Samuel Stivens rubbed the five-day-old stubble on his chin as he contemplated his options. He couldn’t see many through the whiskey buzz. After twelve hours on the docks stacking grain, his weary eyes blurred the black letters on the ivory page. Although he could hardly see straight, her words were clear:
You should know that I am to wed Bartholomew Folsom at the end of next month.
“So what’ll ya do?” Barclay asked before he chugged the last of his beer and slammed the mug on the smudged bar. Barclay had spent the last two months working beside him, so he knew all about Caroline. The first day they met, Samuel made the mistake of asking if he was from England. In three lightning-fast strides, Barclay fisted his shirt and pulled him to his face. He threatened a blinker if he ever insulted him again. Paralyzed with fear (and by the wretched smell of Barclay’s breath) Samuel apologized and promised his best behavior. Later, he discovered Barclay left Scotland two years ago to see the world. Samuel wondered if he’d seen a world beyond the docks or the pub, but he wasn’t idiot enough to ask.
Samuel cringed when Barclay let out a belch he could smell. “I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I think I sold my soul to the devil.”
Barclay laughed. “I doubt you seen the devil, mate!”
“What kind of man offers three weeks’ pay to the man his daughter is to marry, on the condition he walks away?”
His co-worker raised an unruly black eyebrow. “What kind of man takes such an offer?”
Samuel glared at his whiskey sour. He’d progressed from beer hours ago.
“When’s she marrying the bloke?”
“Aye. Ain’t good.” He tapped his empty mug. “Why don’t ya just buy yer soul back, then?” He nudged Samuel. “Or, how ‘bout that broad over there? She might take yer mind off things.”
Samuel peered through the haze of cigarette smoke and working class stench. Neither the booze nor the thick air could give proper cover to her exposed cleavage. “I’m done.” He slid off the stool and dropped several coins on the bar.
Barclay shrugged and ordered another beer.
* * * * * * * * *
Three days later, Samuel debated whether he should go to the front door or to the east side loft window. On the one hand, sneaking to her window might besmirch her reputation; however, he doubted he would be granted proper passage.
He scooped some pebbles and flung them one by one at her window. With each steady ping, his anticipation grew. It would only be a matter of time before curiosity drew her to the window. Sure enough, the curtains parted.
“What are you doing, you fool boy?”
Samuel gulped. “I-uh… I wanted to see Caroline, Ma’am.”
Caroline’s mother pursed her lips. “She’s not here.”
“Where is she, Ma’am? I must talk to her.”
“She married last week.”
“Oh. G’night then, Ma’am.” He tipped his hat.
Samuel pulled his coat tight to block the chilly post-dusk air. He shoved his hands in his pockets and felt the envelope. He’d intended to give the money back.
He shuffled down the dirt road. The Folsoms lived less than three miles away. An hour later, he rapped on the door. Through the crack, he recognized the hazel eye.
The door opened wide. “Samuel…. What are you doing here?”
He shifted his gaze to his feet to keep from staring at her cotton nightshirt. “I hoped you’d marry me, but I’m too late.”
She stepped onto the porch and pulled the door latched behind her. “Let’s go.”
“You’re married now.”
“Not in my heart.” She flung her arms around him. “I love you.”
Tears soaked through the chest of his thread-bare coat. “I don’t even have a horse.”
“There are several in the stable. I’ll dress and meet you there in five minutes.”
Samuel waited, half expecting her to not show. He heard rustling in the hay and his heartbeat quickened. “H-hello?”
Bart rounded the corner, zipping his pants. “What are you doing here?”
Samuel gave him an obvious once-over. His unbuttoned shirt and disheveled hair were clues that led to a petite blonde peeping around the corner.
Bart lunged, hands grasping for his neck. Samuel kneed him and a right hook sent Bart stumbling backwards. His head cracked on a stall gate.
“She deserves better than you,” Samuel said through gritted teeth as he continued to pummel the unconscious man. He only stopped when he saw her skirt.
Caroline’s gaze traveled between the two men and then to something beyond them.
Samuel looked over his shoulder to see the blonde-haired woman standing in full view, gaping at them.
“Let’s go.” Caroline’s voice was firm.
