His white and brown, freckled hands deal the cards for our last hand of bridge. I can’t gaze into his eyes, Martha watches for signals throughout the game, in every conversation. So, I do the next best thing. I watch as his hands circle the small table, easily sliding cards off the top of the deck and placing them in front of us. Getting older has certainly had its surprises. Who would have thought dealing cards could be an act of foreplay?
Of course, I can’t think of that during the game. Counting and strategy are involved. One must keep her wits about her. Somehow I do steal a glance, once or twice, to look at his kind face and the crinkles on the sides of his cheeks which I have already traced with my fingertips. He catches me and winks and, despite every stereotype there can be, my heart flutters. Apparently within this seventy three year old body beats the vigorous heart of twenty year old.
Following our victory, conversation with tea and cake is unsurprising in its coverage of the weather and grandchildren. Some evenings are more topical and we talk of news events. Tonight, we mention only the pedantic. Yet there is comfort in the calm; we are four friends completely at ease with one another.
Martha and Paul make motions to say goodnight and Edward follows, not wanting to call attention to our situation. But at the last minute, while coats are being distributed in the hallway, he mentions I was to give him a copy of a recipe – a casserole that wouldn’t be too difficult for a man finally learning to cook. So with that excuse, he lags behind while the others leave.
I close the door and smile at him. He smiles back, his arms circling my waist to bring me closer. And the surprise of new love waves over me as I reach up and trace again those most sensual of lifelines.
Written for the Trifecta Writing Challenge – Week 78 . The prompt was ‘pedantic’ and the piece had to be between 33 words and 333 words. Please click on the tricycle below to link to the Trifecta site and read the imaginative entries from others.
10 o’clock Tuesday morning. Busy streets and stores teeming with customers: stern expressions could be met down every aisle, neighbors’ wrinkled foreheads furrowing their questions, mean lips serving a cacophony of whispers.
A teardrop of perspiration travels from hairline past ear to chin, picking up an odd orange tint on its journey, creating a white streak along the right side of her face that a clutch of damp tissues can’t repair.
Shoes, wedged ceremoniously on her feet, are beginning to disappear under cover of skin and deep ankle creases are beginning to itch. She has to pee.
I wrote this for the 99 word flash fiction competition but, darn it all to heck, I didn’t win. It was a good experience, though, because there were some crucial edits that improve this version. Trying is always worth it :))
A pilly sweater ghost
Hangs on the kitchen chair’s back
She swirls milked tea
With an overdose of clover honey
Steadily gazing through hope’s window
Perhaps the kindness paradigm
will loop back today.
The forgotten park bench moves from bright sunlight to mossy shade while Gary waits for Shelley to return to their home in the forest. He hardly notices the passage of time, though he is starting to feel cold. With evening descending, he folds his lanky frame to fight the chill, pressing his skinny legs up against his chest, tucking bony knees up underneath stubbled chin.
Digging his hands deep into his jeans’ pockets, Gary discovers a cigarette stub he saved and the lighter Shelley showed him how to use. Just as he’s trying to match the two items, there’s a noise. He pauses to calculate what’s making its way through the underbrush. Listening to the crunch of dry leaves, he decides it’s only a squirrel so he returns to the conundrum of lighting his smoke, and to waiting.
Waiting is what Gary does best. He waits a lot for his wife, Shelley.
When their lives intersected twenty three years ago, Gary fell in love with Shelley because she was a capable woman; he could tell by the confident way she carried herself, by her witty conversation, the books she could quote, the names she could drop. Of course, he doesn’t remember any of that now. Faulty wires during electroshock took most of it, leaving behind indeterminate but constant static.
He hears another noise, this one louder, so he stands up and shakes the kinks out of his legs. Because footsteps and leaf crunching always prelude Shelley’s reappearance, Gary is confused when two uniformed police step out from among the trees.
“Where’s Shelley?” Gary asks.
“Sir, I don’t know who Shelley is. Can you tell us who you are?”
“Gary… I’m her husband, Gary.”
“Looks like you’ve made quite a little homestead here. But camping isn’t allowed in the park, sir.”
Gary looks back and forth, from the police now wandering through the campsite to the parting in the trees where Shelley always come back. “Is Shelley with you?”
“Look, sir – er, Gary, is it? I think you better come with us. We can have someone from the city pack up your belongings later.”
“Will you tell Shelley?”
“Sure, sure. Do you have any more clothes, Gary? Like a jacket or a sweater? It’s October for God’s sake.”
“Oh, hey Mike. There’s a sweater in this tent. Here you go, buddy. Put this on.”
They watch as Gary struggles to manoeuvre the buttons on the sweater he’s just been handed and put on. After a minute, the older policeman walks over and buttons it up for Gary. Then, the three of them walk single file into the golden leaved trees, to find their way to the parking lot.
When they’re back at the station, the police watch Gary as he sits at one of the vacant desks, slowly chewing the ham sandwiches they’ve brought him. Intermittently, Gary stops, looks expectantly towards the front door, then goes back to his food.
“So Mike, aren’t you going to tell him about the note?”
“Look, Chuck. You and I barely understood what it meant. Do you really think ol’ Gary is going to get it?”
