Friday Flash with Lindsay ~ “It Took All Night”

Photo by Adde Adesokan
Photo by Adde Adesokan

IT TOOK ALL NIGHT

It took all night. I couldn’t sleep none and couldn’t get comfortable in the goddam seat. That’s right. Bitchin. Me and I can sleep anywhere, and didn’t mom once say that I was the one could sleep on the edge of a butcher’s knife and she was something proud when she said it, like it was some special accomplishment? I never really knew why it had to be a butcher’s knife, but she was right, I could sleep anywhere and anytime and often did.

Do you recall? In the middle of Principal Goode’s speech at my graduation and I fell into sleep and fell off the stage. There’s pictures to prove it and pictures of me in odd places and always sleeping. And didn’t I have the nickname ‘Dormouse’ for all my school years, and sleeping through some of the big events like the moon landing and pops got us up specially and there was popcorn and fizzy cola and I fell asleep a little before the Eagle had landed? And when Lennon got shot and the Berlin wall came down and the twin towers got hit and I woke up days afterwards not knowing that history had been made whilst I’d slept.

But on the bus home, on that long night bus back to Tipton, well I couldn’t find comfort or sleep nowheres. I was worried, I guess. About mom and about pops. I was worried about what was waiting for us at home. Pops’ telegram just said to come quick and it said that it didn’t look good. Nothing more than that.

You got the same telegram and we compared them word for word over the phone, and they was exactly the same. And so we agreed it must be serious and, without knowing exactly why, we was making our way home from our different far-flung places.

I got to talking to this girl on the bus. She couldn’t sleep neither, leastways not at first, and she gave me her whole life story, every small detail. Her name was Sue. We found that she went to the same high school as me, and the same as you, and I didn’t know her. I thought I knew every girl in Tipton, but I didn’t know her. She was running from something, she said but she didn’t say what. I figured there was a guy and she was running home to where she could be and be safe.

We shared a few beers and a bottle of Jack and maybe that made her talkative. She said how she missed the quiet of Tipton and the dirt on her shoes and the cracks in the sidewalk. Said she missed the smell, too, you know, and missed being so close to horses and men that cussed and drank in the middle of the day. The way she said it, well, I sorted of missed it then too.

We talked about everything, like we was lovers-in-waiting and we was laying all our best gifts down for to be inspected and measured. When the bus stopped to give the driver a rest break we got out to stretch our legs and we stood under the wide expanse of the Kansa sky counting the thousands of stars. And we smoked a joint that Sue pulled out of her purse, and we found a place of shadow and dark and we just held each other, gently swaying, like we was dancing and there must have been music in our heads.

Sue slept the rest of the way after that and I didn’t. I watched her and I looked real close, searching for the girl she had been in Tipton, wanting to recognize her. But she was a stranger to me.

Then I got out Pop’s telegram again and read it over. And I got the shakes of a sudden, thinking the worst. I suddenly thought of mom and I could see her in that old bed, as clear as if I was home already, the bed with the carved back board. She didn’t look good and her eyes was closing and her face looked creased like she was in pain. I thought again of that butcher’s knife and being able to sleep on its edge, and there was mom sleeping through sharp pain and I knew. Then and there and for no reason other than I could not sleep, I knew, and I cried and couldn’t stop.

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→Thanks again to Lindsay for letting me bring this work to you. Want more? Go to Lindsay’s site: “Just a Writer’s Page.”- And Happy Holidays, everyone. May your new year bring many new stories to tell, to read, to write, and to share. -PMc

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Friday Flash with Lindsay ~ “Milly in Love”

 

Photo by Dayanita Singh
Photo by Dayanita Singh

MILLY IN LOVE

Sometimes she couldn’t do it. And Milly clenched her fists into small hard roses, and she stamped her feet making a small drum thunder on the wooden floorboards, and she screamed.

