Writing Prompt “Enduring Love”
Theme: Enduring Love
It’s what really matters. The people we have in our lives when we need to talk to them, the good and wise counsel, the listening ear.
No first or last line prompts, just the theme of Enduring Love, the rest is up to the writer.
Word Count: 1,200
A note from Ken F:
“As we endure the global fallout of Covid 19, it seems that many of us are having to re-evaluate what really matters in our lives. Many people have lost their jobs and are facing working from home which can be overwhelming if kids are in the mix or it can be very lonely, day in, day out, without physical, human contact, the hug, the kiss, the handshake.
Many others have lost their lives.
Some people have grown closer to their distant offspring or siblings through regular Zooms and the like. I know that is true for my wife and I with our two children. We now know who we really miss and who we can manage without.
Thus I would like to call my prompt, “Enduring love.” It’s what really matters. The people we have in our lives when we need to talk to them, the good and wise counsel, the listening ear.
No first or last line prompts, just the theme of Enduring Love over 1200 words and let our writers run with it.”
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The writing prompt for January 27, 2021, will be chosen by Marien Oommen.
223 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Enduring Love””
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The Wishing Stone
It was nothing more than a regular rock we had found on a camping trip to Deep Creek as kids. Kate would stroke it three times and then make a wish.
It had started just before we were to return home. She had wished for the folks to stop and get us an ice cream for the ride home… and they did.
The following week, she wished for a new notebook for school and the next day it appeared in her room. It didn’t happen every time, but it did more often than not, so it became our wishing stone. As we grew older it became the conduit between us. We would take turns holding it, talking for hours before making our wish.
Kate was its guardian, swearing to use it only for good and only when the two of us were together. It became a regular ritual between us. We wished for large things and small, all with equal desire that they would come true. Once a week, it gave each of us an opportunity to vent our frustrations and to express our desire to make things right with the world.
Slowly, as I grew older, my interest began to wane. My wishes became more trivial, and I had less and less time to share with her, so I began to concentrate on making her wishes come true. It made me feel good to secretly fulfill her modest desires. The stone had changed from secret dreams to open communication between us.
Eventually, each of us gained new obligations that left little time for the wishing stone. Kate had gone off to college and I had dropped out. We saw each other at least once a month… at least until our parents died. From that moment to her last, we were joined at the hip. She looked after me far more than I did her and the wishing stone became a thing of the past.
Two years later, after our parents’ death, New Year’s Eve, it reappeared. I thought it had been lost long before and was surprised by its return. We spent the night talking, endlessly talking, and it made me feel like I was no longer lost in my grief, no longer alone.
At midnight, we made our wish. Hers came true eight months later when she met Roger. I was still waiting, nursing a flicker of similar hope.
For the next twenty, each year on New Year’s Eve, the wishing stone was passed from hand to hand, first to Kate, then Roger, then me.
During that last summer, as if in punishment for being happy, Kate was diagnosed with cancer.
The last time we used it was at the hospital the morning she died.
On that day, all three of us made a silent wish, certain the others had wished the same. Kate died that afternoon and I never thought about it again. It was the last time I believed in magic, in love or… in the existence of God.
In the next to the last paragraph, I think you tipped off the reader as to what was coming when you didn’t have to. All it needed to say was – The last time we used it was at the hospital. Period. End of Sentence. That, in my humble opinion makes your story even stronger.
And, just this, after rereading your story, why would you discontinue using a wishing stone if it worked on most things. I think you need some sort of qualifying line, such as ‘as we grew older and our wishes became more hopeful than getting ice cream or an A on our tests, we found it’s power waning. So we used in less frequently’.
And, working from that viewpoint, I think it then takes us to the ending in an even more powerful way – letting the reader decide if such things as magic … or God … exist.
Again, welcome to you with a fine piece of writing.
Welcome to the group and this is a great start.
A beautiful story that encompasses the hope and brightness of youth when perhaps the things we wish for are more likely to come true e.g a new jumper or a book. Gradually, as we age and mature and experience some of life’s inevitable losses, the hopes are harder to bring to fruition. We wish for different things.
The long-lasting love of siblings is beautifully illustrated in words here Tegun, linked by the wishing stone. In terms of the gradual lessening of the use of the stone, it is like gradually losing touch with friends or gradually giving up that old familiar comfort blanket. You can’t say when it started or when it ended you just know it has.
In the comment before mine I think, on balance, that finishing with, “the last time we used it was at the hospital…” makes for an even more powerful, emotional closure.
What a lovely, and sad story Tegan. reading between the lines I’m assuming they all wish that she would pass that day, and not have to enter more the ravages that cancer will bring upon a person.
I loved the symbolism, and the fact that you wrapped such a long story into a few words.
I think this story is very well written and deftly describes the gradual loss of trust, and innocence, that eventually turns the idealist into a sadder but wiser realist.
I didn’t notice a single error and from that alone I can infer a great deal of diligence on your part. (Assuming you spelled your own name correctly).
But there is a certain mystery here, the reappearance of the stone which, alas, no longer holds it former potency. This is likely because its original power was derived from the characters themselves. The magic is in the believers, not the stone, and always was.
But I could be wrong.
And yes… I did spell my name right. It’s pronounced “Ta – gone” it’s German I was named after my Grandfather. I know… if you knew how many fights I’ve had growing up because of it… let’s just say it sucks.
If I remember correctly you were the fair haired child here… you have my admiration.
As children, we just want to conform, as adults we yearn to stand out. I think you have the coolest name I’ve ever heard of. My mom was going to name me Kim, a good solid proper Irish boy’s name, back in the 1950’s. But just before my birth, an actress named Kim Novac became popular, and my mother astutely assumed I’d be fighting my way through childhood with a name like that, and wished to spare me that fate. (My mom is no dummy.)
So your wife was stricken by some terrible medical problem that required a hospital stay and hospice. Did she recover? Is she okay? Are you okay?
“Good morning, Vic, are you ready for a cuppa?” asked Becky the carer. The pretty young girl smiled from the doorway.
“Yes, please, I’m gasping,” answered Vic, placing the handset back on the outdated dial phone.
“Later this morning we are going for a stroll around the grounds. Do you want to join us?”
“I don’t know yet, June will come to visit, I think to know?”
“Yes, dear, every day the same, I’ll pop in after breakfast and see if you are free,” said a cheerful Becky.
Vic slurped the hot tea, “Lovely, almost as lovely as Becky,” the smile broadened she left to get on with her chores.
“A quick trip to the loo, then I’ll make a call,” Vic decided.
Vic settled slowly back on the armchair next to the bed. Dialling the only number ever used on the black Bakelite antique. Waiting a minute, then Vic beamed.
“Hello June, how are you feeling this bright morning?”
“They have invited me to join a ramble. Well, you know, just a wander around the home, really. It would be marvellous if you could come?”
“Not this time, I understand.”
Vic continued the one-way conversation for another fifteen minutes. Becky waited outside the door.
The phone replaced.
“Are you coming for a walk?” Becky asked.
“Yes, thank you, it seems June won’t be joining us today.”
“That is a shame. Next time?”
“Oh yes, she would love to meet you all,” said Vic.
“How long were you together?” Becky asked.
“We met after the war.”
“I’ve been with my husband for five years now. Sometimes it seems forever,” said Becky.
“It was different in those days, of course,” said Vic.
“Yes, I suppose so. When our children came, it all changed. He was happy at first, now he goes out with his mates all the time. What should I do?” asked Becky.
“I don’t know, I’m not the sort to offer advice. We never had children, couldn’t. June and I spent every minute we could together, sometimes it was awkward. But we managed.”
“You love June the same today as that very first day. How wonderful?”
“Oh yes, that will never change. Okay, I’m here and she’s not, but it bonds us with our hearts.”
Becky grabbed a tissue and dabbed her eyes.
A nurse peered around the door, “We are about to leave, are you both ready?”
“I’ll help Vic dress, we’ll be there in ten minutes,” said Becky.
“Do you mind if I ask a question?” asked Becky.
“No, dear, anything.”
“Did you live together since the war?”
“Not that simple in those days. We met up whenever we could. You know a quick kiss and cuddle, then back to our homes, separately. Neighbours love to gossip,” Vic smiled at the thought.
“Were you both married to other people?”
“Yes, both of us. We were in hastily arranged weddings. Our partners didn’t come home from the war.”
“That is so sad,” said Becky.
“It was, but it meant June and I were free to be with each other.”
“So, why didn’t you live together?”
“It wasn’t the done thing in those days,” answered Vic.
Becky pulled clothes from the wardrobe as Vic reached for the phone.
“I’ve got a quick call to make, okay?”
Someone slid buckets and mops into the bedroom, “Oh, hello, who are you?” asked Becky.
“I’m Bob, the new cleaner, nice to meet you. Do you want this wire plugged in?”
“No, no, leave it. It’s from Vic’s phone.”
Bob looked puzzled, Becky put her index finger to her lips and shook her head.
“Does she not know?” asked Bob.
“No, the phone hasn’t worked since Vic moved here ten years ago. I’m afraid Vicky doesn’t know her friend is not on the line.
Interestingly enough there’s no actual indication that “Vic” is male or female. I just reread it and it might be a great reveal that “Vic” is actually a woman!
I didn’t catch it until your comment. Even the reference to not being able to have children.
A clever misdirect I think!
Another tidbit that supports my theory, is the story mentions… To talk about their partners not coming home from the war, back in those days the men were sent to war, not the women.
Actually now that I read through, for the third time, it’s so damn obvious I can’t believe I missed it!
Kudos to Colin for a thoroughly delightful, sad and clever story!
Yes but I don’t think there were any females who died in the war.
The way I read it, the two spouses were killed in the war, and even field medics were all men.
Welcome to the group and what a great start. You have really made us look carefully at what you have written and I only picked up the key issue (two women who had been hastily “married off” by their parents I am guessing) after two reads. After that, everything makes perfect sense. There is also that added touch of sadness in that they could not have a normal, loving, open relationship back in those days.
Fine story. Well composed. But with several errors that could be easily fixed. This story sounds vaguely reminiscent of another story posted on this site, but I don’t remember which story, or when, or who wrote it, but it did not possess the clever reveal that this one has.
In keeping with the theme of your fiction series, I have a suggestion for the title of your next book. ‘Worry Beads.’
Great Story. Again, I’m not familiar with your work, either. However, with this sort of tale, I easily could get used to it. Good job. I thought the dialogue was a bit stilted in spots – i.e., “I’m Bob, the new cleaner, nice to meet you.” Sorry, but it just doesn’t sound realistic to me. And this – “I don’t know yet. June will come to visit, I think to know.” I didn’t understand this. Is this colloquialism used in your area? “I don’t know yet. June may come to visit.” is what I think Vic says. Is that right? There were others, but over all, just a bit of redlining and you can easily fix it and make it flow better.
And, if you are indeed new, welcome. We do tend to critique on this site, it’s one of the reasons it was originally created. Feel free to critique ours as well. It’s how we improve.
And, oddly enough, I got the drift of your story of them being women right away and didn’t think anything of it. I simply loved the way you ended it. It reminds me of the scene in The Fisher King where the crazy stockbroker carries a kid’s plastic phone around with him talking into it all the time yelling – Sell, Sell. One day the protagonist, Robin Williams, is given money and gives it away. He gives the stockbroker a one hundred dollar bill and the guy picks up the phone and starts yelling – Buy, Buy.
Nice job indeed.
Well written and cleverly crafted.
The small, shrunken face nestling in the starched, white pillows displayed few signs of life. Meg feared that she was too late. There was a gentle rise and fall to his chest. Shallow but steady. George groaned in discomfort as he tried to turn, the sores on his back and heels once again bringing him to the threshold of wakefulness before fitful sleep reclaimed him once more. His eyeballs roved under his wafer- thin eyelids as he dreamed on, reliving vivid memories of a long life, well lived. His snow -white hair, ruffled by sleep and the mountainous pillows, was soft and silky. Meg leaned forward and linked their hands, the skin like wrinkled parchment, the purple blood vessels clearly visible beneath the surface, mapping out the course of their lives.
If she had been capable, Meg would have left the wheelchair and shared the bed with George as she had done virtually every day for the past seventy years, since their wartime marriage.Their separation since his gradual descent into dementia had been a painful one for both of them and their family. Had George been awake now he would be bewildered and confused, repeating the same questions, over and over again, regardless of her presence beside him. Then, long after Meg had left his side, to return to the lonely house she now dreaded, he would continue to cry out her name. That same house in which she and George had reared their three boys was now an empty shell without the laughter and joy it had always enjoyed. The parties, the birthdays, the anniversaries and the Christmases were too numerous to count. On each occasion, Meg, the matriarch, summoned the family, to regroup and reinforce that family bond that she and George had first forged on that cold January day in 1945 on their wedding day, when all about them, the world was in flames.
Meg sighed and her head dropped onto her chest as sleep claimed her. Her childhood dream took in the rolling hills and grasslands of the Argentine sheep station where she was brought up by her Scottish parents and educated by a Spanish- speaking Governess. There, Meg and her siblings enjoyed life in a huge mansion with servants at their beck and call and where Spanish was the only language allowed. It was an idyllic childhood and Meg’s family’s forced return to Scotland on her father’s untimely death from diabetes was a huge shock.
They gradually settled back into the claustrophobia of rural life in Ullapool, a small Scottish fishing village in the early 1930s but after only a few years, at the outbreak of war, the young lass, just 19, answered the call to arms and came to London and enrolled as a nurse.
George’s dream was no less vivid. As a small, active boy he ran joyously through London’s Crystal Palace, built for The Great Exhibition of 1851, that was his boyhood playground. His parents, both in service in nearby Sydenham, gave him freedom to roam and no one knew that place as well as he did, or that was his youthful boast. He was going to be a zookeeper, he told his mother and he knew all the creatures in his garden and beyond. He lived for the seasons as the tadpoles and newts grew legs and made their way in the world and he knew where to find the pale blue Blackbirds’ eggs and their nests. His memories took him on cycle rides in the Kent countryside, the wind riffling through his hair as he and his friends flew past the hop and pea pickers and the strawberry fields. He remembered trips to the pictures, “the flicks,” with fizzy pop and fish and chips on the bus home, still with change in his pocket from half a crown.
Their dreams synchronized as Meg and George entered the South London dance hall that fateful Saturday night in 1944. George was resplendent in his RAF officers’ uniform with his newly awarded “wings” displayed proudly on his chest and Meg was there in her borrowed “best” dress. The room was huge and heaving with noise, thick with cigarette smoke, heavy, sweaty uniforms and the sounds of Bing Crosby “Swinging on a Star” and Nat King Cole exhorting the throng to “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”
There was a palpable sense of urgency in the smoky ballroom, the war adding an extra ingredient to the heady mixture. Meg stood there, shoulder to shoulder with her best friend, both shy young girls from Scotland, watching as the young men in their uniforms looked back and made their selection. But Meg knew what was happening, they had dances in Scotland too, after all. It was the universal courtship but with a difference. Many of those brave young men, home on leave, hair Brylcreamed into place, were eager to indulge their appetites whilst they still had the breath to do so. This could be their last leave, some whispered urgently, insistently to their partners as they slipped away from the glare and the noise into quieter, more intimate corners.
