Shelter from the Smoke
The party is about to start peaking. Each new arrival is more triumphant in greeting, and quicker to start drinking it up, as if they know they need to catch up if they’re to enjoy the mighty buzz with the others. Present, not because anyone thought of inviting him, but because he lives here, is the party-throwers’ kid brother, a shy sophomore recluse who often serves as the butt of many a high-spirited joke. There’s plenty of reasons he should be elsewhere, as the crowd usually turns mean on him, but as always, he’s hoping (and quite futilely) that this time he’ll be accepted into the fold.
Suddenly, his older brother has one of his evil inspirations. Stealthily working his way into the kid’s bedroom, he returns with a small object in hand. The younger brother is still in the kitchen, sipping his Coke and debating whether adding a dash of the available spirits would be a Bad Idea. Stopping the music amidst cries of protest, our villain announces that this is what Bill does in the basement every night until late at night. He hits play.
The room is silent as the strains of folky guitar and self-absorbed voice pipe out across the room. This is horrible. Not because the music is bad, but because it’s so good . Sure, the kid listens to too much Dylan, probably, but these songs are full of heart, and an appreciation of the beauty and harshness of life that’s absent from his sibling, who still sees the whole thing as some circus ride that ends after college. Uneasy glances are cast towards the kitchen, where he sits, paralyzed with fear, waiting for the first sounds of derision. But nobody speaks a word, until our villain stops the tape and replaces the previous music without comment.
Nothing is quite the same after that. Most guests manage to come up with an excuse to leave early, and there is surprisingly little to clean up after the last person is gone. In his room, Bill smiles. Maybe he didn’t really connect with the crowd, making them adopt him into their plastic and scripted world. He didn’t even get a comment on “Appalachian Death Sigh,” which is about the only song everyone heard. Still, he’s glad to have touched all of them, run his song down their back like a gentle raking feather, and produced chills and shudders of recognition. Years from now, they won’t remember the party, or even his brother, but they’ll remember his song.
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