Ablution

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Photo: Ales Krivec on Unsplash: Vintgar, Slovenia

 

The Radovna pooled itself and waited for her ablution. Still. Clear. Shattering in its beauty and perfection.

Everything she was not.

Hers was more the unfettered rush, cutting gorges, collecting all manner of debris, and lugging along tumbled things that poked their heads out of the milky froth of living.

There were no still ponds in her being.

She looked at the icicles suspended from rocks above the freezing water. They were guarding it.

From beings that did not deserve to be cleansed.

Like herself.

Hom and Boršt rose above the gorge, patient and unbending. The beech trees on the slopes, stripped bare for winter, rustled as they waited to witness her own naked skin.

Her eyes lifted to the bridge, though she expected no one on it. The area was closed to tourists in the winter. Only the locals came, alone, to seek absolution in the Radovna’s icy bowl.

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Slovenia

 

Fading

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They didn’t tell him he’d be seeing things.

They didn’t tell him how cold he’d be, or how alone, or how desperately he’d miss even the smallest comforts. Like a hue that wasn’t on the scale of dirty-white to sort-of-gray.

Maybe he was dying.

Was this how it would be?

He’d ask.

If he could.

They didn’t tell him he’d be unable to speak. Or that the voice he’d make would go unheard, unseen, unnoticed.

He blinked.

The stag was still there.

Perhaps real, perhaps conjured by the wish to flee combined with the worry about antlers being helplessly tangled as one tried to get away.

“You watch out,” he mouthed. Or said. Or yelled. “Don’t be fooled. Don’t be like me.”

The stag stood still. A statue. Another tree?

Then in one split second it bounded, disappeared.

Come back, he whispered. He’d never been so lonely.

He wept. He thought he did. He was so cold.

He looked at his hands. They blurred. He, too, must be fading.

Eternity.

The shadows crept near. A rumble of garbled monster-speech.

He heaved.

 

“Good trip?”

“He’s kind’a out of it.”

“He said he wanted to try some!”

“Yeah, but how much did you fools dump in his drink?”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge

 

 

Lost Halos

Photo prompt © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

She’d been surprised to find out there was property overseas. Grandma raised her, yet no word was ever said about it.

“You should go,” Abe said. “Check it out. See about selling.”

She took Daniel with her. Heritage for him. Distraction from grief for her.

The small apartment above the Shuk was dank and cramped. Her grandmother had bought it decades earlier. Investment in the Holy Land.

“We couldn’t pay much,” the ancient tenant said, tears and wariness in her eyes, blue numbers on her arm. “She was an angel. Kept saying we were doing the mitzvah on her behalf.”

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

Become Stone

Photo: #CCC48

 

She crouched and tried to still her heart and limbs so the water would not give her away in wavelets or ripples.

Her teeth chattered. She wasn’t dressed for wet and the day’s sun had little warmth, none of which reached the shaded culvert.

She strained to listen.

She did all she could think of to hide her steps, but she wasn’t likely to escape the dogs. If they brought them. Oh pray please, please, that they did not. Not the dogs.

Her breath hitched and she bit down on her lip to try and swallow the sob that rode on it. The metal taste of blood filled her mouth. She heard barking. Surely the dogs could smell it. And her fear.

She closed her eyes and prayed to become stone.

She would not feel their chains, the bites, the clubs, their touch, their lashes, if she were a stone.

 

 

 

For the Crimson Creative Challenge

 

The Project

photo by David Meredith

Photo courtesy of David Meredith, photographer

 

“I know we can do it!”

Richard infused his voice with all the pep he could muster.

The house was a dump. He wanted to put a match to it. A tent would be better to live in. The very prospect of what fixing this wreck-of-a-building would entail had him exhausted in advance. He’d fixed homes before: this project would be measured in years, not months or weeks. He could almost see the creepy crawlies inside walls, the rot above the ceiling, the mold under the floors, the who knows what in the rafters.

He hated it already.

