22 April, 2021

Sorrow Shared #AtoZChallenge S


"Table for one?" 

Chloe returned to reality through a fog, and the maitre d's face floated in front of her, tilted at a sympathetic angle with patient eyes that turned down at the corners. His whole face looked a frown, and it distracted her for a moment. He had said something, hadn't he?

"Um, Sorry?"

"Will anyone be joining you, or do you want a table for one?"

"I - I don't know..." Why was she so disoriented? She searched her memory. The last she remembered was watching her husband's life ebb away in the recovery room. The ER had been noisy and hectic when she brought him in, but this place was quiet. "I don't know if... I think - My husband just died." The flat statement came out automatically, instinctively, although not an answer to the question.

The maitre d's face grew solemn and he bowed his head with a "Yes, ma'am," followed by a moment of silence before he raised his sympathetic eyes and explained, "This is the Grief Train, Miss."

She looked beyond the slim tuxedo before her and saw a narrow aisle between two columns of tables. She was in a dining car. "The..."

"Grief Train, yes. Will anyone be joining you?"

Her eyes warmed and the room swam as tears marred her sight. The sympathetic maitre d'  made a guess. "This way. We can change tables as more arrive." He offered an elbow for support which she accepted as an automaton, and they made their way down the aisle between narrow tables on one side and larger ones on the other. Chloe allowed the tears to overflow her eyes, and her vision cleared enough that she could make out some other diners.

Another solo woman wept into her arms folded on the table before her. A couple held hands around a candle, sitting in silence broken only by choked sobs. There was a trio of children with wide eyes staring at each other wordlessly. The dining car seemed to stretch endlessly before her. The tables with more people had fewer tears, she noticed. There were tears, but there were a few smiles as the groups talked together. Grief shared, she surmised.

As she was given a small table along the side, she wondered who would join her. Her last memory was John's death. No one was at the hospital. No one knew about the accident except the EMTs and Chloe. She had to get back. "Excuse me, how do I get back?"

The maitre d' was placing a menu in front of her. He smiled his sad smile. "You have to go through the tunnel and come out the end." 

"And... where is this tunnel?" Looking out the small windows all seemed dark. Was it night? Foggy?

"We are in the tunnel now."

"And, how long until I reach the other side?" Not even his parents knew. She must find a way to reach them. "I have to let people know what happened."

"The length of the tunnel is different for everyone." He put a hand on her shoulder. "You are letting people know. Don't worry. They'll join you in time." 

She looked at the small, paper menu. It was divided by emotion and goal. The "Numb" heading was followed by strong drinks. She ordered the one that listed the most alcohol and waited. 

Chloe had no way of knowing how much time passed in the real world, but by the time her drink arrived, the waiter escorted her to a larger table to join John's parents and her own, along with his twin sister. At least now they could cry together for a little while.

As she hugged his sister, Chloe thought they might both be sharing a long journey on this train. As sad as the thought was, she was relieved to have company.

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

"Sorrow Shared" came from the prompt "The World's Saddest Restaurant" provided by Tired Hamster of Very Important Stuff Here, in a comment left on my N post, here. Writing this was somehow cathartic for me. For more of my musings on death and grief, you could visit almost any of my posts from September 2019 on. The more recent, the less heavy.


21 April, 2021

Rest and Relaxation #AtoZChallenge R



This was it. The final day before Josephine could relax again.

Everyone sympathized with her as a "boy mom" but lately her daughter was just as high maintenance as the boys. While the teenage sons kept Jo busy with sports and high school activities like dances and dating, Amy was going into 8th grade this year. Her tastes changed gradually during the last school year, and more drastically over the summer. Her babysitting money went to clothes and make-up, and her attitude went off the rails.

She was off for last minute back to school supplies, giving her some peace in the car as she drove. The kids could be tearing each other limb from limb over a box of cheez-its for all she knew. This brief respite wouldn't last.

