Hello, beloved readers. After a toss and turny kind of night, a short story wafted out of my coffee cup this morning. I decided to share.
A Mere shadow
Eva De’ Cocao had always thought of herself as a rather superfluous person. She tended towards the fringes, the by waters and tide pools of life. She dressed in an altogether non-committal way, preferring the edges of the wall to the center of the room.
She always chose a seat in the center of the bus. Not at the front in order to swap inanities with the driver or at the very back where eccentric outspoken people tend to congregate and talk in an agitated and unseemly manner. She cringed hearing them voice their opinions out loud in front of complete strangers.
Eva did not voice her opinions out loud or even in the privacy of her head, for that matter. Voicing one’s opinion, even to ones self, was the road to perdition. Of this she was absolutely sure. It may well be the only opinion Eva had.
She spent her days working in a flower shop on Whitethistle Lane. She excelled at creating sedate, middle of the road, ubiquitous arrangements suitable for funerals or baptisms. It discomfited her a little that customers preferred her arrangements to the shop owner’s, but she gave no brook to the passing feeling. She spoke to customers only when spoken to.
The shop owner did not come on Saturdays so Eva had the shop to herself. She generally closed the shop at 4pm and headed directly home with a small arrangement of flowers for her table. Only on rare days did she stop at a tiny bookstore on the corner of the lane. The old proprietress always seemed happy to see her, patted her on the arm and called her “my dear” whether or not she made a purchase.
Her arrangements were never ostentatious or extravagant, and rarely more than 6 or 7 flowers. She read somewhere that flower arrangements should be asymmetrical so she tended to stick to either 5, 7, or 9 flowers. 11 flowers was too much for her humble abode. She tried it once and after only an hour she whittled the arrangement back down to 9 flowers because 11 was too jarring on the senses.
Eva lived in a small modest flat on Wittsington lane. A 10 minute walk from the shop. Her 4th floor walk up was practically in the rafters. It suited her, not quite drab, bordering on ordinary. A 2 seat table by the window, a small settee that opened into a bed for sleeping. “A sufficient kitchenette in what used to be a large closet,” would be the most accurate description of her lodgings.
One particularly blustery Saturday Eva arrived home at her flat, the usual small bouquet of flowers in hand, to find a chain and a padlock on the front door of her building. A small notice on the front door read “scheduled for renovation, permits at courthouse.” She stared agape in a most unlady like manner. An old man standing next to her suddenly declared to no one in particular, “it’s about time someone did something with this claptrap! No one has lived here for years.”
Eva turned to him and blurted, “but I live here.” “Are you sure?” “Well of course, I’m sure. I’ve lived here for years.” Her face reddened at making such a declarative statement to a complete stranger. She felt a bit faint. His eyes narrowed and he said nothing for a long moment. Then stood straighter and put his hand on her arm. “I think a visit to Mrs. Laudingham may be in order.”
Not knowing what else to do, Eva allowed the unintroduced old man to lead her out of the lane, down a few blocks and into another narrow lane. She was in rather a stupor and neglected to take notice of the name of the lane. At the end of the lane the old man tapped gently on the small brass knocker in the shape of a rose.
A rather flamboyantly dressed women of undetermined middle age, her white hair in wisps about her head, peeked through the crack of the door. The old man said “I’ve got another one for you, Mrs. Laudingham. Her building is being renovated.” The woman looked shocked and concerned and a flurry of activity ensued. They whisked her into a cozy sitting room. The man put a small ottoman under her feet and began fanning her vigorously with a fan he snatched from the table next to her.
Mrs. Laudingham returned shortly with a tea-tray. she put the tray down, turned to the man and said “thank you so much Mr. Conner, I will take it from here.” He bowed low and said “always a pleasure Mrs. Laudingham, I’ll show myself out.”
Mrs. Laudingham busied herself with pouring tea and placed a biscuit in Eva’s hand. She stared at the tea and the biscuit. She should be at home in her flat eating a modest dinner and listening to the radio. Not taking tea with a woman she did not know. Especially after being escorted here by a man she did not know either. Somewhere between the flower shop and home she had somehow taken leave of her senses. Of this she was sure. It was the only thing she was sure of.
