Stunner

Prompt image for the Fandango's Flash Fiction prompt

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #141, where we write about the image below from Natalya Vaitkevich @ Pexels.com.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

Late, late, late!

Cerys snatched one last gulp of her now-tepid instant coffee, as she searched for her missing car keys. Spying the glint of silver on the kitchen counter she hastily snatched the keyring and kissed the dozing Mandu goodbye, as she hurried through the freshly-painted door. Bumping swiftly along a narrow hallway, she stooped to collect the small bundle of mail, freshly delivered. Without paying the letters any further attention, she dashed from the house.

Stuffing the mail into the inside pocket of her smart, leather jacket, she maintained her pace until she was safely in her car.

Late, late, late!

And she could ill afford it, not today. Assignments – any assignments – were hard enough to come by, so when that catalogue work had come through, how could she possibly refuse? She knew vaguely where this guy’s studio was, but at that time of day, she’d be pushing it.

Why was she so disorganised? She had never been like this before Gary had gone, but she was left with no choice but to kick him out, after she found out about the affair. And overnight, Cerys had become a singleton once again. At first, loneliness was the biggest problem, and so she’d sought a rescue cat. She had renamed him, rather wittily, she thought. But Mandu didn’t care what she called him, so long as Cerys provided him with bed and board.

The decision to redecorate had taken longer, but Cerys was happy to have made up her mind. This was now her space, not their’s, and after six years of sharing, it was time to stamp her own identity on the place.

As it happened, the traffic was good that day, and Cerys just about arrived in time. Crossing a quaint courtyard, she ascended a spartan staircase. On the wall were various framed photographs, and Cerys recognised some of the faces among them.

Crossing a landing covered in carpet tiles – no expense spared – a white door stood in front of her. To it’s right was a smart plastic sign, “J. Lloyd, Photographic Studio”. She knocked, and the door was answered by a grey-haired, fifty-something man carrying a spotlight.

“Hi there. I’m looking for John?”

“Cerys? Come in, my dear. I was expecting you”, as he beckoned her in and turned away. Over his shoulder, he nodded at two sofas in what must have been the “reception” area, adding, “Make yourself comfortable. Let me just finish setting this light and I’ll be right with you.”

He’s nice enough, thought Cerys as she waited. Better than a lot of photographers I’ve worked with.

True to form, a coffee to start, along with a polite man behind the camera, Cerys relaxed and the session went smoothly.

They concluded the shoot shortly before lunch, and John made the pair another coffee.

“Here, the photographs will already have uploaded to the server, so if you give me ten minutes, I’ll have a quick look through them and pick out a few of the best. And, as the shoot had finished early, Cerys agreed. Though the catalogues themselves made the final decisions, they often placed a lot of faith in photographers’ recommendations. As John turned to leave Cerys for the moment, he caught her admiring some artwork hanging on the wall, and explained, “my partner. We both share this studio space”.

Leaving Cerys nursing her coffee, John suggested that she could look through some of his portfolio, wafting at a large bookcase with a shelf full of binders.

Feeling pleased with a job well done, Cerys flicked through one of the binders, although she still wanted to preserve as much of her day as possible, and if she could get out of here soon, she might be on time to meet girlfriend Suzanne for that coffee and catch up, after all. Cerys took her jacket from the ornate coat rack, and as she was putting it on, she felt the bundle of letters in the pocket. She might as well read them, while she waited.

Nothing remarkable, until she came to a white envelope franked Baldwin, Clark and Spencer. Huh? Who on earth were they? But it was definitely her name and address peeping through the window and she peeled the letter from its envelope.

As Cerys read, the shock of the letter forced her to sit back down as her head began to spin. Lawyers… instructed by Gary Hooper… divorce proceedings…

Consequences

Yesterday afternoon I wrote some flash around the photo below. I left the story at an early juncture, but even as I hit “Publish”, it was obvious that there was a second part, and I began writing it straight away.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

“Now, are we clear?”, gloated Billy, taking a triumphant swig from his half-full bottle of Corona, then slowly wiping his mouth.

From staring at my own bottle, which we’d knocked onto the floor during the contest, I looked up at him. “You know I ain’t gonna stop seeing your sister, Billy.”

