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Six-String Soldier

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And all along the way I'll find you
I'll find you and lay you down
Even though you can't touch me
I'm right there under your skin
And I've fallen in love before
But with no one with a name anymore
- "Lay You Down” by Matt Corby

-- 

Capable was almost done with her set when the bar door opened - They were loud enough that her audience swiveled around to look too, and then returned to their drinks with nervous murmurs. Damn, she thought as she strummed louder. Just what she needed - War Boys. She knew about War Boys. With their shaved heads and leather jackets, there was no mistaking them for any other gang. Four Boys slid into a booth while a fifth went to the bar, and despite the dim lighting, she could see how unhappy Miss Giddy was with it all.

Giddy’s bar was her favorite gig: she usually sold a few CDs to the students and professors who drifted in from the university, and she could walk to the bus without too much trouble, and in Citadel City that counted for something. Trying and singing and coming out into the night on her own, and here were the War Boys. She’d gotten away from that life. Or thought she had - But here was a remnant of it, following at her heels like a shadow.

If only her sisters were with her.

Or maybe it was better that they weren’t, she thought suddenly and her fingers skidded over the G string, nearly messing up the chord. She didn’t want her sisters to have to deal with the sudden influx of Boys, of the memories they dragged in with them.

Without her guitar, Capable wouldn’t have had the courage to get in front of so many watching eyes. The guitar was a shield and the music… Capable lifted her voice again and it filled her like a breath of air. Each time she dragged her pick over the strings, each chord, each note emboldened her and she raised her voice for the chorus, filling the whole bar with her song. If she was loud enough, if she was noisy enough, she hoped she could chase them out - Maybe they’d rather take their dealings somewhere else. But the War Boys were huddled with their beers, busy with whatever they were doing and ignoring the rest of the bar. That’s what she thought, but then as she finished her song and leaned away from the old microphone, raucous applause erupted over the last fading chord. She looked up with a jolt - One of the War Boys was practically standing on his table, whistling and cheering like he was at a game. She silenced her guitar and tried to stop a grin from spreading across her face.

“Thanks to my mates in the back. So I’m Capable and I hope you liked my songs. I’ll be at the Clearwater Fundraiser next Thursday - Come by if you like folk or protests or being able to drink clean water.”

Her fingers ached a bit when she uncurled them from around the neck of the guitar, but that was nothing compared to that burst of surprised happiness that kept her smiling as she tucked her acoustic 79 Swaisey away into its case. She hopped down from the little stage and went over to the bar. A drink was waiting for her already and she nodded gratefully to Giddy as she pressed her palms around the cool glass.

“You were good tonight, my girl,” Giddy said. “Sold three CDs during the last song. Fuzzy navel, on the house.”

“Thanks, Miss Giddy,” Capable said with a thankful smile. But even with Giddy’s praise and the one-person ovation, there was still an a tenseness in her stomach, an unease not helped by the drink sloshing around in it. She motioned behind her and then added in a low voice, “I think I’m going to skip out early. I don’t really want to do that second set.”

Giddy nodded. Her hand was warm, worn when she wrapped it around Capable’s. “I can call Furiosa.”

“No, I’m ok.” She met Giddy’s skeptical look and then added, with a reassuring smile, “Really. Just surprised.”

The older woman withdrew her hand and was about to reply when there was a sudden chaos of noise behind Capable.

“You were amazing! Can I buy you a drink?”

A War Boy - her fan - slid bodily over a table and landed next to her, whatever he kept in his pockets jangling an echo punctuating every one of his exuberant movements. He was tall, in the usual uniform of black pants and leather jacket, and shaved completely except for his eyebrows so he look more like a skeleton than a man. But when he smiled, Capable returned it. Somehow he seemed too young to be a War Boy, despite the scars on his face - Maybe it was his startlingly blue eyes, big and wide and excited.

Too startled to speak, Capable just motioned to her drink. The War Boy’s eyes filled with such disappointment that she added quickly, “Thanks, though. Glad you liked the set! I didn’t think War Boys would be into folk music.”

“That’s what you sing? I really liked it. It was like - “ he paused and frowned, and Capable had to drag her gaze away from the scars on his pursed lips. “They weren’t just songs. Or they were more than songs. Never heard music like that before. It’s shine. And your voice. And you.”

A compliment like that was rare enough, and here it was coming from a War Boy. Of all the people she’d played she’d played for, she never thought a War Boy would be the most receptive. Capable giggled over the rim of her glass. War Boys had always been a bullet point on her list of things to avoid, but she found herself leaning closer to him. “Wow, thanks. Wow, probably the best response I’ve ever gotten.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Hey,” she said as she ducked her head, hoping he wouldn’t see her blush, “can I get you a drink instead?”

“Yeah? Yeah! Thanks, Capable.” He paused and then added with a shy expression that she didn’t think War Boys could ever have, “Can I call you that?”

