Blurred Line – Speakeasy #151

From color to gray...
From color to gray…

Life had once been defined by linears and absolutes. 

Almost forgotten were the days when right was right and wrong was wrong; a guilty verdict the line separating the two. Sarah James had once lived in color.  She knew the precise moment when her world became defined by mottled shades of gray.

A wide-brimmed hat shaded her face from the unforgiving June sun.  Arms folded over her chest, she surveyed her home.  From the outside, it was just another blemish in a pock-marked neighborhood.  As part of a “revitalization” project, she’d lucked into it for a bargain.

“I see you’re new to the area.  I’m Margo Godfrey.”

Preferring solitude, Sarah took a deep breath before turning to find an older woman with graying, frizzed curls standing behind her.  Her gaze lingered on the woman’s clothing for a couple seconds, caught off-guard by the midday donning of a hideous floral house coat.

“Saw your Jersey plate.  ‘Lotta east coast transplants out here.”

“I suppose.  I’m Sarah James.”  Sarah turned her attention back to the stucco wall.  She ran the scraper along the cracked mustard paint.  The flakes of baked paint and worn stucco fell away, revealing a softer canary yellow.  She’d chosen Serengeti Sand as the new color to represent her home, in honor of her sister who’d dreamed of studying lions in Africa.

“This house was a gem back in the sixties.”

“It is lovely.”

“Not no more.  Been haunted for twenty years.”

“I don’t believe that stuff.”

“A teen died here.  Never found her killer, neither.”

“Tragic.”  Sarah continued chipping paint.

“Why here?”


“What brings you to Arizona?  Why central Phoenix?  Why this house?”

Sarah dropped the scraper into the weeds popping out from the foundation and wiped her hands on her jeans.  She stood, towering a good six inches over the stubby woman.

She took a step back.

“I like a dry heat.  I like history. I like a challenge.”

The woman narrowed her eyes.  “You look an awful lot like Cornelia Fowler.”  She reached for Sarah’s hair.  “If your hair was brown…”

Sarah clamped her hand around the woman’s wrist.  Her blond ponytail flipped when she jerked her head toward her childhood home.  “I have to get back.”  She released her grip.

The old woman pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose.  “Of course.”

Sarah watched the woman hurry away.  The hair on the back of her neck prickled.  She shrugged it off and continued working.

She knew its history.  She’d never forget finding her partially-clothed twin sprawled on the living room floor, face down in a pool of blood.  Losing Stephanie was the pulled thread that unraveled the family.  A few months later, police recovered her father’s rigid body from a gutter near his favorite bar.  Grief took her mother exactly one year after Stephanie died.  Her official cause of death was alcohol and barbiturates.  Dr. Meyers had prescribed the medication to “get her through the tough time” and in a way, Sarah figured they worked.

Cornelia found Stephanie’s murderer before police could.  For that, Cornelia spent seventeen years in prison- almost half her life.  Three weeks ago, she’d outsmarted the guards and embraced her freedom.  She became Sarah James.

Sarah had always imagined the family reunion taking place after their home’s restoration, but she couldn’t shake the prying visit from Mrs. Godfrey.  Her comment about the police never finding Stephanie’s killer niggled at her mind.  Cornelia knew her sister’s boyfriend was guilty- they had a date that night.  She made sure Shane Godfrey died in the same spot Stephanie did.  A jury found Cornelia guilty and sentenced her to life.

Never found her killer.  Sarah had to fix the mistake.

Later that night, Sarah slipped into her neighbor’s house.  “I know it was you.”

The woman smiled.  “Never underestimate the power of a mother’s love, Cornelia.”


Sarah cleaned Margo Godfrey’s blood from her hands before entering her own house.  Margo had feared Stephanie would keep her son from attending college, so she removed the distraction.  Never underestimate the power of a mother’s dream.

Sarah decided the reunion had to be tonight.  Inspired by a man who’d lost everything, Job’s words came to mind.  Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  May the name of the Lord be praised.

As she pulled the trigger, she hoped her taking an eye for an eye wouldn’t be judged in black and white.


This is my response for the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is 743 words) (1) using “Life had once been defined by linears and absolutes.” as the first sentence AND (2) include some sort of reference to a photograph posted on the Speakeasy site, taken by Czintos Ödön.

Thanks to everyone who read and voted for my poem “He Said/She Said” last week.  It was voted first place and I really appreciate all the wonderful feedback I got from that piece!

