Fall Chores

Suddenly crows lift from the trees at the edge of the clearing. I straighten to watch them fly, cawing and croaking as they wing away.  I wish I were that free.

I stretch my aching back and lift my arms to the sky, closing my eyes and pretending, just for a moment, that I am flying away with them. I inhale the smell of freshly turned earth and smile. But the smile fades when a sly breeze skitters across the sweat dampened shirt stuck to my back, reminding me that I’m not yet finished.

Is anyone looking for me I wonder? Probably not. I fish in my pocket for my phone.  The screen lights up and there are no messages, but – it’s 3:45 already – crap. I glance around and notice the lengthening shadows. I hate these short fall days. I consider going home, but hear the echo of my mom’s voice chiding me: you never finish anything! I shake my head. She’s right, I can’t leave things half done.

I return to my task with renewed urgency. The jeans and t-shirt are folded neatly on the stump. Her head is perched on top, eyes closed. I pick up my saw, take a deep breath, and grit my teeth.  Why is it always so hard to cut through bone?

My Favourite morning in Sintra

I watch as people wander to and fro, through the square in oldtown Sintra. Everyone’s looking around, but not always looking in front of them.  I step aside quickly as a German couple in heated debate, barrel towards me. Spying the Café Paris I make a beeline over the cobbles towards it. The hostess greets me, and I tell her that I’m looking for brunch. She motions me over to the pastry counter.  

‘We have pies with chicken, shrimp or cuttlefish, and several delicious sweet pastry.’ I think about having sweets for breakfast but decide that maybe I’ll have the shrimp pie and a hot chocolate instead.  Ok, it’s an odd combination, but I’m on vacation. 

‘So, if you were to have a sweet pastry, which one would you choose?’ We both gaze at the myriad confections in front of me.  The pastel de nata, the éclair, the tarte de amêdoa. But my eyes light on the Travesseiro de Sintra – a Portuguese pastry that resembles a pillow and is filled with almond paste and cream.  

‘I think that one’ I grin, ‘but we’ll wait till another time’. 

She winks at me and shows me to a table in the sun.  

My hot chocolate appears, and I sip while I write in my journal, trying to capture the feel of this place.  A few seconds later, my shrimp pastry appears.  I break the flaky crust open and the scent of spices and shrimp waft up to me.  I eat it with gusto, savouring each bite as I watch the school children and tour groups traipse through the square.  I am content.  I feel a happiness in my core that has been missing for a while and I realise: I’m having my Shirley Valentine moment.

I reach for my phone and call a young waiter over. He sees the phone in my hand 

‘I take your picture’ he states more than asks. 

‘Please’ I smile.  He steps back and I wonder if the camera can capture how big my happiness feels.  Once he’s snapped a few photos, he steps back and pointedly stares at my journal.  

You are writing about your trip?’ he nods, clearly having seen this before.  I say yes and add, shyly,

I’m a writer. 

It’s the first time I’ve voluntarily offered this info outside of a writing group. It feels momentous.

‘Oh my god, that must be painful’ he groans, ’all that writing of all those pages’ He shakes his head, ‘This I cannot do’ 

He grins, and his charm warms my heart. He steps back one more time,  

‘One more picture,’ he says ‘the beautiful writer in beautiful Sintra’ 

My smile is even wider than before. Seconds after the picture is snapped, the hostess slides a dish with a warm Travessiero de Sintra in front of me accompanied by a scoop of mango sherbet and a flourish of whipped cream. She winks again. This morning, my last morning, has been my favourite morning in Sintra so far.

A Murder of Crows

They’re back again.  I cover my ears and scan the top of the poplar trees behind my house. How did they always know? I watched them winging through the air, fluttering from tree to tree and hopping among the branches. The air was filled with their hoarse calls, gravelly rattles and abrupt clicks. Tension vibrated through the air. Some of them had dropped into the ancient lilacs that lined the driveway; sentinels watching for his arrival. 

 The grass felt warm under my bare feet as I headed towards the Adirondack chair at the edge of the lawn. Every summer morning I sat content to watch the birds while my forgotten coffee cooled in the cup beside me.  I filled the feeders with sunflower seeds for the chickadees, millet for the gold finch, peanuts for the jays.  And the Magpies? Well they ate everything. I caught a brilliant flash of colour as a blue jay sped out of the bushes trying, I’m sure, to get as far away from the crows as it could.

 It had been 3 summers since he had tried to rid the farm of these birds. I didn’t share his opinion about the crows, they weren’t pests. We had several long discussions, arguments really, but I couldn’t get him to see that they were beautiful intelligent animals. I arrived home from work one day and found him firing his shotgun into the air and lighting fire crackers under the trees. He hated those birds. Those crows were the tipping point. 

