Short Fiction

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Opening to "Prometheus Rebound""Prometheus Rebound" appeared in Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly #10. The Helix site came down at the end of 2008. A .pdf file of the story remains up for viewing here.

This blog entry discusses the inspiration for the story.

"Variations for Four Hands" was inspired by a recording of Witold Lutoslawski's "Paganini Variations," as performed by Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire. Originally published in Yellow Silk, No. 14, Spring 1985.

Variations for Four Hands
(for Witold Lutoslawski & Nicolo Paganini)

The stage is made of pale hardwood floor angled into a white curtained backdrop. In the center, under bulbous lights, stand two huge grands. Their curved bodies fit, one into the other in smooth dark mahogany; their twin keyboards are bared, head and tail grinning teeth. Six legs stand upright, slim and with clawed feet; they knife across the tight parallel slats, separating floor from ceiling.

Enter two pianists.

They wear loose textured shirts whose sleeves fall midway to the elbow, exposing short, muscled arms. They wear long-legged pants of brushed black cotton. Their wrists show no jewelry; their naked fingers limber themselves with tiny, private movements. Silently, the pianists walk to opposite benches, curl their knees over the tips and lean forward, one toward the other. To each other, they nod.

They strike.

Opposite strings sing under the press of felt hammers. They tauten into steel sinews, rubbing the air in short waves of rhythm. Harmonies sling themselves around each waist; a circle of fifths stretches and massages soft skin at the neck.

The players reach deeply in to touch, fingerpads bursting chords from keys, tiny hairs dropping moisture into the cracks between the keys. Dual pulses throb in dual wrists.

They play with each other in pursuit, wrapping vibratos around the floorboards until the floor groans under the weight of the music. Black pupils larger and fuller than the notes plastered onto their scores rise from their eyes. Echoes swell their tense abdomens; their fingers climb over the instruments, grappling with resonant bones.

One quickens her pace of attack.

He follows, building crescendos with quick counterpoints. He sees into her melody, trills his bass progressions under bright drops of sweat. She fires dissonant adrenal scales into her wood, through his wood, into his flesh. Twin pedals bite into the stage.

They evolve upon one theme, arch their spines as one pianist twists it around the other under hot lights. Her hair sprawls across her back as she leans in, and leans in again. Her elbows pop back and forth like pistons, and the gap across the pianos thrashes like a curved snake caught between them.

He bites the inside of his cheek, raking scales off into shavings, arrows, their tips soaked in the juices squeezed from the fangs of undulating tempos.

They hold each other like this: stuck to their benches, shaking from crossed timbres, sparks flying from short clipped fingernails. Tears nestle in the corners of their eyes. Their knuckles race together, apart; the flurry of black and white under them ejects optical illusions of saturated color onto the curtains. His fingers splay after hers, over and under hers on the same keyboard space. Blood fills the veins in their throats. Given one piano instead of two, they would be killing each other.

Flanges bob up and down. Felts cushion trembling steel springs. Straps restrain dowels snapped from their upright positions. Beats lob across pin blocks and stroke the insides of mahogany, spill across pedals, edge around glistening sounding boards.

One by one, each variation is clung onto the players: around their arms, down their breasts, into their laps and onto the hardwood floor. Now the coda pulls the remains of melody from them, now the last notes build echoing cliffs across the stage, the rumbling of avalanche and the sudden drop into silence.

He and she remove their hands from the keyboards. They are wet with exhaustion; they shine under the lights like iridescent dolphins. There is triumph encircling their eyes; slowly, their pupils are coaxed back into pinpoints.

Only their hands, still throbbing, grasp each other tightly when they take their slow bow.

© 1985, Elissa Malcohn. Published in Yellow Silk, No. 14, Spring 1985.


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