Written by Christine Fadden
It was a religious experience, walking into the place where my squeeze made his living, especially since his living was music.
“This one will set you back five grand,” Nick said. “The one I fixed for Madonna cost way more than that.”
“You fixed Madonna’s guitar?” I said.
“Yeah. And then she wore that big ass belt buckle and my balls shriveled. Bling scratches the hell out of the back of a guitar.”
“You went to a Madonna concert?”
“I watched the video,” Nick said. “For the guitar.”
Dudes behind the counter were occupied selling strings or sticks or looping machines. Nick dragged me to his workshop in the back of the store, which was a room no larger than the erotica section at Barnes and Noble, a room with no view, no windows at all. His work chair was a tall swivel barstool with a back to it, a place to rest ass and attend to the fine details of building a musical instrument. A few vices gripped the end of his worktable, which was solid, thick, and dinged up. Nick dragged in another bar stool for me to sit on.
The wall behind us was a miniature version of the shop wall, pegboard with guitars. But these guitars were in various states of disrepair.
Shelves were lined with coffee cans and jam jars, labeled with masking tape and Sharpie, filled with small metal parts and colored liquids.
Nick grabbed a guitar from the wall and set it across his lap. “This is one I made.”
I dangled my legs from the stool, feeling the weight of my boots, then hooked my heels around the bottom rung of the stool, and my fingers under the seat. The air in Nick’s workroom went down my throat like tequila. The fact that he’d made the guitar he was holding made me want to fuck him.
But not yet.
I was working on wanting more.
“What happens to your brain cells in here?” I said.
“The owners are supposed to install a ventilation system next month,” he said.
He set the guitar back on the wall and spun a jar of piss-yellow liquid on his worktable. “This shit was used in gunpowder. Now, it’s an ingredient in pregnancy tests.”
Nitrocellulose. One bullet floats to its target and triggers a + sign = your world as you know it, changed.
“What do you use it for in here?” I said.
“Wood sealant. It’s toxic. But what the hell, I’m going to die before I’m forty.”
“That’s a bit fatalistic, don’t you think?”
Nick set the jar back on the shelf and bit the insides of his cheeks. “My dad’s diabetic, but keeps on boozing and doing blow.”
“What about you? It’s not like you just can’t eat sugar, y’know.”
“Last summer my cousin and I did a home blood test and we both had super high sugar counts. Diabetes is in my genetic pool.”
He pulled a can down from the shelf. Cyanoacrylate.
“Fancy Super Glue,” he said. “Doctors use this shit in hospitals to close wounds. I
use it because I can’t use nails.”
“You might end up being Super Glued. People lose limbs when they’re diabetic.”
A skinny Emo kid came to the door and put his arm up against the frame like he was Paul Newman back in the day. I was supposed to notice the tattoos. A toaster, a blender, and a Crock-Pot.
He nodded at me and said to Nick, “Hey, dude. I need my chair back.”
Nick threw him an Exacto knife, blade tucked. “It’s about time you showed up.”
I stood and the Emo grabbed his work chair.
“Don’t rat on me, man.”
“I’m not gonna play that bullshit game. Show up on time. It’s real simple.”
“What are you doing, getting paid to be Mr. Guitar God?”
I crossed my arms. Fucking youth.
“I’m ahead with my shit,” Nick said, shutting the door and locking it.
I leaned against his worktable. He lined his poisons back up on their shelf. There was no window to look out of. Just Nick and me and picks and strings.
He took the guitar he’d made off the wall again, holding it by its neck and back and said, “This is the body.”
The insides of his forearms, I knew, were a soft place.
“This is the headstock. The neck. Fingerboard, divided into frets, to the body.”
The guitar floated between Nick’s forearms and mine.
I grab the body, he grasps the neck, and I want rock-n-roll, but his eyes scan the instrument he has made, looking for perfection, or imperfection, things under control of his hands.