 It had been 3 summers since he moved out. He walked away from the goats and horses and me without a backwards glance. Well, I think he cared a bit about the horses, he seemed to spend more time with them than he did with me. But he insisted that he receive half of the proceeds from the beehives that we kept. It was the only thing off of those 10 acres that we could sell for an actual profit. I don’t know if that was his logic. But in the stupid short-sighted way you do things when you are in the throes of the end of a relationship, I insisted that if he wanted half the honey, he had to do half the work. With matching reckless stubbornness, he agreed. Now I had to grit my teeth through this week at the end of every summer. I suppose I could sell the hives and just split the money with him, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I loved my little farm.

 The din in the trees got louder and I knew when the twigs and leaves started to rain down that he must have arrived. A cloud of dust wafted through the air carrying with it the dank smell of pot. I heard a car door shut.

He came around the side of the house glaring up at the birds.

‘Why do they always do this?’ 

He dropped his beekeepers’ hat and veil on the ground, fished with two fingers in the pocket of his too tight jeans, found his lighter and relit his joint.

The sun was behind him and I had to shade my eyes with my hand. His wiry hair stood out around his head like a misplaced halo. I watched him carefully. 

‘I’m selling the beehives’

So abruptly, it was out of my mouth before I knew I was going to say it. The crows quieted. I could feel their beady eyes on me. 

‘If you want the honey this year it’s yours. Just grab the supers and get out’ 

He rolled his eyes as he took a deep drag on his joint.  I waited while he held his breath then let the smoke out on a measured exhale. 

‘So, you want ME to do all the work?’, he squinted as the smoke wafted up into his eyes, ‘because that wasn’t part of our arrangement’.

I shrugged, listening to the silence above me. The crows said nothing. 

 

Hang In There.

This is my entry into the 2017 Flash Fiction contest.  My Genre was suspense, the location had to be a balcony and at some point in the story a spotlight needed to appear.

 

Hang In There

I look between my feet and see her standing below me.  I stay still as she calls to me, using a spotlight to look around the darkened yard. I keep quiet.  I love her and I want to be with her, but I’m annoyed, and reluctant to give away my location right now. The balcony provides just the right amount of cover and of course she doesn’t expect me to be up here.  I don’t know why I feel like I need to be away from her, but I do.  She treats me horribly – ignoring me for the most part, then lavishing attention on me when she feels needy. I have some pride.

I crouch lower as she starts to look around a little more earnestly. ‘Gina!’ she calls, her voice a little exasperated.  I shift my weight and the small Juliette balcony groans – but she doesn’t hear.  She turns the spotlight off and jams her left fist into her hip, arm akimbo.       

‘She’s got her Bitch-wings on’ I think to myself with a sigh.

‘Fine!’ she says in a loud voice ‘you’re being an idiot.  Stay out here all night then!’  She turns and marches back into the house, closing the patio door with a decisive click. I hear the lock slide into place.

I stand up again.  I got here by shimmying up the tree that stands just beside the door and I’m not really sure I want to get down the same way.  I look behind me – the window that looks out onto this balcony from our bedroom is locked so there’s no way I can get in there.  I look back at the tree.  Seriously? What was I thinking?  Well, I wasn’t thinking.

I was so upset with her – we had company and she tried introducing me but I am not something to be trotted out for everyone’s entertainment. It’s humiliating. I’ve never been an equal in this relationship and that is a hard thing for me to look at:  I’ve always been fiercely independent and provided for myself. When we met I was living in reduced circumstances – but I was happy.  Once we spent some time together though, we realized it was love at first sight. I had never felt as connected to another person as I did to her. So yes, it was quick, we moved in together that afternoon – but when it’s right, it’s right.  At least it seemed right.

I look at the tree again and resign myself to the fact that I’m only going to be able to get down from here the same way I got up.  I climb up onto the balcony railing and get my balance, teetering just a moment before I jump for the branch. Before I can properly launch myself,  my foot slips off the railing. I manage to grab one of the spindles just as I fall. The railing acts as a pivot and I crash against the building, slamming into the wall. I look down, heart pounding, breath coming in quick gasps.  I look up at the railing – my grip is firm. For now.  I look down again. No, it is just too far to drop.  I scan the house and see the flicker from the TV screen. She must be watching TV without a care in the world about me.  A pang of annoyance breaks through the rising panic.

I look up again as I feel my grip slide. All the hair stands up on the back of my neck. I try to pull myself up, but I don’t have enough strength and my muscles are stressed to the max.  I try swinging my feet, trying to get my body swinging, hoping that I can get a leg over the part I’m hanging on to.  Nope.  And my grip slides a bit more.  I scream, hoping someone will hear me.  I look frantically at the house again, screaming as loud as I can.  The flicker of the TV mocks me.   

My grip slides even further.  I am almost at the point of no return.  I try to lift myself and give myself enough slack to get a better grip but it just causes me to lose purchase. I’m very close to losing my grip. Now I change my tactic: I try not to kick with my feet as swinging makes it harder to hold on. But frankly, the only thing that has a firm hold is panic.

I scream again, as loud as I can – hoping above hope that she can hear me over the television. I am absolutely regretting climbing up here – it seemed like such a good idea when I was annoyed.

Suddenly I slip and I am no longer holding onto the railing.  I fall twisting and turning, reaching out as far as I can, desperately hoping that something will save me.

