NEVER SEEN A NIGHT SO LONG
He lies in bed, ears perked to the plaintive cry of a whippoorwill somewhere in the darkness. Not in the sky. No, not there. Maybe hiding behind the blue rhododendron bush, nest-far and lonesome. Like me, he thinks, rising from the double bed, setting on fire a Pall Mall, inhaling a lungful of smoke. Hank’s never seen a night so long. He wonders where 1952 has flown to. He pictures one of those barrels where his grand pappy burned wood scraps back in Alabama. He reminisces and knows too well the pain of that. The way old men sit in rocking chairs and in between gusts of warm breezes say, “Yep,” and wish to God they could either travel back to the young old days or sleep forever in their rockers.
Across the bedroom in his favorite chair, the Gibson Audrey bought him rests against the red velvet needlepoint cushion Audrey left behind. His new wife Billie Jean hates it as much as Hank loves it and won’t let it go. “Audrey loves Hank,” says the needlepoint, and then in large flowing cursive, “FOREVER.”
“It's just a damn guitar!” Billie Jean tells him, the sour taste of jealousy frosting on her lips. “You got a closet full of 'em!” Then she pauses and drives daggers into his heart when she says--he suspects for spite-- “That girl knows as much about forever as that bottle you're pourin' knows how to stitch up a broken heart.”
Let it rest. What's done's done.
Whatever lyrics sing in his head he’ll keep up there. Still, he runs his thumb over his four fingers, itching to pluck the strings, hold down the frets, strum the chords into blues, sing his heart out, release the pain.
Without my guitar I'm nothing. Without me, Gibson's like the tree nobody's in the forest to hear crashin' down. But the two of us together…
Hank pours a full glass from the bottle on the end table. Then he shakes several white painkillers from another bottle, gulps them and chases them down with the lonesome-blues whiskey. Meanwhile, outside his window, stars go on twinkling, despite life without Audrey. The face of the moon hides behind dark clouds. Why should it let the world see its tears? And that old train, she keeps heading down the line, traveling the iron rails, heading for...heading where? He let the cities flash across the stage of his troubled mind. Nashville. Abilene. Birmingham. Chicago with its cold winds. Even New York City with its even colder people looking up at him performing, thinking, Who in hell's this country boy from Alabama think he is 'cept white trash who can toss out a song to make grown men cry?
Where is Audrey? he wonders. Absently now he lifts the guitar, slings the leather strap over his shoulder, and gives in to the six strings. Strumming, he fills the dark room with words that ride the chords like dauntless walkers on a high narrow tightrope. Once, before a preacher, the two of them swore to heaven the knot they tied would never be broken. The world out there could try all it could to pull them apart, but they'd hang strong and let love beat that world back into its corner.What happened? he wonders now, wonders the day long. The night. What made me throw it all away?
“The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry.”
Now’s he’s searching through the contents of the end-table drawer for a pencil and pad. The Grand Ol’ Opry star finds both, balances the pad on the sound box, jots down the lines, and clamps the pencil horizontally between his teeth. He lets the pad fall against Audrey’s cushion.
“Did you ever see a robin weep when leaves begin to die?”
He repeats the line several times so it melds in perfect time with his plucking and continues.
“That means he’s lost the will to live. I’m so lonesome I could cry.”
When he manages three quatrains, each ending with what he will make the title of his new song, he removes himself from the Gibson. Again it leans against the red velvet lie. Again thoughts of the long-gone Audrey plague him. Once he believed she loved him. Now she expects him to believe she no longer does.
“I’m so lonely I could cry,” he sings. What could say it better? he wonders.
His head throbs with the booze and pills conspiring against him. Still, the duo are not strong enough to calm the agony in his back and the rawness in his heart.
Hank Williams stares open-eyed at the ceiling. Tomorrow night the Grand Ol’ Opry will explode in thunderous applause. Fans will scream his name like a litany to a saint. He will sing song after song. He will bow and exit until one more call for yet another encore will bring him back. Finally, he’ll quiet the crowd by removing his white cowboy hat, wave it, and return it to his head.
“Here’s my last for the night,” he’ll say. “This one’s for Audrey. Are you listening, Darlin’?”
Then the king of country music will sing every note from the depths of a heart so wounded, not even time can heal, “Hey, good lookin’.Whatcha got cookin’. How’s about cookin’ something up with me?”
BIO: SALVATORE BUTTACI; Buttaci's poems, stories, articles, and letters have appeared in The New York Times, The Writer, U. S. A. Today, Cats Magazine, , Bardic Echoes, Wind, Iconoclast, : Celebrating , and many other publications here and abroad.
His newest collection of , 200 Shorts, is available from the publisher athttp://allthingsthatmatterpress.com. His first, Flashing My Shorts, is available at http://tinyurl.com/6bqu6b2
More than anything in the world, including the craft of writing, Buttaci loves his soul mate and wife Sharon Lee. The two of them live in Princeton, West Virginia.