The sound of the telephone interrupted a light dream about a short yellow skirt floating in the wind. He opened his eyes and saw the numbers on the clock, one thirty PM, took a deep breath and let the phone ring three more times before answering it. It was Missie, the owner of the bar.
– Are you coming at four? A few boxes just arrived and I don’t have anybody to help me carry them to the basement.
Missie was a woman in her fifties with a narrow waist who once in a while used to sing in the only corner of the bar that looked like a stage.
He scratched his three-day beard and murmured:
– Mhh. This afternoon I wanted to go to the station to play some music but I’ll be there around four.
– I will never understand how you waste your time there. Here you do the same thing and I pay you.
– Yea, yea. I know but I like it. At least there I can take some air and practice a little.
– You like to suffer.
– I’ll be there at four.
He hung up the phone, yawned and sat on the bed the same way an old man would do it although he was only thirty-five years old. His last three years were spent through cigarette smoke, countless beer bottles and drunk voices yelling at him in a language he still couldn’t get used to. He put his feet on the floor and looked at the clock once more. One thirty-four. What would his mother think if she knew that he started his days at one thirty. He took a look at his boney feet for a moment and decided it wasn’t the right time to miss what was left behind. He stood up and walked to the kitchen, eyes fixed on the coffee machine and felt thankful that his apartment was small enough to save him the excessive exercise. The coffee machine poured a transparent substance. He served it and went to sit on the edge of the bed. The night had left him the bitter flavor of old beer on his tongue and now he tried to exchange it for the bitter flavor of low quality-too thin to drink-black coffee. It was Friday and he would still have a couple of hours before he would drown himself in the frantic uproar of the street. He looked at the floor and took his cigarette box. There were only three left. He decided to smoke one and left the other two for the afternoon. Spring was taking its time and he knew pretty well how hard it was to play the guitar with the cold wind freezing the fingers. He lit the cigarette and took a deep breath. The little magnifying mirror on the wall returned him a distorted face. He took the guitar lying next to the bed and played one of his songs. He took another sip of the coffee that warmed his throat but didn’t take his sleepiness away. Finally he surrendered and laid down again and drifted away in the echo of women’s laughter, barks and cars on the streets. The same yellow skirt floating around two tanned legs appeared in his dream. When he opened his eyes again, the clock was marking three fifty-one, the sun was burning the left side of his face and a cold breeze was moving the dusty curtain. He stood up and took a very short, very cold shower. He jumped in one of the only two jeans he had, put on his jacket and stuffed the almost-empty cigarette box in the right side pocket. Then he grabbed his guitar, put it in its case and walked out of the apartment. As he locked the door, the smell of fried ham hit his nostrils but he ignored it. He ignored the complaint of his empty stomach. At the end of the stairs waited his rusty mail box, one of many stuffed with flyers and menus from the asian restaurants in the quarter. He opened it as he did every afternoon although he knew he wouldn’t find birthday cards or letters from the other side of the world. The front door opened and the sound of heels echoed in the green lobby.
– Hola, guapo.
– Hey, Miguel.
– Monique. You know you can call me Monique.
The aroma of flower perfume mixed with the urine smell slithered through the open door. The masculine features of Miguel Zambrana where barely visible under the blond wig, red lips, and fake black eyelashes.
– Don’t you think it’s a little early to do that?
– Never is to early to look my best and anyway it’s Friday.
She showed him a thin pizza box with grease stains all over the top.
– I feel like sharing.
– No thanks, I ate already and I’m late for work.
– You are always late for work and you never accept my invitation. I’m watching you – she said and gave him a playful wink of the eye.
The day looked warmer than it really was. He closed his jacket and walked down the street trying to ignore one police car and a dozen witnesses in front of a neighboring building. Two officers walked out with a young woman covered in blankets crying hysterically. As he walked by, he heard two men talk:
– She was tired of him, so when he came home today, he opened the door and she killed him. Bang, right in his chest.
– He deserved it…
He kept walking evading a drunk, a pack of punks and three dogs, mumbling one of his melodies that was slowly driving him crazy. Finally his feet took him to the front door of the bar. As he opened the door, the light of the street illuminated a black cavern with the plum figure of Missie sitting at the bar, surrounded by a mystic cigarette smoke. In her left hand, a beer glass stained with red lipstick. The smell of old beer flooded the air.
– How are you Missie?
– Waiting. You are late.
– I do it to annoy you.
He smiled, walked to the bar, put the guitar case on the floor and stood next to her crossed legs.
– What if I fire you? – she laughed.
– You can’t fire me. You have nobody else to help you bring the boxes to the cellar.
Missie passed him a beer and a plate with a ham sandwich on it. He wanted to say something but he only managed to smile. He looked at her while he was making up for his last three meals. She was still a beautiful woman. His eyes stopped at her eyes and he felt a little embarrassed for chewing like a caveman in front of a lady.
– You remind me a pianist friend of mine. It’s been a long time since I saw him. We were going to record some music together.
The sound of the beer bottle softly hit the counter and interrupted a well known story. She lit a cigarette, took a deep breath and passed it to him. As he placed it between his fingers, he noticed the red stain on the yellow filter.
– He loved my voice, you know?
Who wouldn’t love a woman like Missie. Perhaps he could write a song about her, a song about old Sweet Missie.
– I have till six to help you… But I’ll come back later to play some songs with you, huh?
He finished his beer on one gulp and walked towards the cellar. One by one, he piled the boxes in a dark corner and one by one they reminded him that the years had a nasty way to leave a mark on his body. When he looked at the clock it was already five forty-two and the cellar looked smaller and darker than before. He walked up the narrow stairs and found the bar empty. He walked to the counter, grabbed a little notebook and a pen and wrote: „Thanks for the sandwich“. He grabbed the guitar case and walked out, in his head already a list of songs. Some of the Beatles, some of his own. The sky was beginning to darken and the neon lights were reflected on the wet pavement. He arrived at the station and stood close to the telephone booth that would protect him in case of rain. The rush hour brought the uproar of a thousand steps, phone conversations and the false promise of a good pay off. He placed his case on the floor, opened it and took out his guitar. He placed a few coins on the red velvet of the case, to inspire generosity. As he began to play, coins began to fall, not too many and not too big.
In front of the station stood a young woman. Her face had the obvious expression of a tourist: wondering eyes and light smile. A small brown luggage hung from her right hand. Her left hand wrinkled a tourist map and at the same time held the neck of her short beige coat on top of a yellow dress. Her legs showed a tanned skin typical of those places with warm beaches that men dream to escape to. She moved her eyes over the crowd until she saw him. She walked towards him, put down the luggage and awkwardly looked for a few coins in her right pocket. He watched her bend down to throw the coins on the velvet and slid his eyes over the dark curls of her hair. She turned her head and as she took her bag again, showed him a soft smile a little twisted to the left side of her tired features. It took him a few seconds to return the smile and a few more to shake the drowsy comfortable feeling of joy. When he came back to reality, she was standing at the intersection surrounded by people, cars and neon street lights. Her yellow skirt refused to fit in. His eyes followed her like a shadow until he finally lost her in the frantic black swarm of the streets. His mesmerized hands kept playing one chord after another. The music turned into static until he could hear it no longer. He could hear it no longer.