Sunday, August 26, 2012

Just a Little TLC

Alice walked through the front door of the eleventh house she had viewed that day.  Expecting yet another boring, and unimaginative space, she was surprised by what she was seeing.  The outside of the house was appealing with its country-cottage quality, nestled as it was amid slightly over-grown shrubs and ivies.  There was even a climbing rose in on a trellis next to the entrance.  But this!  This amazing room with the hardwood floors, open-beam ceiling and enormous fireplace was… well it was a home.  At least, it could very well be.  It certainly felt right. 

From her position at the entrance, Alice surveyed her surroundings.  Off to the left was the kitchen – a bit too sterile-looking with its stark white walls, but that was nothing a bit of paint couldn’t fix.  Through a wide garden door, she saw the snow covered yard and imagined it in the summer with a vegetable garden and squirrels nattering in the trees.  A broad hallway in front of the kitchen led to two bedrooms, a bathroom and laundry room. 

She envisioned her round entry table, her mantle clock, her favourite photos and, most importantly, her ceramic bust of Beethoven in the corner window where he would preside next to her grand piano for which there was plenty of room.  In short, it was perfect.

Being the practical woman that she was, though, Alice turned to the real estate agent.  “What’s wrong with it?”

Ted, a seasoned professional, cleared his throat and took a few steps into the room.  “To be honest, Miss Turcotte, it does need a little TLC.” 

He shuffled a sheaf of papers and handed them to her.  Among them was the description and photo of the property, a list of approximate annual expenses, including estimated taxes and utility costs, and a disclosure form where, Alice noticed, far too many boxes had been checked off.  She ran her eyes down the list and determined that TLC was just a bit of an understatement. 

While her heart tugged her toward its charm, her mind was tallying the cost of upgrades and repairs the house would require to make it liveable.  The asking price was modest, but the renovations were bordering on astronomical.  Alice sighed.  She needed a place to live, but she needed a place she could move into without having to practically rebuild it from scratch.  Tired and feeling defeated, she handed the papers back to Ted and turned to leave.
“Don’t you want to see the rest of it?” Ted asked.

“It really is a lovely little house, but from what I can see it wold cost a fortune to fix it up.  There’s electrical problems, plumbing problems, the roof leaks and the foundation is sinking.  I love it, but I don’t want to buy myself an expensive project.  I think I’ll have to pass on this one.”  She opened the front door to step back outside.  Sadly, she was trying to choose from one of the other ten houses she’d looked at that day.  None of them had even remotely interested her, but time was running out and she needed to live somewhere.  The next best option was a split-level on a large corner lot “close to shopping and schools.”  Alice shuddered.  The whole area was filled with uninteresting boxes that were barely distinguishable from each other. 

A gentle snow was falling as she stepped off of the small covered porch onto the top step.  The street lights were flickering on up and down the road, casting a soft yellow light over the neighbourhood.   Small foot prints could be seen coming from the side of the yard and disappearing through the open gate in the scalloped picket fence.  Alice followed them through the fresh snow while Ted locked up.

The front yard was not large.   Clusters of trees and immaculate garden beds had reduced what little lawn there would be in the summer to an asymmetrical splash of grass that resembled lop-sided butterfly wings on either side of the cobbled walkway.   When Alice reached the footprint path from the walkway onto the lawn she stopped short and smiled.

“Ted,” she said as he came up to her.  “I think I’ve changed my mind.”

Ted followed her gaze across the snow.  There, between the trees and garden beds were three perfect snow angels.  Below them, written in stones and twigs was the word, “Welcome.”

And Alice knew that she was home.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Transformation

From far away, she heard the mournful appeal of the conch shell calling her to join the battle.  She knew she had to answer.  She knew she had to leave her predictable life, her safe life, and be part of this fight.  She had no choice.  It was fight and die.  Or die anyway. 

