A Short Cut Home   by Dave Wood
                                      from Sailor's Delight No.9

    "Not the same, is it?" said Jim, idly crushing the beer can in his hands.

    His two companions, John & Bob, sitting slumped across an old settee
    glanced momentarily at each other & thought "Hello, he's off again."

    They were in Jim's flat drinking beer & listening to the blues & Jim,
    clearly, was about to launch again into what had of late become the
    mainstay of his conversation, particularly when he was feeling maudlin
    which generally meant halfway through his third can.

    Elmore James began the intro to "The Sky is Crying".

    "I mean, good God, can you remember the first time you heard this? Can
    you remember how it churned up your stomach? the tingling in your fingers
    & the way your hair stood on end all along your arms? How you couldn't
    believe it was really happening?"

    "The sky is crying....look at the tears rolling....


    "And now look at us. We sit here going through the motions, telling each
    other how great it all is, but all the time there's something missing. Now
    & again you get close; something triggers off inside you & you can feel
    yourself coming almost within touching distance of what you once had, but
    then you blink & it's all gone. We sit here surrounded by thousands of
    records, & what we really want is to be kids with a couple of scuffed
    45's again."

    "Speak for yourself" said Bob. "All I want is another beer."

    "When did it all happen?" continued Jim. "I can remember just after I
    moved into this place. THere'd be a dozen or more people in here of a
    Saturday night with that old clapped out record player going full blast.
    God it was fantastic. We used to sit & feel sorry for all those poor
    sods who liked the Beatles. And d'you remember how angry we all got when
    Fleetwood Mac brought out "I Believe My Time Ain't Long". Wouldn't you
    like to feel that committed again?"

    "Well, we can't & that's that", said John, "Nothing lasts forever. You're
    bound to get used to everything in the end; it's just nature."

    "How can you be so complacent? here is the centrepiece of your adolescent
    life crumbling away & you just sit there & shrug your shoulders. How can
    you bring yourself to give it up so easily?"

    "Well, what do you suggest we do? Give all our records away & start all
    over again?"

    "No of course not. For a start that wouldn't work. You'd still be the
    same person you are now. It's not hardware I'm talking about - I'm after
    the excitement, the feeling, the wonder we all felt in those days. I want
    to feel what it's like to hear it all for the first time."

    "Well, now your just talking nonsense", said Bob, who still wanted another
    beer. "Put on another record & shut up."

    "No, wait a minute", said Jim. "Read this."

    He threw across one of the classier newspapers, opened to an inside page
    which looked like a sheet covered in ants.

    "I can't read that" Bob protested. "There's no pictures."

    John was similarly unwilling to wade into the swamp of tiny print, so Jim
    decided he'd have to give them the gist of the article himself.

    "It's about this nutty American professor who claims to have isolated the
    area of the brain which responds to music."

    "Give the man a Nobel Prize", shouted Bob, clearly unimpressed.

    Jim continued undismayed. "He says that by treating it with electrodes or
    something he can wipe it clean like a blackboard, or like emptying a
    bucket."

    "That reminds me", said John, heading for the bathroom.

    "Why won't you two take me seriuosly?" wailed Jim.

    Bob spoke. "Well, you have to admit it's asking a lot. I mean, we all know
    that everything, even Elmore James, loses it's impact with time. It's just
    one of those things you'll have to learn to accept, but hear you are
    constantly going on about it & now you're waffling on about some American
    looney, & all we want is to listen to some music & sup some beer. Put on
    some Earl Hooker."

    "Well, you two might have to accept it, but I'm damned if I will" said
    Jim angrily.

    John returned from the bathroom in time to join Bob staring at his friend.

    "How do you mean?" they asked.

    "I'm going to see this man & have him wipe my music memories clean, & then
    I'm going to come back & lock the door & listen to all this stuff for the
    first time."

    After a few seconds of silence his two friends burst into involuntary
    laughter, certain that it was all a joke. When they saw the angry,
    determined look on Jim's face, however, they stopped laughing as suddenly
    as they had begun.

    "You're not serious?" said Bob. "Don't be such a bloody idiot, Jim. For
    God's sake put on a record, & get yourself a beer before we start to
    believe you."