“I beat you fair’n’square, Nate. I want you to call her up tomorrow and cancel your date.”

“I can’t do that, buddy. If she wants to cancel, that’s up to her, But I’m planning on turning up Friday.”

Billy was becoming frustrated, “I told you, Nate, I don’t want you horsin’ around with my sister. Am I gonna have to explain that to the both of you?”

“I guess so. Let’s ask Mary Beth and see what she thinks.

Fired up, Billy wasted no time careering us the seven blocks over to Mary Beth’s place in his beat-up, cream Yaris. He was already hammering on the door as I was climbing out of the car. I recognised the plum door that Mary Beth had described to me last night, as she’d delivered a blow-by-blow account of her disastrous exploits decorating her new house. I was still in the front garden as her diminutive auburn frame opened the door.

“Mary Beth? I’ve told Nate, we wrestled for it, and now I’m telling you. I don’t want you two seeing each other. Okay?”

Poor Mary Beth was caught completely unawares – I would have been, too – and I watched on helplessly as Billy was forced to elaborate. Finally, she leaned in toward Billy, lifted her arms around his neck, and uttered a consoling “Come here” as the pair hugged. She then brought her right knee up hard into his groin.

Despite Billy now being doubled up, Mary Beth was not yet finished her scolding. “And let that be a lesson to you! Ain’t nobody tells me who I can and can’t go out with. You got that?”

I was about to run as she turned her attention on me.

“And you!” She was about to come after me, too. “You think you can play your stupid games over me?” She moved towards me and instinctively I ran out to the safety of Billy’s Toyota.

But Mary Beth had stopped dead in her tracks, possibly sensing the futility of a cartoon chase around the car. Still in her front garden, she sighed and took a deep breath. “Well, leastways you know where I live, for when you come by Friday.” And with that, she turned back toward her house, for good measure kicking Billy lightly up the ass as she passed his still-doubled figure.

“You got that?”, she chided as he groaned. “I decide.” And without waiting for an answer, she re-entered her house and slammed the door behind her. That wouldn’t help her new paintwork!

When Billy finally staggered back to the car. I thought I did quite well. As best I could, I suppressed my grin and just asked, “Would you like me to drive you home?”

Two Little Boys

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #140, where we write about the image below from Gratisography @ Pexels.com.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

One last joist, before I take my lunch break.

There. Quick as a brown fox, I tightened the three outsize stainless screws into the pine. But it was easy enough; these things come naturally, with fifteen years’ practise. That frame would be secure enough now, at least until I fixed it properly after lunch. I loosened the buckle of the worn harness and waved the crane away.

On the ground, I beckoned to the crane – did Billy realise the time? – before turning back to the skeleton to admire my handiwork. The timber frame was almost complete now, and the downstairs walls of the new house were already taking shape.

Unscrewing the lid of my thermos, I poured the still-steaming coffee into my enamel mug. As I took my first sip, Billy appeared from his cab.

My best buddy, since forever, he’d joined the construction company with me, straight out of school. I still saw in him that shy, gangly nine-year-old, complete with braces, that I’d first met all those years ago. How the fuck does he do it? It’s still so effortless for him, while I’m losing hair by the fistful and will soon need to wear a corset.

But we’ve been through a lot, Billy and me. We’d gotten closer since our respective divorces a couple of years back, eerily within a year of each other. But we’d both gotten through, and Billy seemed okay now. We’d both been through our first marriages and were enjoying the single life once again.

Billy poured from his own Thermos, and we settled into silence as we began to eat from our respective lunch boxes.

The eating done, Billy broke the silence.

“Pa says he saw you out last night with Mary Beth.” He phrased it as a statement, not a question. Mary Beth. Billy’s sister, younger by three years. I’d known her almost as long as I’d known Billy himself. Now with a divorce under her own belt. So, she’d been right, it was her Pa. Mary Beth had thought she recognised the car when they were out walking together.

“Yeah, we went out last night for a beer. She’s a good listener. I like her. We cried on each other’s shoulders.”

“I don’t think you should see her again.”

I hadn’t thought Billy would be so protective. “But…”.

