Do Not Engage

Photo Prompt © Roger Bultot

 

“It’s covering its eyes.”

“Say what?” Sergeant Frank was always gruff but Leon knew a warning when he heard it. He could (almost) visualize his superior in his boxer-shorts, remote in one hand and beer in the other. One did not get between the Sergeant and his beer.

“The new statue, Sir. In Rockefeller. It’s covering its eyes.”

“Leon, are you drunk?!”

“No, Sir. The hotdog man saw it, too. And a bystander.”

“Statues don’t move, Leon. That’s why they’re called statues.”

“This one did, Sir.”

Silence.

“Sir?”

Sigh. “I’m sending Marco. Meanwhile, Leon … sit tight and … do not engage …”

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

The Instructions

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Photo: Luma Pimentel via Unsplash

 

“I’ve written it all down,” she’d said.

“Anything you need to know is there,” she’d promised.

“It’ll a breeze,” she assured me, one hand already on the door handle. “I won’t be too long. It’s just a short gig. A few hours at most. He’ll likely sleep right through to my return anyway.”

But the baby slept through about five minutes and then would not stop crying and I had no idea what half of the terminology for baby-brand stuff meant or what “up to the spoon line” was supposed to be when I couldn’t find any spoons with lines, and no clue how to “keep a hand on the baby at all times” while also needing two of them just to untangle the tabs on the darn diaper and another two to keep the baby’s feet from kicking it away … And the clean bottles came separated from nipples, which had multiple unrelated parts that needed assembly like an Ikea cabinet from hell … And what on earth is a spit-up cloth and how is it different than a towel or a blanket?

Speaking of, how does one swaddle a baby without dislocating something in the process of making it into a mummified burrito?

And did I mention the baby would not stop crying?

 

“You’re a saint, Rick!” she’d said. Even kissed me on the cheek like I was some long lost brother and not the neighbor who happened to live next door and perhaps smiled a few times at the baby on the elevator.

“I know it is last minute but I’ve been waiting months for the opportunity … I’ll make you dinner,” she’d promised, and her relief at having a solution for the baby was so palpable that I felt guilty extricating myself from what she’d misunderstood as “yes” when at the very most I’d meant “maybe, but not really.”

 

“It was a breeze,” I said.

“He woke up but is now sleeping like an angel,” I assured her, ignoring the baby’s heft on my desperate bladder. I hadn’t dared to move, lest the baby woke again.

She looked tired and worried and sad and a little worse for wear, and I wondered how the gig went but didn’t want to ask after she appeared to hold back tears when I’d asked if she had a good time.

“Did the instructions help?” she asked instead.

I nodded. “Perfectly.”

 

 

 

For the SoCS Prompt: Instructions

 

Relativity

Photo Prompt: Dale Rogerson

 

“Your grandfather must be turning in his grave.”

She’d made bitterness her trademark, so finding meaning usually entailed having to decode gradients of dismay.

He figured this one was a 67 out of 100. Enough disgust to call attention to how the “good old days” were better than modern progress, while not completely dismissing the comforts of advanced technology.

“Clean power is good for the lungs,” he cajoled, half-hoping for an argument. It was his Grandma’s genes he carried, after all.

“Pah,” she wrinkled her nose. “Nothing wrong with a bit of soot to get people appreciating real power.”

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

Keepsake

Photo prompt: http://mrg.bz/n22FGA 

 

He kept it all these years.

A memento of sorts. Something to remember things by. A penance, perhaps. Or a tribute. Sometimes he wasn’t sure which one it was. Or both.

Some nights he’d leave their bed, her light breath highlighting the heaviness that had kept him from sleeping, and walk to the garage just to look at it. To remind himself of what is real and what was possible and what should never once again take place.

Even if it could.

It was the only lie he’d ever told her, though in truth it had led to many more lies — of omission, of deflection, of withholding aspects of himself he could not let her know about. Not ever.

Or did he someplace hope to one day let her know?

For why else would he keep it?

