Embers Hot As Coals

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

She could feel them.

That’s why she came.

Why she took every opportunity she could to escape the drudgery of sewing and hoeing and weeding and feeding and washing and threshing and mending and tending and all the multitudes of tasks that never seemed to end and somehow only multiplied.

“It’s life,” her mother had sighed, when as a young child Mayra had burst into tears of fatigue and frustration when yet another basket of wash needed to be scrubbed. “We rise, we work, we eat, we sleep.”

Mayra, a dutiful daughter, had just nodded and sniffed and bent to her work. But inside her a restlessness rippled. She was expected to grow up to be like her mother: solid and stolid and capable. The capable part she was on path to mastering, if painfully slowly. But solid she wasn’t, in her wispy willowy frame, and stolid she could not be, when her feelings and thoughts bubbled in her mind like an ever boiling pot that used embers as if they were coals.

She would boil over. She would.

If she didn’t manage to find a chore that allowed her to put some distance between herself and the village and to reconnect with the souls amidst the stones.

They calmed her. They reached around her with fingers as wispy as her hair and plucked the edges of too-sharp words and smoothed rough irritation off of her being.

Most people avoided the stones. “They are haunted,” they whispered, as if that was a bad thing.

Mayra said nothing. Perhaps it was something in her that needed ghosts to sooth the places that she felt would otherwise burst and cause harm. Perhaps her difference drew her to what others knew to keep away from.

Still she came.

In secret. To avoid blame.

It was only when she was about to wed that she realized it had been her mother who’d conjured errands out of thin air for her, so the child could manage some relief.

“For some, this is life, too,” her mother smiled.

It was a rare transformation of the face that often showed so little beside focus on the thing at hand, and suddenly Mayra saw the girl her mother had been, reflected in the sky-hued eyes.

“You, too?” Mayra whispered.

Her mother’s eyes twinkled. The berries. The mushrooms. The bark. The herbs. The kindling that could not wait till the morrow to collect. All those times when her own pot was set to almost overflow atop life’s embers, hot as coals.

“I did, and I do. It is our grandmothers there, helping you.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo challenge

 

 

Keeper of the Chandeliers

 

As chores went, this was her favorite.

Granted, she made sure to keep her face flat and convey just enough tremulousness to allow it to be seen as challenging. Her superiors liked giving her challenges that needed overcoming. Especially when those could be served along with mundane duties.

She wasn’t supposed to have any, so she hid her preference. Yet inside her she rejoiced every time she was assigned the task. She was expected to approach every detail with utmost diligence, no matter the dexterity required. And at any height. Even on a rickety ladder.

Others trembled doing this, too, but hers was with pleasure, not fear. It felt like flying. She took her time, and the results were pleasing enough to be noticed. Or perhaps it was the added bonus of not having candle-wax drip onto one’s head mid-prayer.

Because before long she was made Keeper of the Chandeliers.

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson Creative Challenge

 

 

 

Common Good

fire AmitaiAsif

Photo: Amitai Asif

 

“What are you grateful for, Mama?” the girl asked, head bent over her slate.

“I’m grateful for fire,” the mother said.

“For fire?” the child paused, somewhat dismayed. Perhaps she thought she’d rise up to the top of gratitude instead. Perhaps because her foot, where an amber had landed and left a painful blister, was not particularly appreciative of flames. Perhaps because fire-related chores of breaking kindling and cleaning out the ashes needed doing before she could go out to play.

“Yes,” the woman smiled, one hand stirring the oats even as a foot rocked the cradle which held the girl’s new brother. “Because without fire there will be no breakfast, no tea, no warm bath. Without it there would be no hearth, no place to get out from the damp, nowhere to warm your hands. Without it there would be no pots, no pans, no knife, no shovel, no kettle, no cake, no bread.”

Speaking of the last, the woman rose to rake the coals and make room for the dutch oven before shoveling a heaping mound of glowing red atop the lid, so the sourdough loaf could bake. She could feel the girl’s eyes on her, reassessing what she’d been privileged to always take for granted. What the mother knew could not.

“It is the common that we often forget to be grateful for,” the mother added, her lilting voice directed at the infant, who’d began to fuss, as her words matched the pace of her resumed cradle rocking: “Air to breathe, water to drink, flour for bread, cloth and fleece, a garden and field, to grow our food in.

“And,” she tugged fondly on a ringlet by her daughter’s chin, “having the common things all tended to, gives us the comfort in which to appreciate the more obvious gifts we cherish … like you, and little David, and your Pa.”

“And Gwendoline,” the girl reminded, eyes flicking to the swaddled corn-doll that she liked to tend.

