Tag Archives: image prompt

Wednesday Writing – The Empty Vessel

Photo Credit: irene gr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: irene gr via Compfight cc

The Empty Vessel

It was one of his little classmates, dusty and sweat-stained and wide-eyed with urgent excitement, who brought word that Rudi was gone. Papi was in the orange grove. Mama was pounding the bread. And I, I was standing by the window playing with my hair, hoping Nico would walk by.

But instead of wild-eyed, black-eyed Nico, I got a child whose mouth barely closed around the words he carried. It was far from a fair exchange.

‘He did not come to class, Senora!’ babbled the child, before he’d even come fully to a halt. ‘He did not come! The master sent me to fetch him, Senora, for a whipping! And you are to come too so that you may learn, he said, how to keep your pups in line!’

The words spilled across the sunlit floor. Spent, the child panted in the doorway, his eyes bright. My mother said nothing, and simply threw the nearest thing she had to hand, which happened to be the smallest of the scale weights. It smacked the unwelcome messenger smartly on the ear, and she nodded, satisfied. She always had a good arm, and a sharp eye.

‘Ow!’ wailed the child, rubbing his wound. ‘What was that for?’

‘You have upset my yeast, with all your yelling,’ declared Mama. ‘It will be flatter than a crone’s bosom at this rate.’

‘So what? Aren’t you going to fetch Rudi? I am to bring him back for afternoon lessons.’

‘Be off! Tell the master Rudi is unwell.’ Mama’d found her kneading rhythm again, and her words wobbled in time to the beat. ‘Tell him he has not left the outhouse all morning. Tell him even the pigs cannot stand to be downwind of him. Say that -‘

‘Oh! Can I see him?’ crowed the child, dancing from leg to leg with excitement. ‘Can I smell him, Senora?’

Mama picked up the next-heaviest scale weight, and the child whipped away from the door. He was gone, whooping, down the path before I could blink.

I sighed. ‘Aren’t you going to look for him?’

‘He’ll be with Papi, or your uncle.’ (Uncle had the farm next door). ‘I have better things to do than try to understand a seven-year-old.’ She flicked a glance at me. ‘As do you, Mariela. Nico will want more in a wife than hair. Go and find some work to do, and start to learn your trade.’

I felt my cheeks burn blotchy red as I stepped outside.

I didn’t want to feed the chickens, or the pigs, or bring water to the flowers, or sweep the steps. None of those jobs involved grace, and all of them involved sweat. When Nico rode by I wanted to be fragrant and flushed pink, hair shining and sweet, not covered in stench.

So I walked down to the harbour, hoping maybe that the wind would pinch my cheeks and make something beguiling out of my hair. Perhaps I would see Miguel among the boats and perhaps, this time, I might permit him to take the kiss he’d wanted from me for at least six months. Perhaps word of it might reach Nico’s ears.

I smiled at the thought, and walked faster.

But the harbour was deserted. The boats were in, and empty, the catch long gone. I scuffed my way to the water’s edge and sat, the tang of the ocean scrubbing at my lungs.

Far offshore – almost too far for me to see – a boat lay drifting. It looked unmanned. I could make out no trailing mooring rope, nor any oars nor movement, and the current carried it far out as I watched, too far for rescue, and almost too fast to believe.

There was nobody to tell, no alarm to raise. Someone’s livelihood would suffer, but what could I do? I was merely me, Mariela, and nobody was there to help me.

I walked home, unwatched and unwanted.

Dinner sang in the oven, and still no Rudi came. Papi returned from the grove, and no small shadow haunted his. Mama went to Uncle’s house but came home alone.

Then Mama packed some food for Papi and he went out from house to house, asking for his son. Mama ran to the square to search each face, to ask ‘have you seen him?’, and to spread the word. I stayed at home. I thought only of Rudi, but I brushed my hair until it shone like silk, just in case.

