Charli’s challenge

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December 14, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “only in…” It can be used to tell a story about a profession, a place or situation. Go where the prompt leads you.

This was Charli Mill’s addictive flash fiction challenge at the Carrot Ranch this week. I’ve just ingurgitated my dose and fortunately it has taken me to a lighter level than my last somewhat depressing post.

So, in an unusual ‘back to my roots’ mood, I came up with a wee Scottish story. Just for fun…

The McWedding Day

“Gorgeous fabric.”

Mrs McGregor slid along the polished pew to get a better view down the aisle to the front of the church.

“You’re absolutely right, Jean. But it’s a wee bit short, don’t you think?”

“No, but maybe too tight on the hips. Makes it rather lumpy over the bum.”

The organist struck up the first chords and every head turned towards the beaming bride, entering on her father’s arm.

An old Irish cousin, one row back, whispered into her neighbour’s ear – “Only in Scotland could you comment on the groom’s kilt as much as the bride’s gown!”

Image courtesy of etsy.com

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For adults only…

If anyone had had a camera to take a photo of my face at the precise moment of discovery, it would have travelled around cyber-space for a century or more.

Pure shock, horror, and disbelief.

“Who did this? Who the hell did this?” I muttered over and over, my eyes flitting between my colleagues trying to see who looked the guiltiest.

None of them did, but they were all laughing. And laughing. Because it was me, the mum of the show, the fifty year old prude, the one who doesn’t like to mock or tease or talk about anything ‘naughty’.

So if it wasn’t one of them, who was it, goddammit?

“Someone on the bus” my clever colleague remarked. And of course he was undoubtedly right.

Some snotty kid, sitting right behind me, pencil-case to hand, a felt tip pen at the ready, waiting to have its cap removed and trailed across my jacket with the quick flick of an experienced wrist. My drooping hood at the perfect height for his hand. The fake fur inside that hood just thick enough to prevent me from feeling even the slightest scratch of the artist’s tool. Crafty. Little. Git.

I do now remember a lot of hilarity going on in the bus that day. And it was no bloody wonder.

Drawing an almost prehistorically naive picture of a very small part of a man’s anatomy on an ‘old woman’s’ jacket must have made their day. It certainly made my colleagues’ day.

Not mine, however. It took me many long minutes of insistent scrubbing to take it away.

But naturally I couldn’t let it disappear without leaving some evidence of its existence, in true Grotte de Lascaux style.

So let me now make your day too, dearest punks. Cast an eye over this magnificent piece of modern artwork upon textile, circa 2017.

Priceless.

One colleague suggested it may be a double scoop ice cream cone. Nah, don’t think so…

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Flashy Selection Box

Some of you may be wondering what on earth has bitten me and made me start writing all this flash fiction. Nobody? Oh well, I’m going to tell you anyway. Or try to tell you because I’ve been asking myself the same question recently. I did try to explain the feeling as that of an itch being scratched. But I suspect it has become more than that. I think I’m addicted. And it’s not the first time that something has grabbed me and won’t let me go. Small ads had the same effect on me just a short while ago.

But flashing is nothing like looking for a vintage teak table with matching black leatherette chairs, or an absolutely unaffordable house with both a view and a pool.

At least I’m using my brain doing this and not just wearing out my already tired eyes, scrolling and scrolling through the equivalent of a gigantic messy jumble sale.

How does it work, did I hear you ask? Nope? Come on, ask. So, now the flash fiction contest is over, the regular challenge starts with a weekly prompt from an extraordinary lady named Charli Mills. We then have 99 words, no more no less (not including the title) to come up with an idea and turn it into a story, going down whichever path we choose. Charli then collects all the entries and posts them the following week on her site. The variety is amazing. Everybody has a different take on the same prompt, some funny, others sad, or thought-provoking, or troubling, or just downright insane.

And since Christmas is a-comin’, below is a little selection box of some of my veerings into Flashland.

