The Piper's Inn
He was waiting beside the road. We swerved to pick him up, rain pelting the car windshield. Martin Rochford burst into the back seat, escaping the lashing wet, and drew the door closed with a smart tug. We made our tentative way along the narrow road, Martin clutching the padded back of the front seat with a meaty hand while he called out directions in his throaty Clare voice. Finally we saw the pub lights swimming up ahead.
Through the amber of a pint, I watched the men as they unpacked their instruments, crammed empty cases under table and chairs. They tuned up, rosined bows, adjusted flutes, settled their drinks on the table. Pat wrestled his pipes into place, a complicated process. Quiet chat prevailed. I held my fiddle on my lap with bow resting on my shoulder. After three years playing I hadn’t the ability to keep up in a session, but could join an occasional tune I knew well.
The music began in a rush, driven by a strident banjo. It was a flying but welcome din. Tune after tune erupted. Like me, Martin sat listening, fiddle at rest. The scent of his wet overcoat was an essential part of him, as were his abstracted gaze and the way his eyes rode above his cheeks in two pale crescents. His head was tilted. Strands of white hair escaped his wool cap. Fraught with static electricity, they seemed alive.
“Give us a tune, Martin,” someone called out.
“My tunes are all gone,” he answered, shrugging. He shook his head.
"Go on. Give us a tune. You will now.”
After an eloquent pause, Martin tucked his fiddle under his chin and lifted his bow. He played alone and I knew why as the tune progressed: no one would want to intrude on such music. I closed my eyes and heard a small owl’s cry in twilit woods, a prayer sung by a silver dragonfly, the funeral lament for a toadstool. I saw spinning motes of light on lake water. The notes turned and twisted, rose and fell. Like rain and wind, they soaked into places in my heart I most conceal, undoing wounds till they oozed colors and tears.
Kevin, a fiddler, leaned close. “He’s playing those fairy tunes,” he whispered.
(Photo and prose copyright Cathy Larson Sky 2013)