“I know, but geez, they are married. He has a right to know she’s taken off.”
“Maybe, but I’ve got a feeling that she’s got a right to life outside the park, and away from him.”
The younger policeman nods at his partner’s sentiment, then they both get busy filing reports.
Gary eventually finishes eating. He turns his chair to face towards the station’s busy front door.
And, he waits for Shelley.
Safe for All
Even though she’d worn Sid’s work gloves, painful calluses were beginning to rise on Maud’s delicate hands. She tried adjusting her grip and found relief for a few moments until the slick bronze lever slid back into the cracked indent of the leather. It was no use. Maud resigned herself to the pain. Sid had warned her of the toll this work would take on her. A few blisters would be the least of it.
Continuing the ratchet rhythm of push then pull with the spring-pin lever, Maud was able to stand up slightly, lift her petticoats underneath her, then slowly readjust her position in the cramped seating area. Maud couldn’t imagine how all six foot four of Sid could’ve fit into the same small space behind the clock. But he’d done it somehow; the shift she’d taken over for their family’s placement would have been his seventh.
Citizens crowded below, carpeting the park surrounding the tower. From her vantage point looking through spaces in the mechanism, Maud could see upturned paled faces watching the clock. She knew some of her fellow citizens would be praying, some would be counting and some would be in the final stages of dying. Such was their chaotic world now.
When the Empire’s Council first conceived of Reversal, the lead councilor, McBiggs, was outraged, insisting their aggressive and less than unanimous vote be put to citizen referendum. In his speech to Council, he declared the plan ‘hogswallop’, at which point the Gendarmerie rushed forward, removed him from chambers and raised their pistols. McBigg’s summary execution promptly quelled further dissention.
Engineers of all backgrounds were summoned to the capitol, making the journey from various country hideouts so they could accept orders. Following that harrowingly tense gathering, where several of the older engineers had actually dropped and died from fright, the group was herded off to a secret workstation. They met in the only place that could ensure complete privacy for such a project: the underground bunkers in the area formerly known as France.
Supplies were provided by factories in complete isolation. If any of the factory leaders questioned what the parts were being used for or where the supply trucks were headed, they met the same fate as McBiggs. Empire Council could not afford the time to explain to these plebeians what their steel pipes, iron bolts, bronze wheels and copper sockets were being used for. In very real terms, there was no time.
As Maud rotated the apparatus, listening for the catch of the burr and the fall of the latch, she pictured Sid lying on their bed, sheets soaked through, his skin withering and shrinking around his bones as the life was squeezed out of his body. Reversal would eventually have that effect on her too. She could already feel the skin tightening on her ribcage. Her blouse’s leather lacing, which had once held her beautiful, milky, soft breasts at such bright attention, now sagged loose and open. On one of the push strokes, Maud lifted the long leather laces now resting on the plank floorboards and threw them over her shoulder to hang at her back. It would be safer to have them out of reach of the clock’s moving parts.
As had become the custom, the next shift’s volunteer was ascending the ladder into the tower’s turret, to wait on the steps until Maud called for relief. Six more people waited in the holding room on the tower’s second floor. There could be no pause in the turning of the pin. If the Empire was to survive annihilation, they needed time, and there was only one way to get it.
The engineers had crafted a magnificent clock and all families were expected to do their part. By reversing the mechanism, they were gaining time. If any one of them failed in their duties, let the pin slip, missed a rotation, mutant nuclear atoms would bring the earth’s finale before anyone could slip the lever back into place. The engineers had warned them of this possibility.
Because there was no measurement in this continuum, Maud did not know how long she had been at the clock, but she knew she was tiring. Her muscles were weakening and starting to twitch. Perspiration was stinging her eyes and causing her skin to itch. She called out to the next volunteer: “Relief now.”
She turned her head and saw the volunteer standing at the turret entrance. He counted the beats of her rotations so he could slip seamlessly into place.
Maud stood to ready for the switch. She lifted her dress up and leaned ahead slightly to unstick her petticoats from the back of her sweaty thighs. As she did so, the laces of her blouse fell from her back to hang forward. On the pull motion of the lever, the leather laces caught the mechanism and jammed the spring pin. Maud’s eyes widened then melted.
The universe’s fantastic implosion of colour marked the end.
And then, there was nothing.
Written for the “Dirty Goggles” Steampunk Blog Hop being hosted by Jenn (@brewedbohemian), Ruth (@bullishink) and Steven (@ashviper). I think I’m over the word limit of 500 – 700 words and I think my story is Clockpunk not Diesel or Steam, but what the heck. I had fun challenging myself to write something in this genre, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!
In recollection, sidewalk concrete bumped and yawned
Mocking, stubbing, infant fleshy intentions
In exploration, out of too-close abodes and too-near grassy lawns
Where sanctuary remained elusive.
Bruises, contusions, abrasions could not halt wonder
Of what shiny refuge or scratched mirror may well lie around the grocery store corner
No words in reply dulled the ache of questions lining up single file.
But tentative escape into dark places allowed slivers of sun to pierce the chill
Forgetting proper place, propelling face forward.
Can it be there’s a place that’s closer to the sun than here?