but as in the first instance, it was only toward the last measures that I felt it. We were playing the ditty “One Meatball,” our most outlandish offering of the night up until that point. This respectable Civil-War-era ballad became, in our paws, a bawdy comic sing-along, which I sang and fiddled like a perfect degenerate, though well. I availed myself of a rabid rubato style, tossing my classical training to the proverbial dogs. My bow was a screecher, and I brazenly veered off key into flat and sharp notes, mostly by design. Having broken free and far afield of the

song’s rightful frame, we weren’t sure how to end the thing. I’d shifted in close to elfin Ed, who was thrumming away on his tub. About six inches

“I became aware, as of a dream remembered, that the visitant had tried to speak to me.”

shorter than I, he reminded me of a tot awaiting his spoonful of mush, his eyes fixed on mine. Tyler was also watching me, also looking for my signal to “take it out.” Then I felt another pair of eyes on me. I raised my shoulders and arms high and nodded once, then twice. . . . I didn’t hear anything strange, except our music, but the look weighed heavy on me. On my third nod, I dropped my shoulders and chin; my bow slid off the strings, and our roadside combo sank into a zone of sheer stillness. A kind of surreal quiet ensued. For a

breath, no hoots or cheers issued from our score 31

of listeners. Then the clapping began, a sound like frozen snow or ice sloughing off branches in the woods when the wind blows through. I scanned the faces, vacantly looking for the old girlfriend. Then I became aware, as of a dream remembered, that the visitant had tried to speak to me. The words were fainter than audio bleed coming from the other side of a tape—or from the other side of time and the years themselves. The voice had sounded on a bandwidth my eardrums couldn’t pick up. The presence as felt did little else to reveal itself, but seemed to know me and just where to find me. “You are one sick dude!” Tyler told me;

“I fucking love you.” After bear-hugging me, he went down to his case to dig in its “pick compartment” for a string to replace the one he’d snapped by strumming with too much heart. I called for the bottle, hit on it deep, then let Ed put it back in his pack. Tyler attached a cranking tool to his guitar peg to facilitate the quick unspooling of the broken string. Blood on one of his knuckles marked where the strands of steel had chafed it raw during the interludes he played like pure spirit.

Tyler rose up plucking his new string.

I thought I heard German gurgling through a distant loudspeaker on La Grand-Place and considered abandoning our gig to go see what was going on. Instead, I flexed my fingers some more, checked my inhibitions at the starting gate, and with flying “potatoes” launched another set of breakneck tunes. Our trio’s fans continued to accumulate.

Rue Chair et Pain grew congested as they piled

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