Her long red nails flash in the streetlight as she shoves me off of the curb and into the filthy gutter with a splash. My ankle bends at an unnatural angle, sending spikes of pain through my leg, I drop my cigarette. This night is turning to shit.
The roar of the traffic and my splitting headache drowns out the rest of what she’s yelling, but I get the gist of it. She’s pissed and I’m wrong. Story of my life. People crowd around us putting an end to any chance I had of defending myself. She got her big scene.
Leaning sideways, a sign behind her catches my eye—The Sassafras Carnival. It’s dingy with half the bulbs on the sign blinking and the other half burned out. Cigarette butts and beer cans press against the blacked-out window. A seedy dive. My kind of place.
I stand up and step onto the curb, trying to shake off the sickening smell of gasoline and garbage from my pants and shoes. She slaps my face hard and stomps away in shiny black heels. The crowd weighs in as they disperse with not-so-quiet whispers.
“Serves him right.”
“What a loser!”
My eyes are still on her. Her red dress trails on the ground, soaking up the wetness from the recent downpour and turning the bottom dark crimson. Her hair falls from its high perch, the wind blowing the red curls into a dancing frenzy. I want to go after her, or at least call to her, but my ankle hurts and I’m thirsty.
The double doors open easily, clearly greased, and I walk into the smoke-filled room. It’s deep and dark, the shape you’d expect from a place like this. Everything’s a shade of maroon or gold with lots of tassels and animal prints. It’s a mix of the Moulin Rouge and those safari-themed restaurants you find near big amusement parks. The faint sound of music can be heard far inside, but it’s mostly drowned out by the sound of people talking and laughing. I can disappear here. It’s perfect.
A waitress wearing a sparkling gold cocktail dress and balancing a tray full of empty glasses stops in front of me. Her hair is tucked inside an elaborate hat with feathers, but a few loose strands of auburn stick to her cheeks. What’s with all the redheads, I almost say out loud, but the look on her face isn’t welcoming so I shut my mouth instead.
“You want to sit at the bar or by the stage?”
She’s got the deep voice of a cigarette smoker and dull hazel eyes. I can’t guess her age behind the thick makeup but she has a no-nonsense way about her, suggesting she’s close to my age. No time for anybody’s shit. My kind of gal.
“Stage,” I say. “Who’s performing tonight?”
I hope my voice sounds like I’m a regular or like I know stuff about music. She doesn’t answer, striding away all gold sequined hips and shiny black shoes. I follow, limping slightly.
In another life, she’d like me. We’d link arms and she’d steer me to the best seat in the house. She’d know my drink order and have it to me in a flash with a playful wink. A lipstick kiss would be on my napkin. But this ain’t that kind of life. I’m a loser nobody and she’s really not interested.
The further we go into the place, the darker and hazier with smoke it gets. A long bar sits on the right side of the room, with crowds of people all trying to get the attention of a stunning young bartender with a low-cut leopard-print shirt and bright red lipstick. She’s laughing and moving fast.
Rows of colored bottles and stacks of glasses line the shelves behind her. Bright gold mirrors and blurry out-of-focus landscape pictures cover the rest of the wall, giving the impression that the bar is larger than it is. I catch sight of my face in a mirror and look away in disgust. The faint smell of bourbon makes me swallow hard. I need a drink.
At the end of the bar we curve right and the music, which I’ve heard faintly since walking in, now is unavoidable. I reach into my pocket for earplugs, a habit I’d taken to in the years I used to come to places like this, but realize I don’t have them anymore. Why is it so loud? My teeth feel the vibration and my head pounds more. This was a bad idea.
My brain finally registers the sound as piano music and I groan. A piano bar. Shit. Before I can stop it, a vision of my mother sitting straight-backed at our family piano rushes forward. I’m holding my sister’s hands and we are dancing around the room to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Sunlight reflects off the dozens of prisms hanging in the window, casting rainbows all around us. We are smiling like idiots. Like innocents actually, but what’s the difference?