George and Meg’s first dance was tentative but they were both more than competent dancers and soon they imperiously swept each other around the rapidly clearing floor, foxtrot melting into Lindy Hop and then Jitterbug. Others watched enviously from the side, awkward men clutching their beers and their pride and the women clutching their girlfriends and their handbags.
At evening’s end George, always the gentleman, whispered quietly in Meg’s ear, “Let’s go out together?” Her affirmation signaled the beginning of seven decades together that only death would bring to an end.
Nurse Abigail popped her head around the door to see if tea was required. She smiled, tiptoeing out again once she noticed the old couple holding hands, a stray beam of sunlight filtering through a chink in the drawn curtains glinting on their wedding rings.
George woke briefly as his medication began to release its hold on him as it filtered through his body, deadening his pain. Sleep reclaimed him but only after he had briefly recognized his beloved Meg. It was enough. A smile crossed his face and stayed on the corners of his dry and cracked lips. He sighed once and squeezed Meg’s hand. His breathing became shallower and slower and then finally, 94 years after it was started with the shock of the midwife’s smack, his heart came gently to rest.
Meg awoke at that same moment as she felt George’s hand loosen its grip and saw the smile on his face. She knew he had gone. She smiled back. He was at peace, at last.
“Yes,” she whispered, “let’s go out together” and with those words she knew that she too could now allow her fragile body its final release.
Ken Frape 18/01/2021
Some nice phrases. ‘…a beam of sunlight filtering through a chink in the drawn curtains, glinting on their wedding rings.
‘competent dancers, sweeping each other imperiously’ across the rapidly clearing dance floor.’
It’s a lovely heartfelt story of lasting love and refreshing perspective of a happy home and family, which is subtle, but an intrinsic element of the joy in this story.
A short comment I wanted to add. I had this in my original post, then deleted it to adjust its pedantic aroma, then tried to add it back in, but the edit option is gone.
While I love the ‘competent dancers’ paragraph, it is the critical apex of this story. The couple’s first meeting. It’s the key moment of their lives. There’s nothing wrong with the paragraph as it is, but I would rework that paragraph until it was ‘more perfect.’
That paragraph, like, let’s say ‘the worlds most exquisite diamond’, deserves extra attention because of its intrinsic beauty, not less.
I love the story as it is though, so, no pressure.
Others have expressed their similar praises of its sense of sweet melancholy, well done my man. Well done.
Did your mother and father pass within a short time of each other? If not, the poetic license was well taken.
Thanks for your comments, much appreciated.
by Ken Miles
Reagan hops ecstatically atop the summer-tanned grass of my childhood English countryhouse. No matter how far I tossed the tennis-ball, he finds it with impressive precision.
He wags his tail so hard his whole body shakes, as I wrestle the moist ball from his mouth and pat him dearly. I’m a child again. Forever young.
Life wasn’t always this kind. On that beach in Phang-nga couples walked holding hands, their feet caressed by the water. I could hardly take it. I saw June too, my wife, from my fifth-floor hotel room, huddling with the asshole that ripped her off my life.
I’d set my eyes on Vienna that year. But all of June’s friends had been to Thailand; she just wouldn’t listen.
“There are some Buddhist temples nearby…” I told June, on the beach, holding out to her the brochure I’d snatched from the hotel lobby.
“So you’re now into Buddhist temples!?” she offered, busily spreading suncream all over her body until she looked like an oiled doll.
“I’m NOT into Buddhist temples,” I raised my voice a little, obviously annoyed, “it’s just that’s what they’ve got here… we’re not gonna spend two weeks rolling in the sand, are we ?”
“Just shush, will you!” she shut me up whenever I displayed the slightest hint of anger, further firing up my temper, “that’s what people come to Thailand for – the beach.”
People? Her bunch of idiotic friends!
“We could’ve gone to Spain, then! Or Brighton. Not halfway across the globe – for a beach!”
“Look, if you don’t like it here, just go… go to the… whatever… Buddhist temples of yours…”
I stayed there, but didn’t even change into my swimwear. Sitting under that umbrella I thought my life over. June and I had been married for five years. True, she was a beauty. But we were worlds apart, getting nowhere together. There she was sunbathing, achieving a perfect tan the very reason of her existence. And me? From time to time the ocean worked the wind up into a gust, dispatching fine sand in my eyes and mouth. I’ll bear with it for today, I thought. Tomorrow I’ll book the Temples Tour, with or without her.
She didn’t come, of course. And it was a tour from hell. The bus was a Chinese reject, and the oysters the waiter shoved down my throat the night before worked their way nastily inside my plumbing. Each oyster cost one dollar a piece on top of the regular dinner price. The waiter whispered something in my ear, his gaze fixed on June’s breasts, and loaded my plate. I binged on the oysters, but still didn’t get lucky.
It was supposed to be a full-day tour, but, as often happens in such tourist-traps, the driver, doubling also as a guide and comedian, said there was some mechanical problem. The tour had to be cut short. One temple less, and so much the better for it! I was nauseous, and just yearned to get back.
“They always do that,” an elderly British tourist sitting nearby lamented, “they say there’s some problem with the bus, and then fit in another tour in the afternoon. Same thing yesterday, it had to be full-day and we were back by lunch!”
“Well, this bus does seem to me it’s falling apart!” I defended the driver’s decision.
“But they shouldn’t charge full-day for half-day !” his missus squeaked. I nodded, just to cut
that conversation short.
Back at the hotel room, I was sure June would be down sunbathing. But there was the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for the maid on the door-knob. I disturbed anyway. June was spread on our bed with a man, a muscular European with a full head of blond curls, pounding her like there was no tomorrow. So much for disliking the very notion of a man being blond, as she sometimes said. I’d seen him at the dining room the day before. The oysters worked on him.
It was of course over. My marriage. The holiday. I called the airport, but the next available seat was in four days. June took her things and left, to her lover’s room I suppose. I tried to change rooms, but not even that was possible, the hotel was chock-a-block. What to do? I did entertain hitting Bangkok, do the wild things some guys do, but then resigned myself to watching TV all day long. I slept on the couch. I just couldn’t sleep on that bed.
The next day, I was watching Mr. Bean, that episode in which he tries to leave a car-park without paying, when from the beach came the wildest of screams. I looked out the window. And whoa! This incredible wave, a wall of water was driving itself slowly ashore combing seacraft and swimmers alike. Soon enough, it hit the jetty, then the shore, working its way on the beach swallowing everything in its path, plastic or concrete. It wasn’t going to spare the hotel building either! Like mad, I ran out, and then inland.
The building did hold back the wave a little, until it too surrendered to the onslaught. But it allowed me to gain some ground. Droplets of water fell over me, then a savage splash, and after that I don’t remember anything. When I came to, a terrified stray dog licked my face. He looked like Reagan, the spaniel Dad got me when I was but a little tot. In America, Reagan had just taken office, so we called him that. Reagan was my childhood buddy, lived till the ripe old age of fifteen. By which time my happy childhood was long dead too.
I hugged the Thai Reagan and thanked him for the friendly lick. I got onto my butt. Everywhere ached, but nothing seemed broken. In front of me was the apocalypse: total destruction, everything was ravaged. It was the very picture of my life.
Like hundreds others, June was never found. I walked past rows upon rows of unclaimed bodies, all tourists, strewn across an endless field. She wasn’t there. And I didn’t know what I’d’ve done if I found her.
I stopped by a man’s corpse. It was him, his blond curls were unmistakeable.
“Do you know him?” A Thai policeman asked.
“Yes and no,” I muttered.
He completely missed the irony, and then enquired, in almost incomprehensible English, “Do you want his body?”
The Thais had enough problems of their own, they needed to rid themselves of all those foreign bodies, repatriate them, and get on with fixing their own broken lives.
“No thanks,” I said. I did not want his body. Next to him were his salvaged possessions: a soggy box of Durex, and his and June’s hotel cards.
The flight home was almost empty. Few survived the tsunami. Below, in the animal hold was Reagan. I decided to name him after my good old buddy. And start my life over, back at the old house.
The infinite late summer golden fields were still the same. And with Reagan now back, what else could I desire?
Reagan and I just can’t get enough of it. I throw the ball again.
I am going to choose my words, and only a few of them, very carefully.
This story was absolutely superb.
I’m pleased you loved it and thanks for the kind words of appreciation.
Well, no octopus (except for, incidentally, having had octopus and squid pie for lunch yesterday. But, I know. I didn’t offer.). But I gave you oysters. So there you are.
Well done with the tsunami as your revenge backdrop. Sure made it easier than having to split your hard earned savings with an unfaithful wife in a divorce.
For me this is one of the best stories of yours I’ve read. I truly loved how you handled it and the prompt. Jesus, why does everyone on this site make it difficult to enter stories that can match up? Asking for a friend.
Thanks for your nice words and praise for this story. And btw congrats for last week’s well-deserved win. (I was going to say it there, but I’m not sure how many people check out the old prompt threads).
This one here was a story concept I had long been thinking about: the idea of a natural disaster serving at the same time both as a backdrop and as an outward manifestation of what is going on (internally and in parallel) in the protagonist’s life. I started off with the earthquake in Christchurch, NZ, but then switched to the more dramatic events of the Asian tsunami.
In the first draft, I had the dog eventually befriending a lost cat, back at the protagonist’s home. When the narrator tries to locate the cat’s home, he meets a woman (the cat’s owner) he remembers as a little girl he hadn’t seen in decades, who had also returned home after a personal tragedy (her husband took his own life after losing everything he had worked for in the collapse of Northern Rock). Dog and cat somehow hit it off, so why not their masters too?
But I was well beyond the word limit, and then I thought, why does it have to be always a woman to fulfill a man’s life? This is not Hollywood – so it can be a dog too. And that’s when Reagan was born. Of course, there is also the narrator’s re-discovery of his childhood innocence and simplicity. I suppose he’d have to reconnect with society (and femininity) at some later point in his life. But the idylic happy moments with Reagan are good enough for now, after what both man and dog had just passed through in Thailand.
So that was a little bit more background on how this story came to be…
Thank you for your comments on last competition’s win. I haven’t been able to thank you (and the others who congratulated me) because my computer – an old 2008 iMac – decided to not let me see any of my emails. I’ve corrected that with a brand new iMac.
I tried to answer with my tablet, but after spending an hour writing a message, the tablet decided to send it to Cyber Heaven where it is roaming around and probably lost to eternity. So, I have been without email until recently.
So, thank you anyone who is reading this if you commented on my win. I truly do appreciate the votes and the comments. Getting a win this week is going to be a toss up for every entry. Someone’s going to win, I know, but there is no chaff to separate from the wheat, I think. The stories have been superb.
Thanks for the history on your story. I, too, tend to write way too much and I find it difficult to trim down sometimes, and have abandoned a story line simply because I don’t want to take out things I’ve written and fallen in love with. My problem, I know, but sometimes I write a better story and can make it brief. Or, at least around 1200 words.
I’m glad we seemed to have a few more authors this time around. I’ll be posting my ‘Enduring Love’ story in a few moments. In the meantime, my colleague, stay safe. I’m tickled pink that your eyes seem to have recovered and you managed to stay with us. Pleased is too mild a sentiment. I’m as happy as a beaver with a chainsaw.
A really well written story, you made me delightfully uncomfortable! Glad she “got what she deserved” and he was able to rescue the pup!
‘Delightlfully uncomfortable’…oh my… I hope I delighted you more than I made you uncomforable…
But, well, a good chunk of my stories are not exactly sweet or uplifting (and this one certainly wasn’t my most depressing by any measure…). I’ve been thinking of selecting some of my stories, now that I have quite a portfolio, and putting them together in an anthology. Pondering on what I ought to title the book, I still don’t know, but I sort of settled for “Feel Bad Stories” as the by-line…
Like there wasn’t enough bad news out there already…
Cheers! (and now I have the cheek to say this!)
A few title ideas for your book of short stories.
From Here To Revenge… (and Back.)
Xxx Xxxxxxxxx’x Xxxx. (I’m keeping this one.)
Xxx Xxxxxxxxx’x Xxxx. (I’m keeping this one too.)
Kabob …and other stories.
(I could do this all day.)
Dreadful Tales That Delight.
By Robt. Emmett
Twilight had halted the after school pickup ball game. Fred needed a ride home. My driver’s license was two months old, as was dad’s ‘56 Dodge. A few blocks before his house, we spotted four teens he knew, and they were heading to the DQ. It was her birthday. I bought her a cone. A week later, we went to a football game together. A year later, I asked her to go steady. Four years more and I asked her to marry me. A year later, we stood at the top of the stairs of the base chapel. My comrades formed the Arch of Sabers. As we passed under, I wondered about the vow we had made to each other: “ … to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, in the presence of God I make this vow.”
Only the passage of time would reveal our experience with each part of the vow.
The better couldn’t have been better. We had the children we’d planned to have. They caused us little trouble in school. When I told them the cure for their ‘wants’ was ‘work,’ they got or created employment for themselves. Even though we could have paid for their higher education, they covered the costs themselves. The large home in the suburb never happened. A medium-sized one worked out well. The location was ideal.
We had a touch of the rich part, but the poor part nearly undid us. I lost my job. The saving account was down to a few dollars. Hard work and a new career put us back on the path. We had weathered the storm and learned of our hidden talents.
The worst was sickness. She fell while working in the flower bed but laughed it off and said it was nothing. A few nights later, in the kitchen, she stumbled and sat on the floor. A week later, while leaving the club after dinner, she turned and started to fall. Fortunately, I was behind her and prevented an injury.
After a month of testing, they discovered nothing definitive to be ailing her. We were told it could be this, or maybe that. I called the children’s doctor, explained the symptoms and what the other doctors had said.
My wife, the pediatrician said, had become a victim of an affliction of the immune system that attacks various body organs. The immune system “ thinks” an organ is a danger to the body and tries to destroy it. Its nickname is Wolf, and “You could live an everyday life or be dead in six weeks.”
Hearing his words, she lost it and broke down sobbing. “ I’m only 39 and could be dead before I’m 40. What’ll happen to you and the kids?”
He suggested a clinic. The local doctors poo-pooed the idea. So we delayed going to the clinic for a few months. But the disease returned, and with more intensity. The six-hour drive had been hard on her. By the time we arrived at the clinic, she was semi-conscious. A week later, two tablespoons of Jell-O was all I could get her to eat at one time. The second week she could sit up for an hour, and then exhausted, she’d sleep.
The new drugs took effect. She was healthy again. Then the side effect started. The drugs that helped her also led her to become a manic – depressive. I found out that nearly fifty percent of the married women with her illness became divorced. The drugs increased the percentage. I soon found out why. The drug-induced manic-depressive episodes made her almost impossible for me to keep up with her physically, and living with her was unbelievable. She seldom slept. Then, suddenly, she was so depressed that she ate little and slept most of the time. The depression was a most fear-filled thing. She needed to have someone with her all the time. The thought of her attempting suicide was terrifying.