The challenge is open to everyone, so if you’re interested in joining in, check out the full guidelines by clicking the badge below.  Have a beautiful Monday 🙂



72 thoughts on “Blurred Line – Speakeasy #151

  1. Leigh W. Smith March 3, 2014 / 9:15 AM

    My goodness; haunting and very powerful. I think I’m totally misreading/misthinking one part, though. Did she have Aunt Rita’s money stashed somewhere (I’m thinking, since she’s on the lam, the police will keep close tabs on her relatives, so she can’t visit Aunt Rita directly)? [I don’t know; I’m not a suspense or crime fiction expert or anything!] I would love to also see this as a longer piece; it’s got the great workings of a novella or more. Good luck with the challenge and congratulations on the win!

    • jannatwrites March 3, 2014 / 9:42 AM

      Good points, Leigh. I had imagined Rita working with some mutual acquaintances to get the pieces set up (identity, funds, etc.) without giving any one person enough information to steal it for themselves. Since I’m at the upper end of the word count and there’s no room for elaboration, I just removed the Rita reference entirely.

      Thanks for taking time to read it and to offer your helpful feedback!

      • Leigh W. Smith March 3, 2014 / 9:51 AM

        No worries; I understand about unbudging word counts! 🙂 Congrats again on the poetry win; I’ve never done a form-poem like that, and yours worked well, message and image-wise.

        • jannatwrites March 3, 2014 / 9:26 PM

          Thanks for reading the He Said/She Said poem, Leigh. I don’t do shaped poetry often- and never anything that precise!

    • jannatwrites March 3, 2014 / 9:42 AM

      I wonder if she’ll be missed… 🙂 Thanks for reading, Nancy!

  2. Debbie March 3, 2014 / 12:00 PM

    I’m with Leigh ^ — this one cries for a longer word count. I’ve read and re-read it several times, but I’m still finding it a bit on the confusing side. Yes, you’ve got the suspense going and a doggone good plot, but I’d like to see more characterization. I want to know WHY! And did Sarah kill herself??

    • jannatwrites March 3, 2014 / 9:33 PM

      Thanks for reading and sharing your reaction, Debbie. Sarah (aka Cornelia) wanted to get back to the home of her childhood; the home they lived in as the family fell apart. Her intent all along was to kill herself so she could join her family (they were all dead) but felt doing so in any other location would forever separate her soul from them.

  3. Widdershins March 3, 2014 / 2:26 PM

    Excellent story. I reckon it would also make a wonderful novel-length story. 😀

    • jannatwrites March 3, 2014 / 9:33 PM

      Thanks so much for reading, Widdershins. My track record for completing longer stories isn’t great so I won’t be making any promises on developing this further 🙂

    • Martha B March 4, 2014 / 9:17 PM

      I agree though! This lends to a really spicy novel. I like the story as a whole, but if you stretch it out a little, you could add so much more! I really enjoyed this!

      • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 9:57 PM

        Thanks, Martha! I don’t know how I could continue the story since she dies at the end, but it definitely could be filled in, especially towards the end.

  4. Eric Alagan March 3, 2014 / 5:37 PM

    Another well told story – gripping from the start to the end. Love your style. I believe you’ll collate all these stories into a book – or even publish them as standalones on InkBok..

    Check out this link, Janna –

    All good wishes,

    • jannatwrites March 3, 2014 / 9:36 PM

      I really appreciate you reading. Your kind words lifted me up today, as I’ve been struggling with doubt (again.) Thanks for the link- will definitely check it out. I’ve made a personal commitment to do more with my writing this year. So far, I’ve submitted to a few contests/literary magazines.

  5. diannegray March 3, 2014 / 8:12 PM

    Brilliantly written, Janna. A couple of lines I absolutely loved:

    “Sarah James had once lived in color. She knew the precise moment when her world became defined by mottled shades of gray.”


    “Dr. Meyers had prescribed the medication to “get her through the tough time” and in a way, Sarah figured they worked.”

    Fantastic! 😀

    • jannatwrites March 3, 2014 / 9:37 PM

      Thanks so much for reading, Dianne! I appreciate you taking time to note specific lines that stuck with you (it helps to know the types of things that people notice.)

  6. atrm61 March 4, 2014 / 2:37 AM

    Could not resist coming by to read your piece Janna-Sam is down with a stomach bug ,so no time today to do anything much.Coming back to your story-again a thrilling story which had me riveted.,The characters come to life with the lil bits you keep adding to their persona and the story unfolds so gradually that you mistake it for something banal and then it hits you-fantastic!Loved the lines”caught off-guard by the midday donning of a hideous floral house coat”.-this made me laugh and”Losing Stephanie was the pulled thread that unraveled the family”-so beautiful!.