He saddled the horses, but before he mounted, he pulled the envelope from his pocket and dropped it by Bart’s body.
“I’m not a horse thief.”
Since I posted my Speakeasy story yesterday, I changed the ending on that story a little. I also wrote this as a sort of continuation to it, although I think either one can be read stand-alone. If you want to read what led up to this, click here to read the prior segment.
Thanks for stopping by!
Dorothy skipped into the barn. “Lookie, here! A looooove note from Samuel Stivens,” she taunted in a sing-song voice. She made kissing noises and then clasped the letter to her chest.
Caroline dusted off her skirt and ran toward her little sister. “Give it to me!” Her left boot knocked over the milk pail.
Both girls gasped.
Caroline stooped to right the bucket. “Mom’s going to be mad. Sophie’s dry and we won’t have milk for dinner.”
Dorothy scrunched her eight-year-old face. “Maybe it’s ‘cause yer tryin’ to milk a bull. Can’t you see the horns?” She giggled. “Or the…” she pointed to the underside of the animal. “Yer lucky you didn’t get knocked silly!”
Blushing, she ripped the letter from Dorothy’s hand. She plopped onto a bale of hay and took a deep breath before slipping her finger under the envelope flap. Sam left for the city two-and-a-half months ago to find work because after three seasons of drought, the ground supported death more than life. Caroline prayed this would be the letter where he sent for her.
I found a job at the docks. For twelve hours a day, I stack grain. The meager pay barely covers my expenses. It’s not nearly enough to support a family, so I have to withdraw my proposal until such time as I am able to afford to properly care for you.
I hope you will wait for me, but I understand if you cannot do so.
Caroline felt the blood drain from her face. At age nineteen and seven months, her parents pressured her to marry. Mostly because they couldn’t afford another mouth to feed, but she knew the gossip about her marriageability bothered them as well.
“Whatsa matter?” Dorothy patted her shoulder. “You look like you seen a ghost.”
“You wouldn’t understand, Dot.” Caroline sighed. “Sometimes when you’re grown up you have to do things you don’t want to do.”
Dorothy wrinkled her nose. “Then I don’t wanna grow up.”
Caroline smiled. “Neither do I, kid. Neither do I.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Dressed in her nightshirt and sleeping cap, Caroline sat at her wooden desk, inked quill poised over paper. Just as she imagined, her father insisted she marry Bart Folsom. His family owned the town mercantile, which her father found stable and honorable. He turned a blind eye to the rumors of Bart’s carousing and dalliances with prostitutes in the shadowed alleys beyond Main Street.
Her protests ignored, Caroline had to accept that she would be wed the next month. At the mere thought of him touching her, acid backed up into her throat. She forced it down.
I’m saddened that your work is unfulfilling and that you are unable to keep your promise. I had hoped that you would find faith to believe love would see us through you would find prosperity.
She crumpled the paper and shoved it off the desk. She felt trapped by the limitations of her words. A part of her wanted so much to condemn him; as if his guilty emotional imprisonment would grant her freedom from her own atrocious future. However, in her heart, she didn’t want the responsibility of forcing him to bear the burden of her circumstances, so she decided to project the illusion of happiness instead.
I’m saddened that your work is unfulfilling, but I believe, in time, innumerous blessings will be bestowed upon you. The good Lord gives us tribulations so that we may appreciate our times of peace.
You should know that I am to wed Bartholomew Folsom at the end of next month. Although I gave my heart to you, I will dedicate what remains to my new husband.
I wish you the best.
She folded the paper in thirds and slipped it into an envelope. After extinguishing the lamp, she crawled into bed and pulled the covers to her chin. In the morning, she would take it to the post office. She hoped her letter would free him to pursue a new future.
Loneliness and dread gnawed at her insides. Caroline knew she had no choice but to accept a life without her Samuel. She figured in time, she might be blessed with some shade of happiness. She prayed the same for Sam.
But Sam was never the same again.
This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is 734) and (1) use “But Sam was never the same again.” as the last sentence; and (2) make some sort of reference to the video prompt, a short film, entitled Writer’s Block, by Tom Gran and Martin Woolley.
The letter with the strike-through lines and the paragraph following it are my references to the video prompt.