I worked miles away, and the commute was forty-five minutes each way. When I was at home, at night, and on the weekends, I needed to find some way to relieve my stress. To relax, I’d work in my shop only if I knew she was safe. I was ignoring the children and most everything else. I needed a change.
It was time for heroic action. Her doctor suggested a treatment with a 50-50 chance of a complete cure. If successful, she would be normal. If not, she would need institutionalizing for the rest of her life. I signed the papers and went into the hospital chapel to pray for guidance.
I was alone in the room.
The voice couldn’t have been louder or
more precise. “ NO!”
I stopped them at the operating room door and ripped the paper I’d signed from the orderly’s hand. They called me a fool, and worse. And yes, the fifteen years were on-again-off-again hell, but there were the good times and even some great times.
The oldest daughter married a farm boy.
The youngest daughter became a nurse.
Our son’s business prospered.
The years slipped by. One day, we realized we couldn’t remember the last traumatic episode. We wondered if her disease had gone into remission. At the doctor’s office, she underwent a physical exam. Her lack of signs and symptoms, combined with blood and urine tests, proved the disease was in remission. Her doctor suggested she take another test to see if the condition was not only in remission but had disappeared completely. In rare cases, he explained, it could. The test involved the examination of her DNA.
The results of the antinuclear antibodies test came back: no trace of the disease. It had entirely left her system.
Finally, she is free of her debilitating illness.
Life is good. We again enjoyed the activities we’d liked in the past but had to give up. The so-called friends from before had proven themselves. We made new friends.
This evening, after supper, as usual, we settled in to watch a favorite TV program. She knit on a cap until the second commercial. Then set the knitting aside and closed her eyes. I suddenly realized this had become the norm. And she’d also started taking afternoon naps.
What the doctor had warned me could happen had begun. She would start sleeping and more and more. Then the wolf would return. This time, without warning, it would attack … swiftly, violently, and terminally.
Yes, soon the wolf will return, and we will face it again – together.
— Ԙ —
nicely woven tale, Robert.
Such a beautiful piece of writing that sounds and feels as if it comes directly from the heart. I have no crits at all it is a lovely piece of writing.
I loved the analogy of the wolf as the sickness too. Really well written.
What we have didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s still a work in progress. One day at a time. Many people live for the future and miss today. We plan for the future but live today. We have no guarantee there will be a tomorrow.
The wolf is no analogy. See Ken Cs comment.
By Ken Cartisano
I woke to the sound of my wife’s ear-splitting scream.
“Angie,” I said, to no effect. I repeated her name, getting louder each time until we were both screaming.
She stopped. I said, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with ME? What’s wrong with YOU? You moron.”
It was too dark to see, but I’m not afraid of the dark. I prefer it, as a matter of fact. Her breathing was loud, labored. I attempted to reach out to her, but my arm didn’t respond. I figured it must be asleep. It happens from time to time. I couldn’t remember what the argument was about and had to settle for a soothing tone. “Jesus, Angie. Calm down. Please… please, calm down. Just tell me what…”
“Don’t tell me to calm down. Get me out of here, you—you fucking idiot…” She was near hysteria. In the course of our thirty-something-year marriage, I’d seen her in some pretty bad circumstances, but never like this. This was different. She was screeching at me.
“What’re you doing, Harry? What’re you doing? Get me out of here. All the blood is rushing to my head.”
Until this moment, I had no idea that I was upside down. I thought we were in bed. But she was right, we were upside down, and I still couldn’t move my arm. My heart fluttered when I tried to move my other arm and it didn’t budge either. And some little corner of my mind made a keen observation. I must be in some kind of shock to not know that I was upside down.
“Get me out of here.”
“Get me out of here.”
“Harry if you don’t get me out of here this instant, I’m gonna bash your head in with a fucking tire iron.”
This was her favorite threat. Empty, but it indicated how pissed off she was.
I was still coming to terms with the fact that we weren’t in bed when she began screaming again. Hysterically. It was horror movie screaming. I had to calm her down again.
We went thru the same routine, her screaming, me repeating her name louder and louder. When she stopped to catch her breath I said, “Angie…”
“I can’t feel my arms.”
She remained unexpectedly silent. “Angie?”
Between sobs she whispered, “Oh my god, Harry. You’ve killed us.”
Of one thing I was certain. We weren’t dead yet. “Angie,” I said, in a soft, plaintive voice. “What happened?”
No response. Now I was in danger of freaking out. But two screaming people don’t generally excel at solving problems. “Angie, what happened? Where are we?”
“You DROVE US INTO a LAKE! OKAY? We’re in a fucking lake, Harry. Upside down.”
“Wait.” I mentally held up my hand. “Wait. What lake? In what? Are we in the car?”
She was half hysterical and half bewildered by my questions. She said, “Are you serious? I don’t know what lake. A lake. A lake,” she said. “And yes, we’re in the car.”
“Jesus…” I managed to mumble.
“It’s just a matter of time till we drown. The window is leaking and I think my arm is broken. My legs are pinned but I can’t see how.” She delivered this news with remarkable clarity: As if describing our predicament was somehow therapeutic.
My mind raced as my eyes adjusted to the dark, and then I felt it, the seatbelt across my chest, now that I acknowledged it, and what it was, I realized how uncomfortable it was. But where were my arms?
The car shifted. We both gasped. Water sloshed, something creaked ominously.
“Christ, what’re the odds,” she said. I could make out her image in the dark, my memory filling in all those little details that I couldn’t see. A dark form, hair hanging limply, straight up. I wondered what she meant, but not for long.
“I was gonna divorce you,” she said quietly.
“You heard me, shithead.”
A long silence ensued. I pressed the issue, “Are you kidding?”
“Do I look like I’m kidding?”
I snorted. She grunted, and then we both started laughing—uncontrollably. We were gasping for breath before the moment passed, the laughter faded and we both sighed, in absolute, perfect harmony.
“Angie,” I said, keenly aware of the seatbelt digging into my collar bone. “Why would you want to divorce me?”
She made a noise. A combination noise that expressed her disgust, impatience, and disbelief, all rolled up into one. I think she farted too. I waited.
Finally she said, “You think I’m stupid? You think I’m an idiot?”
Maybe she saw me shake my head. Maybe she didn’t.
“No,” she said. “You don’t think of me at all, do you? Not a thought, you selfish prick.”
The car shifted again, we heard bubbles, and air escaping as the car began to settle.
“Oh Jesus.” We said in unison.
“Jesus Harry, you think I don’t know about you and that little twit of yours?”
“What…?” I felt one of my legs as it flopped against something. I focused on my leg instead of Angie. But she mistook my silence for guilt and continued. “I see the way you two look at each other. You men are so stupid—and you can’t imagine anyone with more brains than you.”
I actually forgot about the fact that I might not be paralyzed for a moment. “What? What are you talking about?”
“…that trashy little assistant of yours. I swear to god I could rip her perky little…”
“Darcy?” I said, incredulously.
“Yeah, little Darcy, with the goo-goo eyes who always clams up whenever I show up.”
I snickered. “She’s petrified of you.”
“Is it any wonder?” She fired back. “She should be.”
“Angie,” I said. I think the prolonged inverted position was affecting my thinking, but not for the worse. This was probably the shallow retention pond near our house. I could see her dimly now, my wife. She was crying, silently, for nothing. The tears rolling up her face instead of down. “Angie,” I said, indignantly. “I’ve never loved anyone but you.”
She averted her gaze. “So, it’s just meaningless sex then,” she said sarcastically. “What a relief.”
“Hah, I wish.” I said. “What an ass that kid’s got, but…” I shook my head. She could see me, and I could see her. Upside down, all of her wrinkles were gone, like she’d just shed 35 years. “She makes goo-goo eyes because every time we make a sale, she gets a cut, honey. She loves money, not me. I swear.”
I could see the doubt in her eyes, giving ground, getting weaker.
“You’re not being kind, are you?” She asked, and then answered her own question. “Of course not. I know you too well, and kindness isn’t your thing.” She sniffled. “Jesus, why doesn’t the snot run up your nose when you’re upside down?”
That’s my Angie, and I honestly don’t know. I could see her well now, and assumed we were dying, but it was a flashlight and someone was knocking on the floorboard saying, ‘Hold on, help is on the way.’
Anyway I was thrilled with your comments Trish. Thank you.
Well, that’s some relationship!
You raise the notion that not all relationships are quite as life-affirming as some of us have portrayed in our stories and well done to you for throwing some grit into my prompt.
The assumed positions of the couple, upside-down in a car in water, makes for a worst nightmare scenario. Then you add the loss of feeling and the realisation of being in water. Then you add the divorce threat. Then you add the misunderstanding regarding the non-existent affair ( even though Darcy has a nice ass…..a very risky comment in the circumstances!).
Finally, some sense returns after the anger and the panic caused by potential drowning begins to subside ( wrong word in these circumstances but what the heck?) and he realises that they are in the shallow retention pond near their house.
So it all turns out OK then, doesn’t it?
Or does it?
Perhaps the person tapping on the underside of the car is holding a tyre iron and the wife will carry out her ( usually) idle threat once she gets her hands on it. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s a hell of a way to tell your wife / husband you love her / him.
A fine slice of life from Cartisanoland. I love it.
I saved you for last. I’m thrilled at your comments.
You left no stone unturned in your review. (And frankly, I think you added a few stones when no one was looking.) This sounds like a really good story the way you describe it.
The idea for it just popped into my head, I wrote it in about an hour and a half. Maybe less. At the point where I was going to wrap it up, (after about an hour), I checked my word count and I was already at exactly 1199 words, and it took another 275 words for the ending.
Then I spent another five or six hours editing and rewriting to get it under the word count. And a lot of what I took out was, in my opinion, complete crap. I’m amazed at how badly I still write, after all this practice. Still writing garbage. So, still having to edit it out. The neat thing about this story, (for me) was that I wrote it sitting on the couch in the living room, with the TV blasting the news, Kim sitting next to me, scrolling through her phone, interrupting me at frequent intervals to tell me about articles she was reading. Lots of distractions. Didn’t matter. I wish I could crank out stories this quickly all the time. Even crappy ones. And this one isn’t too bad. I should note though, that the editing was done after she went to bed and I turned the TV way down. So, it was like writing in a hurricane, editing in the eye.
BTW, despite the aura of my comments, I really like your story Ken. And the writing. It’s vivid. You convey imagery extremely well.
(But don’t let it go to your head. I’m still the ‘fair-haired’ one around here. Or so I’ve heard.)
Cheers Buddy, And good luck.
Talk to you later.
Anyhow, great reveal and great dialogue!
It does seem like a short suspense action drama, doesn’t it? It was much more emotional in its original version which was much longer. 1475 words. When I took all of those words out, it lost the emotional aspect and boosted the pace of the story and suspense. And I feel that was a good thing.
I’m glad you liked it and I appreciate your comments. I have no idea who ‘Shelob’ is. I’ll have to look it up. (Sounds like a very messy spider. i.e. ‘Look at this mess, do you have to be such a Shelob.’)
Yeah, I thought about killing them, several times. (Yes, you read me right. I thought about killing them several times. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. But give me time.) But if I’d killed them even once, then, who would have told the story? ‘These things muuuust be done delicately.’
I’m not sure if I took the prompt to a higher level or a lower one, but we can all agree it was a different one. I guess that’s where the cleverness comes in. Thanks for your comments Roy. They are very highly appreciated.
You’ve become a hell of a writer over the years, IMHO, and I look forward to reading your stories. I’m seldom disappointed.
We need to figure out how we can get more readers (and writers) but with three new contributers this time, seems like Carrie’s doing something right.
Who’s Carrie? ? ?
Oh her, the horse lover. Yeah. she’s got it going on. Don’t let her ping you, Roy. One ping and it’s all over. She pinged me and now I can’t even remember my own name. Ah well, that’s life. Shelob and shalom, it’s a mystery. She’s like a mystery master.
I’m kidding. Yeah, it’s hard not to love her. Too bad we’re old, married and not her type. Even her horse is attractive. To me. Of course, I’m a horse lover anyway. But the horses don’t love me back. They don’t want me on their back or something. What’s up with that? (I think I should stop here before I get pinged again.)
Yeah, she’s doing a good job, Roy. I’ll tell you what. You just let me know if I should do more, or less, or something entirely different, and I’ll do my best to comply.
And thanks for the second compliment. (Are you feeling okay?) Two compliments in one week. What am I gonna do with you?
Thank you very much.
My Daughter by Carrie Zylka (1027 words)
19 words brought the world crashing down around my ears.
“The clinic accidentally switched the embryos. We cannot express how sorry we are, but your daughter isn’t your daughter.”
The room swam before my eyes, great white streaks of light seemed to dance across my vision as I fought for consciousness. I raised my eyebrows and gripped the arms of the chair. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe, my chest tightened, and I thought I was going to throw up.
The doctor stepped out from behind the desk and knelt before me. “Breathe Amy, breathe…”
I stared at him, my vision suddenly too clear, shaking, I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out.
I didn’t know how to feel, but the shock of the revelation sent me spiraling into a panic attack.
It took several moments to get a semblance of control over my body and my heart. “How does this happen? Who has my baby…wait….Cara is my baby… She’s my daughter. But not my daughter. Oh god, I can’t…” Tears streamed down my cheeks; I just couldn’t process how the child I’d been raising for the last six years by myself wasn’t actually my daughter.
“I cannot explain to you how sorry I am, this is a mess, and we’ve only just found out about the mistake.”
“Mistake… MISTAKE????” A sudden hot rush of anger swept through me. All panic and anxiety was gone, swept away in a flood of anger. “A fucking mistake???” I hissed.
He held up his hands defensively and moved back behind the desk. “I didn’t do it, don’t shoot the messenger Amy, we’ll get this figured out I promise.”
“But how? How did you even figure this out?”
“The other embryo, your biological daughter, she has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. During the testing process it was discovered that her parents were not her biological parents. Through sheer detective work we discovered the mistake. There were only two embryos successfully fertilized and implanted that week. Yours was the second one. We compared DNA sequences and realized what had happened.”
“Leukemia? A transplant?”
The doctor nodded. “Miss Elmiss, I am so incredibly sorry, this whole situation is unfortunate. As her biological mother, you would be the top candidate, we keep the sperm donor’s identity confidential, even in situations like this. But if the mix up hadn’t happened you’d have already donated I’m sure.”
I pressed my hands to my lips and squeezed my eyes shut.
“I don’t know what to do.” I whispered. “What if they want my Cara back? What if they want my baby girl back? I’ve raised her, she’s my daughter, blood or no blood, DNA or no DNA.”
“I can’t answer that question, but right now we have one very sick child who is your biological daughter. She needs your help, no one can force you, no one can make you do anything. But I am obligated to share the details of what has transpired with her parents, as I have done with you. Custody arrangements are not for me to arrange, but the sharing of the situation and the information, is.”
He slid a piece of paper across the desk, the details of the hospital room, the parents contact information and the child’s name was written on it.