“No buts, Nate. I don’t want you going out with my sister, and that’s that.” Billy had a way of telling people when the discussion was over.

With clear unease between us, Billy soon made his excuses to return to his cab.

However, I spent the afternoon preoccupied, and at the end of the day, I cornered Billy.

“Can we talk about what you said at lunchtime?”

“Ain’t nuthin’ to say, Nate. I don’t want you seeing my sister. That’s all.”

“But Billy, I liked her. We sat and talked for hours. And I think she liked me. We’re going out for a meal, Friday night.”

“The hell you are.”

“It’s arranged, Billy. I wanted to see her again, she wanted to see me. We’re not young kids, for chrissake, we’re all grown adults.”

“Hmmm… Nate. We need to sort this. Meet me at the tavern at nine o’clock tonight, and we’ll settle this.”

“Settle? Whaddya mean, settle?”

“You know, the way we always used to settle things.”

Blameless

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #139, where we write about the image below from Vivike@viviendorkaa.com.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

Emma was still in pyjamas and was helping herself to her cereal as dad Trevor came into the kitchen armed with an empty coffee cup. Placing the cup at the edge of the sink, he bade farewell.

“I’m going to work now Emma, so you make sure you have a lovely day at school. And I’ll see you when I get home tonight.”

He had already begun to leave the kitchen when the girl responded, “goodbye daddy, I’ll see you tonight.”

Trevor regarded himself in the hallway mirror before leaving. Straightening his paisley tie, he reminded, “Oh, and remember what we talked about last night. If Dodi comes along after school and wants you to go out to play, you’re to say ‘No’, right? He’s a very naughty boy and all that happens is that *you* end up in trouble.”

“I’ll tell him, daddy, but he said he would probably not come around today.”

Dad rolled his eyes. “Well, anyway, just remember. Goodbye sweetheart”, parted Trevor, as he left the house.

The sound of the closing door attracted Lisa, Emma’s mum, who appeared in the hallway in her dressing gown. Unconsciously tapping down the peeling cream wallpaper, she announced, “Hi Emma. Put the kettle on, there’s a good girl.” Lisa had never been able to function until she’d had her first cup of tea. She tutted as a strand of her long, dark hair fell in front of her eyes. For now, she brushed it over her ear, but made a note that she would have to fix it properly, later, before she left the house to drop Emma at school.


After school, Lisa was surprised when Emma asked if she could prepare a treat for everybody’s supper, and that she needed to work on her own, in the kitchen. With trepidation, Lisa agreed, but with the door still shut thirty minutes later, curiosity overcame her, and Lisa pushed her head around the door.

She could not believe the sight. The kitchen plant-pots were all piled empty in the sink, and a trail of soil led from there, to the oven. Lisa could see that the child had turned the oven on and seemed to be baking something.

“What on earth are you doing, Emma? Why is all that soil everywhere?”

“We’re baking mud pies, mummy. Dodi came and he says we should eat them for supper!”

“STOP!!!”, screeched Lisa at the top of her voice, before thinking clearly and dashing to turn the oven off. “Right, young lady… No more about Dodi, okay? We don’t buy it!” With tears in her eyes, she examined the flowers, now lying by the side of the sink, more closely. She shook her head. “Ruined. Look at what you’ve done!”

“But Dodi said…”

“Fuck Dodi!”, Lisa interrupted, exasperated. Emma was shocked at mum’s swearing, but she had really lost her temper this time.

“You’re not to mention that bastard’s name ever again, do you understand?” Lisa continued. “Now, clean this kitchen until it is spotless. Like as if you had never been here. Right? And then, get to your room. You can miss supper tonight, and you’d better hope that I’ve calmed down before dad gets home!” Lisa slammed the door as she tore out of the room.

With tears of her own, Emma turned toward the worktop, and sniffed. “Don’t worry, Dodi, she doesn’t mean it.”

Better Things

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #138, where we write about the image below from Don Matthews.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

“Okay, last item…”. Jay brought his stack of paper down onto the desk, with sufficient effect, he hoped, to reclaim everybody’s attention. “The End of Term Treasure Hunt. This will be the last event we organise, so let’s make it a good one.”

