Read Streetlights Like Fireworks Online

Authors: David Pandolfe

Streetlights Like Fireworks (3 page)

I’m just about to leave when I turn to face Gary again
“Where did it come from?”

“Just a trade-in, why?”

I understand. Why would it matter as long as I like it?
From his perspective, obviously I do—enough, in fact, to trade an amazing Les
Paul for a worn out piece of crap.

“Just curious who might have owned it before. Does she
live around here?”


Right, Gary can’t possibly know what I’ve experienced. “I
don’t know,” I say. “I just thought it might have been a woman for some

“Nope. Just some guy.”

“You sure?”

Gary stares at me blankly.

“Never mind. What was his name?”

He shrugs. “Okay, whatever.” Gary reaches over the
counter, opens a drawer and withdraws a spiral notebook. He thumbs through a
few pages. “Angelo Delvechio.”

Actually, the name rings a bell but I don’t know why.

“He said he was the janitor at the elementary school.
Something like that.”

That’s why I know the name. Even back then, I couldn’t
help feel bad for Old Anthony. If there’s a hell, it probably involves cleaning
up after a bunch of kids too young to anticipate when they might barf or pee
their pants. Lots of ugly messes in those first years of elementary school.
Still, Old Anthony was a musician? Never would have guessed that one. Either
way, what could he possibly have to do with the woman from the flash?

I remain silent long enough that Gary says, “Look, I
understand. It’s fine if you want to change your mind. We can just forget about

The Gibson’s case still rests on Gary’s counter, within
it my beautiful Les Paul. The frayed handle of the case I now hold digs into my
palm. In my mind, I see the woman playing with her band, her on the phone
crying, the glowing guy who could not possibly have been standing in my room.

Just bail on this mistake
, I tell myself.
is stupid
. I think of the old song,
Reverse This Curse
. Even more
ironically, by Escape the Fate. Fitting, definitely. Still, something tells me
that all these experiences suddenly stacking up aren’t random—that they’re
pointing toward something I need to know. Something that runs way deeper than
any of my flashes in the past. Whatever that is, I can’t ignore it.

 “I guess I’m good,” I tell Gary. “Thanks.”

I leave a few minutes later carrying a guitar full of
stories, wondering what those stories have to do with me.



The Demon and the


I take the demon guitar out of its case in Doug’s garage,
bracing myself to see if it attacks my brain again. Even though that last flash
was pretty tame, I’ve still avoided playing the Telecaster since taking it home
the day before. Partly because I don’t want my parents to find out about the trade
(that promises to be unpleasant, to say the least) and partly because I won’t
be seeing Lauren until tonight. It just seemed to make sense taking a break
from wondering who that woman could be, not to mention the guy who visited my
bedroom in the middle of the night. Now, I have no choice but to see if it
happens again.

Thankfully, the guitar must be in a good mood since I’m
not assaulted by any visions. Meanwhile, Doug and Justin stare, wondering
what’s going on.

“Please explain,” Justin says. “Did the Gibson break down
or something?”

“Oh, cool, got it,” Doug says. “That’s a loaner. You had
me sort of freaked out there for a minute.”

“Nope, this is me now.” I plug the Telecaster into my

Silence follows but I don’t look up as I continue to
watch the needle swing between
swing between sharp
and flat.
I know Justin and Doug well enough to sense them shooting WTF
glances at each other. Once I’m done tuning, I walk over to my amp, plug in
there and click it on. I have serious doubts but I do my best to sound
confident when I suggest we test run the Telecaster on one of our originals.

“How about ‘Don’t See Me?’” I say.

While we play mostly covers, we’ve also been writing some
songs of our own. “How You (Don’t) See Me” is about being judged for what you
look like rather than who you are. The way adults peg you for being a total
loser if you don’t look like you just strolled out of an Abercrombie &
Fitch catalog. If you dress in black or do anything suggesting “goth” everyone
assumes you’re mainlining heroin while bent on suicide. It doesn’t ever occur to
them that maybe it’s the football team and cheerleaders sucking back beers,
smoking weed and hooking up while the “freaky” kids are home on Friday night
reading a book or checking out stuff on Tumblr.