I stared at it for some time before tentatively reaching out and placing it in my pocket. “I need a day; can you give me a day before telling them at least?”
He nodded and shook my head. “Again, Miss Elmiss…I am so very sorry.”
She was so frail. This tiny blond angel full of crooked teeth and big blue eyes. She had my grandmother’s nose. I stood in the doorway to the hospital room, Cara’s little hand in mine, a stuffed animal in the other. I’d told Cara we were going to see a very sick friend of the family. She was uncertain, hiding slightly behind my jacket.
“Hello.” The little girl said.
“Hello Marie.” I said and nearly dropped to my knees. “Are your parents around?”
“They went to go get lunch; do I know you?” She peered inquisitively at Cara. “Hi!”
“No Marie, you do not know me, but I did bring you a present.” I stepped forward and gave her the stuffed alligator. “He said he’d love to keep you company while you’re in the hospital.”
“Oooo…” She squealed. “He’s so soft! Thank you!”
My heart broke as I looked at this ailing child, I glanced down at my healthy daughter, this child I’d raised on my own, this child that I’d fought so hard for when the fertility treatments failed, this child that I’d loved with all my heart and molded and guided and kissed boo boo’s on for the last six years. Then I looked at my biological daughter, the one I’d truly fought so hard for, the one I’d truly dreamt up and longed for, the one I should be holding as she’s sick, the one who only I could save.
My heart broke in two at the impossible situation I now found myself in.
I had no idea what legal implications this situation left all of us in, or if Marie’s parents would be excited to trade their sick daughter for a healthy one, or if Marie passed would they come after Cara and then everything would be for nothing? I looked down at Cara, wondering if I should simply snatch her up and flee to some remote part of the world where they couldn’t steal her away from me.
“Mommy? Everything ok?” Cara asked taking my hand and looking up at me in alarm.
Before I could answer Marie’s parents entered the room.
“Hello there, can I help you?” Her father asked. He furrowed his brow at the tear streaks in my makeup.
I glanced over at the child who was of my DNA and who I was about to try and save, and then down at my daughter who I was about to fight to the death for.
I looked at Marie’s parents, took a breath and explained why I was there.
A beautifully written story that, as others have said, is something of a change of direction from you. A nice change of direction too and so fitting for this prompt.
You did what all good stories should do and that is to make the readers empathise with your characters and ask the question, “What would I do in these circumstances?” I honestly don’t know except that tears would be shed. I have a friend of a very similar age and we have both owned up to the fact that we both cry now more so than we did as younger men so this story is a real tear – jerker.
Voting for a winner this time round is going to be a challenge as the quality is so high.
Well done, Carrie.
Excellent writing. Brilliant premise. I believe I read about something like this happening somewhere once, (for real), but for the life of me, I can’t remember any details.
The dilemma is so profound, it doesn’t require much explanation at all. (Unless someone is an idiot, and then, why bother?)
Some may feel that this story doesn’t have a proper ending, but it does, it’s just understated. She’s going to do the right thing. The consequences of her innate sense of decency is the real untold story here. And it could absolutely provide the grist for a full-fledged novel, or novella. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever read a story that posed this particular predicament before.
You sort of know that she’s going to do the right thing right off the bat, which defuses the dilemma, but it doesn’t resolve it. And frankly, I don’t see how one could describe a resolution and its consequences in under 20,000 words. (But hey, what do I know?)
Not to get off track but, in a similar vein. I recently read a story about a woman who’d been abducted for two years. And while she was not tortured physically, she was isolated, mentally tormented and quite literally held captive. She eventually won her abductors trust, and split his skull with a wood axe. The point of the story though, was how her life had changed in her absence. Everyone thought she was dead, (certainly gone forever.) Her boyfriend, business partner, best friend… they’d all moved on without her, and frankly didn’t know how to act upon her surprising reappearance.
That’s what this theme offers. A whole can of worms that could lead to some interesting choices, decisions, and consequences. It’s one of those stories that (unfortunately) raises issues that incites a lot of moral chest-beating, rather than what it should do, which is to elicit sympathy for the poor woman placed in such an untenable position.
The writing is very smooth, lean and clear.
Good job with the prompt and well written.
Nice Job, Carrie. Really.
Every once in while I smoosh the urge to incorporate dragons and witches and wizards.
I’ll admit, I sat at my desk balling my eyes out, as I tried to really put myself in Amy’s shoes and tried to encompass what she could possibly be feeling.
The challenge was trying to come up with a reason the clinic wouldn’t just bury the mistake for fear of legal action and how the details would even come to light.
Despite the sad reason, I was trying so hard to infuse positive actions, from the doctor honoring his oath to do no harm by revealing the details in hopes of saving a child, to a single woman who went through hell to have a baby and doing the right thing even though she could lose it all.
It was an interesting (if emotional) exercise outside of my comfort zone!
It was boring, but at least he was out of the house. Paul picked up yet another silver spoon and turned it over in his hand, not really paying it much attention.
“A fiver,” said the stallholder.
‘You’d have to pay me a fiver,’ thought Paul before replacing the spoon on the stall, smiling at the stall-holder and moving off.
He could manage another half hour here before he would have to head home. He calculated that if he returned to the car by way of the line of stalls at the far end of the field, that would be just about perfect timing – a half-hour’s drive home, in time to help Sonia prepare lunch and avoid getting it in the neck.
He sauntered past the stalls that backed on to the edge of the field, never giving the antiques there more than the most cursory of glances. Then two stalls before the end, he saw it.
It had lots of ornaments piled on it, so it was a wonder he noticed it at all. Later, he would call it fate.
It was a school desk, exactly like the one he’d had at Cranmill Primary a lifetime ago. He ran his hand along the back of the seat, enjoying the wood’s smoothness – a product of many years of childish hands. It was in good condition, though the metal frame was a little rusty. He was very tempted to buy it, but he knew what Sonia’s reaction would be.
Even so, he wanted to see how the lid of the desk opened, to feel that action again.
“Can I just …?” he said to the stall-holder, not waiting for her permission to remove the ornaments. He placed them carefully on the seat of the desk until the lid was clear. Then he paused before gently lifting it.
If he hadn’t been holding onto the lid, he might have fallen over. There, scratched into the wood of the inside of the desk, were the letters: PT L FB.
Paul Turner Loves Fiona Barry. It was as if a time vortex had transported Paul back to the very day he scratched those letters with a compass. He remembered it was a sunny day, everyone was out in the playground, and he’d stayed behind to mark his feelings for the girl he loved. The girl he’d always been too shy to even speak to.
He realized now that he hadn’t been breathing and gasped for air. The stall-holder came over to him.
“Are you all right?” she asked, genuinely concerned.
Paul took two or three deep breaths and smiled a smile that became a giggle.
“Yes, yes. Ah … how … how much for the desk?”
The stall-holder put her concern to one side now and reverted to the businesswoman that she was.
“It’s antique, you know. Original. Lovely condition, as you can see, and–“
“How much?!” Paul croaked.
“I’ll take it.”
The woman was about to give her next price but stopped dead, a little confused by the swift acceptance of the exorbitant price.
“Very good decision sir … we’ve had a lot of interest.”
Paul already had the notes in his hand and counted out six.
“How can I get it to my car?” he asked.
“I’ll ask my husband to help you,” the stall-holder said, pocketing the money.
“You’re late,” said Sonia in her ‘bad-Sonia’ voice; her ‘good-Sonia’ was reserved for just a random handful of days a year, and this wasn’t one of them.
“Sorry, dear,” Paul mumbled, “but I found something at the fair I’m sure you’ll like!”
He took her out to the car and pointed through the back window.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Sonia scoffed loudly, glaring at her husband.
“I thought it could go in the dining room. You know, we could keep the cruets and things ins–.”
“No way! That’s going straight in the shed. And make it snappy. I’m serving in ten minutes.”
Sonia stormed back into the house, leaving Paul to struggle with the desk himself. Eventually he got it into the shed and sat at it. It was a squeeze, but it felt good.
He opened the lid again and ran his fingers over the scratched letters, remembering Fiona: she was tall, with long, fair hair, by far the prettiest girl at the school, but a sweet soul, too.
He was about to close the lid when he caught sight of something at the right-hand edge, where the side met the bottom: a little yellow triangle.
He picked at the triangle with his fingernail; it was made of paper. He picked at it some more, then managed to get a purchase on it and pulled. It was the corner of a sheet of paper. As he pulled, and it emerged, he could see that the corner was dark yellow with age, but the rest of the paper was a lighter colour. He kept pulling until the resistance ceased and he had in his hand a folded sheet with a ragged edge; it had apparently been torn from a notebook.
Paul wasn’t sure how the paper had got concealed inside the desk; he assumed there must be two layers to the base, and that someone who used the desk after him had unwittingly pushed the note into the gap between the layers when they put their books away.
He unfolded the paper and read what was written there in a childish hand. As he read, the paper began to shake between his thin, bony fingers, discoloured by liver spots.
dear paul I like you verry much do you want to be my boyfrend? kisses fiona
Once again, he stopped breathing. He only remembered to start again when he heard the shout from the kitchen.
“Oy! Are you coming or what?!”
Paul stayed exactly where he was, catching his breath and reading the note. Over and over again.
What can I say, but I really love this story. It breaks my heart, so you have succeeded so well. A great piece of writing.
Another very high quality story from you that adds further tension to the issue of the final vote.
Unrequited love, it’s an old and well trodden path, the eternal flame that may just keep flickering until fanned by a certain presence from the past. It’s one of the reasons why, in my opinion, reunions are rather dangerous events. Or perhaps old liaisons are only restarted if the current ones are cracking open, as appears to be the case with Paul and Sonia.
Finding that desk and the message on the paper would be a real shock as it would instantly transport us back to that moment in time when love was so painful and heartbeatingly real. Not for us then, the steady burn of the lifelong love. Looking back at college pictures when all of us were young, fit, vibrant and full of life is nostalgia’s trick because life wasn’t better then, not for everyone.
The initials were interesting Mr. PT.
It seems to me that there is a difference between unrequited love ( ie never fulfilled, unsatisfactory by and large) and enduring love, which is more likely to have been a mutual event. However, unrequited love can also be enduring, and vice versa, so perhaps the jury is out on this point.
Great writing, as ever, Phil.
What a sweet story. Sad, but realistic and as always, brilliantly executed. Composing the title out of a series of letters was; a.) a stroke of genius; b.) a cunning means to incite our curiosity; and c.) a means of redemption for using letters to conceal the identity of the characters in your last story. (You think of everything. The kind of guy who’d be fun to go on a picnic with. Apples, oranges, cheese, satellite phone, wine, corkscrew, first-aid kit, grape juice, crystal glasses, binoculars, fishing pole, and a hot air balloon to take us back home.)
A picnic? What be that?
As always a thoughtful take on the prompt. I sometimes wonder about those lost loves myself, from time to time, but always know that I married my soul mate and would NEVER go back if given the chance.
Great story Phil and makes one think.
I slam the lid of the computer shut. Looking down, I notice the marks made by my nails on the University desk. If maintenance arrives to fix my wardrobe – like they’ve been promising for the past two weeks – I’ll tell them I found the desk like this.
My body tilts. In seconds, I’m face-down on the desk, cheek pressed against the cool laminate as if I’m clinging to an icy precipice, teeth ripped from my gums by the wind. I keep replaying my final words, over and over.
I’m not who you think I am.
You didn’t raise me to be like this, but I can’t help it. I’m sorry.
Mum didn’t even have time to open her mouth before I left the call and curled into a foetal position, somehow maintaining my position on the desk chair. My chest rattles. I can see my ribs beneath my baggy shirt, like Jacob’s ladders. I wonder if a tiny person lives inside me, who uses them to climb up to my throat, to put words in my mouth. I mean, why else would I have said that? After years of pawing around each other like wolves, years of howling, of slammed doors, of being grounded, I let myself throw a live grenade into a newly healed relationship. It doesn’t feel real. But then I open my laptop back up and I see the aborted Skype call. Mum doesn’t try to call me back. I lower my head. My hunch was right. I should never have told her.
Mum, you may not want to hear this.
“Then don’t tell me”. She said it with a smile, but it still brought a lump to my throat.
Listen, I’ve been thinking.
“Oh dear. Well, don’t try too hard, sweetheart. You know what happened last time”.
I bite my tongue. My eyes burn, but I’m not going to cry. No, instead I try to order a takeaway from my favourite Thai Noodle Palace just down the road. Then I remember that if I want my noodles, I’ll not only have to leave my room, but the flat. I’d have to wade out into the world and all its horrors, just for a box of Singapore Chicken. Besides, moths flutter in my throat. I can hear them crying, asking what I’ve done. I can hear her, hear Mum, from less than an hour ago.
“Hey, kiddo. How’re you holding up? You’ll be coming home soon.”
Yes. I suppose.
“You can help me put the Christmas decorations up. That’ll be fun. I haven’t seen you in months”.
Yes. I can’t wait.
“I’m just trying to get my last Assignment in before Christmas. Do you still want me to pick you up?”
No, no I can take the train. I’ll the train if you want me to.
“That’s not what I meant. Let me just extract you from my oesophagus”.
I don’t want to let you down.
“Sweetheart, what’s this about? You’re not letting me down just because you’d prefer me to pick you up for Christmas. You could never let me down”.
Don’t speak too soon.
“Sweetie, what’s going on? You’re an adult now. You can tell me anything”.
Mum, please don’t make me do this.
I’m drowning Mum. I’ve been drowning since the day I realised I’d never get married.
“What’s wrong? You can tell me anything”.
I’m not your daughter anymore. I don’t feel what I should feel. I don’t even understand how I feel. I’m drowning. Water fills my lungs.
“For goodness sake. I don’t have time to play a guessing game. Just tell me what’s wrong. You know I have my dissertation to finish and, unlike you, I don’t get four weeks off at Christmas and”—
The words slipped out and now they coil around my throat, tightening each time I replay that conversation. I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have told her later, after I’d become something – an MP or a Psychologist, or an Actress, something she could be proud of – before I stepped on that landmine. I never let myself explain. Never got to tell her that I’m not a monster, at least, I don’t have claws or cloven hooves and I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell enough to end up there when I die. But the way she looked at me… As if my heart were made of oak or elm, and splinters had filled her eyes. I always said she should have had another baby – a sporty girl who’s on the rugby team or a top-notch journalist. Not me, when the only ambition I have is not to slither under the covers and sleep the Christmas holidays away. Mum sure won’t pick me up now.
I spend the last few weeks before Christmas embroiled in essay writing, exploring Ovid and Freud, Aphra Benn’s Oroonoko and imoindaism. I head out to the library every so often, to pick up or return a critical text, keeping my headphones in, wishing I were like the pages of a book: pale, transparent, hidden behind a laminated cover.
