Driven to madness by a song.
|You Play the Ghee-tar on the MTV
So claimed the boombox on the shoulder of a guy waiting outside a bus station as I walked past. No I don’t, I thought, but maybe I should have kept trying back in the sixties. Trapped in the mid-eighties on a rainy night in Pittsburgh was the right place to have such thoughts, at least. I turned the corner and found the diner I was looking for. Here was shelter from the rain and a place to collect my thoughts.
Once inside, I ordered coffee and a burger and surveyed the scene in the two minutes it took for the waiter to produce them. There were only three other customers, a young couple huddled over Cokes and a guy sitting at the far end of the joint, hunched over and apparently dozing. I wasn’t the only one who needed to get out of the rain, it seemed.
There was a television above the waiter’s head as he worked. It was tuned to MTV and, as I watched, the song ended and another started. I recognised it immediately. Considering my mood, it was the last thing I wanted to hear at that moment. But there was no mistaking that intro, with its distant voice wanting its MTV while the music wandered around in search of a reason for being. I would have to grit my teeth and hang on tight through this, like it or not.
Inevitably, the drums burst suddenly into life and now the guitar’s opening notes, so familiar already, loomed like a thunderstorm over me. I gripped the edge of the counter and hung on like grim death.
Right on cue, the rasping notes split the atmosphere, almost knocking me off my stool. That bastard, Knopfler, he knew what he was doing and I was helpless in the grip of that forceful mastery. I hunkered down, aware that I had a long time to control the urgency of the demands within. The riff pounded at me, refusing to let me win this one.
And then he began, that knowing voice, muttered and sneering, throwing the words like insults at me.
“Now look at them yoyos, that’s the way you do it.” I wanted to scream at him that I knew, there was nothing new in what he was saying.
“You play the ghee-tar on the MTV,” and I held on like a limpet to the counter, forcing myself not to climb up and thrash at the television. “D’you think I don’t know? You bastard, why do you torture me like this? I could have sung this twenty years ago and you’d be the one no one ever heard of. Yeah, I know, that ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it. Money for nuthin’ and yer chicks for free.”
But I held on and kept my head down as the first wave passed. The waiter turned, unaffected by the blast of sound above him, and planted a burger and coffee before me. I grabbed the coffee and drank it down, ignoring the heat that burned in my throat. “Refill?” I asked, my voice hoarse
“Sure, bud,” he answered and turned to get the coffee jug. Knopfler screamed at me from above.
“Maybe get a blister on your little finger, maybe get a blister on your thumb.” Blister? I thought. Shit, I worked my fingers beyond blisters, to grooved callouses that fit the strings and squealed as I shifted chords. Don’t speak to me of blisters.
The waiter returned and poured me another cup. I nodded in thanks and took a sip, determined to make it last this time. We were through to the easy bit now, where he starts whining about shifting ovens and refrigerators, as if he knew anything about such things. In my time I’d moved much more than a few kitchen appliances, I could tell him. I still had callouses but not from guitar strings now.
And going on about the little millionaire faggot with his own jet airplane wasn’t hurting me. I wasn’t little and the only one who looked like a faggot was Knopfler himself. I shrugged and took a bite of the hamburger. Maybe I could get through this. The burger tasted like motor oil but I didn’t care. Anything to take my mind off the big-nosed skeleton moaning about humping colour TVs.
It was the last verse that did it. The words, “I shoulda learned to play the guitar, I shoulda learned to play them drums,” struck deep and I could not stop myself any longer.
“I know, you bastid, I know,” I yelled at the television screen. The waiter turned in surprise.
“What’s that, buddy? You talking to me?”
I took no notice as Knopfler rubbed it in gleefully, his fingers caressing the notes from his slick guitar, each one a blow behind the words directed at me.
“Bangin’ on the bongos like a chimpanzee, that ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it, get yer money for nuthin’, get yer chicks for free.”
That was it, I wasn’t taking this anymore. I lurched to my feet, grabbed the coffee cup and climbed up onto the counter. I began to hammer at the screen with the cup but the handle broke off and the cup disappeared over my shoulder. The waiter had taken hold of my legs and I bent down to hammer at his head with my fists. He let go and staggered backwards.
The blood boiling in my veins, I leaped down from the counter and grabbed a knife lying by the stove. With one slash at the waiter, I tore through his throat and he went down, gurgling and spouting blood on the floor. I stabbed at him a couple of times to make sure.
The young couple were making startled noises and trying to get to the door. I vaulted over the counter and caught them as they reached the exit. The woman fell over backwards as I kicked at her legs and then I sank the knife deep into the belly of her boyfriend. His eyes grew wide with horror so I twisted and jerked at the knife until he went limp and slipped to the floor.
Turning to deal with the woman, I found her trying to crawl under a nearby table. I grabbed a leg and hauled her back into the open. In one movement I transferred my grip from her leg to her hair and pulled her head backwards. A quick slash of the knife at her throat and I let her go, bleeding out her life on to the diner floor.
On the television they were still whining about wanting the MTV. It had all happened that quickly. But now my attention focused on the quiet guy, the one seated furthest from the door. He was still sitting there, awake now but making no move to get away. I walked toward him.
He watched impassively as I approached and I slowed, unused to such presence of mind in one who was clearly next on my agenda. I stopped when a few yards from him.
“You know I have to do this, don’t you?” I asked. “You’re the last witness and I can’t let you go free.”
He continued to look at me without a hint of emotion. “I guess it has to be me then.”
My rage was abating and, with it, the ability to act instinctively. I was not used to having to plan an attack. The knife felt hot and slippery in my grasp and suddenly I wanted to set it down, to be done with everything. My eyes flicked left and right and I wondered whether I should just run for it, in the hope that I would be long gone by the time the police arrived.
The man shook his head, as though he could read my thoughts. “Won’t work, old friend. I’ll be on you before you get halfway to the door.”
This was insane. Was the guy now threatening me? I held up the knife so its bloody blade could be seen. “This gives me an edge, I think.”
He laughed. “You’re an ambitious young fellow, aren’t you? That thing wouldn’t help you even if it were three feet longer.”
I looked at the knife. It really was a puny little thing. And he was big, much bigger than he’d looked from where I had been at the counter. This was becoming extremely awkward. I no longer had the madness to hurl myself at him and try to get the first blow in. But, if he was as fast as he claimed, there was no hope of escape through the exit. I had to decide on a plan of action.
It came in an instant and I flashed my arm back and threw the knife at him. He barely moved, at the last instant snatching the implement from the air in one fat-fingered fist. He broke the handle from it with one twist and threw the pieces on the floor.
I turned to run but he was on me before I took the first step. He landed on my back and I collapsed under his weight to be pinned against the floor. His voice sounded in my ear.
“I did warn you, little one.”
I couldn’t believe how quickly he had caught me once the decision to run had been made. “What the hell are you?” I asked.
“Ah, I thought you might want to know that,” he replied. “Well, it matters not now for you’ll be dead very soon. But you’re a predator and so am I. But there are predators and predators. There are some animals, you see, that eat carnivores by preference. And tonight you have chosen to take one on. I am the carnivore supreme and you are the meal.”
Tiny fleas have big fleas
Upon their backs to bite ‘em
Big fleas have bigger fleas
And so ad infinitum.
Word Count: 1,659
For SCREAMS!!!, July 31 2020
Prompt: Write a story set in the 1980s - word limit 2,000.