No matter where he went, there was noise. Inside the woman with the striking blue eyes was drying her long blonde hair behind the wooden door. Outside was the hum of silence, which would soon become a roar as the men started their machines. But inside his head was the music, a thousand songs played on an imaginary record player, all his own, waiting to be born into the world through his biro.
The woman with the eyes came out of the fly-screened door. She was still in her nightclothes, and her hair was everywhere, electrified by the hairdryer. She paused on the landing and sucked in the air- while it was still free of petrol and only laced with the scent of manure. Her eyes danced over the sparse land and finally rested on her husband. She lifted her nightdress and placed her bare feet on the freshly cut grass and walked to him.
“You got up early this morning, “ She stated as she took his body closer to her own. “Anything the matter?”
“Look at your hair,” he ran his fingers through and her locks slowly began to relax.
“Don’t answer my question then, Jack.”
“Sorry- no, nothing is wrong. Just trying to find some piece and quiet.”
The woman nodded her head, and once again looked out onto the property, and slowly closed her eyes and breathed in heavily. As she opened them, cries rang out.
“Is a mother’s work ever finished” she began to walk away, but Jack held her. Kissing her lightly, he then shook his head and went to the source of the wails.
Amber began to make breakfast as Jack calmed Kate down. She supported Jack in every way, and new the talents he harbored. She knew that if they could get off the farm and into the city he would be understood- his music would be understood. But they had nothing apart from the farm- their cattle barely milking anymore and their hens hardly laying. It was through sheer luck they had even gotten the farm, otherwise they might have been living in a small, dingy apartment in the middle of nowhere. At least here their daughter was able to run freely, in mostly fresh air.
As the eggs fried, the machines started their roar in neighboring fields. Jack would soon be out there, contributing to the daily hacking, chopping and shredding. Amber switched on the small black and white TV, just in time for the news.
“A fierce fire has ripped through Sydney’s water-side theme-park, Luna Park, claiming seven lives…” the reporter read in her monotone voice. Amber proceeded to flick the channel to something brighter, happier- something to reflect the sun outside.
Kate struggled as Jack tried to lay her back down to sleep. She could here the TV and her mother downstairs, “Mamma! Mamma!” Kate pointed out the door.
“How about I sing you a song, Katie?” Jack hummed a tune and Kate focused on him for a second, and then again yelled for her mother. “Ok then, I give up!” He held his arms to his daughter and she scrambled forwards.
The vibration through the seat went unnoticed as Jack started up the plough and drove off into the fields. He had become accustomed, or as he so blatantly put it, numb, to his surroundings that he went about his work in a robotic manner, putting his real passion out of his mind. He wasn’t dumb, he knew he could never be taken seriously- who had ever heard of a born farmer turned musician? He had a family, and that came with the responsibility of putting food on their table and clothes on their back. And everyone knows, music isn’t the most stable profession.
Sweat dripped off him like water from a tap. It was June, but Northern NSW didn’t seem to follow the seasonal rules. He turned off the machine and took out his water. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Jack peeled himself off the leather seat of the plough and looked back towards the house. From his position the cracking and faded paint wasn’t as noticeable and broken shutters didn’t seem to dangle so far off his old house. This wasn’t how everything was supposed to have turned out. He had promised Amber a good life- he had never said that she would be wearing last years’ clothes and storing Kate’s baby things just incase another child was conceived. He wanted better for his girls, his beautiful roses. He had lived this life already and wanted better.
“Dinner’s ready, Honey,” Amber said quietly. She hadn’t seen Jack since he came out of the field- he had withdrawn into their room and Amber had decided against disturbing him. She walked closer, just incase he hadn’t heard. “Jack?”
She put her hand on his thick shoulder. “I’ll be there soon, Amb…” He said equally as quiet. She didn’t push, and walked out. She had seen what he was doing and it made her smile. He was writing his music again.
They had married only months before Kate was born. Amber had loved his sense of humor- and his artistic nature that shone through his eyes. He wrote a song for her, and had promised her the world on the day he proposed. Jack had wanted to play her song at their wedding but Amber said no, and told him that she would hear it in no time- when he achieved his dream and was discovered.
Only months after their wedding he stopped writing his music. He had also put the guitar away in the tool shed. To see him back at his desk, with his guitar beside him- tuned- made her so happy. She hoped she would soon be able hear her song. It seemed he had once again started to believe in himself. But she also wondered what had happened to make him sit back at his desk.
