This story dates back to my Freshman year of college. In my Writing 111 class, in which we read Carson McCullers’ classic novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, I received an assignment with the choice of: a) writing an essay, or b) writing a narrative “before or after Hunter in the life of the character you’ve been studying since Week 3.” In my case, this was the young aspiring musician Mick Kelly, and I chose to briefly check in on her life a few years after the conclusion of the novel.
Please understand that I do not consider this extended ending an improvement on McCullers’ novel in any way whatsoever!
Also, shout out to Ms. Garrison at Westminster College, who assigned this project, and whom I still consider one of my greatest influences on my desire to write. I am very grateful to have fallen into her class Freshman year.
The Music Store
On June 1, 1939, Mick Kelly walked down a Birmingham street on her way to work. Alone with her thoughts and the sounds of the city, she thought about the past five years that led her to this point. After her parents were forced to give up the house, she bought a bus ticket for the farthest distance she could afford and ended up in this Alabama town. Hoping to get a fresh start on her musical career, she found a job at Records and Reeds, a small music store. Unfortunately, the work involved took up so much of her time and paid so poorly that she could do little else but work and sleep. Time went by slowly and miserably. Suddenly, she was seventeen, with no family, no money, a shabby apartment, and no one to go to.
Thirty minutes later, Mick slouched into Records and Reeds. Her brusque manager gave her a cursory glance and a “Hmph,” as he looked back down at the guitar he was patiently stringing. Mick wove her way through the inventory scattered throughout the store. She began her usual task of dusting and cleaning every inch of the place. Mick’s job description was very clear: Clean Everything All The Time. When customers were in the store (which wasn’t often), she was expected to help them find what the needed (not necessarily what they wanted) and then resume her cleaning. Under no circumstances was she allowed to touch the instruments or records, ever. Luckily for Mick, her manager was often outside the store doing errands and looking for instruments and records to bring back to his store at discount prices.
It was during these times that Mick was able to take advantage of her job, and she certainly didn’t let the time go to waste. She usually spent at least an hour every day, either practicing on piano or trying out something new. Several times, her manager had come back earlier than expected. When he caught her, he would deduct the entire day’s pay, something that Mick could not afford to lose. As a result, she was constantly behind with her rent, and her gaunt figure was a sorry sight.
Despite his gruff greeting, her manager was unusually nice all day. “Please help the customers, Mick,” he said with a sympathetic smile. The “customers” were a skinny old man who looked around silently for a few minutes before easing his way out of the store. Nice as he had been, her manager still piled on the work, and Mick was exhausted by the end of the day.
Finishing her nightly chores, she made her way to the back room, where her manager was waiting to pay her for the day’s work. She hoped for her normal pay of $1.50, because her rent was long overdue. As she opened the door, her manager stood in the middle of the room with an envelope. She took it from his hand and found it to reveal a $5.00.
“Why are you giving me this much?” She started to ask, but the words died on her lips. The solemn look on her manager’s face told her everything she needed to know. Her time at Records & Reeds was over.
“The music ain’t sellin’,” her manager said anyway, sensing her question. “Hope this keeps yeh on your feet.”
Tears welling in her eyes, Mick made her way out of the store and back up the street toward her apartment. She walked in the front door of the building to find her landlord seated near the entryway.
“I don’t have my rent right now, but I will very, very soon, I promise,” Mick stammered.
“It’s too late, Mick. You owe me a month and a half, and you haven’t paid me on time in six months!”
“Please, just give me a chance. I just lost my job and I have nowhere to go…”
“I’m sorry. I have to pay my own bills.”
“How long do I have to get my stuff?”
“You can stay until noon tomorrow.”
Mick barely heard her as she brushed past to the staircase. She reached her small apartment and opened the door to find a dark room. She didn’t even bother to light a candle as she made her way through the room to her bed. Burying her face in her flat pillow, she cried herself to sleep.
Mick woke as the sun’s rays began to find their way into her window. Gathering all of her possessions in a small duffel bag, she walked out of her former apartment and building and onto the sidewalk. Glancing left, she turned to the right and walked toward the city limits. She reached the rural areas that surrounded the city by noon. As she walked on beside the road she glanced up to see a signpost reading “Atlanta – 100.”
With her eyes stuck firmly on the ground, Mick raised her thumb in the air. Four cars drove by within an hour, but none slowed. Mick walked on, music playing almost imperceptibly in her head.