The prompts for these three examples were a more eloquent and detailed version of the following:

1. Self-care.

2. Five things we need every day.

3. A chair on a porch.

As soon as I read the prompt my brain moves into first gear and I’m off. By the time I reach the office I have an idea. By the time I get home it is almost in place, or if my boss has left, it is already on the page at wordcounter.net and ready to be pasted and posted before I leave work. But shhhh…

I hope you enjoy these little snippets of fiction which strangely seem to come from somewhere beyond my normal brain cells.

Blue Moon

She never knew which one to choose. She owned dozens, all lined up in neat, colourful rows inside a shiny, purple box.

Their names were so extravagant – Mayfair Lane, Undercover Show, Pussycat was Here.

She settled for Misty Jade, a colour from the depths of the Caribbean sea.

Slowly stroking the brush onto her short, brittle nails, she dreamt of an island, with warmer climes, where she wouldn’t have to work so hard.

A place where she could paint her nails, lie back and idly watch them dry, every single day. Not just once in a pale blue moon.

S.L.E.E.P.

Heather pulled the pink woollen hat over Emily’s curls.

“What do you need to do at school today?”

“Sleep!”

Emily knew their routine by heart. “Smile. Laugh. Enjoy… I can never say the fourth one.”

“Empathise.”

“Yeah, that. And play.”

“Right.”

Heather prayed hard that her daughter would taste these five ingredients every day of her life, both now and later.

The yellow bus arrived and Emily skipped aboard, grinning at the driver. She turned to wave.

“Sleep well, my petal-face.”

“You too, Mummy. You must try hard too.”

Heather smiled. It was a start. A very good start.

No Goodbye

It was the most beautiful armchair in the whole house. Carefully crafted from a thick coppery leather, it had softened and smoothed since it had left the shop all those years ago.

A faded, red, feather-filled cushion sat far back into its spine, rubbed shiny where her body had pressed hard against it every day, for as long as they could all remember.
They would have loved to drop wearily into its comforting warmth, but it had sat empty for months, ever since she had slipped slowly from its embrace onto the cool porch floor, without even saying goodbye.

P.S. Why not give flash a try? Then we could be junkies together…😉


Image courtesy of notintherulebook

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Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #4

Remember the Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest I entered in October? Well, I just have to let you know (in spite of the fact that I hate bragging) that one of the judges chose my story ‘Linea Nigra’ to be her equal second favourite. Holy McZoly!

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Scars

By Irene Waters

During October, the Rodeo, which was the brain child of Charli Mills from Carrot Ranch, gave us a wonderful opportunity to put ourselves outside our comfort zones by writing different forms and genres. Personally, I found it difficult, challenging but always fun and judging by the number of repeat entries, so did many others.

It was a pleasure to lead the fourth contest and come up with a topic and judging criteria. The topic – Scars – was inspired by a quote by Stephen King – whose book on writing should be read, I believe, by all aspiring writers. He wrote “Writers remember everything … especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you…

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Sweet Sunday

Fire’s on. TV’s on. Feet are up on the coffee table. The poor girl in ‘Don’t tell the Bride’ is going to hate what he’s preparing for her.

And even if I am loving this moment there are still two things missing.

The family. Hubby’s marathoning. Big daughter is in her tiny flat, in her university city, studying, I think. And her wee blister is at her boyfriend’s parents’ home for lunch, undoubtedly showing them how lovely and well brought up she is.

So there’s only me and the cats at home. Weird.

Even weirder was my singleton’s Sunday lunch. This is usually a big affair à la française, with a starter, then painstakingly prepared main course, wide variety of cheeses, and an amazingly special dessert. The girls rush from wherever they may have been partying the night before to be here on time. We use the fancy tablecloth with the fancy matching napkins. We sit for ages around the table, chatting and eating and drinking wine. Our Sunday lunch is sacré.

Not today, my friends. Pizza and sweets. That was it. Oh, I nearly forgot the hummus spooned directly from the tub into my mouth as I stood waiting for the oven to heat up.