I try to focus on the throbbing pain in my ankle, but more images roll forward with the music. The old stuffed dog on my childhood bed. The collection of seashells in the glass bowl on the coffee table from our many family beach trips. Mother’s dark green garden gloves hanging on a hook by the back door. The silly controversy over who ate all the candy mom hid in the pantry. The pang of the loss of my old life hits me and adds to the waves of pain I’m feeling. I stumble and grab the arm of the waitress.
“What’s the matter with you?”
She yanks her arm from mine and scowls.
She looks at my soaked pant legs, sighs, and walks on weaving in and out of a sea of small, round tables in a complicated manner I find irritating and unnecessary. The tables are filled with couples laughing, talking, smoking, and touching each other. Anger erupts prickly and red, an apple with spikes in it. I bite my lip and clench my fists.
We stop at a table in the center of the room made of oxidized metal, orange in the dim light, covered with tiny scratch marks. I sit in one of the two chairs, high-backed and made of soft dark velvet. The waitress speaks directly into my ear sending shivers through my body.
“What will it be?”
The words don’t make sense because the piano music has reached a thundering crescendo and the memory of my mom on her deathbed stabs my chest. I bite back tears and look at the stage trying to calm myself. Get it together.
Two large black pianos sit on opposite sides illuminated by bright white spotlights. Both are played exuberantly by performers in cheap plastic masks covering only part of their faces. A zebra and giraffe in matching black tuxedos. What kind of place is this?
The zebra’s got a dark brown fluffy beard sticking out the bottom of its mask, thick bulging arms, and fingers covered in shiny silver rings. The giraffe isn’t wearing a shirt under the tuxedo jacket, but a bright red bra barely containing two perfectly round breasts. Her black curly hair sparkles with silver glitter. The waitress grabs my face and turns it toward hers. Her fingers are icy cold.
“What will it be?”
She speaks slowly as if I’m hard of hearing or stupid. At the moment I feel I’m both.
“Bourbon,” I say. “Neat.”
She’s gone in a flash as the animal players stand and bow. Applause crashes around me; smashing cymbals, screeching monkeys, juvenile catcalls, and relentless banging. My head falls onto the cool metal table and I squeeze my eyes shut waiting for the applause to end. It doesn’t. It increases and transforms into a strange repetitive rhythm. I raise my head and open my eyes.
A spotlight shines center stage on a new masked figure, a tall woman dressed in a sapphire floor-length gown with a slit ending at her hip. Curly red hair peeks out around an oversized peacock mask, colorful feathers fanning out from her face in all directions. Crazed morning glory in the moonlight.
She sways and twirls in time to the clapping, eyes closed, and arms outstretched with her palms facing up. I find my body reacting to her movements, wanting to move with her. When she drops her hands suddenly, the place falls eerily silent. My body turns to stone and I stop breathing.
It’s not until she’s seated behind one of the shiny black pianos that I find my breath return. I suck in the smoky air as she pounds on the black and white keys with an awkward and clumsy style, lacking any melody or form I’ve heard before. I expect people to laugh or jeer, but nobody does.
Everyone, including me, leans forward in their chairs transfixed by this peacock woman. Her feet and legs are bare, white as porcelain. She throws her head back and closes her eyes. Perfect pink lips hum a quiet melody in contrast to the piano playing. I find myself going limp.
A drink slides toward me and I lift it to my lips without taking my eyes off the peacock woman. I feel dizzy and light-headed. I take another long gulp of bourbon, draining my glass, and another slides in front of me almost immediately.
I look over to find a man sitting in the velvet chair to my right. He’s practically my twin with the same dark rings under his eyes, the same unshaven face, and the same black hair in bad need of a haircut. His clothes are different though, while I’m dressed in navy blue pants and a matching suit jacket, he’s wearing faded jeans and a grey t-shirt. He leans forward and I follow his lead. He smells of exhaust and diesel.
“Ya know her?”