Sometimes he thought that his refusal to do away with it was his way of warning. Himself. To not allow himself to fall into an illusion of what he was not. Perhaps a warning to her, too, to read between the lines of what he couldn’t tell her.

Of the damage he could do. Even in accident. To the ones he’d loved.

 

 

 

For the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge

 

Blessings and a Whisper

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

Lush grass now grew over the span of stones, though none had grown there in the many years when the passage of feet had mowed and flattened any seedling that had found a crack in which to nestle.

The water gurgled as it had, though, flowing like a ribbon of careless abandon underneath. Incoming. Through. Not one look back. Away.

She wondered if the fish silvering in the stream were the descendants of the ones who’d flapped among the rocks and dove out of the reach of all manner of two-legged hunters. Their instincts certainly remained the same.

Like hers.

Honed by years of flight, and generations of bare escape from calamity and disaster and all manner of two-legged hunters’ spread of misery.

For centuries the stones of the old bridge had been the thoroughfare of goods and news — both good and not — from isolated farms to the town’s market and from the town into the farms, and in that order. It had withstood war and fights and blight and playful dares and cruel shove-overs. It streamed with rain and baked with sun and creaked with ice and endured more than one direct hit of lightning. It had heard the laughter of small children and the cries of same, sometimes not much later after. Where rugged wheels and heavy hooves had carved ruts of rattling passage, now weeds took hold to cover any sign of man.

It stood deserted, and perhaps relieved, since the new and wider bridge was built a bit further downstream. The modern pathway accommodated simultaneous travel in both directions as it carried the weight of the machines that belched dark stains onto its tar.

She’d been warned against attempting to put any weight on the old bridge. They all were. “It’s held by no more than blessings and a whisper,” her grandmother had cautioned. “One step onto the wrong stone and it could collapse.”

And yet, it had outlasted both Grandmother’s life and Mother’s and seemed poised to outlast hers, as well. Perhaps blessings and a whisper were better mortar than the speeding up of time.

“And you don’t have much long to wait to outlast me,” she murmured as she walked to the water and bent to dip her palm. Cold.

As she would be, sans blessings or a whisper, before much more water churned indifferently along, passed under the bridge, and was gone.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

Lost Glory

Photo prompt: © J Hardy Carroll

 

“Did they tell you what you’d find there?”

Vince shook his head. His eyes sought the window and rose along the flagpole to its top. The silence lingered.

“No,” the Veteran said quietly. “We’d heard rumors, of course, but nothing could’ve prepared us for the conditions there.”

He took a deep breath. His hand tightened around his cup and his eyes remained glued to the flag outside. “People crammed into cold, bare rooms. Without necessaries. Not even a place to sleep. Frightened, sick children. Belligerent guards. I’m ashamed, Son. The flag I fought under now flies over American concentration camps.”

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

Future Gig

Photo Prompt © Ted Strutz

 

“One day my name will be up there,” Tommy declared.

Amy rolled her eyes, but he didn’t let her dismiss-your-sibling reflex offend him. She came with him, didn’t she?

“You’ll see,” he reiterated calmly.

He’s been practicing in front of the mirror ever since he’d seen the mime in the park two summers ago. And he’s been getting good. So much so he’d sometimes crack himself up mid-sequence. He was ready!

The talent show was in three hours. He’d used all his holiday and birthday money for the entrance fees. He had $10 left to his name.

“Hey, Sis, want pizza?”

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

In Translation

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Photo: Valentin Salja via unsplash

 

“You can’t do it.” Lizbeth scowled.

Betty shrugged a shoulder at her cousin and put the hand-bound manuscript in the box beside her.

“You’ll ruin it.”

“I won’t,” Betty countered. “I’ll be gentle.”

“That’s not what I meant!” Lizbeth folded her arms and planted her feet firmly on the dusty floor of their late aunt’s apartment. Her color rose. She was jealous but would never admit it.

Betty always got the best of everything: Summer camp, long visits with Aunt Mathilde, a degree in writing, even a dad who taught her Swedish.