Sure enough, the big box store was full of other last minute shoppers. It was like Christmas, but less "holly jolly". The supplies of notebooks, pens, and pencils were picked over of course. She passed that aisle without a glance. Josephine Willows wasn't so last minute that her kids didn't have their classroom essentials yet. But there were other things they needed.

Doing laundry, she'd noticed that her eldest seemed to be running low on clean and hole-free tighty-whiteys. The shampoo in the family bathroom was at the bottom of the bottle, reminding her that Amy would want to keep some at her locker. She was trying out for cheerleading this year, and hoped to be a main player on the basketball team, too.

As Jo put these and other non-school back-to-school essentials in her cart, she ran into Kim from down the block. "You too, Jo?" Kim asked, scanning the cart.

"Hey Kim! I am so ready for the kids to be back in school. How about you?"

"You know it. Their daily band practice in the basement has frazzled my last nerve! Now at least they'll have to limit it to weekends." Kim pointed out the two bottles of wine in the top basket of her cart. "You should come over tomorrow. We'll have a little 'back-to-school' lunch."

"Good idea! What about Cathy?"

"I haven't seen her in days, but if you talk to her, yeah, let her know." She started moving her cart to the checkout. "And bring some wine. We'll kick off 'Rest and Relaxation season' right!" They both laughed at the idea of a whole season to relax, but at least there would be less drama during the days.

Jo smiled at the idea of relaxing with the girls the next day. If this was like Christmas, R&R was the "reason for the season". The mom's could take back their houses, at least for a day. She turned in the direction of the liquor section with a happy smile on her face.

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

"Rest and Relaxation" came from the prompt "Back to School" provided by Liz A.  of Laws of Gravity, in a comment left on my H post, here.


20 April, 2021

Queen of All She Surveyed #AtoZChallenge Q


The Queen stood at the broad window looking beyond the velvet curtains, to the gardens below. There were ducks in the pond, and it appeared one family had recently hatched their eggs. She'd have to spend some time down there checking them out. Although wild, she considered them "The Queen's Ducks" and therefore she took an interest in them. 

"Excuse me, your bath is ready, ma'am." Ah. The maid. The Queen appreciated Madge. A good, strong woman, she knew her business, and knew how to keep the Queen's business to herself. One must have a solid sense of discretion to be in service to royalty.

"Thank you, Madge. Please let Trevor know I'll walk the gardens after breakfast." A little advance notice was so often appreciated by the help, so they could ensure all was perfect. Not that she'd complain if something was out of place, but she felt that it might make him feel bad. The Queen tried to always think of those beneath her with compassion and consideration. It set a good example, as one must.

In the bathtub, the Queen leaned forward to allow Madge to scrub her back. She was of an age where it was silly to try to pretend she could still reach her back. That was another reason she treasured Madge: she didn't make it seem awkward that she was in need of assistance. She washed the royal back, then stood aside to ready the Queen's bathrobe.

As they re-emerged into the Queen's quarters, there was a light tap on the door and a kitchen maid poked her head in, "Excuse me, what does she - her majesty - want for breakfast?" It was clear that Sheena didn't see her royal highness when she first looked into the room. Sheena. A ridiculous name, but one couldn't fault a child for their parents' taste. Sheena must, the Queen assumed, be good at her duties or she would be let go.

Madge had a quiet conversation with the girl and returned to attend the Queen. "She didn't curtsey," noted the Queen. It was an observation, not made with malice, but to point out an area where Sheena needed training. "Yes, your highness. An oversight." As Madge assisted with the clasp on the Queen's pearls, she was told, "I'd like the silk brocade jacket this morning, I think." 

"To breakfast?"

"I'll go through the gardens after breakfast. There may be a chill. You did alert Trevor, yes?" There was plenty of time during the Queen's bath when Madge might have called down to the gardener.

"Ah, yes." Madge retrieved the jacket from the wardrobe and slid the sleeves up the Queen's arms. 