“Sure. What’s your name?”

“It’s Nux.”

“Nice to meet you, Nux.” It was a reflexive response, but as the words left her, she realized that they were genuine. “Want to have what I’m having? It’s really good."

“A mixed drink?” he guessed and she nodded. “Yeah, thanks. Never had one before.”

“Miss Giddy, can you make him a Max? Just take it out of the CD sales, please.” She explained as he slid onto the stool next to her, “It’s a fuzzy navel, but we call it Max after a… friend of ours. He’s a cop - The fuzz.”

It wasn’t really all that funny, but Nux grinned, a flash of white in the dim bar. “Nice.”

Giddy put his drink down - clanking the glass, even spilling a little over the side to show how little she approved of him - and they moved back on their stools.

“I really like them. The orange juice feels good after I’ve been singing for a while.” Capable said and at that he downed it like he’d spent his whole night dying in the desert. “So what do you think?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty -”

“Nux, the fuck are you doing?” Another War Boy yelled across the room and the whole damn bar fell silent for a moment, everyone holding their breath and maybe even praying.

Capable glanced over at the gang and then drained her drink. It wasn’t anything as dramatic as a shiver up her spine, but suddenly a clammy discomfort started working its way through her. She rubbed her cold hands on her arms, then climbed off her stool. She’d let her sentimentality get the best of her again, she berated herself. A single War Boy was one thing, but the whole horde of them was another. And she knew that well enough. She really knew that.

“Looks like your friends are getting restless,” she said and Nux swore under his breath. Capable caught Giddy’s eye. “Thanks, Miss Giddy. I’m heading out.”

“Hey, let me get this.” Nux reached into his pockets.

“Don’t worry about it,” Capable said as she collected the night’s earnings from Giddy. It wasn’t a lot, but it was still something - Sort of the Citadel City motto, she thought as she pocketed it. The earlier bravado she'd had was gone, and her thoughts went back to her sisters. If they had been with her, she would have had her own little gang. Angharad would’ve kept her back straight and she would’ve had the right thing to say, and she might’ve even bought a round for the Boys, just to show them. Instead Capable started for the door. But something tugged at her as she grabbed her guitar case - some stirring feeling, something wistful, something she hadn’t felt for a long time - and she looked over her shoulder at Nux.

His blue eyes weren’t as wide now. He was still standing there, even though his friends were hollering for him, and watching her with a contemplative expression of his own. “Thanks, Capable.”

He looked like he wanted to say something else to her, but before he could - and before she could - Capable walked out into the night. She replayed the conversation in her head on the bus ride home, but even by the time that she was back in her neighborhood, she hadn’t made any more sense of it. She’d texted her sisters when she left Giddy’s and as the bus drove away, she sent out another message letting them know where she was. A smile appeared on her face as she read the flurry of replies. Even though they hadn’t been at Giddy’s they’d all be supporting her.

She starting typing about Nux, then deleted each word. i met this guy, she tried again and then deleted it. so there were these war boys and maybe they arent all bad???, was another attempt. Her third got closer to what she was feeling, but she deleted it anyway: dont know if im normal or just pretending bc i met a war boy and if he hadnt been him and i hadnt been me it might have worked between us and i think ang was right and it wasnt their fault.

They lived at the edge of Citadel City, where there were more trees and fewer cars. But the poverty of the city had a long arm, and as Capable walked, she passed boarded-up store fronts and dark apartment buildings. She moved along briskly until she got to their street: Green Place. The empty houses here weren’t derelict - chaotic, definitely, but Capable felt safer on Green Place than any other part of the city.

These were Furiosa’s houses. And theirs. With what they’d taken from Joe, they had had more than enough to buy the foreclosed properties. She had moved them into the best house of the bunch - the one that still had most of its copper wiring. They’d had to live without hot water for the first two months, and any free time they had had to be dedicated to rebuilding, but since they started reclaiming the street, the five of them had fixed and painted their house, planted Dag’s garden in the tiny backyard, and cleared out the broken furniture from the other two houses.

Vuvalini Construction Co. signs were proudly displayed in the other lots and Capable smacked her hand against one for good luck. As she got closer to their house, the front door opened and Dag and Toast stepped out onto the porch - They’d been waiting for her. The light from the open door spilled down their yard and the graveled driveway, and glinted off the wind chimes that swayed in the gentle breeze.

“Hey Capable! We just got home and Cheedo’s making dinner. Hungry?” Dag called and Capable felt her stomach rumble in response.

“How it go?” Toast asked as Capable climbed up the stairs to them.

“I don’t know.” She paused on the top step and swung her guitar. “Good, I think.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said and then strode in behind her sisters and closed the door behind them. “I think I’m getting better.”

--

I have never known
The like of this I've been alone
And I have missed things
And kept out of sight
But other girls were never quite
Like this
- "I've Just Seen a Face" by the Beatles