It was not until the night was at its thickest that I thought to remember the drifting boat, the one which had been deliberately untied and left to the mercy of the sea, the one which had looked empty – maybe because the person inside it had been smaller than a bundle of sticks, and hiding because the whole thing was a great adventure, like the ones in the comics he saw for sale outside the drogueria. Papi slapped me when I told him, but I kept my weeping inside.

We stumbled to the shoreline in the dark but all we saw was empty, open water, and one boat missing from the dock. We sat until the morning came, but all trace of boat and boy were gone.

Later that same day, I cut my hair up to my skull, like a small child’s. Nico never looked at me again. And Miguel? He found his kisses elsewhere, after that.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Writing – ‘Good Things Come’

Photo Credit: Leonrw via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Leonrw via Compfight cc

Good Things Come

Leave the ‘ouse at seven-twelve; all good. Hop the train at seven-forty; all good. The gatherin’ crowd means I get shoved into someone’s armpit – not so good, but it could be worse. I feel like a slab of meat in an abattoir, my fingers goin’ numb around the bar suspended from the carriage ceiling, swayin’ gently with the clack-clack, just like every other poor sod.

But it’s all good.

We screech into her station, and I watch as she elbows her way on, knockin’ folk left and right. I hide behind some bloke’s newspaper, FTSE-this and NASDAQ-that lickin’ my eyeballs, but when I stick my ‘ead back out again I see ‘er, like she’s got an ‘oming beacon stuck to her forehead. She jus’ draws the eye, y’know? Face like one o’ them statues. Angled. Perfect.

She looks tired this morning, though. Can ‘ardly blame ‘er. You ‘ad a late night, eh? Oblivious, she flicks her finger up and down ‘er phone screen, swipin’ this way an’ that. Workin’? Sendin’ a very important email? I grin. Or checkin’ your dating profile, are we, love? Leanne6Herts, that’s you. Tweetin’ about your night on the tiles, yeah?

I look away before I want to. Any longer an’ she’d have felt it, like a weight. Any longer, an’ I might as well have screamed her name. I bite my lip and breathe, staring in the direction of the window, gettin’ an eyeful of some woman’s ear’ole, and beyond that, a spaced-out looking dropout with a nose-ring. Scum.

The ping as we reach the next station causes a handy bit of kerfuffle in the carriage, just enough to give me the chance to catch another glimpse. She’s leanin’ against the wall, her ‘andbag held tight, water bottle clutched like a baby. Still on the blinkin’ phone. In ‘er own world, this one. In ‘er own bloody world. Don’t I know it.

Eight-nineteen. We reach our destination right on time.

She’s ever so polite, stoppin’ to let folk off in front of her, smilin’ at some bint with a kid. Gives me a chance to slip out past her as she’s helpin’ to get the pram down from the carriage to the platform, all laughter and jollity. You can turn it on when you want to, eh?

The river of people bashes past me, umbrellas and briefcase-edges and cleared throats and mumbled conversations and excuse mes and muttered curses. I ‘ang about by the barrier, cradlin’ my ticket, ready to slip through. Just got to time it right.

‘Ere she is.

I slide up to the validator, an’ out I go. Carried along by the flow, we make our way up to the bridge like we’re all one tribe, y’know, all fightin’ the same fight. Suits and jeans alike, skin’eads and barbershop jobs. Nobody looks at anybody else. Nobody speaks. Nobody even notices me.

I make it across the bridge, no problem. Timin’, I warn myself, chancin’ a look back. I stop, ignorin’ the shakin’ heads and the clickin’ tongues all around me. Time it right, man!

She’s over halfway across – no goin’ back now, sunshine. She’s still clutchin’ that stupid water bottle, bags under ‘er eyes, face pale. I can barely keep it in long enough to let ‘er look up, in ‘er own time, an’ just when I think she won’t, she does. She finally does.

She looks up an’ sees me there, the press of people at ‘er back and the flow urgin’ her on. I smile my widest smile an’ hold out my arms, welcomin’-like, an’ she tries to stop walkin’ but someone bashes into her. Come on, darlin’. You ain’t got no choice. I tried it the nice way, and you weren’t ‘aving it. I’ve waited long enough.