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2014 / 7:46 AM

      I’m sorry Sam is ill – that’s no fun for anyone involved, Atreyee! I am thrilled you took time to read my story 🙂 I do appreciate you taking time to point out lines that stood out for you. I’m going to start reading other responses tonight. I’m really curious where everyone else takes it. (Hope the first line wasn’t too out there!)

      • atrm61 March 5, 2014 / 11:02 AM

        Yes,that is half the fun-to see where everyone takes the prompt 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2014 / 8:19 AM

      Fixed it 🙂 I try not to read my comments after posting… I think I’d be horrified at the trail of typos I leave across cyberspace!)

      • atrm61 March 5, 2014 / 11:03 AM

        LOL!I This one caught my eye at the last mo-so had to go back and “correct” it-as I have already told you-am the original typo Queen 😉

  7. Stacie March 4, 2014 / 7:09 AM

    So good Janna! I was enthralled the entire time. You are so talented!

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2014 / 7:51 AM

      Thanks so much for reading, Stacie! I’m glad you enjoyed the story 🙂

  8. paulmclem March 4, 2014 / 10:36 AM

    Heh, loved the bit about the hideous floral house coat…made me chuckle.

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 9:58 PM

      Glad you liked that line, Paul. I think it’s kind of how my older son sees me when I wear my purple fleece robe 🙂

  9. aishasoasis March 4, 2014 / 11:55 AM

    I loved this story, Janna, the reference to the family reunion was really perfect!

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 9:58 PM

      Thanks, Aisha! I’m glad you stopped by to read my story.

  10. ranu802 March 4, 2014 / 12:52 PM

    Wonderful story Janna, I loved it.

  11. Lance March 4, 2014 / 1:02 PM

    I like the way the characters speak, especially sarah. It’s rapid fire, almost athletic.

    Very good piece

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 9:59 PM

      Hmmm… the verbal olympics… there’s a sport I’d like to compete in 🙂 Thanks for reading, Lance!

  12. Deanna Herrmann March 5, 2014 / 2:02 AM

    Wow, I really enjoyed this but I agree with the others. I think you should redo it without the word count forcing it to end so quickly. And this line—->>> “Losing Stephanie was the pulled thread that unraveled the family” gorgeous imagery!

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 10:01 PM

      I was afraid it was too obvious that I simply ran out of words! I removed what I could from the rest of the story… perhaps at that point I should’ve just done a different story for the challenge 🙂 Thanks for reading and sharing your feedback, Deanna.

      • Deanna Herrmann March 5, 2014 / 10:24 PM

        Awww no, I didn’t mean it that way. It was definitely not to suggest a negative view of the story or your work.

        • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 10:38 PM

          I didn’t take your comment in a bad way, Deanna. I really do like honest feedback- it makes me go back and look at what I’ve written. And when I did that, I could see the ending was rushed. Please do continue to share your reactions to my writing 🙂

        • Deanna Herrmann March 5, 2014 / 10:43 PM

          Ok good. 🙂 I enjoy honest feedback as well. It’s the only way I can improve.

  13. tinsenpup March 5, 2014 / 6:58 AM

    This is a great story. I too wish you’d had more words to play with on his one, but having said that, you’ve written so economically here that you really have fit an enormous amount into a very short piece. Cornelia’s a wonderfully appealing character too.

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 10:02 PM

      Thanks for reading and sharing your opinion, Tinsenpup! Normally I write way under the max count, but struggled with this one.

  14. Kathy Combs (@Kathy29156) March 5, 2014 / 8:36 AM

    This was a masterpiece of story telling! I was transfixed. Like everyone else, I think you should expand this idea and see where it takes you with no restrictions. Absolutely brilliant! ♥

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 10:04 PM

      You’re too kind, Kathy! I’ll have to see if there’s anything I can do with this one 🙂

  15. Suzanne March 5, 2014 / 9:06 AM

    This is so good, Janna. I love the way you slowly piece things together, how a pushy neighbour’s gesture, like touching Sarah’s hair, becomes much more sinister as the story unfolds. Fantastic work!

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 10:06 PM

      Thanks, Suzanne! I set out wanting to get more into the character and scene than plot. I’m glad that the pace/revelations seemed to work for you as you read it.

  16. BCIJo (aka Joanne Edith) March 5, 2014 / 10:56 AM

    As usual, Janna, your writing is uncommonly great! the plot was woven and exposed so slowly and carefully, that I didn’t see it coming. Well done!