Who buys a house sight unseen? What on earth did she expect?

“It’ll be great!” He enthused, his arm protectively around her shoulders.

She’d been so proud to find a house that could fit them all and within their minuscule budget, further shrunken since he’d lost his job. She wanted to surprise him.

He hated seeing her devastation when they arrived at their new home, belongings and kids crammed into one truck.

“The children will learn so many skills,” he stressed. “You’ll see. We’ll go room by room and prioritize.”

“It’s a disaster,” she sniffled. Looked up. Smiled. “And I love you.”

 

 

For Sunday Photo Fiction

 

 

 

 

Irreplaceable

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Photo: Hu Chen on Unsplash

 

She could not get enough of him.

She’d spent the last few hours gazing at him as he slept.

She could spend another lifetime.

Nothing could replace the sweet contour of his back, the curve of his neck, the fists that could fly deliciously out of tempo with his kicking, the softness of his cheeks dimpled into smile.

His breath.

Joy expanded her chest and spread a warmth under her skin that flushed through her soul to fill her with a flood of well-being.

She was his forever grandmother.

 

 

 

Note: Dedicated to all the grandmothers and great-grandmothers. To the aunts and great-aunts. To the mothers and mothers-to-be. To the grandfathers and great-grands, to the uncles and fathers. May you know this love, for nothing can replace it.

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Replace in 89 words

 

 

 

 

Stone Face

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

She stood on the ledge and watched the edge of the world dissolve into fire.

It had been a long day, waiting. He did not come. She did not know when he could. Only that he would when he managed to get free.

As she had.

It was their place. Before. It will be their home. Now.

They’d found the small cave down the rock-face when they were still children frolicking in the waves. They’d been rolling with a large piece of driftwood one day when the currents had taken them farther than they’d expected. They’d tried to reverse course but it was futile to fight the sea. It was after reality had set in and they’d began to fret in earnest, that they’d spotted what looked like a black tooth on the jagged cliff. As Merlin tried to point to it, the log rolled, depositing the two of them into the waves and bestowing a farewell knock on Marla’s head. It had gone black behind her eyes after that.

Merlin had managed to drag her to and onto the surf-beaten rocks, scraping both of them raw in the process. He claimed the seals had helped him and she never doubted it. Nor that the seals had likely rolled the log in the only spot the two of them might’ve had a chance of getting to the shore unbroken.

They had clawed their way slowly up to the ledge, crying and more than a little frightened, only to find that what had appeared a black tooth from the sea, was in fact a cave’s mouth that was dry and deep enough to offer shelter. The marvel had calmed them enough to explore, and they’d found a precarious but doable foot- and hand-hold way to gain access up to the top of the cliff. And from there across the moors home.

They’d made a pact to never tell anyone about “Stone Face” — named for how the features could be read in the rock above the ledge. They suffered the indignities of being mocked for slipping into a whirlpool — the story they’d made up to explain their miserable condition and the lateness of their arrival home — and they endured the punishment of being forbidden from going to play in the water for the rest of that long summer, and the drudgery of extra chores.

It did not matter. Their secret sustained them. As had their rare visits to Stone Face via the barely-there climbing way. It was their refuge and all the more a miracle to them for how no one had known of it (or at least not in their lifetime, for there were signs of hearth-fires on the blackened ceiling and some stone flakes that could cut deep and might’ve been a tool in someone’s hand). It was their place of hopes and dreams and stories.

Then time came and Merlin was indentured to the Smithy, and Marla was sent off to scrub the floors and bear the fists and the bastard children of Lord Bowery, a man of no nobility in deportment or form. She tried to endure him, but the core of her rebelled against his injustices and his brutal invasions. She fled.

The Smithy’s apprentice was due to bring brackets to the manor’s door that week. She had to trust that he would find out she was gone.

And that he would come for her.

To make Stone Face, home.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto: Stillness

 

 

The Bag

Photo prompt: © Ted Strutz

 

She stopped by to check on her elderly neighbor and saw a bulging bag on the curb. Odd. Trash-collection was two days away. Ethel could get ticketed.