It’s a gruff voice, but one I know as my own. Shaking my head no, I take out a cigarette from my coat pocket and my twin leans forward to light it. I take a long drag, feeling the realness of the tobacco burn my lungs.
I’m not sure if he means at him or the woman. Both are familiar but I’m not a fan of games or riddles. I drain another glass of bourbon from the several on the table and take another drag of my cigarette. Have I chased a white rabbit? Did I swallow the red pill?
“I don’t like this game.”
The second the words leave my lips the music ends. People leap to their feet in applause and my twin joins them. I watch his movements, my movements, and I wonder if I’m still laying in the gutter outside. Maybe I was hit by a car or hit my head on the curb. I’m in a coma or some shit.
He’s back in his chair staring at me with my own eyes. I reach for another drink and find the table empty. The show’s over and people are talking loudly all around us, the spell of the peacock broken. My twin grabs my hand under the table and squeezes it hard.
“You have to let her find her own way.”
I touch the spot on my cheek she slapped and blink away hot tears. Mother told me to look after her, but she doesn’t listen to me. She’s going to get hurt. He squeezes my hand a second time, much harder.
“If you don’t, she’ll never speak to you again. She’ll be fine either way, but you won’t. The choice is yours.”
Closing my eyes, I picture what letting go of her would look like. I’ve followed her around for the last ten years, barely doing much of anything else. She’s not a child anymore and neither am I. What if I decided to let her go? Would it give me permission to live my own life? I barely remember my dreams anymore.
Lifting my head I find the waitress standing beside me. No sign of my twin. Wiping off tears with the sleeve of my jacket, I notice golden and amber flecks in her hazel eyes. They aren’t dull at all. I nod as she sets another drink on the table with a small white napkin. She smiles before walking away and I feel warmth explode inside me.
My sister will be okay. I drink in those words. She’s a peacock in a sea of pigeons. I need to get out of her way.
Sipping the bourbon I see a faint kiss mark on my napkin. Flipping it over I find a phone number scrawled in light blue ink. Maybe we both can be okay.
Author’s note: This week as I’m swamped with NaNoWriMo, I decided to cheat a little. During the start of quarantine, I created a FB writing group with the intention of working through all the prompts in “Write the Story.” It didn’t really take off and it was mostly me writing with zero likes or comments. I quit at prompt 14. I decided to resurrect the first one I wrote to see how far my storytelling chops have developed. The draft written back then was sloppy and about half this length, more a silly mashup of the words and less an actual story. It was fun to rewrite it and give it structure and I’m pleased with how it turned out. Let me know in the comments what you think and have a wonderful week.
Short Story Challenge | Week 45
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a strange request at a piano bar. We had to include the words carnival, apple, sprained, mask, juvenile, controversy, oxidation, twirl, awkward, and sassafras
“Sometimes I think that ideas float through the atmosphere like huge squishy pumpkins, waiting for heads to drop on.” -Neil Gaiman
If it’s not clear by now, I’m a huge fan of all things fall. Few things bring me as much joy as our annual family trip to Rickey Ranch Pumpkin Patch. This year, as we are facing some big family struggles, every smile felt brighter and every pumpkin more delightful.
Although we went during terrible lighting and most of my pictures didn’t really turn out, I’m happy to have captured the day. May it bring a smile to your face and drop some wonderful ideas onto your head.
Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW
As a bonus happy photo, we recently adopted a new guinea pig. My daughter named her Toast the Ghost and she’s simply splendid.
“Some roads aren’t meant to be traveled alone.” -Chinese Proverb
My favorite thing to come out of quarantine was the tradition of evening drives with my daughter. We play loud music, talk about everything, and just drive. After spending the majority of last week apart from each other it felt good to get behind the wheel and see where the road took us. We found dragonflies, cows, our favorite parking lot, and a gorgeous sunset.
As we process our grief and plan a memorial to celebrate my mother-in-law, it felt extra special to have these moments of beauty to reflect on the blessings in our lives. Thank you to everyone who has reached out and supported our family. We feel the love.
Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW.