Three missed calls from Mum turn into ten, then fifteen, then twenty. She gives up after that, only dropping a text the day I’m due to be picked up. She tells me she’s still coming and that I must be packed and ready to go by the time she gets here. Even over text, her tone is harsh, gravelly. I’m not surprised considering how many calls I’ve declined, how much time I’ve wasted. She tried Skype me a few times too saying,
“For God’s sake, answer me. Is this how you’re going to finish your degree? By hiding? You won’t be able to do that when I get here”. I wince. Of that Mum, I’m painfully aware. I’m painfully aware of everything as I pack – the bobbly coats from Primark, the inky black of my beret. The glossy covers of my newer books compared to the frayed texture of my older copies. The weight of my Critical Theory Anthology, which is more of a murder weapon than a piece of light reading. I pack my red suitcase, which gleams like polished muscle on my carpet. I should have stayed on the call, tried to explain. I should have told her.
I don’t feel nothing. I’m not a monster. Please, Mum. Put down your pitchfork. I don’t like the same things other people do, but when you were my age, you wanted to become a Fashion Designer and now you’re a Clinical Hypnotherapist.
Please. I saw you that night, with your date. I was ten and my stomach twisted itself into knots when I peeped through the doorway, about to ask the two of you to turn down the film I thought you were watching. Does that make me a monster? Will you brush me off like Dad, saying, ‘You just need to find the right man’?
Mum arrives early. I meet her at the gate, so she doesn’t get tired of waiting.
When she smiles, her eyes are thick with tears. My wooden heart begins to thrum, as if set alight.
She holds out her arms.
I’m chagrined and humbled. Feeling like the Captain of a battleship, blithely swatting down a few of the enemy’s feeble fighter planes, only to see, too late, the four torpedoes about to hit me broadsides.
Normally, at a point like this, I would make a lot of jokes while backpedaling furiously. But you deserve better than that.
I’ll resign my commission, or go down with the ship. It is the honorable thing to do.
The scope of your education must far exceed mine, now I know what it feels like to be the swine.
Actually, this has happened before, but its been a while and I forgot what it was like.
Hah, your torpedoes missed. (Except for one, hit me in the rudders. Can only go straight for awhile.)
Your story is not, not about sex. It is about not-sex. No, I take that back. (Man the life-boats, men.) It is about love, and that’s what you’ve been studying. Among other things. I think. I’ll leave it to others to find their way to your reference point, and make no more comments on your weapons systems until I’ve read Oroonoko. This could take a while though, I’m currently slogging my way through ‘Genghis Khan,’ by Frank McLynn. The confounded nouns in this book are unpronounceable. Here’s an example which I thoughtfully made up for you. (“Genghis’s brother, Toluline Beeblebrox, led an army of 20,000 through the Hsing-Hsia territory in 1210 with his favorite Generals, Myxocucowx Ilfybnox, and Ilgthrothra Ilglicklygac. and his two sons, Arbrylnya Habiyoo, and Indivivn Ayllhtha.”) The whole book is like this. Jesus God. And the mayhem and murder, slaughtery even. That’s right, slaughtery. (I made up a word to describe the shit that goes down in this book.) So, you know, if you ever read this, and I’m sure you won’t. Have a little pity, okay? Great.
Now this is what i got from your story and as I read some of Ken C’s comments, I felt a bit like an echo so I am not going to repeat his constructive commenting.
Is she going to be a he? I felt like she or he was undergoing a transformation that she / he felt her/his mother would not be happy with, but understanding that the mother’s love would endure whatever abuse or lack of communication the child threw at the parent as parents and even children often do.
The bond between a parent and a child is often an unbreakable one despite the best efforts of some to destroy it. Carrying a child within a body does that. If the bond is not there, it means usually there are serious character flaws in one or both parties. Also fathers despite not carrying the child, there is usually a strong psychological bond that is protective and all encompassing.
Forgive me that I cannot give more. I have had some potentially cancerous lesions cut from my right hand and the wounds although a week old are aching like all crap so I will end with the following note. Your story needs more work to make clarity for your readers. Writers write for readers, not themselves and I would ask you to redraft with that in mind. Writing is an extremely draining craft at times and the focus should be not on you the writer, but on you guys the readers. How can I make my story more enjoyable, informative, entertaining, poignant and coherent for you my dearly beloved readers? Writing is about love, hate, passion and indifference and so much more. It is often an elixir that extracts a price from the creator. You give your lifeblood to the reader and as nothing in return except to be read, listened to and understood. For the last, you have to work your butt off.
As Ken said, you probably got more than you asked for here. Welcome and keep writinig.
Welcome to the site. Your talent is obvious. A well written story that had me at: I wonder if a tiny person lives inside me, who uses them to climb up to my throat, to put words in my mouth. I mean, why else would I have said that? What a great line. I promise you if I steal it, I will not give you credit, but only because it would interrupt the story. Otherwise, in my mind, I’ll give you credit. Thanks in advance.
I thoroughly enjoyed your story and don’t have a lot of criticism. I’m not even going to go back and look to try and find any little things. But, I will reread it to enjoy it again. Lots of good stories this week. Good luck.
I really appreciate your comments on Eve’s story. I hope she will shake off whatever aftereffects my comments might’ve had and come back to read yours and Juergen’s, as they make much more sense than mine. And they helped me to understand her story as well.
The counterpoint between her inner dialogue, and what her mother actually said was ‘oceanic’? And her clever use of ‘asexuality’ as the issue. Something that, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, most of us probably can’t work up much emotion over either way. It’s simply a device, and a clever one for its blandness. (It’s obvious neutrality.)
And finally, her mother’s love (the character’s) is like cosmic background radiation, all encompassing, while she jerks, collapses and twitches under the colossal strain of being gender neutral. If this isn’t ironic, I don’t know what is. (I suspect she deliberately revealed her pedigree with those two obscure literary references. But I still balked at some of her phrasing. The one that you cited, for example, Phil. ‘…like polished muscle on my carpet.’ (Nyet. I don’t like it.) Still, I think the consensus is that this writer has talent, but stunned us all by going up the ladder and diving right off into the deep end.
I hope she comes back.
I haven’t seen your name or work before so welcome to the writing group if you are new.
I found your story to be a competent piece of writing, in the main. I have no experience of the scenario you set out and it’s difficult to put myself in the position of the asexual student. However, as a parent, I feel a little more qualified to suggest that I would have wanted to know how my child was, whilst away from home and love him / her whatever the situation. Clearly the mother did this as, “She holds out her arms.”
Coming to terms with our adult person is a challenge and you set this out well. It’s quite convincing.
A small critique;
The section about getting the train is a little unclear, as I read it. Just check it for yourself and see if you agree.
Rose sighed softly as she buttoned her coat. She always had a feeling of quiet sadness as the last Sunday of each month approached.
She had made this journey every month for the past eight years now and it still was not any easier. The three hours by train out to the cemetery on the outskirts of a small country town in a central NSW town was part of a ritual that she had promised her dying father she would keep as long as it was needed.
She had time before her train arrived to call old Charlie a family friend and caretaker at the cemetery.
“Hi, Charlie. It’s Rose. How are you? How’s Tessa?”
“Good to hear from you girl as always. I’m fine. Couldn’t be better.” He paused to hack out a deep rasping smoker’s cough before continuing. “Tessa though, she’s getting old. Misses your dad something awful like.” Again, a long pause. “You’ll see when you get here. She’s very weak now and frankly Rose, I’m worried about her. Come hail, heat or rain and snow, she’s at your father’s gravesite. Nothing stops her and if I don’t lock her in at night, she’d be there sitting next to his headstone.”
On the train finally, Rose settled in her seat to read. However half an hour later, the motion and rhythmic sound of wheels clacking on the track rocked her to sleep.
“Tom, I cannot believe you did this.” Her father was angry at her brother. “You sent them all off to the abattoirs? Without even a thought that I might want a say in the matter.” He threw up his hands in disgust. “Even the old stock horses that only had a few years left and could have lived their life out in the paddocks!”
“Dad, it’s still a liability. If they get sick, you’ll call a vet. More bills and if its dry, they’ll need feeding. More money, good money thrown after bad. No, I am having to make some economically sound decisions here. That’s why I didn’t tell you. They’ve already gone.”
“Even Dodger?” The pain on the old man’s face was palatable. Rose’s chest constricted. Dodger had been her father’s favourite stock horse. A tall bay gelding with a jagged blaze and two white socks, her father swore the horse and he were psychically connected. But then, her father swore that same fact about most of his animals.
“Yes Dad. Especially Dodger. He was costing money. And at twenty years of age he wasn’t much good for anything. I sold all fifteen of the stock horses left. You might as well have the money I got for them. Minus the transportation costs, of course.”
He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “All up, they averaged around $200 apiece which makes you around $3000.” He started to peel off green one-hundred-dollar notes, counting to thirty and proffering the wad of money to his father. Rose watched as their father’s face reddened. The old man rose from the chair and stood stiffly.
“Keep the bloody money. It’s all yours.” She saw his jaw clench tight and then he turned and walked from the room. “I’m going for a nap.” When the old man was safely out of earshot, she turned to her brother who was still holding the wad of notes and looking surprised and slightly confused.
“Tom, why’d you do that. I mean Dodger too. You could have left two of them here. Why?”
“Because they were just eating away his money. He’s got to be realistic. He’s on a pension. I was doing the accounts. He was drawing on his savings.”
“So?” Rose was astounded. “It’s his money. Let him do what he wants with it.”
“No, Rose, it’s our inheritance. He doesn’t need all those animals including the dog.”
Then with those words, the realization struck her; it was almost a physical blow. “What? You would deprive him of the last pleasures at the end of his life because YOU want what’s left of his money when he is dead? You leave Tessa alone.” Her fist clenched at her sides and she felt as if she wanted to slap her brother hard across the face. His audacity was unbelievable.
“I’ve already booked the appointment with the vet.”
“NO. And I will unbook it.”
The blazing row that followed ensured that she and her brother did not speak for the following ten years. Even at their father’s funeral there was an icy calm between them.
Rose ensured that Tessa was not put to sleep. Tessa was by her father’s side as he fought the cancer that devoured his life force and was even brought into the hospital to be by her father’s bedside. The dog calmed her father’s pain and agitation as the drip bags slowly seeped chemicals into his veins. She was there when he took his last breath.
Their father had made provision for the dog in his will. Rose fought with lawyers to ensure that Tom and his family did not get their hands on the money allocated. Tom and his family fought equally hard to have the dog put to sleep to “save the waste of money”.
Rose had Charlie the caretaker at the little country cemetery look after Tessa who spent days and nights sleeping on her father’s grave. Charlie would bring her food and water.
Tessa became well known at the cemetery and other mourners often brought food for her and filled her water bowl.
Every month Rose travelled to her father’s grave site. She gave Charlie a monthly stipend and ensured that Tessa was in good health and arranged with Charlie to do her vet checks.
“How’s the trip?”
“Ok. I slept most of the way. Where’s Tessa?” The black and white collie usually met her with Charlie at the station. Then they would go straight to the cemetery which was only a few hundred yards from Charlie’s house.
Charlie shook his head. “She wouldn’t come. Been worried about her these past two weeks. Her arthritis is very bad. And her balance is not good. And she’s been losing her sight, as well as her hearing is none too flash.” He put her overnight bag in the car. “But you know all that. I am not sure what we are going to do now.”
Rose felt cold but said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
They arrived at the cemetery. Tessa’s familiar black and white shape was in its usual place on her father’s grave. To one side by the headstone were her water and food bowls.
Rose got out of the car. Tessa was very still. No tail wag as she approached slowly. Before she reached the dog and knelt to pat her head she knew.
Tessa had gone to join her master in other fields, running pain free joyfully reunited.
Later that day, Rose and Charlie buried Tessa along side her master and much to Tom her brother’s disgust, put up a small headstone next to Rose’s father and mother’s one that simply stated “Here lies Tessa. Love enduring.”
When my mother died back in 1991, following her memorial, a stray kitten wandered into my father’s life by showing up at his back door. He tried shooing it away, but it hung around, so it was only a day or two later he started feeding it and giving it water. Forward to 2008. My father became mostly bedridden and stayed in his room virtually 24 hours a day. Fortunately he had two caretakers who lived with him, daughters of his girlfriend who passed in 2004. The cat stayed in his room with him the entire time.
Following a major stroke in March of 2011, he stayed in a convalescent home until July, 2011, when he passed away. When his caretakers got home the night he passed, they tried to find the cat which stayed in his room while he was in the nursing home and wouldn’t come out. They couldn’t find it until they looked in the wadded up blanket on the bed where they found the cat, which had died, apparently not long before they got home. Interestingly enough, they called the mortuary and were allowed to have the cat cremated with my father … eerie. Coincidence? Perhaps.
When doing a bit of taxi driving a few years back I was so saddened by this man who was put into supported living by his family and he had to give up his cat. He sent it over to Western Australia to a family friend because he did not trust his family not to put her to sleep. They complained bitterly about the cost of the cat going over to the state. As he said to me “well, bugger them. It’s my money after all.” He’d worked hard all his life two dairy farms had an accident and then was forced to sell and buy into one of those independent living communities. They were allowed small dogs and birds as pets so long as they were well contained and trained. No cats or large dogs. Stupid rule. Cost $500,000 plus to buy in.
Think if I had that sort of money small house in a small small town. Hate big cities. Also large communities as you become a number and so impersonal. Hope you are doing well and glad to see you writing again here..
A lovely, well-written story.
It raises a number of issues including the “inheritance” problem, saving the old man’s money and the love of our pets. Our pets love us unconditionally and there are many stories of pets, dogs especially, staying by their masters’ graves. I think if Tom had been my brother I would have wanted to swap him for a dog or ……something worse. The way he took it upon himself to get rid of the stock was quite appalling.
Voting this time round is going to be really difficult. So many great stories, including yours.
It could’ve used a slew more commas though, and one or two more contractions in the dialogue. But not enough to pull me out of the story.
For instance: She had time before her train arrived to call old Charlie a family friend and caretaker at the cemetery. (A couple of commas would help the reader properly digest that sentence.)
“…YOU want what’s left of his money when he is dead?” (“…when he’s dead?”)
‘The pain on the old man’s face was palatable.’ (palpable.)
Still, a great effort and a wonderfully written story on your part. There’s a lot of passion, and power in your writing. You probably know that, but it doesn’t hurt to remind people of what they do well, as well as what needs work.
I have never understood people who see their aging parents as cash cows.
Our love will last forever. I feel this in my heart. When the moon and stars have long disappeared, our love will still endure.
I have long since forgiven you for everything. How could I not? For our love is greater than every obstacle that tries to stop it, and true love forgives all.
I remember so well the first time we met. You were so beautiful, your little nose on a perfect face, your charming smile. The first time you put your warm hand in mine, that sizzling feeling of connection, of love, how could I forget?
Our meetings down by the river, secretly at first. Later we wanted everyone to see, we wanted to show the world how happy we were. You looked at me with that special glow in your eyes. And then you said that from now on you wanted to stay with me forever and ever.
I was the happiest person in the world, and after many many years I still am.
Your slim body at night, your soft kiss in the morning when the light of the dawning day made you shine.
I wanted to do everything for you, and I did everything for you. Do you remember the pearl necklace around your neck, the sports car I gave you? Do you remember the trips around the world we took together, the beaches, the sea, towering mountains, magnificent hotels? Do you remember all those little rituals we had together? Our favorite songs? The secret language only the two of us shared?
