The Iron Writer Challenge #171
2016 Summer Open Challenge #8
The Paul Arden Lidberg Challenge
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
G. L. Dearman, Philip Blaiklock, Matt Henderson
A Synchronized Olympic Event that has never been in the Olympics
“The Old Country”
G. L. Dearman
I mash buttons, but can’t find men’s synchronized swimming. “There’s no such event,” Patrick says, but I know we won gold once—the old country, Ireland, did. I watched on TV. “You’re thinking of an old comedy skit with Martin Short.” I tell him go ask his mother—Mary will set him right. “No, Grandpa, I’m Brendan. Not Patrick.” A stranger in a nurse’s uniform turns off the TV, tells me I need sleep. “He doesn’t even know me,” Patrick says. She tucks me in like I’m a child, thin blanket around bony shoulders. The only way I can resist her is by closing my eyes and…
…and it’s my Grandfather tucking me in, wool blanket itching my chin, guttering candle throwing deep shadows over his face. I don’t have a bed in Ireland, so he put me in his own. He sings in Gaelic. I can’t remember the words and…
…I tuck the blanket under Brendan’s chin. Patrick and his wife watch from the doorway. I sing—what were the words?—and Brendan tries to sing along, enthusiastic voice stumbling over an alien tongue and…
…Mary’s eyes shine blue even through her white veil. Acrid smoke in my nose wakes me. “Our breakfast, Mary. You’ve burned the toast.” It’s dark and one eye won’t open and where am I? I stand, but my leg crumples and floor smashes cold into my face. My arm isn’t my own, won’t obey, won’t push me up. A chaos of nurses. Someone says, “Another stroke,” and…
…Ireland, but hospital rooms all look the same. Antiseptic linoleum. Second trip, one more coming yet. Grandfather shrank, the white pillows swallow him. His glazed eyes don’t recognize me, but I’m too big to cry and…
…Mary lies still, folded and yellowed like old paper, like if she opens her eyes the lines around them will crack open. Patrick’s grown gray at his temples and unshaven chin. Mary’s eyes have faded to gray, too, but she won’t open them again. Patrick’s arm around my shoulders and…
…a clay-red gash torn in the living green earth swallows Patrick’s coffin. My boy. Brendan’s too big to cry, but too young for this and…
…his hand on my shoulder, he’s come to me across a sea of nurses. “Brendan. The song. I used to.” He shakes his head, doesn’t understand my slurred words. I can’t even cry, this final stroke, a cruel thief, stole even that from me…
…but Mary’s voice—here, somehow, today, singing high and clear. Like an angel…
… but I can’t sing with her, my words drop formless from disobedient lips. It’s enough. Understanding lights Brendan’s eyes. He sings, an effortless baritone. He sounds like Grandfather. I want to smile but my lips refuse and…
…the nursing home melts and drops away, revealing rolling green spangled with white clover, the salt wind of the Irish Sea in my nose. Somewhere, far away, Brendan’s sobs choke the final words of the song. Mary, young again, light in her eyes, glowing blue like a stained-glass Virgin. Her hands warm on mine and her lips…
“I missed you,” I say.
Governor Bentley Wise chewed on his tobacco in the dim conference room. Selection results for the 2052 Olympics came on the Holo. Bentley gritted his teeth.
“The final candidates are New Paris, Greater Anglo Authority…” started the lady in a strange accent he still couldn’t reckon. She was from some whackadoodle African country, and boy, had he wined and dined them during their visits.
The holo-reflection gleamed off his assistant George’s dark face. “We got this, Bent. Lord my witness.”
George always kept Bentley right.
“ … Lunar Station 9. And Charleston, West Virginia, The Patriot Republic.” Long pause. “The winner is Charleston, The – ”
Bentley got up, tossing the chair away. He whooped and hugged George.
After the moment of celebration, Bentley saw the chair where Daisy should have been sitting.
Both had been there, five years ago. He remembered the horror hearing the news of his fusion plant in Beaver melting down. “I told you,” Daisy had whispered, “not to skip the safety checks.”
So what if she’d headed the state’s sham environmental department? “It’s not my fault,” he had lied. “You know we need the energy, what with the war eating our coal dry. We have more plants. Nobody gives a whit about Beaver.”