"Thank you, Madge." Some may say pearls and silk was "overdressed" but opulence was second nature to royalty. The Queen smiled at her appearance in the gilded mirror and nodded to Madge.

Madge escorted the Queen from her quarters to breakfast. On the way, the Queen nodded acknowledgement to those they passed. She did not see Dr. Carlisle catch up with Madge from behind, and therefore was oblivious to his inquiries as they continued moving. "How is Ingrid today?"

"The same. Cheerful, as far as that goes."

"Still thinks she's royalty?"

"Apparently. Sheena didn't curtsey when she asked about breakfast, and it was noted."

"Ah." Dr. Carlisle looked down at the neat, white French twist on the head behind the walker. He smiled. "Well, it's a common enough delusion. As long as she's not hurting herself or anyone else, let's not be too concerned."

"As you say, Doctor." The doctor turned off into an office before they reached the dining room. As Ingrid sat down, Madge fixed the collar of the chunky beige cardigan which, in the code of Ingrid was "silk brocade". Sometimes Madge wondered what Ingrid saw in her world.

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

"Queen of All She Surveyed" came from the prompt "Opulence" provided by Anstice Brown of Curious Daydreams, in a comment left on my F post, here.


19 April, 2021

Personal Politics #AtoZChallenge P


Cordrey walked down Main Street like he owned the town. He didn't. Not really, but the way things worked in this little corner of the world, he might as well have. Borgan Falls was in a remote part of the state. Cordrey had connections with the County Sheriff's office, and that was just as high as control went out here.

If Cordrey was okay with what you wanted to do, it would be okay. He'd see to it that no trouble came your way. The State didn't pay attention. No real trouble happened out here to make their little town cross the governor's radar.

"Oh, Mr. Mathers, do you have a minute?" An attractive brunette was speed walking to catch up to him, her cowboy boots clacking on the pavement. Cordrey turned with a smile. "Always a minute for you, Gina."

She returned the smile with no thought and reached into her back jeans pocket. "Thanks, Mr. Mathers." She had pulled out a folded piece of paper. "For your next campaign." She handed him the folded check. "From my husband and I."

"Why, thank you Gina. And thank Paul for me. Elections always pop up faster than I expect." He chuckled in that phony "someone's watching" way. "I appreciate your support."

"You have the support of everyone at 'Heels Up', too, Mr. Mathers. Don't forget we're having that party this weekend. You and Connie are welcome as always." It was a formality. Cordrey and Connie Mathers would never be seen in Gina's bar on the outskirts of town. But the "party" was after legal opening hours and Cordrey would keep the officials cool about it. 

He didn't know his own son was expected to be there. His son was part of the MDMA supply chain throughout the region. Dad was so busy accepting bribes and greasing palms that he didn't know what happened in his own house. Most others in town knew his wife was taking her own bribes and favors, but she kept that from him. Squirreling it away, Gina thought, but for what no one knew.

Further down the street, a greying woman with ample hips under her peasant skirt popped out from a store front as he passed. "Mr. Mayor, please! Five minutes of your time!" She had harassed him every day this week, and at least once a week for over a month prior. Usually he didn't stop to chat.

Cordrey plastered his most sympathetic look on his face - he thought. "Mrs. Plummer, yes. I have just a moment before I'm due in chambers." He called his office "his chambers" even though he wasn't a judge, not a lawyer, never majored in political science. He was good at the game of Politics though, and therefore had become Mayor Mathers.

His smarmy smile didn't fool her for a minute. "Mr. Mayor, you must do something about the vandalism in this town!" Mrs. Plummer was the proud owner of the only IGA in town. If you needed groceries in quick order, you went to her. For high volume shopping most people drove the 15 miles to the box store in the next town. Everyone utilized the IGA, but her business was one of the holdouts that didn't grease the Mayor's palm, and therefore her concerns were often unheard.

