Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday : Guitar

Note: We're taking a short (ONE DAY!) break from my "Awkward College Romance" story - tune in tomorrow for the next installment of that. Today we're doing something a little different here at CPW.

Following in the brave footsteps of bloggers Cormac Brown and Flannery Alden, I've decided to up the ante with my writing and join the community of Flash Fiction Friday.

Every Friday you are given something to write about, and you must publish by mid-week the following week.

Here is my first attempt. Our friend Dale might categorize this as one of my "give til it hurts" postings. Enjoy.


“Hummingbird, hummingbird, sing me your song….” Mama’s voice crackled as she strummed the wooden acoustic guitar we had found in the house the day she and Pops closed on it so many years before. She had such a strange manner of playing; instead of tucking the guitar under her right arm like most people did, she laid it flat on her lap and used one of those cylindrical steel bars across the strings to help her form the chords she needed. She strummed slowly, mechanically with her right hand and squeaked out the lyrics in a girly tone pitched at least two octaves above her normal speaking voice.

“Don’t sing, Mama!” I said as a joke, referring to the story she loved to tell of me as a toddler. Apparently I had not been as receptive to her sad attempts at lullabies as her first three children had been, and regularly reproached her for her nightly attempts --- thankfully, or so it seemed by her propensity to share the story, somewhat amusingly. Something about Mama’s singing always embarrassed me, and I remembered, cringily, my own fourth birthday party when I cried actual tears at my family’s tableside performance of “Happy Birthday.” Maybe it was because of my own inborn musical talent that I disdained any pitchy attempts at making melody. Or maybe it just hurt my ears; I can never really know.

Mama stopped playing and smiled thinly. “Your father always made fun of me too. I’m not sure I ever told you that. At first it hurt my feelings, but when I realized the bastard was seeing his diva girlfriend behind my back, I decided he was never going to control the way I felt about anything, ever again.” Her gray eyes turned to stone.

I felt my back stiffen as she brought up the topic of Pops’ affair with “the Diva,” as Mama referred to her. Pops was never great at hiding the evidence of his infidelity, and while his four kids knew about his dalliance with the bitch pianist we all hated long before our mother allowed herself to become aware, Mama eventually put two and two together and subsequently threw the equivalent of five grand mal seizures, in a dramatic style only befitting her severe alcoholism. Mama’s discovery had provided for quite the afternoon, just after my graduation from college, when she fairly entertained every neighbor within a three block radius, hurling obscenities at full voice while careening drunk about the front yard. It was a near perfect performance, diminished only by her inability to roll back her eyes and foam at the mouth.

“I thought we agreed not to talk about that any more, Mama,” I said, referring to my recent pronouncement that I would no longer serve as her marriage counselor. “You need to find a neutral third party to hash all that out.”

“What is there to hash out? He left me for that bitch and you all took his side. Seems pretty simple to me.” She put down the guitar, exchanging the steel cylinder for her nearly depleted glass of Tab and vodka. “I figured out a long time ago that it doesn’t matter what I say or don’t say; the end result will be the same either way. Everyone will always be against me.”

It drove me insane when she got like this, and I regretted making the joke about her bad singing. Though I quickly forgave myself, knowing Mama would have taken any subject I offered and found a way to tie it to whatever was currently upsetting her. It’s funny how she always complained about this trait in her own mother.

Mama always painted Grandma out to be such a bitch, though in fairness I never got that impression during the small amount of time I got to spend with her before she died. I remember the time during college when I drove down to Iowa to visit Grandma in her assisted-living apartment building because I wanted to take her to lunch. As we were eating, I said “Grandma, can I ask you a question about Mama?”

“Of course,” she replied, looking slightly wary.

“Was Mama always so quick to fly off the handle, even as a kid? Did she always go into hysterics the way she does now?” Grandma just sat there and stared at me. She put her fork down, glanced away for a second and then turned back to look me right in the eye. And nodded, slowly. In a manner suggesting I put the rest of my questions back in the vault, pending any future invitation to revisit the subject.

“Mama, I wish you would stop saying that. We’re not against you and we’re not for Pops. You two are adults, and your marriage is your own business. We just want both of you to be happy.” Against my better judgment, I added, not bothering to disguise the irritation in my voice, “And anyway, I thought I told you to leave me out of it. I’ve got my own life to figure out.” I wondered for a second whether I could grow to enjoy the flavor of Tab and vodka. Tastes for certain things have to be genetic.

“Well that’s certainly some fine talk coming from you, Mr. Fancy-I’m-too-good-for-my-own-family.” She jiggled the half melted ice in the bottom of her glass before jerking back her head to slurp the remnants of the drink, spilling drops of watery diet cola on her blouse in the process.

“GOD DAMN IT ALL TO HELL!” she cried, catapulting off the sofa to hurl toward the kitchen. I lowered my now-throbbing forehead to cradle it in my hands, wondering simultaneously whether I would throw up and what excuse I could invent to leave early this time.


Flannery Alden said...

Bravo, CP! And welcome to the club!

I like the way you painted a picture of Mama. I think we may all know someone like her.

Doc said...

This is a marvelous character study. Mama couldn't have been more real. Great dialoge to compliment the flow of the story. You have a knack for this CP. Keep it up!


Joyce said...

What an excellent portrayal of a troubled family. Apparently, everyone has their issues and lashing out at each other, they manage to keep it all 'in the family'. It can be difficult to make a story work that contains so much dialogue, but you have managed it flawlessly. So glad you joined in and please do continue. I really look forward to reading more of your work.

Sue H said...

CP - a very eloquent study and extremely well written to conjure up the failings of these family relationships!

I like your style - hope you'll return with more tales!

Dale said...

That didn't hurt one bit!