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by Jason Jackson

Halfway through the third song, people begin to leave. It’s difficult for him to see from the stage through the spotlights, but it’s a small venue and he’s playing quiet, cyclical figures on his acoustic guitar, so he can hear the shuffle of feet, a cough, the door.

He gets through to the end of the piece, letting the final open chord ring. There’s the silence, and then the applause, half-hearted, disappointed, an almost-full house still with him for the most part, but waiting.

He looks into the lights. “Thank you,” he says, his first words of the night, and then, “I know most of you will have read the interview.”

Someone shouts something, he can’t quite tell what, and a few people make ssshhh noises. He coughs. “If you’re here for my words, I’m sorry.” He picks at a string, another, shapes a chord, strums. Then he dampens the sound to silence. “Look,” he says. “I just ran out of stories. You know? And I could play the old ones, and you’d like that. But those stories, they’re …” and here he has to stop, breathe, swallow. He tries again. “What I’m trying to do is to find some more.” He smiles into the lights. “I had a dream …” he says, and someone laughs. “No, really. I had this dream, a few months ago now. I was playing guitar — this guitar — on a stage just like this one, and the music was ragged, beautiful.” He stops talking. It’s ridiculous, insane, to be doing this.

There’s another shout, and this time he hears it clearly: Maisy.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I can’t play that. I can’t sing that. I can’t sing any of them.”

There’s a murmur, and if only to quell it momentarily he begins to speak again. “In the dream, I was playing and the words — the new stories — they were falling from the roof, they were coming out from the crowd, they were lifting up from the wood of the stage. It was like the guitar was somehow conjuring them, like the chords were calling the words out of the air.”

Someone starts to boo, and someone else starts clapping. Others join in, on both sides.

“Look,” he says, uncertain now if anyone is even listening. “I said all of this in the interview. I’ve got songs. Half-written songs. Music, but no words. I’m here to find the stories. Because, for whatever reason, I’ve lost them.”

There’s a hall-full of sound now, applause, derision, some shouts of Maisy, and other titles too.

For a moment, he’s motionless, looking out into the spotlight, and then he begins to play. It’s a quiet refrain, but it builds into a confident figure, repetitive, bottom strings resonant. Gradually he slows the pace, sways along to it. Breathing more easily, he tries to hear the spaces where the words might fit.

Eyes closed now, he wills them to come.

Jason Jackson writes short fiction. He also takes photographs. He hopes to find time in a busy life to get better at both. Find links to Jason’s published work at jjfiction.wordpress.com. Jason tweets @jj_fiction.