But when she tried to step forward she found herself bound to the wall by a thick sheet of plastic that covered her naked body.  The more she struggled, the tighter it held her.  She felt helpless.
The call of the conch shell, closer now, filled her with dread.  The battle was getting closer, inching toward her.  She could hear the cries of the dying now.  There was no mistaking the fear in the voices that speared her heart, no different than the sharp blade that would surely reach her soon enough.

“I’m coming,” she shouted over the growing din and pushed harder against the restrictive plastic.  It did not give.

Desperate to save everyone, she started tearing at the sheet with her finger nails.  Every tiny tear she managed to make, instantly healed itself.  She tried to pull the pins out of the wall.  They held fast.

This makes no sense, she thought.  It’s just plastic.  I’m stronger than plastic.
The fighting grew increasing louder and closer.  Panic started to eat away at her mind.  She could hear herself screaming in frustration and fear.  Any minute now, the enemy would find her.  And kill her.

She had to get free.  She had to.  But how?  If only the sheet was paper instead of plastic… If only she had the conch shell.  She could call upon Peace.  She could save the world.

With a fierce heave, she threw her weight into the binding sheet.   Unexpectedly, it started to give.  A small tear opened up just above her breasts.  She pushed again, harder.  The binding tore a little more.

If only it was paper…

She realized that the plastic was changing.  It was transforming a little more every time she thought about it being paper.

“It’s only paper,” she said out loud.  “It’s only paper.”

And with a final thrust the sheet tore away and she was free.

The conch, she thought.  “The conch,” she said.  “I have the conch.

Like magic, it appeared in her hands.  She lifted it to her lips and blew into it.  A long, doleful resonance filled the air.  She blew again.  And again.  And again. 

“Peace,” she called.  “I call down Peace!”

After a while, she grew tired and with tears in her eyes she let the conch shell fall to the floor.  It shattered on impact into a million glistening shards that flew up, forming a cyclone.  The spinning shards, like miniature razors, soared up and outside into the midst of the battle. 

The enemy grew fearful and began to fall back.  A few who thought they could stop it, ran toward it only to be cut mercilessly down. 

She stepped outside, too, and looked out over the battle field.  The destruction was horrific.  The people were nearly defeated, but the enemy was retreating.  The cyclone of conch shell shards continued to spin wildly, forcing the enemy back ever farther until, at last, there was silence.

The silence turned to darkness.  The darkness turned slowly to light.

And as the light grew stronger, so too did the people heal. 

And she woke up knowing that transformation comes from within.  There is nothing that she cannot overcome.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Perfect Dinner Party

Had a bit of fun with this prompt:
John Singer Sargent , A Dinner Table at Night, 1884

“My goodness, Colonel, but I do think that Cook has outdone herself once again.” Lady Willington sipped her cognac and sighed the sigh of one who has just hosted the dinner party of the season.

“Yes, yes! Smashing repast.” The Colonel agreed, puffing his words out from under his great moustaches.

“I shall have to commend her. The duck was perfection. And the soup! Whoever would have thought that walnuts in soup would be so delicious?” Another sip of cognac slip passed her lips.

“Cook is a wizard in the kitchen, alright,” the Colonel said. He reached for his pipe and lit it.

“Yes. It's just too bad that Lady Dobbins-Hobb is allergic. I do hope that she recovers from those nasty hives.”

“Indeed. More cognac, my dear?” The Colonel stood up and retrieved the decanter from the corner of the silver-laden table.

“Thank you, yes.” She held up the crystal snifter to be refilled. “I was a bit dismayed by Mr. Carruthers wee mishap. It's a very good thing that Doctor Timbles was here to stitch up his hand.”

“Damnable inconvenience, that,” the Colonel said. “I've never seen a wine glass shatter that way.”

“Well, perhaps if that Trollope he brought uninvited hadn't knocked over the candelabra and all that hot wax hadn't splattered Mrs. Carrington's face, it wouldn't have happened.”

“Old Carruthers does seem to attract the most undesirable women. I shall have to have a chat with the old boy.” The Colonel drew on his pipe and released a perfect smoke ring into the air.