“And Gwendoline,” the mother grinned. She peeked at the letters on the child’s slate. “And children who do their chores, as you will need to as soon as your S and W here receive a bit of mend.”

 

 

 

For the Tuesday Photo Challenge: Common

 

 

Fortified

 

They’d fortified the ceiling.

So they said.

The old structure needed periodical reinforcing.

So they said.

The thickness of the walls supported their claims. The deeply recessed windows. The heavy coats of paint on ancient plaster.

‘Twas all a ruse. Of course.

The false ceiling hid a warren of crawl-spaces and narrow hiding places. A stream of escaped slaves was followed by a flood of those fleeing Nazi persecution and thereafter a steady trickle of modern-day refugees.

The ceiling hid them all. Young and old. Broken and defiant. Desperate and bewildered. Men and women and the all-too-heartbreaking child.

Some stayed a night. Others for longer sheltering. Hilda had stayed the longest. A girl on arrival, she was almost a woman at war’s end. She emerged educated. In silence. In stealth. In compassion.

She became the guardian of those who followed.

Fortified with hope of one day needing it no more.

 

 

 

For the Crimson’s Creative Challenge

Note: Dedicated to all the heroes who — often at tremendous risk to themselves — had managed to shelter the needy, the desperate, the voiceless, and the vulnerable during times of injustice, persecution, violence, horror, and hate. To all who do so still. May we one day need to do so no more.

 

For A Comb

https://paleotool.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/tinsmith.jpg

 

“For all the Gods!”

“What is it?” I startled. This was the closest I’d heard Papa get to swearing.

He lifted the milking-pail to reveal a wet stain on the earthen floor. A defiant fat drop fell, confirming.

It was our only pail.

I emptied the soup-pot into our bowls. “I’ll scrub this, Papa. It’ll cool and do till the morrow, when I’ll take the pail to the tinker. He’ll repair it for my comb.”

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Tinker in 75 words

 

 

Two By Two

twins OfirAsif

Photo: Ofir Asif

 

“Do we have to?”

“For the hundredth time … yes, we do!”

“But no one else is going!”

“No one else will be around for long.”

She felt his pouting through the ground. His clomping had a rhythm for each mood, and this one spelled: I’m thinking of an answer to refute you. She counted his foot-beats and waited. Never took more than a minute, with this kind.

“So Noah says.”

She couldn’t help but smile at his predictability. “So he does.”

His tetchy steps continued, unconvinced.

She said nothing but upped their pace a bit. It wouldn’t do to be late for this one. They cleared the lee of a dune and a gust of wind blew sand into their faces. She shook her head to clear it from her ears.

“And you believe him?”

At that she paused and turned her head toward him. “I’d rather believe him than perish.”

“But look!” He bellowed, and if she hadn’t known him well she would’ve missed the fear under the notes of clear frustration. “There’s not a drop around.”

She sighed. For all her projected certainty, he was voicing the doubts she did not let herself express. The blue skies mocked her loyalty, and the parched ground billowed dusty clouds as proof of the utter lunacy of leaving the herd to follow some two-legged prophet and his nightmare.

And yet, her own dreams had been filled with thunder. She’d wake startled, breathless with the premonition of a fruitless escape from tumbling mud that rose above the highest dune and all the way to the horizon and beyond.

She breathed and chewed her cud a moment before resuming her walking. She’d rather be a fool who lives. Especially with the calf that she could feel kicking in her womb.

“Noah said he’ll have fresh hay and all the food and water we can stomach,” she cajoled.

“Alfalfa, too?”

She grunted her assent along with her amusement. Her mate had always been partial to alfalfa, and the rare treat’s season had long passed.

“He promised some of that, yes. And barrel-loads of dates.”

His footfalls overtook hers, excited now. “Dates?! Why didn’t you say that sooner? Stop dawdling and pick up your feet! How much farther to that ark, you said?”

 

 

 

 

For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Two

 

The Sultan

Portrait: Sultan Saifuddin of Tidore, Czartoryski Museum, Krakow

 

“Kesultanan Tidore does not betray its people,” the Sultan waved his hand to dismiss the envoy. “We are not Ternate,” he added, ignoring his advisor’s frown.

The envoy left, stiff-backed, and the Sultan sighed and rose from his seat. It was past time for lunch.

“I do not like the Portuguese any more than I like the Dutch,” he admitted.  “Neither have our well-being in mind. But the Spaniards have helped us resist the Dutch’s dogged attempts at making us their puppets. I will not become Ternate.”

“The Sultan speaks wise words,” the advisor bowed. “As for the trade?”

“I will take the Dutch’s payment for the cloves my people grow,” Sultan Saiffudin’s smile was tight, “and I will gift it to my people, whose support I trust more than that of the Dutch East India Company.” His smile dropped. “Make no mistake, the Dutch’s only aim is monopoly.”