It isn’t easy to surprise your mother when you are five years old, but Henrietta doesn’t mind doing hard things for the people she loves. For the last several hours she’s been on a hunt for blackberries to give her mother for her birthday. A tiring barefooted quest that’s led her to the very edges of where she’s allowed to go on their small farm.
Despite checking the ditches along the road, the field behind the animal barn, the banks of the small creek, and the apple orchard, her little wicker basket remains empty. Henrietta thought finding the berries would be easy as she’s gone with her mother to harvest them many times, but she never paid attention to where they picked them and now she wished she had.
Mother does so much for Henrietta and she loves blackberries and cream. She can’t go home empty-handed. She simply must keep looking.
Stuffing her left hand into the pocket of her favorite purple linen dress and swinging the basket in her right, Henrietta skips along the edge of the property marked by a two-rail wooden fence. Her thick, blonde braid bounces against her back and she sings a song about blue jays and mockingbirds with a sweet high voice her mother says is “purely delightful” but her new teacher calls “truly distracting.”
Pink-cheeked, she stops abruptly when she spots a dirt path leading into a patch of scrubby-looking old trees she’s never noticed before. Perhaps that’s where the berries are hiding. She stares at it for a long time, wrinkling up her nose and twirling the basket in her hand.
To follow the path means she must break the rules. It’s beyond the border of the wooden fence—the one she swore to never, ever cross. Closing her eyes tight she pictures the joy and delight on her mother’s face when she hands her the basket of berries and the decision is made. She has to go for it.
Hiking up her dress, Henrietta carefully climbs over the fence and lands with a thud on the other side. Her heart races as she sprints to the clump of scraggly trees, certain a huge blackberry bush will be waiting among them. It isn’t. There are only rocks, dirt, and weeds. She picks up a round grey stone and throws it in frustration. The berries must be just a little further.
For the next few hours, she follows several winding paths through a mostly dry forest of thorny weeds. She knows she should turn back but she keeps thinking she sees the dark green leaves of the berry bushes just around the next corner. Just a little further.
The path suddenly ends at a lumpy hill covered in swaying, yellow grasses. With hope still wrapped around her like a tiny silken cape, Henrietta tucks the basket under her arm and climbs on all fours like a bear to the very top. Thorns make her palms and bare feet burn and itch. Just a little further.
On the hilltop, Henrietta watches the dark purple wild lupine flowers sway slightly in the warm breeze of the now late summer evening. Tiny golden hairs escape her thick braid and curl around her ears. Still no sign of berries.
Scrambling onto a small boulder, Henrietta stands on tiptoes and reaches for the puffy white clouds in the darkening blue sky. She’s certain eating one would make things better. It certainly can’t get any worse.
Suddenly her left calf starts to cramp and she yelps in pain, tumbling from the rock into a patch of scratchy brown weeds. Curling into a ball she uses her thumbs to try and massage out the pain but it doesn’t work. Tears from her soft blue eyes make tracks down her bright pink cheeks. It’s not fair.
Rolling onto her back, she lands in a patch of soggy mud and feels it soak completely through her thin dress. Mom will be furious at the stains. She’s stupid and dumb for wandering away and getting lost. A useless baby.
These kinds of thoughts aren’t like Henrietta at all and she wonders if perhaps the wind is saying these awful things to her. She’s simply lost. That’s all. There’s no need for name-calling.
“Stop it wind. Stop being mean.”
As if in response the wind gusts across the hilltop causing the long stems of the flowers to lean almost to the ground. There’s a high-pitched sound, like when mother’s yellow tea kettle is ready, and Henrietta covers her ears and closes her eyes. She isn’t sure she wants to look for berries anymore.
When the wind stops, Henrietta sits up, expecting to see her beautiful mother appear over the crest of the hill and rescue her. When she doesn’t, Henrietta wipes the tears from her eyes with the muddy hem of her dress and sniffs loudly. Being brave is getting harder and harder.
