#FridayFlash: Chopin Beneath A Starry Sky

Chopin Beneath A Starry Sky

by Tony Noland

Once upon a time, a squirrel was coming home from the last rehearsal but one before a piano recital. The recital was to be on the following Saturday afternoon, at two o'clock. The final rehearsal was to be that same Saturday morning, and would be conducted in full tuxedo dress. The squirrel had never worn black tie and tails, and was afraid that he would look rather ridiculous, not to mention old-fashioned.

His instructor, an old cocker spaniel with an excellent ear, had assured him that a cutaway coat would not only catch him around the armpits, thus hampering his reach for the arpeggios, but would ride up in back, exposing his suspenders. The squirrel doubted this, but acquiesced. Although his ear was indeed excellent, the cocker spaniel was quite advanced in age and tended towards the cantankerous during rainy weather, when he was troubled excessively by arthritis as a consequence of the damp.

The tuxedo was a worry that compounded the squirrel's anxiety about the recital. He had, naturally, performed for his family and friends at dinners and parties, and had achieved the successes consequent to diligent practice. It was no small source of pride to him that personal invitations to great-uncle's mansion had increased quite notably in recent seasons. He had been (he flattered himself) the "toast" of several weekend parties last summer. At Christmastime, it was quite the crowd that had gathered round the fine old Steinway to sing carols and hymns as he played. Then, when the older set had taken to their beds, the younger members of the party had enjoyed themselves thoroughly into the small hours, cheering on Father Christmas in his flight with the remainder of the holiday nog, half a case of champagne and a few bottles of port. All throughout, the popular tunes he played (and even a few uncharacteristically bawdy pieces) had filled the Great Hall with a rosy glow of the muse Thaleia's beneficence.

This Saturday, however, was to be Chopin and Hayden. The squirrel's own selections had been by Brahms and a difficult piano concerto by Bach, but his instructor would have none of it. With a low bark, he had made it perfectly plain that he felt it was time for, as he put it, "the real playing to begin". Why this new phase in his musical education must involve such an excruciatingly high probability of public embarrassment, the squirrel could not begin to understand.

It was, therefore in a morose and distracted frame of mind that he reached the M-91 road and stepped out to cross the macadam without watching for traffic. Naturally, you will hardly believe this, as you know the instinctually cautious nature of squirrels perfectly well! However, it is a measure of the squirrel's mental and emotional disquiet that he was fully in the middle of the road before he realized that a low-slung sports car, lemon yellow, was fast bearing down on him in the eastbound lane. A panicked glance showed him a tractor-trailor truck in the westbound lane, going almost as fast as the sports car and similarly almost upon him.

You can guess what happened. While it is the innate caution of squirrels which so typically affords them a long life and a happy retirement, it is the innate indecisiveness of squirrels which, sadly, too often brings them an unhappy end. The squirrel jumped to complete his trip across the road, thought better of it and turned back, then turned again in panic.

He escaped the fender of the sports car by inches, but the powerful draft of air flung him bodily into the path of the truck. His body was broken under the tires on the left hand side as the truck sped over him. So overwhelming was the squirrel's terror that the sensations of his body betrayed him. For a moment - for one, glorious, starburst moment - he thought that he had been missed completely, and that he had suffered no more than a scare. The stars flashed in the sky overhead, brightly twinkling in the darkness. If he felt a flicker of pain, it was gone in an instant as, softly and tenderly, death came for him, as He does for all squirrels. How lucky and how blessed the squirrel believed himself to be, to have so narrowly escaped. If there is a mercy associated with his demise, it is that he died with this vision of starry, celestial beauty before him.

With his last breath, the squirrel lay twitching on the M-91, his fingertips running through the end of the Chopin with a flouirsh and then, with his broken and bleeding body, bending low to receive the applause of everyone he knew as the last chords echoed and rang through the world.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Damn tree rats anyway! I clobbered one on a motorcycle once.

    Daughter Dearest had her own (voice) recital Sunday, some pretty difficult stuff. My father-in-law's comment: "that wasn't country." Indeed. Indeed.

  2. Quite the story! You had me hooked on the character of the Chopin-playing squirrel, but I think I'll skip reading this one to my son because it'll make him cry. I'm on the verge of tears myself. :(

    Very well written piece!

  3. Man, that ending was a little tragic, and I'm usually monstrous about this. The whole piece clicks really well for me on the balance between the fairytale animal absurdism and the high-fallutin' references like Chopin. I didn't expect either extreme there would deliver me into feeling badly.

