Friday, March 18, 2011

You Taught Me Well

Fiction Friday prompt: The one thing your character regrets learning the most is…. 

Louisa sat to one side and watched the room. Two or three people would enter the room together, never just one, and glance around. They would see the casket on the far side of the room and venture toward it. They would approach slowly, almost as if it were a skittish animal that would bolt if walked upon quickly.

The small group would stand, hands behind backs, staring down at Jeremy in the highly polished ebony box. Sage nods. A few quiet words about mortality or the quality of his appearance would pass among them. They would turn, almost as one, and scan the room.

At some point, one of the group would spy Louisa and they would move toward her, more purposefully than they did the casket.

Louisa stood to meet them.

“So sorry, Louisa.”

“He was so young.”

“We’re just devastated about it.”

“He looks so natural, like he’s sleeping.”

“If there’s anything we can do….”

“We can’t imagine this place without him.”

Louisa would nod and mumble and shake hands through the chorus. They would turn and move away. Louisa would sit and watch for the next crew of mourners.

As the crowd thinned and trickled to the corners of the house, Louisa twisted a black lace handkerchief. “Oh, Jeremy,” she said quietly to the dead man. “I so loved you. I would never have become the mistress of an estate or known how to even try to run a household without you. You were a worthy teacher and I your willing pupil.”

She dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief, stood, and walked toward the casket. “You taught me so much,” she whispered to the ashen face. “Much more than most husbands must teach their wives. Most men in your position marry women who have been trained from girlhood which fork to use for which course and what linen rotation means. They know proper greetings for every possible type of guest, from ambassador to Bollywood starlet.”

Louisa turned to make sure no one was close by. The mourners had all retreated to the outer rooms, finding snacks or their coats. A funeral home man stood near the door. He looked at her when she moved.

A slight bow. “Do you require anything, ma’am?”

“Just a few minutes alone, please.”

“Of course, ma’am.” He stepped backward through the double doors and closed them softly.

Louisa looked back at Jeremy. “I was so glad to learn it all, Jeremy. I even enjoyed learning your hobbies. Collecting stamps. Bird watching. Obscure theatrical trivia.”

Louisa sighed. “All but one. I should not have followed your interest in pharmacology. I became quite adept. Or perhaps I should not have followed you on your late night excursions. Yes, those two skills that I developed from you. I regret that. Following you and discovering who you truly loved. Not me but her. Or at least that’s the impression you gave her. And of all the things I have learned from you, selfishness is the strongest. I could not share you, Jeremy, so pharmacology came into play. So now you will only be mine, Jeremy. She will not be able to visit you in the family cemetery as I will every day.”

Louisa lowered the lid of the casket, the click echoing in the almost empty room. “You taught me well, Jeremy. You taught me well.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Visitor

Fiction Friday prompt: Set your story in the 1880s, in a mid west, tumbleweed town. The doors of the bar open, the piano stops playing and all eyes are drawn to the figure in the doorway…… Now keep going..!

Lefty looked around the ole Bar-J. Just a regular night with all the regular guys. Line along the bar. Piano pounded by Saul, something loud and unknown. Most of the tables empty. A few gals wandering among the empty chairs, stoppin’ to talk to the few boys playing cards.

Lefty pushed between a coupla guys and shouted down to Keep: “Whiskey.” Keep nodded, tossed the liquid into a glass, and dropped it in front of Lefty.

Lefty tilted back his head and poured the drink into mouth. A silence engulfed the saloon. Lefty opened an eye and slowly dropped his head. Ever’one was looking back at the door. He turned to see what had pulled all the eyes that way.

He felt his eyebrows touch his hatband. The person standin’ in the doorway was dressed in a frilly pink…thing. Well, not ‘xactly frilly. Straps over the shoulder, smooth to the waist, puffy ‘round the middle, skin tight down the legs. And them boots. Well, they wadn’t boots but some slipper-like shoes with ribbons round the legs.

Lefty looked back at the boys along the bar. No one moved nor even blinked. The boys playing cards and the girls among the tables also weren’t moving. Even Saul seemed froze at his piano.

Lefty swallowed hard and moseyed toward the visitor. “Howdy,” he said to be polite. “May I hep you?”