She drops the water bottle, an’ it gets kicked away, quick as quick, as the press of people carries her to me like a reward, like a prize. Like nothin’ more than I deserve.

 

 

Flash Friday Fiction – ‘Thunderqueen’

Vardezia, Georgia. CC photo by Ben van der Ploeg. Sourced: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Vardzia, Georgia. CC photo by Ben van der Ploeg. Sourced: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Thunderqueen

Boots half-tied, goggles hanging loose, I run.

Laughter trails my clattering way up and down steps, rattling railings in my rush. I keep my eyes on the Grand Chambers above, yawning into the early morning, and pray. I can’t be late – not today.

‘Tamar!’ I skid in, heart pickpockpicking.

‘Sir.’ My tongue like stale bread in my mouth.

‘Shouldn’t you be at your station?’

‘Sir,’ I agree.

He stares, eyebrows raised.

‘Sir,’ I nod, taking off again.

I slide, windless, into my booth. Precip levels good; speed good. My fingers shake as I switch switches and flick levers.

The alarm drives everyone to their seats; strapped in, we wait.

The guttural boom of the storm-seed deep within the Chamber makes us start; then, there it is, curling forth like smoke, its dark heart already alive with lightning.

Our first thunderstorm of the season, and it’s looking fine.

‘Tamar!’ crackles my radio. I jump, and press ‘Release.’

‘Sir,’ I whisper.

 

**

The usual rules apply over at Flash! Friday this week – a story of between 140 and 160 words based around an image of the ancient monastery/settlement at Vardzia, Georgia, which also features a thunderstorm. Jeesh. They don’t make it easy. I’m not sure where the ‘storm-seed’ for this one came from, but I’m just glad it did. For a while, I worried I’d have to sit this one out. I hope you enjoyed this small tale of the craftspeople who bring us our storms – you didn’t think they just happened, did you? – and that you take a look at the other stories over on the Flash! Friday site. They’re masterclasses of ingenuity and wordplay – and maybe you’ll be intrigued enough to give it a go yourself.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Wednesday Writing – ‘Swarm’

Image: fusionmarketsite.com

Image: fusionmarketsite.com

Swarm

I watch you from the door. You’re working, in your own world as usual. Your head is your hive and your thoughts buzz about inside it, creating the honeyed memories of a life you may never live. As you bend and twist, plant and weed, ignoring me while appearing not to, I feel our baby move against my bladder. I want to wrench it loose, tell it to sit still, punish it with words and fists, and it is an effort not to scream.

All of this was your idea. The move. The animals. The beehives at the end of our long garden, and the henhouse by the kitchen door. We grew the land as we grew the house, and then you made me grow a child to tie me here.

At night, I trail down to the beehives through the long grass, my bulging belly hard and hot and heavy, and I whisper to the creatures inside. I tell them to swarm, to pick up their gold and leave, to darken the sky with the humming of their wings. I tell them not to look back. Sometimes I imagine them rippling over my skin like water, dusting me pollen-yellow, grappling with my bulk until they’ve lifted me into the air and borne me away like dust on the wind.

The bees might be the only thing here that can fly, but I know how many stings it takes to kill.

 

China In Your Hand

Image: 'Shiva'. CC Image by Raphael Goetter. Sourced via: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Image: ‘Shiva’. CC Image by Raphael Goetter. Sourced via: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Today’s Flash! Friday image is above; the compulsory concept (which had to make an appearance, though not necessarily the word itself) was ‘clumsiness.’

China In Your Hand

We were like one body – that’s what Mr Hardy said. Tumble, girls! Now, spin! That’s it! I’d do whatever it took to hear his ‘perfect!’, to dismount with my feet exactly right, to see the wide grin on Elizabeth’s face which, I knew, mirrored mine.

Four hours a day, six days a week. More when Regionals drew near.

