The night sky seems to buckle under the weight of smoke, and his voice seeps into the cobblestones, golden notes lingering in the firelight long after they are gone. Though his words are barely whispers, barely bursts of breath in the darkness, there is a sorrow in the touch of his voice. It wraps around each shuffling footstep. Each passing car.
He sits on the curb, perching on an overturned paint bucket just under a flickering gas light, and though his tune is familiar to all who listen, it is his own. Some do not see him; others cast furtive glances as they pass by. First to his guitar, to worn-smooth firelight coursing through wood. Then to his hands, trembling against the strings. And, at last, to his face. Skin like wet paper, clinging to protruding bones. Chapped lips, whispered words. Pale eyelashes, fluttering in time to his song.
And, quickly, they look away. Something about him unsettles them; perhaps his tattered clothes; perhaps the pain that lurks in the silence between his notes. Perhaps it is only his luck.
Some glare; others speed up and pull their children closer. A few search for a donation box. They fine none.
An old man frowns as he approaches, pulls the cigarette from his lips. His footsteps pause, and his breath draws circles of smoke in the air. He nods, slowly, and slides a dollar into the palm of the singer’s hand.
The singer hands it back.
Winter takes a brush to his lips, painting them blue, and his hands tremble against the strings of his guitar.
He sits with one leg outstretched, and every so often, his voice scrapes. His notes grow sour, his words catch, and he pauses. Opens his eyes. Looks to the sky, and finds only smoke.
And still, he sings on.
I'm a high school senior from Millburn, NJ.