Becky Fantour swallowed her tears and turned from her mother’s eyes. “No, Ma, it’s okay. I’ll go to university next year.” She lied, clicking her mother’s seatbelt.
“Boston Medical,” Becky told the cabbie. “I’ll come see you tonight, Ma.”
After waving goodbye, she went up the three flights to retrieve her guitar. Bursting back out the apartment door, checkered, green sneakers hit the streets.
Newspapers and magazines rustled in the wind. Harry tipped his flat-cap from inside the newsstand. “Mornin’, Becky! Gotcha guitar, I see.”
“Mornin’, Harry — gonna try to make a little extra cash before my shift — Ma’s in treatment today.” She checked her pockets. “Ahh! I forgot my friggin’ wallet!” The thought of retracing her steps made her legs ache.
“You’re a good egg, Becky.” Harry pushed today’s paper across the splintered wood anyway. “Get down there before rush hour ends.”
Ponytail swinging behind her, she grinned. “I’ll remember you when I’m famous!”
Next to her opened guitar case, Becky sang, strummed, and enjoyed the acoustics floor-to-ceiling tile created. A legion of cell phones, murmurs, and rumbling subway cars accompanied her. But nobody stopped today — the passing townies ignored her.
Then, there was a dog.
Becky did a double-take. Her hand slid down the guitar neck and slapped the strings silent. The animal looked like a tall, brown Jack Russell terrier but with a curled-up tail. Wicked-creepy, perhaps, but not dangerous.
Her fingers absently thrummed the guitar strings. “Well, where’s your owner? Are you enjoying the show?” Becky scoffed.
He cocked his head and raised one eye-ridge. She could swear that dog had purple in his hazel eyes.
“I dunno how long you’ll stay, so I’ll call you ‘Drifter’ for now.”
A man dropped a bill in her case. “I love your Basenji. Ain’t it crazy? Them never barkin’? Bred outta them.”
Awkward silence. Becky said, “Well, thanks, Mister.”
“I used to have one.” His phone chimed and he looked relieved answering it. He waved and moved away.
Becky tuned the A-string. Her eyes returned to the dog. “Gosh, you’re cute. Who lost you?”
The dog howled, chin raised to the ceiling.
All the commuting faces scowled. Someone plugged their ears with their fingers.
“Whoa, Drifter.” The dog’s off-key chorus stopped. Becky relaxed. “We can do better than that.”
The dog sat and grinned at her, tongue lolling out his mouth.
Becky laughed, and plucked the D-string. The animal matched her tuning tone with a yodel.
A businesswoman stopped mid-bite into a sprinkled donut. A man, about to make a call, instead slipped his phone into a pocket. A police officer raised the brim of his hat, and approached.
“Miss? Let’s see your permit, then.”
Becky’s toes curled into the soles of her shoes. “Oh, umm, well. You see, officer...”
The dog barked once, startling Becky, and she gasped, covering her heart. Pawing at the guitar case, the dog scratched out a piece of paper from beneath.
The cop crouched to retrieve it. After inspection, he reached out to read the dog tag. “Drifter should be on a leash.”
The strange coincidence caused Becky’s heart to leap half-way down the mezzanine and back. Drifter shook his head, which caused his collar to jingle. Winking first, the dog offered the policeman a paw. Becky wanted to sit.
The Officer chuckled, and gently shook the dog’s paw. “Alright, Drifter.” The officer rose to his feet. “Good thing this didn’t blow away.” He handed Becky the official-stamped paper she had never seen before. At the top, the calligraphy read: Permit to Perform — One Day Only. He crossed his arms, and waited politely. “Alright, Miss. Let’s hear it.”
Pride filled Becky’s chest and she cleared her throat. “Thanks, Officer!” Her hands returned to her six-string. She looked at Drifter. “Keep time for me.”
The dog nodded, tail thumping to the rhythm.
Becky’s song carried to every ear.
People brandished their cell phone cameras, calling out in delight. A crowd gathered. The excitement in the air grew as people clapped, tapped, and swayed along to the music.
Coins and bills flew into her guitar case. And when the last note faded, the crowd gave her applause, the officer gave her a nod, and a subway car echoed its horn. And as quickly as it had formed, the crowd dispersed.
Drifter sniffed and scratched around the guitar case. Becky reached out to him. “The heck you doin’ now?” She joked, “Looking for your cut?”
A hand tapped her shoulder, Becky jumped, accidentally kicking over her case.
“Oh, my god, I’m so sorry!” The businesswoman, now with rainbow sprinkles on her suit, scrambled with Becky to help retrieve the spilled tips.
“I’m Wendy — can I give you my card?”
“Thank you for your help — I’m Becky,” she said, taking the card from the businesswoman.
The card read:
Volver Talent Group
“Have you ever been in a studio, Becky?”
“Oh, wow. No, I haven’t.”
“Well, call me if you’re ready for a change of scenery.”
“Wow, thank you — Ma’s gonna flip!” Looking around, Becky didn’t see Drifter. “Oh, did you see where the dog went?”
The talent agent shrugged. “Dog? No, did he belong to you?”
“Well, I guess he moved on.”
Jennifer Chase is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She received an Honorable Mention in the Fiction War Fall 2016 contest. When not avoiding alliteration, you can find Jennifer Chase consuming carbs and coffee on the coast.
Becky and the Drifter is a Fiction War Finalist entry.
Please do not reproduce without permission from the author.
Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @robertina