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Martin Lindley, 25 Sep '12



He had just left Mississippi Airport and was resting on the Greyhound bus to Memphis: he’d would have to get off in the City of Grenada, where he’d get a taxi to the crossroads of Old Highway 8 and the Dickery Line. His dad’s Gibson L-1 acoustic guitar was tucked away in the storage compartment underneath the bus.

He daydreamed: Faded memories of moving around the small building which had been home for 18 years. At first anachronistic, an amalgamation of different times; then colour seeped into the vision, cementing it at that time when he’d been preparing to leave for university. He’d been accepted into to the Slade School of Fine Art: there was only a week left until his course began.

-        “You excited lad?” His dad asked in a soft, grainy voice. “This is a big deal for you.”

He remembered feeling anxious; a tugging sensation as if there were a tiny black hole sucking inwardly from the centre of his body, but his dad had always done his best to help the boy to hide his fear, and face the world bravely.

-        “I’m very excited”, He replied.
-        “Good. Me and you have both worked hard to get you into this school. It’ll be odd not seeing you so much. I’ll miss you around here.”
-        “I’ll miss you too dad”… they hugged by the electric fireplace; first the colours, then the room, and then the memory faded.

As the bus rolled along he thought about his dad. Their conversations had mostly been brief, but the love his dad felt for him had always been tangible. He felt a heavy wetness, but no tears, under his eyelids… Eventually his phone alarm sounded, and he was half awake as he neared Grenada.


He took a cab from Grenada to the crossroads his dad worshipped. It seemed strange and unwelcoming to him. He lowered his hand and touched the railway; the coarse, rusty steel indicated the railway had fallen out of use. The land around was barren, a few patches of grass; the dirty and pot-holed road stretched back to Grenada and forward to some nowhere town; the train track lay across. He examined it again: the abrasive texture of the rail took him back.

He remembered his time at the Slade: the awkwardness of making new friends had become a memory mixed among long nights he’d spent getting to know the old masters… the three years away from the family home were then followed by another three at the Royal Academy of Arts, where he had been granted a scholarship, and he had initially hit the London art scene with real impact; his name had meant something, and for at least a couple of years he had been a critically and commercially successful artist. But, after one journalist had labelled him “unoriginal – a vomit inducing pastiche of the worst parts of the 20th century”, he decided to make his living elsewhere, perhaps in advertising- he didn’t know yet; but he knew the hype which had surrounded him had drained, and, for the first time in over eight years, he returned home.

-        “I wouldn’t worry Son, folk don’t care for what they print in the silly papers anyway”, his dad assured him.
-        “I don’t know about that Dad. I haven’t been booked for anything since its publication.”
-        “Son, these things blow over.
-        “Thanks Dad.” He paused. “Dad, I’ve been thinking. Now I have time off I’d like to do something for you. A sort of ‘thank you for everything’ gift. I’m not short of money; it can be anything, pretty much.”
-        “That you made it through school and that you’re doing well is good enough for me. I don’t want for anything.”
-        “Please… There must be something you’d like. Besides, I have nothing to do for the time being.”

His dad sat in an old and frayed armchair, silent and thoughtful. After about half an hour, the old man stood from the armchair and went upstairs. He brought back down with him and old, scuffed guitar case from the 1920s.

-        “I want you to take this to Mississippi; to the intersection of Old Highway 8 and Dickery Line. A dirt path crosses the railroad there; I’ve seen it in pictures. Please paint that for me.” his dad said excitedly, “Oh and prop the case open against the sign shaped like a cross. I want to be able to see the guitar.” His dad smiled.

-        “Wow. That’s quite a request. “He replied.
-        “You said anything.”
-        “True… Ok Dad, I’ll do this for you. But wait, why don’t you come with me?”
-        “Because I’m too old for long journeys: my back aches from going upstairs just now. It’ll be easier for you to go on your own. I’ll be happy to see your painting.”
-        “Ok dad.” They hugged, the old man sat down; he went to get his laptop to plan his journey.

That had been a week ago. Now he laid the guitar on a small earthy patch next to the crossroads, doused it with petrol, tossed in a match, and watched it burn. The embers rose and licked the far horizon; they fizzled out like cheap fireworks, leaving petechial marks on an otherwise clear blue sky. He stored the image in his mind and contemplated what would be the best way to recreate it on canvas.


The guitar burns and the rail-tracks begin to glow white-hot. He hears a loud ringing, spins around trying to identify it; an old train with one cartridge speeds towards the crossroads. It stops. Steam flows from every window. A man gets out from then train and rustles him into the carriage; full of painting equipment. The train rattles and moves frantically and he fells a great whipping speed; colour everywhere, a frenzy of emotion and ideas.

-        “Burn it”, his dad said.
-        “What?”
-        “You heard.”
-        “But why? You’ve played this for years!”
-        “I can’t play it anymore, and I don’t want anybody else to. If you’re going to do this journey for me then I’d like you to burn the guitar.
-        “Dad. I can’t do that. It would be a terrible waste.”
-        “This guitar going to anybody else would be a waste. I’ve played it for a long time, I guess that’s why it means so much to us, but I was never professional, and I only got any good with the thing because I gave up my social life putting you through school. I won’t force you, but I want this done.”

He didn’t agree with what his dad was saying and felt some resentment because his dad had mentioned school fees; but then that was the point of his journey, it would balance the books , a repayment of sorts. He would burn the guitar. He picked up the case and readied himself for the journey to America.

Suddenly, he is back at the crossroads. Next to him lies the painting. A beautiful impression of the crossroads and the burning guitar: a representation of the pain, love and rebirth of music, and its quality pushed the boundaries of the medium of painting, he thought. He picked it up and stared at it. This was the best work he had ever done, and he couldn’t wait to see it on the family mantelpiece.

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