This story is by Terra L. Walker and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jimi set his guitar case down on the seat of the N9 bus heading south on Ashland. He nodded at the driver, a buddy of his named Steve, as he sat down. It was late so the bus was almost empty. Jimi relished this time when he could slip on his headphones and drown out the world with music. He was so lost in guitar riffs, he nearly missed his stop.
“Hey, Jimi! You got a gig tonight?” asked Steve as Jimi headed toward the door.
“Not tonight Stevie, things are a little cold on the musical front.”
“Aw, sorry to hear. Well, you sure can play guitar; guess it’s all in your namesake, huh?”
Even as a child, Jimi loved music, especially the Blues. He learned everything about music, guitars, and the Blues from his father who made his living as a musician, recording with the likes of Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and even the Master himself, B.B. King. When he wasn’t touring he would play in local clubs; Jimi could close his eyes and still see his father playing in some smoky, hole-in-the-wall club down in Austin, Texas like it was yesterday. It was hard to believe he was gone; died in a bus crash nearly 10 years ago. After his father died, Jimi and his mother moved north to Chicago. Jimi’s dream was to become a musician just like his father, and someday, he knew he could do it.
Any thoughts of musical stardom were gone as soon as Jimi hit the front door of the apartment he shared with his mother and brother. He ripped off the bright pink ‘EVICTION’ notice taped to the door. She did it again, didn’t she? He could hear the TV; it was blaring at an ungodly volume. He pushed the door open with his fist—there she was; sprawled out on the couch in a dirty nightgown, hair a tangled mess, several empty bottles on the end table. The air was heavy with smoke -but not from cigarettes- it was coming from the kitchen.
“Mom, what’s burning?” Jimi ran to the kitchen. Smoke poured out of the toaster oven on the counter. He grabbed it, burning his hand.
“What’s going on? Jimi?” a small child wearing footsie pajamas wandered down the hall into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes and squinting.
Jimi unplugged the toaster oven and with a kitchen towel opened the door. Smoke poured out, stinging his eyes and causing him to cough.
The little boy gagged and coughed. “Ew, what is that?”
“It’s nothing Tommy. You should go back to bed.”
Jimi’s mother staggered in. “What the hell did you do to my pizza rolls?”
Jimi looked at his 6-year-old brother. “Tommy, go to bed bud. Please.”
Tommy shuffled out of the kitchen, glancing over his shoulder at his mother.
“I didn’t DO anything—do you realize you almost set the kitchen on fire?” Jimi took the burned-up snacks and dumped them in the trash.
“Whatever.” She opened the freezer for ice.
“I don’t suppose you paid the rent this month, or last month, or the month before. What have you done with the money I gave you, ma?”
She opened the fridge and took out the orange juice.
Jimi showed her the eviction notice. “Then there is this. It says we have 72 hours to vacate! Do you know what will happen if we lose this place? Do you know where Tommy will go?”
She poured orange juice over the ice in her glass.
“That’s right, foster care. Do you know where you’ll end up?”
She reached for a bottle of vodka sitting on the counter and opened it.
“You guessed it—rehab.”
She filled her glass to the top with vodka then took a long, slow drink.
“Because drunks don’t get to stay in homeless shelters—”
She slammed the glass down, spraying the contents upward like a volcano. She stared at Jimi with her bloodshot eyes.
“You sound just like him, you know that?”
“Where is the money, ma?”
“I spent it.”
“I don’t know— the hell do you care anyhow? You’re just gonna end up running off too…” she lifted the glass to her lips and drained it. She wobbled over to the fridge, stumbled and fell against it.
Jimi pulled her up and wrestled the glass out of her hand.
“Come on ma. You need some sleep. Let’s get you to bed.”
“All you men are the same! You just take and when you’ve had the best of us you leave…” tears streamed down her face as she slumped into Jimi’s arms like a child’s forgotten rag doll.
In his room, Jimi could hear his mother’s sobs; things were rough since his step-father left. He couldn’t live with himself if he let the only family he had left break up. Jimi didn’t have much but he had one thing of value; a rare and precious gift from his father, a limited-edition Gibson ‘Lucille’ guitar. Jimi figured he could pawn it for enough money to cover the missing rent and, if he busted his ass doing overtime for the next month, he just might make enough to buy it back.
Early the next morning, Jimi boarded the N9 bus with his guitar. He got off on 51st and walked down to Big Money Pawnshop about a half a block south. Within minutes he was out the door with a pawn ticket for 30 days at 15% interest, a cashier’s check for $5000, and a heavy heart.
Jimi practically sprinted to the door of the pawnshop. Lucille’s 30-day sentence was finally up and he was back to rescue her with exactly $5750. He charged directly to the counter and banged on the glass.
“I’m here to pick up my guitar,” he panted, breathless from the run.
The guy behind the bullet-proof glass took the pawn ticket and punched in some numbers on a computer. His face wrinkled up like he’d stuck his nose into a carton of sour milk.
“Uh, we sold that guitar yesterday.”
“Wait, you what?”
“Not sure how it happened, dude. Sorry.”
Jimi’s face felt hot. Sorry? Is that all you have to say? “But, I have my ticket, I’m here within 30 days and I have money…” Jimi pushed the giant wad of bills through the semi-circular opening at the bottom of the partition.
The guy pushed it back. “Sorry man. Can’t give you what I don’t have.”
How can my Lucille be gone? This can’t be happening!
Jimi balled his fist up and slammed it on the glass. “You are going to tell me where MY guitar is or I am going to come back there and break every single one of your fingers.”
The guy’s eyes widened. “Easy dude. No need for violence, okay? Let me just check the receipts…” He fumbled around with some papers behind the counter.
Jimi hit the glass again, his face purple with rage. “Hurry it up!”
Jimi grabbed the paper and ran like hell. He recognized the address on the receipt as Rosa’s Lounge, a club he’d played in before on the north-west side.
By the time he arrived at Rosa’s his blood was boiling so hot he could have knocked the Hulk on his ass. The door was open and the sounds of B.B. King wafted out into the street. Instantly Jimi was transported back to his childhood; listening to his father’s velvety voice wrap around him like a warm blanket. He wandered in and sat at the bar, letting the music soothe him. At the end of the song, the crowd erupted with applause.
“Thank you. That song was a favorite of my son, Jimi. God bless him wherever he might be.”
Jimi’s eyes snapped open.
“This guitar is just like the one I gave him on his 7th birthday,” he continued to play a tune on what appeared to be…
Jimi nudged closer to the stage.
“When his momma ran off with another man, it broke my heart. But heartaches are good for singing the blues…” he launched into another song.
Jimi’s ears began to ring.
There was no denying. That was Lucille—his guitar, and more important, the man playing it sounded just like—
“You know I named him after Hendrix cause I knew someday he’d play like him…”
Is this a dream?
Jimi stood near the stage and listened.
My mother has been lying to me.
The riffs soared to the sky.
The rhythm syncopated like a heartbeat.
I don’t care.
Jimi raised his hand. “Little Wing, by Jimi Hendrix.”
They locked eyes.
Jimi had a sense of flying as his father pulled him up on stage next to him. He handed Jimi his guitar -his Lucille- as a tear-filled smile cracked his face.
“Son, I think that’s a song you were meant to play.”