“I was looking for the barre,” a quiet voice replied. Lefty looked closely. It was a female. Her hair was all tight agin her head, like an uptight schoolmarm. Her face was all powdery and white. “Is the barre in here?”

Lefty threw a thumb over his shoulder. “Bar’s over there, miss.”

The pink gal looked over Lefty’s shoulder, a tight smile fixed on her white face. Then the corners move upward and the smile grew a might warmer. She pushed past Lefty, walking in a strange prancey way. Lefty had seen a horse move that way once, a horse no longer amongst those in town.

The gal walked up to the bar. Guys parted like she was Moses hisself. She rubbed the brass rail that ran along the bar at about waist height. “Yes,” she whispered.

She throwed her foot up on the rail and made some up and down bounces on her other foot. She looked over towards Saul. “Sir, if you please,” she said.

And danged if Saul turned to his piano and began playin’ some frilly music. Music ain’t usually frilly but that’s what this music was. The gal bounced some more, lifting her arms out and up and back down. She switched legs and did the bounce and arm things agin.

Lefty looked out the door but nothin’ was on the street but horses and a couple of storekeepers sweeping. He turned back to the inside. Cowboys was crowdin’ toward the corners. The card players and other gals had moved back toward the stairs. Ever’one was staring at the gal and at Saul. Saul just kept playing. Keep polished the bar, at the far corner from the gal and acting like she wadn’t there.

Lefty walked over to the gal. “Excuse me, miss,” he said as he tipped his hat. “I believe you done wandered into the wrong story.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Rainbow Maker

Prompt from Sixty Second Writer: You walk into a room that you don't recognize and there is an old man sitting there. He tells you that he is working on a rainbow maker. Now, it is your job to take the idea and use it in your journal writing for today. 

I had to stoop to enter the doorway. The room was warm. No, hot. It seemed heat radiated from the walls. I held a hand close to the swirled wallpaper, only centimeters away. Then touched the wall itself. It was strangely cool but still emitted heat.

A scrape of a chair pulled my attention from the wall. In the exact center of the room was sat the oldest man I’d ever seen. Deep wrinkles cut through his cheeks and forehead. A wreath of white hair ringed his face, extending in all directions. He wore leather coveralls and a shirt of deep blue. The shirt accentuated his white mane and deep-set eyes. He sat in a rough-hewn log chair. In fact, the chair looked like a tree that had been grown into a chair shape, cut from the ground, and placed in this oven of a room.

The man sat at a table or workbench that matched his chair. Littering the table were various cogs, wheels, gears, tools, shards of glass, and jars of various colored liquids and solids.

I glanced around the rest of the room. Nothing. Just the four heat-producing walls, the man, his chair, and his workbench of detritus. An odd indention at the opposite end of the room may have been a closed door. But the fit in the wall was seamless, continuous.

The man did not appear to notice me. As I had surveyed him and his environs, he had continued intricate work at his bench, not turning or speaking or acknowledging my presence.

I glanced back through the doorway where I had entered. Beyond seemed fog and shadows. I could not see from where I had come.

I took a small step toward the man. He ignored me. He picked up what looked like a long thin needle and began twisting and poking in the mechanism in front of him.

I again looked back through the doorway to the foggy beyond. I really didn’t want to go there but I didn’t want to be here either. Before I could make a choice either way, the man spoke.

“I’ve been waiting for you.” His voice was a rustle, like the wind through treetops late at night.

“Waiting for me?” My voice boomed in the room and the man winced quickly. Then his face relaxed back into its original form. He still had not looked up from his work.

“Yes. The rainbow maker is almost complete. You will need it before you begin your journey.”

I opened, then closed my mouth. Rainbow maker? Journey? Obviously the man had me confused with someone else.

“No,” he rustled, “it’s you I’ve been waiting for.”

How did this man know me? I didn’t know him.

“It always happens this way,” the man said. “The cloud keepers never know me.”

Cloud keeper? This was getting….

“Wait,” I said, softer this time. “How did you know what I was thinking? I didn’t say anything.”

“No need for speaking here,” the man said. And that was when I realized his mouth was not moving. In fact, except for the small wince, his face had not moved or changed since I had entered the room.

His eyes flicked up from the rainbow maker and peered into my face. “Sit down. We’ve got a lot to cover before you leave.”

