Clive’s mug sat on the table among the dirty plates and overflowing ashtrays. It was summer, so the bins were emitting that ubiquitous kippery smell, even though no-one in the flat had had anything resembling fish for months. In fact, Clive dreamed of fish. He dreamed of creamy mashed potatoes...bacon sandwiches...buttered toast…
Tonight it was Jules’ turn to conjure something edible from whatever leftover vegetables they could scrounge from downstairs. It would probably be cabbage (it was always cabbage) with something like sweetcorn or cucumber or whatever else Reg the Veg couldn’t shift. Clive sighed, but thought about how he’d write that in his autobiography:
...It’s not all glamour you know. When I first started out I lived in a godawful squat in the East End. It was all rats, cabbage and syphilis in those days...
The syphilis was his own embellishment. He was pleased with it’s rock and roll edginess. He wallowed in the daydream until the sun came up and all of his milkless tea was gone. He’d better get out there.
He slung his guitar over his back and headed into town, setting up within view, but out of earshot, of the one-legged violin girl. She was wearing her red dress again and Clive looked away before she caught him staring.
He waved at glass harmonica man, who gesticulated wildly, called ‘hello’ to the plastic rose seller and began to play.
Clive wasn’t bad at the guitar playing, but he wasn’t so great at the singing. He never quite reached the high notes in Space Oddity and his Hallelujah was...troubled (he did the Jeff Buckley version). But there was something about today - maybe because it was sunny, or because he’d snaffled two helpings of cabbage and beetroot souffle while Jules was having ‘alone time’ in their bathroom last night - he was going to go for it.
He eased the arpeggios from his guitar, his soft, folksy sound carried soothingly across the busy street and soon drew a small audience draping soppy, beatific expressions across their faces.
But as soon as he began to sing, Clive realised he’d made a mistake. His voice cracked, and so did the smiles of his meagre crowd. He knew it could only get worse from here; the high notes were coming and there was no way he could pull out now, he was committed. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and went for it.
Clive missed. Spectacularly. His voice scraped the underside of the note he’d aimed it at and plummeted to its doom. He felt it crash and burn, but when he prised open his eyes the crowd was still there and, somehow, smiling.
Looking behind, Clive saw the pretty violinist sitting there. She was playing a soaring countermelody that dipped and danced around his guitar, twining around his thin, reedy voice, bringing it to life. The audience clapped, threw coins, dispersed. The violinist smiled at Clive and launched enthusiastically into Space Oddity.