Note: I amended the last few sentences after original posting (but before linking to Speakeasy grid.) I think it flows better now. Also, for fun, I wrote a continuation, from Samuel’s POV. It’s not part of the challenge, but if you’re interested in reading it, click here!
The challenge is open to everyone, so click the badge below if you’re curious to find out more!
P.S. I have been away from the computer for the last few days, so I’m a bit behind on reading and commenting. If you’ve visited here lately and I’ve not responded, please bear with me as I catch up :)
Nature can be harsh,
Still, life manages to thrive.
My pampered trees die.
I’m always fascinated when I see trees, shrubs, or any kind of growth emerging from rocky terrain (and I see that often here in Arizona!). This photo is zoomed into the top of Red Mountain. These trees flourish, yet the ones carefully planted in our yard with a mixture of soil and fertilizer, and watered several times weekly die under my care. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of vegetation – if it has roots, I kill it.
Thank goodness I’ve had better luck with children and pets!
He taught me how to read people’s eyes. He, a student of non-verbal cues, became my teacher. Without him, I might not have noticed the visual embrace of lovers’ extended stare, the broken contact guarding a secret, or the lie harbored in a sideways glance.
As I pinned his laundered shirt on the clothesline, I hoped I had been a good student. But could the student interpret the teacher?
“You know how to tell if someone is into you?” He’d asked on our first date over twenty years ago. He twirled spaghetti around his fork, never shifting his gaze from me.
“Not really.” I glanced away, unwilling to surrender to vulnerability. I focused an inordinate amount of attention on my iced tea, poking the lemon wedge with my straw and swirling sugar sediment to watch it settle like flakes in a shaken snow globe.
He leaned forward, elbows on the table. “Eye contact.”
“Hmmm. “ Realizing my preoccupation with the straw, I let go.
“Aren’t you going to ask how much?”
I shrugged. “I presume the look would be longer than one given to a panhandler and less than a rush hour car crash.”
He laughed. “Eight seconds.”
“Is that a fact?” I tied knots in the paper straw wrapper. I couldn’t let my eyes betray me.
He leaned back in his chair. “From my experience.”
I lifted my gaze to him. “And what do you surmise from our eye contact?” My boldness surprised me.
“If I told you right now, you’d run and never turn back.”
His lopsided grin made my stomach quiver. I tilted my head to the side, wordlessly asking for elaboration.
His hand covered my fidgety hands. “I’ll wait. I know what I want, but I sense you’re scared.”
He had me at I’ll wait.
Over the clothesline, I spied him leaning on the wall of a nearby terrace. Uncertainty crept over me. I feared he’d become bored, or worse, had already found comfort in another’s arms. Until a few months ago, he would tend to laundry with me. He’d shake the clothes and hand them to me to pin, our hands brushing in the exchange. Maybe I should have said how much the intimacy of an ordinary moment meant to me? I thought he knew.
He rubbed his chin stubble with his right hand, thoughts obviously absent from the action. He shook his head. I knew frustration when I saw it. Then he ducked out of sight.
I stared, hoping he would sense my need. He didn’t. I clipped the last white shirt to the line and grabbed the empty basket. I contemplated heading to the garden to read; to avoid him because my fears might be confirmed. Instead, I took to the stairs, following the labyrinth that led to the other terrace.
Before I crossed the threshold, I took a deep breath and imagined courage inflating my lungs. “We need to talk.”
He jerked his head up, obviously startled. “Addy, I didn’t expect you…”
I wanted to cry. Everyone called me Adele. The familiar, intimate ‘Addy’ was reserved only for him. He rose to his feet, standing in front of what he’d been fiddling with. I tried to peek around him, but his legs blocked my view. “Do you still love me?”
His eyes widened, as if my words had lashed him across the cheek. “More than ever. Why do you ask?” He moved toward me.
I averted my gaze to the ground. “You’ve been distant lately and I worried you’d found someone else.”
With his index finger, he nudged my chin. I focused on the flecks of amber amongst the green. “I only love you. Come here.” He took my hand and led me further onto the terrace. “We’ll be married twenty-one years…”
“Tomorrow,” I finished.
He smiled. “Yes. I’ve been working on something special. It’s not quite done, but I think it’s time you see it.” He stopped in front of a stone structure, about two feet tall.
