In order to put off doing things I ought to be doing, but sorta don’t feel like doing, I decided to participate in Beverly Diehl’s blogfest. The task was to write a post (fiction or non, I suppose) that has something to do with the words “Fire Sale Husband.” So, threw together a little short story. Here it is for what it’s worth:
HELLFIRE & SALVATION ELECTRIC HURDY-GURDY SCHOOL BAND
The neon sign used to have our name out front, The Hellfire & Salvation Hurdy-Gurdy School Band. But time and a couple kids with Nike swoops carved in their heads and rocks held in their hands took care of that. Now we have to tell people to look for us at the FIRE SALE HUSBAND. Since it happened, the crowds are a little bigger–ten people is bigger than six. Al thinks it was getting rid of the words Hurdy-Gurdy that made the difference, but I think it was school. Nobody likes school.
People have taken to calling the band Fire Sale Husband and even Jolene doesn’t seem to mind anymore. Of course, we’re not much of a band lately. When the church was next door there were five of us playing—me on the wheel-fiddle, a drummer, a singer, a bass player and Brother Wade playing the sax even though he hadn’t played since high school and was pretty rusty. But we let him play anyway. It was his building after all.
Then Brother Wade got caught in the park with his pants down and the cops hauled him in, and the newspaper wrote the story, and the church folded. Just like that. Brother Wade—just Wade now, I suppose—sells used cars at the Kia dealership out on the loop. He lets us stay on here, but he rented the space next door to a barbershop that specializes in cutting designs in the back of black boys’ hair.
So now it’s just me on the hurdy, Al on drums and Jolene who sings and thinks that she’s the manager but she’s not. When the others left, Jolene took to singing harder, trying to make her voice take up the space that Wade, and Frank and Lincoln used to fill. She says it’s working, but the number of empty chairs out front says that it’s not.
She told me once—whispered it in my ear when we were laying naked and sweaty in the back of the van—that she was going to make it right. That she was the reason the crowds came and she could sing us back to where we used to be. I wasn’t in a mood to argue, so I just nodded, but I knew she was wrong. It’s a sad neighborhood filled with people having a hard time, and nobody can take hurt and turn it into something worthwhile like a sad man playing a hurdy-gurdy. The people who came through that door came to listen to me, and that was the truth, and always had been. Even if nobody but me knew it.
So I tried, for Jolene, to make it work. She kept opening that big red mouth and belting out gospel, and Al kept pushing the beat, and I swear I put all the sorrow I could find into my hands. But the crowd could tell my heart wasn’t in it. There’s a difference between sad and tired. They could find some comfort in my sadness, but by ten o’clock on a Friday night they had plenty of their own tired—they didn’t need any of mine.
We haven’t cut a new CD in a long time, and our old ones are selling less every year. It won’t be long before the Hellfire & Salvation Electric Hurdy-Gurdy School Band will disappear from people’s memories as if it had never been. I’ve been thinking that would be okay with me, but the slow fade-out is breaking Jolene’s heart. She actually yelled at me last week after a show. “Don’t you want to make it, Orin?” she said and I wasn’t sure how to reply. Anyone who thinks that a hurdy-gurdy band was going to make it, was crazy. Later I wondered if she’d meant make it as in screw, and I worried that I’d missed my chance to hook back up with her, but now that I’m thinking straight, I know better. Jolene is crazy but she’s the other kind of crazy–the ambitious kind–not the kind that wants to end up with a bone tired wheel-fiddle player.
They say that a man knows when it’s time to hang it up, and I think that’s about as true a thing as I’ve ever heard. I’ve come to believe that it’s possible to age faster on the inside than on the outside—Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake—people talk like they went and killed themselves, but I know better. They got old and tired on the inside and decided it was time to hang it up, so they did. Just like that. And nobody’s ever going to forget them. And people will never stop buying their music.
I wouldn’t mind waiting for my outside to catch up to my inside, but in the end it doesn’t matter all that much to me. If I go now maybe people will remember us as more than a three-man-band with a broken sign. Maybe the name Hellfire & Salvation Electric Hurdy-Gurdy School Band will be remembered for more than giving a five minute saxophone solo to a no-talent weenie-waggling preacher man.
That would make Jolene happy. And it’s not often that a tired man has a chance to make a woman happy.