Domingo always wanted to play the guitar. When he told this to his father Saul, it took less than twenty minutes before grandpa Mundo’s guitar was retrieved from the basement. It seemed to have not collected dust over the years. It was polished and already tuned. Domingo and his father sat down at the kitchen table. Saul started playing first.
Saul was rusty. He couldn’t seem to string two chords together. It didn’t take so long, however, before Saul began playing like he never stopped in the first place. His fingers weaved up and down like spider legs on the fretboard. His other hand tickled the strings by the soundhole. Saul didn’t need a pick. His fingers were calloused and hard enough. He strummed songs that Mundo used to play during evenings. Songs about heartbreak, conquest, and drinking. The holy trinity.
“You can’t see music,” Mundo said when he first taught the guitar to Saul. “You have to feel it around you. La guitarra is an energy machine.”
Saul stopped playing mid-song. The guitar’s vibrations still colored the room. “You can’t see music,” Saul said. “You have to feel it around you. La guitarra is an energy machine.” He then handed the guitar to Domingo.
Domingo drew the guitar strap over his shoulder. He rested the waist of the guitar on his lap. Domingo gripped the neck with his right hand and placed his pinching fingers on the mouth. He was ready.
“Domingo, that’s not how you play a guitar,” said Saul.
Domingo repositioned his hands and nodded his head to ask for approval.
“No, Domingo. I forgot you’re left handed. You can’t play a guitar left handed,” said Saul.
“Because you’ll play upside down music. It’s not natural.”
“Upside down music? What does that even look like?”
“What did I first tell you about playing the guitar?” Saul took back his guitar and buried it back down in the basement. When he came back up he said to Saul, “maybe you can learn the piano or something.”
The next day, Domingo couldn’t get the idea of playing the guitar out of his head. His father looked at peace and relaxed when he played it. Like he was somewhere else other than the kitchen. Lost, maybe. No. In heaven.
So Domingo went downstairs to the basement. The basement didn’t breathe well. A single, uncovered light bulb. Stone walls. Everything the family didn’t care to keep upstairs. A guitar left to lean against the wall until rapture or a yard sale comes. Domingo picked it up and sat with his legs crossed on the basement floor. He threw on the strap and tilted its neck to his right hand. He pinched his fingers together and picked the bottom cord. Then the cord above that one. Then the next. He plucked until each cord has made its sound.
“Domingo is that you?” Domingo turned over to look and it was his grandpa Mundo walking down the stairs. “I heard the music and I had to come down and see.” He wore a ball cap of a team he didn’t know. His plaid shirt tucked under his belly. The sleeves rolled up to reveal his hairy forearms. Faded bootcut jeans. Work boots that couldn’t take another day of work. All held together nicely with a leather belt pinned to a buckle the size of a fist.
“Grandpa Mundo! I’m learning to play the guitar,” said Domingo.
“And why aren’t you playing it outside on the porch. Or at least not here in this basement,” asked Mundo.
Domingo got up and walked over to Mundo. He leaned in close. “I don’t want my dad to see I’m playing upside down music.”
“So you play lefty too?” Mundo asked.
“Wait. Do you play left?”
“I play both, Domingo.”
Mundo gently took the guitar from Domingo. The two sat down in the middle of the basement. Mundo didn’t put on the strap. “The guitar is for sharing,” Mundo said. He then readied his hands on the guitar and began to play upside down. Mundo’s fingers were old and grey. The dirt on his hands seemed to have cemented itself in the cracks of his skin. Like he was made of earth. Regardless, his fingers twitched and weaved around the body of the guitar. A glow radiated from the soundhole. It grew bigger and brighter until it seemed like Mundo himself was the one glowing. The reeling sound of the strings was the only sound Domingo heard. Everything else he felt.
Just as fast as Mundo started strumming, he stopped. He took the guitar and handed it to Domingo. “Your turn.” Domingo took the guitar. He readied his fingers, but hesitated before he started playing.
“How’d you do that?” Domingo asked.
“Practice, patience, and a long life. Since you play upside down, you have to do the inverse of what normal people do. But let’s just start with the basics for now.” Mundo reached over and molded Domingo’s fingers on the fretboard. “This is an F note.”
For the next several weeks, Domingo would sneak into the basement and start playing upside down. Mundo would hear the music and appear downstairs as quick as he could. The two passed the guitar to one another and shined bright. At night, the crack below the basement door would glow and flicker on and off. Not a sound was ever heard. Everyone vibrated. Just enough to move the soul in rhythm and tickle their bones with each pluck of the string.
Domingo found himself in the basement once more. It was too late to guess the time. Nevertheless, Domingo walked down the stairs into the stuffy basement. He picked up the guitar and took a breath and started playing. His fingers became Maple tree branches that stretched out and retracted just the same up and down the wooden body of his energy machine. From it, a familiar light began to shine. With time, a thin film of light covered his entire frame.
“Hey, that’s pretty good!” It was Mundo. The light had engulfed him too. “It looks to me that you’re just about a professional.”
“You think so?” asked Domingo.
“Oh yeah. You had the best teacher let’s not forget,” replied Mundo. The two laughed. “But I think I don’t have anything else to show you.”
“But what about a progression chord on a four-four time signature? How do I do that upside down?” asked Domingo.
“Hear yourself, Domingo. I don’t even know what that means. Feel it out,” said Mundo.
“So are you not coming down anymore?”
“If you need me, play. Go show your dad tomorrow. What you’ve learned.”
Mundo walked up the stairs. His glowing body slowly dimmed as he walked farther and farther up the stairs until he was nothing more than moonlight.
The next day, Domingo sat his father down at the kitchen table. “Stay here,” Domingo said to him as he ran downstairs. He came back with a guitar in hand.
“I told you I can’t teach you how to play,” said Saul.
“Just feel me out here,” said Domingo. He sat down across from his father. On the ground. No strap on the shoulder.
“Don’t forget your strap, Domingo.”
“The guitar is for sharing,” Domingo replied.
Domingo played upside down music for his dad. His fingers began to stretch and they brushed the guitar once more. The light began to form in the soundhole. He felt Mundo’s earthy hands rise from the guitar and play alongside his. It kept tempo and plucked the strings Domingo couldn’t reach. Each note let the light grow in size and brightness. Saul held out his hands and saw the light pulsating from his skin. He thought about how Domingo played like his father.
“Where’d you learn to play like this, Domingo?” Saul asked.
Domingo muted the strings with the palm of his hands. His grandfather’s earthy hands receded back into the wood of the guitar.
“Patience, practice, and a long life.”
Domingo and his father laughed. So did the guitar. They all vibrated and felt the energy around them glow brighter.