Final Farewell

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #114, where we write about this photo from the Google Photo Frame.

Enola’s father had been respected among his community. She saw how, as an elder, villagers had sought Denali’s counsel, had cherished his wisdom. But yesterday, Denali had finally breathed his last. Along with her mother, Halona, Enola had maintained a strict sentry duty these last three weeks, since Denali had collapsed. In turns, they had cooled his brow with water from the lake, and swathed him in berry poultices. But, to no avail. The pair had observed him steadily fade, and last night, he had finally succumbed.

There had been a ceremony, of course, a celebration of his life. The entire village had said its farewell, during which Halona, her youthful beauty for the first time showing its age, had remained graceful. Only a daughter’s eye saw the near-imperceptible reactions which gave any clue.

And, still not quite finished.

A select few had gathered at Halona’s dwelling for one final blessing, before the immediate family – Halona and Enola – were to accompany Denali on his final journey. Looking Glass Lake, the pure, glacial lake overshadowed by the Great mountain, the island which had been the village’s burial ground for generations. At one with nature, once again. That view, the stillness, the serenity, had always been Denali’s favourite. A party had already crossed to the island last night, to prepare a fresh grave, although tradition held that only the family would attend at the end.

As the guests began to leave, Enola slipped away. She stepped into the boat, where her father was already waiting, for a final few more minutes with him. A late baby; her parents were already ageing when they had been blessed with her arrival. She had only known Denali, the gentle statesman. The rock, and Enola worried now for her mother.

Minutes passed. A flurry of people, and Halona approached, accompanied by some elders. One helped her clamber into the boat. There was one more task to complete.


The names used are all Native American names. Respectively, they mean:

Denali – “great one”,

Halona – “happy fortune”,

Enola – “magnolia”,

Which I thought were appropriate.

Sprinkles

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #113, where we write about this photo from Edward Hopper.

Paolo had just returned from a month-long business trip to Mexico and was overjoyed to see his young family again. Rewarded with leave, he offered to spend time with his young son by taking him out for the day. Besides, as his wife had been looking after Luca all that time, the father/son bonding session would give her a well-deserved day off.

Setting out just after breakfast, the pair visited the Museum Egizio, a short distance away in Turin. In common with most boys of that age, Luca had particularly enjoyed the dinosaur exhibit, and that scale model of the Ariane rocket had made Luca explode with excitement.

Paolo’s plan was that they would visit the aquarium this afternoon, too, but before that, they needed some lunch. With Luca simply choosing “cheese”, Paulo had selected a city-centre café, and ordered a toastie each. And as a special treat, two enormous mugs of hot chocolate.

Armed with the drinks, Paulo approached one of the café’s free tables. As Paolo set the cream-laden mugs down, he realised that he had forgotten to pick up any napkins.

He felt the young boy tug on his arm. Luca was at that inquisitive age. Everything he said these days began with “why?”

“What is it, Luca? What’s the matter?”, soothed Paulo.

Luca had clearly been thinking some more about the conversation the pair had been having yesterday, as they had returned from church. As children of Luca’s age are wont to do, he spoke at volume and could be overheard at neighbouring tables, although the café was almost empty. “Daddy…”, he began, “if there is a God… that lady we saw coming in… why does he make her sleep in the street? Why doesn’t she sleep in a nice house, like we do?”

Paolo squirmed, imperceptibly. He barely remembered stepping past this young woman, crouching in the doorway, on their way into the shop. Recovering, he thought quickly. “It’s because she must have done something wrong, Luca, and God is punishing her. Now, be a good boy for daddy and go and pick us up a napkin each from the counter”. Luca obediently sauntered over, Paolo breathing a sigh of relief, thinking that the awkward scene was complete. He was a thinker, this boy, but he was young enough to be deflected easily.

Luca returned with the napkins, as instructed, but instead of sitting down to his drink, he turned. Keeping a careful watch, Paolo tracked the boy to the door. When Luca opened it and stepped outside, it was time to act. Paolo found Luca, standing outside the shop, talking to the homeless woman. Just before his father caught up with him, Luca asked her, “What did you do wrong?”

Intervening, Paolo found himself apologising to the woman, and started berating the boy, as he dragged him inside. “What have we told you about talking to strangers?”, Paolo chided.

Momentarily, the girl at the next table glanced up from her book, inquisitive to learn the cause of the commotion.

The Perfect Match

“Chrissake, Betty, why’d you need such a big freezer, anyhow?”

“I told you, Frank, if we get a bigger freezer, we can get much better deals on the food we eat. It’ll work out cheaper in the long run.”

The elderly couple perused the appliance store, walking slowly down the aisle together, as they had done almost 45 years before. The wife selecting carefully, the husband impatient to leave.

Ten minutes later, Betty had made her selection.

“What do you think, Frank?”

Rolling his eyes, Frank’s simple response was “Jesus, Betty, that thing is big enough to hide a body. Do we really need something that big?”

“Frank, I told you. This will give us more options to buy directly from Old Colman’s place”. Doug Colman owned the beef farm on the edge of town, and had built up a successful business, selling his own frozen meat, in bulk, directly to the public.

