Heart Strings

Chapter Eight

In the music room Liam uncased the National and his Gibson. He handed the Gibson to Danny along with a strap, then picked up a strap for the National and asked if Danny was ready.

"I guess so, I don’t know what I’m going to play but I guess I’ll figure it out."

They found a number of boys and a couple of girls noodling away in the quad as if they were waiting.

"Hi Liam, hi Danny,” several voices called out. Gregg rose from his perch and greeted them both. "We’ve all been waiting for you guys to show, I guess we want to hear some more cool tunes. Until you showed up the music class was pretty dull and uninspired. A lot of people were getting ready to try another elective."

"No reason they shouldn’t, I might like to as well. It doesn’t mean giving up the guitar. Music is something you should do because you really love it. Mr. Levi is a great guy, but there’s only so much he can teach in this program. If he gives you the mechanics then it’s your job to add the emotion, right?"

"Cool, I never really gave it much thought. You might be right."

So what do you guys want to play?" Liam chirped, sounding very American.

“Show us some more blues,” Robby, a seventh grader, bellowed and was joined with a chorus of "Yeah, more blues!"

“Okay, this is called Lightnin’ Bug Slide,” Liam said, as he pulled the glass slide from his pocket.

Liam smiled and started playing; when he did, he sort of shut the world out, for him it was nearly a religious experience. He was just lost in the music but surfaced just before the last few notes. As he looked around there were a lot more people suddenly. Eighth, ninth and a few other seventh graders.

A huge round of applause began when he finished. Liam saw Faculty and other adults in the crowd.

"Hey Danny, are you ready to show off the House Rent Stomp?"

Danny looked nervous, but sat and put a capo on the third fret like they had done Tuesday. He started playing and like Liam, shut out everything until Liam started to back him with his slide guitar.

That recharged his confidence and he finished strong.

They received the same reaction as before. "Really cool Danny," was heard and a couple of other shouts of encouragement.

"I told you, you were good." Liam chided.

"I was scared stiff until you joined me and then it was okay. I thought I was just carrying the guitar for you."

"Well you were wrong, eh?"

"So, anyone else want to come up and try this guitar?"

A boy named Kelly raised his hand and Liam called him up to where they were sitting. Liam stood up, handed Kelly the guitar, told him to sit, and offered him his slide. Kelly took it and though he looked like he was going to pass out, he started in on Dust My Broom, and he played like Elmore James’ acoustic version was committed to memory, which it was. Danny couldn’t restrain himself and played the rhythm.

"Who knows the lyrics to this? C’mon, come up and sing with me."

Mr. Karl Sheddler, the chief custodian, stood and walked forward, and as he did, he pulled a small case from his pocket and removed a well-worn harmonica. "Do you mind if I join you, I love singing this song."

"Please, Sir, let’s give it a go."

"From the top guys, and you can lead off on the vocals, Sir."

"Call me Karl, and why don’t you start and I’ll play a little harp first?"

Kelly and Danny started up again and Karl worked in some great blues harp and led Liam in. Liam sang the first verse after the intro and passed it to Karl who had a voice made for the blues. It was big and a bit gravelly like Tom Waits, but he had great control over it and on the third verse, they sang together. Liam was in heaven and Danny and Kelly were lost in the moment. Looking at the crowd there was a sea of smiles. When they finished the crowd really showed their appreciation. Liam waved, Karl nodded and Danny and Kelly both bowed slightly.

"That was great Karl, your voice is primo, and that harp is other worldly good, man."

"You’re pretty damn good yourself; I’ve seen you performing in Old Town several times."

"Well you should join us next time, you’d be really welcome."

"Well maybe next time I will, it seems like a good group."

"Do you perform anywhere?"

"I do, but you couldn’t get in because they sell booze. But I’ve been talking to some of the guys about signing up for the gazebo at the park."

"That would be cool; I’d be right down front man."

