Thursday, 11 February 2010

Knell Quartet - #fridayflash 1000 words

The Jester sat down on the edge of his mattress. He laboured to bring one gout ridden leg up to lay across the other. The jingle bell at the tip of his pointed toe mocked each serrated movement of his limb with a tinkle. He grabbed his ankle to arrest its dinging. They had always given him away. Betrayed his advent. People would halt the progress of whatever parley they were engaged in and turn to stop him in aisles and antechambers, demanding an instant jape or trick from him. With the pain in his legs, the aches in his heart and the sour surge of ill-humours throughout his body, his buffoonery was all played out. Touched by God people said of the poor fool. But the King was cert no longer touched by his rib-tickling. These days he only seemed to rub his Majesty up the wrong way. Just like this mattress which had sprouted tickling sticks of horse hair all over its clapped out rind. It had cradled his own pith here in the Palace since the day he had first shaken his bauble in humour. Seemed like everyone and everything was at the threshold of being put out to grass, with such cankers abound in the kingdom. He managed to work off both of his shoes, while still holding the jingle at their tips. For he didn't want to alert the Devil to come ask him for a prank.


* * *

She lay her weary body down on the straw mat. Having been dancing all day, the sound of the bells were still reverberating inside her head. She had dedicated to herself and to her parents, to be not just a temple dancer, but the most refined and elegant mover of them all. To devote herself to her god and master. She had ascended from the fifty, all the way up to the two hundred bell ghungroos. The weight had been excruciating to bear, but only to better suggest the litheness of her movements picked out in such a deep, thickened sound. She wore them in her sleep, to better temper her muscles to their burden. It made for interrupted slumber. Since each time she turned in her dreams, she was serenaded by a langourous pealing, each time prompting her that she must jump to it in order to dance for a spring-borne water spirit. It was on being awoken in such manner and waiting to return back to sleep, she often wondered why she never heard the demure tintinnabula of the other Devadasis' bells. The door opened to her room. A male voice demanded her to take off her anklets. "Why? Do you not want me to dance for you oh spirit? " "You are an untouchable, you do not address yourself to me. But yes, you're going to dance for me all night".


* * *

Fearne watched through the mullioned kitchen window that gave out on to the rear garden. Her siamese was striding through the long grass and suddenly she felt privy to millennia of leonine evolution, albeit scaled down for suburbia. The cat was indubitably filled with a purposeful prowl, but there was no prey anywhere to be seen. The tocsin bell hanging from its collar was fulfilling its mission. An early bird warning system to stymie the sorties of the sinuous slayer. Man's adaptive response, to stamp our own rhythms on Mother Nature. Be it placing a bell on a goat to lead its brethren to fall into step behind it. Or the rough music placed around the neck of a free thinker who looks to go his own way. Now Fearne couldn't believe her eyes, as the cat stopped at a rose bush primed with thorns and rubbed himself adroitly against its spines. Sure enough the halter was adroitly transferred to the plant, the collar gently flapping like a snake's sloughed skin in the breeze. Meanwhile the cat marched back to reclaim the garden savannah's leonine throne. Modestly piped in his triumph by a faint chime.


* * *

The monk surveyed the damage wrought by the soldiers in their big dead cow boots. Even though steeled against superfluous feelings, he could not but shed a tear. The salt water drop seemed reluctant to release its anchorage in the bay of his eyelid and his vision was blurred. An overturned candle on the floor was still aflame and its feeble tendril rays seemed to reach out towards him. He knelt down to right it and as he raised himself back up, brought the candle up with him at eye level. He looked right through its golden streaming light, which together with his water-clouded vision combined to throw a corona behind the head of a terracotta image of the Buddha. He knelt back down again, feeling he was witness to a great sign, the light of revelation itself even. The tears poured copiously now and he wiped them clear from his eye. Alas, now he could see quite clearly that most of the Buddha's face was missing. Stoved in by a rifle butt. Ugly jagged gashes effaced any serenity. Only the mouth remained, sealed without comment on what had befallen the shrine. The tips of the fingers clasped together in humble prayer had been hacked away. He looked at his own fingers, covered in dust from rooting around the floor for profaned offerings. He reached into the fold of his robe and drew out his tingsha. Or what remained of it anyway, seeing as the binding had snapped and only one of the small bronze cymbals remained. There was to be no cadences to open up his heart to sing. No vibrating struck sound to fill his emptiness. This bronze cymbal had rid itself of all earthly attachments. But in doing so there would be no placating the hungry ghosts and they would assuredly send their cruel minions with their boots and rifles back for more offerings.