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 10:08 PM

      I appreciate your comment, Joanne. After the initial comments, I felt like the story didn’t come through the way I thought it in my mind. I had wanted the relationship and history with Margo to be unexpected 🙂

  17. The Invisible Geek March 5, 2014 / 2:04 PM

    I absolutely loved this one (Y) If you don’t want to stretch it out to be a novel, maybe you should write a second part. I’m really craving more of this

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 10:10 PM

      I’m glad you liked the story, IG! I’m not sure how I could do a second part since she dies at the end, but it could definitely be filled out so there isn’t so much of a leap between turning over the phrase about the killer not being found to her realizing that Margo did it.

      • The Invisible Geek March 6, 2014 / 3:29 AM

        No I meant change the ending here and Then write a second part. but filling it out sounds great as well. It’s great anyway. You really did a good job, and btw I like your choice of the first line 😀

        • jannatwrites March 6, 2014 / 8:40 PM

          Thanks so much for offering suggestions, IG! I’ll have to see what I come up with 🙂

          I’m glad you liked the first line – I liked reading what everyone came up with!

  18. EagleAye March 5, 2014 / 8:28 PM

    That is so powerful! All the tiny details came together perfectly. This is a terrific story of loss and revenge. I wondered about her chilly response to Margo. The finish made it all clear. I think you’ve got another winner here. 😉

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 10:13 PM

      Thanks, EagleAye! I’m flattered that you think this is a winner, but I seriously doubt that 🙂 I’m glad that the ending came together when you read it…after reading the initial responses, I was concerned that it didn’t come across as I’d hoped.

      • EagleAye March 6, 2014 / 6:11 AM

        It was clear to me. It’s a complex plot for 750 words, and I agree with other commentors that it would do well as a longer piece. Even so, I found the plot line understandable and highly engaging.

        • jannatwrites March 6, 2014 / 8:43 PM

          Thanks for the feedback, EagleAye! Maybe I can actually accomplish something by expanding the story 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2014 / 10:33 PM

      I guess it’s not exactly a Disney ending 🙂 Thanks for reading, Allen!

  19. zeudytigre March 6, 2014 / 4:26 AM

    This is excellent; chilling and intriguing. As has been discussed above, the word count can be a challenge, but I think you nailed it here.

    • jannatwrites March 6, 2014 / 8:41 PM

      Thanks so much, Zeudytigre! I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks so much for reading 🙂

  20. Silverleaf March 6, 2014 / 6:49 AM

    Oh wow. I’m almost speechless! Loved this from the poetry of the very first paragraph right to the end. As I was reading through, I kept thinking how amazing it was that you managed to tell such a complete story within the word limit. I loved the subtlety of such phrases as the reference to the family reunion (totally didn’t get that till the end but then I really got it!).

    • jannatwrites March 6, 2014 / 8:46 PM

      I liked the first paragraph best – I’m glad you liked that one 🙂 I appreciate you taking time to read the story and share your thoughts on it, Silverleaf! (And I’m glad the reunion wasn’t obvious until the end.)

  21. Esther March 6, 2014 / 7:19 AM

    Oh, I love this! It is so spooky and cold but filled with emotion all the same. So well done!

    • jannatwrites March 6, 2014 / 8:50 PM

      Thanks so much for reading, Esther! I really appreciate you taking time to stop by 🙂

  22. Peggy Smith March 6, 2014 / 10:20 AM

    Wow. What a wonderful window into the place in between right and wrong, good and evil. And the power of a mother’s love should NEVER be underestimated. So true. Well written.

    • jannatwrites March 6, 2014 / 8:56 PM

      I had wanted to explore the idea that right and wrong aren’t always black and white. And about the mother’s love, yes, it’s pretty fierce! Thanks so much for reading, Peggy!

  23. YeshuM March 6, 2014 / 12:28 PM

    Excellent story Janna! I love the crispness of it all

  24. fatgirlinboxinggloves March 6, 2014 / 1:23 PM

    Janna, I really like all of the layers an nuance in this piece. Great story – and I enjoyed the way you subtly incorporated the picture prompt. Karen

    • jannatwrites March 6, 2014 / 9:24 PM

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Karen – thanks so much for reading!

  25. Michael March 9, 2014 / 8:11 PM

    Sarah’s joined the Darlene Club, I see. 😀

    • jannatwrites March 9, 2014 / 10:14 PM

      Well, if it’s the serial club, that remains to be seen 🙂 Thanks for reading, Michael!

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