Michael Cheval, “Loquacious Blues”

I gave up on being able to go to Worldcon when I got my rejection from Clarion. But after a series of fortunate events it turns out that I’m going after all! And I’m in the middle of the Writing the Other course with Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl and it’s so interesting! And there’s some Viable Paradise stuff that’s going on behind the scenes as well! I’m so excited! Too excited in fact to be able to focus on getting an actual blog post out this week so please, have a piece of flash fiction written as an exercise, inspired by the picture on the left.

They say art is in the mind of the artist and the eyes and ears of the audience. The question they should be asking is “who put it there?”

Willem’s personal angels and demons had decided early on to gang up on him. They tortured him with visions so lovely as to bring unbidden tears to his eyes and mixed them with visions of violence and death.

It was a traveling troubadour who had given him the balalaika that ended up providing him the outlet to exorcise the thoughts that plagued him. When he played, the rest of the world fell away and he felt easy in his skin for a time. The music that poured forth from him was not entertaining nor was it ever likely to earn him his keep. But it was his and his alone. Or so he thought.
The first hint he ever got of an external force influencing his art was a market day in the middle of rot month. The time of year when the heat seemed to drive even the freshest fruit to grow mold immediately after it was picked from the tree. When insects buzzed and young lovers lay in tall grass to evade the people who would put them to work on tasks that took them away from each other.

Willem’s fine linen shirt stuck to his back as he toted the last of his brass wares back to the plot of land that he couldn’t exactly call his. As he walked, dust kicked up from the dirt road and all around him the crickets sang their songs of love. The pond marking the halfway point of his journey home glittered invitingly and before he was entirely aware of making the decision to do so, he had already stripped off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants and waded into the cooling water. He breathed in deep the breeze rolling over the lake and closed his eyes.
He couldn’t help it. He needed to play, to ring out an answer to the loon’s mournful cry and the insects’ susurration. He scrambled back onto the bank and fetched his balalaika and the market stool, sat down, closed his eyes and started to strum the strings. As usual, the music poured forth from him effortlessly, almost as if fed into him from some divine location.

As he played he opened his eyes to look out over the water. When he turned back to look at his balalaika, his reflection startled him. He jumped from his stool, which fell over into the shallow water. His foot caught on a root underwater and he stumbled, falling over. He spluttered. There was no one there.

“I know you’re there,” he said out loud, feeling only slightly foolish. “I saw you.”

The reeds shivered slightly enough that Willem couldn’t tell if it was due to the wind or something else.

“I won’t hurt you,” Willem said. “Just let me look at you.”

The reeds shivered again and this time it was a fine lady that stepped out from them. Probably it was a fine lady. She wore the garments, heavy with thread of gold and silver but her face was like marble, cold and immovable. Her eyes were the color of a well nearly pumped dry. And yet… For all her strangeness she also seemed somehow familiar like a half-remembered dream.

Willem narrowed his eyes.

“Who are you?” he said

There was only a very subtle change to her marble face that seemed to imply a smile but Willem couldn’t be sure of that either.

The fine lady brought her fingers to her white lips, touched them there as if throwing him a kiss. Then she turned and cascaded down as water just as Willem lunged forward to embrace her.
Dripping wet and disappointed, Willem walked the rest of the way home. But he promised to come back to look for her every day for the rest of his life.