A clue between the chords
Rory got onto the bus up town, pulling his guitar with him. The windows were already blurred with people’s breath. He was relieved the city was obscured from him. He could sit with his own thoughts, protected by the bus. If this all went tits up tonight he would be blaming Lisa, she had told him “to go for it.” and “what’s the worst that could happen?” He was realising that trusting the judgement of someone who was basically involved in a spiritual pyramid scheme was not the best idea. She had just completed a course called ‘Finding Your Path’, left her job, and set up an Etsy selling stones from Porty with quotes painted on them. He was the idiot though. He had bought one of the painted stones.
Everyone knew he was only in the band because his dad had the garage in Clerry. He knew it too but didn’t mind too much, he was just happy to be included. He had been told a few years ago his guitar playing was average at best. He only got good when he started playing Ben’s songs.
There was something about Ben, the Ben before he started to sing and the Ben when he was immersed in vulnerability. He could be singing the names of all the women he had known , Sarah, Annie, Laura but Rory could only hear their harmonies together. At first he had been embarrassed to contribute his voice to the songs but him and Ben? Their voices matched perfectly when they were entwined.
For the first couple of months he ignored how he felt about Ben, but before long when he was back home after rehearsals his mind would run through the entire night, pulling apart every time they had made eye contact to see if there was any evidence that the world he believed they belonged in together wasn’t just in his head. He played the songs over and over again sitting on his bed. As if there was a clue between the chords.
The bus moved along Princes Street, crawling past the decaying shops, their lights blurring the rain drops sliding down the windows. If only he had kept his mouth shut. Said nothing. The band would have just stayed the same. He told himself that it would have been enough that way. He cursed the optimist in him that had told him there was something more in the music that they played together. He clung onto the case of his guitar like he had packed his entire life into its hard shell. He would be on The Bridges in five minutes. He would be at the venue in ten.
He hadn’t been told not to turn up to the gig but he had avoided rehearsal assuming the worst. What would Ben be thinking. That he was some creep? It had been the week before the gig. Just him and Ben after the other guys had gone home.
“Listen to this..”
Ben had played a new song. It was about love. All of his songs were, but this one, being played in Rory’s dad’s garage - the camping lights making everything film like - the closeness of them sitting across from each other. The clutter of his life, held afloat by the music, convinced him that this song was just for him.
“What do you think?”
The words “I like you” fell out of his mouth quickly, like an insult. Ben stood up too quickly and his guitar swung, almost hitting him in the face. He made his excuses about too much beer and left.
Rory sat in the garage, the half open door letting the night in and making the lights flicker, wondering if his Mum would lend him the money to start a new life somewhere else. He willed a bus crash, the North Bridge collapsing, or a nuclear attack on Edinburgh. But the No 33 made it onto the Royal Mile and he pulled the hood of his parka up around his face and walked down the hill to Bannermans.
The pub was full, any other time he would have been excited. It was Dead Man Walking’s first proper gig. He could see the drummer and the bassist sinking pints. He walked past them ignoring the looks. As he walked into the gig area a boy brushed past him taking off his guitar and heading toward the bar looking pissed off.
Ben crouched on the stage, untangling a wire from one of his pedals. He looked up, “Rory. For fuck sake man, I didn’t think you were coming. I just had to tell Bob’s brother to bolt…
Ben jumped off the stage and walked towards him, taking his guitar case and opening it.
“I wasn’t sure if you’d want me here, you know, the other night?”
Ben took Rory’s guitar from its case and handed it to him saying:
“No one else gets the harmonies. Or the guitars. I’m shitting it about tonight. That arsehole from The Skinny’s coming.”
“What? The guy who looks like he ate Bon Ivor?”
“Aye but did you know his cousin used to be in Arab Strap?”
They smirked at each other.
Rory’s fears left for the Cowgate.
“It has to be me and you. I’m counting on it.”
Ben said. ■
Illustration: Elise Boath