“Shit, your apartment is a mess,” Ken said. He pushed past Lloyd, who was now fidgeting with the lock on the front door, and stepped into the living room-come diner, or rather what he would consider to be a single drift of clothes, plates and post waiting to be opened. Turning his car keys over in one hand, he let out a long whistle.
“Come on, not that bad.” Lloyd started throwing his weight into the door, a fresh scowl on his face. “Thought you were gonna help me with this.”
“Frame’s warped. I’ll bring my tools next time.”
Lloyd huffed. The lock clicked shut at last and Ken wondered whether, with all that force going into it, there was a good chance it wouldn’t open again. He took a cursory glance to satisfy himself that he could free it from the frame without too much trouble or permanent damage. In any case, it was the last worry on his nephew’s mind, who now slipped in and stood beside him. The scowl lifted, long enough to be lost as a sort of panic washed over his face. The kid raced around the room gathering up what would fit in his arms, dirty or clean, and move it out of sight, through to the kitchenette.
“You can grab a seat wherever,” Lloyd called out.
“Oh, sure.” Ken had already followed him in, and shifting what he hoped to be clean laundry to one side of the sofa, perched on the edge. He pulled off his leather jacket, folded it and, with an absence of anywhere clear to put it, placed it over his knees. He felt like the jacket in most respects: too many creases and too many years on the road. He ran both hands through the length of his hair that recent years had faded from dirt blonde to grey. But, he thought, they both looked good for it.
“Don’t start tidying on my account,” he called out.
Lloyd lifted his head above the kitchen bar, where he packed in clean pots and crockery, transferred from the drying rack, with an earnest speed. “It’s not that, I’m not a messy person, it’s just that, you know, work and stuff.” He nodded to himself, the way his father used to, back in the day.
“I do know.”
Lloyd gave a weak smile. All the dirty plates and cutlery clattered in the sink as he dropped them in. The tap groaned, screeched and hissed.
“You ought to get that fixed.”
“Okay. Do you want a beer?” Lloyd opened the fridge.
“Sure. Wouldn’t object,” Ken said. The apartment wasn’t all that bad, if looked after, not that he had been any better or neater at 23. He eyed up the peeling posters and dusty book piles, the records that belonged to his brother, once. There would likely be one or two of his own if he bothered to sort through them. Probably better where they are, he thought. Over in the corner, though, was the little treasure trove; a drum kit, a couple of amps, an overflowing box of pedals and leads, all piled up together. And on a stand, a guitar. That guitar.
Lloyd dangled a small can, colourful and patterned, in Ken’s eyeline.
“The hell is this?”
He shrugged. “Hipster beer I guess,” he said as he fell into the armchair opposite. he tapped the top of the can, eyes turned down, appearing to study it. They sat there a while, not speaking, allowing the minutes to roll past. Ken’s leg bounced on the spot as he tapped out a four-four beat. After a while his can hissed open.
“Do you want to say something?”
Lloyd shook his head.
“Ah, what would be the point in starting now, anyway.” He held the can up, prompting a rush from Lloyd to open his and follow suit. They kept their arms up high for a moment longer than was comfortable and each took a sip.
“Not bad,” Ken said. He turned the can in mid-air, his eyes narrowed.
Lloyd held his in both hands, taking quick, short sips. “You not wearing your glasses?”
“Glasses are a bigger bloody pain than they’re worth.” He laughed, intending it to sound joking, but instead it came out hollow. He pretended to stop reading and took another swig. “Eyesight’s never been better.”
“You were squinting.”
“Concentrating, kid.” Ken nodded and pointed a finger. “Concentrating.” He leaned back in the sofa, dripping fake nonchalance all over it. “On that subject, how is that new job of yours going?”
“Not what I want to do, but they treat me alright and, you know.” He lifted his palms up.
“Yeah, it’s work.” Lloyd let his head flop back.
Ken tapped off a short beat on the can. “Are you still playing?”
“Of course.” Lloyd lifted his head up, and an eyebrow.
“Guitar looks dusty though.”
Lloyd’s eyes widened. He rolled them over, toward the corner of the room. “I don’t play that one.” He sat up straight, then, ran a hand through his hair, pulling one side back behind an ear. He took a swig. “Not for any reason, though, I’m not precious about it or anything.” He shook his head.
Ken lifted a hand. “It’s cool.” He nodded. “I get it.”
“But a piece of kit like that.” Ken bit his lower lip and gave his shoulders a little wiggle, a slight smile playing out. “It wants to get played.”
Lloyd breathed out, took his time with it, too. Then he nodded, with greater affirmation on each dip of his head. “Alright.” He stood up, tanked the rest of the can and crushed it. He walked over to the fridge. “Finish your beer.” He came back with two more from the fridge in one hand and a cloth in the other.
“Okay, alright,” Ken said, smiling. “You want me to tune?” He gulped at the first beer until it was gone.
“No, you get on that drum kit.” Lloyd dragged an amp over to the arm chair, plugged it in and beat it down with the cloth. Then, picking up the guitar with a gentleness he hadn’t reserved for the rest of the room, he let out a long deep breath across the surface of its body and slipped the cloth down from the headstock, the neck, between the pickups and around the dials.
He eased into the chair and plugged the guitar in. One foot up on the table and his eyes closed, he started twisting, tuning. Separately and together, they started letting out tests: a note, a tap, a drone, a roll. As it started to form into sounds that could be recognised, they stopped.
Lloyd opened his eyes. “You prepared?” He asked.
“Do I look like a boy scout?”
Lloyd grinned. “Then are you ready?”
A thought crossed Ken’s mind before he started, that he wished someone was there with them to take a picture. He could bet any amount that it would be apparent, then, the resemblance between the two of them, the connective elements that identified a brother to a brother, a son to a father.