It’s what she did when the dance steps she’d learned left her and she tripped over and that was done in front of the dance teacher, Miss Elspeth; in front of all the girls in the class, too, and they laughed at first and then they held the gasp of worry in their cupped hands raised to their mouths. There were tears then and Milly made much of the twist in her ankle and Miss Elspeth felt for more than a bruise and finding nothing she said that Milly would be fine in a day or two and fine enough for the performance the following week.

But Milly said she couldn’t do it and her fingers were fists and her sore foot stamped and no wince or cry of pain, and Milly did not see the mistake she made in that. ‘I can’t do it,’ she cried. ‘And I wont.’

Same thing over again when she was learning to sing and she broke the tune, was the only girl who did, and she held a hand to her throat and said it was sore and maybe she should rest and Mrs Burgundy prescribed honey and lemon and hot water, and she should be fine in a day or two.

But Milly couldn’t and wouldn’t sing again, and she threw herself on her bed and there was something elegant and posed in the picture she made, and her tears were something musical.

Then there was Eddie and he was in the year above Milly at school and all the girls in her class talked of Eddie and what it would be like to be walking beside him, so close they were touching. Eddie and Pamela or Eddie and June, and each of the girls looked for some match between Eddie’s name and theirs. And kisses were talked about and debated and the girls took turns touching their lips with their fingers and imagining what it would be like. And in the dark below the school stage, Carol caressed the softness of her breast, her eyes closed, and she made believe it was Eddie who touched her.

And Eddie had eyes for Milly, and that made her special.

‘You have to,’ said Sue. ‘You have to, and afterwards we want to know. Everything. What it was like, what Eddie was like.’

But though she said she would, when it came to it Milly couldn’t. Alone in her room her fingers curled into knotted fists and her feet stamped and she screamed. She threw herself on the bed and wept, for she could not get the picture out of her head, the picture of Carol and the dark under the stage and the look on the girl’s face, so like an angel suffering bliss, and her fingers leaving small pink marks on her budded breast.

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→For my own delight, and for yours I hope, I am introducing a new series of short pieces to be posted on Fridays: Friday Flash with Lindsay. I don’t really know Lindsay, but I sort of feel as though she and I are writing buddies. Lindsay (that’s the only name I have) is a long-time visitor to my site, and a frequent contributor of brilliant small pieces of writing drawn from the Daily Journal Prompts I post. Together, Lindsay and I will bring a selection of these works to you…if not every Friday, certainly many of them. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I do. And I hope they inspire you to try out theDaily Journal Prompts yourself. Oh, and take a trip over to Lindsay’s site, too, for more good stuff: Just a Writer’s Page.-PMc←

 

Nice As Ninepence ~ Another Journal Response by Lindsay

IMAG0383

Nice As Ninepence

by Lindsay

A journal prompt response to “She came in every day.” April 2, 2013.

She comes in every day. Regular as clock time and quiet as a small draft that drifts in under the door. She creeps across the floor, it seems, almost as though she moves on tip-toe or wears slippers, and not a sound does she make save the snatch-catch of her breath as she approaches the counter.

It is no surprise when I turn around and see her there, same as every morning I can remember. It is no surprise ‘cause there’s a smell that she brings with her. She sends it a little ahead of her; a smell of roses and something slightly sour underneath, so I know she is there even if there’s been nothing to hear.

‘Good morning, Miss Purdie,’ I say and I smile at her and she smiles back.

She makes a show then of reading the noticeboard to see what’s on offer today. ‘Course, she and I know that is all just a thing that she does; we know that it’ll be a pot of breakfast tea and a slice of almond cake that she will order – same as she has ordered every day for years. I get the almond cake in specially for her.

She sits in the same chair at the same table and I bring her order out on a tin tray and I bring a cloth napkin with embroidered roses in one corner and I bring a small silver cake fork.

‘It’s turned out nice today,’ I say, making some common comment on the weather that is happening on the other side of the glass.

‘It has dear,’ she says. ‘Nice as ninepence.’

I don’t always know what she means by what she says. I don’t know how ninepence is any nicer than tenpence, but from her nodding and smiling I think she has given some agreement to what I have said.

‘Have you got plans for the day, Miss Purdie?’

