The reflections of the seagulls were doubled in the supermarket windows. Each one spun a helix with its pair, ghostly in the glass. Less brash than the signs beyond advertising buy-one-get-one-free. The seagulls gave up their ghosts without expectation of payment.
The sky was lead crystal – heavy but transparent right up to the impenetrable white-out of cloud. It was almost impossible to tell how high the cloud-base was. High enough to not care about the scurrying of the world far beneath. Above there, perhaps, aircraft sailed over rolling moors of moisture, as blinded to the world below as he was to heaven above.
The seagulls epitomised this seaside town. Crass in their speech, unaware of the realities of the world, always searching for something new to be gained at very little cost. Their eyes were sharp, their beaks callous. But natural. The thought of nature sighed through his mind. The thought of a place that was not paved, echoing every harsh word back into the sky.
He would have to go in. He didn’t want to push into the brash interior of that odorous shop – but if he didn’t he would have to eat a strange concoction of oddities from his cupboards for dinner instead.
Carnal desire won out.
Back home, his fingers plucked out twinges of sound on his banjo strings.
He could not play. He had never been able to play. He held the instrument like a dying friend, and spent his tenderness on its taut strings, but he never garnered a tune.
Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow I’ll phone that number. Tomorrow I’ll arrange lessons.
Honestly, his schedule wasn’t packed. Not since Lucy had left. There was nothing stopping him from pursuing his dreams now. Nothing but his own procrastinating mind and the poverty of energy which had eventually driven Lucy away.
(Driven was a strong word. She had drifted. She had begun drifting the first day he forgot to answer her chatter while watching daytime TV, and she had finally drifted right out of range, and he had not the inclination to chase after her.)
Was there some way to jolt a desire for action back into his soul? Perhaps if he began by licking his finger and touching it to that hi-fi that always gave out a slight shock?
He eyed the stacked system, with its brushed steel façades, wondering. He could not stand the pain of inactivity any longer. He didn’t even have to get up from his chair to try this experiment.
He wetted his finger on his tongue, and then touched the metal.
It was more of a click than a shock – a click that resounded through every cell of his body, a small tap at the back of his skull. His finger had felt no more than a nip as the electricity kissed him. It made his eyes widen, momentarily.
He set the banjo aside, and tried it again. The result was identical. A snap through his body, a livening of the mind. A beautiful thing.
The second day dawned with a spark of that electric love still in his soul. He came downstairs before noon, for once, and touched eight fingers to the hi-fi’s façade, and felt its response. It was a spidering caress. It made that dark, painful place just beneath his ribs lighten for a fleeting moment.
He put his banjo in the understairs, and bought an electric guitar.
On the third day he sat with the guitar lolling on his thighs, stroking its strings. He still could not produce a tune, but the electric hum from the amp was pleasing. He felt its movement in the soles of his feet and in his thighs and the pit of his belly. He felt it in the slight vibration of the strings even when his fingers were not plucking at them.
When he touched the hi-fi for his daily loving contact, the plug sparked with a brilliant white, and the jolt in his body was harder. Angry, he thought. The hi-fi was angry.
On the fourth day he could resist no longer. Instead of touching his fingertips lightly to the brushed steel he knelt on the seat of his armchair, and brought his face close to the fascia. It was his tongue this time that did the kissing. He drew it about the volume knob and felt the response in a sharp and tiny explosion in his mouth. There was the scent of ozone, and a feeling of surprise in his scalp.
Enlivened, he picked up the guitar, and plugged in the amp.
The hi-fi’s blank surfaces watched him, sullen and silent.
There was no hum of electricity from the amp.
He flicked the switch, and flicked it again – and then noticed that the digital display on the hi-fi was dark, and that the table lamp beside his chair was dead.
He brushed his dampened fingers on the hi-fi, and it gave him no response.
As the intricacies of the electrical system had never been more than a mystery to him, he phoned an electrician.
Ellen came within the hour, and flicked the switch on the fuse box for him. She scrubbed the burn mark from his power socket, where the hi-fi’s umbilical entered the wall, and she earthed the plug.
She admired his guitar as she knelt on the floor in her overalls, screwdriver held between her teeth. When she could speak she asked him about it, and he confessed to the banjo in the understairs, and his musical impotence.
Ellen offered him lessons in exchange for his company. His silent manner was a blessing to her after days of fixing connections for lonely pensioners. His fingers were only a shade away from beauty, and were perfect for chords, she said. He found, eventually, that he could play her better than any guitar.
Ellen visited a website for Victorian antiques, and bought him an Improved Patent Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases. The copper sheathes fitted his fingers like gloves, and the spark delivered kept him alive through the long day.
The hi-fi no longer kissed him in the morning when he stroked it with wet fingers. Ellen did instead.