Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the third piece of flash fiction in this new weekly series. This week’s story is a 588-worder entitled ‘The Ruby Stradivarius’ by Issy Flamel.
The room fills with the scratching of nib across paper as Jacob prays for his hand to cease trembling and let him sign the contract. He closes his eyes and forces in a ragged breath as he screws the barrel of the pen back into its lid and places it with a solid clunk on the heavy wood of the table. He opens them to see the knowing smile of his new employer breaking across his broad, open face, the greying eyebrows arched above the cornflower blue eyes.
‘Congratulations Herr Shulman! And welcome to our little band.’ Jacob’s hand is wrapped inside the older man’s and shaken effusively.
‘Thank you Herr Direktor, thank you! I hope… that is I know… I mean I want you to know…’ the words come rushing out until the Direktor shushes him with a wave of his hands.
‘Peace Jacob, peace, or how will you play? For, now we have the formalities over with, it is time.’ As he speaks Jacob follows through the gleaming oak doorway and glides down the scarlet silk carpet, under the opulent glint of gilded traceries and diamond sparkle of teardrop chandeliers, breathing in the history heavy air to the echoes of ghostly applause showering down from the gods. And there it is. Balanced on a single chair, commanding the platform of the gently raked stage, the Ruby Stradivarius, its dark sinuous tones gleaming under the spotlight, throwing down its challenge.
‘As leader it is yours, and only yours, to play as long as you are with us…’ and the gesture is made, inviting Jacob to claim his prize.
‘I can’t believe… all my life I’ve wanted… how did you come by such a masterpiece?’ and instantly the question is regretted, as the first note of dissonance intrudes. The esteemed Direktor pulls at his cuffs and shifts his glance away.
Jacob feels without being able to say why that somehow a mistake has been made, expectations tarnished, the off-colour joke at a family funeral, or the unwanted advance that hangs in the air long after the rejection.
‘We have been very fortunate Herr Shulman… after the war… well you know how things were. A generous benefactor, a reparation you might say…’ he coughs into a handkerchief and the words tail off.
And still Jacob stands, disturbed and dazzled by the moment, his limbs chained, until a controlling grip on his shoulder thrusts him forward. Now the instrument is cradled in his hands, nestled to his chin, and with a sweep of the bow is singing, singing with such ethereal sweetness, rise after rise of spiralling cadenzas that flow one upon another as he feels the violin pulse under his fingers, the strings shimmering. Plunged into ecstasy Jacob is lost.
Then in an instant his startled eyes recoil as the polished veneer is now not ruby, but a roiling sea of blood, and the music a despairing, mournful glissando, as cold skeletal fingers entwine with his, falling whispers of ringlets brush his cheek and caress the living wood. Flesh pressing down on the strings, flesh pressing out against the razor-wire, a cremation ash of falling rosin gleaming under the searchlights, as the dogs snarl and the wail of the music is lost in the dead rumble of wagon doors. Sing unto the Lord a new song. Hear me when I call O God of my righteousness. Crimson flames glimmering in its curves, a defiant crescendo spills out, denying death, as a stolen life reclaims a stolen violin and sings its song into eternity.
I asked Issy what prompted this piece and he said…
The inspiration was a re-watching of Schindler’s List. The scene of the piles of belongings, spectacles, even human hair shorn from those about to be liquidated was so haunting I wanted to record a reaction. I suppose I centred on the idea of what do we leave behind when we are gone? And faced with the monstrosity of the attempted eradication of a whole people I wanted to show a defiance, a repudiation if you like. It is difficult to address this issue, because one doesn’t want to fall into sentimentality, and finding a new way to approach the Shoah is not easy! I think it works. I hope so anyway.
Thank you Issy, it’s a very powerful story.
When not writing, and being mentioned on The Society of Authors website, Issy can be found hanging out on Twitter and in the depths of Radio Litopia and WriterLot where you can read this story and other equally atmospheric and haunting pieces from the minute-long ‘Cherry Blossom’ to a make-yourself-comfortable 12-minute ‘Gloriana’.
If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday click here.