portion of the artwork for Salvatore Difalco's stories

Waking the Devil
Salvatore Difalco

Some bastard was playing the bagpipes under my balcony first thing in the morning. All my grunts, gasps, and growls could not penetrate that screechy wall of noise and reach the silly bugger. So what it came down to was myself going down to the street, spinning like a dervish, telling the kilted cretin that he had woken the wrong devil if that was his aim.

“Stop it!” I cried. “Stop it before I tear you to pieces!”

He spotted me and disengaged the slobbered blowpipe. The wheezing and screeching subsided and expired in a whiny diminuendo.

“Ay, laddie,” he said, his tam o’ shanter squint, kilt atilt, hairy arse exposed like a gnome needing a shave. “You don’t like me playing?”

“Are you asking for a subjective aesthetic evaluation, or a general assessment?”

“You’re gatherin’ your brows like a gatherin’ storm, sae help me god. Care, mad to see a beast sae unhappy.”

The gibberish, the gibberish, always with the gibberish. People are fucked. Do they know they are fucked? Perhaps they do in some deep recess of their hollowness and insignificance. And I was accused of being primitive, of wallowing in my own primitivism. I never fully understood what that meant. But I’m certain it was pejorative. They mark you, then they tell you your services are no longer required. They ask nothing about your family, the little children, the little lady, working so hard to feed and keep them clean, and how you will finance all of that activity and growth. No, they ask nothing.

“Why, oh why,” I said, “did you choose to strangle a banshee under my balcony this morning? How do you know I wasn’t sleeping?”

“When Mungo’s mither hang’d hersel’—a doublin’ storm roared thro’ the woods. I went thither and played me heart out bold like Johnny Barleycorn.”

Oy, where was this guy taking me? The music was one thing, but the incomprehensible badinage rubbed vinegar into the wound. And yet, I felt no immediate need to violent the man. To violent him now, after we had established rapport, would be crude. Moreover, the idea of touching him repulsed me. My nostrils twitched. I smelled horse. I glanced down the cobblestone street and saw no horse or horseshit and heard no clop or whinny, and yet the unmistakable stench persisted and ripened with each moment. The Scotsman looked guilty as hell. He either slept in a stable or had dropped hygiene classes in prep school.

“Yo, Scotty, a little spritz of B.O. juice for the armpits after showering works for me. And you might wanna check out scented wipes for the nethers. My nextdoor neighbor, a retired cartoonist who lost his colon, swears by them.”

The bagpipes sighed.

“The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle.”

“Don’t smart me, Scotty boy. Don’t gibber away like that thinking because I don’t know what the fuck you’re saying I’m gonna let you off the hook. Yo, I’m not known for my forgiving ways. By the way, do know who I am? Do you know who I am, you haggis-munching, horse-smelling tosser?”

He took offense to this and without relinquishing the bagpipes started circling me like a Highland warlock—raised hands and arched brows suggesting sinister magical powers or magical thinking at the very least. Who can keep a straight face with all this? He was going to turn me into a frog or something. Unless it was an unfamiliar bagpipe fighting style. I could see the chanter causing problems in a dustup. Something about the airbag also made me hungry, hard to explain. But I had missed breakfast.

“Wi’ tippeny, we fear nae evil, we’ll face the devil!”

“Don’t call me that, boy-o! That’s copyrighted!”

“I’ll coost your duddies to the wark!”

“Fuck was that? Coost my what? What did you just say?”

“Do cutty-sarks cleekit your mind?”

That was a slur. In any dialect that’s a slur. Enough with this bozo, I thought. I started spinning. When I start spinning I create a powerful vortex. Ask anyone who knows me. The Scotsman went flying head over heels and any eyes that happened upon the tumble witnessed the saga of hirsute bollocks knocking like clackers as they rose with his thighs and bouncing like naked mice back to Earth as they fell. The bagpipes whined and it was this unmusical, dissonant whining that cinched it for me.

The Scotsman rose to his feet and straightened out his kilt. He picked up his fallen tam o’ shanter and fitted it on his head. Blood trickled from his right ear, further blushing the ginger mutton chop framing that side of his face. The bagpipes remained shouldered despite the vortex, and he began to pump his arm as though he wanted to start up again. I was having none of it.

“Final warning,” I said. “You play one more note on that thing and I will end you.”

“To give music is me charge. I want to scre’ the pipes and gart them skirl.”

“But I cannot tolerate it! A violin, yes. An accordion, of course, or even a gentle hornpipe. Hoot hoot. How simple and nice. But not this, my man. Not this ungodly—”

“A tomahawk, wi blude red-rusted, are you, wi’ a wee heart rotten an’ black as muck.”

Fu-kit, I thought. I started spinning again, faster this time, faster. Things flew around, wrappers, twigs, dust and leaves. Buddy with the bagpipe and the speech impediment lost his bearings and wound up flopping into a polluted trough across the street where horses once drank before it killed them all. Finally, I saw the tam o’ shanter soar above the vortex like some kind of strange plaid bird. It amused me.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 53 | Spring/Summer 2019