“Well, we really shouldn't complain. At least Judge Beecroft isn't going to sue us over the chair collapsing and gouging his leg. But I do suppose that we must reimburse him for the trousers.” Lady Willington sighed.

“A man of his bulk has to expect such things, my dear.”

“I'm just thankful that Doctor Timbles managed to get that cherry pit out of Mrs. Beecrofts throat before she expired. That shade of purple she turned clashed so terribly with her turquoise gown. Not that it was a good colour for her anyway.” More cognac vanished from the Lady's glass.

“Yes, she's much to pale to pull off turquoise in any season.” Another smoke ring drifted across the table.

“All-in-all, though, it was a marvelous dinner, don't you think?”

“How could it not be, with such a lovely hostess at the head of the table?”

“Oh, Colonel. You say the sweetest things.” Lady Willinton blushed at her husband's compliment.

“Just stating the facts, my dear.”

“Well, I think I shall retire to my rooms and start on the invitations to next week's dinner party. I'm going to ask Cook to do up her famous Beef Wellinton.”

“Sounds utterly delightful. I'm going to take a stroll in the garden before I go up.”

“Do be careful of that loose brick on the veranda steps. Pastor Giles tripped on it last week and now he's laid up for at least two months with a broken leg.”

“Not to worry, my dear. I'll watch my step.”   

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Maybe She Will

This week's prompt.
Well, looks like you've gone and painted yourself into a corner again, Charles! How many times have I tried to warn you? Six? Seven? I've lost count, actually. I bark and I bark and I bark and what do you do? You just keep painting like the fool you are, telling me to be quiet so I don't disturb “The Lady” who, by the way isn't even home. That's right. She left hours ago. Went off in that weird little yellow suppository you keep drooling over like it was a fresh moose bone or something. There isn't even a back seat for me, for heaven's sake.

“Hey, Aticus. I think I'm done. Why don't you go fetch Jessica and bring her in to see my masterpiece?”

And now, what's that you say? You say you want me to go and get The Lady to come and see what you've done. Are you nuts? She'll take one look at you painted in place and she'll fire your creative ass right out of here. Oh, wait! She can't! You're stuck where you are until this smelly goop you used dries. And how long is that going to be? I ask you. Three – four days! At least!

You know I love you, Charles, but this kind of thing has to stop. You really have got to get it together. I need to pee. Who's gonna open the door for me so I can do that? No opposable thumbs here, buddy. Remember? Doors don't just open themselves.

“Atticus, are you still here? Go get Jessica, boy. Go get her!”

Clearly you've been sniffing too much turpentine, Charles. Okay, here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna take this old boot over to the bed and chew on it for a while. It will take my mind off having to pee and when The Lady gets home I'll bark like mad until she comes in to investigate. It's the best I can do.

“No! Atticus. Stop! Bad boy! Get off the bed. Jessica will kill me! Oh, great. I've painted myself into the corner. Why didn't you warn me?”

This bed is much comfier than our bed, Charles. If you had a real job, maybe we could have a comfy bed like this one.

Oh, wait. I think I hear the suppository pulling in. Yep. The Lady is home.

(Loud barking shatters the peace.)

“Atticus. Quiet, boy!”

Hey, Charles. Do you think she'll like what you did to her ficus? Stripping all the leaves off like that was a nice touch. Adds to the macabre ambiance of the piece.

(The door to the bedroom where Charles has been working on a custom wall design opens and Jessica, The Lady of the house, walks in.)

“What is that dog doing on my bed? And what have you done to my ficus?

“Pretty cool, eh?

Time to sneak out for that pee while the door's open. I'll meet you in the truck, Charles. That is if you can figure out how to get out of that corner...

(An hour passes and Atticus gets tired of waiting.)

Well, imagine that! And here I thought she'd have a fit when she saw the mess in here. Looks like I was wrong about everything. Except the bed. Seems Charles and The Lady are finding it just as comfy as I did. I just hope she pays Charles this time. I could really use some kibble.

