One Night, Both Ends of Life

In response to the weekly Flash Fiction challenge (www.carrotranch.com). This week’s challenge: a story about a bottleneck.

 

6:30: the call. Finally, that night.

“Today’s the day.” Her nephew Max, about his father, Jean’s brother.

“Did he die?”

“Yes.” The wait/weight – done. Alcoholic organ failure – complete.

7:30 p.m.: the text. “My water broke.” A very pregnant woman’s message to Jean, her doula. “But nothing’s happening.” Jean gassed up anyway.

9:30: the call. The husband. “It’s time.”

Jean battled State Fair traffic, road work, bridge closures.

10:10: Raced into the birth center. “Waaa.” On the floor: Chux pads, blood everywhere. On the bed: parents and one angry baby.

11:30: the drive home, joy and grief wedged in together.

Becoming Wild

Another flash fiction from the Carrot Ranch weekly challenge (www.carrotranch.com). This week the prompt was to write a story that included the idea of “peering from the woods.”

February, 1966: Jean’s family did a suburbs-to-small-town move. Home was a two-bedroom rental at the edge of town. Behind the house, a woodsy spot. Jean was 13, Sam 11, Donny 9.

When summer came, that spot grew dark with leaves. Sam and Donny disappeared into it every morning after breakfast. They would grab lunch and vanish again. Jean ignored them, practiced the piano.

“Jean, go get the boys,” Mom called from the kitchen. “It’s supper time.”

Sounded easy. Jean stood at the trees’ edge. “Guys, supper!”

Silence.

Her pupils adjusted. Then Donny’s eyes found hers. Here he was wild.

No Vacation

Jean was 10 years old when she saw it in the catalogue: a bright yellow tent. It gleamed and beckoned. Oh, wouldn’t it be so marvelous – to live in that tent, with her family, on a vacation?

She sighed and dreamed.

“I’ve camped enough.” Her dad’s flat response woke her up.

Twenty years before: “the war.” Simple name.

Clarence, her dad, served in North Africa, Sicily, France. Like everyone else – “for the duration.” Three years in a khaki tent – no playful yellow.

“I’ve camped enough.”

Years later, in her own yellow tent, with her boyfriend, Jean swatted mosquitoes. Understood.

Abandoned Fountain of Youth

Be alert to unattended items. We learn this now. But here is a suitcase at the St. Paul Amtrak Station, the new Union Station with its vintage look. Made to look old. And there’s the train – headed points west, so far from the suitcase now. The night train.

The Amtrak employee removes it. The dog sniffs. The security guy opens with tongs and finds … curlers, cosmetics, anti-aging cream. Calls the number on the tag.

The train station tries to look old. The sleepy lady answering? She was peeling away the evidence, but left her accomplice on the track.

Hiding on the Inside

My response to this week’s Flash Fiction prompt by Carrot Ranch (www.carrotranch.com): write about Fannie Hooe, a girl in Keewanah area of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who went missing in the 19th century.

 

Who’s my Fannie Hooe? Jean asked herself after hearing the UP story. Who’s my lost girl who’s never found? Of course, it was herself.

Jean was never missing – not for that long, anyway. She hid in plain sight, though. Went through the motions, learned the rules of the party games. But inside, she was somewhere else: riding a magic carpet, soaring like a bat through hidden caves, gliding down a promenade staircase in high heels – never tripping.

Let the birthday girl’s mom spin her. Around and around. Jean would be dizzy, stumble, blindfolded, toward the donkey. Inside? Somewhere else.

Escape Cave

This Flash Fiction piece is in response to the Carrot Ranch (www.carrotranch.com) weekly Flash Fiction challenge: 99 words, no more, no less. The prompt this week was a sketch.

Sixth grade, spring of 1964. Another homework assignment, staring Jean in the face. She couldn’t make herself do it. It would never be good enough for Mrs. O’Neal.
The box of crayons – “64 colors.” The pad of sketch paper, a hobby store gift. Both sang to her, and soon Jean was drawing. The thing almost drew itself.
The cavern appeared in sketch after sketch. An inverted “V” opened to a secret place with pastel walls, alternating blues and pinks. Oh, secret, soft cave. Safe cave.
If only this place were real, Jean thought. Mrs. O’Neal would never find me.

 

A Different Way of Being Faithful

This is another post based on the Carrot Ranch weekly Flash Fiction challenge (www.carrotranch.com). The prompt was to write something based on the idea “all is not lost.”

Jean and Bill had been divorced for 12 years when she got the call. “Your father died this morning.” Her mother’s voice, baffled.

Later that morning, she and her husband Steve flew to Oklahoma. Later that night, Bill arrived, along with the girls, Lydia and Nola. The next day, as Jean and her mother put together the funeral, they needed one more pallbearer. A quick call to Bill’s hotel room settled it: “I would be honored.”

At the cemetery, Jean watched the coffin trundling past, Steve and Bill shouldering opposite sides. After everything, she could still count on Bill.

New Bouquets at Cheever’s

Sitting in the upscale-but-casual restaurant, Jean could not tell it had been a florist – Cheever’s. Now the restaurant was part of a different bouquet, the renaissance of downtown Oklahoma City.

One by one, flower by flower, new businesses sprouted in old buildings – an art gallery where Fred Jones Ford had been. A restaurant inside Cheever’s. As a salute to the history, each new business took on the name of the old one. Thanks to a city-wide sales tax, new life pulsed through the old part of town.

Jean and Lynn took their seats. Their salads were fresh as carnations.

Hair, Skin, Sun

This is another Flash Fiction entry for Carrot Ranch: http://www.carrotranch.com. The goal is to write 99 words, no more, no less, in response to the weekly prompt. This week’s prompt was “man glisten.”

Jean and Steve did summer weekends at Mille Lacs – that gigantic, shallow inland lake, smack in the middle of Minnesota. Swimming off the pier was a near-sunset event for Steve. Jean often looked at him and marveled. We’re both “white,” she thought, but Steve? Seriously white.

That evening he lathered up in sunscreen, slid off the pier and floated, belly up.
His chest hair was so thick that sunlight glistened jewel-like on the strands and then refracted when bouncing against his wet, shiny skin. Sunrays danced against Steve’s chest, a giant iridescent opal, resting displayed on satin Mille Lacs.

New Cranes, Old Memories

This week’s entry in the Flash Fiction prompt hosted by Charli Mills and Carrot Ranch (www.carrotranch.com). The prompt was the “charisma of cranes,” which one could take in a more ornithological direction, but I did something different: 

After the Wall came down, Berlin was a flurry of new construction. Huge cranes punctuated the landscape everywhere. The noise was its own buzz. Everywhere were fences around the sites. Boards with sketches of the respective projects.

After jetlag had settled, Jean and Steve couldn’t take their eyes off them, the sheer modernity, buildings popping up everywhere.

Away from the big tourist draws: the New Synagogue, rebuilt in 1995, 57 years after Kristallnight. Jean first saw it in 1980. Fenced off, a sign telling the story, ending with the words: “Never forget this.” Glass still tinkled as it fell.