Jason Lawrence Bell
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03-26-20 He Must Sing


‘Stop the car! God dam it, stop the car!’ Shouted Emma to the taxi driver. She saw something on the boulevard that surprised her. Honestly more than surprise, if she saw what she thinks she saw, it would change lives. It would especially change hers and her children’s lives. Emma hurried out of the taxi. They had traveled a block before they could stop, so Emma needed to scurry back on the sidewalks. As she reached the intersection across the street Emma saw a city park. Near the fountain there was a small crowd watching a musician sing as he played his guitar.

The musician looked worn and unkempt with a long beard and hair down his back. However, the salient object was the left-handed guitar. Few musicians played guitar left-handed, and Emma knew one. The closer she got to the fountain the more certain she knew this singer. Then she heard the voice. Her knees immediately weaken and she leaned on a bench for support. Stewart. It’s Stewart her ex-husband. And that voice still sounded wonderful though a little raspy.

Emma sat down on the bench with overwhelming emotions that swirled through her body. She couldn’t stop the tears that were flooding down her cheeks. It felt like many life times since she heard him sing, and her mind was assaulted with imagines of years ago. As the song continued Emma felt unable to move. Music, images and sorrow saturated her defenseless psyche. Finally, the singing stopped with a small applause and money dropped in a hat.

Emma somehow found the strength to stand. Unable to speak she slowly walked to the fountain. The musician was tuning his guitar and looked at his song list. Emma quietly sat down next to the man. The musician seemed oblivious to Emma. Emma scanned every inch of the musician but he stayed inward. Another man also on the fountain who noticed Emma’s interest, whispered to Emma, ‘he won’t talk. He only sings. We all call him Jukebox. If you put money in his hat he will sing like an angel. Otherwise, he won’t even look at you.’ Emma was still speechless and nodded, thank you.

Then a dollar was dropped in the hat and the singing began again. ‘Oh my god,’ thought Emma. That song. She had heard Stewart sing it so many times. It was too much. It felt like her heart would explode. She had to get away from the sounds. She jumped up and ran across the street. She stopped when she could no longer hear the song and sat on the bus bench. From there she could see the fountain and crowd.

After a long rest she picked up her cell phone and called her mother in Los Angeles. When the phone answered she simply said thru her tears, ‘he’s alive. Stewart’s alive.’ Then she broke into deep sobbing.

Stewart and Emma were high school sweethearts that seemed destined to go the distance. They matched in so many ways and friends called them natural lovers. A partnership sealed in love. Their first child was a surprise but quickly accepted. They were barely 19 years old and already a family. Stewart was the lead singer in a popular local band and Emma continued studying to be a nurse. Money was tight but no one complained. The second baby came about two years later. But something was changing in Stewart. In his early twenties he began hearing voices and having difficulty sleeping. It all moved quickly from there.

Stewart was diagnosed with schizophrenia and prescribed heavy medication. The meds seemed to control the voices but Stewart couldn’t sing well any longer. Music wasn’t possible for him. He said it was like singing thru a long dark tunnel. Stewart had a twin brother Steven. Steven fortunately didn’t have the tendency toward schizophrenia, but was completely supportive of Stewart. As Stewart became more overwhelmed by his illness Steven tried to step up and help with Stewart’s family. He gave money and cared for the children and encourage Stewart to help when he could. As Stewart became more with-drawn, Steven tried to fill the void. Friends noticed the closeness between Emma and Steven, and began thinking Emma had two husbands.

Stewart stopped taking his meds. He hated the way the meds made him feel. He wanted to sing. Steven stepped in to insist that Stewart take his meds. Then came the faithful night when Stewart was nearly out of mind with voices and Steven begged him to take his meds. Steven decided it was best to take him to the hospital to help Stewart relax. It took both Emma and Steven to get Stewart in the car. Steven and Stewart drove off to the hospital as Emma stayed to take care of the kids. That was the last time Emma saw Stewart. Until the fountain.

Later that night Emma got a phone call from the local police asking her to meet them at the hospital it was regarding Steven. Emma asked about Stewart and the officer answered, ‘that is a big question. Where is Stewart? Have you seen or heard for him?’ Emma said ‘no, he was with Steven, they’re together.’ The Officer said, ‘please meet us at the hospital, we will figure it out.’

When Emma reached the hospital, the Officer cornered her before he would let her see Steven. He was asking questions about Steven and Stewart’s relationship. The officer also asked about Emma’s relationship with them. Emma was confused. She kept asking ‘is Steven okay, and where is Stewart?’ Then they went to see Steven together. Steven told them of a fight that broke out between him and Stewart. Stewart refused to go to the psychiatric hospital and began hitting Steven as he drove. Steven pulled to side of the road and tried to restrain Stewart. During the fight Stewart put his fist thru the window and cut his hand badly. He continued to fight Steven, yelling he wanted to kill him. Steven must have been knocked out because he woke up on his back in a muddy water. He looked around. Steven saw only fields and farms. Stewart must have run into the fields.

Steven jumped into the car and took the dirt roads into the fields. He drove for over an hour until his car became stuck. He could not find Stewart. He called 911. The police also came with paramedics and questioned Steven. Then Emma met them at the hospital. Emma was shocked to see Stevens face so beaten and bruised. After a few more questions Emma and Steven left. The police watched Emma caring for Steven. The police searched for days but found no Stewart.

Then in a very surprising move the police arrested Steven and charged him with murder. The media was all over the story. And the story became salacious. The police theory was Steven was in love with Emma and killed Stewart and buried his body where it couldn’t be found. They suspected Emma was a partner in the crime but could not prove it. And the more Emma supported Steven thru the trial, the towns people believed she was involved. Eventually Steven was convicted for murder and sentenced to life in prison. The town was so hostile to Emma she had to move back home with her mom.

Now Emma sat on the bus bench exhausted from her discovery. She felt so alone and called 911 for help. She told them to send police. Then she called her mother back and talked with her until the police arrive. When they arrived, she told them a short version of the story and together they walked across the street. The crowd was gone and so was Stewart. The old man who told Emma that Stewart was called Jukebox was still there. ‘Where’s Jukebox? Where did he go?’ The old man scratched his head for a moment and said, ‘Jukebox, he comes and he goes. Maybe he’s in Tennessee or maybe Florida. He is everywhere and nowhere.’ Emma protested ‘no he was just here. He was singing. Right here.’ ‘I can sing. You want to hear me sing.’ The officer interrupted, ‘ma’am, this guy is an old drunk. He probably doesn’t have the brains cells to remember yesterday. Until we find your Stewart, we cannot do anything’.

Emma knew Stewart must be nearby somewhere walking, but she did not have a car. So, she stopped a taxi and drove up and down the streets until she ran out money. She continued walking looking anywhere she could.

As she passed an alley, she heard singing. ‘E is for Emma, W is for wife…’ Emma turned and there was Stewart looking down at his feet as he strummed his guitar. Emma ran to Stewart but he moved back. He didn’t want to be touched. Emma said, ‘Stewart, hi, it’s been a long time.’ Stewart made any ugly face and turned sideways. Emma understood, so she began to sing, ‘Stewart oh Stewart is from a small town. Stewart sings songs and strums the sounds.’ Stewart sang back, ‘Memories are following behind, but your memories are especially kind.’ Emma sang, ‘there are two children who would love to see you, and your brother Steven misses your song, it been much too long.’ Stewart stood quiet and stared at Emma. Then sang, ‘can you show me the way’? Emma sang back, ‘of course, my love, let’s go home’. Peace***