I admire his worth ethic.
“You want the sides and back of your guitar strong and rigid,” he says.
I knock the back of the guitar. “Sounds rigid to me,” I say.
“Maple and mahogany, they’re rigid. Top woods affect sound. Spruce makes a bright sound. Dense woods emphasize sustain.”
“I need to get me to some dense woods,” I say.
I shake my head.
“Koa’s a mellow wood. It’s what Madonna’s guy had.”
Nick grabs a guitar with a huge body off the pegboard, takes a pick from a bowl, and leans back against the locked door.
He strums the koa-topped guitar.
“Hawaiian wood sounds like where it grows,” I say, turning my body towards his fingers making sound.
“Koa wood has lots of curl and flame. See the patterns? Interesting to look at, but harder to work with.”
Nick is looking at me.
I am tracing the curl and flame with a finger.
“It’s like the Richter scale,” I say, which I always sense being scratched out somewhere remote but vital, when this close to Nick.
His picking turns to playing. “My mom and I were supposed to move to San Francisco when I was thirteen, but we never made it. Got stuck in Vegas. Mom didn’t want to live on top of a fault.”
I want Nick to put down his guitar. But I let him sing.
“Vegas isn’t a real good place for women who drink too much,” he says. “She loved vodka.”
There is a pinkish guitar on Nick’s wall that reminds me of the dirt outside of Vegas. A pink a boy once told me was the same as my nipples.
“I’ve been to Nevada,” I say. “I couldn’t wait to leave.”
“I did leave,” Nick says. “I left my mom and moved back east.”
“How old were you?”
I grab a pick from the bowl. Fender. A brand name plastered on my walls back in the Eddie Van Halen poster days, when I was thirteen, the age I left my mom too.
“I like that black one,” I say, pointing to another guitar.
“Ebony. That’s an old one,” Nick says. He sets the koa back on the pegboard and grabs the ebony. “This pick guard—sweet. You can’t get tortoiseshell anymore.”
Sweet: the time Nick always takes to work his way to my mouth.
“The wood itself has light streaks so when you want a dark-as-night ebony, you have to shellac it black.”
Sometimes, for a while after Nick comes inside me, I see in black-as-night and light streaks, the world whipped and spun like galaxies from my insides out.
“Shellac is made from bug guts,” he says.
Sometimes, for a while after Nick comes inside me, my guts are tender.
“Yeah, tiny insects called lac attach to trees and suck the sap,” he says. “The word lac is Sanskrit for 100,000. There’s so many of them, the trees turn red. Like on Mars, or something.”
Sometimes with Nick, I can speak no earthly language, just the same mysterious set of almost eerie tones.
“Then they start sucking,” he says. “The lac. Suck. Which is all they do in life besides fuck.”
Nick is the Poet Laureate of My Clitoris.
“They emit this gummy stuff that turns into crust and protects them from prey. The male grows wings and can leave his branch, but the female can’t. She’s stuck under the crust, sucking sap and making eggs and waiting for the male to walk over her. That’s how he fucks her: He walks over her, fertilizes her eggs, then dies.”
“I wish there was a window in here,” I say.
“No really,” Nick says. “The male dies after he shoots his load, the eggs hatch, the babies fly away, then the female dies in her shell. You scrape the resin from the trees and grind it until the decayed female bodies squirt out this red dye.”
“And this is what you inhale all day?”
“Dries fast. Less dripping.”
Nothing dry about it.
“Cat gut strings really are made of cat guts,” he says.
“Tell me you use nylon.”
“I use steel strings. Think bluegrass.”
“It’s all about vibration.”
Yes, it is.
Nick reaches to his shelf and I realize he doesn’t know he is a tease.
“Check this out,” he says.
In a tin box set between cans of bug guts, explosive shit, and a small transistor radio, Nick keeps little abalone stars and mother-of-pearl discs and bone things that keep the strings elevated off the wood. I pick a little bone thing up.