That was when the grip of her hand in his loosened. The sting.
“Redemption!” George hollered, snapping Bentley out.
“Redemption!” Bentley excused himself, and went to his office. He brought Daisy up on mindlink. To tell her to return to the Old Country.
Two years later
The Holo woke Bentley. He checked the time, wishing he could program that damn thing right. “Holy hell, one pm?” he barked. “George, where’s my cheese toast?” He stood and scratched his crotch. Holo was announcing the results of Synchronized Monster Trucks. “Well, damn straight.” He’d excused George to attend that event. “Where you at in there?” he asked as the trucks soared over an Obama effigy in perfect unison.
Bentley sauntered downstairs. Every detail of last night’s drunken bender with the Polish gymnasts flooded back. He looked around the kitchen confusedly. Fine, George, I’ll sort it out. He pulled out slices of Mr. Moo cheese, and Wonderbread. But to toast it? Bentley shrugged. He found the toaster, tipped it on its side, laid the bread and cheese in it, and started it.
Someone knocked on the front door. He went there and opened it. Daisy stood there, hands on her hips.
“Monster Trucks? You outdid yourself.” The look in her slanty Chinese eyes held whimsy.
He hugged her. “So glad you’re back baby.” He took her out to the lawn, told her how Olympic tax revenues were filling state coffers.
“I saw you on the news, and your work to rebuild Beaver. You are a good man.” She ran her hand through his coarse, grey hair.
He turned her over onto the lawn, and gave her a big tongue kiss.
Several minutes later, his body lost in hers, she stopped. She smelled something.
Bentley turned around and saw smoke pouring from the mansion windows. From the kitchen. This time, it was cheese toast burning down his life.
Seamus, Ava, and Irish Soup
Ava was looking out of her kitchen window, as the evening started its chilly slant toward nightfall; she knew dinner was late. She had an expression of pensive disdain that she couldn’t hide or fix from her reflection in the window. “Making another pot of potato soup,” she thought, with a sigh. Not what she wanted really, but she had been preoccupied all evening and could make the soup without a thought, just like her mother and her grandmother before. It was a traditional family recipe and she had bought the leeks and mushrooms that morning. The leeks and mushrooms are what made the O’Fithchellaigh formula last for generations.
“B’fhearr an súgh go mór ná an fheoil, “she could hear grandfather laugh. “Soup is the essence of meat.” Creamy potato soup with leeks was simple and easy but the mushrooms gave the soup that bit of that essence of meat. Enough to make an autumn night seem a little better, at least in the old country, and during the worst of the troubles. Add crispy fried bread cubes and a little bit of grated cheese to melt on top and you had a meal. “A little drinkin’ and a little chewin’…makes it right,” her mother would remind her every time they had the soup.
Soup was supposed to be like whiskey. It was supposed to keep you warm and comfortable on cool nights, and set your taste for whatever else was to follow. “But it was just damn Irish soup tonight,” she frowned. Nothing to follow. Not until payday. Then it would be a splurge on Irish lamb with mint and vegetables at Murphy’s Place and plenty of Guinness for Seamus. He liked his beer on payday. She liked him on payday. It seemed like the only time either of them laughed any more. And she had a bad feeling that Seamus had a case of the black dog coming on. He was sitting out on the stoop, reading the paper by the light of the flickering bulb by the door of the brownstone looking for a better job, like always; and tonight, waiting on dinner.
“You should’ve married that soldier…O’Reilly, that bastard. He was for you. He made something of himself. Retired Colonel and working for the Governor. Why you didn’t marry that one, girl…huh?” He would say that about mid-month when the money would run out from his job at fish market. He didn’t want that, but he meant it when he’d ask, with his hands out to his side and tears in his eyes. But it wasn’t so… Ava loved Seamus. He was a smart man. He was a strong man with principles and a big long line of bad luck and a run of decisions that were seemingly pre-determined.
Ava dreaded calling him in for the soup. She had burned the bread just a little. “So much for the essence of meat,” she thought.
Ava walked out to call Seamus in for supper. She put her hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her. “The bread smells good. I hope we are having that soup you make so good.”