Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"Song of Relief", a Sci-Fi Flash Fiction by Linda Mooney

Posted by: Linda Mooney

A Sci-Fi Flash Fiction
by Linda Mooney            

Ysidra sat at the harpsichord and stared out the bedroom window. Her fingers idly walked down the keyboard, but her thoughts were drawn inward, preventing her from seeing the fresh blooms that swayed gently in the morning sunlight in the garden below. As she absentmindedly played down the scale, she pressed the E two octaves below middle C. She stopped to look down at her hand resting on the ebony key. She pressed it again. Three times. And a tender smile kissed her lips as she repeatedly played the note. Sighing, she remembered.

~ ~ ~

            The fourth month of her pregnancy was becoming more difficult, and she feared it would get worse. Her appetite was non-existent, she was unable to sleep through the night, and Asherton’s inattention to her problem was growing more and more annoying.
            She had gone to the physician for a sleeping draught, but the foul-smelling, worse-tasting concoction only caused her to heave up what little food she’d been able to keep down. The only solace she was able to find was in the several glasses of wine she consumed before bedtime. Yet she feared that could be causing harm as well to the child.
            Struggling to her feet, the young woman shuffled to the door of the bedroom and leaned heavily against the frame to watch her husband hunched over a stack of manuscript paper as he busily scribbled his latest work. In the light of the single candle, she could see the signs of intense concentration that sat on his back and shoulders, and cast his face in stone. She winced, partly in pain, and called out softly so as not to startle him.
            “Ash? Asherton!”
            He jerked up and turned to stare at her. Even in the few steps that separated them, she could see that the music still flowed behind his eyes, and knew he only heard her over a vast difference.
            “Ash, we need to talk.”
            “Certainly,” he allowed, turning back to his work. “As soon as I’m finished with—”
            Now, Ash,” she sternly interrupted. “Please give me just a few moments of your time. It is important.”
            Asherton popped the quill back into its well and swiveled around. As he did so, he wiped his hands on a dingy rag in a vain attempt to remove the permanent ink stains on his fingers. “Very well. I’m listening.”
            Ysidra paused for a couple of heartbeats to get her thoughts together before continuing. “I’ve been ill, Ash. I’m having trouble with the baby, and I don’t know what to do. I went to the physician, and he gave me some medicine, but I get sicker when I take it.” She ran a hand across her eyes and shifted her position so that her back pressed up against the jamb.
            Asherton forgot his irritation. Jumping up from his stool, he quickly went over to her and took her by the arms, guiding her back into the bedroom and over to the bed.
            “You need to rest,” he ordered softly but firmly. “Can I get you something to eat? Or drink? How about a nice cup of tea? Or maybe you’d prefer a glass of wine?”
            Ysidra shook her head, moaning as she stretched beneath the coverlet. Her pinched and pale face shone with sweat, and he suddenly realized how badly the pregnancy was progressing.
            Dismissing his work momentarily, he strode over to the water closet and brought back to the bedside table a washbowl of water and a cloth. He wiped her face, arms, and hands with the cool water, then folded the cloth and laid the compress on her forehead. Leaning back where he sat on the edge of the bed, he watched her close her eyes as she tried to relax. An unexpected spasm twisted her bloodless lips, and she raised a trembling hand to rest it on the gentle swell of her belly.
            “If only I could rest…” She took a shuddering breath. “Without pain.”
            Asherton shushed her as he caressed her cheek. She peered at him through her lashes.
            “Ash, why ever did you pick this time to come to? I thought the future was supposed to be glorious.”
            “It is, Sisi, but I wasn’t happy there. I’ve always known my heart belonged to Earth’s past. To this day and age. That’s why I chose it.” Leaning forward, he lightly kissed her wan cheek. “Now that I have you, there’s nowhere else I’d wish to be.”
            “But they would have medicines to help me, wouldn’t they? In the future?”
            “But you can’t take me into your time, can you?”
            “No. Neither can I return to it myself, even if I wanted to.”
            “You can only go further back.”
            He nodded. “But that will never happen. My place is here, with you.”
            She tried to adjust her position, and moaned softly. “I’m so tired.”
He got a stroke of inspiration. “A moment, my love. I think…I have…” He never finished his sentence. Instead, he got up and hurried from the room. Strange sounds came from the drawing room: various clinkings, rattlings, and rustlings. Ysidra opened her eyes as she tried to decipher what he was up to that was causing the noise. She was answered when her husband propped open the second half of the double doors to the bedroom and began to drag the cembalo across the floor, into the room.