"Mrs. Plummer, the police are quite busy and understaffed due to budget cuts. If you catch the vandals on camera, maybe we can do something about it. Without any evidence, it's a bit of a witch hunt, don't you agree?" His eyebrows raised in feigned concern. She sighed and folded her arms, frowning. "Have a nice day now, Mrs. Plummer." Cordrey tipped his hat to her and continued up the street to his office.

He was not accosted by Mrs. Plummer on the street anymore for the next three months. 

One night at dinner his wife dropped the bomb that she'd heard someone was opposing him in the next year's election. "Connie, my sweet, my most illustrious campaign manager, tell me, who will I be running against this year?"

Connie was cutting her steak, looking down at her plate as she said, "Um, Geraldine Plummer, actually."

He burst out laughing. "Wow. That relic? We'll bury her."

Connie raised a forkful of meat to her mouth. "Not 'we', my sweet. I'm managing her campaign this time."

The instant frown was a shadow of the shock he felt. "What? No you're not. You're my campaign manager." She was a rain-maker, very good at what she did. She had managed higher level campaigns before she fell in love with Cordrey and opted for this rural life, managing his campaigns and household for years.

"I'm your wife. I'm Geraldine's campaign manager." She chewed a moment, looking at him, then smiled. "Don't be offended. It's not personal; it's politics."

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

My "Personal Politics" story came from the prompt "Politics" provided by Iain Kelly of IainKellyWriting, in a comment left on my M post, here. I never talk politics, so I was hesitant to take on the subject, but I'm letting my readers call the shots!

 

18 April, 2021

Opal's Opponent #AtoZChallenge O


"I'm sorry Dad, for everything." Opal struggled to say those words. Not just because apologizing is hard, but because she wasn't used to seeing her father lying in a hospital bed, looking like such a weak old man. She'd certainly called him a weak old man during her tumultuous teen years, but did she really think he was? Maybe in the heat of a fight.

"Don't be sorry," he said. "I raised a strong, stubborn daughter. I know that. And I'm proud of the woman you've become. Have I ever told you that?"

He hadn't. Theirs was not a cozy relationship. Growing up, Opal had seen him as less an ally and more of an Opponent. She had grown so used to the opposition that she'd intentionally take an opposing view just to fight him on something. That debate skill helped her become a powerful attorney, but the hard relationship behind it made all future relationships hard, too.

She shook her head in response, unable to form words as tears welled up. It was enough. He saw and reached out a hand. Opal hesitated, but took his hand. His bony hand, with flesh like crepe. Her dad's smile reached his eyes with a mischievous gleam. "No..." Releasing her fingers he pointed to the wheeled table nearby. "Care for a re-match?"

Opal stared at the table. A chess set was prepared for play to begin. She hadn't played against her father since her brother's funeral seven years ago, and that had turned into a blow-up. They hadn't even spoken since then. Could they play a game of chess without it turning into a fight about something?

Moving as if in a dream, Opal pulled the table between them. Knowing he was too weak to grip a piece in his fist, she did the honors, allowing him to select sides. He got black. She'd be white. Opal zoned in on the pieces, touching each with a tiny movement, centering them in their places. Then she began.

They played without speaking. It was the quietest match between these two Opponents in her entire life. She knew her father was weak, and assumed his thought had to go into each move and not conversation. For her part, Opal was in the zone, but had a nagging thought at the back of her brain: This would be the last time they were Opponents. In anything

Her father was at death's door, and Opal wouldn't be coming back to the hospital, even if he hung on for a few more days. It was their final match. Neither one ever "let" the other win. It was a code of honor. The first time she had won against him, she was exultant. Thereafter, losing was a torment to her. As the match wound down to checking and moving out of check, Opal saw she was going to win. 

For a moment, she thought of throwing the game. It was only a passing thought, though. He would know it was intentional, and to throw a chess match would be an insult. 

After winning her final chess match against her dying father, Opal left him to rest. She had noticed a change in the noises of the room - the beeps and hums of the machines seemed slower now. "Rest in peace, Dad," she whispered as she closed the door behind her.

