Jim Bates

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in over two-hundred online and print publications. His short story “Aliens” has been nominated by The Zodiac Press for the 2021 Pushcart Prize. His collection of short stories Resilience is scheduled to be published in early 2021 by Bridge House Publishing and Short Stuff a collection of his flash fiction and drabbles will be published by Chapeltown books in 2021. In addition, Something Better, a dystopian adventure, will be published by Paper Djinn Press in early 2021. All of his stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.

The Street Musician

“What do you think, Dad. Should we set up here?”

            Rosie was in a shaded park on a bluff high above the Mississippi River. The city of Minneapolis formed the skyline across the river from her. It was the end of June, early afternoon, and people were out and about enjoying a cloudless blue sky. Most everyone wore a face mask of some sort; Covid -19 was still raging, but in the park, it was easy to do social distancing and people were enjoying the nice day and being able to get outside. Rosie adjusted her own tie-dye mask, one given to her by a friend at the homeless encampment.

            Yeah, this is perfect, her father agreed with her. Right under this big old cottonwood tree. It’s nice and shady.

            She smiled at his comment and spread out a four by six-foot red batik blanket in a floral design and sat down. She took her ukulele out of her backpack and tuned it. People walking by looked at her curiously, a small, waif-like girl of sixteen who looked about ten. She was five feet tall and had short auburn hair she cut with an old pair of sewing scissors. Today she was wearing cut-off blue jeans and a white tee-shirt with a black peace and the saying, Give Peace a Chance, stenciled on it in red letters.

            She took off her boots and sat crossed-legged, lightly strummed the strings and warming up her fingers. Her father asked, Sweetheart, didn’t you forget something?

            “Oh, yeah, I almost forgot.”

            She took a battered ceramic bowl from her pack and put it in front of her. It was her tip jar. “Thanks, Dad. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”

            She turned to put her pack out of the way behind her when she father slipped a twenty-dollar bill into the bowl. There you go. That’ll get you started.

            Turning and seeing the bill in the bowl, Rosie frowned and looked around. “Where did this come from?” she whispered to herself. She looked around. No one was close enough to have done it. Nearby her father grinned to himself. It was fun to play a trick on his serious-minded daughter sometimes.

            “Oh, well,” Rosie smiled, talking openly to herself as she strummed her ukulele some more. “Maybe this is going to be my lucky day. Goodness knows I could use it.”

            She began to play her first song, “Do You Believe In Magic?” by the Lovin Spoonful. Nearby her father stood off to the side and taped his foot, watching as people began to congregate. Rosie was a talented musician and had a wonderfully melodic singing voice, kind of a cross between Emily Lou Harris and Joan Baez. She was a joy to listen to.

            For the rest of the day people came and went, most of them leaving money in her tip jar, all of them made happy by the songs the young street musician sang. By the end of the day, she’d made over a hundred dollars.

            Sweetheart, look. The sun’s starting to go down. Better get going.

            Heeding her father’s words, Rosie looked to the west. “Oh, goodness.” She turned to the crowd, “I should get going,” she said to the twenty or so people gather around. The sun was starting to disappear behind the skyline of Minneapolis. “I’ve got places to go, people to see,” she said, and the crowd laughed.

            She put away her ukulele and shouldered her backpack and started walking north along the bank of the river to the homeless camp about a mile away. The park police were letting about twenty-five people live there for the summer, including Rosie and her father.

            Thinking of her dad caused tears to form in Rosie’s eyes.

            Oh, honey, please don’t cry.

            “I’m sorry, Dad. I just miss you so much. What am I going to do?”

            Her father turned silent. What could he say to that? Nothing.

            “It’s been nearly a month,” she continued. “The pain just doesn’t go away.” She fought back a heart wrenching sob. “The loneliness is unbearable sometimes.”

            I’m right here, sweetheart. I’ll always be with you.

            Rosie stopped walking and turned her head to the side, as if listening. Hearing nothing except the dull roar of the city, she continued on her way.

            “My music is all that keeps me going, Dad. It’s all that keeps me sane. It reminds me of when we were together.”

            I know.

            “I hope someday I’ll see you again.”

            I’ll always be right here beside you.

            Rosie continued walking. In less than ten minutes she was back at the homeless camp. Five or six people sat around a small fire ringed with rocks.

            “Hi everyone,” she said.

            “Here you go, honey.” Sissy, a kind hearted black woman handed over a sandwich which Rosie accepted and ate gratefully, not realizing how hungry she was.

            “Thank you so much, Sissy. I needed that.”

            “How’d the music go today?”

            “Great.” Rosie reached into her backpack and took out the money. “I’ve got some for all of you.” She gave each of her friends some of her earnings which they readily accepted. “Okay,” she said, yawning. “I’m beat.” She walked a few steps and to her tent. “See you all in the morning.”

Tomorrow was supposed to be sunny and she planned to be back playing her music and she needed to try and rest. She went inside and sealed herself off from the world.

            Sissy watched until Rosie had pulled the zipper down. She turned to her friend, Margie, a toothless old woman who’d been living rough for over thirty years. “What do you think? Think she’ll be all right?”

            Margie rolled a cigarette and lit it with a stick match. “Haven’t a clue.” She sucked in the smoke and blew it out. “She sure misses her dad, though. That’s for sure.”

            “Drug overdose you think?”

            Margie smoked some more. “Probably.”

            “Too bad.”

            “Yeah, she’s a good kid.”

            They were quiet for a minute, staring into the fire. Suddenly, music started coming from the tent. Rosie had begun to play, something she only did rarely at the camp. The song was called “One Day at a Time.”

            With the others at the camp, Sissy and Margie listened, both of them feeling a deep affection for the young girl.

            Sissy said, “You know, as long as she’s playing her music, I think she’ll be okay. I hope so anyway.”

            “Yeah. At least it’s something for her to live for,” Margie said, and tossed her cigarette into the fire where it flamed before going out.

            Inside her tent Rosie played and sang, all the while imagining her father nearby, singing along with her, just like he used to when Rosie played and he accompanied her with his deep rich voice, a voice now silent forever.

Rosie sang, “I live one day at a time. I dream one dream at time. Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow is blind. I live one day at a time.”

Her melodic voice drifted out from the tent. Around the campfire Sissy and Margie joined in, and for all three of them, the night didn’t seem quite as lonely anymore. 

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