Roz continued to blow smoke rings from her roll-up and looked at her watch. “Will this take long? It’s just that the bar closes in twenty minutes, and I’m gasping for a snakebite.”

Jay found it difficult to conceal his disappointment. This must be the most lacklustre committee ever elected in the history of the college.

To his right, Jez yawned. Jay stared at him. “Sorry, mate, I was up all night last night. I had an essay due in today, and old Harpo told me that if I was late again, they were going to kick me out.”

Jay tried to be officious. Clearing his throat, he began, “Okay, the Treasure Hunt. I thought that since it’s our last event, we could make it something special.”

Jez’s thoughts turned to the Summer Ball, when the beer had run dry after only an hour.

“Now”, continued Jay, “all the noddy stuff has been done before. We’ve done traffic cones, road signs… even temporary traffic lights and the policeman’s helmet last year. We need something cryptic, something to get them thinking for themselves. God knows, that’s why they came here, isn’t it?” Even in his three years here, Jay could have sworn that he had seen a decline in students’ ability to study without guidance.

Lethargically cocking an eye at the Napoleon clock ticking lazily above the fireplace – a quarter to ten – Jez offered “how about a stitch in time?”

Roz blew another smoke ring, and Jay sighed.

A Rush Job

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #137, where we write about the image below.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

“Oh, come on Dad. Just one more time.”

“No, I’ve just told you! I’ll tell the story again, another day.”

“Please…”, whined Toby.

His father issued a rather melodramatic tut, before relenting.

“Okay, you want to hear about Great-Grandpa Joe?”

“Yes, yes, yes”, squealed the boy in delight.

“Well, this all happened a long, long time ago. Long before you were born, long before I was born, long before even Grandpa Jack was born. It all happened when Great-Grandpa Joe was a little boy.

“Great-Grandpa Joe was just starting to be useful around the house – just like you are – and one summer, Joe was helping his daddy, the way you sometimes help me. His name was William, and he was your ???”

“Great-Great-Grandpa”, interrupted Toby, gleefully.

“That’s right. He was your great-great- grandpa. Well done.”

Dad paused, to let the praise sink in.

“One summer”, continued Dad, “Joe was helping William to put up that summer house over there.” He nodded. “It took them the whole summer. Three long months they worked, and in the end, they were done. There was only one thing left to do.”

He turned to the boy. “Do you know what?”

Toby, who had heard the story a million times before, immediately answered, “they had to paint it.”

“That’s right. And the very last weekend of the summer, with the leaves starting to drop from the trees, that’s exactly what they did, to protect it from the winter storms.”

“Go on.”

“Well, they were just about done. William had gone to get cleaned up and had left Joe to complete the last tiny bit. He had just about finished when…”

“This is the best bit”, rasped Toby.

“Well, Joe must’ve been feeling kinda hungry, because just then, Great-Grandma Jilly arrived, and announced that tea was ready. I guess the lure of Jilly’s homemade Ginger Cake was too much for poor old Joe, and he turned and sprinted back to the house, dropping the brush in this pasture on his way.

“And when he came back the next day…”, chimed the pair in unison.

Toasted

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #136, where we write about the image below, from Czubachowski at ephotozine.com.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

“Oh my god, John, this is too much. On a Sunday morning, right when we’re about to start getting ready for church, too.” In the background, the siren over on the roof of the school had just begun to wail.

“Don’t worry, Liv. It’ll be another drill. You heard Kennedy on the TV; we need to be prepared for them.” With the practise of a man who’d seen these drills four times already, he took another sip of his sweet, black coffee. Even Nikita Khrushchev would not disrupt his after-breakfast routine. You’d better coral the children up under the stairs, though, just in case.

This might take a while, thought Liv, as the children had been allowed to play outside, to give the grown-ups some quiet time after breakfast.

She approached the back door, and over the din of the siren, called out the children’s names. “Jason! Mary Ellen! Erin! Elizabeth! Come on in now, there’s another drill. Come on now, at the double! Ben! Jim Bob! John Boy! Come on, you too! I want you all in and to the shelter, right now.”

