Bagpipes on the Wind (flash fiction)
And you keep hearing bagpipes on the wind, phantom sounds, or perhaps they’re police sirens—not the full, ripe blast of American police cars, but of European ones, ones you’ve heard in spy movies and then from someone who came back from a trip to Paris said the sirens really sound like that, sharp and tinny, not sounding all that threatening to you in case you had just plunged a couple of rolled-up Impressionist canvases stolen from the Louvre under your trenchcoat or necklaces from a posh store on some rue or another, and you hear those sharp sirens in the distance and figure you have a bit of time before the gendarmes arrive, enough time to have a small café au lait in a sidewalk cafe and flirt with the French lady in a skirt who’s reading a daily newspaper not on a tablet computer but actual paper, and you give her a thick golden necklace with a wink and say, “Look for me in the paper tomorrow, mademoiselle. Surely the cameras caught my face as I bolted out the exit. But I sincerely hope they caught my good side. I do despise the photos the media show of criminals. Always making them look worse than they actually are. After all, everyone has grumpy days and bad hair days. Au revoir, my dear.”
And you decide, no, the phantom sound is more likely bagpipes than police sirens. A young bagpiper full of air in healthy, fresh pink lungs. No, this is too faint for that. This is a middle-aged bagpiper, an office manager fed up with his job and trying out a new hobby, saying to his friends, “What the hell. Everyone chooses the guitar. It’s so overplayed. Why not the bagpipes? Now that takes imagination.” And his friends reply, “That also takes ear plugs. And ear phones and woolen hats, the thicker the better the closer one gets to the aforementioned bagpiper.” And the office manager replies, “In that case, I’ll play far off on the hills covered in heather, away from the muddling masses, so the only time human ears will hear me is when the wind carries the notes to the nearest town. And there, the sounds will softly settle down to rest, then scout out the town to see if it has a decent diner and perhaps a bit of culture so as to be suitable to retire in.”
And perhaps that what this is, bagpipe sounds on the wind. The sounds making you think of Scottish warriors dressed in woolen kilts, faces painted in cerulean war paint, freshly sharpened axes raised high and trembling with the excited anticipation of battle. But you don’t feel the anticipation of battle. Instead, there’s the anticipation of the gas station’s restroom and a salty snack and juice, or perhaps a nice sweetly bubbly soda. The clerk nods to you as you pass, a broad-shouldered big guy with a thick beard who looks like he would feel right at home with a cerulean X warpainted on his face and trembling ferocious axe raised high, and his war cry causing his opponents’ knees to tremble in the fear of knowing they will soon be cut down.
And you, once snacks are assembled, get back into your freshly gassed car and pull away from the gas station, pull out in front of a tractor trailer that’s also exiting the station, but at a much slower pace, so you grab the chance to be in front of him. The truck in your rearview mirror makes you think of life as a series of going to places, from here to the next, and that tractor trailer truck driver would probably agree with this analogy, nodding and sipping his coffee before saying, “Yeah, but what are ya gonna do? The bills don’t pay themselves.” To which you reply, “You could steal Impressionist paintings or expensive necklaces, but that comes with a high risk of being caught and imprisoned.” To which he replies, “And in prison, I’d miss the open road. You also could try the lottery, which is at a much lower risk, but the risk increases the more money you throw at it. You could throw all your money away chasing that dream.” To which you reply, “You sure could. The open road is certainly wondrous, and has that appeal of American freedom and Kerouacian rambunctiousness. But sometimes, you just want to find a nice spot, lay the battle axe down, and sit for a bit.” To which he replies, “To each their own.” Then both of you nod that solemn, knowing nod over your coffees, and look out the diner’s window, toward the horizon line that beckons, soft and subtle, to come on and see what’s on the other side—but the more you drive toward it, you find that it has a habit of continually jumping back to the distance to beckon some more, so that the beckoning becomes an endless cycle of discovering—or, perhaps, a circumnavigation around this sphere, and you end up where you started (give or take a few miles or so).
And you, entering back onto the highway in front of the tractor trailer, pick up speed and keep looking for those hills covered in heather that are perfect for bagpiping. Or a nice, sun-bathed French countryside far away from gendarmes racing around with shrill sirens, causing a ruckus on crowded Parisian streets—one car which contains the lead inspector, with his hard, determined face, this guy who keeps smoothing down his mustache with his right forefinger, eyes piercing into yours, trying to pry open your intentions and alibis to get to the real story, that kernel of truth (or, in the least, a plausible enough story to convince a jury of your peers). No, there are no gendarmes or piercing-eyed investigators or kilted and painted warriors here in the warm sunshine. No loads to drive from point a to point b. Just the sun and a slight breeze as you sit and wonder what the next stage should be.
copyright Dave Williams