‘You girls are closer than sisters,’ our teacher smiled. ‘No doubt we’ll see you on the winners’ podium in years to come, eh?’ I wanted it more than anything; I dreamed in gold. My mind was stuffed full of stretches and leaps, tucks and pikes.

Then, Liz started falling. We let it slide for a while – distractions, or lack of focus. But when our rankings began dropping, Mr H took her aside. Her eyes found mine as he told her, but I blinked and looked away.

As she grabbed her stuff and left, I felt, thick-fingered, like I’d dropped something precious.

**

The state of the world has me in a funk today. Writing can lighten the burden and distract the heart; it can bring brightness to places which have fallen into darkness. It’s not trivial, or pointless, or impractical, or silly. In fact, it’s life-saving. Writing this story gave me almost an hour’s peace, in which I didn’t think about anything painful. Perhaps, though, my feelings about the wider world came out, somehow, in what I wrote – will we ever realise the value of what we have until we’ve broken it beyond repair, and it lies in shards at our feet?

The realities aren’t going away. But maybe, with art and education and compassion, we can bring peace, of a sort, to some. My thoughts today are with all those millions of people all over the world who are less free than me.

Wednesday Writing

Photo Credit: Anoop Negi via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Anoop Negi via Compfight cc

The Bird-Baiter

‘Hey, Noosh!’ Siggy. Great. Just great. ‘You on late shift tonight, eh?’

‘Well, uh. I’m hardly here just to see you, friend.’ He fell into step beside me, long and lanky where I was twisted and frail. His arms swung free. Hands at the ready.

‘Sure, sure. Think you can catch somethin’ ‘sides starlight tonight, maybe?’ He laughed like a flung cat, all hssss and no ha.

‘Try my best, I guess,’ I said, wishing he’d go back to whatever it was he’d been doing before he spotted me. Spying on the women’s hut, prob’ly.

‘Yeah. Believe it when I see it.’ He clapped me on the back, fit to knock me flat. ‘See you at sunup, little man.’

‘Little man! I’m older’n you,’ I muttered, once he was well away.

Didn’t take me long to reach the Sand. It stretched for miles in both directions, the sea’s gentle kisses already lulling me. I wasn’t the first Baiter to dream on the job, and sure I wouldn’t be the last, but for fellas like Siggy, one slip-up was more than enough.

‘Noosh,’ nodded Barret. ‘You’re early.’

‘Sir,’ I said, slipping on my gloves.

‘Got your goggles?’ he asked, pointing towards the spares box, just in case. But who’d want goggles full o’ someone else’s sweat and spit? I fumbled in my pocket and drew out my own, facet-cut lenses polished clean, adjusters oiled and ready.

‘I’ll jus’ get started, sir. If that’s fine with you.’ I strung the goggles loosely round my neck and tried to look capable in my too-big gloves, made for proper hands. Barret hmmed and went back to his paperwork, waving me vaguely on. So I went.

I settled onto the perch, comfy as a cactus mattress, and watched the dying sunlight turn the sea pink. I grabbed up my rope, nestling it loosely between and around my gloved fingers. I didn’t bother with my goggles, not yet. They made the world look like a headache, unless it was full dark, and everyone knew birds didn’t come out at dusk.

I did check whether the Bait was in the net – the guy before me had done his job right, for once. Then my gaze roamed the sea for a while, watching the waves.

So, when the rope jerked, it fair knocked me off my perch. I pulled and tied it off instantly, though, without even thinking. The huge net at the rope’s far end clapped shut, just as it should, and it jerked, tautly, with the kicking of my prey. I closed my eyes, fumbling my goggles on with shaking, gloved hands. Then, I squinted through the haze and caught the flash of one giant white wing, the edges of the world shattering off into multicoloured planes.

I slithered out of my gloves and grabbed the knife at my belt. Throat, wings, feet, I recited as I clambered down. I’d never had to finish a catch; I’d never made one alone before. My knife was a stranger in my palm.

I slapped my way down the boards, approaching the net carefully. The catch thrashed about in it, a bird as white as bone and easily as big as me, which was big for a bird. Its beak was as long as my arm and it shone like moonlight on water. I’d seen, up close, the damage it could do.

