Joseph E Bird

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Texas Flood

This is an excerpt from my novel in progress. Trevor was a singer-songwriter until an accident forced him to give up his dreams of music. Now living in Nashville and working as an architect, he is with a group touring a part of the city they hope to redevelop when he happens upon a music store. The group moves on, but Trevor looks inside.

They moved on without Trevor, who was watching through the window as an old man sat playing a horizontal steel guitar. Another man sat behind the counter reading a magazine. He could hear the guitar through the glass windows. It was what he would have expected from a steel guitar, the kind of muisc he had heard before on an old country music show that he would see on television every now and then back in West Virginia. The man playing must have sensed Trevor watching and he looked up, waved, and kept on playing.

The group was a block away. Trevor opened the door and went inside.

There were about a dozen acoustic guitars hanging from the walls, another dozen electrics, a few dobros, and on the floor, maybe half a dozen steel guitars. He took one of the dobros off the wall and strummed it, more or less out of habit.

The man playing the steel looked up and said howdy, without missing a note. He was slight of frame and sat a little hunched over. He was wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt open at the collar, and on his wrist was a drug-store watch. He wore glasses with simple frames, and though his hair was thoroughly gray, he had a lively air about him that contradicted his elderly physical appearance. He could be anybody’s grandfather but most grandfathers would be sitting in front of the television watching afternoon game shows. This one was going from one song to another, his head bobbing to the beat as his mottled hands plucked the strings and slid up and down the fretboard. He ended a song that Trevor didn’t know with a long slide up, followed by a quick slide up and down that sounded more like an old whistle than a guitar.

“Yes, sir!” the man said. He looked up a Trevor and laughed, obviously enjoying his own music. Trevor smiled back. “How you doing, son?” the man said.

“Me? I’m fine.”

“You a picker or a slider?”

Trevor laughed. “Never really thought about it in those terms. I used to be a picker. Guess I’m a slider now. Or trying to be. I really just started.”


“Yeah. I bought one a couple of months ago.”

“What kind of music do you play?”

Trevor shook his head. “I’m still trying to figure what I can play on this thing.”

“Country? Blues?”

“Blues,” Trevor said. “At least that’s what I’m starting out with. Blues are kind of natural for a slide guitar.”

“Yeah, I know a little blues. Let me think. Yeah, how about this.” He started picking and sliding what sounded to Trevor like a standard blues opening.

“I know that one,” he said.

“A little Stevie Ray,” the man said.

“Yeah. I’ve heard that.”

“Texas Flood.”

He broke into the hard run just before the verse. Trevor couldn’t take his eyes off the guitar. Until the man started to sing. He could play, but he couldn’t sing. He sang the entire first verse and then started laughing.

“Now you know why I’m a guitar player,” he said. “I leave the singing to someone else.”

The man behind the counter shook his head and laughed without looking up.

“Let me hear you hit that a lick,” he said, looking at the guitar Trevor was holding.

“No, I can’t, really. I’m just learning.”

“Come on. Humor an old man.” He looked up with a smile that Trevor couldn’t resist. His enthusiasm reminded him of Jackson Little.

“Sure,” Trevor said. “I’ve been practicing playing old hymns. Do you know any hymns?”

“Goodness sakes, young man, I’ve forgotten more hymns than you’ll ever know. Lay one on me, now.”

“Ok. How about this one.” He started playing Softly and Tenderly. He was shaky at first, but midway through the first verse he found his rhythm and started to play with more confidence. By the time he reached the refrain, the man was playing along on the steel. He played the verse and the steel guitar faded to the background, but when they hit the refrain again, he was playing answer to Trevor’s call. It was haunting. Even the man behind the counter put his magazine down on his lap and listened.

By the third time through, they had found each other’s style and both were instinctively playing to the crescendo to end the song, until the last two lines of the refrain. The man stopped, and Trevor slowly picked the last line. The final note faded into the silence of the store.

The man behind he counter applauded.

“Oh, son, that was beautiful,” the guitar man said.

“Thanks,” Trevor said. “I just….I don’t know.”

The man behind the counter spoke. His voice was deep and carried resonance. “Coming from him, that’s one hell of a compliment, boy.”

“What’s your name, son?” the guitar player asked.

“Trevor. Trevor Larson. I’m an architect.” He felt silly for stating his occupation. The man laughed.

“Maybe you are,” he said, “but you’re a musician.” He stood as he reached his hand to Trevor. “I’m Maxfield Martin.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Martin. But no, I’m not a musician. I just mess around a little.”

“Mess around a little, huh. How long you been playing?”

“Dobro? Not that long. A couple of months, maybe.”

Martin studied on Trevor, looking him up and down. “You were in a fire, I reckon.”