I’m still scoffing the sweets as I type. Silly, childish, jellified things, hand-picked by the torn-face boulangère at the end of the street who I imagine assumed they were for my children. Or did she think grandchildren? Bitch.

But you know what? I quite enjoyed it. I wouldn’t want it every week. I’m feeling a bit stuffed with saturated fat and highly refined sugar. And I missed the chat from the bunch. But frankly, getting the Sunday lunch shift off now and again is quite a sweet treat.

Yummy, yummy in my tummy. Aren’t these the cutest little things? That penguin was delicious.

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In training…

Heavens to Murgatroyd, I’ve been absent from this space for over two weeks. That’s the equivalent of two years in blog-time.

And no, I haven’t been swimming in the Caribbean, nor skiing in the Alps. I haven’t been sent on a mission to teach dressage to Peruvian horses, or break dancing to circus poodles in Japan.

I’ve just been doing bits and bobs, dribs and drabs of this and that, willy-nilly, here and there.

And above all I’ve been hesitating. For the first time since this little bloggie was set up last year I have been humming and hawing. And not because I have nothing to write about. I have a list of almost fifty topics scribbled onto the notes page of my pet iPad.

But for once I have started to overthink this blogging affair and have been wondering what may actually interest my followers. In the old days there were only my parents, sister and daughters to think about. Now I have new readers. Ones I know only virtually, others whom I don’t know at all. How did they find me and why are they following me is one of the topics on that list.

The more I hummed and the more I hawed, the more I realised that in fact there is absolutely nothing of any interest to anyone who reads this (except my mum who likes to know what I’m up to). There are no parenting tips, no recipes, no writing advice, no contests, no book or film reviews. I could certainly try and give you some but I can’t guarantee the result.

So I apologise wholeheartedly to anyone who may be looking for those sort of topics. Maybe you should go and look elsewhere.

What the last couple of weeks away have taught me however, is that this space is in fact just a practise ground. A running track, an indoor bike, a rowing machine, a place to hit golf ball after golf ball into a big sprawling net.

In other words this is where I am training for my own personal Olympics. They are coming soon I swear. And they will be taking place right up there inside my box-filled attic of a brain. When I’m fit and ready I will go up there and start sifting through the boxes, one word at a time. Sorting and scribbling until I finally come up with something that is more than just a silly blog post which gives my family a quick chuckle.

Yes, I’m talking about the B word. What I’m working up to, what all this blogging business is about. An interesting, amusing, readable, lovable BOOK.

In the meantime, bear with me, try to remember the aim of my game, ignore the smell of stale sweat, and most importantly just look at the muscles I’m getting on these two typing fingers.

Photo courtesy of Metro.

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On the buses

Remember, remember the month of November. It has different connotations for us all.

Movember is moustache month for the guys (which reminds me that I really need to do something about my own dark stubble). They have a month to let their hairy lips raise awareness for men’s health issues.

NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month of November when highly motivated and prolific writers spend every waking hour writing a complete novel in just thirty days. No, of course I’m not participating in that. Are you crazy?

For me this is Busmo, or Mobus, or maybe even Nobus. Name it as you wish. This is the month when I, oh priviliged, spoilt brat of a woman, have to take the bus to work.

How come? Because the thousand-place free car park beside my office is otherwise occupied. It has transformed itself into a gigantic, shiny, noisy, candy-floss-flavoured fairground. And since I have no intention of fighting with the other nine hundred and ninety-nine car owners for the twenty spaces which remain in town, I went and bought myself a bus pass and have started to discover what life is like on the other side of the road.

Life is stressful and snappy and sad and smelly. I am no longer an independent driver but a fully dependent passenger. Decisions on when to leave and the choice to dilly or to dally are no longer mine to make. The clock dictates my every move.

It rushes me from the breakfast table to slap on my warpaint and run out the door. It makes me gobble my lunch in five minutes flat. It forces me to harass my colleagues and shove them away without a final loo-stop.

I’m a pain at home and a pain at work. Everything I do is timed by the little numbers ticking loudly inside my head. If I miss that one I’ll be late for work. If I miss this one I’ll get home at nine.