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

"Opal's Opponent" came from the prompt "A final chess match" provided by Tired Hamster of Very Important Stuff Here, in a comment left on my N post, here.


17 April, 2021

Not Again #AtoZChallenge N


The rangy warrior looked around the room, checking out his rivals. Who would he be pitted against? A half-dozen hopefuls were seated sporadically about the space, each eyeing the others with suspicion. In a short while, they would be chosen to pair off. "May the best man win."

In another room, the warrior's true Nemesis sat doing the same. Different contestants, different audience, similar battle to be faced.

When the time came, they went out onto the field of battle, each man armed with his wits and whatever strength he carried with him. His opponent was not as strong as he, but had long legs and great speed. It would take all his wits to lay traps against the tall man and so level the playing field.

In the next arena, Nemesis was doing similar maneuvering. They would see each other at the end, no doubt.

A grueling hour passed before the judges determined who would move to the next level. This time the warrior bested his opponent with no trouble. He was on fire. Not because of his opponents in this arena, but because he knew his Nemesis was doing the same elsewhere. Winning each contest didn't matter as much as making better times and more points than that Nemesis did. 

And he couldn't find out how they fared until both arenas closed for the night. That was the passion that kept him going. 

Exhausted after a day in the arena, the warrior returned to his car. He had done well for himself. It only stood to see what happened in the other arena. He drove through the vast parking lot to where she awaited him outside the rival arena. Natali bounced over to the car with more energy than she had a right to have if she had fought half as well as he had.

She took the passenger seat and leaned across to kiss him. "Hi, honey. How did you do?"

"Took second," he growled, waiting for her summary.

"That's great!" she gushed. "I mean, I won, but second is awesome!"

"Not again!" She hadn't asked about his time. It didn't matter yet. They'd compare times over the newspaper in the morning. If he had beaten her time it would be her turn to say "Not again!" She, his greatest love and worst Nemesis.

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

My "Not Again" story came from the prompt "Nemesis" provided by Anstice Brown of Curious Daydreams, in a comment left on my F post, here.


16 April, 2021

Mabel #AtoZChallenge M

 

"You could go by 'May' you know," Beth was advising her friend. They were filling out college applications and Mabel was dying to start fresh in a new location. 

"My mom would kill me. 'I gave you a perfectly good name that honors your grandmother,'" she ended in a high-pitched sarcastic voice. "Not even a middle name that I can go by." She flipped through the college catalog in front of her. Beth pulled it away. 

"Why are you looking at those guys? Don't you want to go to college with me?" Beth was applying to her dad's alma mater, and shoved the brochure across to her friend. "I have an extra application form here if you decide you need it," and she waved a blank form that she pulled from underneath the one she had started writing on.

"I don't think my parents can afford this school." Mabel was turning pages but her mind was elsewhere.

"That's what scholarships are for. Besides, you'll never know if you don't apply." 

"Okay, hand it over."

"Yay!" She held the form out of Mabel's reach as she added, "Now... we both have to fill them in perfectly because there are no extras." She smiled and released the paper. "Go for it, 'May'!"

Mabel smirked at that and picked up a pen. The room got quiet, but for the sound of pens scratching on paper. As she finished hers, Beth asked, "What did you use for your name?"

"I'm waiting. Left it blank for now." She was intent on what she was writing. Beth's mom came in at that moment.

"You need anything? I can get some sandwiches going in the kitchen." Both girls nodded and the parental unit was gone.

Finally Mabel's pen rested on the table and she dropped her voice. "Do you think I can list your address as mine?"

"Why?" Beth had dropped her voice to match Mabel's secrecy. Mabel raised the form so that Beth could see the top "personal information" section. Beth grinned. "I don't mind, but the school might. I approve your new pseudonym, May."

"May-Belle. I'm hoping my mom will understand."

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

My "Mabel" story came from the prompt "Pseudonym" provided by Anstice Brown of Curious Daydreams, in a comment left on my F post, here.