“Whatever…”, muttered Frank, as he started walking purposefully toward the door.

Her mind made up, Betty handed over her card, and arranged for delivery in just two days’ time.

Next day, Betty spent the entire day clearing a freezer-sized space in the garage. Again, Frank took no interest. Frank had taken less and less interest in Betty as their marriage had evolved.

The following day, shortly after 11 am, Betty’s new freezer arrived as promised. The delivery men kindly placed it directly into its new space. Betty was left alone with the instructions. The main thing, it seemed, it needed 24 hours to get down to its designated temperature, before any food could be placed inside. There was nothing left to do now but wait. She returned to the lounge, where she found Frank, in vest and underpants, studiously reading the Sports section of the newspaper.

“Frank, do you wanna come and see the new freezer?”

“Busy”, muttered Frank. “I saw the goddam thing in the shop, anyhow. I know what it looks like.”

Betty bided her time.

By dinnertime the next evening, the freezer was ready to use. Betty served Frank, who was sitting in his favourite, rust-red armchair. Ignoring her, he was concentrating on the game being played on the tv. Once she had presented his meal, Betty returned to the solitude of the kitchen. Five minutes later, Frank exclaimed:

“What is this shit? For god’s sake, you stupid woman, didn’t your mother ever teach you to season food properly? Go get some salt, for fuck’s sake. Before you choke me to death.”

Mary looked around the kitchen. She instinctively picked up the salt cellar from the worktop. She hesitated, looked around once again, and replaced the salt, instead selecting a large skillet that was sitting on the hob. She stole silently back into the lounge. Frank was still glued to the tv.

One swift, decisive blow to the back of his head, and Frank never complained again, a perfect fit for Betty’s new appliance.

Secrets

She was worried about her son. His coughing had prevented much sleep the night before. While it was a typical cold, seen many times before, he was clearly in some discomfort, and her instinct was to soothe.

She stirred, sat upright, focussed on the clock face. Dawn. She silently rose, her husband still gently snoring – his night had been disturbed, too. Adorning a shawl to fend off the chill of the hour, she padded into Marcus’s bedroom. Exhausting himself, the child had finally fallen to sleep. She lightly tested his brow, hot to her touch. “No school for you today”, she thought.

Silently exiting Marcus’s bedroom, she crept downstairs. Into the lounge, where she fired up her Mac. To the kitchen, she boiled the kettle. Returning to the lounge, the computer was waiting for her.

Opening the program, she selected “New Email” and began typing.

“I’m sorry, darling. Marcus is unwell, I’m keeping him off school today. I’m going to have to postpone our liaison. Love you. Sarah.” She sealed the message with a red heart.

Hitting “Send”, her attention moved away from the computer. Retrieving her drink, she stood once again and tip-toed back into bed.


Just felt like this. No reason.

Stowaway

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #112, where we write about this photo from the Google Photo Frame.

“One more time”, said the gnarled voice.

An impish smile on her young face, she reached under the blanket. A stern hand slapped it back.

“Focus!”, said the voice. “One more time.”

She looked at him sheepishly. “But Gregor, we have been through this so many times already. Can’t we just… ”

“Enough!”, he interrupted. “One more time.”

Submissive now, she looked into his serious eyes. Her expression became deadpan.

“At the end of work…”, he started for her.

“At the end of work”, she continued, obediently, “I queue up to exit, as normal. I make sure I am last. At the front of the queue, you will distract Frau Hoffstedtler.” Frau Hoffstedtler was the housekeeper at the house in which they both worked, Gregor as a waiter and Natalya as a maid. The house belonged to the district administrator, the most important party official thereabouts.

“I am to use the distraction to head for the wine cellar”, continued Natalya.

“Frau Hoffstedtler will return, find me gone, and assume that I returned home for the night.

“Once in the cellar, I am to empty a bottle of wine. If they come looking, the scent will distract the dogs. Then, I am to hide until you call me.

“We will go out into the garden, together.”

She hesitated. “You are sure that the train will come tonight?”

“It passes every night”, came Gregor’s response. “It leaves the main station at 11:15 and passes this way to the border.” Satisfied with his own answer, Gregor added, “Continue.”

“In the garden, we head for the footbridge. We should not expect any guards – because they patrol the perimeter, they do not patrol the garden.

“We meet Stephan at the bridge. Is Stephan still going to help us, Gregor?”

“Stephan will be there. He is being well paid for this evening.” Again, “Continue.”

“Stephan will make the train stop for us?”

“That’s right”, finished Gregor. “Stephan will mask the signal for us, and the train will stop under the footbridge. We will have just a 2 metre drop onto its roof. The train starts moving again, and carries us to the border.”

For the first time allowing himself to dream, he added, “Just think, Natalya, tonight we will cross the border. Tomorrow, we can lie together for the rest of our lives. We will be free.”

Natalya beamed back at him, enjoying his smile. Her hand fluttered under the blanket once again. This time, there was no attempt to prevent her. “Now”, she whispered, assuming control, “where were we?”