"If you are, I’m dragging your ass up on stage, buddy. So be ready and bring that old National. I gotta go now, I‘ve got work to do."

Karl tucked the harp back in its case and ambled off to mow the athletic field with his crew.

Liam turned to Danny and Kelly who were surrounded by other kids; he caught Danny’s eye and grinned at him and Danny grinned back and blushed at the same time. Kelly was getting some recognition for his hard work. He was a solid player in class but never challenged to advance. When the well-wishers backed off a bit, Liam asked Kelly to join them as they went back to stow the guitars.

"So Kelly, how did you get so good with open C ?"

"Well, I’ve been collecting 78’s of the old race records, mostly guitar blues but some band stuff. I got a book about blues slide guitar and pretty much figured it out from there, plus there are some good videos online."

"I’ve got a good collection of 78’s and some of them are really great."

"Cool, I thought I was the only weirdo in this school that dug this old music."

"What are you doing tomorrow?"

"Sleeping late, hanging out and playing my guitar."

"Would you like to join a few of us for a sort of jam session at my house? I’m just on Maple past Green Avenue."

"Sure Liam, that sounds cool, thanks."

"You got good chops man and I think everybody will love your sound. They sure did today," Liam continued.

"Oh um… thanks, you were pretty good too, you know, I can’t sing in public, I freeze up," Kelly admitted.

"Well maybe we can help you work on that. Give me your number and I’ll send you the address."


"Hey Danny, that was cool the way you filled in the rhythm, I enjoyed playing with you," Kelly told him.

"Hey guys, we’re going to have to leg it if we’re going to make it to class on time." They exited the music room, not quite running, and went three separate directions."

After Phys. Ed. The boys hit the music room again so Liam could retrieve his National. He wanted to restring it after tomorrow’s session. They weren’t sure who was picking them up, but Connor’s Simca pulled up and they loaded the guitar in and Danny took shotgun.

"So how many people do you have coming tomorrow?"

"Eight I think, I’m still waiting to hear about Sean."

"Well, let’s plan on ten and we’ll hit Morelli’s to get sandwich stuff and some cannoli and we’ll pick up a few liters of soda on the way, how’s that sound?"

"Wonderful Da, thank you."

"So how was school lads?"

"It was pretty great, Liam got me playing in the quad and sang a blues song with the custodian guy and he played harmonica really good!"

"Take a breath lad, you’ll pass out."

Danny giggled.

"I guess he didn’t want me to undersell it, but yeah school was great. That kid I had the set-to with has turned himself around and has been apologizing to people that he was hassling before." Liam reported.

"That’s nice to hear, so he wasn’t the bull he was actin’ eh?"

"No, he was just having a bad time at home, but that got resolved and he’s a better person for it. He even thanked me for getting him turned round."

"You are a diplomat, natural born."

“Thanks, Da.”

They stopped in at Morelli’s and Danny was amazed. It wasn’t what he expected. But, Morelli’s Italian Market and Deli had been there for seventy-five years and looked it. It was clean and orderly, but everything was old. The food however, was fantastic. Liam went straight to the Cannoli and pointed out the Anisette cookies to Danny.

"Hi Liam, who’s that with you?"

"This is Danny; could he sample an Anisette cookie please?"

Carmina Morelli passed the small morsel to Danny who looked bashful, but he took it and had a bite. His face glowed with approval.

"Thank you, Ma’am, that is so good."

"Thanks Carmina, I’ll take two dozen of those and two dozen Cannoli and Da is at the meat counter."

"Okay Liam, there you go."

"How have you been Carmina, is little Joe walking yet?"

"I’m great thanks, and Mama has her hands full with Joe, he runs everywhere he goes. I swear he went straight from crawling to running. I think Mama’s losing weight chasing him. And how are you doing?”

"Oh great, I had to change schools, but I made a great new friend in the process so I’m not too bummed."

"Why the change?"

Liam explained the whole "Magnet school" debacle.

