{ Of My Other Life }
Joe West

clotheslineIt was one of those old ones you hear in bars. Someone's more-or-less well practiced story. In this case, as I caught it in my left and less-dominant ear, the short man with the bad complexion was telling it. Just slightly dramatic. My ears are so itchy.
   Back across a bridge, not sure which one. All the bridges here have no weight. The town of the floating bridge. Hot dog, that would do it. Maybe sauerkraut is a kind of fish; I eat it on Fridays for some reason. My feet are always cold these days. I think that I have less than ten black hairs left on my head. I could well-up with remembrances. My ears are too itchy. We're dead on our feet over here; everyone looks asleep. They finally got the heat on—and it's snowing! Some part of this area was green at one point.
   So he tells the story to two plump girls. A great but unknown Spanish guitarist who was probably a Gypsy, so he's actually related to Indians. I looked this up some time ago. Oh God, Madrid. The Amontillado.

The story concerns the guitarist. He carried nothing but a gut-strung guitar and came down from the mountains into a small, poor village. The local men laughed at him as he walked through the main street dressed in filthy rags, with a beard that ran to his chest. A group encircled the guitarist and began shouting and pushing. The guitarist fought back and was soon beaten bloody, his guitar broken, the strings haywire. In the near distance an old woman was hanging laundry and saw everything, and she brought the guitarist into her house and fed him olives and bread and washed his wounds. They both spoke languages the other did not know. She stroked his cheek and he felt the crevices of her skin against his, and he sighed. He grasped her hand and she pulled back. He held firm and took a handful of olives in his free hand and squeezed them with all of his strength. A thin line of oil traced crosshatches into the woman's palm. He massaged the oil into her hands that looked like soup bones.
   At the end of the meager meal, he motioned that he would play a song for the old woman. She looked at the wrecked guitar and laughed.
   The guitarist closed his eyes and strummed the wrecked strings on the smashed instrument and let the discordant tones ring. In the buzzing of the guitar, the old woman thought she could hear a long-dead son, and in the bass strings, the low bellow of her husband1s voice as a razor strop whistled toward her face. And further back in the sound, very near its source, she heard the old kind of singing men used to do for their suitors. The guitarist opened his eyes to find that the old woman had died in this music, a thin line of spittle down her chin, her lips pursed and then relaxing into her ultimate kiss.
   The guitarist wept for hours and remembered the beating he had just received, and waited until nightfall eating olives and bread. When the darkest part of the night was on them, he carried her body out of town and up to the mountain. He buried her in the dry soil. By morning, she was exposed to the sun, and he buried her again. The next morning, the same corpse stared up at him. The guitarist buried the body many more times until he could no longer face waking each morning to a dead woman. In a fit of madness, the guitarist hired a drunken shepherd to bury him. As the last scoops of dry soil covered him, he thought he felt a smooth, silken hand reach though and stroke his cheek. The shepherd called, "Goat, goat!" and new kids and old mother goats trundled up the pumice rocks.

The plump girls said "wow" and ordered more French fries. I had to get up. Too much scotch for an old woman. Walking is such a balm. My ears are falling off; I'm rubbing them off. They must look like blue rivets.
   Girls like me built this town, we built it and we got nothing. I will get some ice cream. Even if it feels cold in my mouth.

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