KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Flash Fiction: 852 words

I Sank the Mandolin

by Ron Yates

Water in the cove so smooth it seems congealed until a soft breeze produces a fluid response, a subtle procession of ripples. I can no longer enjoy this scene that had always provided, before I sank the mandolin, serenity of spirit. I watched the instrument as it slowly descended toward the channel’s rocky shelf, eternity’s hard floor. My eyes followed the shape of the curved hollow body, stuffed through the sound hole with rocks, growing smaller as it dropped into darkness. After I broke the neck I wanted it gone, out of sight, and so it was. Yea, she dropped through the valley of cold dark death, and now I fear all evil, especially when I imagine the water of the cove on a calm spring day.

I couldn’t play the damned thing even though I tried for years. Inscrutable instrument of paired strings, difficult, almost yielding yet remaining stiff-necked, frustrating to my fingers and soul. Father had planned my future for as long as I can remember: I would be the mandolin player in our family group, preserving the old music (with our own unique interpretations) for future generations, an honorable calling he had assured me. We had the fiddle, banjo, bass, and guitar; the mandolin had always been lacking, and it was my destiny, after my mother and sisters took up their parts, to fill this void. I tried, probably harder than Father ever knew. But how can we know what another perceives, even our own flesh and blood? Father may have known, but it doesn’t matter now. The result is the same: rejection and alienation, even from the brotherhood of man.

Father’s preaching convinced me that through faith all things were possible, and for a while I made progress. I learned the melodies but couldn’t play them well enough, my fingers too fat for the narrow fret spaces, my picking too slow. The demands of my marriage, which came late to a woman Father approved of, overwhelmed my need and desire to practice. Years of stagnation, followed by disappointment and shame. After slowly abandoning the rectitude of persistence, I began to harbor visions of the act: the snapping of the neck, disposing of the body. This period in my mind is a smeared stretch of torment. There were times of penitent heart when I would pick up my old instrument yet again, telling myself I couldn’t give up while knowing I already had.

The actual event came suddenly, a seamless blending of thought and action, subconscious and conscious realities wafting into one sublime moment—crack! There it was: broken instrument on the unswept floor, a stinging under my eye, a dull throb above my knee. My mind reeled. Compelled to look at myself, I shuddered at my face in the mirror. Blood on my cheek. Thin skin sliced by snapped E string. The last pain it would ever inflict! Now by God it was over, almost. I daubed the blood away, not much really. Gathered her up, headstock hanging, and walked the familiar, rock-strewn trail to the cove whose bottom I had never been able to reach.

I had often dived into that water when I was young and strong, swimming down into cold darkness until my ears hurt and fear sent me back up. My broken instrument would find the bottom I had felt for. Rocks would ensure a steady sinking. The surface undulated, welcoming the weighted body.

I watched the slow descent for a long time, expecting something—revelation, a new mood, clarity of thought—but nothing came except a shuddering of my frame, unaccountable after such a simple act yet real, making me feel as though my soul were leaving. I had sought change, an end to the frustration, but the difference is different from what I had imagined. I am hollow now, like the body of my broken instrument, and there is no freedom.

Father’s expectations forged an unbreakable bond. Through fate and blood the die is cast, and we are imprisoned in spite of all we can muster of ourselves. I look at my idle hands, stupid cursed fingers, and gaze out this window at the bright spring sky. My mind spins into the blue and returns to that day at the cove:

I finally looked up, after she’d sunk beneath my vision. Ducks were there on the far side, gliding on a liquid mirror. A hawk circled overhead. I absorbed the scene with its rush of sound—the breeze in the tender leaves, birds twittering, squirrels scampering, crickets, frogs, the splash of a jumping fish, a distant outboard motor. Nothing and everything had changed. A drab patina, emanating from my putrefied core, now covered all. I turned away trembling.

I can’t go there anymore, except through the window in my mind. When I do—and sometimes it’s unavoidable—the shudder returns, but lighter now. Each time lighter for there’s not much left. I am hollow and broken, locked inside a cold, dark space where the floor’s grit aggravates and the iron-laden water leaves stains that cannot be scrubbed away.

Ron Yates
Issue 6, Fall 2016

holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. His work has appeared in Serving House Journal, Shark Reef, The Writing Disorder, The Oddville Press, Still: The Journal, Bartleby Snopes, Prime Number Magazine, and other venues. Yates lives in a remote area of east Alabama on beautiful Lake Wedowee. He has taught literature, creative writing, and journalism for many years. When not writing he enjoys hiking, taking pictures, and tinkering with old cars and motorcycles, and he occasionally leads small writing workshops.

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