Tom’s old guitar was falling apart. He asked friends for advice.
“Take it to Sanderson,” they said. “He can fix anything.”
Sanderson was famous. Professional musicians brought their instruments to him. But Tom was an amateur and his guitar was cheap. He phoned, expecting rejection, but Sanderson made him an appointment.
Sanderson’s address was a minimal post-World War II starter home in an older neighborhood that had grown a little sketchy over the decades. Tom knocked, waiting, watching through the storm door glass. A woman appeared. Her hair was dyed blonde, roots showing gray. She’d probably been pretty, once, but now her face was puffy and tired, kind of like the neighborhood. Her eyes were bloodshot and Tom sensed he’d interrupted her somehow. She cracked the door and said, “He’s out back.” Then she turned away and disappeared into shadows inside the house.
What did “out back” mean? Tom circled the house to a driveway, slid past an old Buick, and saw a detached garage, a simple cement block building painted green, barely large enough for one car. The garage door was down, but a side door was open. He walked over and stuck his head in.
Sanderson’s cozy workshop reeked of turpentine. There were benches with table vises, routers, drill presses, and table saws, illuminated by overhead florescent lighting. Hand tools hung from peg boards that covered the side walls. The back wall was shelving, floor to ceiling. He saw violins, a cello, and other instruments scattered around the shop in various states of disassembly and repair. A tall, bony man hunched over one of the work tables was applying a layer of glue to a piece of wood. Tom knocked against the doorframe to get his attention.
“Come on in,” Sanderson said, not looking up.
He stepped in, but stayed at a distance and watched Sanderson press the glue-dressed wood to a larger piece with the impartial precision of a master craftsman, position it in a vise, and screw it tight. Satisfied, Sanderson turned to Tom and extended his hand – not for Tom’s hand, but for the instrument.
Tom handed him the guitar and explained the problem.
“The bridge came loose and there’s a crack down the center seam of the soundboard.”
Sanderson studied the guitar, turning it in his hands, then looked at Tom.
“Fixing it will cost more than a new one. Sometimes, it ain’t worth fixing.”
Tom understood. Other instruments in Sanderson’s garage had been played in Carnegie Hall and probably cost as much as Tom’s car. They were worth fixing. Tom’s guitar was only a few steps above a toy. But as a little boy, Tom had listened to his father finger-pick a party on this guitar for family and friends and strum melancholy prayers when he was alone and thought no one could hear. The guitar was more personal than his father’s toothbrush. Whenever Tom played a chord on it, his father’s presence filled the room. That made it worth fixing.
“It was my dad’s guitar,” Tom said.
Sanderson nodded, like he understood Tom’s thinking. Didn’t agree with it, but it was Tom’s decision.
“Okay, then,” he said.
Suddenly, something caught Sanderson’s attention. Tom followed his eyes to the doorway, where the woman from the house was standing. She’d put on lipstick. She was holding Sanderson in her gaze.
“I’m leaving,” she said. Tom knew from the way she said it, she didn’t mean she was off to run errands. Sanderson was silent. Him not saying something said something. She exhaled heavily.
“You don’t want a wife,” she said. She paused, let that sink in. Then she made a sweeping gesture with her hand.
“This is your wife. The tools. The instruments.”
Tom wanted to leave, but he couldn’t – Mrs. Sanderson was blocking the only exit. Tom willed himself soundless and waited for the duet to finish playing.
“You can’t just slap a coat of varnish on me and stick me in the corner to dry.”
She reached down to pick up the suitcase that Tom hadn’t noticed.
“My lawyer will mail you the papers.”
Tom heard the door of the Buick open, then slam shut. He listened to the engine turn over and then the sound of tires rolling on pavement. Tom’s eyes returned to Sanderson. He was studying the doorway. Then he turned and looked at Tom with the impartial precision of a master craftsman.
“Sometimes, it ain’t worth fixing.”