Tug on the Ribbon
Long story short, this was was inspired by a tweet that the Great Dismal himself retweeted. I replied, and that became the first line of the story. Hopefully he gets a chance to read this one. Was submitted to an anthology and as with most of the work I do for anthologies, it’s written specifically for them. If it doesn’t run there, I just run it here. So, free fiction, everybody. Updated with art sometime late Thursday.
Note – Apparently Mr. Gibson read and enjoyed the story “very much.” Which left me speechless.
Additional additional note. You can buy the whole story for your Kindle right here. With three additional shorts. Three bucks.
TUG ON THE RIBBON
by Matthew Maxwell
My spirit animal is a cassette tape. I’ve always known this as sure as I’ve known that the desert will kill a man without water and that the Chariot comes around every year no matter how many mothers cry as it comes up out of the flats. I knew before we moved out to the village. I remembered hiding out in the closet of my dad’s house, back where it smelled like leather shoes and was cool and dark even when I knew that heat was falling out of the sky so hard you’d forget what rain felt like or if it had ever fallen.
The roof creaked and shirked in the summer sun, but I was safe and in the near-dark, among draped shirts and shoes that were too small or too scuffed for him to wear anymore. There was a day that they’d been bright and shiny and gleamed like they were wet all the time.
That’s where I found the box of cassettes. I always thought the word sounded like caskets, which nobody but me found funny. The side of the box had the word “Florsheim” printed on it, which seemed like a funny way to say that it was full of cassette tapes. They all lay there just as tight as me and my three brothers jammed into that double bed, well at least until Virgilio went off to the City several years ago. Kasper went just two years ago. I was upset and I wasn’t. I missed my brothers, but the bed was a lot bigger.
But I’d learned never to mention the upside to my mother.
They asked the Old Man, Xipíl what to do with him and Xipíl said that Ruby was restless and that maybe he needed to be set on his vision track just a little bit early. Sometimes that happened. Sometimes children were allowed to become great big children and never allowed to become grownups, to find the path that they were supposed to follow. Not me, though, like I said, I knew it from many an afternoon in daddy’s closet and even after we moved here. It was kind of a secret place, not so secret that I couldn’t be rustling around in there, not like the drawer on his dresser. That one didn’t make the move out here with us. Day we did, I just remember him opening it and staring into it like he was going to cry but never did.
I asked him if we could take the Florsheim box when we moved and he nodded without saying anything, eyes on the drawer. I didn’t ask for much else, and nobody seemed to want to carry anything that didn’t fit in the family’s scrubby little Hyundai. Whatever he left behind, he never talked about again. Virgilio had rummaged in there once and came out with a pocket knife that he used to carve the words I WON’T GO into the tamarind tree that grew in our yard. That was the day we moved into the village.
But he did go anyways.
I still have that pocket knife.
Our new house was a lot closer to the stripyard, which gave me plenty of chances to add to my cassette collection, soon as I was old enough to sneak out. Then I was old enough to be sent there. I never asked why I didn’t go to school but I remember Virgilio going, every day. But that was in the old neighborhood, the old house.
At the striypard, I turned scrap like a bunch of other kids my age. But I was fast and didn’t screw around and could pull quota before midday, then disappear off to the shoals of books and discs and musical junk. That was where my real hunting took place. Wasn’t long before I needed a lot of Florsheim boxes, though none of them ever had that word printed on it.
I had a whole spirit zoo, not just one animal that ruled my life forever and ever amen, like they say. If I didn’t want to hear what was playing, I could just stop it. Or I could skip over the song or put something completely new in. My fingers had to press hard on the big plastic buttons. But never the red one.
Learned that lesson pretty quickly when I erased three precious minutes of my favorite song; I didn’t even know its name. I realized something was wrong and rewound the tape to the beginning, pressed PLAY so hard that my fingertips hurt and listened back. Instead of music, there was only the whine and squeak of tape rubbing against capstans and the silver eraser head. And the faint sounds of my breathing, nervous, curious, frightened. I’d made that song totally disappear, but for thirty seconds of the guitar trailing away slowly like the Chariot leaving and weaving down the road.
The rest of the night I spent crying. Not even mama’s cooking could fix that. All the soup in the world wasn’t going to drown that sorrow. So I made real careful not to press the red one again unless I knew what I wanted to do.
Read the rest on your Kindle right here. Potentially other formats to follow, but Amazon was the easiest to deal with right off the bat.
5 comments to Tug on the Ribbon