“Scars” – Fiction by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Untitled - Zdzisław Beksiński
Untitled, Zdzisław Beksiński

Digital copies of our Summer 2014 Issue will drop on June 20, but you can pre-order one right now for just $3 US. One of the very flappy lits featured in our 2nd issue is Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam‘s “Scars,” a surreal flash fiction seemingly spawned from the hazy hinterlands between dream and insanity…

{ X }

NATALIE DIDN’T KNOW WHERE THE MUSICIANS CAME FROM. When she woke from an ill-advised three-hour nap they were there in her spotless living room, their instruments strung out like her old college friends all over the brown plush carpet.

The empty carcasses of their instrument cases confused her. She stepped around them. She did not ask the musicians why they were there, but she did think it odd that they were not playing. Their instruments looked lonely leaning against her dusty elliptical, her empty bookcase – she had sold her books for cash at the local bookstore – her coffee table with the missing leg. As she stood in the kitchen door, which looked out at the living room, and shoveled peanut butter granola down her throat, she catalogued the instruments: one thick upright bass, one legless Casio keyboard, one worn acoustic guitar with a blue stripe down its middle, one tarnished brass trumpet, and one silver saxophone relaxing awkwardly on the couch beside a man whose dark fingers strangled its neck.

She looked, blurred by a nappy haze, from musician to musician, cataloguing them too, trying to place each man to his instrument. And they were all men, she realized with a start, five strange men in her home.

The one attached to the saxophone had dreadlocks to his hips, thick and black and beaded, a squarish face; beside him a thin man with two scars on his lips the shape of a trumpet mouthpiece sat with his legs crossed at the upper thigh; a rounder, cleaner man with the upright’s curved silhouette stood in the door to the study, his hands pressed against the frame as if blocking her escape, though the exit to the hallway was clear, thus that couldn’t have been his intent; a Hispanic man crouched behind her lazy boy, his hands poised across its back like a piano. The guitar player with shaggy brown hair covering one eye and black tape wrapped around each finger she didn’t have to guess at.

Once she’d emptied her cereal bowl, she stood only a moment more in the kitchen. All the disarray made her nervous, so she hid in her bedroom. She cracked her door open and peered from it, stuck her ear to the wood, but they were quiet. All day she watched them sitting, leaning, waiting.

When she could no longer quantify the time she had spent watching them, the musicians began to stir, as if they had been under a spell of time that only losing it could break. Their muscles twitched as they came to. They reached toward their instruments, and the instruments walked across the floor and slid into their arms.

They held them like children. It intrigued her, but she wanted to shut her eyes. Never had she loved an object so much. Never had she loved a person, either. Never had she wanted a warm body to hold in her arms like that, and certainly never one so cold.

They played, and their hands were the keys, the strings, the brass and silver, metal, metal, plastic, metal,wood. The music sounded like nothing to her, like white noise, like ice in a bowl of cereal, like a box of ice you ate every morning alone in your dark living room, like being taken over by men who didn’t see you. She wanted it to stop, but when she pressed her hands to her ears she could still hear it as an echo, as if her hands held that fabled ocean parents told you lived in conches where really there lived beasts that could pierce you dead. This was not the way that home should sound.

Finally they stopped, and she ached for the noise she hated, a noise of men and toys. Their hands when they lifted them from the instruments had been transformed. Fingers were strings, fingers were keys, alternating black then white, fingers were metal valves. Then it wasn’t just finger – she watched as the strings spread to veins, visible through skin like paper, coming up into the eyes and poking out like metal lashes. Brass valves for arms, a keyboard’s red power button for pupils, the pear curve of the bass’ body and a hole stretching through the man’s stomach. The musicians said nothing, and she said nothing. She wanted them gone. She didn’t want them to go. She felt like running out and throwing her arms around one, screaming stop, stop it, it has to stop. But she remained instead at the kitchen door, where she found herself as if she’d been there all along. Her belly growled, but she wasn’t hungry for anything in her cabinets.

The men did not go away, did not relinquish the space they had stolen from her, but they were no longer men. The pink of early sun stretched through the window, and the men no longer were of breath, their bodies formed of strange instruments. She went to the keys, then the bass, then the saxophone with its cold, cold surface. She lifted it to her lips and kissed its cold with the full of her mouth. The silver tasted like nuts and sugar and spit, and she was full.

{ X }

BonniePhoneBONNIE JO STUFFLEBEAM lives in Texas with her trumpeter partner and two literarily-named cats: Gimli and Don Quixote. Her fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Goblin Fruit, and Strange Horizons. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program and reviews short fiction at her blog, Short Story Review. She also curates a yearly Art & Words Collaborative Show, for which she accepts submissions each March. You can visit her on Twitter @BonnieJoStuffle or through her website: www.bonniejostufflebeam.com.

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