Today, as then, we have only that one goal in our lives: We want to be together, we want to enjoy our love, every day, every week, every year that God gives us. I always think of you. You know I have forgiven you for everything. True love forgives everything; it is generous and faithful.
I have never stopped loving you. Every day and night I dream of you and am grateful that you exist. That you came into my life, my small unimpressive life of all things.
I still can’t understand that there is such a noble person in this world who loves me, who I can love and not want to share with anyone. A wonderful person to whom I want to give everything that I possess. Because you, my darling, give me the greatest gift there will ever be. You being in my life is the most precious thing in the world for me.
Every day I think about you.
Nothing can separate us, and together we can achieve everything. Together we need not fear the world.
The light in your eyes when they look at me, the gentle touch of your hands when we give each other pleasure.
When I am separated from you for just one day, just one hour, just one single second, I feel like the loneliest person in the world.
I look at the wall in front of me and think of you. I’m so glad that I can forgive you for everything, so that nothing comes between us. Because nothing in the world should stand between us.
People here don’t understand. They don’t want to understand that I have forgiven you. They ask and ask. They want me to tell them again and again how I found your suitcase. The little white leather suitcase that I gave you and that you had secretly packed. How I found it behind the garden shed. The case that you had hidden there. A thousand times I have to tell them how I saw you and that boy. How you whispered into his ear. They want me to admit what I did. Yes, I admit it! Yes, I did what I did! I did it out of love, only out of love. Out of eternal love for you, my darling.
I know they want to execute me, they talk about double murder. Yes, they have to do that. They are helpless, they can’t understand that I have already forgiven you. But one thing is certain to me: You do understand me, I know that in my heart. You can’t help but forgive me. For I have forgiven you because I love you as I did on the very first day. Our love will endure, even if in a million years the sun turns to dust.
I thought it was about a cat, an infatuated cat lover. But no, you had something else in mind. Something much further over the edge. A quick and crazy story. Love your style, Juergen.
I told Ken C that I was pleased that he had chucked some grit into the mix of my prompt and I am equally glad to see that your penchant for the unexpected has not deserted you. As Trish says, you have tossed in a small grenade.
Great stuff, Max.
by Roy York
He stopped the car just to the side of the gate opening into the cemetery, pausing for a few moments before he got out of the car. The rusty, worn gate leaned against the fence, held up by a single, fragile hinge that was slowly corroding itself into complete collapse. On its last legs, he thought, just like me. The old country church loomed silently, dark against the cold November sky; guardian of those weary souls resting, waiting patiently for that day of judgment and their final journey.
He pushed against the heavy car door. It took an effort these days, he thought. These days of growing old, not being able to do the things you used to do, but still think you can and should. It opened slowly and he unwound from the car. Reaching back in, he grabbed the coffee he brought and straightened his lean, but crumpled, eighty-six year old body for his morning walk.
It had become a ritual. Each morning, rain or shine, he would slowly get dressed, spend a few minutes with who ever happened to be up early with him, perhaps his daughter, or one of the grandchildren who lived with him, then he would get into his car and head for McDonalds. They made his favorite coffee, and he got a chance to see a grand-niece who worked there most mornings. She was always glad to see him and he liked it too. After getting a cup of coffee to go, he would head for his visit.
He walked slowly and purposefully, just as he had every single morning for the last 13 years, not missing a single day, finally reaching where he needed to be. The flowers the kids had placed there were drying up, and some had blown away. He knelt by the slightly tilted tombstone and brushed away some accumulated debris. He touched her name etched into the stone. As he did, her face flashed in front of his eyes.
She had never grown older to him, only more beautiful, and the woman he saw in his mind’s eye hadn’t changed since the way she looked in 1941. Not to him. He knew she was older. Hell, so was he. Yet, every time he thought of her, no matter what, the same picture always formed.
Thick, wavy, auburn hair, surrounding a face that everyone agreed was drop dead gorgeous. Soft skin, slightly blushing, green eyes, straight white teeth, that could break into a smile dazzling all who came near and a throaty laugh that was contagious. Funny, he always heard that soft laugh when he thought of her face. The face and laugh that had stopped him in his tracks that day by the river, where he’d gone with his twin brother to meet ‘some girls’ that lived over by Waynesville.
It was the picture she had sent him after they were married, while he was away from her for the only time in his life, and she was carrying his child. He would pull it out whenever he had a chance and look at it. The German’s would usually interrupt his reverie as he sat in a muddy foxhole somewhere in France with a well place mortar, or some sniper sitting where he couldn’t be found, trying to end the war with the Allies, one soldier at a time. He held the picture in his hands and promised her silently that if he got home alive, he would never leave her again, ever. He had kept that promise. They had never been apart again, not even for a single night, until the day she left him for the hospital.
It wasn’t her fault and he never blamed her for finally succumbing to her illness. She had to. All those days waiting to find out what was wrong only to find out she had Hepatitis C; received when she was injured in a car accident forty years earlier, innocently riding as a passenger. Having received a blood transfusion, which unknowingly hid silently for all those years, destroying her liver.
All those times at the hospital, making trip after trip. Once, actually being on the operating table when the doctors walked in and said a last minute test showed a patient that was younger, and who had a better chance of surviving was going to get her promised transplant liver. All that torment and pain, and all she did was smile weakly and squeeze his hand and tell him it was all part of God’s plan for her.
He smiled bitterly, What possible plan could God have that means taking you away from me, your children and your grandchildren?
So, he found time every day to visit her, to keep his promise. Rain, snow, heat or car trouble was no match for the old man who doggedly kept his vow.
As he knelt, he gazed at the small tombstone, engraved with only her name, and the years of her life.
“I love you and I miss you; but you know that,” he said. “I’ve got news. The doctors tell me the bone cancer is much worse, and I have to go to the hospital for a special treatment. It’s supposed to make the pain stop, but not much else. They don’t think I have much time, which is the best news I’ve heard since the day you were taken away.”
He paused for a moment. “I won’t be stopping by tomorrow, or for a few days after that. I’m not going to be able to see you for awhile.” He took his time to form his next words. “I’ll be back soon, right there by your side and we’ll take those walks we used to take once more. I’ll never leave you again.” He finished his coffee, stood up and steadied himself for the walk back to the car, looking back one last time.
Ten days later he kept his promise. The family gathered for his internment and stood silently as the coffin was lowered into the waiting grave, next to his wife’s. Each of them paid their respects, some tearfully, others stoic. Later that afternoon one of his sons, his namesake, came back by the site, now covered with fresh sod, and stood between the the two adjoining graves to say a final goodbye.
He noticed something moving in the grass; what he thought at first was a scrap of paper. He reached down, picked it up and turned it over. It was the faded photograph of his mother. He stared at it for a few moments wondering how it got there. He casually put it in his suit coat pocket and turned to join his wife and children waiting patiently nearby.
His wife asked him what he picked up. “I’m not sure,” he answered. “I’d tell you it was only a faded photograph of Mom that Dad had carried since the war, but I really think it was a final message from Dad, saying he didn’t need it anymore.”
He started the car and drove away.
Thanks for your comments, and tears. I had tears when I wrote it. The story itself is based on my aunt and uncle’s relationship. They were truly two of my favorite people in the world. He did visit her grave every day for almost 14 years until he was hospitalized for bone cancer.
After my mother died when I was 15 months old, my aunt was my guardian while my father got himself back together after losing his wife and second son at the same time.
I also lived with them for a short while as a young adult and witnessed their enduring love in person. My aunt and uncle had unconditional love for me, something I never had with my father and step mother. Maybe that’s why this story was so easy to write.
Such a beautiful, well-written story. It seems to sum up so much of the sentiments expressed in some of the other stories.
Made me think about a conversation I had with an old friend some years ago after he had suffered a marital difficulty. He said that he had felt excited about the prospect of having sex with another woman after quite a few years of relatively happy marriage. Later, he realised that all he really wanted was the long time love of the good woman he was already married to and all the family unity that this entailed. Eventually, he got his marriage back on track and still seems to be a happy man who so nearly lost everything.
Your wonderfully written story sums all this up.
You seemed to have struck a nerve with everyone also, writing about the two people who showed you what enduring love is all about. I’d like to think I am in that same situation right now with the love of my life for the last 57 years.
I sent this story to my cousin, who was the character in the last paragraph and asked for his permission to publish it. I got a nice note back from him and his wife. Along with a couple of grammatical corrections. LOL
The quality of your writing is well demonstrated in this latest offering, but I felt the plot was a bit anti-climactic. It clearly touched the emotions of many of the readers, as indicated by the comments, but personally, I wasn’t particularly moved. That’s just a fact, not a put-down. None of the stories this week affected me much, with the exception of Carrie’s story. My own story struck a chord, with me, until I edited it, and then, nothing. Maybe this is because I understood that this was the intention of the prompt, to evoke an emotional response and accordingly raised the bar for everyone.
In fact, your story had an otherworldly quality, like one of those ‘One Step Beyond’ episodes of yore, when, something odd and inexplicable happens to ordinary people, but beyond the oddity of the experience, (in this case, the appearance of the old photograph after the burial) it doesn’t hold much significance. And in that ‘odd’ light, I expected something more peculiar, and didn’t get it. Something impossible, like, the son slipping the photo into his father’s suitcoat at the funeral parlor.
But the story is satisfactory, the pacing is perfect and the writing is excellent. Two specific things, and one nitpick: ‘…a well place(d) mortar.’
And, ‘…something moving in the grass.’ That phrase conveys the image of a snake. Why ‘moving?’ It doesn’t need to be moving to be noticed.
‘…his wife and children waiting patiently nearby.’ Is a bit of an overstatement. Why not, ‘…waiting in the car.’ With the final line being: ‘He started the engine and drove away.’
These are not necessary changes, (the second two) just minor tweaks you might reflect on from an objective fellow writer. As I say, overall, it’s quite a nice story that showcases your skill. I feel it will do well in the contest.
Maybe this will put my reaction into perspective.
A childhood buddy popped into my mind the other day. He was my best friend. We had ridden to the grocery store together on our bicycles but against our parents warnings, neither of us had locked our bikes. I was looking out the window when I saw a black kid hop on my bike and ride off. I grabbed my friend and ran outside, and ASKED him if I could use his bike to pursue the thief, and he turned me down.
“Uh, no man. My dad told me not to loan it out to anyone.”
I was speechless. This seemed like a good reason to make an exception, but he was adamant. That was the end of our friendship. A real shame because I really liked him and his whole family. His father was my hero, he had two adorable younger siblings, but, our friendship ended on that day. (Especially since I had to walk home. In fact, I had to walk everywhere for the next four months.)
A year later, he moved away. He was a year or two younger than me, and last week, I decided to look him up after all these years, not looking for any big reunion, just to see how he was getting along in life. I figured he still lived in Miami and looked him up. Found his obituary instead. He died two years ago.
That’s what you were up against.
You’re a tough, but fair critic. I agree with you abut the ‘moving in the grass’. It could have been written better, such as: Something in the grass caught his eye, or he noticed what appeared to be a scrap of paper. And, you are right about the patiently waiting family line. I talk a game of brevity when I critique others, yet find myself just as guilty, if not more of not being brief at all.
Thanks for your well thought out remarks. They are truly appreciated.
It’s the least I can do for the guy I’m trying to beat every week.
There were two lines in my story I would change as well. The fart line, and ‘What an ass on that kid, but no…” I don’t think any husband / guy who couldn’t feel his arms, and in such close proximity to his angry wife, would say such a thing. It didn’t ring true. But I didn’t realize it until a day or two later. That’s one of those things he would’ve thought, but he certainly wouldn’t say it, no matter what the circumstances. I was trying to make the character more authentic but I believe it had the opposite effect.
Oh well, we can’t all be perfect.
You notice that, too, huh? That Phil is perfect. Then again, there’s this. KC 4th, RY 5th and PT 6th. Small victories add up to larger victories down the road. We just need to plug away.
I’m pleased I succeeded in getting to your emotional side. Now, I’ve got to work on how I can reach Ken Cartisano’s.
I’d really appreciate some advice: is there a way to do italics in a post here?
Alternatively, what’s the best way to present internal monologue/ dialogue in a story?
Thanks in advance!
Does that help?
I don’t know how to invoke italics on this site. What I do is, ‘Let’s see, what should I tell her?’ Use single quote marks, and make sure all thoughts are in first person. That’s what I do.
Or, Here’s something Roy wrote:
He pushed against the heavy car door. It took an effort these days, he thought.
What Roy has done is different but still correct. (I’m sure.) :He tells you that: It took an effort these days, he thought
The thought is expressed in third person, which is indicated by the words, ‘he thought. so no quotations.
Not sure but I think tkkkk’
What’s that “tkkkk” in the end, tho?
Underline looks like this.
Bold looks like this.
I have no idea and the Google machine is not being very helpful either.
Software developers code on macs so there’s gotta be a way.
Ill keep digging.
Does he use a Mac?
I don’t, and actually don’t know anyone who does.
If he does he’ll be better than the Google machine! 😎
I plead the fifth….. 🧙♀️
….. But I am on my third black cat! 😉
PS. Underline doesn’t look like that.
The ‘tkkkk’? That’s an excellent question, Vicki. I’m glad you asked. It gives me a chance to work on my ‘snappy answers to impertinent questions’ routine.
It’s not a stutter, it’s a result of sleeping while typing. Nodding and blogging at the same time, or as I call it, nogging. Or alternately, noblogding. Also known as sleep-typing. I once fell asleep with my pinky on the ‘Z’ key, and when I woke up the computer the next day, (I am NOT making this up.) I had 250 pages of Z’s. Do you know how long it takes to delete 250 pages of Z’s? Don’t guess, I’ll tell you. About 15 minutes. I’m talking about highlighting twenty or thirty pages at a time and hitting the delete key. I couldn’t delete the whole file because (I’ll be honest here, for a moment) basically, because I’m stupid. There are at least eight different ways I could have avoided deleting 250 pages of Z’s, but I didn’t realize when I started that it was 250 pages of Z’s. (I already said I was stupid, didn’t I?) I know, it’s right there at the bottom of the scroll bar, but I was groggy and somewhat in awe of all those Z’s. Let’s just keep this between you and me Vicki. Okay? No one else needs to know about this.
I hope I’ve answered your question.
When you post your story, before the words you want in italics or bold put <>.
Add a slash before the letter to end the italics or bold.
Insert an i in between the <> for italics, and b for bold.
I can email you a screenshot if you need it.
If you Google “html code” you can see examples as well.
Among other things, I had no idea I had to look for “html code”.
BTW, I just accidentally produced italics in a comment by surrounding a word with asterisks (* word * but without spaces). It came out like this: word.
Okay, I think I got it now. This should be italic. And This should be bold.
What if I want bold italics?
To underline text seems way more complex. Can’t figure that one out.
