BRIAN ROSS

Swansong

Colin stood on the corner of Belvedere and Park. He liked it there. It was
his patch. Of course, it used to belong to that old hippy with the banjo and
a penchant for Simon & Garfunkel tunes, but he was gone now, moved on by the
cops for good this time. They turned a blind eye for a while, but they only
asked you so many times to see your permit. After that they just swept you
up with the rest of the litter.

Colin was sad to see him go – he was the only soul around here who knew how
to carry a tune. Of course, he too would probably be moving on soon enough.
The system was usually one step behind, but even the tightest drum became
slack eventually.

Busking – or singing for your supper, as that old hippy used to call it –
had a fairly transient population. Easy come, easy go. Nobody really knew
who you were or where you came from, and nobody could really give a shit
either. That was the attraction; that was the draw. You were a blank sheet
when you came to this profession; a nameless, faceless, nobody – and that
was just the way Colin liked it.

From about nine in the morning until almost five every afternoon, he sang
and played his acoustic guitar – slightly out of tune and a little off-key,
but close enough. Good enough for the minor leagues, he thought. His
repertoire saw him through until the lunchtime crowd swamped the street, but
he just went right back to the beginning and started again – usually
smoother second time around. Nobody noticed. Nobody really cared too much
about details; nobody else, that is.

The passers-by heard him for thirty or forty seconds – maybe a minute if
they were taking it slow, taking it in. They saw him for even less. Few
people stopped – he wasn't that good – and nobody clapped or made any
requests. Given the circumstances, it was probably better that way.

He could see a lot from where he was.

Of course, it was just a coincidence that his wife worked across the road.

*

She was perfect –

– but there was no such thing as perfection, and Colin knew that. Eventually
the perfect meal emptied your plate; the perfect night’s sleep ran out of
zeds; even the perfect joke lost its laugh eventually. In the same way, she
– the perfect woman – had made him a fool. They all did, in the end.

But no more.

Colin had always put her before everything else. When he had first seen her
at university twelve years ago he knew she was the one for him. It was
strange how sometimes you just knew. Love at first sight, they called it.
She was the reason he didn't go to medical school. Hell, she was the reason
he never even got close to medical school. After that, studying ran a
distant second.

All that mattered was her.

*

Colin stood and sang songs about true love, good times, forgiveness, and all
that other stuff that only existed in three and a half minute slices.
Singing was an exercise in hypocrisy, and if you could do it with a smile
you were halfway there. A lot of people made careers out of bullshit like
that.

He had only worked this patch for a few weeks but already faces that had
been new to him at first, were now familiar – some overly so. The same
people who went from left to right in the morning, went from right to left
in the evening; and vice versa. Negative, harassed faces at daybreak were
transformed into positive, jubilant ones when the sun started to go down.

*

Colin had done everything for her. He had taken her out for meals when he
couldn't afford to, given her compliments when she didn't deserve them, and
sometimes bought her clothes a size too big – not because he didn’t know –
but because women enjoyed those couple of seconds when they thought they
had finally lost that extra pound.

When she had moved from her cosy life in the suburbs to the more immediate
bustle of the city, he had not raised an argument; and when she had traded
that for another city altogether – taller buildings and faster cars – he had
said nothing. He was more than willing to follow her career, because you did
those things for love. You did a lot of things for love that you wouldn't
have done for any other reason.

Now she just took it for granted.

*

Colin first picked up a guitar at sixteen, because when you were a teenager
in the early eighties there were only two things guaranteed to get you laid
with any great regularity. One was a cherry blossom Ferrari GTO – because
nobody ever turned Magnum down – and the other was a few bars of Smoke On
The Water; and because his paper round wage didn't extend to classic Italian
horsepower, he opted for a black-and-white Fender Stratocaster he saw in the
window of a local pawn shop.

He always took his guitar case along with him when he busked, but at the end
of every day he carried his six-string on his shoulder like Huck Finn and
carried his case. A few people looked at him strangely, but he had his
reasons.