  4. You haven't killed anyone in a while, and when you finally get around to it, it's an anthropormorphic squirrel. You're a mean one, Mr. Noland.

  5. Ahhh ... Loved the confident cut of the first sentence of second para!

  6. I'm left in mind of Sedaris' latest offering. Interesting...and crunchily gross towards the end.Thanks for sharing. :)

  7. I, too, was brought to mind of David Sedaris' "Chipmunk and Squirrel", maybe with a little "Wind in the Willows" thrown in, but the story is distinctively your own and I would have liked it a lot, if you hadn't killed the poor guy off...

    Seriously, though, great story. Well done, Tony.

  8. @ FARfetched: Congratulations to your daughter! Recitals are difficult, but there's nothing better for building confidence in your art that performing in public.

    @ ganymeder: Thanks, Cathy. I'd be curious to know Monsterbat's reaction.

    @ John Wiswell: "Man, that ending was a little tragic, and I'm usually monstrous about this." I'm gonna call this a win.

    @ Red Bakersen: "You haven't killed anyone in a while, and when you finally get around to it, it's an anthropormorphic squirrel. You're a mean one, Mr. Noland." It's always the innocent that suffer, isn't it?

    @ Deb Rickard: Thanks! In doing this piece, I figured that if I'm going to present an anthropomorphic fantasy, I'd better embrace it fully!

    @ Jodi: As it happens, I haven't read that Sedaris book. I enjoy his pieces on This American Life & NPR, and in the New Yorker.

    @ Janet: Ah, the Wind in the Willows is one I have read. I thought of that as I wrote this, with a bit of Edwardian feel to it. Sorry about the squirrel, Janet.

  9. I relished the tone you used in this story Tony; it is balanced nicely between absurdity and normalcy. Why wouldn't a squirrel be playing Chopin? Great read and something marvelously different.

  10. Oh noooo poor squirrel - at least he died happy!

    Love the story now have a huge smile on my face ^__^


  11. Awwww - how can you write a story so cute and so sad at the same time? I really wanted to see the squirrel knock em dead at the recital. Too tragic.

  12. I'm with Julie on this. I was so getting into the adorable squirrel, and the thought of animal social seasons, and then I got run over by the truck too. Brutal and sad.

  13. The language choice mixed with the animal stuff mixed with the "getting hit by a tractor trailer" part at the end was wonderful, the best kind of weird.

    I can't believe other commenters got choked up by the squirrel dying, though. I'm with FARfetched on that one. The things used to gang up on my cat and try to attack her.

  14. That was actually really sad - you've quite upset me! However, I'm one of those strange people who gets upset by the deaths of animals but finds themselves strangely apathetic to the deaths of people.

  15. This was utterly charming, like an old English fable. The beauty of your language is endearing. I love your descriptions of the cocker spaniel whose arthritis is aggravated by the "damp."
    The description of the squirrel's death was simply gorgeous. I felt marginally sad that the critter wouldn't be able to perform in real life but your storytelling about his celestial performance was stellar and left me with a smile, actually, not a tear.

    Definitely one of the nicest stories I've read lately.

  16. I had a sneaking suspicion the squirrel would meet a chicken halfway across the road... but kind of glad he didn't. This ending although darker, was good, and at least he had a good thought going through his mind before be bit the dust.

  17. @ flyingscribbler: I'm glad you liked it!

    @ Helen: Poor squirrel indeed! 8-( But at least you're smiling! 8-)
    @ Julie (O-kami): It is a pity he didn't get a chance to shine at the recital.

    @ Raven: I re-did the social season part a few times before I got the tone right.

    @ Katherine: Weird is good. Also, you only have to put out one or two bird feeders to have a different view of squirrels.

    @ Icy Sedgwick: "That was actually really sad - you've quite upset me!" Sorry, Icy. I'll do better next time. ;-)

    @ Cathy Olliffe-Webster: Thanks! I just let the language sink completely into the theme & feel of it. I'm really pleased that the emotions of it carried through for you!

    @ Craig: The poor squirrel's demise was a turn for the dark that took a few people off guard, I think.

  18. Wow a punch to the trost that one Mr Noland. Wasn't expecting that at all - I like a good twist, but thats a shocker too. Great stuff

  19. Terrific writing. Enjoyed it very much, glad Helen RT'd you!

  20. I really dug the pace of this one. It gave it a children's book feel to me. Right up to your brutal ending. :)


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