By John Thomas Tuft

“Lincoln Duncan is my name and here’s my song…” Banjo Max picked out the tune of the Paul Simon song while sitting in the empty field in the middle of a cold January night. The new moon was a mere sliver, a crescent of silver cradled on the horizon like it was too weary to climb any higher. Banjo Max understood such weariness all too well. Sure, he knew that in a number of days it would become the iridescent wolf moon, but for tonight he and the moon shared an anchor to the horizon. When you spend a lifetime on the road, there’s little room in the suitcase for more than a few memories. Usually, the extra heavy ones that stick in the corners till they’ve grown fuzzy mold and stain everything they touch. “Holes in my confidence, holes in the knees of my jeans…” Banjo Max sang on until his fingers got too cold and he put the old guitar back in its case and walked on beneath the lunar cradle.

When he reached a roadhouse on the outskirts of town he went in, hoping to play for the angels hovering at the bar. He wanted the comfort of someone who would not look too closely into his eyes, for there they might see the emptiness of unforgiving pain that had taken up residence in his heart. Ever since…ever since…Pearl. The bartender was preaching Johnny Walker healing, salvation through holy water, that quickened Banjo Max’s spirit. The choir at the pool tables did their interpretive dance of rack and break, swoop the corners, and lean into the felt, wielding their cue sticks like they were smoking censers, or maybe the magic wands of Dumbledore. You never know. Banjo Max gulped a shot and went to the makeshift stage with its battered stool of a pulpit and a microphone that stank the stench of actual communion of the saints. He took out the scriptures of steel strings and capo, worn frets and fading wood stain, held on his shoulder by the sacred stole.

He cleared his throat. “I’m Banjo Max,” he began, “but I don’t play no banjo.” He slipped on his thumb and finger picks, ignoring the rush inside of him at the memory of Pearl giving him this particular set. Back before… No, best not to think about that right now. Not enough alcohol in his system yet. He started with his doxology, praise for the god of loneliness. “A-one, and two and three and/It’s so easy to live with no fear or deceit/But sometimes I think maybe I have skipped a beat/The road I chose was maybe not all it should be/But sometimes it was oh, so sweet…” He trilled the notes of the Gordon Lightfoot song with the picks on the old strings, hoping they would hold up for one more performance. The congregation in the bar stopped what they were doing and listened to Banjo Max preaching his lostness in solitary salvation.

He was taking up the offering with his old watch cap when he noticed that his cheeks were damp. What the hell? He hadn’t cried in years. The stigmata of the minstrel saints are the callouses on the tips of their fingers, the scabs from living hard, and the scars of too many wounds from lost love. Tears are for those hearing the songs. Banjo Max retreated to a corner of the bar, back in the shadows. “Where’d you blow in from?” said a woman’s voice. “I own this little sanctuary and I never seen you in here before.” Banjo Max did not turn around. “A little bit of everywhere,” he muttered. “No roots, cowboy?” she pressed gently. “Roots are for trees and Latin. I’m the wind blowing songs around. That a problem?” he challenged. “It’s a hard way of living, I suppose,” she responded.

Banjo Max felt something rubbing against his feet. He looked down into the face of a chocolate brown Lhasa Apso. “That’s UFO. She’s just checking you out.” Banjo Max reached toward the mop of a dog and was met by a growl. “UFO?” The woman laughed. “Unidentified Furry Object. Lhasas come out of Tibetan Terriers. That’s what makes them so fierce and good sentinels.” Banjo Max turned around to see a middle-aged woman with platinum hair, cut close, jeans and a denim shirt. He tried not to stare at the dark purple surgical scar peeking from above the open buttons at the top. “Unidentified? What’s…?” he started to say. “I’m Faith,” the woman smiled. “I got her from a breeder right before my heart surgery. Breeder said Lhasa Apsos with her coloring are nature’s mistake. If they reproduce there are all sorts of problems possible. So, she said, they’re only good to neuter and be pets, if anyone wants them. Wouldn’t name her. Called her unidentified.” She shrugged, held Banjo’s gaze.

Banjo returned the smile. “So, you being you, you turned it into her name?” Faith nodded. “UFO stayed right beside me on the bed, my furry comfort object. We were made for each other. All I got is her and this bar.” She looked thoughtful. “And you being you, what comes next?” Banjo let out a sigh. “That’s unidentified at this moment.” Faith pulled UFO to her and hugged her tight. “How about for right now, cowboy, one more song. For me,” she looked pensive. “A song for a broken heart…” And they both smiled as Banjo Max prepared the sacramental paraments one more time.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.