I sit with her a while, if the place is not busy, and she tells me about the small excitements of her day ahead. They do not vary and she tells them the same whatever the weather and seems not to know she has told me them before. She says there is a man she sees, and her voice is shrunk to whisper like it is a secret. His name is Edward, she says, and he’s always turned out smart as paint and he’s got the bluest eyes you ever saw and he walks with her once around the park and he holds her hand and they say nothing. Then, at the closing gates of the park they kiss, just the once, and then, without a word having passed between them, they go their separate ways.

‘Isn’t that delightful?’

I tell her that it is and she goes on.

She has lunch a little later with another gentleman. His name is Elliott and he has a houseboat down on the canal and the boat’s name is ‘Jenny’, which is her own name when she is more than Miss Purdie.

Then Miss Jenny Purdie takes the bus to Covent Garden and she feeds the pigeons there and watches acrobats and jugglers and fire-eaters, and there’s a coffee shop where she meets a man who has no name and he tells her his life story in short installments and she says it is better than reading a book.

I know this is all make-believe because I followed her once. I thought it was such an oddly romantic story that I had to see it for myself. And though Miss Purdie did go to the park and did take a turn around the park, she did so alone. And at the gates she did stop, like she said, and she turned to one side, stretched tall on the balls of her feet, with her eyes closed, and she kissed the air – but no one was there to catch that kiss.

And there is a houseboat down on the canal and it is called ‘Jenny’ and I watched Miss Purdie watching the man at work there, painting the boat in bright colours, and emptying dirty water into the canal, and smoking a pipe when he’d finished. And he tipped his boatman’s cap at Miss Purdie and that was all.

And at Covent Garden there were pigeons which she fed, and acrobats to see, and jugglers and fire-eaters just as she’d said, and a coffee shop where she sat for a while over a coffee and where she talked to her own reflection in the window.

‘Course, I never let on to Miss Purdie. We all have our little lies that we live with. I tell her that Bob’s doing fine, that he’s a ray of sunshine in the house, that he’s a wonder with the kids and that I don’t know where I’d be without him. That’s what I tell Miss Purdie and anyone else who asks. But there ain’t no Bob now, just as there ain’t no Edward. Bob ran off with a stripper from Newcastle two years back, only he doesn’t tell his mum she’s a stripper; he tells his mum that she works in a salon and she does hair and make-up for girls when they are brides. We all have stories we tell.

‘Best drink your tea while it’s hot, Miss Purdie,’ I say and I get up from the table.

‘Thank you, dear,’ she says.

And the day shifts forward a little and I watch her picking at her almond cake like a bird, and she licks the point of her finger and not a single crumb is missed and the plate is left perfectly clean.

She checks her watch and checks the time against the clock on the wall and she drinks the last of her tea. Then at a minute before eleven she makes to go. She leaves a silver coin tucked under the edge of the plate and folds the napkin and sets it neatly in place on the tray. Then she tip-toes out, without a word, and off to be with Edward in the park, same as always, and Elliott by the canal, and a man with no name who has coffee with her in Covent Garden.

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→Thanks again, dear Lindsay, for sharing your fine writing with us. And to others who find stories from the prompts I post, please feel encouraged to enter them in the comments section on the prompt’s page. And as always, thanks for reading! -PMc←

A Different Place Now, and Any Other Day ~ Two by Lindsay

My pleasure to offer you two bits of writing by Lindsay–a rather regular reader and contributor–inspired by past journal prompts. -PMc

September 22, 2012: We needed to see it again.
September 22, 2012: We needed to see it again.

ONE

We was in a bad place, me and Jim. Real bad, you know. Arguin all the time and comin to blows some days and I was even in the hospital once and the police came and they says how I could press charges if I’d a mind to. Yeh, so a real bad place. And we talked of endin it, the whole shebang, and I’d get the house and the kids and he’d get the car. That’s as far as we’d got.

Then he found some old pictures. On slides. From way back. And I caught him lookin at ‘em, standin at the window and the rainy day light to see ‘em by, and he held ‘em one at a time, between the pinch of finger and thumb, and up to the light, his eyes narrowed so as he could see.