So you use a left arrow bracket, this ‘<‘ and then ’em’ and then a right arrow bracket, this ‘>’ to begin the italics. Then, to end the italicized word, phrase, or sentence, you use another left arrow bracket < and a forward slash, ‘/’ followed by ’em’ and then this > to end the italics.
Leave a space between the html code, and the word, phrase or sentence. Follow the same strategy for bold type, but use the word ‘strong’ within the angle brackets, and then end it with ‘/strong’ within the angle brackets.
At least, that’s what works for me Vicki. Each code or command has to be enclosed in it’s own set of brackets. i.e. Pain in the ass.
No doubt, no one will believe me when I admit this, but this reminds me of a word processing program I took a course in, in college, back in the 1980’s called ‘Wordstar.’
The computer ran on two 5 and a quarter inch floppy disks, and was powered by a small portable steam engine.
“Where’s that girl disappeared again? Maya..MAYA!”
Her mama’s voice resounded right up the stairway.
Maya was safely ensconced in the musty attic. She had that day embarked on her voyage of self discovery. She had turned all of 9 years the day before.
Maya found him in the attic, while plumbing into an old trunk with granma stuff. He suddenly appeared from nowhere.
“I’ve got to write all this down before they turn into shreds.” Maya said, pulling an old album out. It was in a brown ornate chest containing letters and diaries.
“Don’t bother..Maya. What’s good to be remembered will come back.They always do.” His words made her stare hard at the floor in front of her.
Her new friend was her little secret. He was part of this discovery pilgrimage. Nobody knew anything about her cohorting with him as she sat astride the middle branch of the spreading cashew tree at the far end in the garden. She could spend hours negotiating with him, making him adapt his thoughts to suit hers. She needed the final say. Always.
But being a wee lil’ insignificant girl, all that she could muster up were childish lines. She spent many hours up on this tree and nobody missed her at home. That’s how busy life was indoors. Needless to mention she was the fourth child, the youngest, with very demanding older siblings.
In the month of Merry March, her verse went like this…
‘Fido is my wittle doggie,
Who walks side by side, with me,
Along the way,
He wags his tail,
Just before sunset,
When the sky ain’t grey…
Her parents cared little for her scribbles. Her siblings laughed at her, calling it putrid verse.
But she dared to send them to the children’s magazine, The Treasure Chest and it actually appeared in print.
That was in 1965.
Her friend was real pleased with her.
“That’s awwwsumm. I’m so proud of you, Maya!”
She recalled her first day in the seventh grade, at the fag end of summer. She submitted an essay on a scary train crash she happened to be in. Three bogies in front were crushed like soda tins. And their carriage survived the derailment.
Saved by the grace of God, everybody said.
The thread was: Describe how you spent your summer holidays.
She wrote three pages all about the train accident that happened on that one disastrous day. Her class teacher, Sr Mary Olive’s remark stung worse than a mosquito. “You’ve gone completely off track. Meet me tomorrow.”
That day, Sr. Olive had trampled all her deep emotions. That’s what some nuns excelled in.
Her friend fretted for her. He walked up and down the room the entire night.
Maya was determined to do better.
As the years went by, her closeness to her secret buddy also grew in fervour.
At 17, when girls all around her were falling in and out of daydreams they assumed was love, which oftentimes turned into nightmares, she would retire to a corner in her beautiful home and pen her angst in desperate verse. Sometimes in prose too. She hid them in her tattered notebook and was ashamed to show to anybody. She thought it was never good enough.
The years sped by roller coaster style.
She had grown up to be quite something. So little surprise that before long, there came a human prince in shining armour and before she could say anything, truffles or cheese, she found herself a wife first, then a mama and she had no time for her old faithful buddy.
He was cast into outer space. Discarded like an old rag.
The years sped by… more babies. Between teaching, cooking and cleaning, there was very little time for anything else.
Her friend had altogether disappeared. She had even forgotten him.
Then real life started with her family. There were a lot of lousy arguments with her man. You know the usual that happens at homes when two strong minds clash. Nothing was worth writing about.
As a rule you don’t pen the sad moments.
Who wants to read them anyway? The world is already a sad place and you don’t want to make it any sadder.
Then she heard terrible stories of husbands and wives who strayed. Of values abused.
Nothing seemed right anymore. A new strain of disease had overtaken the land and most people started behaving less than normal. Familiarity breeds contempt and getting on each other’s nerves had become an everyday occurrence.
Except for those grounded in their faith who talked constantly of a blessed tomorrow in a faraway land. Their homes were exceptionally happy when they made the best of difficult times.
But even among them, there were wastrels and wayward scoundrels.
Who could you trust?
Now her greys started to show. Fortunately there were no fine lines on her face to reveal her age.
One fine day, while reading a tattered diary, her old friend showed up at her desk. He was standing at her elbow, just like that, out of the blue. Watching her, like he was giving her a hard stare. Like Paddington.
“Where have you been all my life? You just went away without saying a word? No goodbye, no auf wiedersehen?” She asked, wiping a tear.
“What could I do? You were not yourself all these years.”
“What do you mean?” Maya asked, a bit slighted.
“You had no time to sit down or take away on your own. How could I come to you when you were always with somebody or talking endlessly to prove your point?”
Maya knew he was right.
“How I longed for you to stop talking! Think, woman, think!”
“Will you stay awhile? Maya asked, looking kinda solemn tragic. Hoping he would never leave again.
“I think I am here to stay, grow old with you.”
She took out her pink laptop and started tapping the keys.
Gone were those 70’s days, she wrote with her pen, scribbling endlessly on sheets of paper. And sending them to news journals and dailies.
Ahhh! The ecstatic joy when her articles got accepted and the cash cheques rolled in. It was all because of him.
Her best friend was back and he would never leave her again.
All he was asking for was time. Time to sit alone. Time to meditate. He didn’t mind if she sang or yelled. Never told her to shut up. Talk about a love that knows no ending.
Her buddy was the one who put the thoughts in her mind and as her fingers typed, their enduring love just went on and on like an unbroken chord.
Maya started humming…
“You heard I’ve a secret chord,
Just like David played which pleased the Lord,
But you really do care for my writing, don’t ya?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
A minor fall, a major shift
My baffled mind composed my Hallelujah…”
Now he was back to stay forever. That’s all that mattered.
Her whimsical, saucy, wondrously comic buddy.
Yes, you got it right.
When in the attic, you stare at the floor, not the ground.
‘Three bogies in front…’ Three bodies? (In front of what?)
“You were not yourself all these years.” (All those years?)
She took out my pink laptop and started tapping the keys. (Brilliant.)
This is a lovely, touching story. Still no tears, but a wonderful tribute to that certain, ineffable, enduring something or someone that stirs us to dream, aspire, and write. A very enjoyable piece, Marien. I was interrupted right in the middle, (by the demands of real life), but the story flows so beautifully. Not a wasted word and some really unique phrases and imaginative concepts.
I am on a toddler-granma duty right now in Texas, and get very little time to write or think. Or make corrections being constantly on Paddington mode now.
So thank you for pointing the errors. Completely overlooked I tellya! 🙂
Interestingly, in India, railways carriages are called bogies. If I remember right. They were completely crushed and my siblings and I were in the fourth bogie or carriage.
Yes, I kept my muse a secret. I kinda figured there would be stories of Alzheimer’s- so thought I’d take a different road.
Thanks for the comments. So happy. It was so last minute.
I meant cohorting.. not cavorting. In the sense of like minded people spending time together. Does it work?
Interestingly enough, I realized the final poem was a take off of Hallelujah almost immediately. Then, again, maybe I should have. That was your intention, I think. Hmm … I’ve never met my muse. MIne’s invisible and just roams around in my head.
And, welcome back. Good to see your stories here again.
Never done any writing in such record time with so much going around me.
Thank you, Roy!
Feeling bad I didn’t comment on any of the stories. But did enjoy all.
The theme was so enduring, if I may say so.
But it sure feels good to be back. Never thought I could.
2500?? Impressive. It’s beyond me now.
I went to your website and found ‘BOB’.
I hope no one minds if I plug one of your books here. The cover art is brilliant, I read the teaser, and the reviews are numerous and impressive as hell. Sounds like a hoot. I prefer paper books, and I see you don’t offer this in paper, so I’ll have to decide to go with the audio or kindle. I don’t think I’ve ever bought an audio book before. Not sure how that works.
I look over at her in the corner, slightly staring like she always does, her eyes transfixed to mine. I wish she’d just do something, anything. She’s always the exact same way, arms crossed over her gut, her eyes empty, staring stoically at me, frozen in place. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, she’s just a perfectly sculpted statue. I like her that way. It’s much better than confronting the reality of what she truly is.
I tap Aileen on her shoulder, whisper under my breath, a soft yes. I’ve been fighting it for so long but it’s time to put myself out there. Her face lighting up is almost in slow motion. I capture every frame of it. The slight tilt of her brows, her frown lines tightening, her lips splitting apart, first a crack, then wide open, her eyes seem to water a bit, there’s a slow vibration to her hands, twisting around each other. I can’t place the sound that seems to fill the room. Then everything speeds up. She leaps at me and we go crashing to the floor. The sound becomes louder, more forceful. Then I realize it’s because she’s screaming right into my ear now. I put my arms out in front of me, trying to fight her off. She doesn’t even budge. I can’t breathe, I try to tell her that but she doesn’t seem to hear me. Or maybe she just ignores it. Then it’s over. She gives me a hand, helps me up, pulls me into a hug.
I’m really happy Dee. I’m so happy for you.
Yeah, no kidding.
When Aileen leaves, she’s still in the corner. Nothing different there. She hasn’t moved a muscle. Does she even have muscles? I ask her. She says nothing, does nothing to indicate she heard me.
Why did I even say yes? What was I thinking? I can’t do this. Aileen’s going to be here any minute. I’m not ready. I didn’t even try to get ready. I don’t have any of my usual arsenal of excuses lined up. I’m going to have to go with the truth this time. Yeah, she’s going to be disappointed but at least I get to stay home, where it’s safe.
I don’t feel so good.
What’s wrong, Dee?
Terrible migraine. I can barely move.
Oh no, Dee. Did you take anything for it?
I did. Right before you came in.
I guess I’m not going with the truth after all. I look over in the corner. This is starting to become routine. Even my blatant lying does not elicit a reaction. She must be super dedicated to driving me crazy. She’s really good at it. I want to throw something across the room at her. I don’t today, but only because Aileen’s still here. I have no doubt that one day I actually will. When I come out of whatever place my murderous intent takes me, I realize Aileen is saying something to me.
What did you say?
I asked if you want me to stay with you
Oh, I think I’ll be fine. I just need to get some sleep.
Ok. Call me if you need anything. Anything at all.
I love you
She’s still in her corner when I wake up. I know she’s going to follow me around like she’s been doing over the past couple of months. It doesn’t matter what I do, where I go. She’s right there staring, Unflinching. She’s there when I put on my headphones, play the music too loud, and jump around till I tire myself out, screaming at the top of my lungs. There’s nothing judgmental in her gaze. Honestly, there’s nothing in her eyes at all. Looking at her feels like staring at a blank screen, except this one stares back.
I know Aileen’s going to be here any minute. She’s been here every day since-
Maybe she’s afraid I’ll do something to myself. I know how much she cares about me, but I’m starting to feel a little suffocated. I find myself wishing she’d take a break. Just chill out for a couple of days. No such luck.
Are you feeling better now, Dee?
Yes, Much better.
Oh really? I’m so glad to hear that. I was worried sick about you last night.
Yes. Ten voicemails.
She’s still saying something to me as she heads to the kitchen. Of course, I don’t hear her. Lately, I have the attention span of a spoon. And the humor to go with one too. I lost my mojo and I don’t know how to get it back. I lost everything.
She’s in her usual corner. The one she stays in when Aileen’s here. I look over at her. Would you just say something? A lone tear falls to my cheek. Say something. Say something. I’m shaking now. This is torture. The one thing I truly want so close and still so out of reach. Say something. I’m screaming now. Why are you doing this to me? Why? The visions getting blurry, tears clouding my eyes. I haven’t cried since it happened. I tried to, Lord knows I tried. And now this, out of nowhere. I’ve just had enough of it. I’m so tired of not feeling anything. Tired of not enjoying the things I used to love. Tired of this shell that I’ve become. Say something, I scream at the top of my lungs as I drop to the floor.
I miss you so much mom. Nothing’s the same without you.
Someone’s helping me off the floor, telling me everything is going to be okay, that they’re here for me.
What’s wrong, Dee?
She’s right there and she won’t talk to me.
Who? Who’s there?
Mom. She right there in the corner and she won’t talk to me.
Your mom? Where, Dee?
Why won’t she talk to me? I thought she loved me.
She did love you, Dee. She loved you more than anything in the world.
Why won’t she talk to me then? Why? Can she not see how much I’m falling apart without her?
Aileen’s rocking me back and forth now, whispering softly to me. She’s crying now too. Great, I broke chipper Aileen.
You’re strong, baby. I’ll be right here. I’ll never leave you. You’re going to be alright. It’s mum’s voice. I could never forget it. I look over in the corner but she hasn’t moved a bit. I could swear I heard her speak.
Did you hear that, A?
Aileen’s shaking her head. She’s still crying.
Shhhhh. I’m going to sit here, still, quiet until she talks again. I don’t care how long.
It’s not long.
I love you, Lotus. I’ll always love you.
You know what, A?
I think I’m ready. Let’s do it. Tonight.
Are you sure?
Oh my God, Dee!
You’re smiling. I haven’t seen you smile like that since-
Since mom died, I know.
Wow, I, I don’t know what to say.
A gasp escapes her when I pull her in for a hug.
I hold her tight.
I love you, A.
A really interesting story with an excellent reveal.
You have also shown quite clearly that to write dialogue, you do not need speech marks. That’s of course, assuming that this is dialogue between several people and not the mad ramblings of just one person who thinks she can see her dead mother in the corner and hear her voice???? Hmm??
Thank you! I did initially intend it entirely as a dialogue between Dee and A. Though when I was done with it, I figured it could also be interpreted one person driven so mad with grief that she created the whole content of the story in her head( Aileen being a figment of her imagination) And I did mean for the story to be very ambiguous so this seemed like a good way to leave it.
I am really glad you enjoyed it!
Do what? What are they going to do? Did they have sex? Bury an invisible woman? Make sushi? Take the cat out for a walk?
I’m relieved that Phil didn’t get it, but Ken F enjoyed the reveal. So I’m a little confused by the discrepancy of opinions. But my opinions of this ‘thing’ are strong. Reading is hard enough with whatever help the author can give you. And we all make mistakes, (except Philip.)
But this story left me scratching my head. A little irritated. Rules are made to be broken, not ignored altogether. We have people in this group trying to learn HTML code so they can more accurately convey the message in their story to their readers, but YOU, Savant, can’t even be bothered to hit the shift key and a quote mark.
I may have conveyed this story to others on this site once before, if so, they can skip to the next comment. But for you, I’ll repeat the story.