‘Easy,’ I whispered. ‘Easy, now.’ The bird reared back its head and screamed at me. I tried to hide the knife behind my back, but there was no fooling it. Huge black eyes rolled, following my movements. ‘I don’t want to hurt you,’ I told it, because it was true. Cut just right, we’d always been told, and the catch feels nothing. It just dies.

I blinked, frowning, as pale, pinkish light started creeping in around the edges of my goggles. They began to steam up. I swore under my breath, but knew I deserved as much for hauling them on in a hurry. I stuffed my knife back into my belt and scrunched up my eyes before pulling my goggles away from my face. I started to resettle them, hoping the seal would take properly this time. This job had to be done right.

‘Please,’ said a voice. ‘Please, I’m begging you. Don’t hurt me.’

I held my breath. For a long second, I stood, goggles in hand, and then I made another move to put them on again. Get this done, and stop being stupid little-man Noosh, no-catch nobody.

‘No! Not those stupid things! Please! Look at me. With your own eyes.’ The voice was like soft cool sand sliding through my fingers. I chewed on my lip for a bit, feeling Barret’s gaze on me, hoping he wasn’t spying out the window of the Baiters’ hut, wondering what the hell I thought I was doing.

And then I cracked one eyelid, just a hair’s breadth, just to see. I wasn’t long about whacking it closed again.

Half a breath later I flicked my two eyes open and stared, my heart throbbing so fast it made my whole body shake.

A woman lay in the net – a white woman, pale as a pearl, with hair that looked like a candle flame. She had a vivid gash down one leg and she cradled one arm, like it was injured. She was wrapped up into herself so that I couldn’t see, but I could tell. She was naked.

‘I know what you want to do,’ she said. ‘Please. Don’t. Your people have killed so many of my sisters already.’

My mouth fell open. ‘Your – your sisters? But we kill the mountain birds. For food. We don’t kill no women.’

‘They are,’ she said, sadly, ‘one and the same.’

‘But I don’t -‘ I began. She shook her head.

‘I don’t have time to explain. Please. I will find it hard enough to fly with my injuries as they are; with every second, I grow weaker. I beg you – set me free.’

‘But – I can’t,’ I said. Her skin glowed even whiter now in the growing dark, and it drew my eye. ‘I have to finish a catch, or I’ll never be – I’ll never be good enough.’

‘I don’t want to die,’ she told me, fixing me with those large black eyes.

I leaned in close. Her pulse was hopping in her throat and I could hear her breathing, fast and shallow. I wrapped my fingers around my knife handle and drew it out; she flinched, a huge tear rolling down her moonlight cheek.

I slashed a hole in the net, hoping it was big enough, and then I turned around. I wanted to vomit, but I bent forward and breathed deep for a while, and it passed. Through the rushing of my blood I heard the fluttering swoosh as she clambered free, and out of the corner of my upside-down eye I saw her flying, skin like a coconut’s innards and hair like the sun.

I didn’t see the spear, and neither did she.

With a whoop, Siggy and his idiot friends, goggles all round, clambered out of the undergrowth. I didn’t see where she fell, and I couldn’t watch them bring her in.

When I wouldn’t join in the feast the next day, Barret called me over and told me I’d be a better farmer than a bird-baiter, anyway. He gave me three weeks’ pay and a handshake.

I looked him in the eye, and in his face I saw white-skinned women with bright yellow hair, and I knew nothing I could say would change his mind. I saw myself being laughed at as the village loon if I said a word to anyone else, and I knew he wasn’t going to explain.

So, now I grow beans and maize, and it’s a fine life. I go to the feasts, but I don’t eat, and at night I stare at the mountains and dream of star-pale skin and hair like fire.