Not knowing what else to do for the moment and not wanting to seem rude. Eva sipped her tea and took a tentative nibble of the biscuit in her hand. It was quite good, smooth, buttery, not too sweet. The rich aroma of the tea was almost hypnotic. She relaxed and sighed. Maybe it was alright to let herself go for a few minutes after such a trying afternoon.
A gentle hand on Eva’s arm woke her with a start. She shot up straight, mumbling apologies, fussing with her hair and buttons. The woman sitting across from her announced “I am Mrs. Olivia Laudingham, may I have the pleasure of knowing your name, Dear?” “I…oh…my name is Eva De’ Cocao, please call me Eva.” She thought that was the least she could do seeing as she tramped unannounced into this woman’s home and proceeded to fall asleep with her nose in a teacup.
“Mr. Conner said your building is scheduled for renovation?” “Yes” “He also said that no one has lived there for years?” “Yes, but he is mistaken, because I have lived there for years.” “Oh, and how many years have you lived there?” Eva pondered the impertinent question and paused before answering “well, I don’t remember exactly know, it’s been a long time.” “Do you remember moving there?”
Eva fidgeted in her seat and took another sip of her tea that somehow was back in her hand. What she did know was the she had not been asked so many personal questions in one day of her entire life, before now.
Mrs. Laudingham regarded Eva over her own teacup for a long moment and then set it down on the tray. Finally she said softly, “I would venture to guess that you do not actually remember moving into that flat, do you dear?” “Well, no I don’t. But really, must one catalog every unremarkable event in one’s life?” Mrs. Laudingham chuckled and then became serious again. “Eva, do you remember anything about your life before Wittsington Lane?”
With growing alarm she realized that, come to think of it, she did not remember anything before some undetermined amount of time before this moment. She did not remember telling Mrs. Laudingham where she lived, for that matter. It was as if she had always lived there. She never really gave it much thought. It was so unnessessary to ponder such things. She lived day-to-day, went about her business, and went home, all in an unremarkable manner. She answered simply, “No.”
Mrs. Laudingham regarded her for a long moment and then said, “Eva, I have something to say that may come as a bit of a shock to you. There have been no tenants of #11 Wittsington lane in over 5 years.” Instead of denying it, Eva asked, “how do you know this?” “Somehow It is my job to know. It’s rather difficult to explain. But, from time to time, I encounter women who seem to just exist on the edge of conciousness. Not really knowing who they are or where they come from or where they are going.” Eva thought ‘what an odd thing to say’ but said “What are you trying to tell me?”
Mrs. Laudingham stood up and paced the room for a few moments, smoothed her fly away wisps of hair to no avail, and sat back down. She reached over and took Eva’s hand in hers and said, “Eva De’ Cocao, what I am saying is that you are a shadow. A mere shadow of your former self.” A shadow? What does this mean? “Are you informing me that I am dead?”
“Dead? Oh my dear, no. Please pardon me. You are most assuredly not dead.” “Well that is nice to know.” Eva snapped. Then became shocked with herself for such an uncalled for burst of sarcasm. Mrs. Laudingham laughed out loud at this remark and said “there we are, a bit of spirit, I know you have it in you. I just wonder why you chose to lock it away.”
They sipped their tea in silence for a while. Eva finally asked, “what you mean by locked it away?” “Well, there seems to be a rash of women who lose track of who they are and just bumble about, living a shadow life. I have my theories, but what is important now, is to figure out why and where you wandered off track for so long. And who you really are.”
Eva began to feel angry, a most disconcerting feeling at best. “I know exactly who I am!” “Do you now?” “Yes! My name is Eva De’Cacao. I live at #11 Wittsington Lane, I work at a flower shop during the day and in the evenings I read books and listen to the radio.” “What is the name of the flower shop? What radio station do you listen to?” Eva said “I….” then it occurred to her that she did not have answers to those questions.” Actually, she knew very little about herself. What a strange feeling. Somehow, she had dropped herself in bits and pieces along the way until there was nothing much left. And it happened so gradually that she didn’t notice.
