The sand was nothing new. It had coated Amadeus’s hands for as long as he could remember, and all of his pockets were full of the stuff. No matter how many times he washed his face, it stuck to his dimples and the line beneath his lip. He’d grown used to it by now.
He’d hated the sand at first. He’d hated his tiny little town on a one-way street in the middle of God-Only-Knows-Where, and he’d hated the rusty hinges on the shutters and the way that the only hint of green he could see was in a liquor bottle. He’d hated how small the town was and how big it made everything else.
Amadeus was sick of the colour blue. The sky was so big, too big, and it hurt his mind to think about. But he still bought things as blue as the sky. He thought it was an awful lot like containing it: if the heavens could fit on a shirt, maybe they weren’t so daunting after all.
So when, one day, in the old pawn shop at the end of the lane there came a sky-blue guitar, Amadeus was quick to snatch it up. He’d run home as fast as he could and smashed his piggy bank and used every last cent to buy the thing, and then he’d spent the rest of the day sitting out in the sand, picking at strings and taunting the sky with how small this other sky was, with how he could harness it and play whatever he wished on it, with how the sky could do nothing but watch.
On sunny days he sat outside and played, and on stormy ones he did the same inside (though it lacked the same spite). Soon enough, his fingers were tough and calloused, and the guitar was nothing more than his mind sitting outside his body for how well it took his thoughts and made them music.
Sometimes Amadeus did not think the sky was maddened by his playing at all; sometimes he thought it loved it. Sometimes he thought the sky looked down on him and smiled. And maybe he was growing used to how big it was. And maybe, just maybe, he found himself liking the colour blue.
One day, a stranger came from out of town. Amadeus didn’t know why anyone would pass through this place, but he was glad for a change, and quickly took to following the foreigner around. Her name was Celestine, though she told everyone to call her Tina, and she stayed in the inn near the middle of the road.
She took to spending her days in the inn and her nights out under the stars. One night, Amadeus decided to sit out with her. He never truly spent much time with the moon, as he now found the sun friend enough, but Tina was too intriguing to ignore for long.
“Why do you like the night so much?” he asked her, and she shrugged.
“It’s quiet, and the darkness is nice. Like a blanket.” She let a silence follow her words, but she quickly broke it again. “The day is too bright, like a spotlight. It makes people want to put on an act, because they know they can be seen. The dark, it’s - it’s truer.”
“Is this the first time I’m seeing you, then?” he asked. “Without the stage makeup or the costume?”
Tina smiled. “I guess you could say that.”
Amadeus let his mind drift, then, turning this thought over and over and shuffling through it in his mind. When it became a series of words he could vocalize, he did - the night was his time to speak, after all. “I like to play my guitar for the sun. Give it a show. I think… I like the spotlight. Being seen is scary, but it’s worth it. And in the light, you know who’s seeing you.”
“Kid, I’m not loving the implications of the last thing you said.”
He laughed, louder than her mediocre joke truly called for, but he didn’t feel like holding back. There was only Tina to see him, and the night. And whatever else it hid, he supposed.
After that night, Amadeus thought a lot while he played. His mind stayed tethered to his head, unable to properly rise in the clouds due to a busy schedule of thinking. He felt as though he were betraying that rich blue he had grown to love by thinking of the night - but he only ever played for the sun. He only ever played for the brilliant daytime sky. He liked to know where he was and he liked to know what stage he sat on and he liked to see the sand that surrounded him and know it was the same as it was yesterday. The night could not give him that. And perhaps he was thinking too hard about this whole day and night thing, and perhaps the sky was the sky no matter how dark or light it was, and perhaps he would let his mind fly away after all and let his fingers dance dumbly on the strings.
Another night, weeks later, Amadeus sat out with Tina in the sand and asked her a question that he couldn’t stop asking himself: “What sorts of monsters do you think hide in the dark?”
She just shrugged and told him, “Night holds truth, and truth is often much uglier than a lie.”
Tina was in town for another two months before she left. He would have said she disappeared without a trace, but that would not be quite true: she left a memento behind in the form of a knife in his father’s back. Amadeus did not know why she chose his father to kill, except that maybe he was working late that day and didn’t have much of a sense of personal safety.
The funeral was held the next day, with a sky-blue coffin from the pawn shop and bouquets of saguaro flowers. Everyone in town attended, though they barely managed to fill the church at the end of the road. After the service, there was a solemn walk down to the cemetery that sat a little ways from the rest of the town, and by the end of the funeral, Amadeus had gathered enough “thoughts and prayers” to last him a lifetime.
He did not know quite what to think. He and his father had not been particularly close, but his death still stung deeper than anything he’d felt in his (admittedly short) time on earth. What also stung was Tina’s betrayal, and the fact that she had found it somewhere in herself to kill another human being for no other crime than existing.
Amadeus sat on the cracked stone bench in the cemetery and wound his woes among its strings. Perhaps Tina had so loved the night because it had allowed her to hide in it, perhaps that was her truth, or perhaps the madness that came with such utter darkness was what drove her to do it. Either way, he was glad for the rays of sunlight still stretching through the Joshua trees that stretched above his head and cast mottled shapes along the tombstones.
Except that all things eventually went away, and that included sunlight, and soon enough he sat with none for company but the persistent weeds and sand that etched themselves into the cracks of the bench and the stones around him. Amadeus didn’t head home, though. He was so desperate to understand, or maybe he was just so lazy, that he found himself unable to move anything but his fingers, still, still singing their mournful tune to stars that were probably suns to someone else, someone far, far away.
His father was not under the ground. He’d learnt that much in the church, that his father was somewhere else, somewhere better. He hoped the others whose bodies still decayed in the dirt were with him and kept him good company. He hoped they looked down at him, strumming his heart out, and heard his song, and he hoped that, when the sun came up the next day, he could find it in himself to open his mouth and sing with the notes, or maybe even just to walk home.
A hand squeezed his shoulder, though there was no one there. A “thank you” was whispered in his ear, though there was no mouth to speak it. And a quiet humming tune sang along to his sky-blue guitar, though there was no voice to sing it.