I hit the ground hard, all the air leaves my lungs in a giant Whoosh! I look around quickly to see if anyone has witnessed my denouement. No one. Of course I landed on my feet. I sit and give myself a soothing wash and when my nerves are settled I go and call as loudly as I can at the door.  After a second the door opens and there she is, her face wreathed in smiles.

‘Gina you silly cat, where have you been?’  I am scooped up into her soft arms. She nuzzles my neck and I start to purr.  I can’t help it.  I love her.

Home for the Holidays

     Sam was licking the spoon from her ice cream sundae when she heard a ruckus on the street behind her.  Glancing over her shoulder she saw a tall blonde woman bending to help another woman to her feet – and froze. The Blonde was her sister Jenn and Sam had successfully been avoiding her for 3 days now.  How had she managed to find her down here at the farmers market of all places?

     Walking as quickly as possible, she zipped around the corner of the ice cream parlour, then plastered herself against the wall.  People around her were staring but she was oblivious. At least that’s what she told herself. She slid along the brick until she could see around the corner. Maybe Jenn wasn’t following?

     ‘Sam! Wait’

     Dammit!  She pushed past two women and hurried across the street to the other side. Breaking into a run, she headed down a side road towards the golf course.  Her panicked brain measured the height of the fence and determined that she could, probably, get over it.  Sliding into the ditch like a batter desperate for his base, her jeans were grass stained and wet when she hit the bottom. Bouncing up she grabbed the barbed wire fence and started climbing.  She wasn’t immediately successful – the fence was meant to keep people out, not for 54 year old women to climb – but with a little determination and only one tear in her jeans, she managed to lever herself over and land in an ungainly heap on the other side.  As she rested panting on her hands and knees she saw Jenn running down the street and their eyes met over the distance.

     ‘Wait!’

     Nope.  Sam turned and crashed through the trees and right into a branch. Her feet flew out from under her and she fell flat on her back, the air leaving her in a whoosh. As she lay struggling to regain her breath,  she heard another loud ‘Oooof’. It was satisfying to her that Jenn was no more skilled at this Indiana Jones stuff than she was.

     Crawling to her feet, Sam started off again, somewhat slower this time, with twigs and mud stuck to her back.  She broke out of the woods and onto a putting green. The two golfers on the green took a step back. Nonchalantly, Sam smiled and straightened her sweater, flicking twigs and grass out of her hair,

     ‘Lovely day is it not?’ She gave what she hoped was a stellar smile then spied the golf cart.

     ‘Excuse me gentlemen, I seem to have lost mine’ Running over she vaulted onto the cart.

     ‘What the hell?’ was all she heard from the confused men as she slammed the throttle down, the electric cart leaping to life. Well… that’s what she imagined would happen. In reality it rolled forward silently and at a sedate pace.  When she looked back, Jenn had emerged from the woods, knees wet, blouse askew, hair not at all looking good.

     She laughed and threw her head back ‘So long Sucker!’ she yelled. She pushed both of the mens’ golf bags off the cart, delighted with the sound the jangle of clubs made.

     ‘Step aside Thelma & Louise, I am on a tear!’

Jenn’s howl of frustration was music to her ears.

She was just out of their sight when her get away car started to slow down.

     ‘What?’ she gasped, ‘what is wrong you, stupid cart!’ she hit the steering wheel and the horn emitted a sad little honk. She had no time for this! She leapt off and ran like a crazy woman down the fairway. People were shouting and  panic started to beat it’s gossamer wings as the reality of her actions started to surface.

     ‘Reframe it!’ she admonished herself.  And just like that (and has her therapist taught her), she was channeling her inner James Bond.  She zigged, she zagged, dashing along the edge of a waterhole, trying to get Jenn to slip or fall. But it was no use. She slipped inelegantly on goose poop; executed a clumsy pirouette and started to fall.  Jenn’s hand grabbed her shoulder, but Sam wrenched out of her grasp causing them both to over balance and plunge into the water.

     ‘What… is… wrong…with… you’ Jenn sputtered as they bobbed to the surface. Sam was trying to stand but her feet were sinking into gooey mud at the bottom of the pond – she tried not to think about how many layers of goose poop were down there.  Sam shook her head and sloshed to the shore, sliding back into the water twice before she managed to flop on her side on the ground.  People were gathering, golf clubs forgotten, trying to decide if they should intervene.

Jenn flopped beside her, water and mud splattering Sam again as she lay gasping for air.

     ‘Sam.’ far too tired to even turn her head, Jenn pulled a soggy recipe card from her pocket and tried to give it to her. ‘Why do we have to do this every time?’

Sam flopped her hand at the proffered card in rejection.

     ‘It’s not my turn. I’m not doing it. I hate it. You can’t make me.’  and with this, she staggered to her feet and stumbled away, cackling maniacally.

     ‘You can run as much as you want’ Jenn yelled, ‘You’re still hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year so you better have something cooked!’

The only reply was a ‘HA!’ from the distance.  Jenn closed her eyes. Family was a bitch when it came to the holidays.