32

He draws the lines of his music from those old, gnarled hands in great silken ropes of sound, weaving it out between bow and strings.  Out into the air, against the noise of the pub, his eyes folded away under heavy brows.
        The first time I met him, maybe fifteen years ago, he found me a seat, asked me to play.  A reel, then a jig, and he asked how long I’d been playing, and who’d taught me.
        He asked my name, and where I came from.  The formal welcome, mannerly, proper.
        After sitting in thought a while, he said I could join them, yes, but perhaps the music they were playing might be a little slower than I was used to, and we’d have to see how it went.
        The hardest thing in the world, to play a fast reel slow, and give it its proper time.
        His eyes stay clamped hard shut as he turns to the box player beside him, the one they call Punch.  I can’t tell from here if Punch’s eyes are closed, or if it’s that other sense that alerts him, but he nods agreement anyway, they lift, and the music between them changes.
        I slip the fiddle case off my shoulder, lower it, and lean my shoulder against the doorframe.  My fingers find the tune’s echo, dancing its shape on the back of my bow hand.
        I know the set; The Coalminer’s and The Milliner’s Daughter.  The rich bass of the low register, pulsing, hypnotic, heavy.  The brisk rolls in the high part of the second reel.  Shade and light, a storm at dusk and the daybreak after.
        Tune over, he lowers the fiddle, peering towards the door.  A smile deepens the furrows of his face.  “Ah, now,” he salutes, the bow still clasped as if to play, “come on in.  Have you your fiddle with you?”

Matt Leavey

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