His face then, all soft and smilin. You hadda see it. I say it, you hadda see it. And I asked him what he was lookin at and he passed one to me. It’s a different ways to see pictures. Now they’s on computer screens and we don’t takes the time, and even if we does we’s hurries through ‘em. But standin in front of the bedroom window, the slide lifted to the light and it’s like lookin at the sun or the moon and I lingered over that lookin.

It was a picture of me and Jim and one of the kids when they was just born and Jim lookin like the cat what’s got the cream and his arms around me and I’d forgot it could be like that with him. And he’d forgot too, cos there in the bedroom he puts his arm across my shoulders and he whispers in my ear and he says, all soft and tears catchin in his voice, how he wished he could have it all to do over.

I reckons what he means is he would do it all different. Well, maybes not it all, but the stuff with Julie next door and what they done that weekend the kids and me was away to my mother’s. And if he’d come with us then, we’d be in a different place now, sure as eggs, and maybes the same place as we can see in the picture.

I don’t have any words for him then, not for Jim and what he said, and I just stands there with his arm about me and the picture raised high and a rainy day light on my lifted face, and in that moment it is all different.

—by Lindsay

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September 16, 2012: On any other day...
September 16, 2012: On any other day…

TWO

On any other day she’d have stopped at Marty’s just long enough to pass the time, making comment on the weather and what’s going on in the world, and Marty selling her a newspaper and he’d smile and she’d smile back at him and he’d carry that feeling through the rest of the afternoon.

On any other day she’d drop a dollar into the cup of Billy the beggar on the corner of ninth and he’d bless her and wish her luck and he’d watch her walking away from him and the way her hips moved and the almost skip of her step, and he’d lick his lips and pocket the dollar.

On any other day the boys at the ‘Rise and Shine’ window cleaning company would stand with their faces close to the glass and they’d wave and whistle and she’d turn her head and wave back and that would make the youngest there think he was in love and his name is Bradley.

And the lady who feeds the pigeons in the garden up on Cranston Way would shake her head and tut at the shortness of Christie’s skirt and the girl called Alice would say she thinks the length of the skirt is just fine and if you’ve got the legs there’s no point in keeping them hidden.

On any other day this is how it would go. And Christie turning heads and the flick of her hair and her laughter like birdsong in the city and the day a little brighter when she’s been in it.

But today is not any other day, and she’s in a greater hurry than normal and a crease at her brow and she bites at her bottom lip and she does not stop at Marty’s; and Billy the beggar is a dollar lighter in his cup this day; and the boys at the Rise and Shine window cleaning company crane their necks looking this way and that, searching, thinking they must have missed her, and Bradley does not think he could have and he feels an empty ache deep in his gut; and the woman feeding the pigeons in the garden up on Cranston Way snips at Alice instead and it is Alice’s skirt that is too short today, only Alice thinks it isn’t. And Christie, in so much of a spin, and no one can afterwards say why, and she does not stop before crossing the road and the driver of the car does not see her and the world is stood on its head in a cartwheel moment and the days after that are changed and a new shape given to every other day.

—by Lindsay

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→Thanks again, Lindsay, for these wonderful moments in writing. I encourage readers to respond to the journal prompts through the comments section; there is a whole lot of good writing going on out there. And as always, thanks for reading!←

When The Fizz Has Gone From Our Wine ~ A New Year Journal Prompt Response by Lindsay

Image from When Harry Met Sally
Image from When Harry Met Sally

AT MIDNIGHT

◊Note: Lindsay, the author of this piece, is a regular reader and contributor to the journal prompts posted on this site. This is her response to the New Year’s Even post of 2012. Thank you, Lindsay, for another wonderful bit of writing here! -PMc◊

There’s a weight of expectation. Like each year life has to live up to all those movie moments and the bells ringing out the old and ringing in the new and it should be a climax to something with music straining and paper ribbons falling and the thrill of kissing the one person or kissing many.