“Mrs. Laudingham?” “Yes, dear?” “I am frightened. How did this come about? Somehow I feel that I was better off not knowing.” “Eva, in some ways you were living a comfortable life, but not sustainable over the long haul. One can only live a dribble drabble of a life for so long before one begins to fade away completely. And you, my dear, are almost gone. This is somewhat of an emergency!”
She stood up and clapped her hands. “The first thing on the agenda is a brisk walk. We will walk to the park at the town square.” “A walk?” She expected a somewhat more drastic remedy. “Yes Eva, we need to get you out of the lanes and alleys, out in the sunshine, around other people.” She protested, “but I don’t have an umbrella..what if it rains?” Mrs. Laudingham giggled like someone only half her age and chucked Eva under the chin. “Then we’ll get wet! Come now dear, we need to get you out into the world, find you somewhere in it and not a moment too soon.”
I think I sprained my brain. Woke up with a bizarre throbbing headache that I was certain would be visible to someone other than myself. Cranking out 2 short stories in 2 days left me breathless, exhausted, and tied up in knots.
Oh come on you wussy, you may say, what is so hard about that? It is if you think like me, that every little thing you do is an excuse to pick apart everything other thing you did or said in excruciating detail back to the moment of your birth. It’s a vicious circle. But, I learned some things about myself the past few days. If you are an experienced writer maybe you’ll chuckle and think back to that time when you ripped five hairs out of your head for every word you wrote. And I’d bet money you’re glad you past all that. Please don’t tell me that you never got past it or I might have aneurism.
One thing I learned is yes I can change something I’ve written after declaring it finished. This fear dates back to when hitting the send button on an email that someone took offense to could cost me my job. In the corporate nightmare you can recall a message, but you know everyone read it anyway and are already planning what they are going to salvage from your desk after you are walked out the door by security. That never happened to me, but I imagined it many times. And fear is fear whether justifiable or not.
Another thing I learned is, do not, under any circumstances, read a book like “38 Common Mistakes Fiction Writers Make – And How to Avoid Them, immediately after trying something new. I’m been torturing myself for days reading this damned infernal book from hell. It would better and less painful if I just smashed my thumb with a hammer and got it over with quick. Kind of like ripping off a band-aid. I do have to give myself some credit. Some of the 38 things I got right.
Maybe I remember more from that creative writing class in college than I thought. One of the criticisms I received was “your writing is too flowery.” Say what? What the hell does that mean? Turns out flowery meant, to this professor, that I referred to ladies as ladies instead of women. Excuuuuuuse me, but I’m from the south and there is a huge difference here between women and ladies. Women just happen, being a lady takes effort. But, thinking about it, I guess that is not obvious out of the south and unless I aim all my written efforts at the combination ladies cotillion, rummage sale, and church social, I need to weed that phrase out.
Another thing I learned is that, out of self-preservation and a strong desire to not be hauled away in straight jacket, is to let it lie for a while. Don’t sit there and reread your work 85 thousand times. All it did for me was turn me cross-eyed and question my sanity, although I question my sanity at least once a day anyway. I suppose that is OK really, but if it leads to others questioning my sanity as well, maybe I better calm down. Steven King mentioned the give your work a break for while bit in his book “On Writing” But did I take his word for it? NoooOOoo. I absolutely insist on making all the mistakes myself.
While writing this post my headache went away. Oh my God, what if I’m addicted to writing? Will I start burgling the neighbor’s houses in search of pen and paper?
Howdy all. Miss candyforbreakfast kindly provided the first one liner. Technically two but close enough 🙂 Her lines at the beginning of the story in bold. I continued on and built the rest of the story from there. Hope you enjoy. Cheers.