Maybe it’s time to go home and give mother something else for her birthday. Henrietta’s thinking about putting together a bouquet of wildflowers when a horrible screeching sound causes her to look up. Two rather ugly birds sit on the rock she fell from. They are covered in black feathers with bright pink naked heads, hooked white beaks, and intense black eyes.
She scrambles backward further into the mud puddle and the birds laugh at her. It’s a horrid sound and it makes her mad. Jumping to her feet, she places her hands on her hips and stomps her foot sending a spray of mud up around her.
“Go away you mean things.”
“We aren’t mean things. We are vultures. Don’t you know anything?”
They take turns speaking, each saying one word at a time, with matching slow growly voices. Henrietta feels her cheeks heating up and she twists the hem of her dress in her left fist. The birds smell terrible so she plugs her nose, causing her voice to sound strange.
“I know lots of things.”
“I know how to spell my name and count to 100.”
“Everyone knows that.”
“I know all the names of the flowers in my mother’s garden; pansy, bellflower, iris, candytuft, tulip, wisteria, and hydrangea.”
“Everyone knows that.”
“I can snorkel in the water all by myself and know the names of all the fish in the lake; trout, salmon, bass, catfish, perch, and pike.”
“Everyone knows that.”
The vultures laugh again, scraping their shiny black talons loudly against the rock and clicking their beaks. Henrietta thinks nothing of this warning but instead grabs a handful of mud and throws it at the birds. They dodge it easily and then dive toward her with loud, terrifying squawks.
Realizing a bit too late she’s in danger, she turns quickly and sprints down the far side of the hill. About halfway down she discovers she’s going too fast but can’t stop herself. Instead, she falls forward until she’s rolling like a wild croquet ball spinning towards a field of wire wickets.
“Help! Someone help me!”
Within seconds a mass of blue and white swirls around her, circling wildly with tiny quick moments too fast to fully see. There’s a sweet sugary smell in the air and a low rhythmic humming Henrietta associates with lullabies and bedtime. She’s scared but also very curious.
The creatures move faster and faster until they are able to stop Henrietta’s forward movement and suspend her in midair upside down. She looks from the delicate soft creatures to the sky beneath her wiggling toes and giggles.
“Thank you, but I think I’m pointing the wrong way.”
The swarm of blue and white butterflies lightly laugh, flip her around, and gently ease her dirty feet onto a patch of soft green clover. Holding out her arms and spinning in a circle she dances with them until they eventually disperse and fly off into the darkening forest around her.
“Wow. What was that?”
The fast breathy voice comes from inside the branches of a large sycamore tree leaning slightly to the right. Henrietta moves closer and finds a tiny squirrel climbing up and down the branches grabbing acorns from a pile at the base of the tree and then storing them inside a hole midway up the tree’s trunk. Its long bushy tail twitches up and down.
“Did you say butterfly effect?”
“The butterfly effect?”
Henrietta laughs in frustration but the squirrel doesn’t stop moving and doesn’t add anything further. She leans down to examine the fat brown acorns touching one of the wooden caps with her fingertip. A terrible squeaking sound erupts and the squirrel rushes toward her.
“Don’t you dare! Those are mine!”
Henrietta quickly pulls her finger away and takes a step back.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just looking at them.”
“Had to purge my other spot…got too busy. Too busy. Industry moving in. Those beavers have no scruples I say. No scruples at all. They just take and take and take. These are mine. I collected them. Mine. Mine. Mine.”
Henrietta covers her mouth to stop a chuckle from escaping and then smiles gently at the squirrel who has stopped moving to look at her closer. It sniffs her hand with its twitchy nose and she can see the forest reflected in the shiny black of its small eyes.
Its voice is slower and softer. Henrietta thinks it sounds worried about her. Looking around the thick forest of tall trees she finds nothing looks familiar. She really is lost.
“I guess I am. I was looking for blackberries for my mother’s birthday and I didn’t find them and then…I kind of got lost. I don’t know where I am.”