Suddenly, behind me, was a small stool, resembling a large mushroom. It lengthened until I could comfortably sit. “Let’s go,” I said…or thought. “I think I’m ready for this.”

I heard a deep rumble and realized the man was laughing. “They always say that,” he said, “but they never are. They never are.”

I shivered and braced myself for what the man had to say.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Tree

Prompt from Sixty Second WriterChristmas is over, but there is a tree in the wagon... in the next sixty seconds, come up with a reason why it is resting there! 

(Note: I did write longer than sixty seconds.)

Janice looked out the farmhouse window.

“The tree’s still there,” she whispered. Actually the sound came out more like a sigh than anything else.

Sasha slowly turned her gaze from the fireplace toward Janice’s voice. “What?”

“The tree.” Janice pointed a finger toward the window. “Douglas fir. In the wagon. It’s still out in the yard.”

Sasha’s breath worked its way in and out of her lungs. “I don’t know what you are talking about, Janice. What tree? What wagon?”

Color crept up Janice’s neck. The next words came out in bites and spurts. “Dad’s tree. The one he brought up from Kliner’s farm. Just like the one he brought up every Christmas. Only this time…. This time, it didn’t make it inside. This time….” Large tears bubbled over the edges of her lids and down the flushed cheeks. “This time Dad didn’t make it inside.”

Sasha stiffened as if someone shoved a tension rod down the back of her shirt. “That is still in the yard? Why didn’t you get rid of it?”

Janice took two steps across the room and glared down at her sister. “Why didn’t I get rid of it? I really don’t know Sasha. I guess between cooking dinner for eleventy-five relatives for seven, no eight straight nights and coordinating things with Mr. Devlin at the funeral home and prodding you to get dressed each morning so you wouldn’t walk around the house half naked in front of all kinds of relations and washing dishes and cleaning rooms and generally keeping things from falling apart around here…. I guess with all of that, Sasha, I just didn’t have time to get around to hauling our unfortunate non-Christmas tree away from the house and back to the wood pile where it belongs.”

Janice wobbled a moment, unsteady after the rush of words. She sat at the table still littered with breakfast dishes. Sasha slowly looked back toward the fire.

“Well,” Sasha said, “you need to get rid of it soon. I don’t need that thing around reminding me of the day Daddy died.”

A saucer whizzed by Sasha’s head and smashed into the fireplace. She quickly turned to see Janice grab her coat and stalk out the door.

“Good,” Sasha said to no one. “I’m glad she’s taking care of that now.”

When she heard the car start, Sasha wondered why Janice needed it to move the tree.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Not This Time

Fiction Friday prompt: Your character wakes in a circus tent. He is wearing baggy pink pants and a polka dot frilled shirt. A midget in a strong man outfit is shaking him awake asking if he is all right.

Jan opened his eyes and stared at the striped canvas ceiling. He closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to focus on what he was seeing.

A sharp jerk on his shoulder caused Jan to shift his gaze right. He looked into a small face. “Are you okay?” the face asked.

Jan slowly sat up and looked around. A small body in a loincloth belonged to the face. The little man spoke again. “Did you sleep here again last night?”

“Guess so,” Jan said. He rubbed his eyes and tried to clear the sleep fog from his brain.

“And you didn’t even change. Edna will have your head if you damaged the costume.”

Jan looked down at the polka dot frilled shirt and baggy pants.

The small man continued. “You know that Liebowitz doesn’t like us to sleep in the theater, especially on the stage. If you didn’t have a room, you could have bunked with me again. I’d hate to see you tossed out at this point in our run.”

The small man turned and began to walk toward the wings. Jan stood and stretched.

“Leo!” Jan almost shouted

The small man turned. “What?”

“Could you tell me where my clothes are?”

Leo sighed, the sound almost unimaginable from such a small man.

“Let’s start back in the dressing rooms and fan out from there. But call time is only a couple of hours away. It seems almost a waste to change into your street clothes now only to change back then. Maybe we just need to try and get the wrinkles out of that clown costume so you will be ready for the performance tonight.”

“Leo, you’re a great pal.”

“Yeah, yeah. Heard it all before. But tonight I sticking by you from curtain up to curtain down. You will not ruin this chance for yourself or for me. Not this time, Jan. Not this time.”