"That’s so ridiculous, I’ll tell Pappa and he’ll get them all voted out next time. Maybe we’ll get a better class of idiots on the school board."

Liam giggled and agreed with her.

"Well, I think Da’s ready so I better catch him up. Bye Carmina, see you soon."

"Bye Liam, nice meeting you Danny."

"Thank you, Ma’am um… Carmina, and thanks for the cookie, it was great."

"Wait til' you try the Canoli, then thank me." She laughed.

When they arrived at the house, the old red Corolla wagon sat in the driveway.

"What’s Rumbles doing here?" Danny asked.

"I’m having a look at it to see if it can be restored. If the suspension mounting points on these old Toyo’s rust out, there’s no saving them. If it passes inspection, we’ll turn it over to a guy who specializes in old Japanese cars and see what he has to say."

"So Mom has a company car now?"

"Of course, and she’ll put a lot of miles on it too. It may not always be the same one. It will depend on what she’s attending to at the moment."

"Okay, I was just wondering."

"You love that old red beasty don’t you, Danny?"

Danny nodded because it was difficult to speak.

Connor put a hand on his back, I understand, Lad; that car and your Mam are the only permanent things you’ve had in your life up till now, but I think your circumstances are bound to change because of that old guitar.” Danny turned and buried his face in Connor’s chest and turned loose of his reserve. He cried for quite a while; Liam patted his back and Connor held him.

"I’m sorry, it just all caught up with me at once." Danny said.

"I’m glad we could offer you some comfort Danny, anytime you need it, Liam and I are here for you."

Danny hugged Connor and then Liam and said, "We should get that meat inside don’t you think?"

With the groceries put away, the boys left Connor to amuse himself and went to Liam’s room to change.

"Wanna grab a shower? Together?" Liam asked.

"Oh yeah," Danny said, "I’m in."

Liam turned on the water and came back out. Danny had shed his shirts and one shoe; he was sitting on the floor pulling on the remaining shoe with one leg out of his jeans and a sock hanging off his toes. He looked like a three-year-old in that pose and it made Liam laugh.

"Do you need a bit of help then?"

"Huh no? I just got ahead of myself that’s all."

The errant shoe released its grip on Danny’s foot and he flung it after its mate and he stood with just his pants still in place.

Liam undressed carefully, put his shoes underneath his bed and then removed his trousers and shirt, with just his long T-shirt and boxer briefs to go. The briefs he slid down and tossed in the hamper and the T-shirt spoiled Danny’s view of Liam’s most interesting parts. Danny assertively placed his hands inside his pants and slid them down as if to say he meant business. Liam walked to the bathroom door and disappeared from Danny’s sight, Danny followed and found Liam checking the water temperature. Liam found the temperature suitably warm, "Would you like to remove this for me?" Liam asked, holding out the hem of his shirt. Daniel pulled the shirt over Liam’s head and tossed it behind him. Liam opened the shower door again and ushered Danny inside and with one foot, Liam pushed the bathroom door closed. The narrator has no idea what transpired after that and can only extrapolate from the silly grins on both faces that Connor encountered in the kitchen an hour later, that they had a very nice shower indeed.

"Hey, would you two be okay on yer own tonight?" Connor enquired.

"Sure Da, I think we could entertain ourselves, where are you going?"

"I’ll be catching up with Mike Hanlan over a pint or two. We’re meeting at a Pub and I’ve no idea when I’ll be back. I’m taking a service to get there so my car will still be in the garage."

“That’s good Da, I don’t think they’d let me bail you out for a D.U.I. and I’d be right cheesed off if you got caught driving drunk anyway."

"Fair enough, but that won’t happen."

"I hope you like riding in a Prius," Danny put in.

"I can’t abide them, or their drivers, bloody bunch of eedjits. They actually think that car is environmentally friendly. They’ve no idea how much pollution is caused just mining the ore to make the batteries in the feckin’ things. And if a battery gets opened up in a crash, Jaysus, Mary and Joseph; you do know what happens when lithium encounters water, eh?"

