Friday, 17 December 2010

Friday Flash - The Music Man

The chill of an autumn morning holds the city in its thrall. Dead leaves drift from the sleeping trees to carpet the pavements in crisp fragments of bronze and gold. The sun burns cold in a piercing blue sky. Offices and shops bulge with scarf-clad workers, warming their shivering hands on steaming mugs of tea. They fight for space around small stoves and fireplaces.

Hope Lane curves through the overcrowded alleys near the workhouse. Footsteps ring out on the cobbles as a stream of notes curls down the narrow street. The blacksmith's apprentice presses his face against a grimy window. He forgets the dull ache in his arm, and runs outside. The old and infirm shuffle to the doorsteps of their tiny homes. Gaunt women carry skinny babies. The accordion's picture of the impending season muffles their sadness.

The old man limps down the street, swathed in a cheerful red coat and hat. His deft fingers manipulate the keys, oblivious to the frosty air. The scent of cinnamon and roast chestnuts wafts in his wake; the apprentice dreams of candy canes and sugar plums. He pauses outside the forge. The new song begins and he plays with gusto, conjuring the spirit of King Wenceslas. The babies gurgle and the apprentice sways to the music. Fingers fumble in moth-eaten pockets for their last few coins. They flash in the air, and a black monkey in a scarlet waistcoat collects them with nimble paws.

Money buys happiness when the music man comes by.

* * *

The image for this piece is Ludwig Knaus' painting, The Hurdy Gurdy Man (1869). You can buy a print here.

I submitted the original version of this story to the 50 Stories for Pakistan project, but it wasn't selected. Carrie Clevenger acted as a valued beta reader as I knocked the story into the shape you see now.

40 comments:

juliorvarela.com said...

Icy, this is so damn well-written and rich with detail, I pictured it immediately. Just a great piece of work. You hooked right into it with beginning and the monkey was a nice touch. Great description, great details, great pacing.

Julio

G.P. Ching said...

Perfect writing, Icy. I read it twice. Evocative of the holiday season and the Christmas classics we know and love. Excellent stuff!

Carrie said...

This came out real good Icy. :)

ChloƩ P. Kovac said...

This is one of my favourite Icy-flashes. Simple and eloquent. And chock-full of awesome descriptive prose.

ChloƩ P. Kovac said...

Simple, concise and eloquent, I should say. A little snippet of sublimity.

Tony Noland said...

I can picture every detail, down to the chill of the cobblestones. Terrific.

John Wiswell said...

Wow, that picture takes me back. I thought I made up the "Hurdy Gurdy Man" when I was a kid, could never find proof the thing existed outside of my babbling. I should have just said organ-grinder.

You make his existence sound so grimy. I guess it would be if you had to live with a monkey.

Eric J. Krause said...

Excellent details in this. John had it right. Grimy was the first thing that came to my mind. Good story!

Sam said...

I feel frozen just reading this. An excellent story packing with lovely little details, you captured the squalor and desperation of the season perfectly. Loved it!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Julio - Thank you! I vaguely recall reading a story about a hurdy gurdy man when I was little and I loved the idea of it.

Genevieve - I seem to be doing a lot of Christmas stories at the moment!

Carrie - Thank you for all your help! I added a link to your website since you did beta read it for me several times.

Chloe - Words are my paint, and all that.

Tony - Mad thing is, this whole "Dickensian London" just doesn't exist at all. It's all been covered in concrete and Modernism. :-(

John - Yes! He is/was real! I think he's like the precursor to the excitement kids feel when they hear an ice cream van go past.

Eric - Thank you!

Sam - Squalid, but they're still happy, and possessed by community spirit. You just don't get that now.

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

That gave me quite the shiver, Ms Icy. Very nicely done

Laurita said...

Lovely descriptions. I could picture the scene perfectly. Well done!

Jim Bronyaur said...

Wonderful Icy... THIS is now my personal favorite of yours. Wow.


Jim Bronyaur
http://tinyurl.com/jimbronyaur-theburiedhouse <-- my #fridayflash this week!

Stephen said...