*

There she sat, high up on that pedestal. Love was an amazing thing. It was a
sieve. It allowed you to see all the good stuff, and filter out all the
shit. Well, Colin was beginning to see the shit, and once the picture
started to brown around the edges there was no stopping it.
Things had changed – as they always did – and suddenly he wasn't the centre
of her universe anymore; she didn't feel the tingles or the goose-bumps
anymore; he didn't even seem to figure in her future anymore.

She never saw him, but then again, she hadn't really seen him for months.
She had however, seen that guy from the office more times than she should
have. What was his name? Darren or Derek or Derren. Something like that.

A man knows when the woman he has been married to for seven years, lived
with for nine, and made love to for almost a decade – has been with another
man. He knows it as sure as he knows his own name. Infidelity was in a
hundred little things – it was a sigh when there shouldn't be one; a dropped
hand in public; a forgotten kiss in the morning before work; a sideways
glance.

*

She left for lunch at exactly five past twelve. She was never late. You
could set the rotation of the sun by her. She waited by the lights for two
or three minutes. Sometimes longer, but never by much. Occasionally he would
arrive first, but most of the time it was her. She was the eager beaver.
They sometimes hugged, and they always kissed; and then they were gone –
across the road, round the corner, and out of sight, until she came back –
fifty-one or fifty-two minutes later.

He had to do it today. He didn't know why it had to be today, anymore than
he knew why he had to do it at all, but today somehow felt right. The sun
was just where it should be, the wind was blowing just so, even his guitar
seemed to sound just as it should. He had that Friday feeling.

His only real regret was that he knew he probably wouldn't be back on his
patch come Monday.

*

The end of another long day.

Colin had plucked his last string about ten minutes ago. Now he was
twiddling his thumbs, counting the pigeons on the building across the
street, and making famous faces in the clouds. His wife would be out any
minute. Tom Petty was right; the waiting was the hardest part.

He clicked open up the guitar case and looked at the rifle the way a father
might look at his newborn child. He didn't know anything about guns, but the
young guy with the tattoos he had met in the alley last weekend told him all
he had to do was look through the scope, keep a steady aim, and squeeze the
trigger. Technology and good luck would do the rest.

So that was exactly what he was going to do.

*

There she was, as beautiful as ever, as perfect as ever. It felt almost
wrong, and even when he raised the gun and locked the sight onto her head,
he didn't think he was doing the right thing. Still, he had come this far.

A woman to his left screamed and ran away, and a man to his right asked him
what the hell he was doing. Colin laughed, and all of a sudden he was back
in the moment, and he knew what he had to do. He was sorry it had come to
this, and he would be sad to see her go, but there were plenty more fish in
that sea. She had been so good to him in so many ways over the years, but
even the sweetest song fades out eventually.

And just before Colin pulled the trigger, Rebecca Helen King – of 32 Avon
Lee Avenue; born, June 13th, 1974 in St. Catherine's Hospital, London;
single; eyes, pale blue; hair, strawberry blonde; height, 162cm; weight,
123lbs; occupation, legal secretary; passport no., 026002476; mother Jane,
retired (nurse); father William, deceased (heart attack – April 8th, 1998);
best friend, Maryanne Robertson – turned and saw him for the first time.

Colin knew a lot, all things considered.

He knew that underwear was second drawer from the bottom, that she only ever
drank half-fat milk (the cartons with the green tops), and that she liked to
roll up her tube of Colgate Minty-Fresh toothpaste as she went along. He
knew that she laughed at Will & Grace, but thought Friends was overrated. He
knew she chewed her nails when she was nervous, and sometimes still sucked
her thumb when she was scared.

He knew she took one sugar in tea and two in coffee; that she hated
asparagus, and couldn't get enough of those mints they left on your hotel
pillow. He knew that she liked to listen to Abba, that the film Pay It
Forward always made her cry, and that her weekend workout lasted on average
sixty-three minutes. He knew that her period was due next Thursday.

A lot.

Considering he had never met her.


Brian is twenty-nine and lives in Scotland. He has almost forty publications
to his name - from humour (Defenestration) to horror (Thirteen), mystery
(Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine) to mainstream (Southern Ocean Review).
He also appears in the anthology, Read By Dawn, alongside horror luminary
Ramsey Campbell. He is married, both to his wife and his words.







© 2006 Underground Voices