"Da, yer preachin’ to the choir and yer scarin’ me boyfriend."

"I’m sorry, Danny me lad, I have a thing about them nasty little cars, but you weren’t to know. I’m not really angry, I just get a bit choppy about the feckin’ things."

"It’s okay Sir, I thought I upset you, but it was like my mom and people who stop with four car lengths and block the turn pockets. It’s the only time I ever hear her swear."

"That’s one of mine as well, they do it so’s they can check to see if anyone answered their Facebook post or tweet or some eedjit shite as that. That’s why I have the air horn on me Land Cruiser."

"Have you been at the whiskey, Da, you sound particularly loquacious this afternoon?"

"True, I had a nip when we got home, oh and Rick says you can bite his as well and he looks forward to seeing you tomorrow."

Liam’s phone rang interrupting the conversation.

"Hello Liam, Jim here. I just wanted to tell you we’re safely on the ground and our ride is here to take us to the hotel. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow."

"I hope you had a nice flight, I look forward to seeing you again as well."

"Well, gotta go, our car is ready to roll and I don’t want to keep the man waiting."

"Bye then Jim, See you tomorrow."

"If you didn’t get that Jim and the other fella from Martin made it in okay. They’re just at the airport now."

"Very good that, we’ve a room all prepared to do the examination and the imaging gear is in top working order."

"That’s great Da, thanks."

"Oh yeah thank you, Sir, I really appreciate all you’re doing for us."

"Fine then, will yas stop Sirin’ me, I’m not the bloody Garda ya know."

"I think he wants you to call him Connor, Danny. He doesn’t do well with "Sir" ya know.

"Oh sure, I can do that, it’s a little weird for me, but yeah, you got it, Connor."

"Ah there’s a lad."

"Oy, Danny, would yas like to see me workshop?"

"Yeah sure, that would be cool."

In the room above the detached garage, Liam showed Danny what he got up to in the workshop. Several guitars or former guitars were clamped into jigs after gluing had been done.

"Whoa, this is wild, Liam. What are all these weird looking instruments?”

"Experiments mostly, like this one, I thought I was building a baritone mandolin but it doesn’t play the same. See, mandolins can be played fast because the necks are narrow, putting the strings close to each other. This turned out not to be quite so quick and besides the instrument already exists. It’s called a Cuatro in places like Brazil and Colombia and a few others. It has a nice sound but I haven’t played with it much. It’s the same as the one in my closet but it has steel strings"

"What’s this weird looking one here?" Danny asked.

"Take it down and strum it"

Danny did as he was told and was completely caught off guard.

“It sounds kind of like a Sitar but different,” uttered Danny.

"Well, that’s what I was going for, but it’s so difficult to play, you’d really have to dedicate yourself to master it. My friend Tristan is pretty good with it and keeps bugging me to put a price on it. He’s coming over tomorrow so you’ll meet him. Anyway his birthday was Monday so I’m going to give this beast to him."

"Cool, but what gives it that sound?"

"Oh, that’s this thing here, I don’t know the Hindi word for it, I call it the buzz bridge. When you pluck a string, it buzzes against it and you get that weird sound. I made it a twelve string and there are six resonant strings that run the length of the neck and body in this channel on the backside. Like I say, it was an experiment and a learning process, I picked up a lot about sound propagation and resonance from building it."

"God, you are such a gigantic nerd man, you should just wear the hat all the time."

That provoked a session of prolonged tickling and some extensive kissing.

"Sorry to interrupt, lads, but my ride will be here in just a bit and I wanted to say goodbye." Both boys turned and looked at Connor and gave each other an impish smile. Connor was subjected to tickle torture for a moment, but he retaliated and the boys were far more ticklish than he was. He issued and collected hugs and bade the boys goodbye.