“Oh. It’s nice.”
He knelt. “Look closer.” He pulled me beside him.
I took in the peaks and valleys as my fingertips brushed the intricate details. I gasped when I realized the sculpture was of us in an embrace. “It’s beautiful,” I managed through threatened tears.
“As are you, my dear.”
Our visual connection held for much longer than eight seconds. In his eyes, I read everything I needed to know.
He loves me.
This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (I’m at 740) and (1) use the sentence ““He taught me how to read people’s eyes.” as the first sentence, AND (2) make some sort of reference to the art prompt, Waterfall, a lithograph by the master of impossible constructions, M.C. Escher.
If you’re diabetic, I hope you have insulin handy. It’s funny, but I find it much easier to write fear, tragedy and heartbreak than to write a sweet and sentimental love story. I’m not sure what that says about me! At any rate, I resisted the urge to twist this into a sad ending and left it on a high note (you know, to really throw you off :) )
The prompt is open to anyone, so if you’re interested in joining the fun, click the badge below!
This story is prompted by the photo below, offered by Emilio Pasquale. Click his name to check out his photography blog (you won’t be disappointed!)
The asphalt seams thumped a steady rhythm as she sped through the dust coagulating in the late-afternoon desert air. Both hands gripped the steering wheel as if it was the only tether saving her from being swallowed by blackness. Part of her feared it might be too late; that the darkness which began as a pin-point deep in her soul had already bloomed into an inky pool that engulfed her heart and slithered through her veins.
Anna Morris hadn’t always been that way. She could remember a righteous childhood where God had smiled upon her. Growing up, she went to church with her parents every Sunday and sometimes Wednesday, clothed in frilly dresses, white ankle socks with ruffles, and patent leather Mary Janes. During middle school and high school, she focused on the likes of Newton, Pascal and Aristotle, rather than the boys in class who managed to distract her friends with their unpolished charms. It was her senior year in high school when the light shifted and shadows crept into her world.
To round out the credentials on her college application, Anna began volunteering at a care home. The first resident she visited was Mabel Pyerstrom. The fragile woman must’ve been no taller than five feet, and weighed about ninety pounds, judging by the small hump tucked under the crisp white linens. Anna could remember the conversation like it happened yesterday, not twenty years ago. Her voice laced with apprehension, she had introduced herself as “Anna.”
“Come, sit by me,” Mabel said, her trembled words both fragile and demanding.
Anna obeyed. Her gaze rested upon the woman’s bony hand, its pale, papery skin marred by sunspots and a road-map of bulging blue veins.
“Age takes prisoners.”
The woman smiled, stacking wrinkles around her cloudy eyes. “We squander our youth, take our blessings for granted and then…” She worked a phlegmy cough that seemed to rattle all the way down to the bottom of her lungs. “And then, it leaves you a wrinkled shell until it finally lets you go.” The skin puckered around her lips as she spoke.
Anna cringed. She didn’t know what to say; she couldn’t argue against the cruelty of time. “W-would you like me to read to you?” She pulled Wizard of Oz from her tote bag.
Mabel turned toward her voice. “Ah, been a long time. Lost my sight some twenty years ago.”
“I’m sorry. It must be awful to live in darkness.”
“I said nothing of darkness. Just see different things, that’s all.”
Anna felt her cheeks flush. Thankful the woman couldn’t see, she ventured, “I-I don’t know what you mean.”
Mabel laughed. The rasp morphed into another cough.
A shudder ran through Anna’s body, ending at her curled toes. For a moment she wondered if the volunteer hours were worth it. Surely her grades alone could carry her into college. She contemplated leaving but stayed seated next to Mabel’s bed while the commingled odors of meatloaf, soiled linens, bleach and age taunted her gag reflex.
Mabel tapped the bed with her fingers. “Can you just hold my hand?”
Anna hesitated before closing the book and slipping it back into her bag. She reached for Mabel’s hand and gasped when the ice-cold skin pressed against her own sweaty palm. The woman clenched with surprising strength. As Anna’s gaze studied the contrast of Mabel’s pale wrinkles against her own tanned, smooth skin, she felt a sense of unease creep over her. Anna tried to pull away.
