I saw this writing prompt on Geoff’s blog and thought I’d have a go. The prompt comes from Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch and the challenge is to write a piece of flash fiction of exactly 99 words on the theme of ‘spreading the light.’
Her hands trembled slightly as she peeled open the envelope. Even if she hadn’t recognized the handwriting, the foreign stamp gave it away.
Bloody plastic tree has no smell.
Christmas trees should be real. Living. They didn’t understand that in the home. Like they didn’t care that nobody was watching the TV. Her hands trembled.
“Here. Got your specs, Mrs. Fitz? Let’s give you a bit of light, shall we?”
We had candles at Christmas.
She cringed and blinked. Tears. She didn’t need to see to know what the message said.
“Sorry, Mam. Can’t make it this year.”
This is a poem I wrote following Margo Roby’s Tuesday Tryout prompt. The old lady in question is a neighbour. She is very old, has difficulty walking, can barely see, and doesn’t speak a word of anything but Spanish. She’s also incredibly cheery, and Manolito hardly ever comes to see her.
p.s. From now on, I’m not going to cite the references to public domain artwork since all the info is in the picture—just click on it.
Knotty, brown, old Spanish lady hands,
Have white bone beneath the skin.
Curled around the knuckle-smooth knob,
A bony bird grip clenched,
Stick jabs the recalcitrant roadway.
Behind the cataracted eyes,
Narrow white streets curve, and harsh sun beats,
While children dart from light to shade.
Is Manolito visiting today?
Market, she calls. I need potatoes.
Manolito likes Serrano best.
Her smile, beatific, gap-toothed.
Beer and café friends forgotten,
Runs, a spoilt child,
Round the curved white street of an Andalusian dream,
Lost in the harsh sun, and the mists of time.
Painting by Felix Esterl
Old lady nodding on the sill
Do you see colours in the wind,
Taste the sound of water?
Do you trip with tender young feet
Among clouds of fiery leaves?
Or are your days filled with night time
And howling tempests that once were love songs?
Do you fear the great white birds in the livid sky
And the seeping, crawling shadows?
Is it a slow-moving madness that grows
As you near the grave,
Or is it bliss you see
Beyond the shimmering veil?
Procrastination strikes again. I had a notification from Elizabeth Frattaroli’s blog that it’s almost the deadline for entries to her flash fiction mini comp. What better spur than a deadline! I’d seen the prompt already, to write a story of 500 words maximum including at least three of the following words/phrases: dachsund, special summer, heart, pearl necklace, photograph. It needed that magic word ‘deadline’ to get the joices flowing.
The following story is a short adaptation of the story I wrote for my Creative Writing A level. It got an A+. I don’t even remember feeling proud of myself. I haven’t read it since, and that was a long time ago, but I remember it well. The old lady in the story was a neighbour and I embroidered a bit.
Elsie Taylor took down the photograph from the mantelpiece and put on her reading glasses. The blurry face became that of Mark, her son, emigrated to New Zealand twenty-five years before and not seen since. She didn’t count the awful Christmas when he came back with that…woman.
The little house was silent except for the ticking of the clock. Mark smiled at her. Roses nodded in a vase. The last of the season. Last night’s high wind had stripped the solitary blooms left on the bushes. Mark said, You’d best be putting the heating on.
“I’ll do that right away,” she said. But she didn’t move. Mark smiled at her but he had never cared much about how she was, much less about her comfort. When his father died he sent a cheque for some flowers. His wife wasn’t well, he’d said.
She leant over and replaced the photograph in its place, took off her glasses and let her eyes slip out of focus. The world became a comforting blur. Absent-mindedly, she fingered the pearl necklace round her neck. Alec had given it her as an engagement present. There had been earrings too but she had lost one years ago. The pearls were cool to the touch, reminding her of Alec’s cheek. His memory was fuzzy now, like his portrait on the mantelpiece opposite Mark’s. The thought of him, her, them, young, not old and tired, brought tears to her eyes. Alec.
She shivered. The clock-ticking silence altered. Rain tapped then rapped hard against the window. The world outside became a grey blur. She pulled her cardie closer and thought about making a cup of tea. She dozed.
It was darker in the room when she opened her eyes again, and the cat was rubbing against her legs. Teatime. Mark smiled at her from his picture, quite clearly. She frowned. Alec remained in a hazy soup of pastel colours. Mark nodded. Go on then, put the kettle on.
She shook her head. It was too difficult to think straight. She was too tired to wonder about such things. What was, was. She had never been able to change anything, small wonder even the photographs on the mantelpiece did as they pleased. Alec had never wanted to know when she’d told him about Mark’s unsuitable friends. Said he was just growing up. Boys would be boys. Alec. She had loved Alec. Perhaps. Had she? He had been strong and steady. He just…sometimes he didn’t understand. He didn’t like to deal with the difficult things. Like Mark. She sighed and went into the kitchen. The cat followed and meowed. Her back complained when she bent to put the dish of food on the floor; her head spun when she straightened up.
The pain took her by surprise. She staggered to a kitchen chair. It came again, crushing her chest. That had been the problem with her menfolk—her last thought came through the pain, an illumination. They’d had no heart.
The old lady with the cane
and her hat slightly askew
She pauses to speak
and the words drip
their meaning already lost.
A smile hovers on her lips
a relic of past courtesy
but in her vague eyes
a faint glimmer of distress
for a life forgotten.
La vieille avec sa canne
et son chapeau de travers
marche sans but.
Chaque jour ses remarques
de plus en plus débiles
sourire aux lèvres
par habitude de politesse.
Mais au fond de ses yeux vides
une lueur de détresse
pour toute une vie oubliée.