Fiction · 06/08/2011

Per·cus·sion

per·cus·sion (pər-‘kə-shən)
n.
1. The striking together of two bodies, especially when noise is produced.
2. The sound, vibration, or shock caused by the striking together of two bodies

As they enter the hundredth day of peace negotiations without resolution, the Generals are allowed one luxury apiece. The General of the North asks for whisky but when the General of the South requests an orchestra from the local primary school, there is an unfamiliar noise in the hall they eventually diagnose as laughter emerging from the North. Children playing music, he scoffs, the softness of those Southerners, before requesting another luxury, his wife. Because if he should have a whole orchestra. Taken by surprise to have his desire granted, he soon wishes that he’d asked instead for a good cigar. Particularly when, as the schoolchildren file in, he is forced to listen to his wife whisper how his own son won’t sleep at night without the sound of the General’s boots on the stairs — soon, soon — and meanwhile, the General of the South has sent most of the players home for tea. The General of the North sips peaty Scotch from remote windy islands he feels an affinity? with, and watches as his Southern enemy places a triangle in one corner, cowbells in another. Missing home, he mocks, but the other General simply nods, his hand around the shoulders of the two small boys he shepherds over to the instruments. The General of the North pours himself another drink. His son would be about that age, he thinks. Mollycoddled without a father present. He’ll give him sleep. Haven’t both he and the General of the South done without sleep for the last three months. And more. He’s working his way down the bottle. What harm has it done them. The boy with the triangle has a cow-lick in his hair, his tongue sticks out as he concentrates on hitting his instrument exactly when the General of the South makes a precise signal for first him, and then the boy with the cowbells, a blue cap on his head, cheeks alight with effort, to play. Now. And Now. And as, under the control of the General of the South, the room starts to vibrate, the glass in the General of the North’s hand mellows, the winds die down a little. Because nothing is as remote as it seems. Not even him. He’ll give his son sleep. Soon.

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Sarah Salway is a novelist, journalist and short story writer. Her novels include Something Beginning With and Getting the Picture (Ballantine), and she has recently co-founded the publishing company, Speechbubble Books, to look at new ways to work with the short story. She blogs regularly at www.sarahsalway.net.