Title – 4 O’Clock
The bright sunshine streaming through her bedroom window warmed her face and appeared red through her closed eyelids, forcing her further away from her already half-forgotten dream. The phone, cradled in its dock on the nightstand read 4:00 a.m.….
She looked around the room rubbing sleep out of her eyes. Did someone call me she wondered? No hint from the phone. She stood up, walked to the window and yanked it open. ‘Damn it’s cold in here. Wonder if Ted cranked down the air con again.’ She shivered in her T-shirt and undies, muttering “we are going to have a talk once and for all about that air conditioner. I’m sick and tired of living in a meat locker. This is ridiculous!” Where is he anyway? What was he doing out of bed at 4:00 a.m.? What am I doing out of bed at 4:00 a.m. for that matter?
Dragging the blanket off the bed to snuggle in she headed to the kitchen to make coffee. Softly singing to herself “Sunshine came softly through my a-window today, Could’ve tripped out easy a-but I’ve a-changed my ways.” Suddenly she stopped dead in in her tracks hard, as if slamming on the brakes. She looked out the kitchen window and shook her head. Rubbing what she saw out of her out of her eyes she looked again. The sunshine was coming softly through the window…at 4:00 a.m. “Uh, what the hell is going on?” she asked the kitchen.
She scurried into the living room and looked out the window again, expecting to somehow see something different, but it was the same. No, not exactly the same, there were patches of snow on the ground. SNOW? She flopped down on the sofa hard as if someone punched the air out of her lungs. Grasping for something that made sense she decided to start over and went back in the bedroom and sat on the bed shivering, but not from the cold.
“Maybe I’m still asleep.” Her voice sounded loud in the empty room and she let out a startled squeak. She pinched herself on the arm. “OWW, dammit that hurt! ….OK, if I felt pain does this mean I’m awake?” Isn’t pinching the proscribed remedy for waking from a bad dream? ‘Eureka, there’s a simple explanation for this. I slept all day and it’s afternoon. That explains it.’ Feeling relieved and a little silly, she scrambled for her phone and pulled it off the stand to check the time. Nope, it is 4:00 a.m. not 4:00 p.m. Well, so much for that theory and what about the snow? And what the hell is that smell?
She wrinkled her nose and looked around the room again. Took a deep breath and started rocking, holding herself as if comforting a frightened child. After a few minutes she jumped up and announced “OK, my weird krap-O-meter is officially in the red.” Not knowing what else to do for the moment she thrashed and slammed around in the closet, whispering profanities under her breath, and finally ended up in a pair of jeans and sweat shirt with the words “Just Do It” on the front. Further hunting yielded a pair of boots and socks.
She walked into the bathroom just to look at her face. Maybe the mirror would have a clue. The smell was stronger in there. She looked around and her eyes landed on a cat litter box. A label on the side proclaimed Clever Cat. She looked in it and thought ‘ah, the usual collection of cat turds.’ No designer litter in the world really covered up that truly unique stench. Nothing so special except…she didn’t have a cat.
Deciding to go for a walk, she shoved her phone in her back pocket. She tromped out the kitchen door and fell off the porch. She landed on her belly with a grunt. Staring into the gravel she briefly wondered if she had died and had gone to some weird limbo place. She stood up and brushed herself off, glaring at the house as if it had deliberately thrown her off the porch.
She shouted “OK, I know my house had a deck off the kitchen yesterday, dammit!” thinking maybe someone was filming her for some ridiculous prank. Pulling her phone out of her pocket she speed dialed Ted. A recorded language that she didn’t understand said something, and then in English said “for English press 2.” She pressed 2. Ted’s recorded voice said. “Hi, you’ve reached Ted Preston, you know what this and you know what to do.” She panicked and hung up without leaving a message. What was she going to say to him anyway? “Hi Honey, it’s broad daylight at 4 O’clock in the morning and oh, by the way, I think I’m losing my mind.”
