Thursday, March 24, 2011

Songs of Dentistry and Death

Songs of Dentistry and Death
by Bryan Russell

Mitya wanted only a quiet place in the forest to shoot himself.

His hands felt heavy, and his boots. The winter uniform. And his gun most of all. It weighed more than all the bales of hay he had once hauled, all of them together. It weighed more than all the earth he’d plowed beneath his feet.

His breath plumed in the air, and he noticed the strangeness of silence. How long? Always the noise: the people; the voices; the orders; the bullets; the awfulness of artillery shaking him like a bone doll--a filling had fallen out once, rattling right out of his head. He’d tasted it, for a moment, on his tongue.

It was just the start, he knew. Pieces of him would keep falling off.

The trees had lightened, had somehow become more airy, more open. Winter light fell through bare branches. Yet he was deep in the forest.

Yes, somewhere around here. It was quiet. The snow would come, it would cover him. He would forget, and the world would forget him.

Mitya stopped.

There was a piano.

A piano sitting on the grass. A piano, alone and waiting.

Mitya looked around. There was nothing around him. No house, no cabin, no road. No path, no mark of foot or hoof or wheel. Just a piano. Somewhat battered, tilted slightly, as the ground seemed a little uneven.

How had it come here? Who would drag a piano out here?

People, of course, were fleeing the war. Carrying bags on their backs. But none of them were carrying pianos.

Mitya stepped forward. In the silence he thought he could hear notes. Tentative, distant, the hushed tones of memory.

Shostakovich, he thought. Yes. Not one of his great Soviet propaganda pieces. Some minor thing. A personal little piece. Small and forgotten. He didn’t know the name. Just this little snatch of melody, of hushed notes.

His fingers touched the keys. The sound stepped out, clean and good, reverberating off the cold trees. The notes drifted through the forest. He played the Shostakovich, the little bit he remembered. He wasn’t very good; he never had been, really, and he was rusty now, yet the music came out right, or at least it sounded good to his ear. A little plunky, but the notes danced for a moment, before drifting out amongst the trees.

There was another sound, then. The heavy thrumming of artillery, the deep vibration rolling through the earth.

Just drums, he thought. His notes still hung in the air, a fading counterpoint. The earth rumbled. Just drums. Mitya pulled his gun around and marched back into the trees, ignoring the pain in his teeth.


Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

And thanks to Matt MacNish/Rush for the picture prompt.

Matthew MacNish said...

Now I get it. I thought you meant something else, but this is cool too. It sure is a great photo.

Matthew MacNish said...

And this is incredible, again. The idea of his gun weighing more than every bale of hay ever is powerful, and I love it, but I think my favorite phrase is "the sound stepped out."

Well done, Bryan.

Marlene Nash-McKay said...

Well done, I so enjoyed that. When are you publishing a Flash Fiction book Bryan? There is most certainly a market for something like that: well written, thought provoking, tidbit stories.

Elena Solodow said...

So, so beautiful. People have told you you're talented, right?

IanBontems said...

Great piece. Loved this story

jbchicoine said...

Your writing is as evocative as the photo, and that is very evocative. Beautiful, as always, a pleasure to read :)

D.G. Hudson said...

Life is so fragile, and can turn on one moment like this. When everything seems to be falling apart, a little thing like an uplifting melody can bring back our love of life.

Strange pairings make for interesting stories, Bryan, and you bring these deep emotions that we experience to the light.

I recently read a short story 'Russia is a Fish' which told the story of two Russian men and their women and how they exist on the outskirts of the military regime. Your post reminded me that some of our soldiers endure death and its effect on their equilibrium every day.

Deep stuff, Bryan.

Marsha Sigman said...

Beautiful and haunting, as usual.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

That photo IS amazing (bravo, Matt!).

And Marlene's idea is brilliance.

Love this: ...notes danced for a moment, before drifting out amongst the trees.

Your stories do have a common thread that weaves through them, of pain and loss. I can totally see them as a book.

Donna Hole said...

I loved the imagery of him finding something precious and self sustaining when least expected it. Life is like that.

The sentiment really tugged at my heart.


Marlene Nash-McKay said...

Thank you Susan :)

Anonymous said...

Amazing piece, Bryan. I agree with Matt. I love the phrase "the sound stepped out." Very fresh and evocative. I also liked the image of the bone doll, quite effective and haunting.

Wherever did you find such a great photo? ;-)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...


Matt sent it to me, and it just begged a story.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I was poking a little fun at Matt since there was so much reference to where you got the photo in the comments. Hence the winky face. ;-)

And since I didn't say it before, Great Photo Matt!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Oops. I mean, I knew that. Yeah.

(and to think I copyedit all day)

Anonymous said...

Well, winky face might have been a little too obscure.

Word verification: matflood. Hey, I was looking for a character name! :D

Wanu said...

Damn, dude, that's awesome.