Their makeshift nuclear shelter was the pantry under the stairs. Liv figured it would give them as much protection as a paper bag, but it was all they had.

When the children were installed in the dark pantry, John Sr announced “Roll Call” to ensure that they were all present. Each called out their name, in sequence, to John’s satisfaction, until the last voice. Silence. John cocked his eyebrows. “John Boy?” No answer. His eyes scanned the children. No sign. He saw nothing of Blue, the family’s Jack Russell terrier, either. He looked up at Liv.

“Where is that boy? Didn’t you call him in? I’d better go look for him.” As John rose to leave the shelter, he felt a hand grasp his leg.

“Be careful, John. We’re coming up to four minutes since the alarm started. Hadn’t you better wait a moment before you go looking for him? Just in case?”

Skeletons in the Cupboard

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #135, where we write about the image below, from writerscentre.com.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

Mark was setting out his clothes for tomorrow’s nuptials. Girlfriend Laura was at a low-key hen night at a pizzeria in town. She would then observe tradition by spending the night at a friend’s apartment, not seeing Mark again until the wedding itself.

He had the evening planned. First, prepare his clothing for the big day. Then, a long, hot, relaxing soak in the tub, which, yes, might include a facial. Lastly, an early night, his last as a bachelor. Mark was far too long in the tooth for stag nights, and in any case, he would be meeting best friend and witness Pat at The Feathers at lunchtime, to garner some Dutch Courage before the main event.

He had just finished ironing his shirt, carefully avoiding disturbing Mog the cat, who was regally curled up, asleep, in the centre of their bed, when he heard the phone ring. The landline. Who was that? The only person who ever called him on that number was his mum, and he would be seeing her tomorrow at the registry office anyway. A last-minute pep talk, perhaps?

He allowed the machine to answer. From behind the closed door of the bedroom he heard a female voice. It was muffled, but Mark could tell it was not mum’s. He opened the door, so that he might properly hear the message.

“Mark? It’s me. Are you there?”

A soft, melancholy voice.

“Fuck!”, cursed Mark, aloud but to no-one, as he instantly recognised Toni’s caramel voice. Unmistakeable.

Mark’s mind raced. He looked down at the sharply creased suit, and her voice reminded him that he had ventured down this path once before. Almost.

Jeez, he thought, as she instantly took him back all of seven years. They had been an item, Mark and Toni. Furthermore, she had been the one. They were less than a month from their own wedding, before she bolted.

As if to serve as a reminder, at that moment Mog flew past, evidently not sleepy enough to ignore the possibility of a treat as Mark stepped towards the kitchen. The grand old Mog, whom Toni and he had picked up from the shelter, the first of their intended offspring. And Mog had lived with Mark ever since, even happily adopting Laura when she came to live at the apartment.

There had been women since Toni, not least Laura, but by then, Mark had learned to protect himself. He had only given so much of himself to the relationship.

But Toni got the lot.

Laura. He thought of Laura. One of a kind, an exceptional human being, a woman he had grown to love in the three years they had been together. In Laura, he had seen a good wife, someone who would be a good mother, a good partner. But she wasn’t Toni.

By the time Laura arrived on the scene, Mark had given up on thunderbolts.

“I heard you were getting married…”, continued the voice. Then a sniff. Or, perhaps a sob?

Walk away, just like she did. His initial reaction was to just allow her to leave the message. He knew Toni was having doubts, but when she ran, Mark had been crushed. He had not thought it was possible that anybody, let alone someone who professed their love, would do this. Since she fled, he had tried to compartmentalise her, to lock his thoughts away, never again to be aired.

It was a year before he dated again.

Now, he turned back toward the bedroom.

“I just wanted to w…” The voice hesitated, and it let out another sniff.

But wasn’t that what he had promised? That he would always be there if she needed him? After she had contacted him, almost six months after their intended wedding night, now living a healthy distance from him, and embarking on a new life? Was that not exactly what he had said to her? Mark stalled, standing motionless in the hallway.

“I just wanted to wish you luck…”

And besides, maybe she was calling to wish him luck?

“Toni? Is that you?”

“Oh, Hi Mark. I thought you might be out.”