 

 

Friday Flash Fiction

Image: New Old Stock http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Image: New Old Stock
http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Karl and Eleanor

Karl used to joke he’d married her because of her skill with a floormop and duster. He’d say it in company, not caring how he sounded, braying with laughter like a common longshoreman; he’d say it in her hearing, usually with a wink in her direction and a glass in hand. She was sure he said it to anyone who’d listen, and that those who heard it believed it.

She’d learned, years ago, how to smile through a mouthful of bile.

But she’d married Karl so that she’d never have to mop a floor again. Why else would she have accepted him, an out-of-towner? He’d swept in when she was barely seventeen, chrome-shiny car and slicked-back hair, smelling like opportunity. She saw a life of socials and smiling, pearls and aperitifs, and she’d taken the chance.

But he’d made a series of bad decisions, of which she had been the first.

They’d rubbed along together okay while Karl Jr was young; he’d been such a sweet boy, always trying to please. They’d corrected him as gently as they knew how, and he’d grown to be a fine young man, a better business mind than his father, a discreet player in his private affairs. But he’d moved away, and coming for a visit was always too much trouble.

‘Next month, Ma. I promise. You wait and see!’

So, she began to think about ways to loosen her shackles. Divorce was too long, too expensive and too shameful. She wasn’t about to leave with nothing, either, simply pack a valise and raid her emergency fund for the bus fare to Virginia. Her sister would turn her around the second she landed on her doorstep, of course, and the fact that she had nowhere else to go filled her belly with cramping panic.

She knew there was another way, and it sang to her at night.

Getting her hands on what she needed was easier than she’d thought. ‘Oh, wow – you mean you don’t got one of these already? Jeez, ma’am. Let’s get that fixed, right here.’ The salesman in the tiny shop, the name of which she forgot as soon as she slid her falsified documents over the counter, couldn’t have been more helpful. She paid him extra, and that was that.

It took her a while to get used to the weight, but she was a fast learner.

She picked the day, and planned accordingly. Kiss Karl off at the door by 8.10 a.m., refresh the house till 10.30, take some coffee with Clever Housekeeper magazine until 11, then be seen leaving to get the groceries. If she packed her purse just right, you couldn’t even tell there was more in it than her pocketbook. She’d checked.

Karl had an early lunch that day, and she was planning to forget.

She had come home just after midday, a bag in each arm, nodding and smiling as she went. Mr Levenson had stopped her for a chat, and she’d had to make the excuse that she was expecting a call; she couldn’t be late. Not today. Twelve-twenty: home. She turned up the radio in the kitchen and sang as she unpacked the groceries. She had ten minutes.

Twelve twenty-seven: the lock rattled, just barely, in the back door.

Turning up the radio, she checked her purse was in grabbing distance, open and ready. A creak of the hinge, and a heavy tread in the hallway, and she just knew the next thing would be: ‘Eleanor? You got my lunch ready, hon? I’m just gonna help myself to a drink.’ The door closed with a soft thud. She slid her hand into her purse and withdrew it. She turned; a tall shape, in a dark jacket, stood with his back to her.

She screamed and fired, all in the same second.

There was no surprise. No yelling. No pleading or swearing. He just hit the wall, a mess of red, and slithered to the ground. The radio warbled about summertime girls as she dropped the pistol and let it clatter across the kitchen tiles.

It took a second for her to see.

Too much hair. Too tall. Too young. Karl Jr had called the week before – he had a surprise for her, he’d said. No, he wasn’t going to tell her anything about it – it wouldn’t be a surprise then, would it? She’d laughed, expecting to hear about a pretty little girl who’d be wearing his ring in a week or two. She hadn’t expected this.

He’d dropped a bag, bigger than an overnight; he’d have stayed a week, maybe.

She stumbled backwards, out through the family room, down the hall, staring at the growing pool around her son, and out the front door. When Karl had come home at twelve thirty-six, shouting sorry I’m late, he smelled it before he saw it, and then threw up before calling the cops. They found her wandering the streets less than an hour later, staring into shop windows, without a cent on her; she’d left her full purse at home.

She needed to buy Lysol, she told the cops, over and over, her eyes wide and wild, to clean her kitchen floor.