The Iron Writer Challenge #27
2013 Iron Writer Spring Equinox Challenge #5
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A Wishing Well
A Tow Truk
The National Tax Code in the country where you live
Anne Mason Smith
I walk silently down the dark alley, shivering in my white cardigan that hangs from my shoulders. Snow falls from the darkening sky, dotting the night with their white glow. They land on the metal roofs of the houses surrounding me, making sounds not unlike that of a penny falling into the murky depths of a wishing well.
I continue onward, my feet crunching in the fresh layer of ice, frozen on the thin blades of grass that dare survive. Finally, I spot my destination. A large tow truck rises from the snow at the end of the alley. Its paint is rusted and chipped, and the windows are smashed. The truck is dented, and the tires are nowhere in sight. No one knows what happened to it.
I sit on the hood, shivering slightly in the frigid cold. I push my hand into my pocket, and draw out a small wooden box. I open it, and smile at the present inside. I quietly close the carved box with a soft tap.
“No peeking, right?” a voice whispers from behind me, and I jump in alarm, but quickly relax when I recognize the familiar voice. I turn to face my boyfriend, Jamie. I smile, rolling my eyes and throwing myself into his arms. His arms wrap around me, and his fingers trail over my hair, ridding it of the snow trapped in the tendrils. When he pulls away, it seems like we had been together for only a second, but I know it was more than a minute. He glances at my small sweater.
“Geeze you must be freezing.” He yanks his jacket off of his shoulders and wraps it around mine. I snuggle into it’s warmth, sighing contentedly.
“Ready for your present?” he asks, his soothing voice echoing around the dark walls of the alley. I nod, smiling like a fool. I realize I’m still holding the carved, wooden box in my hand. I quickly reach my hand out toward Jamie, holding the box gently. He reaches his arm toward me, making our arms parallel. His hand holds a small, square plastic box. I take his and he takes mine.
“One.” “Two.” “Three.” We both open our presents, and I burst out laughing. Jamie had gotten me a copy of the national tax code. I glance over at him, and see him laughing himself, holding up his pair of broken chopsticks.
“Ok, you definitely won,” I laugh, wiping the tears from my eyes. I fold up the document and place it back inside the box.
Jamie holds up his arms and shouts, “Victory is mine!”
E. Chris Garrison
Carole drew a breath to say her final goodbye to the family farm. The air left her as a sigh, instead. Her eyes cast to the ground where her boots trod the soil, once worked by her father, she nearly ran into the mortised stone of the well.
She smiled, despite her troubles. Despite the coming foreclosure, despite her cousin Tony allowing it to happen by selling his share to the factory farm company. Despite his smug face in her doorway, telling her she only owned the land until noon. Then it’d be the bank’s.
She smiled, remembering how Mamaw had called it a wishing well, a magical place, containing the farm’s greatest treasure. When asked what the treasure was, Mamaw just grinned, held a finger to her lips, and said, “secrets”.
Growing up, Carole told her secret hopes to the well, imagining them held safe in the water below.
She pulled a penny from her purse. 1968, the year she was born.
She tossed the penny in. It pinged off stone and plunked into water.
“I wish I knew how to save the farm.”
The well whispered, “Get the treasure!”
“You asked how to save the farm. There’s treasure down here.”
“Are you a genie?”
“A zephyr, actually, a wind spirit. I grant knowledge wishes only. I’ve fed on secrets for decades. Now, there’s not much time.”
Carole nodded and ran to the farmhouse, searching for help. She spied a tow truck in the driveway, set to drag off the family tractor at noon. She bribed Earl, the driver, and he backed the vehicle up to the well. She stood on the hook and Earl shrugged and lowered her into the dark. Her feet touched water as the line reached its limit. The dark swallowed up the glow of her penlight, until her eyes adjusted.
A carpet of pennies glowed a dingy orange under the clear water. The chill of the water came as a shock as it overflowed her boots and soaked the legs of her jeans. She bent low and shoveled the coins in the middle aside, revealing a rock plugging a hole. She used one of the chopsticks in her hair to pry at the rock, which came loose.
Under it was a silver dollar, adorned by LIBERTY, a woman’s head with flowing hair, and 1794.
“Worth more than enough,” whispered the zephyr.
She shouted, and the driver hauled her back up, where Tony waited. He snatched the coin from her, laughing.
She said, “Zephyr, I wish I knew how to stop him!”
Whispers in her ear told her what to do.
“Tony, I still own this farm, and you’re trespassing! And according to the US Tax Code, that coin is mine. You saw it, right Earl?”
Tony spat and threw the coin back in the well.
Carole didn’t mind retrieving it again. The coin’s ten million dollar bounty was well worth it.
