Be Ready
onstage:

Buck-toothed, hog-belly white, overfed, mutt-homely, all of that, but Early Jones loved to play the blues. He went on at 12:30 AM and the crowd laughed until the moment he rested the slide on the string and made that quicksilver slide to the 12th fret, the pay-attention-beeyatch move he could make with just the slightest distortion, and he transformed before their eyes, the baseball cap turned backward, the greezy hair, the jeans worn white at the pockets and knees, all disappeared.

Gettin up soon in the mornin, I believe I dust my broom

offstage:

Sleep-fuddled, hung-over, dry-mouthed, Early Jones woke fingers twitching. The way the transformer on the pole-light in his parent’s yard hummed made him need to play. He felt a herky-jerky and angular rhythm emerge from the tractor backfiring that had him rolling out of bed and picking up the guitar when his daddy needed him in the field, but Jones knew his father wanted more for him than the farm, and he himself knew since age 12 it would be the guitar that delivered him, and as his daddy drove the coughing Farmall down the lane to the back field, Jones rattled a bass line with his thumb, missing one or two steps but not caring.

Well, I got up this mornin’, jinx all around, jinx all around, ’round my bed

onstage:

Sun-bleached, blanket-curled, hair-hurting, Early Jones awoke again at three to Mama pounding on the door, some woman to see you, Early, and he remembered her, curly-haired, name Irene, Earlene, no, not that country, remembered slipping his address into her hand, her kiss on his cheek, her breath in his ear. He ran fingers through his hair, threw a shirt on and his pants by the side of the bed like always, grabbed his guitar and went out to meet her on the front porch, where Mama had served her sweet tea in a Mason jar the way she did like they didn’t have Coke in the fridge or water in bottles, like it was the old Mississippi, the lynching days.

Irene said for him to call her Reenie and so he smiled at her, and he wondered what he could sing for her and his mama, who was just behind the door listening, and he adjusted his tuning quickly and stretched the fingers of his right hand and picked a sprightly tune.

Would you flee from sin and serve the Lord, be ready when he comes

Early Jones could feel his mama humming behind the door, and Reenie looking at him that way, and just as he wished for someone to sing harmony Mama came out from behind the door her voice an octave higher and though he knew he was losing Reenie he had to keep the sound moving, his right hand working of its own accord as God intended and his voice trying to climb up to meet mama’s somewhere in the middle and Reenie smiling politely, but gone now somewhere else with some better-looking boy, no doubt, and so he kept playing.

Be ready when he comes

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