And the journey itself is worse. Nobody smiles. Nobody laughs. Everyone stares straight ahead, with the same sad look set hard into their face. It screams – don’t look at me, don’t talk to me, don’t dare give me the hint of a grin! Phones are scrutinised. Bags are placed on empty seats as protection against the unwelcome neighbour. Dirty clad feet are set upon the bright green velvet of the chair across the way. They speak loudly too, those feet. Bugger off, they say.

Three more weeks to go until the fair is over. Then another week to clean up the sticky, oily mess. Will it be enough to stop looking at my watch, stop sprinting out the door, stop sighing at the bus stop when the headlights don’t appear? Will I have time to get a smile, a nod, a quick ‘Bonjour’? Will I ever manage to teach the other passengers a quick Michael Jackson song or a dance as we all weave our lonely way home? Or will I need to do this every day for many years to finally accept the sadness and stress of a trip on the buses?



Photo courtesy of street.nm

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Thank the Saints


For once the Lord is not to be thanked today, over here in the land of baguettes and days off galore. Usually he’s the one giving us a mid-week Sunday here, a welcome Friday at home there, or a random Tuesday break which means we also have to have the Monday off. Naturally. We celebrate everything to do with his birth, resurrection, up-to-heaven day (always a Thursday in May – don’t ask me why), even his mum’s own up-to-heaven day in August. Every single one of these days is religiously respected, no pun intended. And even the most horribly non-believing workers throughout France all get the benefit. So a big thank you goes to the bearded man in the sky. And I’m not talking about the hipster airline pilot who refused to shave. 

Today is a bit different. A Catholic day off it is, but this one is to give us the opportunity to celebrate All Saints. All of them. The ones you have heard of and the ones with the really crazy first names. Like Parfait, meaning Perfect. I met a young teenager named this, many years ago. He was certainly a very nice lad, but how hard it must be to live up to a name like that. And Innocent. Or Urbain. Or Théophanie or Paterne. 

They all have their own day on the calendar and young French parents often use that very calendar to find a cute name for the latest addition to the family. But some of these names really should be avoided at all costs. Like Bonaventure, Scholastique or Modeste. So far I haven’t met any babes with such names, but you never know. Originality and all that.

In any case, the bells have been ringing out all day for these Saints. I heard them dinging down through the fireplace as I ate my very late breakfast. They were still danging as we gathered round the table for our Sunday, oops Wednesday lunch. They kept on donging as I painted my nails a holy shade of gold. They even accompanied Hubby and I on our weekend, nope, mid-week postprandial stroll. I can still hear them now, bringing this lovely, lazy day to a close.

So thank you dearest Saints for giving us these twenty-four sweet hours, whether you are the extremely ordinary plain Jean, or the wacky and weird, but undoubtedly wonderful Willibald. And no, I am going to say nothing whatsoever about that particular Saint’s name. Make up your own jokes please.

Next day off here – the 11th of November. But that one’s a whole different kettle of poisson now, isn’t it? There were no Saints involved there, just millions of heroic men who deserve far more than a simple thank you. N’est ce pas?

Image courtesy of Fotolia

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Tweaky tweak tweak

I’m going crazy over here. My eyeballs are jumping out of their sockets in befuzzled dismay. When will it ever stop? they are screaming. Give up on the flipping tweaking, woman. We can’t take it any more!

There are several definitions for this word. Mine is the last on the list: to make a minor adjustment to.

Minor? Major, more like. To what, you may be wondering? Or maybe not. To yet another text that I plan to submit to yet another contest. Yup, the scratching goes on. But unfortunately this one isn’t flash. This one can be up to one thousand words. That’s a lorra, lorra words to tweak, I can tell you. One hundred words get tweaked in a jiffy. When there are ten times that amount of little buggers on the page they take hours to all fit into exactly the right place. Well, mine do anyway. I have read and reread and rereread that bloody piece and each time I’ll just add a little adjective here, or take out a little adverb there, or realise I have used the same word twice in the same paragraph, oh horror of all horrors. 