“Thank you, Mamaw,” said Carole.
“You’re welcome, dearheart,” said the zephyr.
Meredith ran her fingers through her hair to its end several times before grabbing a fist full. She exhaled a deep breath and cut the twelve inches that hung from her hand. She looked at the clump of blonde hair that lay in the sink and thought about how he stroked it before he slapped her across her face. She smeared a tear as she rubbed her cheek, still feeling the sting of his open-handed slap.
The pain of every slap was felt as every clump of hair fell into the sink.
Meredith stared into the mirror over the sink. Underneath a short, choppy haircut glared a pair of empty, red-swollen eyes. The face in the mirror was both vulnerable and stone.
She closed her eyes and thoughts of his touch over her body flooded her mind. Tears ran down her face.
The scissors thudded as they landed on the pile of hair. She turned to turn on the shower.
Steam filled the small square room before she stripped down and stepped inside. The water burned and she flinched, but the water needed to sanitize his touch away.
Meredith leaned her head against the hard shower wall as the water pounded on her back.
Just a few hours earlier, she was watching television waiting for Sam, the regular Lucky Well delivery guy, to bring her favorite meal. She always tipped a few dollars too many because she had thought he was cute.
She muted the television because one of the income tax preparer commercials came on and then ripped through the restaurant’s wishing well logo. That’s when the door flew open.
Sam rushed in the room and attacked her. Meredith grabbed the chopsticks from the coffee table but he grabbed her hand and broke them.
Sam pinned Meredith against the floor, gently caressing her hair and face before beating it black and blue. He didn’t speak, only grunted, as he ripped open her T-shirt.
He paused. Meredith grabbed one of the broken chopsticks that lay next to her and slammed it in his ear. He fell limp to the side.
Red and blue lights cascaded the side of her apartment building and the wall opposite her window as a policewoman talked with her.
“You’re brave to have fought back,” the officer said. Meredith nodded in agreement though she didn’t feel brave.
She felt rather alone as she was alone, no one to turn to or talk with.
After her shower, Meredith heard a beeping of a truck backing up. One police car remained in front of her building, blocking the traffic as a tow truck backed up to the delivery truck.
Meredith fumbled the business card of the policewoman who spoke with her, saying to call her day or night. Then she looked at the blood-stained carpet in front of her television. Then walked into her bedroom and began packing.
She dialed the number on the phone.
“Officer Warren, can I help you?”
“This is Meredith,” she paused. “From earlier tonight.”
Extra Sauce, Extra Cheese
Every Wednesday night between six and six-thirty, I ring your doorbell. You take too long to answer. You apologize.
“Hey there Trey, sorry it took me so long to come to the door,” you say.
“Travis,” I shout over the sound of a rumbling tow truck.
“Excuse me?” you say, thinking you misheard.
“My name is Travis. Not Trey.” I say.
You apologize again. “Extra sauce. Extra cheese,” I say, just like every other time.
“Wow, you guys are fast this week, still nice and hot“, you say, like you’re surprised. I nod my head. My smile is polite, no teeth.
“Thank you Travis!” you say, handing me the cash, so glad to see me, like my parents feel the same as you about the National Tax Code, like they hate Obama. You imagine I’m a student and that my mom and dad pay for my apartment somewhere near the mall. “You are the best delivery person we have around here” you say, thinking that I’m taking all this to heart. Would you still say that if you knew I made my home in the pocket park across from your house?
“I love your house,” I say. You imagine I’m flirting.
“…and a little something for the wishing well”, you say, giving me five dollars and the leftover coins.
“Thanks,” I say.
“See you next time…don’t work too hard,” you say, with a big, white-toothed smile. You wave goodbye like we’re leaving the Country Club, like we’ve been friends for years, like you’re a beauty queen in the top ten.
As you close the door, you suspect that you’re my favorite customer. You smile at yourself in the front hall mirror, adjust the chopsticks holding up your hair. You hand the kids their pizza and the two liter Sprite and pour yourself a Cabernet from the bar in the kitchen.
“Wash your hands,” you call after them.
Later, from the park bench, I can see your house. The top floor is all lit up. Your silhouette floats room to room in an aquarium of color and light. I imagine your hair and your purple silk pajamas flowing backward as you swim, ducking in and out of an old castle, past a shipwreck, neon-green pebbles just beneath your feet.
You never stop and look out into the dark. You’ve forgotten I exist.
Lying here, my back is pressed hard against the wooden slats. Through the fat Magnolia leaves I find the night sky and wonder if I could sleep in the tree top, like Robinson Crusoe. I shift my weight and cross my arms over my chest. There is only darkness and black. No moon. But that’s what makes the stars so bright.