(A loud, satisfied groan is heard.)

Maybe she will!

Maybe she already has. Sigh.

Where You Belong

Photo prompt from Magpie Tales

“Missed you in church yesterday,” Pastor Tuttle said.

“Had to get the hay off the ground.” Isaac patted his faithful gray mare on the neck and then swung himself up onto his wagon. Taking up the reins, he flipped them gently onto the horse's back and rode away from the minister without so much as a glance in his direction.

“Sunday is the Lord's day,” Tuttle called after him. “I'll expect to see you where you belong next week.”

Back at his farm, Isaac unhitched the mare and released her into the corral next to the barn. He unloaded the supplies he had just purchased into the house and stowed the wagon in the shed. It was a beautiful day. The kind of day when a dip in the pond seemed like a good idea. Whistling to his dog, Isaac and the shaggy, nameless mutt, set out across the fields in the direction of the swimming hole that was nestled in a grove of poplar trees at the north edge of his property. He'd been swimming there since he was a kid and it remained one of the few indulgences that he permitted himself as an adult.

Used to be that Tuttle would join Isaac. Before he took to the pulpit as the town's self-appointed saviour, Cole Tuttle was Isaac's best friend. They grew up together, playing as children in the fields that surrounded their family farms. Inseparable and dedicated, they supported each other through the thick and thin of becoming men. Through first drinks, first loves and first fights, Isaac and Cole were a team, learning the ropes and catching each other when one of them stumbled or fell on the path of life.

When Reverend Archer died, Cole announced – quite out of the blue – that he was going to replace the old man. Isaac had been stunned. After all the years of Sunday service antics they had dreamed up and acted out in defiance of having to sit in those hard pews every week, Isaac had not expected this twist in their relationship. Over night, it seemed, Cole had changed from a fun-loving friend into a zealot of biblical proportions. Gone, instantly, were the wild nights in the saloon, the high-stepping evenings at the community barn dances, the passionate and clumsy attempts to woo the local girls, the fishing escapes and the camp-outs out on Marble Ridge. Gone, it seemed, was youth itself.

At first, Isaac had thought it was a lark, that Cole was just making fun of the town and that he was planning some spectacular coup. He actually looked forward to Cole's first sermon, thinking – believing – that it would go down in history as one of the most shockingly hilarious events that ever took place under the church roof. He donned his Sunday best and positioned himself in the second pew next to the aisle where he could get a good view without looking like an accomplice. His beliefs were quickly dashed, however, when Cole stood up and, in a thunderous voice, accused every town member of being a wicked sinner bound for hell.

About half way through this terrifying oration, Isaac stood up and walked out of the church. When he reached the nave, Cole paused in his address and pointed an accusatory finger at his life-long friend. “And you, Isaac Porter, are the worst of the lot!”

If anyone else had been planning on leaving, they didn't dare move after that!

Isaac closed the door behind himself and walked away from the one person in the world he had loved the most.

The years passed and Isaac inherited his family's farm. He married Sue-Ann Nivens, who died a year later giving birth to a son. The boy died as well and Isaac lost all hope of ever finding happiness again. He simply ran his farm to the best of his ability and kept to himself. Tuttle had forced the saloon to close and had banned all dances anyway. Socializing of any kind was prohibited unless it was a church function. Tuttle would go out of his way to humiliate anyone who didn't follow his strict interpretation of how God expected them to behave. A bitter core of hatred and resentment formed in the hearts of the town folk. But none were brave enough to speak up or take action against Cole Tuttle.

That afternoon Isaac found the pond just as he expected to: deserted. Tuttle had declared swimming yet another sin. If boys had time to swim, they had time to help their fathers in the fields. He stripped off his clothes and waded in to his thighs before diving in. While the dog chased squirrels, Isaac luxuriated in the cleansing and refreshing water. He swam a few laps and then turned onto his back to float on the smooth surface, dappled with spots of golden sunlight beaming down through the trees. He reflected, as he often did, on his joyous youth and lamented the loss of his friend, his wife and his son. The bitterness he felt over the way things had turned out felt like a lead weight in his belly. He could feel it pulling him under, dragging him down and he suddenly felt like surrendering to it.

