Disclaimer: I do not own the movie Once or the musical Once or any of the songs written by The Script, clearly. This is purely for entertainment purposes, based on an idea that my friend and I riffed out while cutting through the crowd in Times Square after seeing Once the musical.
All of his belongings fit into one backpack. That, and his beat up guitar case, was all the guy took with him to New York.
His girlfriend—ex-girlfriend, girlfriend again?—lived in a fourth floor walkup in a place called Woodside.
"It's not very big," she said, waving her arm around the biggest room, which the guy could walk across in five steps. She walked forward, bumping into him. "Whoa! Um, well, kitchen there. Bathroom there. Bedroom there. Not much to it."
He nodded, taking in her bare surroundings. "It'll do, right?"
"So," they said at the same time, sitting on her tiny, tiny couch. She said, "I'm really glad you're here. I have friends from work and stuff, but it's kind of lonely here."
"How's work, then?"
She shrugged. "It's work. It's a busy shop. The customers couldn't understand me at first, but I'm getting better. You still got that old thing?" She pointed to the guitar case. "Same guitar? It hasn't cracked?"
"It's got some wear and tear. But it's a clear sound. Worked on Grafton Street." He unzipped a pocket on the case and pulled out the demo. "Made this, with help from me mates. Demo. You wanna have a listen?"
She nodded, holding her hands out for the CD. She put it on her old CD player and pressed play. There were a half-dozen songs on there. The Guy watched anxiously as she listened. Surely she must know that those songs were written about her, in his anguish, anger and frustration.
"That's a grand tune," she commented after "Falling Slowly." She reacted to each song, closing her eyes when he hit a particular run, mouthing the lyrics on the last chorus on another song, nodding along to the beat of "When Your Mind's Made Up." The last song was the one the girl wrote the lyrics for—she insisted it be called "If You Want Me" after he insisted they record it. He now knew that she wrote the words for her husband. Was he already in Dublin? Were they getting along? Did she like the piano?
"Oh, whose this?" His girlfriend asked, hearing the girl's voice singing.
"A mate," he finally replied.
# # #
Every morning, the girl woke up, checked on Ivanka, brushed her teeth, made a cup of tea (her husband complained that she was taking on the Irish obsession with tea), and played scales at the upright piano.
There was barely any space in the living room for it, but she burst with pride everytime she saw it. At the start of the day, she played for a few minutes—Mendelssohn, maybe. When she returned from a long day of trying to sell flowers in Dublin city center, she made another cup of tea and with Ivanka on her lap, played silly songs—childhood songs she remembered, lullabies and nursery rhymes.
In the evening, she played his songs. At night, when she slept, melodies and chords swam through her head. She heard a simple tune swell into a chorus. She heard lots of drums. She heard his voice. His voice was, as the Irish said, lovely.
But as much as she played, she never wrote a lyric or a note down. She tried, but the others would start arguing about Suzanne off Fair City. Or her husband would stand next to her and talk about something—about his day at the immigration office or the English classes he took twice a week at nightschool or, a week later, about his day at the unemployment office. For all that he and she were getting along at the moment, they couldn't afford to have him not work. As soon as he was able to find a job, she urged him to.
The only job he might be able to get was being the janitor at the local primary school, because there, at least, he wouldn't have to know much English.
"Then take it," she told him one night after he interruped her. "Take the job. It's not forever."
"But a janitor?"
She inhaled. "But at least it's a job, isn't it?"
One night, as she was playing "Falling Slowly," though her mind was somewhere else, he said: "But you never told me where the piano came from."
She hit a sour note. "Billy's shop, of course. I introduced you to him last week, remember?"
"That big bearded man? Yes. But how did it get here? This is a new piano."
"A mate got it for me," she replied, in English. Her husband's English was still poor. Ivanka, at two years old, had more English than he did. Switching back to Czech, she said, "We played music together. I helped him record a demonstration CD. This was a thank-you present."
Her conscience was clear on this count. Nothing had happened between her and the guy, after all. She had made sure of it. She continued playing, but switched to a safer song.
"Oh!" One of the lads called from near the TV. "That song is deadly! I love U2."