The last words bring a few tears and Henrietta quickly sweeps them away with the back of her hand. She feels like she should be tougher, after all, she’s a kindergartner now and can go down the big twisty slide without anyone to catch her at the bottom. The squirrel takes another step toward her with its head turned to the side.
“Can I help?”
Henrietta brightens at this.
“Maybe….do you know the way to my house? It’s the big blue one with the white fence behind it.”
The squirrel shakes its head sadly and they both sit quietly for a few minutes staring at the forest floor. Henrietta feels bad for stopping this kind of creature from its work but then she has an idea. An exciting idea.
“Could I help you?”
“You’d do that for me?”
“Of course! We can use my basket to gather up the acorns and then I can climb up and dump them inside.”
Nodding its head vigorously they get to work putting the plan into action. Henrietta climbs trees in the orchard all the time to help her mother get the apples near the top, so climbing with the basket isn’t hard for her at all. Before the sun sets another inch in the sky, they are done.
The squirrel rushes around the tree chirping excitedly and Henrietta feels proud of herself. She loves to be a helper. It makes her heart feel as if it has grown big and full inside her body. Her mother would be so proud.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” it chants over and over in time with its twitchy tail.
Stopping mid-tree, a thoughtful look breaks across the squirrel’s face followed by more frantic running and squeaking. Henrietta laughs hard and this time she doesn’t hide it. Bouncing on its back legs as if ready to spring high into the air and take flight, the squirrel talks super fast.
“I have an idea! I have the best idea of all the ideas in the woods. Will it work? I don’t know. But it’s a good idea. A fine idea. A wonderful idea. He owes me a favor and he has to be able to help. He has to. It’s a good idea. A great idea. I can help you!”
“Yes. I know someone who might be able to help! Wait here!”
With that, the squirrel scampers away at top speed mumbling “great idea.” Henrietta sits on the forest floor and picks out thorns from her dress and tosses them as far as she can. She wishes she’d asked for one of the acorns because her mother loves to draw little faces on them and line them up along the kitchen window. She decides she will ask the squirrel when it returns.
“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. You can’t make me talk. No. No. I won’t tell you. I won’t.”
A gruff voice breaks through the woods and within moments Henrietta sees the squirrel walking slowly beside an old, fat, grey rabbit with a slight limp. It’s shaking its head, making its long, floppy ears flap all over the place. Henrietta thinks it’s the cutest rabbit she’s ever seen and has to sit on her hands to avoid reaching out to touch its soft fur.
“See! She’s nice and she needs our help.”
Stopping a few inches away the rabbit stares at Henrietta for a long time. She’s not sure if she should say something to it, and after what feels like forever, it nods once.
“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. But I’ll show her the berries. For her mother…”
Henrietta jumps to her feet, sending both the squirrel and the rabbit into a nearby bush.
“Sorry. I’m just excited.”
“It’s okay. I’m no snitch, but let’s go. Don’t tell anyone I told you okay? Nobody. I’m no snitch.”
“Oh, I won’t tell a soul.”
The squirrel rushes to its pile and then returns to Henrietta with an acorn in its tiny paws.
“For you mother.”
“She will love it! Thank you!”
Henrietta wants to touch its soft fur but decides it might be bad manners and instead blows the squirrel a kiss before turning to follow the grumpy rabbit into the forest. They walk slowly in silence for a long time around fallen logs, through patches of bright green ferns, and around several large colorful mushrooms.
The sky beyond the trees has turned golden orange and purple. Soon the moon and the stars will be out. Her mother must be so worried about her and it makes Henrietta feel terribly upset. By the time they reach a large blackberry bush hugging the edge of a small stream her enthusiasm for picking has been replaced with utter despair.
“Here you go. Now, remember, I didn’t take you here. I’m no snitch.”
Henrietta begins to sob. She can’t help herself. All she wanted to do was make her mother’s birthday special and she missed the entire day, broke the number one rule, and probably won’t ever find her home again. Thinking about her mother’s crying green eyes makes her feel sick as she clutches her stomach.
The rabbit hops into her lap and looks at her with concern in its dark shiny eyes.
