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a Beautiful guitar, and Extravagant –

It’s a beautiful guitar, and extravagant, a second soundbox like a swan’s neck swooping above the fretboard for another ten strings or so, and the red-headed man’s right hand leaps up to strike shimmering sheets from them to punctuate the rollicking tumult hammered and plucked from his left and right hands, notes sharp and clear as peals rung from bells tumbling out of the small black speakers on the stands to either side. Green fluorescent ink on a glassy black board at his feet says Live Music Every Night the Guitarp Stylings of John Wharfinger. Beside it a balloon snifter with a handful of change and some limp dollar bills. A woman all in black, a black apron about her waist, a loaded tray up above her head, a plate of pasta, a couple of burgers, the fish, squeezes between him and a table full of raucous laughter, one of them reading something from the phone in the palm his hand. The red-headed man chases the melody up the fretboard ringing and chiming until it suddenly, irrevocably ends, and his hands leap away, his head down, a long flop of hair hanging over the guitar. The table before him’s still laughing. A desultory flutter of clapping here, there, over in the back. His hands settle on the guitar again, his left hand curled about the neck, his right hand hovering over the soundbox, fingers wiggling. They strike a chord and another, letting it ring, then a third, and someone by the bar drops a tray of glasses with a shattering crash. The room erupts in applause and whoops and laughter.

Later, as he’s wrapping the guitar in a soft brown leather case, a woman scrapes a chair up by his side. She sits in it heavily, her bulk wrapped in an enormous black coat, a little grey snap-brim fedora at a jaunty angle on her head. “New gig?” she says.

“You have me,” he says, working one end of the case carefully around the shoulder of the harp, “at a disadvantage.”

“Really?” she says. “I thought everybody knew me.” He starts zipping the case closed around the guitar’s elaborate shape. “Anne Thorpe,” she says, “I write for Anodyne? Among others?” and the zipper stops for a moment. “You know of me, anyway,” she says.

“I don’t have anything to say,” he says, tugging the zipper closed, securing a couple of velcro straps.

“Not even hello? How’s it going? Sure I’ll let you buy me a drink?”

He sets the case to one side of the stool, frowning.

“That means I’d buy you a drink,” she says. “Because you’d be the one? Saying sure, I’ll let you – anyway. Not a gift, mind. Strictly tit for tat.”

“But I have nothing to offer in return,” he says with a shrug.

“It’s not a story,” she says, “if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m nowhere near a story yet. I just have to know, you know?”

He shrugs again.

“You guys,” she says. She rolls her eyes. “You bow with a blast at the Acme like a month ago and suddenly it’s all anybody can talk about, this album y’all are gonna do that nobody’s heard anything from. You start racking up high-profile gigs at a rate I’ve never seen before in this town, all on good will and word of mouth, until bam!” She slaps one black-draped knee, and the hat slips from her head with the force of it. “Three shows, the last ten days or so. Nocturnal, the Woods, La Luna.” She settles the hat back on her head, her dark hair short and swept back, shot through with grey and white. “Y’all no-show all three, nobody’s calls get returned, nobody’s emails, and here you turn up playing a brewpub on Powell. And Deke,” she jerks a thumb at the bar behind her, careful of her hat, “has no idea he’s got the fiddler from Stone and Salt serenading his dinner rush.”

“Multi-instrumentalist,” he says, looking at the case at his feet.


“I don’t just fiddle.”

She sits back in her chair, looks over at a busser clearing one of the last tables. Looks back at him. “What the hell happened, man? You’ve got something to say, all right, and it’s worth at least a couple shots of Macallan, you know?”

“Redbreast,” says John Wharfinger with a wry smile.


“It’s Redbreast you’d be buying,” he says, “but I’ll tell you for free. Sometimes, these things? They just don’t work out.” He stands, tugging his long green coat into place. “Don’t,” she’s saying, “don’t, don’t do me like this. Don’t send me back out into the rain with nothing but a measly scrap like that.”

“What do you want from me?” says John Wharfinger, scooping the money up out of the glass. “It’s November.”

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Ozark,” written by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, copyright holder unknown.

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