She walked around to the front of house. Looked OK, except for the patches of snow. It was 85 degrees yesterday. When the hell did it snow anyway? It never snows here. She went back in the house because she was still cold even with her sweatshirt on. Sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee again, her minded churned over possibilities and oddities. She made a mental list of all the weirdness. Daylight at 4:00 .am., cat litter box in the bathroom, no cat in evidence so far, cold with patches of snow on the ground, the back deck gone as if it had never been there, and come to think of it the phone giving her English as a 2nd option. Yet another strangeness.
After her 3rd cup of coffee and enough cigarettes to stink up the house for a week, she decided to call Ted back. It was close to 5:00 a.m. now, but it still should be dark. It didn’t get light until about 6:30 a.m. around here. Around here? ‘Oh my God, am I ….somewhere else? Have I taken complete leave of my senses?’ She wandered around the house with her hair standing on end. This is all just too bizarre. The house looked exactly the same as it did yesterday.
Wait, not exactly. She started running from room to room checking the walls, the desktop, the dresser in the bedroom, even her laptop. There were no pictures of Ted anywhere in the house, no faded spots on the walls where a picture had been removed. ‘OK, I know damn good and well that there were pictures of Ted and me everywhere in this house, and I have one in my purse!’ She grabbed her purse and dumped the contents on the bed. Fumbling in her wallet she took out every scrap of paper and card. The only picture was on her driver’s license.
She flopped back on the bed. Tears leaked out of her eyes and trickled down to her ears. She stared at the ceiling and thought ‘So this is insanity, just a gradual realization that you are not who, what, when, or even where you thought you were.’ Suddenly she sprang up out of bed and shouted “NO!…NO, NO, NO, NO!” The last NO was so loud she choked herself and started laughing and crying at the same time.
With 1 part grim determination, 1 part stubbornness, and 1 part morbid curiosity she decided she was not fruit loops and she was going to figure this out. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? Was this some kind of practical joke? Ted wasn’t the joker type. ‘Whoever is doing this is off my friend list forever and 3 days!’ She pulled her phone out again and called him. This time he answered and said “Where are you?” “At home, where are YOU!” “I’m at home and you are NOT here.” “Yes I am!” “No you’re not.” She sighed “OK, where are you in the house.” “I’m in bed.” “I’m in bed and you’re not.” “Oh yes I am, I’m sitting right here on OUR bed!” There was a pregnant pause as both husband and wife tried to decide what do to with or about a spouse who had obviously gone off the rails at some point.
Ted spoke first. “Did you sleep well last night?” She spat back “Oh now you’re going to make nicey nice idle chat? I want to know where you are and I want to know right fucking now! And I also want you to come home!” He replied in that careful tone of voice used for people on the edge, “Sweet heart, I am home, I don’t know how much more home I can get.”
She shouted “Oh yea? What did you do to the deck and why are all our pictures gone?” “The deck?” “You know the deck, on the patio, you built it last summer.” She heard footsteps through the phone. He said “Honey, the deck is where it is supposed to be. And there are pictures of us all over the house.” He said with a sudden firmness as if he would talk her down. “Where are you really? Tell me now or I’m going to report you as a missing person and you’re scaring me!” “Well fine! You just do that, and I will report YOU as a missing person.” In a fit of frustration she ended the call and threw the phone across the room. It didn’t break and immediately started ringing, probably Ted calling back. She ignored it.
She went back in the kitchen to make another pot of coffee and brood. After another 30 minutes her hand shook when she tried to light a cigarette so she figured she’d had enough coffee. She decided again to take a walk and grabbed a coat off a peg by the front door. At least she wouldn’t fall out of the house going out the front. She knew how the front of the house was configured. She walked down the road in a huff for a while before it occurred to her that the road was gravel and not paved as it was yesterday.
On the corner at the end of the long block, stood a small Mom & Pop store. She walked in, nodded at the Pop behind the counter and picked up a carton of milk and some crackers, just to be doing something. She put her items on the counter and Pop smiled at her and said “god morgon.” She smiled back and thought ‘uh yea, and same to you.’ Then she noticed that the poster on the wall behind him was not in English. She had a brief what the hell moment, turned on her heel, went to the cooler and pulled out a six-pack of beer. Beer is beer in any language. ‘And this is turning into a I seriously need a beer buzz kind of morning.’ She giggled and then stifled herself. ‘Girl, you are starting to sound crazy, better ramp it back a bit.’