“It’s like jewelry,” I say. I want Nick to give me one to wear around my neck.
“The guy who taught Madonna played a $7000 guitar that had gold tuners and ebony buttons and a custom designed inlaid mermaid.”
“What’d Madonna play?”
“A Breedlove Stallion.”
Fucking around combustibles could be trouble. Nick and I generate heat. In his soundproof suffocating workshop, we pull each other’s shirts off. My skirt is a wrap-around. He unwraps it and I spin away with his Levis.
My cheek mashes against his bare bony shoulder, my tits press against his ribs.
He has his hands in my panties, black cotton with red ribbon laced through the waistband and looped in a bow in the back, on my tailbone, bracketed some nights by Nick’s hipbones, him behind me.
But not today. Today, I am the top, he is the back and the sides. Super-glued. As tight as fingers to frets. A tuning fork humming next to your ear and a razor blade under each palm on a worktable clamped with jigs and vices.
“You’re like heroin,” he says.
I sit up on him, and imagine a big needle of me stuck in his arm, endless tracks of me racing through his veins. He grabs my arms so tight, the blood going to my brain stops. He pulls my body back to his and reaches around to slap my ass.
Sometimes, I need him to be a junkie.
I grab his touched-by-poison hands and pin them under his head, gaining access to the undersides of his arms. I kiss them, always amazed that his biceps, which feel as massive as the Hulk’s when wrapped around me, are as lean as they are. When I hit the meatiest part of his right arm, his guitar-strumming arm, I stop and say, “If we ever crash into a mountain and you die first, here is where I’ll start to eat you.”
“I will die first,” Nick says.
His workspace is killer, but his flesh is the air before snow.
I pull at the thin line of hair running down his chest, tug at the band of his boxers, and let the elastic snap back against his flat tummy.
He moves his fingers over the bruises flowering on my arm. “Did I do that?”
“Here too,” I say, spreading my thighs away from our hips like petals from the stamen, to reveal the older greener imprints of his fingertips.
His face contorts, like if he speaks it will be messy. “You know I love you,” he says.
I bury my head into his neck and suck in air before snow. He wraps his fingers hard around my neck and buries his nose in my hair.
With his arms around me, one hand on my neck, the other just above where my ass rises from my back at the red bow of my panties, he inlays my spine with a strip of rare mahogany, sends the whole of me into sharps and flats.
I turn my head to look at the clock above the jars of nitrocellulose, cyanoacrylate, and shellac. Nick told me he loved me just after noon and I am not hallucinating, but my eyes are too glazed to catch the exact minute.
I have to speak so Nick won’t feel my throat convulsing. Turning to face him, I move my eyes from dimple to dimple, nose to forehead to his eyes and finally say, “Shit Nick, you just said you love me.”
His lips draw tight under his brown and red mustache. He gnaws the inside of his cheek.
“I’m an asshole,” he says.
I take his face in both hands, move them down his jaw line to his neck, press his collarbone with my palms, and say, “No, you’re not.”
“You want to take your boots off?” he says.
I shake my head.
Nick runs his hands up, then down my arms, and wraps his fingers in mine. Four hands press together fusing and humming, a perfect circuit. He is a bluegrass player but sex with him is heavy metal, Mozart, and Etta James.
Sometimes you’re with a guy and you think you are two other people. Not he’s Johnny Depp and you’re a waify French singer, not you’re black and not white, not you’re two pioneers fucking in a chuck wagon—it’s that you close your eyes and you are not yourselves, you don’t know who you are, you only know that the right sex is a song of praise, and so much flows on after the coda.
About Christine: Christine Fadden roams around. Her work appears in Spork, Bluestem, Joyland, Everyday Genius, The Puritan, Storyglossia, Staccato Fiction, Citron Review, On Earth As it Is, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and the Jentel Artist Residency Program. Her blog www.christinefadden.com, is a mishmash.