The lights are the world. Beyond their gleam there is ruffling and now and then a clearing of throat and there is a darkness, but on the stage the lights are all there is. Blinding and burning and throwing pale shine upon the man standing there.
He whispers his thanks to the gathered. His voice cracks and he says it again. From the crowd there is only quiet and the barest testimony of their continued residence exposed by their passive stirring. Smoke drifts in lazy swirls under the lights but the glow of cigarette somewhere in the crowd is burned away in the harsh throw of the overhead spots.
The man on stage lifts his instrument, a banjo stained with age. This man is the player, he is the performer. He takes a step nearer stage’s edge and he squints into the light. He nods once. Then he begins to play.
The notes form a somber tune, slow, wistful. They rise and they fall and they pull at something lost, they take hold and they pull and don’t let go and he goes on playing, sweating under the lights, beads forming on lip, running down ribs. His hands work the strings on their own and his mind is far away, lost in the song and in a feeling held there. He thinks he was a good man. He thinks he led a good life.
He stands alone on the stage as the sole architect of this hymn but the space between the notes is not bare. There exists a hum, or not a hum but an energy, a tone more felt than heard. Perspiration shows in damp patches on his buttondown. His eyes stare up into the lights.
His playing grows faster. The spots begin to dim but the heat is somehow worse as the song becomes angry, becomes bitter. There is a murmur or moan from the crowd but he cannot see them from his place on the stage. His fingers hurt but still, he plays. The details of memory fade but he is sure he was a good man, he is sure he led a good life.
He’s playing fast now, raging and desperate. The lights are gone and all is darkness. The crowd is screaming, shrieking. The performer is weeping, his fingers are bleeding. He plays his song tonight as he plays it every night. He thinks he was a good man. He thinks he led a good life.
Craig Rodgers is the author of “Man in Leaf” (published by literary journal Juked) and “Wishes” (appearing in Heart of Farkness) as well as over four thousand tweets. He has an extensive collection of literary rejections folded into the shape of cranes and spends most of his time writing in North Texas.