Finely Tuned

by Aaron M. Smith

Preface

Like a weathered musical instrument, everyone is in need of a good tuning every now and again. For Daniel, his tuning comes from a most unlikely source.


Finely Tuned

Splashing cold water on his ragged face, Daniel glared into the restroom mirror down the hall from the Cadillac showroom he had called his office the previous nine years.

"You disgust me," he mumbled. "Look at yourself. Pathetic."

He hastily tucked in his shirt, scowled at himself once more, and stepped into the showroom, faking a smile so as not to put off any potential customers. With only one sale during the last two weeks, Daniel felt the pressure. Plopping down in his chair at his desk, Daniel quickly recalled his manager's relentless advice:

"Now remember, you connect with potential customers by walking the room, not sitting at your desk."

He sighed and stood, smoothing the wrinkles from his shirt, and began patrolling the showroom crammed with shiny Escalades and sporty sedans. He had begun to resent the beautiful men and women who came in with no-limit budgets for no other reason than they seemed happy and he was not. The showroom oozed opulence, but Daniel wanted none of it.

The front door of the showroom opened and a stout man in need of a shave shuffled toward Daniel. His hair was thinning and unkempt and his glasses sat low on his pudgy nose. Daniel shook his head.

"My quota is going to come down to selling a Cadillac to this guy?" Daniel thought. "That seems about right."

"I understand you're the man to see about test driving one of these beautiful machines," the man said, reaching out his hand.

"I suppose so," Daniel said as he glanced at his watch. "What do you want?"

"Why so surly?" the man asked, still smiling.

"I'm sorry," Daniel replied. "You're right, that wasn't professional. I'm just having an awful month and I'm taking it out on you. I apologize. What can I do for you?"

"It's okay; I understand," the man said. "You look dejected about something. I'm guessing you don't like your job? I bet you're dying to be anywhere but here and yet, here you are. Why is that?"

"Yes, here I am," Daniel said before a short pause. "Have you ever felt like picking up and starting a brand new life? You know, just up and leave the old one behind?"

"I think everyone has felt like that at one point or another."

"Probably true," Daniel continued. "But I think about it all the time. Look around here. This isn't me. How'd I get stuck here? I guess the real world is a real thing; you can't just up and leave it behind. Life just doesn't work that way."

"Doesn't it?" the man replied. "What would you do if you could just start over?"

"Honestly?" Daniel said. "I'd take my dad's old guitar, sit on a bustling street corner somewhere fun, lay the case down, and play for anyone who would listen until I had enough to pay for a meal and a place to sleep. And then I'd do it again the next day. And the day after that. But my dad died two weeks ago in an apartment fire and lost everything he owned. He's the one who taught me how to play and I don't think I could even pluck a string without him playing along with me."

"So you lost your dad," the man said. "You're recently divorced. You don't have a family. Yet you come here to your miserable job in a showroom filled with cars that don't interest you and you surround yourself with people you want nothing to do with."

"How do you know all that about me? How do you know I don't have any family?"

"Your desk is the only one here without any photos of children and your left hand has only a faded circle where a wedding ring once lived. So I ask you again, why are you here?"

Daniel stared at the man, stunned at his blunt line of questioning, but also frozen because he had no answers. Tears welled up in his eyes as he thought of the collection of scars he had become.

"Sorry for wasting your time, Mister, um ..."

"Clarence," the man said. "Just call me Clarence."

"Sorry for wasting your time, Clarence," Daniel said, forcing a smile.

"Now, what can I do to put you in one of these beautiful machines?" he continued in his best salesman voice.

Clarence smiled.

"Would you mind if I took this one for a spin?" he asked, pointing to a silver supercharged sedan.

"You bet, Clarence," Daniel said. "Let me get your license and I'll get the paperwork to my manager."

Daniel took the license and papers and laid them on his manager's desk until the test drive was over.

"Keep her under 80," he said smiling. "Company rules."

Fifteen minutes passed and Clarence returned.

"What do you think?" Daniel asked.

"I think that one is meant for someone else," Clarence said. "But that beauty sure is finely tuned."

Clarence shook Daniel's hand and shuffled out of the showroom. He was gone before Daniel remembered to give his license back. He rushed over to his manager's desk and saw that there was no license.

"Did anyone come in here? I left a license and papers on your desk," Daniel said to his manager.

"I never saw a license, and no one has been in here in twenty minutes."

Daniel hurried back to the car and noticed the trunk was ajar. He tried to close it, but the trunk door would not latch. Daniel opened the trunk and saw a worn guitar case and his heart pounded as he recognized the faded stickers. When he opened the case, the acrid smell of smoke that had settled into the mahogany and spruce grains of his father's 1974 Martin D18 acoustic guitar filled his nostrils and wrapped around him like a warm embrace.

Daniel picked up the guitar, closed his eyes, and strummed the old strings that were remarkably in tune.

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