“I want try again, Amber,” Jack said suddenly while they were cleaning up. “I really do. This isn’t what I had planned for us…” He drifted off, shaking his head lightly. He looked about them, though their house was filled with love, it made him sick to the stomach thinking that Kate would grow up to be nothing, like he was. “I know you saw what I was doing this afternoon- I wanted to surprise you. I’m going to try harder, Amber. I promise.”
“Jack-“ she started, but she couldn’t find the words. She wanted to talk sense, but she was so happy to hear the words, she couldn’t bring herself to. Maybe sense wasn’t needed this time. She nodded and smiled wide.
“You’ve waited long enough for that song. And I know we are living off the smell of an oily rag, but I’ve worked it out- we can manage. The only thing is- we don’t have enough money for you and Katie to come too… I would love for her to be able to see the lights of the city but we can’t…”
“I know, and someone has to be here… when did you want to leave?”
Jack revved the engine of his truck. He looked out his window to see Amber holding Kate’s hands- helping her to walk. She still wasn’t too steady, but it made Jack smile all the same.
“She’s getting there,” Jack said as Amber holstered her up to her hip.
“She sure is, ”Amber looked at her daughter and pushed her nose lightly. Kate laughed lightly. “When will you be home?”
“Soon,” he promised. “Love you.” He shifted the car into gear and took off. Gravel sprayed as the car turned on their unsealed driveway.
As he passed the gates, he sucked in the air heavily, deeply. This will work, he thought, and turned the corner.
Walking down Oxford Street, Jack finally felt like he belonged. Here, amongst all the freaks, geeks and low-life’s of the inner city he felt he didn’t stand out as much, even though he was still in his overalls. He scuffed his feet along the dirty sidewalk, his guitar in hand, his optimism shattered. He had been in the city two weeks now, and had written to Amber countless times about how well everything was going, when, in reality, he knew it wasn’t. He looked about him, and wondered if any of the other freaks on this busy street were silently screaming too.
“The fifth audition this week, Jack,” he said to himself as he shook his head. “You are the biggest freak of them all!”
Jack had never wanted something so badly in his life. He wanted to be able to go home to his wife and tell her she was able to throw everything she owned away, to tell her she needn’t have to worry about Kate’s doctors bills, to tell her she’d never ride another tractor in her life. But he knew that wasn’t going to happen, he had realized that after the first interview, but he kept trying for Amber and his little Katie’s sake.
He heard the voices of the men and women who had played to, sung to, as he walked along the crowded street.
“Your talent isn’t what we want.”
“Your songs are emotionless, body-less, and absent of meaning.”
“The type of music you have chosen to write, well, it just doesn’t work for you.”
Sitting at the bus stop, words flooded into his head. He shut his eyes and tried to push them away, he didn’t want to write anymore.
He saw the bus driving towards him and stood up. He looked up and down the long street- he wouldn’t see this place again. The squeal of the buses tires scattered the words in his head.
“Where to, buddy?” The driver asked cheerfully.
“Four- twenty, buddy,” the driver looked closely at Jack. “You look like you got the world on your shoulders there, buddy,” said the driver as he took Jacks money. Jack just smiled as the driver gave him his changed.
Jack looked up the bus aisle looking for an empty seat away from people. He spotted one and began to amble along the aisle towards it when the driver called out to him.
“Hey, buddy, is that your guitar there?”
Jack turned to him, and looking out the window said, “No, not mine,” and turned and kept walking.
At his hotel, Jack walked into the room’s bathroom and began to undress. As he turned on the hot water to let it heat, the words kept zooming around his head, and he tried his hardest to ignore them. He looked into the mirror at his tired expression. The whites of his eyes were reddened, and the lines worn at the sides of his eyes and along his forehead seemed to have deepened. Slowly the steam made his face disappear in the apparent fog about him.
During his shower, Jack decided the only way to get rid of the words in his head was to write them down. But he promised himself this would be the last song he would ever write.
With his old, dirty-white bathrobe around him, he sat at the small, scratched table in the tiny little kitchen of the musty, old hotel room. He took a pen and paper and began to write. Beside him was a razor blade, which he would later use to add the final touches to his song, to give it some meaning, some real body.
back to the Short Story Page.Music Non-Stop, 28 October 2001