Friday, May 15, 2015

Free Friday Fiction: Calliope Fair, and Thief

Roped off, and gleaming in brassy tones, the strange instrument on the deck of the steamboat caught Jorge's attention. He wandered over and stood at the back of the crowd. Taller than average, it was easy to see over the people's heads and Jorge studied the object with interest. It was musical, and something like a piano, perhaps even more like a church organ, but definitely something different.

"What is it?" he asked the girl standing next to him in the crowd.

His deep voice caught her attention, as well as a few others, and that of the guide on the other side of the rope. They all turned their gaze to him. Jorge was used to it, even a little flattered by it. Growing tall and muscled hadn't been the only gift bestowed by puberty. His lighter, childlike voice had deepened and dropped, and now when he spoke, he sounded like a grown man, and far older than he sometimes felt.

"A calliope, good sir," answered the guide, deftly catching the crowd's attention again. His name tag simply read "Walter". "My pride and joy. It runs on steam. And was used for decades to announce to the towns that a steamboat was coming along. Demonstrations on the half hour."

Being just past the hour, the crowd dispersed, but Walter signaled to Jorge to stay. "You look like a man with keen interest. Would you like to play her?"

Jorge's fingers fairly itched to touch the keys. "Very much," he said, thinking back to Great Aunt Edna's organ lessons. He knew the keys, even if he couldn't exactly recall how to play. He searched briefly for his boyfriend, eager to include him in the unexpected treat, but Kai was in line at the bar. This day playing tourist had been his idea originally, and he was determined to enjoy it to the maximum. "Just press the keys?" Jorge asked.

"Yes, yes, of course." Walter lightly ran his fingers down the octaves, to a white key far on the left. "She's in a sorry state. Not all of her is working." He depressed the key and no sound came out. "I'm fixing her, note by note, though."

Walter played a jaunty tune on the middle section of keys and Jorge recognized the sound. Tight and off-key in the high register, the sound sang of circuses and amusement parks, whispering fun in his ear while a shiver ran down his spine.

"What do you think?" Walter asked.

"It's a strange instrument," Jorge said.

"That it is." He paused, and then Walter said, "You know, this one right here would be just about the pitch of your speaking voice. Well, perhaps a half tone lower." He depressed the soundless key again, thumping it up and down, then holding it down.

"Really?" Jorge asked as he put out a finger to touch the music-empty key. He still wanted to play and was waiting for a signal to go ahead.

"As if you needed to lower your voice." Walter laughed. "Such an unusually deep voice you're blessed with!"

"I can go lower," Jorge said, dropping his voice even further. "I—" He noticed Walter's smile stretched toothily-wide as he did so and then Kai bumped into him and spilled his drink all over the floor and onto Walter's shoes.

Walter shouted, "Hey, now!" He picked up his feet and shook the liquid off.

"Sorry!" Kai said, his voice clipped, pitched tight, and not a damn bit sorry. "Let's go, lover," he said to Jorge. "There's more of this boat to see." He waggled his fingers at Walter, who looked thunderous.

Jorge let himself be led away.

"That man was not right. He looked like a wolf that wanted to eat you all up!" Kai marched them far away from the calliope.

"I guess," Jorge said. He hadn't noticed, the shining brass had taken all his attention, and his breath away.

Kai kept them busy for at least another hour, ducking into rooms, canvassing corridors, and generally sticking their noses into every cranny on the steamboat open for tourist inspection. Jorge was tired and ready to find an air conditioned restaurant for a well deserved meal as they finally exited the boat.

Waiting in line to leave, he could hear the conversation behind them.

"Laryngitis? Really, Frank? You haven't been quiet a day in your life," said a woman.

Frank just mumbled a reply, the tone of his voice a deep, rolling bassoon-sound, without volume or distinction.

"Well, you shouldn't have stood out in the sun watching that ridiculous calliope demonstration. And singing along! You should know better!" The one-sided conversation drifted away and the two of them walked off in a different direction.

Jorge paused and turned to look back at the steamboat. As if on cue, the calliope started playing, and Jorge was sure it wasn't his imagination, but it seemed to have a few more lower notes than before.

No comments:

Post a Comment