You packed a great little journey into such a small piece of writing. I was on that lane. I now fancy roast chestnuts - even though, back here,in reality, I find them just a little bit ick (which is highly disappointing). So a coin for the music man - and I'm surprised things didn't go more favourably in the competition.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Maria - Thank you! I can't work out if I was going for happy or sombre with this one.

Laurita - I seem to have gone all Dickensian of late!

Jim - *blushes*

Icy Sedgwick said...

Stephen - It did take a different form when I originally submitted it. It was shorter, for one thing. I'm very proud of this version though.

Gracie said...

Stunning writing as always, Icy. The scene is so clear and real. I was right there with those poor people on Hope Lane, which is a great name for this street.

Love this one!

Seleste said...

Great description in this piece of both the sadness and the joy. Well done :)

ganymeder said...

Beautifully done. Just lovely.

My favorite line-
>The scent of cinnamon and roast chestnuts wafts in his wake; the apprentice dreams of candy canes and sugar plums.<

daniellelapaglia said...

You're stories are always so descriptive, I can see and hear and feel every moment. A beautiufl Christmas tale.

Steve Green said...

Very eloquent Icy, in a harsh life small pleasures mean so much.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Gracie - Figured it was a nicer name than some of the street names you get in London...

Seleste - Thank you.

Cathy - I LOVE the smell of cinnamon. It IS Christmas, as far as I'm concerned!

Danni - I see all this in my head before I write it down. Some people would call that craziness, writers call it imagination!

Steve - Sometimes it's the little things that make all the difference.

~Tim said...

You pack so many lovely details in this. Nice one.

Maria A. Kelly said...

Lovely, lovely story. The chill may be in the air but this story warms the bones.

theothersideofdeanna said...

Ah, the magic of music. It can so often make us forget "the real world". I love the imagery here, especially that of the monkey collecting coins.
Just gorgeous writing Icy!

fictdoodles said...

I really love this. You've captured a truly magic moment. Thanks for bring us there!

Alan W. Davidson said...

That was tremendously descriptive writing, Icy. A fantastic merging of sights, smells and sounds. Well done.

Stephen said...

With such vivid descriptions, it's easy to see the world you've painted here. Well done. I especially like this: "The sun burns cold in a piercing blue sky." Sometimes, it's just that cold, isn't it.

AidanF said...

I love the details you capture in this piece. I like the way he muffles the sadness. This piece reminded me of your previous piece of Melancholy; but more in style and this being a counterpoint to it.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Tim - Thank you! I've come to discover flashes are what I do best - I just can't sustain that for a novel.

Maria - Yep, I'm just out spreadin' some joy...

Deanna - I saw a painting of a hurdy gurdy man with a monkey (not the one here) when I was little and it's always stayed with me.

David - Thank you!

Alan - I love putting smell in my writing. Probably because I'm a bit short-sighted and my nose is more reliable!

Stephen - Yeah, it's a weird sensation when the sun is shining but it's freezing, isn't it? Glad I managed to communicate that!

Aidan - Funny you should say that! It could almost be the same street...though I guess the Music Man takes the role of Joy. A much more welcome visitor!

Trevor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trevor said...

Beautifully written, thoroughly enjoyed that, Icy.

@tbelshaw
http://www.trevorbelshaw.com/blog

johnunknown said...

Great storie I love the detail its amazing

Rachel Blackbirdsong said...

I love that you included all the senses in this story. You not only created the man from the painting, but every aspect of the world he's in, down to the scents wafting in the air. Lovely.

brainhaze said...

I love the descriptions and detail in this piece - nothing more than brilliance - well done

Matt Merritt said...

So much soul to this. Concise and beautifully executed. I really enjoyed it. Thanks!

afullnessinbrevity said...

The detail drives this piece so well. Just the right amount of words in the perfect place is superb.
Adam B @revhappiness

flyingscribbler said...

I love your world here, it's a simpler, more innocent place where small things make people happy, if only for a fleeting moment. What a treat from you Icy.

Lionel Braud said...

very precise writing, Charles Dickens comes to my mind. the point of the story speaks for itself through the details given.

laradunning said...

The detail is so vivid and rich. I feel like I am there waiting for the music man.

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