The Tambourine Men

You can tell that they’re coming by the music seeping into the air, the notes lingering like a scent that you can almost recognize. You’ll follow it just to know, because otherwise it nudges at a corner of your brain, reminding you to notice it. When they arrive, you can just follow the stream of people headed toward them, the crowd clustering around the sounds.

You can try to push up to the front if you like, but people are so tightly packed that you’re risking an elbow to some of your softer parts. Everyone stands still, locked in place, reaching for the music that chimes and jangles through the mob of people. You can feel it rising through your bones and spreading through your blood until the melody runs through your veins and makes your heart beat faster.

You can hear them play for a while, and then they go. It seems like forever when you’re in the middle of it, the music stretching like some vast landscape where the grass rustles and the streams murmur, the leaves swish against each other and the birds offer an occasional cascade of notes. The sweetness of it fills your chest with a warm pressing joy.

You can listen to it rapt, your lips moving without your realizing it, your eyes closed. When your eyelids blink open you see the men on stage as they play. They are wearing buttoned shirts and jeans, and their eyes are open. They stare at the people, eyes searching, lips parted. They look entirely ordinary. Your eyes slip shut again and the sound builds again to a glorious height. It stretches again forever. The music surrounds you, overwhelms you, drowns you in beauty. When it ends the silence is emptier than anything you have ever heard.

You can tell when they’ve gone by the sudden absence of people who are usually there. The old lady isn’t at the grocery check-out line anymore, the librarian is missing, the banker who eats a sleepy lunch at the corner diner has left the plastic stool empty and you can see the dimple on the cushion where he’s sat every day for twelve years. You can watch them go, but that’s boring. Men with suitcases trundling behind them walk in a little clump. It’s more interesting to watch the trail of people following them.

You can count them, but you’ll get tired before you reach the end. They link their arms together and walk on, some with bright sure steps and some dragging their feet, undecided, still thinking of the leftover burgers they abandoned in their refrigerators.

You can watch them all and wonder, and ask yourself if you should go too. They’re all listening, all straining for the music, and humming along with the sound. Together the caravan of people builds into a great round well of song, so many voices twining together. They walk endlessly, singing, dreaming.

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2 thoughts on “The Tambourine Men

  1. I love this – I LOVE LOVE LOVE this. Can you draw it? Please? Somehow? I feel like this MUST be illustrated.

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