Rachel Swirsky has published in Interzone, Subterranean, Konundrum Engine Literary Review, and Flashquake. She blogs about writing, politics, and daily musings at That Which Deranges the Senses.
Rachel takes on serious subjects. In her lighter moments, she writes wonderful pieces like this one.
Wow, guys, thanks for letting me listen in. You spin noise out of
those instruments like nothing else. The harpsichord, the piano – I'm
not lyin', your fingers are flyin'. It takes real talent to pull off
beauty spots and pantaloons. You know what I'm saying? You gotta have
balls of steel to look studly in a powdered wig.
Listen, I've got some great ideas for where this band oughta go. Aw,
don't brush me off like that. I didn't come here under false
pretenses. I said I'm a fan and I'm a fan. I've just got ideas. I'm a
fan with ideas. Okay?
How about I make it worth your while? I'll buy us all some grub at the
burger joint across the street. You guys chow down. I'll talk. Cool?
So, here's the thing. Something weird happened to me in high school.
At first I thought I was pie high lucky, but then I turned out not to
be. See, when my high school did the time travel thing to visit old
dead guys for European History, and most of my class got stuck
chatting up rusty old monks, I drew Mozart.
It's gotta happen to some lucky dude, right? I mean, all the names are
in there, it's just a matter of being the guy who hits the lotto.
It was even better for me cuz I was way into music. Mom used to say I
came out of the womb strumming. I had my own garage band and we were
good, too, we were rocking – uh, I mean we were chromatic. So I
figured I'd take a little something back with me to show Mozart. You
know? A recording. It'd be like the best hook-up ever.
I know it was stupid, but this was before that girl got killed for
bringing her Koran back to the crusades. Security was lax. I was just
a dumb kid. You know? The teachers and timesters had their hands full
just checking everyone to make sure our mommies hadn't sewn zippers
into our period clothing. All I had to do was tape the recorder
between my legs and keep my thighs closed when they patted us down.
The time machine does its thing, and zing, whoosh, I pop into the
shadows behind a curtain in the middle of a performance. The audience
is all these white-faced rich geezers, fanning themselves and gabbing– and stinking up the place, too, like the worst cases of B.O. you can
imagine mixed with dead flowers.
The music was okay, some fiddly shit with lots of cadencing and
symmetrical phrases and oh, look, at me, I'm a fancy ponce in a wig --
Calm down! I'm not trying to slam your sound. Just listen, okay?
Cuz then I look up and there's Mozart. He was in-cre-di-ble. His face
was transcendent, like you're supposed to get when you're praying, but
you never do. He moved with the beat like he and the piano were
getting it on. And his hands. His hands were like music themselves,
each arched finger gently, boldly, deftly caressing notes out of his
ivory girls. Totally perfect.
I waited until he was done playing and the people applauded and
whatever. He headed out alone. I saw my chance.
I hit the allspeak machine in my ear. It whirred up and started
translating. I jumped out of the shadows. "Amadeus?"
Mozart gave me that look people in the past do, you know the one that
says: you look well fed and have clear skin and all your teeth, what's
up with that?
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"Yeah, I've got this thing I want to show you."
I reached into my pants to get my recorder. It probably wasn't a smart
thing to do, cuz he took one look at my hand diving past my belt and
he started to leg it. I pulled off the tape as fast as I could, taking
half my thigh hair with it.
"This thing plays music," I called. He turned around. I held a
headphone out to him. "You can hear it through this. Put it in your
ear." I stuck the other one in mine. "Like this."
"Is this some kind of musical snuff box? Are you an artificer?"
"Sure, whatever. Just try it."
Mozart's curiosity got the better of him. He put the headphone in his ear.
First, he screwed up his face like he was sucking on a lemon. "What is
this?" Then we hit my guitar solo. Man, I'd really been on that day. I
made that guitar sing like a birdie crying for love.
No, guys, don't give me that. Guitars are not ancient and out of
style. "Ancient and out of style," that's rich coming from a
harpsichordist. Calm down already, will you? I'm not trying to slam
your sound. Let me finish.
So anyway, Mozart's listening to me wail on that guitar, and this
expression of pure rapture crosses his face. The recording ends and
Mozart twists the headphone in his ear. "How do I make it happen
"You hit replay," I said, and I did.
"This is astonishing. This music is from the heavens..." Mozart
paused. "Or somewhere out of mankind's reach, at least. I've never
heard anything like it."
"We rock hard, don't we? We call ourselves the Junk Monkeys."
He looked me over again. "Are you an angel sent to show me the light?
A demon sent to tempt me?"
"No, man, I'm just lead guitar."
Before we could go another round, the allspeak in my ear buzzed to let
me know it was time to go home. "I have to make like a tree," I said.
Mozart looked at me in confusion.
"Like a tree. You know, leaf. As in leave." I held out my hand. "Can I
have my headphone please?"
"I hoped I might listen again..."
"This thing cost me a year's allowance."
"Perhaps such things are best left in the ether." Looking regretful,
he slipped the earpiece into my palm. "Wherever you came from, thank
you. I'll never think of music the same way again."
There was a tear in his eye, I swear there was. I waved and
high-tailed it out of there so the time net could scoop me up. The
whole time I'm grinning like I swallowed a barrel of cream, cuz I'm
If Mozart made music ten times better when what he had to work with
was this fancy-wig poofter stuff, what could he do if he started with
gut-punch rock and roll? I figured by the time I got home, music
evolution would be accelerated a thousand years. I figured we'd be
playing heart-leaping, soul-grinding, pelvis-shaking sounds. We'd be
flying off into the stratosphere with guitars melded into our skins. We'd be gods of harmonic nirvana.
And yeah, Mozart rocked everyone's socks to the moon. But how was I
supposed to know that we'd top out on metal as soon as electricity lit
up our homes at the turn of the century, and then we'd go back to
playing the whole wimpy classical style from galant to Baroque that
Mozart never had a chance to write because he was rocking round the
No, guys, calm down. I'm not trying to slam your sound. I swear! It's
just – music has taken a wrong turn. But take me on as your lead
guitar and we can put it right.
So what about it, guys? Ready to throw off your wigs and start playing
some Metal Mortuary, some Gothic Screech, some Electric Howl?
You're welcome for the burgers.