11 Replies to “8.1.2013 Journal Prompt”

  1. They didn’t talk. Not in words or sounds. There was something between them and so the words they might have spoken dried on their tongues or tasted so bitter that they were spat out before they were given shape or sound. It was a hurt that they shared, even though the hurt was different in their different hearts. It was a betrayal of some sort and it went back a long way, so far that if truth be told they neither of them could put into words what it was that had occasioned their silence. They’d stopped talking then and had never found their way back.

    They still lived together, mother and daughter, breathing in the one house, but breathing different air. Mother lived on the top floor and daughter on the bottom. It was an arrangement that suited them. It was comforting to be so near (though they would neither have made admission of this) and yet there was also a safe distance between them.

    They listened out for each other, the small sounds of footsteps across wooden floors, or songs given voice like prayers and rising or falling. And the movement of water in the pipes or the clatter of pots and or dropped forks. Some mornings the mother coughed and the daughter turned her head to one side and listened to see if it might be more serious than the one cough; some nights, when the daughter slept, she spoke in her dreams, and the mother knelt on the floor and pressed her ear to the boards and gathered together the smallest torn scraps of what the daughter said.

    Thought they did not speak, there was communication between them. Messages were written on old till receipts or the backs of envelopes and they were dated and a time put on them and the messages left where they could be easily found. And they were not unpleasant the things that they wrote. Each of them made remark of the weather in warm words, or drew the other’s attention to the light in the sky and the flowers growing in the garden and the freshness of the air coming down from the hills when summer was done. When a pipe needed fixed or a tap, the daughter asked the mother if she might speak to Angelotti, the plumber, and if he might be prevailed upon to make them a visit before too long. Or if they were short of bread and the mother was going down the street, she wrote asking after the daughter and if she wished to accompany her or if there was something else that she needed.

    And there smiles some days, passed between them like small gifts, or looks that were softer than smiles, and sometimes they held hands without knowing that they did, just for a moment, just the touch of their fingers and it was enough.

    So, you see, that the loss of their words was no great concern and they lived as close as many a mother and daughter and closer than some. And they neither of them dared to make reference by look or written word, to the thing that was between them. To have done that would have been to risk everything. There were cracks in the plaster in the hallway and so they did not slam doors or windows, or stamp feet or throw shoes, and by such an effort of stillness and quiet, the cracks did not widen. They both understood this.

    1. Lindsay, I liked the ‘cracks in the plaster’ metaphor too, and the detail you use to build the character of the relationship between the two. A nice setting waiting for further developments…..

  2. Cracks in the plaster. . What a great way to pull this story together, Lindsay. Reminds me where it says in the Bible, don’t remember where, that we are all ‘cracked vessels’, but of infinite use nonetheless.

  3. Wow, that comment went up quickly, Susan. I’ve only just posted this piece! Thanks for reading and for your appreciation. Sometimes the last thing I write does that, just pulls it together. It’s nice when others see that.

  4. After she left the place, she realized they never even spoke. If there had been another table, Carlotta would have put her purse on the other chair and that would have been that. She had had a lot on her mind since arriving for work at the alterations shop. She didn’t need company, she needed solitude and quiet so she could think. Figure out what made sense in the scheme of things.

    It had been four years working for Daniel and he was the same as when she started: blustery, sarcastic when he had the opportunity, and very efficient. And nice-looking, she had to admit, with longish hair that waved just enough over the tops of his ears that she had to catch herself from smoothing it down and back. That would have been the end of her. She was older than he, but he was the boss, no doubt about it. Still, they did well together, Carlotta working the register and phone, Daniel expertly handled alteration consults and the machines. Business had increased the past year and he’d put a “Help Wanted” sign in the narrow window. It was a month before he liked an application and then he interviewed her twice, just as he had Carlotta.

    Lanie was good. She could finish a pair of hems in less than half a minute, the jeans under sixty seconds. They required changing to a heavier needle and having patient, strong fingers. She knew all the fabrics backwards and forwards. If there was a rush order, rushing was like taking a stroll for her–she never sweated it, never complained. At least not to them. She was friendly enough to start but Carlotta noticed she kept her distance once she was in for the long haul. Lanie had the demeanor of a contented cat who had a bold work ethic, even when the shop was fraught with piled up orders and the phone ringing off the hook like a demon. Carlotta looked over her shoulder at the woman once and thought, Yeah, she’s like a panther, sleek and fast and quiet. It gave her pause. But five days a week the three of them worked in sync more often than not and the money came in.