 “Sure, let’s give it a shot,” Doug says, kicking his
bass drum a few times.

Justin runs a few riffs on his bass, adjusts the volume,
then nods.

We rip into the song’s intro and at first it feels
strange to have this new guitar in my hands. I’m used to the Gibson and now my
fingers have to find their way around this unfamiliar neck. I keep adjusting
the tone knobs and toggling between pickups, trying to get things right. But
once I approach the microphone and start singing, the Telecaster becomes part
of me. It fits my body perfectly, hanging at my hip, a solid workhorse. I’m not
once concerned with scratching the finish as I slam at it. Definitely not an
issue. And while the Les Paul always delivered a chunky sound I thought worked
for me, the Telecaster sounds raw and tough. It has a voice of its own, and my
voice—not always the best, unfortunately—rises to the moment, connecting with
both the energy and lyrics like never before.

Dress in black, you tune me out

Must be a loser, down and out

You see what you want to

And this is how you don’t see me!

We must have shit grades, drink, do drugs

While you smile at well-dressed shiny thugs

Fooling you so perfectly

And this is how you don’t see me!

We finish in a squeal of feedback, crashing cymbals and
bass flourishes. We check in on each other, sweating, eyes wide. Something just
happened there that’s never happened before.

Doug keeps kicking at his bass drum so hard I think he
might punch through it. “Holy shit, that was awesome!”

Justin nods like fifteen times, hair swinging over his
face, then says, “Keep the loaner, dude.”

I stand there stunned. That was
the best we’ve ever played and I’m thinking maybe the Telecaster might simply
be just a guitar. A very cool guitar at that. Maybe I haven’t made the worst
mistake of my life. Doug hits his snare and Justin slaps out a riff. Without
even talking about it, we kick off another song. The rest of the session kills
too and we nail all the songs we’ve been working on. Even the covers sound
different, less like we’re trying to imitate and more like we’ve created
something of our own.

It’s only after we’ve finished, when I’m kneeling on the
floor settling the Telecaster back into its case, that it happens again. It’s
not so much what I’d even call a flash this time. Nothing startling or
disorienting. Just an image that I might have even attributed to my imagination
if it wasn’t for the feeling that comes along with it. This time I see her
staring out a window at night, her face reflected in the glass. The lights of
other buildings shine back through her reflection but I can tell she’s not
seeing those buildings. She sees only her own eyes, within them total solitude.
She can’t see me watching her. I’m not there. Not in that moment, whenever it
took place. She’s completely alone and it feels like she will be for a long
time to come.


“I think I should try to find her,” I say, “try bringing the
guitar back to her.”

Before this afternoon, I hadn’t been thinking that at
all. I kept assuming that eventually these random images would stop coming.
After all, I don’t know her, whoever she is. She can’t possibly have anything
to do with me. But when I saw her eyes again, and felt her complete loneliness,
something shifted for me. Even though I can’t imagine why the guitar would
matter, I know she needs something. Some part of her life is incomplete. I can
sense it. I can also relate to it since I’ve felt the same way for a long time.

Lauren sits across from me at the Coffee Grounds, a
Starbucks alternative that somehow clings to life in Edmonds. “Seems like a
good idea,” she says.

She stirs sugar into her double-espresso while I suddenly
feel self-conscious for ordering a decaf iced mocha. A chocolate milk,
essentially. I half-expected her to give me a hard time for ordering it but I
guess she didn’t notice.

“I fully realize that doesn’t make any sense,” I say.
“But there it is.”

Lauren shakes her head impatiently. “Why does everything
have to make sense? If that’s the way you feel, then that’s what you should

“Other than the fact that it’s insane. On top of that, I
have no idea who she is. Provided she even exists outside my imagination.”

“We kind of covered the imagination thing, remember? You
need to trust your intuition.”

“But how is any of this even possible?” I mean the guitar
but I guess I’m also asking a larger question about the flashes. I can tell
Lauren understands.