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Raja Ampat, Indonesia

 

 

At The Window

Wacton church window

 

She’d drag her trunk over every time she was left alone. It did not happen nearly often enough, so she faked head-hurts when her need got too great.

She’d drag the trunk over and place the foot-stool atop it. Gather her skirts and climb to stand precariously on it, balancing on tiptoes.

It was the only way to reach the window.

It was the only way to look out.

The only way to see the fields. The light upon the water in the distant pond. The green or bloom or brown or white of seasons. The birds. The trees. The world outside.

She didn’t know how long she’d have to stay confined to the Women’s Tower. Probably till she was of age to be married off and be conveyed in a shuttered carriage to the Women’s Tower in some other lord’s estate. The curse of her birth.

Highborn girl-children did not go out of doors very often. They did not spend time in the courtyard after infancy and were never unveiled or unaccompanied. Their chastity required they not be seen.

She watched the peasants’ children frolicking. She watched the girls work the fields, herd the geese, chase stray ducklings, spread seed for the hens, milk the goats, cut the hay, grind the wheat, slap cloth against the rocks at the sparkling stream. She could almost feel them breathe, though when she tried to draw breath herself it only let in suffocation. So much so she sometimes did not need to fake a head-hurt after that.

The latticed windows did not open. Two narrow slats near the corners of the tower room did respond to her mother’s lock in fine weather to allow air through cracks barely as wide as her wrist. Not that she was allowed to try and push an arm through them. It would be unseemly.

Still, she tried. Once. The marginal openings met a stone ledge’s resistance after a few inches’ opening.

Protection from invaders and wild-men, she was told.

Guarantee against escape of any kind, she thought.

 

 

 

For Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Warp and Heft

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

“All houses bow with time,” Agnes fanned herself. The heat lay on the garden like a leaded blanket. Even the shade of the great oak offered only small respite, though their stifling rooms would be far worse.

“Yet not all houses must endure an Edmund,” Joan giggled behind her fan before frowning at her serving-woman for daring a grin. That girl ought to learn her place! Mockery of Edmund’s evident over-fondness for sweets and mutton was for his equals only to indulge in. It would not do to have the servants ridicule their superiors, or who knows who they would dare disrespect next!

At least the obstinate girl had manners enough to blush crimson and lower her eyes.

Agnes tilted her head mildly. “The estate out-dates our dear cousin by two centuries.”

“And may or may not last this one if he does not move his quarters,” Joan deadpanned but only with half-a-heart. Her wit was wilting. She wriggled two fingers and a woman stepped forward with a glass of mead and a linen square to dab the sweat off of her mistress’ forehead. Her own coif and underarms were dark with moisture. Joan sniffed the sachet at her wrist.

Insects buzzed. The minutes lingered. The house brooded heavy against the colorless sky.

“I wish the air would move,” Joan sighed. Her embroidery lay disused in her lap.

“I wish same.” Agnes’s ivory skin bloomed pink patches in the heat. Her needle, too, lay indolent. She gestured with her fan toward the horizon past the house. “Perhaps these clouds would soon shift the wind before them.”

A distant thunder rumbled as if in answer.

Behind the ladies, one of the serving-women squeaked.

Joan frowned.

“What is it, Marianne?” Agnes inquired, not unkindly.

“The house, My Lady,” the young woman’s curtsy was tense and her finger shook as she pointed it at the lattice work on the third story.

“What about the house?” Joan hissed. She found Agnes far too tolerant of serving girls’ dramatics.

A loud groan answered and the air itself seemed to shimmer. Or warp. Or weave.

A silence fell.

Joan felt the hairs at the back of her neck stand on end.

The insects. They’d stopped buzzing.

Even before her thought completed, lightening split the sky and sliced the roof, the latticework, the heavy beam, the second story window, and the chevrons on the wall, knifing deep into the ground.

Another bolt seared her eyes as it hit the oak.

Sudden wind rose and the air fled, taking with it any memory of the burning house against the raging sky.

 

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt: Monochrome WritePhoto

 

 

Overreach

Photo prompt © Roger Bultot

 

“I never meant to hurt you.”

Samuel’s words were sincere and still she found herself looking away as to not see his eyes, where a lie was sure to peek.

“The gardener should’ve never let this grow so,” she responded.

Samuel stilled, confused.

She did not explain, for perhaps it was not only the leafy fingers arching over the path and latching onto her living quarters that had been given leave to cross beyond what was sensible.

“Some bridges need be cut,” she added cryptically. “Good-bye, Samuel. Will you send the gardener to my drawing room on your way out?”

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers