Maybe I haven’t played well.
Maybe I shouldn’t have come here.
Maybe…I’m not as good as I think I am*.
Dejected, the man looks above the queues to the cathedral’s tallest tower.
The shadow of the cathedral is a good place to doubt. For uncounted generations, people have lifted their silent doubts and prayed for help in their disbelief under the sanctuary’s spires, and he feels their company. Though he does not share their belief, the man feels connected to these past people. From his place below the fountain, he lifts his own doubts about his music, his ability, and himself. For a moment, there is stillness, and the cathedral seems to meet his staring eyes. Then, just as it did for the past generations, the cathedral sends a silent answer down to the doubting man.
The answer fights doubt and begins to fill him with hope again. The guitarist remembers an old American tune: “Ain’t No Grave.” Untold, his fingers go to work. When they do, his old doubts and new hopes go into the song. Looking down, he watches his hands move expertly in ways he has not mastered. His voice matches his hands, and they combine in a rapture of music.
Though he cannot be an audience to his own performance, the guitarist has faith in the song. He knows he is doing something miraculous. He has transcended skill and talent and is making true, good, and beautiful music. The fountain’s waters ring with the vibration of the miracle when he finishes. Sweating, the guitarist looks around at the queues to see the effect it has had on the people.
They have not heard his song. They show no emotion. With heads slightly bowed, they wait in their queues to pay for and document their experience. He turns from queue to queue in disbelief, but they are all the same. Seeing them all alike, he no longer doubts himself. The guitarist knows the people cannot hear.
Suddenly, he sees a little girl in a blue dress burst through a queue and come running toward him. She reaches him, stops, drops a pound in his hat, turns, and runs back the way she came.
“Thank you!” He shouts before she can reach the square of queues again.
When she hears his thanks, she stops, turns, and smiles at him. Meeting her eyes, and praying that she will understand, he points to one of the queues and shouts, “They’re all dead!”
I have played guitar (instrumental jazz, mostly) for 62 years, and I love this line: “Looking down, he watches his hands move expertly in ways he has not mastered.” That’s so true! Sometimes the song takes over the player. One picky detail: anyone sitting “below” the fountain’s bubbling life (how would you even do that?) would get pretty wet, it seems. Maybe “beside the fountain’s…”? Otherwise, a good story. Too often we see dead people walking around in cities…