I’m not sure about this week’s story. I wrote a 200 word version and have edited and reworked it so many times, I can’t tell if it loses the point. I’d love to hear your feedback, good and bad. And apologies in advance for using the C word when it’s barely even October!
The Christmas After
That first Christmas after Mom left, Shannon knew things wouldn’t be the same. Last year, she’d got a big doll’s house with only a small tear in the wallpaper. Her one-legged Ken carried Barbie across the threshold and Dad had made little furniture out of cardboard boxes.
There was no big gift this year, but Dad appeared at the door holding a folded square of paper. “Christmas a little lean this year, Bubblegum” he said.
In Dad’s shaky handwriting, the note said “IOU: One afternoon window shopping”.
“Thanks!” she said, trying to mean it. “I only got you a hug.”
Time moves slower on a train. It’s the perfect chance to read or to write, even to sleep. If you don’t mind occasionally waking up in Wales. But the world moves faster around it, changes at a glance. Bleak warehouses become sheep, huddling from the rain that minutes ago was sun.
You can age a year just waiting for leaves to be cleared, but the world won’t hold on. The wedding can’t be delayed for a single guest, even one who might have put a stop to it and told her she was making a mistake. Especially not for him.
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is a great example of why I didn’t study physics beyond 16. I just… no, it’s ridiculous. I mean, I’m not saying I know better than our great scientists, I’m just saying this is theoretical too far for me. If you are interested though, here’s the video Sebastian and I watched this morning to try to understand it for this story. Start about 3 minutes in for the portion this narrator is referring to.
Maggie barely knew her own name, but she always recognised Stan: never took her eyes off him. We admired their love and his daily visits – most husbands came a couple of times a week. Then I noticed Maggie flinched when he held her hand … realised she watched with fear, not adoration … heard the tone of his whispers.
After he left, I took her for a walk in the garden. Out of the blue, she grabbed a rose and snapped its stem and flicked a bug from within.
“Even the most beautiful things can be rotten inside,” she muttered.
Random Ramblings FromMe
Today’s photo actually made me think of the word pock-marked, and the etymology of that in ‘the pox’. When people talk about eliminating Covid-19, I often point out the humanity has eradicated precisely one disease ever and it took almost 200 years. I think our best case in the short-medium term has to be harm reduction not virus elimination.
Vaccines are incredible though. Smallpox killed 3 in 10 of those infected, its eradication has to be one of humanity’s greatest success stories and is a rare example of truly international cooperation. Wandering down the smallpox rabbit hole, I discovered Ali Maow Maalin, the last man to catch smallpox minor. Maalin had avoided the vaccination program when it came by, because he was scared of the needle. He isolated at home during his infection (sound familiar?!) and when he recovered, he went to work on the Polio vaccination program, persuading others to participate. As a result of the work of Maalin and thousands of others like him, polio is now endemic in only 2 countries. Two of the three strains have been eliminated completely. Another wonderful success story.
All my research turned up lots of stories, like Ali Maalin’s, which a historical fiction writer might have turned into their Friday Fiction. But none of them stuck. Instead, the muse decided to turn my attention to two other ‘pandemics’ that we have been living through for years.
There are around 10 million new cases of dementia worldwide every year. Although many dementia patients die of something else first, none recover and it is in itself deadly.
The UN has found more than 30,000 women die each year from domestic violence. That statistic was measured before Covid-19 and lockdowns, which appear to have increased the levels of domestic abuse. Many, many more, live with it for years and may or may not ever escape, let alone recover.
Neither dementia nor domestic violence has any hope of a vaccine.
Thoughts are with fellow Fictioneer, Ted, this week, as he recovers from a recent stroke. I know loving family are with you, Ted, and you can be sure your fans are cheering you on from near and far.
Maggie and Bill
Maggie’s your typical glass half-empty sorta girl. She looks at a cloud and sees rain. Bill’s the opposite. He’s always busy admiring the silver linings. You might not think them well-suited that way, but it works. She packs the umbrella for them to shelter under when it rains; he brings a picnic they can share on the beach… or in the car, if it turns out she’s right.
She’s often right, of course, but he finds the silver lining in that too, because she enjoys being right more than he minds being wrong, and isn’t that a recipe for love?
We couldn’t afford a fancy honeymoon suite so opted for “Double room with views of Niagara Falls”. Which meant an infinity sight of the top river flowing into mist, with a heavy sideline in parking lot. “Double” was a push too, for the bed where we huddled like hamsters, lest we fall into the “bedroom spa” – which looked a lot like a bathtub they hadn’t managed to fit into the bathroom.
We stayed three nights after the wedding, united in adversity and finding comfort in each other’s company. Perhaps it was the best kind of honeymoon suite after all.
When we were kids, Dad used to say “And you don’t take a shower in the high street,” whenever we did something patently stupid. It became a family phrase, one of those private idioms that you take for granted between yourselves, but which raise an eyebrow or a question when used with strangers.
What I loved most about the phrase though, was how it made Mum laugh whenever he said it. She didn’t laugh much, and very rarely indeed at anything Dad said. That phrase, and whatever history had created it, sometimes felt like the glue holding their marriage together.
They met each night beneath the banyan tree under his hotel balcony; their young bodies entwined like its endless roots. He quoted Romeo and Juliet and she wondered if there could be anything more romantic than forbidden love. But a week later, only his initials remained, carved beside hers on the thickest of the spindly stems. She borrowed the book and read to the end. The fate of her Verona self shocked her. Was love just a death sentence? She swore off boys and returned to her studies. Junior High was too important to miss.
“Every girl should get a rose on her sixteenth birthday.” That red rose from Granny had felt more like a judgement than a gift. The first falling petal reminded Viola of Belle, and Granny had been there to mourn her lack of Prince, handsome or otherwise.
Five years later, Granny would have been impressed. Yamin held a rose outstretched, a diamond ring balanced on top and Viola could almost feel a little nudge from behind.
But Viola had been raised on Mulan and Moana, not Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella: marriage would clip her wings, and today, she needed to fly.