gather no moss // short story
A Man Who Gathers No Moss
The train rolled into Dartford station. The trees were changing colors while a damp greyness lingered around them. The wind started to kick up and the ground remained wet as a crowd of people made their way onto the train. The musician waited in line for the others to board. It’d be a forty-five minute ride to school. He noticed a student making his way onto the train holding some books and a set of records. The musician jumped out of line and followed the student onto another car.
“Hey mate, what are you listening to?” the musician asked. He had sat down across from the student and leaned his guitar against the window.
“Uh, I’ve been listening to Chuck Berry,” the student said.
“Oh nice! Yea, Chuck is great, isn’t he? What else do you have?”
The student pulled out another record. “I’ve also been listening to this blues record by Muddy Waters.”
“Muddy Waters? Mate, there’s no way you listen to that.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no way. There’s no way you know Muddy."
Staring at the musician, the student said nothing.
“What’s your favorite track then?”
“Rollin’ Stone,” the student said.
The musician laughed.
“Alright, maybe you know a little about Muddy Waters. Shit, I thought I was the only guy in southeast England that knew anything about rhythm and blues.”
A conductor walked up and asked the student and the musician for their tickets. He grabbed them both, looked them over, and stamped them with a hole puncher. The student looked out the window at a row of brick houses going by. Each house like the one before. One white, one brown, a chimney on top, a set of stairs and a garden out front. It began to rain.
“Where the hell did you get those from?” asked the musician.
“I’ve been writing off to Chess Records in Chicago. I got their address from this mail order thing.”
“You’ve been writing to Chess?” the musician asked as he leaned forward.
The student stopped gazing out the window and looked at the musician. “Yea for a bit now.”
“No, his kid Marshall. I guess he’s been working for his old man in the mailroom over there.”
“You have a connection to Chess? Mate, do you have any idea how hard it is to find blues records in England? I’m lucky if I can find four or five singles every year.”
The train slowed down at Bexley station. The student didn’t say anything. As the musician looked outside, rain hit the window. The sun had disappeared and the town was grey. An old woman ducked into a pharmacy to avoid the rain. On the corner of the street an empty lot was covered with bricks and debris. What little grass was left grew high with weeds that sprouted in every direction. Leftover memories painted by the war. A small crowd of people hurried on board the train.
Two notebooks slid out of the student’s bag. He put them back in and laid his bag on the floor.
“What uni are you going to?” asked the musician as he tilted his head to read titles on the books.
“The business school?”
“Yeah, I started not long ago.”
“What do you plan on doing up there?”
“Maybe a journalist. Maybe politics. I’m not sure. What about you?”
“I was going to Dartford Tech, but only showed up some of the time. So they did me a favor and told me to show up none of the time. Now I’m over at Sidcup.”
The student laughed and looked over at the musician’s guitar. “What are you playing?” he asked.
“It’s an archtop Höfner. I’m borrowing it from a friend,” said the musician as he grabbed the guitar and played a few chords. His face went hollow as he looked down at his fingers moving along the strings.
“You been playing long?” asked the student.
The musician’s fingers quit moving as he blinked back into reality. He looked up.
“Shit, three of four years now. Enough to memorize most of Chuck’s solos.”
He leaned his guitar back against the window and nodded towards the student's bag of records.
“Hey mate, do you mind if I take a look at those?”
Grabbing his bag off the ground, the student handed the musician his records.
“Thanks,” said the musician.
He ran his hand over the cover of the first record, Chuck Berry Rockin’ at the Hops. He pulled the vinyl out of it’s sleeve, and flipped it over looking for the matrix number. He grabbed a notebook out of his back pocket and began writing down the numbers. LP-10, 198P.P.
“Mate I’ve always wanted to bring the blues back to these American kids.” said the musician.
He flipped the record over and began writing again.
“Reintroduce them to the other side of the tracks. This culture of theirs they’ve thrown away and forgotten.”
He put the vinyl back in its sleeve, and then grabbed the second record, The Best of Muddy Waters. He looked at the cover. The musician pulled the vinyl out of its sleeve and began writing down numbers.
“I want to wake their asses up. Show them what real rhythm and blues is. What real R&B is. None of this Dinah Shore, Brook Benton shit that they’re playing now. That’s all rubbish mate. But the good shit, the real shit.”
As the student watched the musician, he opened his mouth to speak but was cut off.
“Some great records right there. I still can’t believe you listen to this stuff.”
The train came to a stop. People began grabbing their bags and getting off. The musician handed the records back to the student.
The student put the records back into his bag. As he looked up, he grabbed his elbow and began to rub his arm.
“Hey, so every Saturday a bunch of mates and I get together at this juke-joint, the Carousel. You should come down and play with us sometime,” the student said.
As the musician looked out the window a crowd of people boarded the train.
“Oh shit! This is Sidcup,” he said as he jumped up out of his seat.
“I almost missed my stop.”
He slung his bag over his shoulder.
“Mate I didn’t catch your name.”
“I’m Mick,” said the student. He extended out his hand.
“Nice to meet ya. I’m Keith.”
They shook hands. The musician grabbed his guitar and headed towards the door. He turned around looking back at the student.
“Hey mate. I’ll be sure to look you up!”
The doors closed as the musician walked off the train. A conductor whistled for last call.
Heading towards the school the musician began playing a Muddy Waters lick. He stopped to looked down at his watch. His first class started in two minutes. He spotted a bench up ahead. He walked up to it and tossed a bag off his shoulder and onto the ground. He sat down on the bench and began playing the same Muddy Waters lick.
“Damn, how does he get those couple of chords?”
The musician started playing again. He thought to himself, “Fuck it, I’ll get today’s lessons from someone in class.”