The Guitar Player’s Wife

“If you aren’t careful. The whole thing will seize up.” The guitar player slithered out from under the Valiant on a skateboard. The license plate snared a moth hole in the washed-out faces on the Scientists T-shirt stretched over his gut. He tried to lift his head into his Kenworth baseball cap, but a skateboard wheel tangled up his hair, and then the license pate had a go at his crotch. When he finally got up, and fastened his overalls, he looked like a baby with a hunger for auto parts. He plucked some cotton from his crotch in the same pose that he used on stage, skinny arms and no neck, chin resting on his chest, shoulders fixed into a shrug from always looking down at his Stratocaster.

I gulped a can of Victoria Bitter and squeaked bicep curls from a dumbbell. He pulled a car battery off his tattoo gun and transplanted it into the Valiant. Rust ate the hood and bunged up the wires and tubes looping around the red engine. I’d driven over to his Bondi compound after work to show him I was fit for the band competition and to get a free service for the Valiant. His bib held enough oil to lube the engine for a month.

“The prognosis remains terminal,” he told the Valiant. His fingers were too stubby for solos. He stuck to riffs. He unscrewed the radiator and it belched out rust. “Maybe wise to get out of Sydney for a week. Just let things cool down. There’ll be other gigs.”

“What are you rambling about?” I tugged out the bass drum and navigated around the carport until whacking a phoney shark-bitten surfboard that fell from its support beams, knocked out the Valiant’s side-view minor, and landed on the guitar player’s coconut welcome mat.

“I left a message with your mum this afternoon. I thought that’s why you came out here.” The guitar player picked up the surfboard and rubbed the faded stickers of extinct bands on the fibreglass. “The others don’t want to come last again. We haven’t got any new songs.”

“I told you not to worry about the songs.” I cradled the mirror to the workbench and pulled a mobile phone from a sticky toolbox.

“I’m not calling them.”

“I’ve just got to polish up the last verse.”

“There’s only two verses.”

“Come on. All the classics are simple. Give it one more shot. You don’t want to be stuck out here forever, do you? We could be in Amsterdam or New Orleans.”

“We haven’t practised for eight months.”

“So? We’ll sound fresh.”

The guitar player looked down the driveway at a tricycle lassoed by a garden hose. He slanted his cap over his right eyebrow and twiddled his thumb on the keypad.

I finished my beer and slapped him on the back.

“Don’t drink that water,” he said, “pour it in the radiator.”

He raised the phone along with the pitch of his voice. “Me and Hank been talking and we figure that seeing as we haven’t chickened out yet we might as well give it a go. We’ve got nothing to lose. We could be in Amsterdam or New Orleans.”

The bass player would be in the Blue Mountains smoking pipes and watching SBS on a black and white television with the sound turned down below a crackling Pink Floyd album. After listening to the phone, and tweaking his eyebrow for a while, the guitar player clicked off. “He doesn’t care. A fire juggler burned down his shack. He’s finally getting to move over to Newtown. But she’s at work. You’ll have to call her.”

I capped the radiator. “What’s the point? She’ll just give me a lecture and then I’ll get sick of listening to her and hand you the phone and she’ll go on to you about how you always stick up for me and you’ll agree with her and then she’ll agree with me.”

The guitar player sulked around the carport as he talked to the singer. “He couldn’t practise. His car was broken. He had to carry his mum to hospital.”

I nodded and oozed K-mart engine oil over the dipstick hole. “Just tell them what they want to hear. Play with their sympathies.”

The guitar player lowered the phone abruptly. “She heard what you said.”

“So? It’s nothing new.”

“She hung up.”

“Give her a minute. She’ll call back.”

“You’re an idiot, Hank.”

I slammed the hood.

“Search and Destroy” by the Stooges blared from the phone.


“Talk to her.”

“You’re doing fine. Tell her my girlfriend wants to come. No, don’t tell her that. She might get jealous. Yeah, what the hell? Tell her anyway.”

“His girlfriend wants to come. She’s never seen him do his thing. Just a moment.” The guitar player covered the mouthpiece and waved the phone at me. “She just wants you to promise not to get too wasted or disappear.”

I massaged my wrist. “Tell her my girlfriend bought me new skins.”

The guitar player shook his head and wandered down the driveway. “She bought him new skins.” He looked back after 30 seconds and gave me the thumbs up.

Fumes leaking from the Valiant’s trunk seeped through the kitchen, lounge, and bedroom, and drew out the guitar player’s wife. A pregnant Disneyland T-shirt bulged against the screen door. A fluffy crocodile slipper scraped a mosquito-pecked leg, tattooed with a marijuana leaf sprouting dolphins. “What’s that creep doing here? He’s not sleeping over tonight. Did he pay for that battery?”

“He’s got to work the early shift tomorrow,” said the guitar player. “I’m taking his drums to the band competition to do the sound check.”

“You told me you cancelled that gig because you didn’t want to play with him.”

“I never said that.” He turned to me. “She’s having twins.”

“What about my parents’ fucking barbeque on Bronte Beach?”

I once had sex with the guitar player’s wife when she was drunk and bleeding and fighting with the guitar player about becoming a tattoo artist. He was the genius behind the devil’s tattoo on my right shoulder, a marching devil with a snare drum going BOOM. He did it on the right because that’s the side the audience see when a drummer keeps time on the hi-hats. She didn’t want him to ink anybody else except her. A few days later, Ma found a rag under her pillow and dangled it in her teacup. I chiselled the rag from the window ledge and gave it back to the guitar player’s wife. She refused to talk to me after that. The guitar player had also tried to be a surfer, a body builder, a truck driver, a mechanic, and a father. But he could never escape from his real identity.


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