Dear Mr Busby Snippet: Rupie Discovers Music

Rupie had barely known music, a banned substance like alcohol in the house, which his father had taken to the attic to imbibe. Its recreational use was clearly a dangerous thing: he managed to connect the pieces of the broken gramophone back together, taping parts of it so that they’d hold in place while their wires more or less touched, its great brass nose half-secured, upside down sounding like an old man with a nasal cold that robbed him of its treble and snare, making the songs all bass, with the mechanisms working too slowly to play at their right tempo so that everything sounded like lazy, melting trombones. Still, it worked. He unpacked his father’s cap and coat and tilted the attic window, letting the cold in as he held himself tall with his neck stiff, gurning so that his jaw swelled, trying to fill the broad padding as his father’s shoulders did. He liked the half light of the attic, how the naked bulb on the ceiling lit only what needed to be seen so that all else was in darkness. He’d stand before his reflection with his face blacked out, staring at his father’s effigy embossed in the pane against the night sky, the bulb catching the gloss of the pipe at his lips. Night after night he sneaked up to listen to his father’s records. Dressed up, he put on a record and turned the volume down with his ear close to the amplifier. The vocals carried faintly, as if from a distant place, trapped in the machine. It came to his ears like a foreign language, like his father’s love of football that he couldn’t admit escaped him. The music, its reason for being, somehow flowed past his ears, where for others it is absorbed by their entire body, heart and soul. He read the front and back of every vinyl sleeve, opened the inserts to read every lyric and verse like they were instruction manuals. His father’s taste was eclectic, his collection featuring everything from jazz, to rag time music, country and classical. He wanted to appreciate it, to feel it. He tapped his feet, missing the beat, closed his eyes to let the sounds make shapes and colours in the darkness. He listened until his eyes grew heavy, finding he’d fallen asleep on the dusty floorboards and hurrying down to his bed so that his mother wouldn’t know. He devoted himself to his experiment, listening patiently to learn each record’s secret. It came at last as if by accident, happening upon him without reason or anything tangible he could put his finger on or commit to a piece of paper as a code he could refer to by sight or touch and keep in his pocket for reference when he needed it. It came in the form of a violin in a song without words. The strings began subtly, a mournful breeze, blowing and rising until danced, then seared, weeping from the gramophone. Rupie held his breath at its cry, felt it sink in his stomach, force him to swallow. It made his eyes dry, his toes clench, hollow when it was gone from the room. He set the needle back, then again and again, feeling as if he was stealing from it in some way, borrowing its beauty for his own selfish wont. He believed he was addicted, obsessed, whistling it when he left the house, humming it by mistake in public and while carrying out his chores. At the same time he could not trust it, thinking himself in one frame of mind, established and going about his day, only for its melody to transport him to another place. He could hear it and feel complete, at other times it broke his heart, made him cry, the violin telling him about his father and all there was to miss. Whatever it was, this music, it had powers he hadn’t known before. He basked in it there in the half light of the attic, transported to new places by its magic, and then again firmly rooted to the place he sat, anchored down to the present and the pain and thoughts that came with it. He continued each night, empty handed, sat with his back to his father’s army trunk, listening to the song and ones like it until he had stripped them of that first high. He thought perhaps he was ill, willing himself to be carried as he had been the day before by their flight, but learned they were each a fleeting flame, that they remained in body alone while their essence had a shelf life, aging and leaving him before he was ready for them to go. Rupie became greedy, draining the magic from the music like reducing cake back to its ingredients. When he’d used up a song, an entire record, he’d try the next, attempting to find his father in it, and that was when the dark room, its dust and cobwebs occurred to him. The record span and stopped, the needle scratching the wobbling grooves, the gramophone crackling like a fire depleted, its warmth, like his father’s gone, so all that remained in the tilted window’s reflection was the outline of his father’s clothes, the face missing, replaced by shadow.