            “Ash, what are you doing?” She managed to lean on one elbow and stared as the man brought in his stool.
            “Lie down,” he instructed, helping to tuck her back under the covers. The candle on the bedside table was the only source of light in the room. He took it, leaving her in the shadows, and went back to the instrument to place it on top of the frame. Hitching up his breeches, he sat down, then stretched his arms, cracking his knuckles before placing his fingers on the keys.
            Many years ago, before he’d banished himself to this century, he’d read up on as much about Earth’s history as he could get his hands on. One unique article, in particular, had intrigued him to where he’d never forgotten it.
            It was about the ancient practice of medicine drumming.
            The author of the piece explained that, by playing the drum at the same speed as the patient’s heartbeat, then gradually slowing the tempo, the patient was able to rest more comfortably, and thus heal much faster.         
Asherton didn’t have a drum, but perhaps he could improvise. At least it was worth the try.
He placed his left hand on the lower section of the keyboard, testing then finding the bass tones he needed. He played the octave, repeating the deep notes at the same throbbing speed as his wife’s pulse. Watching her closely, he began to match her.
            Ysidra closed her eyes, willing herself to relax and let the vibrations soothe her. Incredibly, she felt her muscles softening. Drowsiness enveloped her, and soon thereafter her body slumped against the pillows.
            When he believed the pain had sufficiently subsided, Asherton began to improvise a long, flowing melody with his right hand. A light, delicate lullaby in counterpoint to the steady but imperceptibly slowing bass rhythm. He glanced over at the bed to see that her breathing was becoming shallower and more regular. He repeated the theme several more times before ending the piece the same way he’d begun it.
            Lifting his fingers from the keyboard, he got up from the stool and tiptoed over to peer down at a beloved face that was now completely relaxed and pain-free. He smiled tenderly and crept out of the room, shutting the doors behind him so that he wouldn’t disturb her as he went to finish the concerto he’d been working on with the cittern.
            The following morning, Ysidra woke up from her first full night of rest in more than a week. She rolled over in bed to happily nudge her husband’s shoulder, playfully nibbling his neck and behind his ear. Asherton moaned sleepily and cast one half-opened eye at her.
            “What is it, Sisi?”
            “Last night, what you did, it was wonderful! Did you write that, or was it something you made up as you went along?”
            “It was spontaneous. Why?”
            “Will you write it down for me?”
            He opened both eyes. “Why? I can play it again for you if need be. It’s all right here when I want it.” He tapped his temple with a forefinger.
            She smiled. “I know it’s there when you need it, but I would like a copy for me, for when I want to play it.”
            “Very well. I will.” He nodded and buried his face back into the pillow. “Later.”
            Satisfied, Ysidra shifted under the covers, spooning herself as best she could against her husband’s back, and drifted back into a light sleep.

~ ~ ~

            She watched the shifting silver rays of sunlight on the back of her hand as she kept up the rhythm of the single tone on the instrument before her.  Asherton had yet to write down her lullaby. After a while, her illness had gone away, and she’d forgotten all about it…until now.
            Listening to herself playing the low notes, she softly began to hum the melody as best she could remember it. Behind her, their daughter moved restlessly in her bed.
            “Mahmoo, when is Dada coming home?” a plaintive voice asked as the child suffered through a tummy ache.
            “Soon, sweetheart. Very soon. He has one more concert to give before he can return. Now, close your eyes.”
            She stumbled a few times as she tried to recall the music, but after a while it finally came back to her. It was as if the notes had imprinted themselves on her soul, and only needed a bit of coaxing to return. And, as they had those few short years ago, they worked their magic again. The little girl was soon asleep.
            But will I remember next time? Ysidra wondered to herself. Will Ash remember to write it down, even after I remind him?
            Rather than take the chance, she reached for the pot of ink and quill pen that was ever present on top of the harpsichord, pulled a sheet of manuscript paper across the prop, and began to inscribe the song of relief one careful note at a time.

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