“You can pet me if you want.”
Henrietta does and is surprised to find it makes her feel better. The more she strokes the soft, grey fur the calmer she becomes. The babbling sound of the nearby stream draws her attention to the blackberry bush and she feels a renewed sense of purpose. This day can be saved!
“Thank you, rabbit. A million times thank you.”
It hops from her lap and she runs toward the bush and begins picking the fattest, prettiest blackberries she’s ever seen until her basket is filled to the tippy-top. Mother will be so overjoyed she’ll forget everything else. Henrietta pops a few of the berries into her mouth and chews them happily.
A deep voice causes Henrietta to almost drop her basket and she’s shocked when she turns around to find an enormous deer with huge antlers pawing the ground a few feet from where she stands. It occurs to her in an instant that the berries must be his and he’s going to be really mad.
“I’m sorry. You can have them back.”
She’s about to pour the basket onto the ground when the deer laughs. It’s not mocking like the vulture’s cackle but rather a gentle soft chuckle between friends. Tilting his head he nods to her.
“My forest friends have told me you are trying to get home for your mother’s birthday. You are almost too late little one. Mother moon has opened her eyes and her starry children are rushing out to play. The day is almost over.”
Tears reform in Henrietta’s already swollen eyes as all the feelings of the day flood through her again. She falls to the forest floor letting the basket of berries tumble from her hands. Nothing is as important as being with her mother and she should have never left the farm. Love and time together are the most important gifts of all.
“It’s okay,” the deer says. “It’s all going to be okay.”
Henrietta looks up to see all her new forest friends gathered in a circle around her—big deer, grey rabbit, twitchy squirrel, and the swirling mass of blue and white butterflies. They gather the berries for her and return them to the basket. They kiss her on the cheek and help her onto the smooth back of the large deer. She can feel his breath beneath her and her own breathing slows to match his.
“Time to go, little one. Your mother’s waiting for you,” the deer says.
“Thank you!” she calls to her friends who stand waving until she’s out of sight.
The journey takes no time at all and soon Henrietta sees the fence at the back of the orchard. Her mother stands near the treeline with her back to her. She’s wearing a long purple dress covered in tiny white flowers. The moonlight makes her hair look sleek and silver.
“Henrietta! Where are you, daughter? Henrietta!”
Sliding quickly off the deer’s back she kisses him on the nose, leaps over the fence, and runs toward her mother.
“I’m right here! Mother! I’m right here!”
Her mother scoops her into her arms and kisses her from head to toe, the basket of berries falling to the ground beside them.
Author’s note: This was a hard week for our family. We gathered together in my sister-in-law’s home as my strong loving mother-in-law gently faded away from us in her upstairs bedroom. We held her hand, kissed her face, and brushed her hair. We made sure she knew she was loved but also that it was okay to leave us. It was a beautiful and incredibly hard week.
My short story, written mostly in one sitting, was inspired by my love for her and many of the wonderful moments we’ve shared over the years. There’s a little Alice, a little Blueberries for Sal, a nod to family history, and a lot of grief. I’ll miss you forever, Janet. Your loving legacy will not be forgotten.
Short Story Challenge | Week 34
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about an interrupted journey. We had to include butterfly effect, vulture, cramp, industry, purge, scruple, snorkel, snitch, warning, and useless.
“The morning steals upon the night, Melting the darkness.” -William Shakespeare
A gorgeous friend of mine writes and talks a lot about joy—seeking it out, the importance of recognizing it, and fighting for it even when it feels ridiculous. She inspires me all the time and this morning I did something purely for the joy of it. I hiked to a park by my house with my camera to capture the sunrise. It felt luxurious and I basked in the beauty of the world for an entire hour alone.
My mother-in-law has entered hospice care within the home of my kind, caring, and incredibly giving sister-in-law. This time in our lives is hard. Watching a woman of immeasurable strength and love fade before all our eyes is beyond difficult. While I don’t know what this next part looks like, I do know that even within these hard moments we can find gratitude and even joy.