Luther the luthier, last of the Luther luthiers, was alone in his workshop. He read by the fire, the words on the book waving in and out of his attention, for tonight he was going to hand over his last guitar. Luther sighed and closed the book. Fighting against his aching legs, he stood and walked to the kitchen, intent on brewing some tea.
Luther checked the clock on the wall of the kitchen. He had time for his tea, so he filled the kettle, lit the fire and put the kettle on it. He opened a cupboard by the stove and pulled out a can, removed the lid and inspired. The smell brought memories to his mind.
It was his father who had made him fond of tea. His father, the former Luther luthier. Luther smiled: he had never known what came first, their name or their job. But immediately, as often happened when he thought of his father, his smile faded. He was the last of the Luthers, and that was it.
Luther had had no sons. He remembered the neighbours saying it, “The Lord hadn’t blessed them with children”. It was all right with him, since he believed in no god. He had stopped believing when he was twelve, and they had told him God had taken his mother with Him. To this day, he could not understand how people could carry on believing such nonsense. Had he chosen to keep on believing in God, he would have spent the rest of his life blaming Him. Disbelief was more economic.
The kettle whistled and Luther switched the fire off, retired the kettle, and poured the hot water on a cup he had retrieved from another cupboard. He thought better, and pulled out a second cup and plate, placed everything on a tray, and walked back into his workshop. Placing the tray on the table by the fire, he sat on his armchair and sipped on his tea.
Luther thought of his customer: The Spaniard. He remembered the first time a colleague, Markus, had told him about the Spaniard. The devil made guitar player, he had said. The Spaniard was to the guitar what they said Paganini had been to the violin. The eleven-fingered daemonic guitar player. Luther had gone to a concert the next time the Spaniard had performed, and had drawn his own conclusions.
Not the devil. The Spaniard was a virtuoso, but he was much more than that. He had strength, willpower; he brought out the soul of his guitar. That night, he had weaved a tale of the One Thousand Nights and One using his eleven fingers and his guitar. Luther had left the concert hall wiping his eyes. Later that night, The Spaniard had visited his workshop for the first time, and it was the first time he hadn’t come alone: Markus brought him in. The Spaniard tried one of Luther’s guitars, and played for fifteen minutes. When he stopped, he wept as well, and offered to buy the guitar. Luther gave it to him as a gift.
Since then, The Spaniard had used Luther’s guitars exclusively, but Luther had asked him to keep their relationship secret.
There were two mild knocks on the door. Luther stood and limped to the door, opening it. The Spaniard stood there. Taller than Luther, dark eyes. A few more lines on his face, the hair showing a bit more white and visibly receding, but still kept long and flowing; The Spaniard looked almost the same.
“Maestro,” The Spaniard said as a greeting. “I’m pleased to see you.”
“Me too, Spaniard,” Luther said. They had always used those names. Luther knew his name very well, as the whole world did. Not for nothing was he the best guitar player alive. Still, the Spaniard was humble and shy.
“Do come in!” Luther said, and moved aside. The Spaniard entered, took off his coat and scarf and left them on a chair. The workshop was warm and smelled of wood, glue and varnish. Luther motioned him towards the fire. “Would you like some tea?”
“I’d love to, thanks.” Luther poured him a cup. He knew The Spaniard really didn’t like tea much, but he knew hospitality and respected Luther’s customs. They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their tea.
“I’ve heard your last piece,” Luther said after a while. “It’s fascinating. Those sounds… Still my guitars?”
“Always, Maestro,” The Spaniard answered. “You know I’ve never used any others. Not since that night so many years ago.”
Luther nodded. “Come,” he said, and stood. He opened a large cupboard and took off a large box. Its contents were unmistakable. Luther put the box on his workbench and motioned The Spaniard towards it. He opened the box and took out the guitar. Slowly, he caressed the surface of the instrument.
Then he pulled a chair closer, sat and crossed his left leg over his right, getting ready to play. “I’ve tuned it up,” the luthier said.
The Spaniard nodded, almost too subtle to be seen, and caressed the strings. He plucked them two, three times. “This may be the best guitar you’ve ever made, Maestro,” he said. He needed no more, and so he started improvising a tune, first low and slow, then picking up pace and rhythm.
Ten minutes later Luther was weeping, like that first night so long ago. “Please stop”, he said.
The Spaniard looked up. That was something nobody had ever asked him to do. He stopped playing immediately. “Maestro! Are you alright?”
“No, I’m not. You are playing my last guitar. The last Luther guitar. After that one, there will be no others. I’m retiring, and there are no more Luthers.”
“But Maestro! What will I do?” The Spaniard said, concern in his voice.
“You keep playing, Paco.” In all these years, it was the first time Luther had used his name. “You keep making them believe you are the devil, with that six-fingered hand of yours and the way you play. You keep that guitar you have in your hands and all the others I’ve made for you. You make me live on in your guitars. That’s all I ask of you.”
Half an hour later, The Spaniard left the workshop, his newest guitar packaged in the same large box where it had lived the last weeks, while waiting for him to arrive.
The body of Luther, the last of his lineage of luthiers, was found on his armchair by the long-extinguished fire, with a smile on his lips, a heart attack having caused his death. That evening, The Spaniard revealed to the world that Luther had been his luthier, a fact some suspected but most didn’t know. He played an eulogy for his friend; his guitar wept with him.
I wrote this piece shortly after Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucía died, on 25 February 2014, but I never published it before.
Today, the prompt word in the Twitter-based flash fiction activity called #VSS365, sponsored by @FlashDogs, was #eleven. And then I recalled this story. Luckily, it was still stored in my computer’s hard drive, and here it is.
Sadly, Paco de Lucía only had ten fingers.