“I see death.”
“Death roams these halls. Watching. Waiting. I can feel it. See it.”
“Okay.” Anna didn’t know what to say.
Mabel cleared her throat and continued in a gravelly voice, “I asked to go. After ninety-four years I’m ready. You know what the bastard said?”
Anna flinched, caught off-guard by the curse and angry tone. “Um, no.”
“Said I needed help over the bridge.”
“What does that mean?”
“A second chance. Said left was wrong. Lucifer left. Right was right… light.”
Anna feared the woman had lost her mind. She opened her mouth to call for a nurse, but words lodged in the back of her throat as if she’d swallowed an apple whole.
Mabel tugged Anna’s hand until her body leaned over the bed, face inches away. The old woman reached her left hand up and ran her fingertips along Anna’s cheek, and then trailed along her jawline. “You’re an angel sent to guide us right in death, Anna Mary Claire Morris.”
Anna gasped and jerked back, knocking over the chair. She’d only given her first name. Again, she couldn’t break the woman’s hold.
“We’ve been waiting for you, Anna.”
We? Panic raged inside her.
The old woman’s breath grew shallower and her chest stilled.
Anna waved her free hand over Mabel’s nose and mouth to check for even the faintest wisp of warm air.
A nurse rushed through the door, glancing at the overturned chair. “What happened?”
“I-I don’t know. She was talking and then she wasn’t” Anna attempted to pry her hand free. “She won’t let go.”
The nurse checked Mabel’s pulse and noted the time of death on her chart. She peered over her glasses. “Are you okay?”
Anna pressed her left palm into her forehead. A blinding light seared through her brain. “Owwwwww!” She moaned as sharp pain started at her forehead and radiated to the back of her neck. It felt like waves of brain freezes timed seconds apart. A minute later, the misery halted, Mabel’s grip released, and Anna fell backwards, stumbling on the overturned chair.
That was the first time it happened.
A semi passed on the left, a whoosh of air rocking the car. Anna jolted into a present resembling the interstate she traveled: not an attraction of its own, rather a means to a final destination. Exhausted after reliving the experience with Mabel, she wondered how accurate the account. Memories were shifty like that. Similar to the greasy mirage shimmering on sunbaked blacktop before disappearing upon approach, memories tended to change shape over time.
Again, thanks to Emilio for suggesting the challenge to write a story based on one of his photos, and for offering the photo to post with the story!
From the first labored breath, our days are numbered;
from the first hints of speech, our words are squandered.
I should’ve known the very instant your practiced, easy smile nailed
my heart that we- rather, I- was doomed; that misery was our fate before we
uttered ‘hello’. Still, nothing could have stopped me from desiring your embrace,
or the thrill of your sweet lips searching mine, or the shivers from your hands trailing my
skin; unblemished, uncharted territory. I should have heeded the warnings of my crumbling
defenses. Foolish, to think I could absorb unbridled passion and keep some semblance of myself.
Silly, to think you wouldn’t yearn for another after I succumbed wholly to you (what’s the sport
in that, I suppose.) Naïve to believe the cruel myth of ‘happily ever after’ or the deception of
forever. Ha! The chink in my youthful armor destined to be a constant reminder of how
I should have paid attention to the tale of the moth devoured by the flame,
instead of thinking it would never happen to me. It can. And it did.
I got the first inkling of forever when I acknowledged, we
gave it everything we had, but it wasn’t enough.
A new dawn, a new day,
a new life, is what I need.
They say one ending is the opportunity for a new
beginning. “They” apparently never loved (and lost) you.
Last night, I dreamt of butterflies and peace. Then, this morning, I
knew what I had to do next. No way could I move on carrying the burden of
you. The sun had risen, keeping watch as I buried my figurative and literal skeletons.
The rays thawed frigid topsoil as I burrowed deep, preparing for a long-awaited ‘goodbye.’
You let me go long before I could bring my heart to do the same. How liberating to grasp the
freedom I’d lacked for some time. You’d know how that feels, wouldn’t you dear? The waiting.