She headed back to the house. In the kitchen she opened a beer and drank it down in 2 gulps. ‘College was good for something, I learned how to guzzle beer.’ She opened another beer, went into living room and lay on the sofa. She turned on the TV and by this time was merely vaguely surprised that there were only few channels instead of the usual 257. One seemed to be the news, in what language she had no clue. The newscaster wore an odd suit with huge shoulder pads and a hideous god-awful tie that he should be shot at dawn for wearing. She laughed out loud and wandered if he was having a weird morning too. Maybe all his ties disappeared in the night and that was all he had to wear. Was he going commando as well? She laughed softly, sighed, and pulled the lap blanket down and covered her legs. ‘This must be some strange prolonged dream. I’ll just ride it out.’
Relaxed from the beer she dozed and surfed the few channels on the TV. At some point she fell asleep and woke with a start. She sat up rubbing her face and spied all the beer bottles on the coffee table. ‘Wow, I drank the whole six-pack. That’s going to hurt.’ She stood and stretched, walked over to the window and looked out. The time, afternoon almost 4:00 p.m. The sky – pitch black, no stars.
I have a request to all you zazzy readers that visit my little corner of cyberspace.
I love, love, love to take one liners and turn them into short stories or flash fiction. It’s so much fun that it might be illegal.
An example of a starter could be something like “It was a dark and stormy night.” or “She knew she should have looked through the peep-hole before opening the door.” or “Mama told me not to come.” or “I knew I should asked for ID before I pulled that trigger.” That is the good stuff. Your one line can be morbid, silly, provocative, horrifying, philosophical, or anything else you may think of – whatever blows your kilt or skirt up.
If any one you would like to shoot me a one line story starter or even 2 lines just plop it in the comment section. That would be so great. I’ll have a blast with it. I’ll credit you for your contribution, of course.
If I end up with a collection of short stories I will do a poll to see which story was the most popular. The person who helped me by sending a one liner that helped create the best story will receive a brand new shiny unopened iPod shuffle. Your choice of pink of blue.
So if you’re in the mood get cracking, the time is ripe because I’m a major roll with writing lately. A veritable fountain of inanities come to mind at odd times.
Thank in advance all you fabulous readers. I hope to hear from you soon 🙂 My fingers are twitching and I’m ready to rock.
It’s wonderful when things fall into place. Eureka moments. Standing in my bathrobe this morning, little thought bubbles floated towards me and popped on the end of my nose.
It occurred to me that as I write my story, for the last 50 years my story was writing me. The bit player, the extra, the walk on with one line. occasionally the supporting actress. Frequently the protagonist, the comedian, the villain, a dumb blond.
I was off-center, out of balance. Spent my time reading other people’s stories. Reading so much I didn’t take time to write my own. Made a few attempts when I was girl. But they were labeled too weird, too flowery. The main character’s name was misspelled. They’re made up for God’s sake.
Friends in the story disappeared over the years. Lost touch, died. “Did you hear what happened to Susie?” Slowly I let my dreams be written out of the story. So long ago I don’t remember what they were. But they will come back, or new ones will form in the empty spaces.
Yesterday, husband and I were debating a plan. It got heated. Finally snapped out “that’s not in my story.” Husband stared at me speechless. Who said that? Wow, I said that.
Husband and I married with pre-conceived scripts, even if they were subconscious. Marriage is supposed to be like this. “Blah, blah.” A wife is supposed to….what? Cook and clean, spend your money? The man is supposed to kill the bug!
When we were dating we created all kinds of wild stories together. Husband played Dungeons and Dragons with his friends for years. He can spin amazing and complex tales.
I’m looking forward to co-writing our story. I’m done standing by the wall and letting it pass me by.