FROM the front porch of his peeling weatherboard cottage that overlooked the sleepy everyman’s city of Golden Creek, Frank Dyson sometimes noticed cars stop at his letterbox.
It was a fresh phenomenon, one that had snowballed in the past year. The cars were invariably bombs, pieces of junk that should be driven nowhere but the tip. Although Frank’s house was the humblest of humble abodes, it was no rubbish dump. No, these cars always visited the sand hills – which stood like watchful soldiers over the quiet town below – with a different purpose.
Each one carried a distinct type of person. Pensive folk in their early thirties – the same age as Frank’s prodigal son, Richie. Or more outgoing teens with dyed black hair – the same colour as their clothes, neck tattoos and, sometimes, lipstick.
And these visitors reacted in different ways too. Upon noticing a strange, middle-aged man in overalls rocking purposefully in a chair on the front porch, some would avert their eyes in a flurry of feigned phone checking or radio dial changing. The more carefree came in groups of two or more. They would wave, smile or give the furniture maker the thumbs-up while headbanging to thrash metal. None of these sightseers ever gave Frank Dyson any trouble, nor did he expect them to.
Once after an arduous day applying the finishing touches to a kitchen cabinet in his workshop, Frank retreated inside, through the kitchen, to his dining table – some of his proudest work. Awaiting him, along with his wife Christine and some of her best leek soup, was a letter.
“It has no stamp,” Christine said. “And it’s addressed to Richie. It’s from one of those people.”
“I saw a young woman out front earlier. She had a picture of a dinosaur on her T-shirt.”
“Was it a . . . lumbering dinosaur?”
“Can’t say if it was lumbering – it was but a picture, dear.”
“What does the letter say?”
“‘You changed my life. I had to tell you.’”
“He’s becoming a bad influence that son of ours.”
Rather than retreat to the cosiness of his lounge room to watch TV that night, Frank Dyson tramped out to his lumber shed. The moment had come to put the final touches on what had been his hobbyhorse for the past nine months: his very first acoustic guitar.
After thirty-five years of crafting fine timber furniture, a musical instrument was a deviation from the straight-and-narrow for Frank Dyson; one, he hoped, would fulfil a spiritual need. He missed his son, who was in a far-flung country whose name he could not recall. Building a guitar made Frank remember old times when Richie would sit in his bedroom strumming away into the night. At times he had threatened to throttle his son for waking him, but absence makes the heart grow fonder – and the absent musician seem much less out of tune.
The furniture maker, at roughly 60 years of age, was balancing on the edge of a midlife crisis. It wasn’t the type that brought out the adulterer within or sent a desperate man in search of an open-top sports car. It was the type that made one explore, however futilely, his previously uncharted love for music. As a young man, Frank had loved listening to surf bands, and had occasionally imagined himself in a rock band. He had assumed that even the bass players in such ensembles would be guaranteed his choice of girls on roller-skates.
The universe could be thankful that Frank Dyson was ahead of the pack when it came to self-awareness. He knew his limitations, one of them being that he didn’t know how to play guitar. There was no point – at least for now – pretending that he did. That would only end in divorce. For the immediate future, the furniture maker had plans only to drive other people away.
Earlier that day, he had walked to a music shop in town seeking the six strings needed to complete his pride and joy. He knew of only one such shop – the place he had taken Richie for lessons all those years ago.
“You play?” the long-haired and yellow-teethed man behind the counter said as he rifled through small boxes of tightly packed guitar strings.
“No, but my son does.”
“Oh, I’d probably know him. I know everyone in the scene going back to chringe – and beyond. What’s his name?”
“Richie Dyson – but he left town a long, long time ago.”
“No fuckin’ way! The Richie Dyson. You Can’t?”
“What did you just call me?”
“You Can’t – Richie Dyson’s album with Lumbering Dinosaur. That guy is a total fuckin’ legend, man – get outta here!”
Frank Dyson had heard such things before. But he was no less surprised each time a perfect stranger heaped praise on the boy he had raised at the foot of the sand hills.
The furniture maker was still thinking about this that night when, after watching a YouTube tutorial nine times, he finally finished stringing his guitar.
“You Can’t? Who can’t?” he said, chuckling to himself.
The next night, when a red Toyota Corolla wound its way around the bend and ascended the bumpy asphalt to his home, Frank’s efforts all became worth it.
After some hesitation, the driver car pulled up at the front gate.
A girl, the furniture maker noticed from his bedroom window, opened the door and stumbled forward from the passenger’s side. Dressed in black and heavily pierced, the girl rushed to the letterbox with a note in her left hand.
Frank Dyson was ready for this. He had dressed in the dirtiest, foulest work clothes he could find. Strewn across his face and fastened in a knot around his head was a bright red bandana. In another time, he could have robbed a stage coach looking as he did.
Frank seized his opportunity and staggered forth from his house down the bumpy stone path.
He waved his head around like a madman and strummed his guitar. Then he burst into voice:
“Another fan! Another fan of mine! The world hasn’t forgotten Richie Dyson!”
The girl’s mouth dropped, revealing a pierced tongue between her black lipstick.
“Check it out, David. Look. This is him – it’s Richie Dyson.”
Frank began wailing. It was wailing that was very nearly as bad as the strumming that accompanied it.
“Whisky and cocaine when I rise/It’s a slow and lonely demise!”
“My god, what has happened to your voice?” the girl said.
“Do I need to repeat to you, young lady: whisky and cocaine when I rise – it’s a slow and lonely demise.”
“Oh, right. Can you play something from You Can’t? I don’t know your other stuff.”
Frank Dyson, trying to hold back laughter behind his bandana, staggered to the fence and strummed more raucously.
“Can’t life be what it was before?/Why extinction for this Lumbering Dinosaur?”
“Get in the car, Bree,” the girl’s boyfriend shouted from behind the wheel. “Let’s get the fuck outta here.”
With a cautious wave, the young rock fan bid goodbye to whom she thought was her hero, dropping her note in the letterbox, rather than into Frank’s outstretched, tramp-like hand. Bree walked frantically to the car, climbed in and slammed the door closed. Behind his bandana, Frank smiled as the bomb sped off down the hill.
Life didn’t have to be so boring after all – at least for a brief moment, the furniture maker thought. He chuckled, ripped off his bandana and began thinking of his next project.