When will it end? Will it ever end? Will I ever be satisfied? Or will I just have to decide that enough is enough. It’s done, dusted, tweaked till it squeaks. I suppose so.

What if everything in my life was this tweakable? Maybe for some overly compulsive people it is. Straightening cushions for hours a day, wiping the kitchen counter every five seconds, hoovering the carpet till every strand stands the same way. I would have no time left to live.

And if I carry on like this I’ll have no time left to write. And if nothing is written then there will be nothing left to tweak. And what a pity that would be…

Photo courtesy of Keep Calm-0-Matic

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In Memory

Exactly one year ago today my mother-in-law died alone in a stark hospital room near our home, after fighting hard for three months against an unknown, unnamed enemy. Nobody could tell us exactly what disease she was suffering from, but whatever it was changed her from being a beautiful, active, energetic septuagenarian into a tiny, frail, feverish, dribbling version of herself.

My husband is slowly stepping out of his grief and guilt. He feels he should have done more, been more present, stayed with her on her final night. But how could he have known that she would never wake again? The doctors had given no warning, no time scale to her decline. He undoubtedly knew she was going to die but he just didn’t know when. It has taken him a year to accept his sorrow and allow good memories of his mum to replace the haunting images of her anguished face near the end of her life.

The text below is the one I posted here on that day. It was hurriedly written at my office when everyone else had gone home and I was left alone to remember. Since then her death has pushed me to write other pieces, some sad, others angry. Grief and anger are extraordinary purveyors of words. They seem to fall even faster from my fingertips when my eyes are brimming with tears or my blood boiling with rage. I had never been in such proximity to death before and the experience was deeply disturbing.

I wrote about her illness in this post and the effect of her death here and here. The night of her belated burial ceremony was described at the beginning of July this year and a fictionalised version of that moment won fifth place in a writing contest organised by Dan Alatorre on his site. I have submitted pieces to magazines on this theme and contributed to a website on how to deal with your spouse’s loss of a parent. A first draft for a flash fiction contest has also just been penned on this subject. Obviously I have been hugely affected by this sad time in our lives and writing has helped the emotions rise to the surface and be expelled with some sense of relief and serenity.

I hope you enjoy reading this text for the first or the second time.

                                                                     Sleeping Beauty

If I hadn’t known better I would have sworn you were simply asleep. Your eyes were peacefully closed, your mouth resting and at ease and your cheek was warm under my hand. I was sure I could see the almost imperceptible movement of your chest rising and falling.
 But then the tell-tale signs started to filter through. The shutters were completely shut, the lights dimmed, the sheets folded carefully over your tiny shoulders and there was total silence in your room. A strange, haunting silence that had never been there before. A silence which meant that your rasping, grating breathing of the past few weeks had been quietened forever. Our kisses couldn’t wake you and even your son’s unbearably desperate cry of ‘Mum, Mum!’ did nothing to make your eyes flutter or hands reach out to him as they had done before. You were there but you were gone.

When I think back I realise you were nothing like the clichés of the invasive, prying, jealous mother-in-law. You were discreet, kind, always available. You never told me what to do or when to do it. You had utter faith in my capacity as the wife of your son and mother of your grand-daughters. You respected me, my ideas, my wishes, my way of doing things. Never judgemental, never harsh. We had not one single argument in almost thirty years.

As I was leaving your room this morning I caught sight of the photo I had brought to you only a few days before. It was poking out of the horribly unceremonious plastic bag which contained your personal belongings. An extraordinary photo of the ten of us during the wonderful week we all spent together to celebrate your birthday. You looked so happy, so beautiful, so proud to be surrounded by your husband, your sons, their wives and your grandchildren – the family you had created whom you loved so much, and who loved you. We all looked so happy that day.

Tonight I can only say through my tears goodbye and thank you Sleeping Beauty. You will be missed more than you could ever imagine.


Ceci est un deuxième adieu.

Forget-me-not photo courtesy of Santabanta.com

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