“I’ll be gentle in my translation,” Betty caressed Aunt Mathilde’s poetry booklet. “Dad will help. Her words languished long enough without being read.”

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Translation in 115 words

 

 

When She Leaves

shallow focus photography of brown tree trunk

Photo: Mahima on Pexels.com

 

When she leaves, there will be time enough for all the things that should have happened and yet didn’t. When she leaves, a space will open to allow what was yearned for but manifested not. When she leaves — in a week or month or year or decade — a leaf would turn to let the newness grow.

When she leaves.

Yet for the time being she remains.

She has no choice. Or not a real one.

She plods along the rutted path made by the heavy feet she’d dragged so many times before. She does what must be done. She smiles. She nods. She cooks. She holds.

She finds in every day a small reminder of the hope. A sliver of a dream. A memory of what is yet to come.

It sustains her.

It has to.

It’s all she has.

Until she leaves.

 

 

 

For the SoCS writing prompt: Leaves

 

 

Contented

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

There was nothing wrong with her beyond that she could not abide much in the way of interference, and had always preferred the company of fair-folk and the song of wind and dust-in-light to the over-stimulating presence of other humans.

She’d gotten through the requisites of growing up: the schools, the get-togethers, the expectation of having friends, the beck and call of work one needed in order to make a living. She’d endured the close proximity when needful, but mostly let the din of people’s voices wash over her like an avalanche, while she curled up inside her mind and sustained herself on preserved pockets of precious solitude.

Most wouldn’t have believed her had she laid bare her wistfulness for isolation. Or perhaps some would have, but had never said it. She did not much care to find out which of the two or neither it was.

Three decades had passed and the half of another, before she began wondering if she’d live to see the exit of another year or self-combust under the pressure of life’s demands for what felt like constant interaction.

Then Aunt Carolina passed. She left behind a small fortune in savings bonds and an old house no one would have wanted. The latter was to be torn down and the land sold to become someone else’s problem.

Or so the estate managers thought.

Cilia fought them with a ferociousness that surprised her at least as much as it had anyone who’d ever known her. It wasn’t that she’d been a pushover till then, only that she had never found it worth the effort to try and exchange one relative discomfort with another. This was different.

This house was what she suddenly did not know how she had ever lived without.

In the end they relented after she gave up all claims to any of the funds Aunt Carolina had left. She’d get only the cottage and its contents. None of her cousins — not even Marley-the-Meddler — objected. Their share grew with her out of the pie.

The attorney warned her that the house would sooner gobble up what savings she had than be a home that could house her. “The gloomy place is centuries old,” he warned. “It doesn’t even have running water.”

“Aunt Carolina had lived there till she died,” was her retort.”She bathed. I’ll manage.”

She did much more than that.

For the first time in her life she could feel herself actually breathing.

The garden’s stone walls wrapped around her like a hug of moss and ancient patience. The cottage creaked and cracked and breathed as if it was itself alive with memories and whispered sighs of times before. And she did not have to explain to anyone how none of that was a menace. The walls held echoes of calm solitude. The garden wreathed itself in growth. The birds chirped. The kits of a fox mewled. The silence gleamed.

She knew why Aunt Carolina had refused to leave.

“We are like twins stretched over several generations,” she murmured into the fire as the wind whistled in the chimney and the elves made a racket in the trees outside her door. “You must have known, someplace, that I will need to find this. As you had, in your time.”

She stretched her feet and giggled at the big toe that the hole in her sock had liberated. A wooden box sat, heavy, in her lap.

She’d come across it in the crawlspace earlier that afternoon. She’d climbed up after a noise she thought was a squirrel’s nestlings. Instead she found a loose board, half-an-inch of dust, and a pile of rags atop a box.

“The house and all its contents,” she smiled in recollection of Aunt Carolina’s will. “I should have known you’d leave more than enough behind to keep the roof above us for another eon.”

 

 

 

For the Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge