By Amir Lane
An unfortunate pedestrian quickly falls prey to a siren. A new take on an old myth from the perspective of a mark.
Like the story? Buy their book! http://amzn.to/2ruuahR (Affiliate Links help support this project)
The first time I see him is on a Wednesday evening after work. It’s been a painfully long day, in more ways than one. My legs are sore and my ribs ache like they’ve been kicked by a spooked horse. Apparently, an asshole 10-year-old with no wifi thought scaring Chestnut would be funny. If I’d been closer, my ribs would be crushed. As it is, I think they’re just cracked. Small blessings, I guess. I just want to take a bath and go to sleep for a hundred thousand years or so. There’s a sunburn across the back of my neck that’s starting to peel. It just tops off the whole crappy day. I make a mental note to pick some sunscreen up on the weekend before I run out. I never burn until I do. Then, I burn like you wouldn’t believe.
He’s standing a few feet outside my apartment building, playing a violin like he belongs there. Outside an apartment building seems like a bit of an odd spot to be playing, if you ask me. Downtown might be better. But no one asks me, so I don’t care to judge. He probably knows more about scouting spots than I do.
At first, I don’t pay him any attention. The city is full of street musicians playing for change. This one is no different. A violinist is a violinist, and a broke musician is a broke musician. They’re a dime a dozen on a good day. He isn’t the first I’ve seen, and he won’t be the last. Hell, he isn’t even the first I’ve seen today.
Head down, keep walking. Pretend you don’t hear a thing. Sorry, no change, not today. That’s how you do it.
But as I get closer, I can feel the melody sinking into my skin and filling my veins. I don’t recognize the piece. But then, I was never into the symphonic stuff. All I know is that it’s fast and intense and it sets my nerves on fire. The vibrations of the strings rattle my teeth. I feel like my heart’s going to explode and I can’t get enough air into my lungs.
I used to know a guy in high school who did heroin. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him sober. He eventually died from the shit, but he wouldn’t give it up for anything. Not that people didn’t try to make him. His parents sent him to rehab at least twice. He just always won out. Something about instant gratification.
I think this feels a little like that. I mean, I never tried more than pot. The stronger shit scared me. But if I knew what heroin feels like, I think I might compare it to the music this violinist is playing.
My heart rate picks up again, and I have to stop and listen. I feel like I’ll die if I don’t. Nothing exists but the quick melody that comes from his fingers dancing along the long neck of the violin. I can’t think of the last thing that made me feel like this.
It’s as if the movements of his bow across the steel strings control my body. My brain seems to shut off and I don’t think I mind nearly as much as I should. I don’t know when my hand slipped into my pocket but before I realize it, I’m dropping tomorrow’s coffee money into the open case. It hardly matters. What’s coffee compared to this? I drink too much of the crap anyway.
The violinist finishes the piece and flashes me a bright smile. His teeth are whiter and straighter than the neighborhood I grew up in. Without the music to distract me, it’s the first time I really have a chance to notice what he looks like.
We’re about the same height, somewhere between 5’10” and 5’11”, but that’s where the similarities end. My skin is fairly dark-ish, courtesy of spending my days in the sun on horseback and the Navajo blood in my veins, but he makes me look as white as, well, that neighborhood I grew up in. His long, blond hair is arranged in a hundred or maybe a thousand box braids and tied back into a thick ponytail low at the base of his neck. It ends somewhere between his shoulder blades, I think.
High cheekbones give him a slightly effeminate look despite the broad shoulders and obvious swimmer’s build. I can see tattoos snaking up his prominent biceps, but his sleeves cut them off and I can’t make out what they’re supposed to be. It’s too bad; I’m a sucker for tattoos.
In the end, though, it’s the eyes that do it for me. They’re a light, seafoam green and hiding a secret I’m suddenly dying to know.
But it’s not his looks that stick in my mind.
He thanks me in an accent that I might have placed as Greek if I had any knack for that sort of thing.
I mumble out a nondescript reply that’s supposed to be a, “You’re welcome,” but it comes out as more of a, “You too.” I duck my head down like I was supposed to in the first place and all but run into my building.
It takes me a moment to get my thoughts under control. They’re spinning and racing and it makes me feel lightheaded. I shake my head to get the sound of his violin out of my ears. It only works for so long.
MOST MUSICIANS don’t usually play the same spot for too long. Especially not if the foot traffic is as slow as it is around here. There isn’t much on my street besides the apartment building. There’s just another smaller apartment building, an Afghani restaurant, a bus shelter, and an overpriced convenience store. That’s it. If it was me, I’d play by the one of the stores. But maybe he’d tried, and the owners had chased him off. Either way, I can’t imagine there’s many people walking by with change to spare. But he’s there every day when I come home from work. Even on weekends, he’s there when I take my morning jog. I start to carry spare change in my shorts just because of it.
Late at night, the sound of music coming from his violin fills my ears and keeps me up. I can’t stand it anymore. All night, every night. I can’t believe no one’s called the cops with a noise complaint. Hell, I can’t believe I haven’t called the cops with a noise complaint. What kind of jackass plays violin in the middle of the frigging night anyway? Doesn’t he sleep like a normal person?
I throw the window open with the full intention of shouting at him to stop, and find the street empty. He isn’t there. No one is there. The music isn’t even coming from below. It isn’t coming from anywhere.
Sweat drips down the back of my neck and runs down my spine. California summers are a bitch. The heat must be getting to me. My eyes burn from exhaustion. I don’t remember the last time I got a full night’s sleep. Before the violinist showed up, I think. I cover my head with a pillow, but the music still gets through.
I tell myself I won’t give the violinist any more money. It should be easy. I don’t keep change on me anymore. I have none left to give, even since I stopped buying my morning coffee. I’ve given him more than enough money, and I don’t even know his name. Not that I would keep giving him any if I did.
But I still find that I can’t stop myself from pulling a ten from my wallet after work on Monday evening and dropping it into the open case. It’s the only bill among the silver coins that cover the case’s blue felt. Nice to know I’m the only sucker giving this asshole entire bills. But maybe someone dropped ten in change. It seems unlikely but I tell myself that it’s possible.
Again, he flashes that I-know-something-you-don’t-know smile and thanks me in an accent that makes me think of deep water. I want to scream and demand he tell me what that secret is. But the music starts again and I’m reaching back into my wallet for another ten. He can keep as many secrets as he wants as long as he never stops playing.
Rent is late. My Internet is out. I know my cell phone is next. I’m getting second notices. I’m always on time with payments, and I haven’t missed a single one since I got my first credit card at 18.
My lunch hour on Tuesday is spent at the bank trying to find proof of someone else using my account. The bank finds none.
There’s a hundred left it my rainy-day account. It’s all the money I have left until payday, two weeks from yesterday. I withdraw it all.
The violinist is still there, playing with practiced ease and precision. He doesn’t even acknowledge me standing only a few feet away from him. I finger a twenty, and drop the entire hundred into the case.
Dinner is the scrapings from an empty peanut butter jar.
INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. Eviction notices. Collection agencies. All my belongings repossessed or for sale online.
My foster-dad and foster-girlfriend think it’s drugs or gambling. I don’t correct them. Even when I’m forced to move back in with them, I let them believe what they want. A gambling problem is less embarrassing than the truth.
Anything is better than admitting that a siren with a violin dragged me down and took me for everything I had.