If I just let go, the thought, I won't ever have to look at Tuttle again. I won't ever have to hear his condemning voice or see the fear on the faces of the people in town. I won't ever have to think about Sue-Ann or our boy. I won't hurt anymore.

He watched as the water closed around his face and the dappled sunlight shimmered above him. He let himself sink down, down, down... his lungs burning, his mind screaming for air.

Just as he was about to suck in a chest full of water, something grabbed his arm and he felt himself being hurled back up toward the surface of the pond. Without ceremony, Isaac found himself being flung onto the shore. He rolled over, coughing up water and gasping for breath. Looking around for whoever had pulled him out of the pond, all Isaac could see was his dog looking back at him with his head cocked sideways in surprise and confusion.

“Who's there?” he hacked. But no one answered.

Shaken and a little fearful, Isaac redressed and went home. He kept looking for signs of someone nearby, someone who must have pulled him out of the pond, but he saw no one. I need a good, stiff drink, he thought and looked forward to the contraband whiskey he kept hidden at the house.

Night fell slowly, as it does in the summer months. Equally slowly, the whiskey burned away the cold fear that had gripped Isaac's heart that afternoon. By the time darkness had ended the day, he had convinced himself that it must have all been a dream. And now, with a whole day wasted, he took himself to bed with the drunken promise to make up for it the next day.

And so he did. The week, hot and teeming with mosquitoes, was more productive than usual. Isaac put up the rest of the hay, mended the fence in the north pasture, harvested the first potatoes of the season and got a good start on his winter wood supply. But something kept drawing him back to the pond and every evening he would wonder over to it and sit on the huge rock that jutted in from the shore line. His ruminations were as deep as his resentments. He kept thinking about Tuttle and the fear-mongering hold he had on the town. Whatever had happened in this pond that afternoon, Isaac was convinced that it had happened for a reason. There was a purpose behind his salvation from drowning and whoever – or whatever – had stopped him from dying was trying to tell him something. If only he could figure out what it was...

On Saturday night, just as the last of the light was fading, something in the pond caught Isaac's eye. It glittered for a second, then disappeared. Isaac peered into the water, but he couldn't see it. He laid down on his stomach on the rock, getting his face as close to the surface as he could. There is was again. A quick glint of gold.

Isaac reached down into the pond and felt around the sandy bottom. It took a minute, but finally his big hand closed around an object that he hadn't seen in many years. He pulled it out and held it up, marveling at the sight of it. It was the gold chain and cross that he had given to Sue-Ann on their wedding day. She had lost it only a few months later while they were swimming one hot July evening, much like this one. She had cried inconsolably over the loss. Not even his promise to buy her a new one would comfort her. He had tried so hard to find it, returning to the pond every chance he got that summer to look for it, but eventually he had given up. After she died, he had forgotten about it completely.

Walking back to the house, Isaac's thoughts turned to Sue-Ann. How she loved to dance and sing. Her voice was the sweetest he'd ever heard and her laughter... Oh, how she loved to laugh!

He thought about all the fun they had had in their short time together. He thought about all the fun he'd had before that. Life had been a continuous celebration of everything good: friendship, love, hope!

Instead of going home, Isaac found himself on the road to town. Few lights glowed in the windows of the homes that lined the streets. Most of the people were already in bed – resting up for church in the morning. That didn't stop Isaac from banging on the first door he came to at the home of Joshua Slater and his family. Groggy and concerned, Joshua opened the door and stared at Isaac.

“Bring your fiddle to church tomorrow,” Isaac instructed. When Joshua opened his mouth to protest, Isaac hushed him. “Just do it!”

From there, Isaac went door to door, giving instructions at each home to bring some food or an instrument or some decorations to church. The people were stunned, but none of them openly objected. They were confused, yet intrigued. What on earth was Isaac up to?