So heavy was the affliction of love decomposed. Satisfaction fluttered in my soul with each
toss of earth. I delighted in the paradox of the emancipation by six feet under, give or
take (pre-dawn soil was difficult to penetrate, I found) but oh! The triumph when
your abnormally long toes were covered. I was exhilarated by the scent of
pine; the crunch of brittle needles as I walked away… one last time.
With your last labored breath, my days were numbered;
with your last words, my love for you was squandered.
This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (I’m at 421) and (1) use the sentence “We gave it everything we had, but it wasn’t enough.” anywhere in the piece, AND (2) make some sort of reference to the media prompt, which is he song Feeling Good, performed by Muse.
This poem is supposed to be in the shape of an hourglass, but I’m not sure if it will come out right when I post it. (Sometimes they do, sometimes not.) I probably don’t have to clarify this, but it is fiction. Although I have lost loves, I have never, ever literally buried any of them (or murdered them, in case you were wondering) :razz:
The prompt is open to anyone, so if you’re interested in joining the fun, click the badge below!
Imelda at My Word Wall asked me to participate in a virtual blog tour. Its goal is to introduce talented bloggers as they share insight into their creative process and current projects. You can visit her tour post here.
Here is Imelda’s bio in her words: “I am Imelda Santore. I came from the Philippines. Eleven years ago, I left family, friends, and a legal career to marry the wonderful man I met online. We are now the parents of four boys. I keep myself busy homeschooling the elder children, gardening, and doing things necessary to keep our home in a livable state. I take refuge in writing poems to sort out my thoughts and to keep my sanity.”
Before I move on to the interesting part of this post (the bloggers I’ve asked to share their creative process) my responses to the questions are below. My feelings won’t be hurt if you skip to the bottom!
1. What am I working on?
Right now, my writing time is limited due to other priorities (house/family) but I have a few projects begging me to pay them some attention. The biggest one is writing the novel-length version of Darlene’s Story, which I posted as a serial on my blog last year. I also write poems and short stories, many of which I share on my blog.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I can’t begin to answer this because I’m not even sure which genre(s) I write! With most of my stories, I work in a ‘twist’ or an aspect that the reader may not have expected. I love the comments that are along the lines of, “I had no idea where you were going with this until the end.”
3. Why do I write/create what I do?
Mostly, I write as a creative outlet. Writing for my day job is technical and, well, a little boring (sorry, I wish I could say insurance was exciting!) I participate regularly in writing prompts because I like the challenge of the writing within given parameters and since the pieces are short, I have the satisfaction of “completing” something. (I also enjoy reading how others interpret the prompts. The human mind is so fascinating!) I also write for me, to sort things out in my mind (often poetry.) I rarely share this type of poetry on my blog because others might figure me out :)
4. How does your writing/creating process work?
My process varies depending on what I’m writing. When writing prompts, I read the prompt and think on it for it while. I’ll jot down some ideas- if one grabs me, I’ll write it. If not, I’ll step away, reading the prompt again right before going to bed. (I know that sounds weird, but sometimes, ideas come to me as I fall asleep or when I wake up.) When I write novel-length, I like to write a chapter summary – basically the one main thing I want to accomplish in that chapter. As I’m writing, other plot lines generally emerge, so I update the outline as I go. I’d like to say I write every day, but that wouldn’t be truthful! Poetry just happens when the mood strikes. I write mainly haiku or free-form as I’m not disciplined enough to explore other forms.
Now for the fun part: the bloggers who will post next week with their own responses to the above questions. The whole blog tour thing could collapse because I’ve broken the rules: I only have two. I should have been more diligent in setting this up.
Eric, married with three adult children, lives in Singapore. He and his wife of 33 years, Lisa, have a good thing going. She lets him be the boss and he believes he is the boss.
Michael at Hypothetically Writing: Michael’s quirky, often humorous stories are truly unique. I enjoy his stories because I rarely (okay never) can predict what will happen. Here is Michael in his own words:
I am from Southern Indiana, right across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is primarily known for our basketball team, our horse racing, and the fact that there are at least six different ways to say our city’s name (Loo-ah-vul, Loo-ey-ville, NEVER Lewisville). As for myself, I am a newly graduated law student, and I’ve been writing stories since before there were smartphones (so, like, mid-90s).
Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you visit Eric and Michael, if you haven’t read them already!