Her eyes meet mine. She has the most amazing eyes—a mix
of colors, ranging from blue-gray to tan. Hazel, I guess. Lauren’s cheeks
redden a little when I forget to break off eye contact but she doesn’t look

“It’s not the guitar, it’s you,” she says. “But I think
you know that. I’m assuming stuff like this has happened before. It has,

“A few times,” I say. Which isn’t entirely true, of
course. But I’ve never spoken to anyone about the things I experience. Even
with Lauren, I’m having a hard time going there.

She leans in toward me. “Maybe more than a few times?”

I hesitate, then nod. “There’s been stuff in the past.
Nothing like this, though. Just, like, feelings.”

Lauren considers. “Well, that’s all this is too. Just a
way stronger feeling. Let me guess—your family isn’t exactly comfortable with
any of it.”

“Total denial,” I say.

“And your friends? Just guessing again, but you probably
haven’t told them about your special skill either.”

My heart starts to beat faster.
Finally, I’m talking to someone about this. Not just someone. Her. “I
don’t know if you can call it a skill, exactly. It’s more like—I don’t know
what it is. But I have no control over it, that’s for sure. I never know when,
or if, it’s going to happen. Shit, it’s just freaking weird.”

Lauren laughs, excited, as if she’s just discovered
something. And that something is me. “Personally, I think it’s weird that most
people pretend they don’t know half as much as they do,” she says. “That’s just
my way of looking at it. But you can get better at controlling it. That’s for
sure. Like anything else, you just need to practice. And, of course, not
pretend it doesn’t exist.”

“How do you practice?” It hasn’t occurred to me before
that someone even could.

Lauren hesitates for a moment, then reaches into her bag
and takes out an antique pocket watch. She holds it out to me. “Here. Just go
with it, okay?”

I’m not exactly sure what she’s getting at but I hold my
hand out all the same. Lauren drops the watch into my palm and it’s
surprisingly heavy. I rub my thumb across the cover, its brass finish tarnished
with age. I click it open to discover it’s actually a compass. The needle

“So, talk,” Lauren says.

“About what?”

“I don’t know, whatever comes to mind. Try closing your

I glance at the old compass again. “Seriously?”

“Why not? Go on, just give it a shot and see what

I wonder if I’m about to make a fool of myself. I check
Lauren’s eyes to be sure but she’s not having fun at my expense.

“Okay, sure,” I say.

I hold the compass and close my eyes. Then I continue to
sit there with my eyes closed, trying not to feel ridiculous. It’s hard not to
think about my own stuff, or Lauren, or the people I hear talking at nearby
tables. I imagine them looking at me and wondering what’s wrong with me. But
then the voices and music fade and I see the compass inside my mind. I don’t
really even feel it in my hand anymore. There’s just this image of the compass
floating in darkness, its brass edges glowing.

At first, nothing else comes. But then I see the needle
start to quiver, then move. It shifts toward the north, then trembles again and
points between north and west. Images of cloudy skies, rivers and bridges
appear for no reason I can think of. Just random pictures hitting my brain like
rain striking against a roof. It feels like dreaming while wide awake. Then I
see an old brick apartment building with moss clinging to windowsills and ivy
growing up the side. My focus goes to one of the windows, where a guy stands
looking out at the sky. He looks older than us, maybe in his early twenties,
with short dark hair and tattooed forearms. Whoever he is, I’ve never seen him
before. That’s as far as I get before I open my eyes again.

Lauren sits watching me. “What do you have?”

“Nothing, really,” I say. “Just random stuff.”

She has no problem with that. “So, tell me.”

As I describe the series of images, I expect her to shrug
and agree that none of it means anything. Instead, she goes pale. She puts the
compass back into her bag, then takes another sip of her espresso. After a
moment, she looks at me again. “So, your friend, Gary—he told you where he got
the guitar?”

I can’t see what the Telecaster has to do with the
compass but, okay, we’re back to the guitar again. “He said he got it from the
janitor at the elementary school.”

Lauren pushes strands of hair away from her face. “Wait,
you mean Old Angelo?”

“Yeah, I know. But that’s what Gary said.”

Lauren thinks for a moment. “Okay, weird, but we start
there and see where it goes. How does that sound?”

The two of us starting something together sounds just
fine to me.

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