    "You'd better believe me. I've already written to the guy offering to be
    a volunteer."

    "For Christ's sake you really are crazy, aren't you?. How do you know the
    thing works?. You said yourself the man was a nutter. It all sounds like a
    load of rubbish anyway. He'll probably end up boiling your brain."

    "I know it's a risk. I know it sounds crazy, but if I can get back half the
    innocence I once had it'll be worth it. Can't you understand that?".

    Nothing that either of his friends could say could alter Jim's determination
    & in time he heard from the American professor who eagerly accepted his
    offer of assistance, so long as he was prepared to sign a declaration that
    he underwent the surgery entirely at his own request & of his own free will,
    & that he waived any right to damages regardless of the outcome of the
    operation. Jim enthusiastically agreed.

    In return the professor provided him with a return air ticket & in spite of
    repeated appeals from John & Bob he duly flew out a couple of weeks later.

    Preofessor Arnold Schwarzenbeck proved to be as apparently nutty as had
    been feared. He greeted Jim a little too eagerly for comfort, obviously
    overjoyed to find someone crazy enough to want to undergo his treatment.
    There were clearly limits to what one could do in this field with rats &
    rabbits. In answer to Jim's questions, he was assured that his memory &
    mind would, in all other respects, remain unimpaired. The brain cells
    responsive to music would not be destroyed but merely "cleaned". He would
    still know who Elmore James, Robert Johnson & Muddy Waters were, but he
    would no longer remember what they sounded like. Yes, it would be true to
    say that for all practical purposes he would, on hearing any kind of music
    after the operation, be hearing it for the first time.

    With those assurances Jim agreed to go ahead. Professor Schwarzenbeck was
    disappointed when Jim insisted on being allowed to return home before he
    listened to any music, but he was adamant on the point and, volunteers for
    his scalpel being in short supply, he reluctantly agreed on condition that
    Jim furnish him with a detailed report of his post-operative musical
    experience.

    With everything agreed the operation was set for the following day.

    It was surprisingly simple. Only a local anaesthetic was used were the
    incision into the skull was made. The brain, of course, feels no pain, so
    the actual stimulating of the requisite portion of electrodes produced no
    unpleasant sensations. Jim was amazed at how easy it all seemed. He hardly
    knew what to expect. A blinding flash perhaps. Instead there was just a
    kind of humming warmth, & brief drowsiness. He found himself trying to
    recall the introduction to "The Sky Is Crying" but halfway through the
    operation he found he couldn't. He could still remember the words, but
    beyond that all was darkness.

    The professor applied a dressing and, amazingly, that was that. For two
    days he rested and, in accordance with his wishes he was provided with
    earplugs to prevent any accidental exposure to music. After that, with
    the professor pronouncing him fit & able to travel he set off for home
    & Elmore.

    It would happen on a Saturday night, of course. John & Bob were invited
    to witness the miracle, & extra beer was laid on for the occasion.

    It came. John & Bob greeted their friend, who was still wearing his
    ear-plugs. The door was closed. Jim sat between the speakers of the stereo,
    removed the ear-plugs &, at a signal, Bob started up the machine & placed
    "The Sky Is Crying" onto the turntable. Full volume.

    As the first piercing notes burst from the speakers John & Bob both stared
    at Jim. His eyes were wide. His muscles rigid. His fingers gripped the
    sides of his chair.

    "The Sky is crying...Look at the tears roll down the...."

    A tear formed in Jim's eye, & both John & Bob found themselves getting a
    little choked. It was one of those moments which Jim had talked about when,
    contemplating what their friend must be experiencing at that moment they
    almost touched it themselves.

    Suddenly, without a word Jim rose ashen-faced from his chair & moved to the
    record player. Abruptly he rejected the record & substituted a Robert
    Johnson album. Half-way through "Walking Blues" he rejected it again &
    replaced it with something by Little Walter.

    John & Bob watched in wonder, hardly even touching their beer. What an
    amazing experience this must be for Jim. Perhaps after all he wasn't as
    crazy as they had thought. Perhaps....

    Jim turned towards them. There were tears running down each of his cheeks.
    He looked at each of his friends in turn, & eventually he spoke with a sob
    in his voice.

    "I don't like it", he said.


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