exact change

There were lessons everywhere in the Old Man’s house and Lee ignored them all with his sloppy smile. He was ridiculously troubled with talent and it worked like a bad vacuum…”


by laine perry



Guillermo Lee had a routine. The only thing I had seen him eat was a hot dog from New York Richie’s, and a taco from Jack in the Box but he had to have the sauce from the bottle and not the packets anyone could get inside. If he didn’t have that bottled sauce it was a no go. That wasn’t even his thing- the sauce- it was the old man’s, but it took- and that became a rule for them. Even after the old man was packed up and carted off to Portland, it was the way they ordered it- just separately now. In the morning Guillermo Lee counted the picks in his possession. This involved searching his own pockets, the floor of his room, under the mat he slept on, the bathroom sink, the kitchen- though he almost never used it- and the Old Man. He saved the Old Man for last and when he had annoyed him into a rant and a few bucks he would hump it to the Circle K for 4 Hurricanes with exact change.

Guillermo was a terrible player. He didn’t have a real instrument. He had an un-tuned piano, an electric organ he was forbidden to play, and a cosmetically challenged had-been guitar which hung teetering from a picture hook on the wall above a framed portrait of Steve Martin in his role as The Jerk. There were lessons everywhere in the Old Man’s house and Lee ignored them all with his sloppy smile. He was ridiculously troubled with talent and it worked like a bad vacuum- suctioning him to the Old Man’s filthy couch without ever improving anything at all.

On a good day Lee would unearth a pick beneath the Old Man’s ass and both of them smiling Lee would play a few chords to which the Old Man eagerly objected. It was every day that this went on with Lee sitting slump shouldered and hungry, sucking the Hurricanes down waiting for the calm. It would come over the Old Man like a breeze innocent of his wrath- some song nobody wanted to be touched by and Lee would ruin the thing with his desire to stay put- to stay faithful to the Old Man.

The house had bugs because the worst people slept there, on that couch. The Old Man demanded an audience at all hours and was innocent of the virtue of taste. Lee took this blow like a soldier at war. He made exceptions to every good rule he’d tried to throw out. Any man with a good ass and a political mouth was as good a seatmate as any woman with soft tits who wanted to be felt. The bites and scratching were as organic to the music Guillermo Lee was making as the electric jug he was building. Ridiculous was a meter, it was a measure in fact.

The two would be up all hours until they had broken three or four things in the room- usually things they would be in need of the next day- and tired of that cost, closed their eyes to one another. I never saw either of them complain with any bitterness about these losses. It was a thing they bore together, like family is sometimes asked to do. If it was a T.V. cracked open and silent- Guillermo would come up with one at a reasonable price and the old man would allow himself to be impressed with Lee’s no-nonsense approach to the mess. By the afternoon the Old Man would have his music station going on the replacement T.V. and he, and Lee would have set plans to watch a movie that night. More Hurricanes were needed as the pair managed things through uncertain conditions and won victories they hadn’t dared count on. Those nights burned a memory. The songs played and sung were private and sweet, and no one but Lee remembers them.

In the mornings Guillermo Lee cusses at no one but the Old Man, even if I’m sitting at the foot of the bed looking at him. “I’m going to move to Portland, and get the band back together,” Lee tells me. “You can stay or come with me.” I know he knows I am not a key component in his life or music though I have written several songs that could make him famous if he wanted anything like that. “I think Portland is a done deal,” I say. “I did it years ago and the disappointment and the overcrowding of certain varieties of flowers still want to haunt me.” Guillermo has drifted some place other than our Spanish motif bedroom. What I’ve said doesn’t even make sense to me. I’m glad he’s not listening. I can’t talk to Lee like I once could. His dismay is irrefutable and he nurses his torn heart like a coyote that had eaten his young.

Lee asks me, “But the Old Man’s there.” I look away, dragging stems of the ferns I’ve just ripped from a clump of dust. “He’s probably going crazy in the backyard of his son’s house. That’s just not the audience he is accustomed to. I wonder if he sings anymore. Maybe he sings with his son now.” Lee looks at me and then past me as if I might be too irrelevant to consider. “You think you are some kind of poem.” He says, looking into me for the first time in so many months. I think he means to say, “Poet,” but then I see Guillermo Lee for the only time ever- and I know that I am the poem- the one about our lives, this time, the death of us, and the exact change we are making.

Originally published:
Issue Seventy-Five
September 2017

Laine Perry grew up on the road with her mom, making music and telling stories. More from Laine can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

Comments are closed.