The next day, Isaac got up early to feed the stock and get ready for church. He put on his best suit and hat, then hitched up the mare to the wagon and trotted her into town.

Tuttle was standing on the church steps greeting people as they arrived. He seemed a little out of sorts, seeing the smiles and hearing the good-natured well-wishes from this congregation. When he saw Isaac pull up and tether his horse among the other wagons, his eyebrows shot up in mild shock and the vain belief that he had finally won. He smuggly waited for Isaac to approach.

“Well, it's about time you showed up here, Porter,” he said, offering his hand in a gesture of feigned welcome.

Isaac looked at the offered hand, but brushed passed it without acknowledgment and went inside to find a seat. The church was full to capacity, but Joshua Slater made room for him with his family.

“What are you up to, Isaac?” Joshua whispered.

Isaac just smiled. “Did you bring it?” he whispered back.

“It's in the wagon. I wouldn't dare bring it in here. Tuttle would probably smash it to smithereens.”

“As long as it's easy to get at. When you get my signal, lead everyone out into the church yard and get that fiddle.”

“What signal?”

“Oh, you'll know.”

The service began with Tuttle's usual admonition to the congregation to dig deep into their pockets and give until it hurts. God's work isn't cheap and if he's blessed you, you better bless him back. A typical fire and brimstone sermon followed the order to pony up in the name of the Lord – lest ye be condemned to the fires of hell! It was almost more than Isaac could stand. He gritted his teeth so hard, they ached.

At last, Tuttle called for prayer requests. A few people stood up and asked their fellow worshipers to pray for ailng relatives, children and cattle. They were all brief and mumbled pleas for divine assistance under the disapproving gaze of their pastor.

“Once again,” Tuttle sneered after the last request was muttered, “you all seem to miss the point. Why do you insist on asking for things for yourselves? Why can't you see that the Lord works in mysterious ways and He decides what He gives and what He takes?”

Isaac had had enough. “I have a request,” he said, standing up and stepping into the aisle.

“Indeed!” Tuttle said. “A request for forgiveness, I should hope.”

“Something like that,” Isaac said and started walking toward the pulpit.

A collective gasp rose from the congregation.

“Please stay in your seat, Isaac. We can hear you from there.” Tuttle was clearly unsure of Isaac's intentions. And quite discomfited by his approach.

“I'm sure you can,” Isaac said, “but then these good people would miss this...”

Isaac drew his arm back and punched Tuttle squarely in the nose!

Another gasp preceded an enormous cheer from the crowd. “Follow me!” Joshua Slater shouted over the din and then led the people outside where they gathered their instruments, passed around food and hung flowers and ribbons from every available surface. Music and laughter filled the air, while Tuttle rolled on the floor in agony.

“My nose!” he wheezed. “You broke my fucking nose!”

“Oh, you'll live. You've survived worse.” Isaac looked down at the writhing pastor. “Remember how you told me you expected me to be where I belonged today?”

Tuttle glared at Isaac.

“Well, that's where I'm going right now.” He pointed outside toward the church yard full of revelers. “If you care to join us, I'll make sure no one else punches you in the face.”

With that, Isaac left the church and joined the party that lasted well into the night. He danced with several pretty girls. He even sang a couple of songs for the crowd. And he laughed. Oh, how he laughed.

As for Tuttle... Well, he actually saw the light – so to speak. He intended to scuttle away unseen, but Joshua Slater's wife, Mabel saw him and helped him clean up some of the blood from his broken nose. She gave him a huge piece of fried chicken and a chunk of cherry pie and a hug. His shame was deep, no doubt about it, but he accepted the forgiveness the town so willingly gave him.

Eventually, the saloon was reopened and the community barn dances started up again. Tuttle was offered a position as bartender, but declined in favour of working for Isaac on the farm where they renewed their friendship and swam in the pond on hot summer days.

A new pastor was found for the church. His name was Jacob Joyce and he played a pretty mean fiddle himself!