She grabbed the bag. The thing was heavy! How did the ancient women lug this? She carried it up the path to the door.

“Ethel?” she knocked. “It’s Belinda.”

Silence. Was Ethel sleeping? Belinda knocked again. Waited. Rang the bell. Used her key.

There was no one home. All personal effects gone.

Heart pounding, Belinda rushed to untie the bag.

A mess of photos spilled out, scattering Ethel’s life to the ground.

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

Horse Lord

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Photo: Mongolia; Anudariya Munkhbayar on Unsplash

 

The floods had culled the herd. The fires cleansed the land of dead, returned the grasses to the dirt, where bones lay, staring at the sky, unbleached. They will not be interred.

A falcon soared above their heads. It dove and disappeared, its freedom deferred, its sight hidden under the dark small caps it let have drawn over its vision in a servitude preferred.

The stallion whinnied. The yearlings, cocky and too young to know better, had cantered up ahead. They stopped at the sound of his impatience and turned about as their obedience stirred. But the mares and foals kept close on dancing legs. The smell of smoke still in the air rendered them simultaneously docile and quick to bolt, their reason blurred.

He knew why that was. The two-legged that had fled, have returned. And the smoke curling from the nostrils of their leather dwellings rose, awakening dread.

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Mongolia

 

 

A Path Back

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

She’d needed this for so long she almost did not know what to do with it. The sense of expansion felt as if it would crush her chest from the inside. The freedom felt disorienting. The quiet deafened. The freshness of the air dug splinters in her lungs.

It was the yearning, really. The slow release of what she had compressed herself into, for absolutely way too long.

Like pins and needles of a ‘fallen asleep’ limb waking up, it was. Only that this was her soul awakening, her spirit that she’d squelched into an air-tight packet and had pushed into a too-small drawer. Her way to survive.

She’d done this to herself, in a way. She realized. Sure, she could blame others for the part they played, but in the end it was her own small choices to ignore and minimize and shrug off and explain away, that slowly but resolutely coiled herself into herself, and did it so completely that she’d began believing herself to be devoid of need or want or urges to do more than what was outwardly expected.

So she’d stopped taking time for herself. She’d stopped going into nature. She’d stopped asking what she loved, or inquiring what she lost, or still required.

Till that day, when the small worm of “maybe,” fed by events that almost forced her hand, led to a gap in her calendar, and to a decision she could not quite explain to herself. A caprice, it felt, to rent a car and go — without a definite plan or conscious understanding of its meaning — into the wilder parts outside the concrete jungle that had become home.

And with the first crunch of her feet onto the leaf-strewn path, something inside her belly and right above her heart began to crack.

She let the wind carry her tears in zigzags on her cheeks. She used her sleeve to wipe her nose, as heedless as a child and as contentedly miserable. She cried because she could. She felt the ache and wronged bewilderment rise in her, slow at first, then unrestrained in its demand to be freed from the confines of denial and regret.

When she’d first left the car at the makeshift parking by the hiking trail, she thought she’d just stretch her legs a bit and perhaps take a few photos of the foliage. She didn’t realize — or perhaps she had but her spirit guarded it a secret so that, too, not be squashed — that there was far more inside her that needed a bit of stretching out. And that once out of the box that confined it, it swelled and would not be going back.

The air around her rustled and a flock of geese curved a misshapen arrow overhead, heading to a warmer clime. She spread her arms and closed her eyes and twirled a slow circle around.

She’d needed this for so long that she almost did not know what to do with it. But she was going to find out.

As the space in her chest fought to accommodate the rise of feelings, the rush of hope finally allowed her to truly inflate her lungs. The leaves around her crumbled to the touch even as more of them floated down to crown her head and shoulders. Some things in her were crumbling, too, even as others — light as golden feathers — came to rest like beacons on a path back to who she was.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge: Copper