There’s a clock in the centre of the town, old stone and two broad faces, and some years we go there and we are a part of something. The clock is never quite right and someone in the crowd starts a countdown that is a little off. And we pop the cork from our bottle and we will it to be something special this year and he pours me a frothy glass of sparkling wine that runs over the top of my hand and he laughs and I laugh, but it feels like a long way from laughter.

I look for a face that I recognize, in the crowd, in the streetlamp yellow light, any face, and everyone is smiling or pretending to, and the cold nips their cheeks and mine, and the damp silvers their hair, and someone wishes me a happy new year and leans in quick to kiss me and is gone again before I even know who it is. And I stamp my feet to beat off the cold, or is it impatience?

Then, when the fizz has gone from our wine, and the crowd begins to break up, we set off for home again and he says something about the clock being five minutes out, same this year as last year, and he drops the empty bottle upside down into a street waste bin and then he is silent.

And I wonder if it was different once. I wonder if there was a movie moment somewhere in the past and the laughter was real and I got to kiss him, whoever he was, and he whisked me to the rooftop garden and we looked at the stars and thought ourselves above everything else. I search through my album of memories, and I search, and just when I feel cheated by all those Harry-met-Sally new years, I remember.

There was a midnight party and music playing and we were dancing so close we were like one thing. And the lights suddenly went up and we were all counting backwards and someone was taking pictures. Yes, there’s a picture somewhere, and he scooped me up all kiss and hold and laughing, and that was our moment, blink and you would have missed it, and that is our new year moment to measure all other new year moments against.

And that man is beside me now, his hands in his pockets and all his words used up and I know he carries his disappointment slung in a sack over his hunched shoulder. And I wonder at the years that have passed and where it went wrong or if the weight of expectation is just too much for love and life to bear. And I wonder if, some years down the line, Harry and Sally, still together, ever got to relive that movie moment or if the wine in their glasses was a little flatter this year than last.

→I love to hear from readers who find these daily prompts helpful. If you want to share your responses, please add a comment at the comments section of the prompt page. And as always, thanks for reading! -PMc←

A Christmas Tale ~ By Lindsay

On Christmas morning I found this note in the comments section of my blog:

“I have been waiting for you to post the Christmas Eve prompt just so I could do something for you… a Christmas gift of sorts for giving me something to make me write again. Hope your Christmas is filled with joy. And here’s another short tale for you:”

Some of you have read the work of this person before. Lindsay. Quite a number of months ago, Lindsay started posting wonderful short pieces as comments on my blog in response to the Daily Journal Prompts I’ve posted. I don’t think I know Lindsay personally (do I, Lindsay? Have we met? Am I just being dim?) but I feel so incredibly lucky to have come to know her work from the writing she has shared with me (and us.) I have to admit, when I look for images and listen for lines to post as prompts, I sometimes imagine Lindsay coming to my page, writing something, sharing it with us. If you look back over the Daily Journal Prompts for this past year, you will find quite a lot of her words here.

Thank you, Lindsay, so very much for your writing, your willingness to share. And now, thank you especially for this:

sal and jill

They Were Heading Home ~ A Christmas Gift from Lindsay

They were heading home. Like in the song, ‘Driving Home For Christmas’, only they weren’t so much driving as being driven. Down on their luck this year like last, and going back to where they belonged. Curled into each other in the back of a beat up ’64 Dodge truck, a failing winter sun on their faces and their cheeks nipped by cold. And just maybe they’d get there in time.

Joe promised her it would be alright. Mary wasn’t sure. She said he should have called first. Just in case. Just in case there was not room. After all, they weren’t expected. Joe reassured her that it would be fine and he put her head on his shoulder and he sang Christmas songs to her in a voice that was nearer and nearer to whisper.

Mary slept fitfully and when they stopped for gas Joe got her to stretch her legs and he fetched her a paper cup of ice and that felt better. And the man in the gas station gave him a bag of broken Oreos that wouldn’t sell, and some milk, and a blanket to keep them warm, and he wouldn’t take anything for his kindness.

