NO MORE, NO LESS • by Pamela McKenney

When his mother called, said Daddy was dying, Mike knew he would sell the guitar for a plane ticket home.

The first caller was a bust. Offered three hundred. Three hundred for a John 5 Fender. The guy was clueless. Mike had barely raked the strings with a pick.

“No, man. It’s like new,” Mike said.

“I got cash,” the voice chirped.

“Keep your cash. It’s a steal at six.”

Mike tossed the phone onto the marred pine table by his bed and slumped into the nest of covers; once again, itemizing the possessions he could sell. He might get fifty for his leather. His gaze cut from the jacket, sprawled over a chair, to the Fender. The gig bag fit like a sheath, like black lingerie. Mike hadn’t touched it since his mother called, but that long night he had tuned the guitar, strumming familiar chords and spiraling into playful licks until it became wooden again. Just an instrument.

The next caller wanted to make payments. “A hundred down and fifty bucks a week.”

“You gotta be shittin’ me. I don’t even know you.” Mike was pacing. Five steps from the window at the foot of his bed to the door.

“Hey, I’m good for it.”

“It’s six hundred. That’s what I need.”

Mike started to explain why he had to sell the guitar, but stopped himself and hung up. The calloused fingers of his left hand pressed chords into his hard thigh, while the other extracted the box from the pocket of his jacket. The neat corners and sharp edges fit the curve of his palm. When they were kids, he and Lonny would fight over who got to peel back the cellophane tab of Dad’s Viceroys exposing the tight folds and then the foil wrap that sheltered the cigarettes like Cracker Jack prizes.

Mike knocked one loose and stuck the filtered tip between his dry lips. His hand shook until he pulled the cloying vapors into his lungs.

The phone rang and rang. Mike lurched to answer it after the fourth ring.

“Hello?” He relaxed at the unfamiliar voice and said, “That’s right, like new.”

His eyes found the guitar, propped up in the angle of light by the window. Its
shadow on the wood floor curved like a question. He turned away.

“Sure, sure, the gig bag’s in, but it’s six hundred firm””cash.” Mike said. He traced the course grooves he’d carved into the table. One for each month he’d been in New York. His year was slipping away. The cigarette fit between his yellow stained fingers like an extra extremity. Mike was suddenly nauseous.

The last time he was called home, after the surgery, Mike’s dad had bummed a cigarette and then pressed the tan filter to the stomata protruding from his throat. Mike saw himself in the set of his old man’s jaw.

“Tonight’s good.” Mike answered the last caller. “No worries, man, like I said, I need the money.”

The rising smoke stung Mike’s eyes. He squinted through tears and pressed the butt against the side of the ashtray, burning himself until, finally, it went out. His fingers arched and bent, pressing soundless patterns into the air.

Pamela McKenney is a recent graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Program and the University of Southern Maine. SHe is currently working on a collection of short stories.

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Joseph Kaufman