I read a book once that had no pronunciation marks. NONE. I thought the author had started the book with some kind of ignoramuses journal, or a child’s diary. But I was wrong. The entire book had no periods, no commas, no quotation marks, no question marks. I was intrigued. What secret message lay at the end of this book, that an author would torment his readers for 262.5 pages to convey? What earth shattering truth lay buried at the back of this incomprehensible jumble of non compos literatus junqus?
It’s good to have a dog?
Unfortunately, it was a library book, so I couldn’t destroy it with a blowtorch. I couldn’t lay it carefully in front of the wheel of my car, rev the motor and slam the shifter into ‘FLEE.’ I could not balance it on the railroad tracks and wait for that baleful whistle. No. I couldn’t do that. I had to return it to the library, intact. A taxpayer funded edifice dedicated to the preservation of, and free access to items of literary ‘WORKS.’ I couldn’t figure out what it was doing there. But neither could I destroy this incarnation of ignorance.
So I left a note in the very front of the book. A nice note, a convincing message to all future potential readers. A caveat, if you will. And you know what that note said, Savant?
I will never tell you, unless and until you can explain why your story, your dialogue, has no quotation marks. Be as creative as you like. And if I don’t like your answer, and graciously accept your apology for your hubris, I will change your name to Mark. Every time you post something, I will refer to you as Mark.
Have a nice day.
I had to take a few days to come up with a good enough answer. I didn’t. So I’m hoping complete transparency works.
The last book I read-and loved- did not use a single quotation mark. Naturally, it intrigued me and I hoped to use it my next story. That was before I found this prompt and I though I would just try it out.
I’ll admit it wasn’t easy and there were several times I almost changed my mind. In hindsight I should have, but you know what they say about hindsight. I may have been in a bit of a tight spot and written myself into the proverbial ‘corner’. I thought the ambiguity added something to it. I didn’t think that there had to be any resolution, at the time. Again, hindsight.
I’m only trying to challenge myself in my writing as much as I can, and that might not always lead to the best results. I do always learn from it though and I guess that is the most important thing for an author.
So my reason: I was intrigued by something new and I wanted to try it out. No accounting for taste!
Lesson learnt, I will stick to the rivers and the lakes thatI’m used to(as much as I possibly can).
P.S: What did your note say?
Part of me loved your story and part of me hated it. I loved the way you got deep into the protagonist’s emotions, but you left me high and dry trying to figure out who was who in the dialogue until I realized all of your dialogue was one liners. Made it easier, but not necessarily descriptive of the characters because I had to keep going back to see who started. I’m going to join the Cartisano camp and say I think I would have been nice to have punctuation. It’s why we writers have it. Use it.
Like the story, however. Just don’t make me work so hard. I like brain candy, not jawbreakers.
I appreciate the feedback. I think I feel about the same way about my story that you do!
Moving forward I think I will just stick to the safety and clarity of quoted dialogue.
I am glad you liked it, though. Thank you.
By Victoria Chvatal
“Hello, love,” greeted Janine with a bright smile as soon as she opened the door.
Rich glared at her suspiciously from his armchair. “Who are you?”
Her heart lurched.
“Your wife,” she pointed out.
“You’re not,” he grumbled, “you’re old”.
Janine bit back a retort, “you’re as old as I am”. On bad days like this, Rich even got upset seeing the “strange old man” in the mirror. Never mind that his bright little room was full of photos: from their first dates, the wedding, and through nearly fifty years of marriage – on trips, with Joey, and finally with the grandkids. On good days, the photos reminded him … What was it she’d heard about dementia? People revert back to a younger age, and think their children are their siblings, and so on. Guess I look nothing like your Grandma, Janine thought wryly.
On the way home, as the tram glided along familiar streets, her thoughts turned to old dreams: travelling all over the world with her best friends, falling in love, having the lovers join them on their adventures – just like in her favourite stories ever since childhood. … Well, not gonna happen now, she reflected bitterly. All the old friends – some are gone, and of those who remain – some can’t and others won’t. And my love … Ehhh. Why didn’t we travel more while we had a chance? We did travel, of course, but … there was never enough money, or Joey was too small, or we had to save for retirement – and look at us now. … We never saw Antarctica. Never watched the Aurora Borealis. Never went to the Galapagos Islands. Or Madagascar. Never went to Canada, to watch beavers building dams on the Great Lakes. Never even made it to Cape York. Well, that one’s definitely out. I’ll never get my licence renewed, with the way my eyes are now. And even if I could – wouldn’t want to run anyone down just ‘cos I can’t see well enough. And without a car – forget it. Book a tour? Well, they’d see that Rich isn’t all there and report us right away. … Overseas, on the other hand … Some country where they don’t ask questions; or where they think tourists are all idiots anyway …
These thoughts followed Janine home, going around in her head even as she paced restlessly around rooms of the cosy, well-kept home that felt like a prison. She rifled listlessly through a chest of drawers in the bedroom … Well, would you look at this – our passports, valid for two more years. We planned to travel more, she thought with a shake of the head. Who could’ve thought Rich would go downhill so suddenly, or so quickly? Looking through the medicine drawer next, she mused, We both take way less medication than most people our age; even Rich. And for Alzheimer’s – the only thing he really needs – there’s no medicine …
Janine’s foul mood persisted the next day, and she refused to go visit Rich together with her son and his family. “I’ll go later – this way he’ll have more visitors,” she told them. In reality, she didn’t want them to see Rich not recognising her again. To pretend everything was fine. To see pity in their eyes.
After the visit, Joey and family dropped in for lunch. Instead of boring the kids with reminiscences of “the good old days”, Janine made up a story on the spot – about a bunch of best friends travelling around the world having adventures. She filled the story with dragons, wizards, monsters – whatever she could think of. The six-year-old Brendan lapped it up. Even the twelve-year-old Lyra listened in, for all she pretended to be above “kid stuff”. Joey caught a snippet or two, and smiled.
… And then Selma, the daughter-in-law, brought up The Topic – that is, asked Janine to consider moving into a home too, an independent living facility, of course. And that put Janine’s back up, and she said some nasty things in response …
Later on, she felt bad about her outburst. Selma wasn’t a bad woman, and she was … what’s the English word … genuinely concerned. And of course, Joey loved her and Rich both. But you just don’t get it, thought Janine, do you? You worry about us having a fall, or setting the house on fire because we forgot we left the stove on. But in a nursing home – what was it I heard once? – they take care of you physically, but your soul dies all the quicker. She had noticed it with Rich. He’d looked confused sometimes even before moving into the home, but lately – the spark in his eyes had died. She’d always loved his sparkling grey eyes …
The nursing home was a mistake; we really should have grabbed the money and gone travelling instead. And we could do whatever we wanted ‘cos we’ve got nothing to lose. Who cares if we fell off a mountain, or if a parachute didn’t open, or something – better than a slow helpless death in a home. Even being eaten by lions on a safari in Africa is better, she thought, then mentally added, if lions could be tempted by stringy old farts like us.
On her next visit, Janine was ready.
“I’m your girlfriend, remember?” she replied with a wink to his “Who are you?”. And then, forestalling a belligerent retort, added, “I’m in disguise. They wouldn’t let me in otherwise. They think I’m a bad influence on you.”
“Hey, how about we elope?” She pressed on, seeing Rich looking slightly intrigued despite obvious skepticism. “Go travelling, have some adventures …”
Rich finally grinned back, and Janine saw a spark light up in his eyes. You’ve always dreamed of adventure too, she thought fondly, haven’t you?
“I’ve always wanted to see Antarctica …”, he said tentatively.
“Well, there’s a waiting list … But there are other fun places we can see on the way. But first, we gotta get this off,” she took his arm and peered at the electronic bracelet through her glasses.
In the end, Rich was first to work out how to take the thing off.
The seats on the intercity bus were hard on the old bones, but Janine felt happy. She muttered the traveller’s prayer – always her favourite – under her breath. Rich was dozing on her shoulder; some jolt woke him, and he looked confused for a moment – but then his eyes rested on her face, and he gave a small smile and settled back. Janine stared unseeingly at the gathering darkness outside the bus window. She’d messaged Joey and Selma both, telling them not to worry. But what if they panicked anyway and called the police? Will the cops stop us? she wondered. Or border control, if we try to get on a plane? No, they can’t! We aren’t breaking any laws.
Doesn’t really matter where we go. We’ll have some good times before we’re done. Listen to waves breaking against the rocks on some desolate beach. Smell the pines and see water sparkling through the trees. Watch birds flying through the sunset. Maybe meet some new people.
…And then? … I hope we’ll never get to “then”.
Just when I thought I knew how I was going to vote, up you pop with this lovely story.
Really well done.
The two of them on an ‘intercity bus’.
‘waves breaking against the rocks on some desolate beach.’
‘Smell the pines and see water sparkling through the trees.’
‘Maybe meet some new people…’
The missed opportunities to travel, the living death of a nursing home…
‘…the cozy well-kept room that felt like a prison.’
‘She rifled listlessly through a chest of drawers in the bedroom. ‘Well, will you look at this, our passports. Valid for two more years.’
I love the idea that she pretends she’s his secret girlfriend. “I’m in disguise. They wouldn’t let me in otherwise. They think I’m a bad influence.” (And that intrigues him enough to go with the flow.)
And that he comes around slowly, ‘I’ve always wanted to see Antarctica,’ he said tentatively.’
I love it that he figures out how to undo the electronic bracelet first. That he wakes with a start on the bus but is not alarmed.
The hint of danger in the unknown as she looks out into the darkness of the bus window, worrying about whether they’ll get away or not.
This is a work of art, Vicki. A masterpiece of hope, love and adventure. You did it. You brought tears to my eyes.
BTW, I printed it out, and asked Kim, my wife/mistress/girlfriend to read it when she had a chance. (I played it really cool. Your character would have been proud of me.) She picked it up and read it a couple of hours later, and said something like, ‘Mm, it’s good.”
And I was like, “REALLY? That’s it? Good?”
And she was like, “Yeah, it’s good. Why? What?”
I snatched it out of her hands and said, “Give me that! Don’t touch it!” (Okay, I made up that last line. But the rest is true.)
I don’t know what to tell you Vicki, I think it’s the best of a slew of EXCELLENT stories, but, as we have seen, not everyone agrees with my unbelievably fantastic taste. C’est la vie.
The best story from you that I’ve seen so far. Well done. I truly enjoyed it, and you made my top five. I loved where you took the story. Good job.
Trish – your Thelma and Louise comment made me laugh.
Ken C. – I’m … humbled by your reaction. All I can say.
RE Rich’s condition (in response to Phil‘s and Ken C.‘s comments): he’s still at an early-to-intermediate stage of Alzheimer’s, & has his “good days” and “bad days”. So he may or may not have recognised Janine on the bus; I leave it open to interpretation. As for the electronic bracelet, it could be another sign that Rich hasn’t completely lost it yet. On the other hand, someone I knew, at the time already suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, somehow managed to undo his electronic bracelet and walked out of the nursing home, sparking a full-scale police search before he was found wandering the streets confused 2-3 days later. So …
Holy cats – working on the voting page for later….I hope I got all the stories!!!!!
Could you please delete my first post? I didn’t get the formatting quite right & ran out of editing options. The 2nd version looks right, though.
Thanks a lot!
Hi Vicki, I’m not at home and I’ve already created the voting page and scheduled the newsletter with the permalinks.
I will copy the second one into the first one.
You can always edit your original story comment. 😊
OK I updated the first story you posted and removed the second one. I’m doing it from my phone so check to make sure it’s how you want it!
You know the drill… It’s time to vote!
Remember you MUST vote for your story to count, you can only vote once, and you may NOT vote for yourself.
You officially have 24 HOURS from the timestamp of this comment to read through the stories vote.
What a great set of stories.
It looks like we all rose to the challenge and voting is going to be really challenging, which is a very good thing.
18 stories and almost everyone a winner. Your prompt really struck some writer’s fancies. Walk proud, Ken.
We are waiting on a few more votes…including mine!
This is agony trying to vote, there are a ton of great stories, I’d hoped to comment on all of them but have run out of time.
I have some errands to run, so I’ll tack on another 3 hours until I tally the votes, we are just waiting on Ken Miles, Tegon, Colin and Savant.
1st Place: My Daughter by Carrie Zylka
2nd Place: The Last Great Escape by Vicki Chvatal
3rd Place: Going Out Together by Ken Frape
4th Place: The Up Side by Ken Cartisano
5th Place: The Last Visit by Roy York
6th Place: PT L FB by Phil Town
7th Place: Love Enduring by Ilana Leeds
8th Place: Cookie and the Wolf by Robt. Emmett
9th Place: My King And I by Marien Oommen
10th Place: True Love by berlinermax
11th Place: Reagan by Ken Miles
12th Place: Love Lasts by Colin Devonshire
13th Place: Wooden Hearts by eveisolated
14th Place: Biting Down by Savant
15th Place: The Wishing Stone by Tegon Maus
This week’s favorite character was the Narrator in “Reagan” by Ken Miles
And the story with the best dialogue was “The Up Side” by Ken Cartisano
Congratulations to all!
Full disclosure: Ken Miles didn’t vote which is unusual. But he also didn’t reach out to me, letting me know he needed more time or wouldn’t be able to vote, which is also unusual. As a regular and consistent participant I felt confident letting his favorite character stand.
I will admit I am extremely surprised that my story won….and extremely humbled.
The quality of the stories I was up against, blew me away.
I so rarely write about modern day anything, mostly because writing is cathartic to me and I rarely want to face anything other than fictional characters I control, and I appreciate the boost from you guys.
2020 was one of the worst years of my life, among a million other crappy life affecting things, (and like many out there) I lost people I loved.
I loved every story submitted and I’m so very honored to be a part of this group, even if it is behind the scenes most of the time.
Thank you to everyone who started 2021 off with a bang!
Good call on leaving Ken Miles in the line-up. I hope he’s all right. With all that’s going down on planet earth, one can’t help but be concerned.
Onwards, my friends.
Ah – so you have the virus there too? Oh?
Now, not having to go to work, used to be a dream. But things have gone a bit haywire. There aren’t even those Monday Blues anymore to moan about. I’m now missing them, I’ve now got the Monday Blues blues. The usual routine has cracked.
And, indeed, I didn’t realize voting day was already upon us. I was going to ask if I could send a Mail-in Ballot by next week, but then I thought better of it. Not a good idea in the light of recent events…
But the election wasn’t stolen from me in the end. Thank you Carrie for bending the rules a little and keeping me on the train, even though I’d missed it. And wow, I got a prize too, my Narrator got a Best Character award! Thank you guys, that’s very appreciated and I really didn’t see it coming. Reagan (the dog) is really, really happy, wagging his tail for his master, whole body shaking, like the other time. You made a friendly dog happy. That’s noble.
Well done Carrie for your win in such a hotly contested prompt. Well done to everyone else too. Also to Ken Frape for choosing a theme that inspired many and inspired them well.
Thanks Ken Cartisano for your concern and for seconding Carrie’s decision to keep me in the contest. I’m okay, apart from the usual ailments, and for the fact that I don’t know anymore which day of the week it is (which can also be a good thing sometimes). Thanks also to all those who read my story and commented on it and for your encouraging words.
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