The writer shook his head quickly after catching himself in a daze staring at the performers’ feet. Under the clench of the banjo’s hypnosis, his eyes slowly moved up the feet of a wooden stool, across some dirty Vans, over a pair of cut-off jeans, focusing on the banjo sitting on a man’s lap.
Notes danced across the strings up to an over-caffeinated, nerve-jangling bluegrass jingle. The audience began standing, clapping, and dancing, but the writer went unfazed. He stayed fastened to his chair, barely tapping his foot along. The harmonies of the band members seeped into his ears, and he sunk deeper into his chair. Unintelligible joy wrung his core, compelling him to clamp his angst-filled hands to the sides of his seat to keep upright. Approaching the end of their set, the folk band hit three powerful chords and took a bow.
The writer, tense in his seat, watched as they exited the stage. The voices in the coffee shop got louder as a small woman with an acoustic guitar timidly walked onto the stage and started her sound check.
Looking across his shoulder, he saw an abstract painting along the art wall. Scattered lines had never looked so appealing. Nonpictorial elements never quite made sense. Abstract hardly looks like anything. How could one connect with it? He got up and walked over to the painting, marked by red and blue. The polar contrasting primary colors took form in sharp jagged marks as though a frustrated feline got a hold of some paint and failed to contain her composure.
“What a mess,” said a startling voice beside him.
The writer turns to see the smirking banjo player standing behind him. “I like it… but I’m not quite sure why,” he responds.
“Why does it matter?” inquires the musician.
Perplexed by the question, the writer muttered, “What do you mean?”
“It’s just some paint on a piece of paper,“ the musician suggested as the woman on stage started her slow, faint finger picking and humming.
“Making some sort of emotion-stirring arrangement,” argued the writer. “I gotta know why. Could it be because of the color choice?”
The musician turned to face the performer as she began to play more loudly. “Why must you know what it means?” he asked.
“I wanna make sense of it and write about it later,” he said.
“Don’t do that. You’ll ruin it. You’ll demean it to something to be understood, when it’s something meant to be seen and felt,” the musician dreamed. “Imagine a sunset. They’re gorgeous. Oranges, yellows, and reds spewed across the sky. You never say, ‘That’s pretty. Why is that?’ It just is. You stare at its beauty and marvel. It has no meaning, except that the sun is going down and nighttime is coming. The same with art. Draw conclusions on it all you want, but ultimately you just have to let it touch you how it does,” the musician described falling more in love with the performers soft voice and melodic guitar.
“Well, it makes me feel very anxious,” he confessed, watching the heads in the crowd sway from side to side.
“Anxious?” he asked. ”The beauty of art! What a man can do on a rail cart with just some paint and paper.”
“Rail cart? What do you mean?” asked the writer, puzzled by the random statement.
“I made it on the rail cart,” he completed.
“You made it? So you know what it means?” asked the writer eagerly.
“Just because I made it doesn’t mean I know… Let it tell you what it means,” suggested the musician.
The writer takes another glance at the painting and becomes drawn into the crooked winding stokes jettisoning off the canvas. The vocals of the singer became louder as she approached the bridge. Cruel red strands streamed down the piece, switching back and forth, crossing mournful blues, creating tainted purples. The triple strums from her guitar reverberated in the writer’s ears, and welling with uneasiness, he turns away from the work of art.
“I don’t think it speaks English,” he jokes, attempting lighten up his own mood. “But rail cart? I’ve always wanted to do that. For how long? From where to where?”
“Denver to here, where my sister lives,” he says, pointing out the female singer from his band earlier.
“That’s so far!” he exclaims. “It must have been insane! Was it sketchy?”
“Let me just say double check before hopping on a cart,” he snickers. “Waking up to a transient leaning over you asking where the cookies are isn’t really the best thing to wake up to.”
The two laugh, and the conversation continues. “I bet it was boring. What do you do for so long?”
“Well, I took a few breaks because I knew people along the way. Gotta get off those trains for a little and just walk around. But on it… I just made art, like this, and noise.”
“You made noise?” asked the writer.
“Yeah, like the ruckus I made on stage earlier with my banjo,” smiled the muscian, bobbing his head to the female performer’s acoustic cover of a pop song.
“Ruckus? I’d hardly say so. You’re a talented musician!” the writer affirmed.
“No, I was just making noise, plucking away. I don’t really know if I can do that again. I was just so into the music that I got lost in it,” he mused. “The same thing with life. You take it as it comes. You’ll waste too much time worrying and trying to change something that can be used just the way it is. I can’t handle too many missed opportunities. Life is far too short, and there is far too much to do to stick to the same ol’ same ol’.”
The writer, moved by his words, looked back on missed opportunities. where he could have landed a corporate level job in Moscow but declined when he looked at the idea of a new country. He could hardly stop going to the same coffee shop to write. He thought about hundreds of small cafés that populated the Portland Metro area and regretted the small pea-sized lack of adventure.
“I see you’ve made a friend?” interrupts a young woman. “I’m Julie. I’m sure my brother has charmed you.”
Exiting his mind, he returns to the present: “Beyond words. You have quite the character for a brother.”
“Yeah, a character that will soon be the next murder victim on a daytime tv show,” she nagged. “I offer to buy him a plane ticket and instead he tells me he’s gonna take the train. He said the train would be more relaxing and he could see more of the country. Later to found out that the train he took wasn’t quite the train I had imagined.”
“It was more fun that way!” the musician chuckled.
Pushing his shoulder back, “More dangerous is more like it.”
“Eh, just making it interesting,” he says gently lowering his eyes to the floor.
“Yeah, just make it out alive, and the time you don’t…” she says, pausing in frustration. “Have at it, but you worry me.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be safe,” he reassures, pulling her under his arm.
“Good,” Julie sighs. “Well, I just remembered we have to pick up my roommate from the airport. She’s there waiting right now and is too scared to take the MAX.”
“Sounds like you need to tell her to be more like your brother,” the writer smiled.
She laughs. “Maybe a little but too much and he’ll be a bad influence,” she says giving her brother a friendly glare.
“Well, let’s get going. It was nice meeting you,” she concluded as the two scamper off backstage.
The writer stood staring at the painting as it shouted nonsense at him. “Am I thinking to much?” he thought to himself.