    It would have gone on like that if Carlotta hadn’t ever seen her at the back door, swapping cash for something in a packet every couple weeks, then more often. She knew it wasn’t buttons; Carlotta was not well-read or worldly like some people but she wasn’t naïve. But she had never seen this before, not right under her nose, so she waited. During the next two weeks Lanie met the same short, skinny guy with a dark baseball cap on backwards. Carlotta couldn’t see his face when she peered out back.

    Lanie hissed at her when they passed on the way to the restroom this morning.

    “What’re you always lookin’ at, Lotta? He’s my brother Tommy, I’m helping him out if you want to know.” She said this with the ease of one slightly annoyed neighbor to another, as if they were in conflict over a fence but could come to a reasonable understanding.

    Carlotta shrugged and half-smiled, then helped out a customer. Soon after, she left for lunch, and the question on her mind was whether she should tell Daniel of not about her suspicions.

    So when she got to the restaurant, she had a busy mind. She hadn’t thought about having to share a table but it was noon, after all. When the girl with the shiny long hair and pricey sunglasses looked around for an open spot, Carlotta tried to send her a thought to move away. Nonetheless, she zeroed in on Carlotta’s table as though it was an emergency happening, not lunch, so why was there no place for her, Carlotta sighed and nodded at the empty chair. She was brought up to be a nice person, that was the problem. But they both had to eat.

    The waitress came and went, the mediocre food put on the table and Carlotta watched the girl on her phone. She was working that thing like crazy, like she was born ambidextrous, which Carlotta was not. She wondered if those hands made pretty things or wrote important documents or scrubbed toilets. No, not toilets, she could see that. They were manicured with a soft blush of color on each fingertip. That and her toenails probably cost half a paycheck. Once, the girl looked up from her small, undressed salad and stared through Carlotta, somewhere far beyond this buzzing, garlic and syrup-fragranced spot that served breakfast all day long. Her eyes were a blue like melting ice; she blinked twice. Carlotta finished her pasta and picked up an old newspaper and thought about Lanie again.

    The phone rang like a rock song and girl answered.

    “What did they say?” Her voice was a restrained tremor. “He’s going into surgery? Now? Why? Oh my god.” Her hand flew to her mouth and she turned away from her dining partner. “It’s not just the flu, then…So, is he…?”

    Carlotta tried to not listen, but caught fragments about lungs and breathing issues and how she had told him last month, no back in May, that he had to see a doctor. But he had said, no, it was that bug that wouldn’t shake loose.

    The girl was quiet along time after she hung up. Carlotta rustled the pages as she sipped her soda and looked at her watch. Five minutes left,then back to the shop. She read the comics and chuckled aloud. That was a mistake. The girl rocked forward. Tears started to run down her ivory-fine cheeks and she turned to face the wall, the salad pushed aside. Carlotta folded the paper and sat there, stumped. Was she supposed to say something? Should she ask her how she could help? She wanted to do the right and good thing, something that told the girl she saw her sitting there and was sorry. Was it her father? Lover? Her nephew? There were too many questions and none were appropriate.

    Carlotta stood, checking her watch. She had to go talk to Lanie this afternoon. It would be uncomfortable, even hard, but not that hard. She grabbed her purse and saw her table partner smash the thin, white napkin to her face, staunching the tears. Carlotta hesitated, then lay her wide palm on the girl’s boney, terribly young shoulder, just for an instant, long enough. The girl turned around but the older woman was exiting, her stride long and full of resolve.

    “Thanks…” the girl whispered behind a cascade of hair. She sat straighter, smoothed her hair back and resettled her sunglasses, picked up her phone once more.

  5. Cynthia, this had me gripped. First with the Lanie thread and then with the crying woman at the table. Two for the price of one! This, though quite a long piece, feels like the start of something a bit longer and as the reader I am left wanting to know what’s going on with Lanie and with the crying girl and how their two stories might marry up in some way. Thanks for this.

    1. Thanks, Lindsay. Maybe one of these days…Meanwhile, I am working on other things for now. But I am glad you found the characters engaging! Encouraging when we so often don’t have a clue how something is working out….I enjoyed your story as well. They understood this. Resignation/acceptance. So often true in families, especially in those that share deep pain.

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