Ruben stood in the basement with Bob Dylan. Dylan was standing watch at the stairs: Ruben had missed having an accomplice so into mischief. Rice was fun from time to time, but only when his punk side showed. Modern Rice was a bore. Dylan was timeless.
In the short time he had been lingering down there—an hour or less, and probably less—Ruben had turned the basement into a gallery. Hanging on walls, sitting on and against the couches, and all over the floors, Ruben had spread out pieces of art. Art created by himself, and of course by his twin sister, Peg. Most of it was signed, so it was easy for Ruben to pretend that they had different styles. But he knew that any difference in taste or skill was imagined, because there were a few that weren’t signed, and for the life of him, Ruben couldn’t tell who had made them.
One was a painting of the house that he stood in, albeit when the house was older. The house sat in the woods. It was painted forest green, and it had two levels of windows, with a garage sticking off the side of it, and a decently sized lawn creeping in every direction. The remnant fencing from a horse corral could be seen scattered throughout the yard, though no horses had been kept when Ruben lived there. There was a dirt driveway, and sitting on the porch…
Ruben looked at Bob Dylan. In the painting, sitting on the porch in a patio chair, and in the basement, standing watch at the steps. Ruben beckoned the real Dylan closer. The folk singer walked over, behind Ruben, looking over his shoulder at the painting. Dylan picked the painting off of the wall and turned it over. On the back of the canvas were the initials PC.
“What on God’s earth have you done to this basement?”
Peg stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking at Ruben, who held a painting of the house. Peggy navigated her way to him, through the maze of artwork laid out on the floor.
“You were good, Peggy Craig,” Ruben said.
She squinted at the painting he held up for her. “What’s the date on that one?”
Ruben flipped the canvas around once again. PC 6/14/1966.
Peggy laughed, and turned to look at the other art that her brother had laid out. “Ruben, I would have been two.”
Ruben hung the canvas back up, and looked at it with another eye. “I never knew mom painted.”
“You never knew her birthday either,” Peg said, sitting down on the couch beside Chapman. “For such a romanticist, I’d think you would know birthdays, anniversaries, all kinds of sentimental dates.”
“Romanticist?” Ruben asked, sitting down on the couch beside Peg. Dylan took a seat beside Ruben. “If I was still an artist, those would be fighting words.”
“Aren’t you though?”
“Aren’t I what, Peg?”
“An artist,” she said. “I just can’t picture you as anything else.”
Ruben smiled at Peggy. It was forced, and if he had any shred of romanticism left in him, it would have hurt to force a smile that convincing. “When we were kids, I never used to believe that you could be anything but an artist either,” Ruben said. “Even now, I still think you’ve got it in you. Let me hear you play.”
Peggy looked to Chapman, and they both smiled at the idea. With care, the blues rock singer-songwriter handed her guitar to Peg. Peg positioned the guitar on her lap, nearly flat, so that she could see the strings better. She put her index finger behind a fret with some force, and then arranged the rest of her fingers where they belonged, one by one. The strum was rough.
She sighed, and she let the strings go. The ones she had held down buzzed, pieces of chord echoing, and then fading, and then gone. “I don’t even remember which one that is,” Peggy said. “Parts of artist stay, Ruben. Little shreds. But it falls apart after long enough. Let’s hear you.”
“Mm-mm, that’s not an answer,” Peg said. Dylan grinned, and shoved his guitar over to Ruben.
The Music was fresher in Ruben’s head, and he made up his mind to start with a G chord. It felt wrong from the start. Without a ring finger, he had to use his pinkie on the high E. That was an easy enough shift. Some people did that regardless of missing digits. But Ruben had never quite gotten used to it.
And that was just the start: Ruben felt like he’d suffered brain damage. His chords were manual, not natural. He had to think, between each shift, how to make the next sound. And he strummed so painfully heavy. It had only been a matter of months; what happened to him?
“Why are you smiling, Peg?”
“You miss it, don’t you?” she said. She matched his strumming, playing muted chords.
“I don’t miss the drama,” he said. “You’d be surprised by how much of it goes away when you stop looking.”
“Why should I be surprised?” Peggy asked. “I stopped painting a long time before you did, Ruben.” She still muted the strings with her right palm, but with her left hand she formed the chords to mirror Ruben’s Song—The Music.
“But did you ever stop thinking about it?” Ruben asked.
“Yes,” she told him. “God Ruben, yes. I stopped thinking about it as soon as I decided I was done. It would be unhealthy if it still obsessed over anything related to the art I made when I was in high school.”
“Is that all art was to you?” Ruben asked. He put a little extra sting into his strum. “Peggy Craig, how could you say something like that to me?”
“Ruben, I love you, but you can’t do this to yourself,” Peggy said.
“I know,” Ruben said. “This isn’t healthy. I can’t keep thinking about it.”
“No, Ruben. God no. You can’t stop.”
Ruben and Peggy played music together.
© Ray Underscore Thompson, November 2015