“I reckon.”

“How long you been in Nashville?”

“A couple of weeks,” Trevor said. “How about you?”

“Me? I guess it’s been sixty years or so.”

Trevor was surprised by the answer and didn’t know how to respond.

“Let me help you out,” Martin said. “I’m eighty-five. I came here from
Abilene when I was twenty-four.”

“Are you in the industry?”

Martin laughed as he sat back down behind his guitar. He plucked the strings and moved the slide, making a sound that was as close to real laughter as an instrument could get. “Don’t you reckon I’m old enough to retire?”

“I reckon.”

“You talk like you’re from Texas, son.”

“West Virginia.”

“I’m not completely retired. I play some with Hank Willard’s band. He’s from Ashland, Kentucky, right across the river from West Virginia. We play a lot of the small places. Wheeling, Milton. Played in Charleston a few times.”

“That’s where I’m from. Well, down the river a bit.”

“And you didn’t move to Nashville to play music?”

“No. I gave up on music.”

Martin stroked the strings of his steel guitar, then whipped the slide up and down the fretboard, creating a wailing, howling song, then broke into the intro of Hot Rod Lincoln, his head nodding again as his fingers moved in a blur. Then he bounced his slide up and down on the strings, alternating with his finger picking, and created a machine gun staccato effect. He finished with another dramatic slide.

“That’s pretty good,” Trevor said.

“Aw, shucks. I’m just messing around,” Martin said with a smile, echoing Trevor’s words to him.
Trevor put the dobro back on the rack. “I guess I’d better catch up with my group.”

“I’m playing with Janelle next week at the Empty Glass,” Martin said. “You should come by.”

“Who’s Janelle?”

“I think you’d like her. She sings a bluesy, Bakersfield kind of country.”

Trevor shrugged. “I’ve never really been a fan of country. No offense.”

“You ain’t heard Janelle.”

“Fair enough.”

Trevor walked to the door, then stopped and looked back. He asked the question that popped into his mind when Martin told him how old he was. “You ever hear of guy named Jackson Little?”

Martin looked up from his guitar. “Little?” He looked down and to his right, thinking. “Little. Jackson Little.” He sat for a few more seconds, then looked up, his expression questioning. “Black feller?”


“Played guitar, mostly, I think. Maybe a little fiddle.”

“I don’t know about the fiddle, but he said he played here years ago.”

“Yeah,” Martin said. “Jacksie. Tall guy. He did a lot of session work. That was back when Nashville was country. It was hard for a black man to get work in a band, but Jacksie was good. He was primarily a studio man.”

“Did you ever play with him?”

Martin shook his head. “Have you heard of Percy Rivers?”

Trevor had heard the name. Maybe on the late-night infomercials selling boxed sets of old artists. “Sure,” he said with more confidence than his answer deserved.

“I played with him almost exclusively for twenty years. That’s when old Jacksie was in his prime. But, no, I never played with him. You know him?”

“I did. He lived in Charleston in his later years.”

“Oh. He died, I reckon.”

“I reckon.”

He didn’t tell him the story.

The Stolen Child

Author’s Notes:  This an excerpt from my novel Song of the Lost. It’s the story of James and Katherine who struggle for the lives while lost deep in the forest.  Chloe is Katherine’s estranged daughter who lives on the streets of Nashville. Although mentally challenged, she has occasionally expressed a latent musical genius.  She has been befriended by Brad McNear, a country music star in Nashville. In this scene, Chloe is hanging out a public library.

Chloe had two hours before the library would close and she went to her usual place, a table near the newspaper racks across from the reference desk. She wheeled her cart beside the table, took off the blanket, set her brass compass on the table, and took out her book of poetry. She had read the poems so many times that their rhymes and rhythms had shaped not only the songs which seemed to emanate from her spontaneously, but also her everyday speech patterns. She would have been regarded as special and lovely simply on her own natural countenance, but to those who took the time to talk to her, her poetic expression created an aura of special knowledge or prescience. In the sense that they conferred wisdom and understanding upon her, it was, of course, unwarranted. But in realm of simple clarity of truth, there was no one like her. For these reasons, Chloe Nielsen attracted people of kind and gentle heart.

Georgia Taylor, one of the librarians, was such a person.

“Hi, Chloe,” she said as she approached her table. She sat down beside her holding a book, which drew Chloe’s eyes. Its binding was old and worn, with frayed strings which at one time helped form the cloth that was glued over the cardboard cover. Along the spine in gothic letters that had faded into barely visible shadows was the name of the author: YEATS.

“Hi, Georgie,” Chloe said.

“It’s late for you to be here, isn’t it?”

Chloe nodded, then reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the pass to the show at Willie’s. She handed it to Georgia.