24 comments:

Tony Noland said...

Like most people, I tend to think of bells as ringing in celebration or to mark time. Seeing them as burdens was an entirely new perspective for me.

dijeratic said...

To the moaning and groaning of the bells...the chimes at midnight?

Bells wake us, remind us and toll for us in the last hour and how clumsy of us to think of them as playful, something for a kitten or a cap. Love how you remind us what the bell is for.

Something about the patten of it reminds me of Cloud Atlas - each thing is related by an object, though unrelated at the same time.

Enjoyed this very much, thank you.
DJ

Skycycler said...

The burden of bells, Notre Dame as a thread uniting the cat, jester, dancer and brother. Sonorous too: "...system to stymie the sorties of the sinuous slayer." Lovely ringing work again, Marc.

Marisa Birns said...

A triptych of divergency linked by the tintinnabulations. Wonderful.

mazzz in Leeds said...

Very haunting, these bells
My favourite was the cat one - we had put a bell on the family cat's collar. I wish we hadn't, now. To hell with the birds.

Melissa said...

Love the idea of linking through bells, their ringing (or inability to ring--the emptiness) a haunting echo still in my mind. My fave was actually the monk, a situation filled with pathos--my mind envisioning the ruins, and the failure of what would bring ("earthly") protection and spiritual (but "earthly") sustenance.

jim wisneski said...

Bells.

They have so much meaning and purpose in so many ways to different people.

I really enjoyed this story.

Jim

Maria A. Kelly said...

Very profound. I'll not look at bells the same way again.

Lou said...

The first and last are particularly poignant,but the whole piece is fantastic.

PDAllen said...

Very solid little snapshots. Great flash fiction.

Carrie said...

Wow, now this is an original idea to me. Excellent work!

David Masters said...

Beautiful, careful writing. I especially enjoyed the Jester story.

"Knell" is the perfect title. Inspired.

Sulci Collective said...

It occurs to me that I should have made the name of the heroine in the cat piece 'Nell' rather than Fearne... Oh well

Anne Tyler Lord said...

Marc,
This was a beautiful, poignant flash. I love the imagery and deeper emotional meaning attached to bells. It brings sound into the story we all relate to, but you have given these sounds such amazing new meanings.

Very well-crafted!!!

shannon said...

First of all, how do you write with such authority in four completely different worlds?! Oh yeah, I forgot, you're a genius. :-)

Bells as a calling and a curse...now that's an inventive subject. And the only one we could cheer for was the cat, lol. In the other scenarios, man completely screwed things up, how sad.

I love, LOVE this line: Man's adaptive response, to stamp our own rhythms on Mother Nature.

We're so busy suiting our environment to our whims, it takes an act of serious in-the-moment living to see the damage our intentions inflict. Like your example of seeing all the beauty and power of evolution in a cat being what it was created to be. Luckily, I think for the most part, mother nature is good at rubbing off the bells and collars we inflict on her.

Laura Eno said...

Haunting rhythms through the sections, bells as torments and burdens. Beautiful writing, Marc!

Clive Martyn said...

Very strong imagery - well done :)

Heather Lloyd said...

Great use of language and vivid imagery, this is a beautifully poetic piece of prose.

David G Shrock said...

Bold writing with nice rhythm.

peggy said...

I'm going to echo the vivid imagery and bold writing.

I'm not sure I quite got it all, but linking the bells was masterful.

CJ Hodges MacFarlane said...

This is the kind of writing I hope to find when reading through the flash lists. I could see these little pieces as if they were a beautifully illustrations - gilded in gold and richly inked colors but with tragic and sorrowful subjects. I want it on my shelf, to be lovingly taken down from time to time.

Olivia Tejeda said...

It was okay, but I was waitin for an explosion or suttin. No actually, I loved it. It's such a pleasure to read your writing. Thank you for sharing it. ~ Olivia

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