When I first started blogging, I found a large community of writers and poets. Some of them undertook efforts to post writing prompts and other ideas for writing stories. Somewhere along the line those prompt efforts seemed to have dried up. Or maybe I’m just not aware of them anymore.
Last month, Anna Beguins posted a few prompts and promised to post more prompts each month. Here’s the link for the stories that resulted from her November prompts and the prompts for December. If you’re a writer, I highly encourage you to join in the fun over at Anna’s blog. Many of my stories have come out of prompts provided by others.
And here’s my entry for one of the November prompts.
“She could start an argument in an empty house,” goes one Southern expression. It pretty much describes my mother. Momma was a never-ending bitch machine. Always complaining. Arguing about this. Fussing about that. She could argue about the sun being too hot and the wind too cold, all at the same time with equal force.
I’m no longer sure if I ever saw her crack a smile and if such a thing did happen, I’d hate to think what brought it about.
Momma endlessly harangued Pops. He worked too much. He didn’t make enough money. He stayed out late. He was home all too often for her taste. It didn’t matter what the man did, she found something wrong with it.
“Stanley,” she’d shriek. “You’re just not good for anything.” This after he came home late at night after pulling an extra shift at the factory to earn a little more pocket change for her.
“This house is falling apart and you just sit there,” she’d sneer.
Pops was sitting there. In a kitchen chair trying to bend his body to a position to get his shoes off. “Yes, dear. What needs fixing?”
And off she’d go, rattling off a list of things while she left the kitchen and went into her room, slamming the door on her way.
I always liked those moments the best. Once she left the room, he’d look over at me and smile just a bit, a corner of his mouth barely rising. “Well, Vicki, there is that, I suppose.” I don’t know exactly what he meant by “that” but to me it meant that she was gone from the room. The quiet that followed her was always a blessing.
* * * * *
“Charlie,” Aunt Millie started at a whisper, “what’d you go and do that for?”
“Now, Charlie, you know what Momma says about the cookies.”
“No cookies before dinner. And look here, you done eat up all the cookies.”
“What am I gonna do with you?
* * * * *
Aunt Millie was a different story though. Her sister, my mother, may have had a fundamental character flaw. Aunt Millie was the opposite. The sun was always shining in her world. Even if she couldn’t see it.
Aunt Millie was born blind, but it never stopped her. Never took her down. “Why, Vicki, ain’t the world beautiful?” was how she always greeted me when I visited. We had a routine. I picked her up. We went into town for lunch at Morton’s Diner. She always got the grilled cheese and tomato soup. I got a salad. Then over to Zippy’s for a sundae. And back to her house, where we sat on the porch. With ice cold lemonade on the wicker table between us, a breeze rustling the leaves and may be a cow or two in a distant pasture mooing low and long, that’s when she would say it again, “ain’t the world beautiful?” with a long sigh, a sip from her glass, and a pleased smile on her face.
When Charlie, her only child, was run down by a drunk driver, his bike going in one direction, his body in another, Aunt Millie withdrew a bit. She got a little quiet. Uncle Jack told me she stayed in her bedroom for a couple of weeks. But when she came back out she was almost all the way back to normal. She had the smile and the happy words for everybody, but there was something different about her eyes.
* * * * *
“Jack, you just hush.” Aunt Millie rolled over in her bed. I could barely see her in the darkness of her room. “Sssh, you’ll wake Charlie.”
“Jack … oh, don’t be doing that.”
“None of that. You stop it.”
“Jack, I said no!”
* * * * *
I wondered how two such different women could have been created out of the same gene pool and grown up in the same home. Momma, who could see flowers and sunsets and her beautiful children, but could actually see none of it because of her overwhelming dissatisfaction and unhappiness with what she had. Aunt Millie, who couldn’t see any of it, but could only see, even in the face of tragedy that the people around her were good, life was better, and all of it should be celebrated.
Until she started seeing other things. Until her world started closing in on her.
When Uncle Jack’s smoking led to lung cancer and death, Aunt Millie soldiered on. Once again, she disappeared for a few weeks, but when she reappeared, her optimism was still there. It was always a beautiful day in her world. She knew her house better than anybody. Nobody needed to care for her for some time, but then things started to change. I spent more time there and eventually moved in to care for her. Momma caring for her would have been a catastrophe. Her bitterness could have only caused some greater destruction than was already occurring.
My Aunt Millie even started an argument with a frog. She was sitting in the front room, Jeopardy was on. Just before Alex Trebek began reading the final answer, from outside the front door she left open to let in the barest hint of a breeze on that humid night, the frog croaked. It was loud and it didn’t stop at just one.
“Well, you just hush up,” she yelled at the frog. “I can’t read the answer.” As though the frog would even know or care.
“Crrrooooaaaak,” the frog replied.
Aunt Millie fumbled for the remote, but couldn’t find it. “Oh my dear, you horrible frog. Hush, hush, hush!”
The subject was Men of Science. Alex Trebek began, “The symbols for …”
“… phosphorous & erbium.”
“Well, damn you,” Aunt Millie rose from her seat and pushed open the screen door. “Where are you, stupid frog? Messing with my Jeopardy. Come on out where I can see … oh, never mind. Just shut the hell up. 7:00 to 7:30. That’s all I ask.”
Aunt Millie wiped the sweat from her brow. “Get on outta here.” She stamped her cane on the wooden porch a couple of times. “Go on.”
The sound of something wet plopping on the porch, sounding like it was right in front of her, maybe right on the top step just a couple of feet away, stilled Aunt Millie. She wiped at her brow again and took one quiet tentative step forward.
It was there right there. Aunt Millie lifted her cane and took a swing, a vicious swing. And missed, nearly upending herself before catching herself with the porch railing. “Damn frog,” she muttered at it.
Another wet plop followed by another and then silence. Blissful silence except for the crickets chirping, which had never been a problem. Back in the front room, the Wheel of Fortune music came on as Aunt Millie stomped back in.
“Turn the damn thing off.” I told her what the final answer was. “It don’t matter now,” she grumbled. “It’s too late. Turn the damn thing off. The Wheel’s no good for me.” This wasn’t the Aunt Millie I had loved since I was a child. She was an imposter.
I turned the TV off and I helped Aunt Millie to bed. Before I made it out of the room, she argued with Uncle Jack. Even swatted like he was there and she was keeping his hands off her.
In the morning, I woke to find her in the kitchen already. She stood in front of the sink, looking at the kitchen table, reaming Charlie for stealing some cookies.
In the afternoon, she slept with a smile on her face.
And at night, once again Uncle Jack came to her. I left my Aunt Millie with him. Maybe he could bring back her happy memories.