And stars crept out one by one, and the road was a little rougher than before and their breath hung on the air like smoke. Joe kept looking at his watch and he held Mary closer and felt the kick and kick of the unborn baby pressed between them. And Joe said it would not be long now, really it wouldn’t.

And Joe should have called because the house was full when finally they were there, and a makeshift bed had to do and there was space in the backroom where old chairs needing mended were stored and empty suitcases and bottles of hooch that were labeled by year.

‘Like in the story,’ said Joe’s old man. ‘You know, and there should be shepherds and wise men and gifts.’

‘And angels,’ said Joe’s mom.

And they laughed, though Joe was paler than laughter should be and Mary held her breath and counted the seconds between one stab and the next. And Joe’s mom put water on to boil just in case, and the doctor’s number placed by the phone, and all the lights in the house were on.

The story has an ending, as a story should. And because it is a Christmas story it ends happily as it must and maybe you’d think it was more of a beginning than an ending for, though the birth was not easy or quick it was fine, and the baby arrived before it was Christmas and it was called Jack and his leg a little twisted so that he would one day be called Jitterbug Jack for the way that he walked and he laughed every day of his life, I promise he did, and that would be another story.

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→Happy 4th day of Christmas, everyone. And if you don’t celebrate the holiday, I still wish you a happy day. And a joyous new year! As always, thanks for reading. -PMc←

He Came Out of Nowhere ~ Another Prompt Response by Lindsay

image from getspears-cestlavie.blogspot.com

 

He came out of nowhere. That’s the story that went round. Like he just appeared. One second there was a wind blowing and the dust of the street making small grey clouds, and the next he was there, standing in the road dressed in a black wool suit and a black tie knotted at his neck and his shoes all glassy shine despite the dust.

‘Course, he said nothing to contradict what they said, what the women gathered at street corners whispered to one another, touching their hair and their lips when they said it. Coming from nowhere meant he could be anyone and that’s the birthplace of rumour.

Candy said he was a millionaire and he’d lost his way and the will to be. He was here in Barstow looking for some small truth to make sense of his life. That’s what she said. ‘He paid for his room with hundred dollar bills. He pulled a crumpled fistful from his coat pocket, like just so much rubbish, and he dropped them on the counter.’

Ruth said he was a thief and that explained the money. She said he’d turned over a small bank and he’d shot the cashier dead. He was a wanted man, she said. Wanted in three states. Then she changed her story. He was the cashier and it was the thief that had been shot and the bank burned to the ground, everything gone, all ‘cept a single bag of money. What had changed Ruth’s story was that she took a liking to him one night and after a drink too many she was in his bed.

‘Smells of spearmint,’ said Alicia. ‘Not just his breath or a taste on his tongue. But his sweat, too, and the back of his neck just below his hair, and the space between his fingers and his toes. Spearmint, I tell you.’ Alicia was a virgin before he came to town and then she wasn’t.

First Ruth and then Alicia and Marjory and Ellie and Lizabeth. I didn’t believe ‘em all. Not at first. But then behind Ed’s bar, just where the streetlight don’t reach, and we did it standing up and leaning against the slat-wood fence, and spearmint kisses just like Alicia said and all the rest.

One day he wasn’t there and then he was. It was the same when he left. Like he just disappeared. Like he had never been. ‘Cept a while later Ruth was sick in the morning, and Ellie, too, and two or three others besides. And those that weren’t felt something like loss and they took to walking to the edge of town standing on Barstow’s high ground and staring into the blue beyond with a look of wistful longing on their faces. I stood there, too, watching the wind whipping up the dirt.

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Thanks again to Lindsay, a regular reader and contributor by way of comments to the Daily Journal Prompts I post. This piece is in response to Daily Journal Prompt #238, September 1, 2012. Lindsay’s writing leaves me breathless and longing–lucky for us, she continues to share it here. (And here and here and here and here and here.) It gives me great pleasure to read what folks write in response to the prompts I post; check the comments section for others, and send me yours! As always, thanks for reading! -PMc←