“Oh. This is to Brad McNear’s show tonight. Where did you get this?”

“Brad gave it to me.”

Georgia leaned back in her chair. Her look was quizzical. “Do you know Brad?”

Chloe nodded. “We play music together sometimes.”

“You play music with Brad McNear.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement of implied doubt.

“Sometimes. He recorded my song.”

Georgia could no longer feign her belief. “Are you making up a story, Chloe?”

Georgia had heard Chloe play and sing, but she had never witnessed her genius – only the three-chord cover songs that eventually disintegrated. She had never known that there was more. She gave up her pursuit of the truth.

“Well,” she said, “if you’re going over to Willie’s, be careful. The hustlers will be out trying to take advantage of the tourists. They prey on the vulnerable.”

“I know,” Chloe said.

Georgia looked at the ticket. “The show doesn’t start until eight,” she said. “You’ll have to be out of here by six. Where are you going to go until then?”

Chloe shrugged.

“Have you eaten?”

“I ate lunch at St. Mark’s.”

Georgia thought for a moment, then went to her desk. When she returned, she put a folded twenty-dollar bill into Chloe’s jacket pocket.

“There’s a sandwich shop between here and Willie’s. They’ll make you whatever you want. Get you a cup of coffee, too.”

“Can I have tea instead of coffee?”

“Of course. Just stay there until you can get in the club. They won’t care as long as you buy some food.”


Georgia smiled, then slid the book in front of Chloe. “I thought you might enjoy this. I know you like poetry. This is William Butler Yeats. One of the great poets of the twentieth century. I’ve had this since I was a child. It means a lot to me. I want you to have it.”

Chloe ran her hand over the worn cover, tracing the edges with her fingers. She opened the book to a random page and felt the yellowed paper. She followed the words with her eyes, her lips moving as she did.
Georgia patted Chloe’s hand. “I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.”

“Thank you, Georgie. I will.”

Georgia went back to her desk; she had work to do before closing. Chloe opened the book of Yeats poetry to page one. She read the half title, the title page, the colophon, the table of contents, and the forward before stopping at the first poem, The Stolen Child. She glanced at the verses that seemed so long, with words that were strange and unknown. She read the first few lines, stopped, and read them again. The meaning wasn’t clear. What was this poem about? A lake, herons, rats? She read more, grasping a phrase here and there but failing to put it together into anything coherent. Until the last line of the first verse.

the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

That, she understood.

She spent the next hour pouring over the book, reading verses and even single lines at random. It wasn’t easy. But there was something in the difficulty that was beguiling. She doubted that she would ever understand it all. She knew she would never stop reading.

It was almost six and Chloe was the only one on the main floor. She looked up at the desk, looking for Georgia. She wanted to thank her again for the book, but she didn’t see her. Chloe packed up her cart, putting her book of Yeats underneath her book of Frost, then covered them both with her thin blanket. She walked around the first floor, looking behind the stacks for Georgia, but there was no one. She started for the double doors at the front of the library and walked by the main desk.

She almost missed it. It was just another book among a dozen others to be re-shelved. But her mind filtered the blur of images so that the one book stood out and caused her to stop and turn around. She took a step back to the desk, and stared, her mouth open.

The elevator door to the right opened and Georgia exited pushing a cart. Chloe didn’t move or otherwise acknowledge her presence.

“What is it Chloe?”

“Katherine,” she answered. “That’s Katherine,” she said as she pointed to the back of the book jacket.

“Yes. Katherine Loudendale. That’s a new bestseller.” She turned the book over, revealing the cover art of the blue sneakers. “In the Forest of the Night. The story of her survival in the forest.”

Chloe turned the book over. “Katherine. My mother.”

“Katherine Loudendale is your mother?”


Georgia stared at Chloe. Anyone would have recognized the look as incredulity, but Chloe was oblivious.

“She got lost in the woods,” Chloe said.

“It’s been on the news,” Georgia said. “She was on The Shelley Show.”

“Dad got me a compass so I wouldn’t get lost.”

Georgia put her arm around Chloe. “Do you want me to take you back to the shelter?”

“No, I’m going to go hear Brad McNear.”

“Maybe I should just take you home.”

“I should go.”

“I’m worried about you Chloe,” Georgia said, but she didn’t say why.

“I’m ok, Georgie. I’m not sick that I know of.”

Georgia sighed, then hugged her from the side. “Please be careful. And go to the sandwich shop and get something to eat, ok?”

“I will. Thank you for the book.”

“You’re welcome. Try to get some rest tonight.”

“Miles to go before I rest.”

“Robert Frost,” Georgia said.


Coyright 2015, Joseph E Bird

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