The Iron Writer Challenge #156
2016 Spring Open Challenge #4
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Flower (see image)
The Honeymoon Paradox
By the dome light, I picked breadcrumbs from Shelia’s hair. Earlier we’d dashed through an eco-friendly crowd who mistook us for another newlywed couple.
“No tow yet?” Shelia asked, stirring in the passage seat.
“No, it might be awhile yet. Sorry I woke you.”
“It’s okay. Everything will be now.”
“How can you know? I’m told marriages aren’t all riches and health,” I said.
“Trust me. We’ve accomplished an absolute good.”
I stopped working at her hair. Shampoo and a brush were needed to clear away those breadcrumbs but this flat tire was delaying that. I touched the tattoo on her forearm.
“So what’s the story? You said you would tell me. . . after.”
Shelia smiled, saying, “Of course. I can tell it all now.”
I knew marrying someone only weeks after we’d met was foolish, but here we were. Wasn’t romance always foolish?
With her finger, she circled the tattoo.
“It’s a firewheel,” Shelia said. “Legend goes this flower was a favorite of the Aztecs. It was entirely golden yellow. Women adorned their hair, children played in fields of yellow. After Cortés decimated the Aztecs, the flower’s center caught a sympathetic splash of red. It’s a reminder that history is filled with destroyers . . . as is the future. For me it’s a symbol of the apocalypse we’ve headed off.”
“We?” I said, not following.
“Had we not met, forty years from now a tyrant would have all but destroyed the entire human race,” Shelia matter-of-factly said.
“A tyrant? Who?”
“Your son. According to our best intel, your son would have been conceived sometime in the last three weeks. Instead of a fling with his mother and a pregnancy leading to the end of the world, you met me.”
My stomach had a sinking feeling, and I rested my head on the steering wheel.
“You want me to believe you’re from the future?”
“The technology was perfected eighteen years before the devastation but kept secret for fear of abuse. Desperation led to my mission here, a one-way trip. The only thing I could bring was my tattoo and just enough knowledge of future events to avert the destruction. Now my future doesn’t exist anymore. My parents met in a resistance group. Things have been changed such that I may never be born in this time stream.”
A flood light poured over us from the tow truck pulling up.
“What you’re telling me is lunacy,” I said.
“I can prove it.”
“An earthquake earlier tonight—the most severe ever recorded in California. You probably won’t even need to ask the tow guy.”
I got out, drew and deep breath, and approached the man as he lowered the platform off his truck.
“Did you hear about the quake?” the guy asked.
“California is a disaster area. Thousands dead.”
Bewildered I returned to the car, finding it empty. I went around to the passenger side window and saw her clothes hanging off the seat and her wedding band on the floorboard. Her empty white blouse was smeared with red and golden dye, and breadcrumbs dusted the seat.
“Want to go to that new Mexican place tomorrow night? His wife smiled, dumped macaroni into a colander in the sink.
“Gonna have to leave a couple of days early,” he said, “meet some clients before the convention.”
She stirred in the powdered cheese.
“What about your birthday?” she said without looking at him.
“We can celebrate later.”
“Her recital is Friday,” she said.
“I should be back in time,” he said. She was silent.
“Want me to cut the grass before I go?”
“You just cut it three days ago.”
“Unless you’re never coming back?” She dropped the big wooden spoon into the sink.
“I guess I might as well get a head start tonight,” he said,
“Now?” she asked.
“To check the oil and all, put some air in the tires,” he said.
“Are those new jeans?” she asked.
“These? Nah. Been in the closet for months.”
And she went back to her television show, while he loaded his suitcase in the car.
He drove all night, windows down, radio loud. His heart hammered with black coffee and fear. And possibility.
All the way to Memphis, the hulking Blue Ridge Mountains stood watch like disapproving Baptist deacons.
She was just an old friend….
Right before dawn a spectacular light sailed across the heavens.
He pulled over and craned his neck to watch the glittering comet.
A million years earlier, when his life was still his own, he’d watched a star fall from the sky. He closed his eyes and remembered that girl lying in a field of flowers, their whole lives ahead of them.
“You will only see a falling star with your true love,” she’d said.
He flicked his lighter and considered his face in the rear view mirror, imagined what she would see in him after all this time.
He ran his thumb over the warmed metal strike plate and lay back against the head rest.
An 18-wheeler passed. Its headlights flooded his car with light. On the seat beside him, his wallet lay open to a photo of he and his wife standing with their daughter, 10 years earlier.
That man would be disappointed, would call him a coward, a sinner. That man would never lie and cheat, would not pine for the past. That man did the right thing, when it came time.
He flicked the lighter again and stared at the photo, at the man he used to be.
Crumb by crumb, he’d followed a different path than he’d ever thought possible. She was three months along when they married.
And he never looked back, until now.
A quiet desperation had settled over him lately, reminded him of his dreams and the man he used to be, used to want to be.
When she’d called, out of the blue, he was overcome.
It was like this was his one last chance, like fate.
He closed his wallet and steered the car onto the highway, feeling nothing except the vibration of the wheels and the rush of passing time.
The sky was pitch black. The stars, shining light from another lifetime, arranged themselves as they saw fit.
Tears streamed down her face. Cars whizzed by, rattling her and her defunct car. The teardrops mingled with the telltale crumbs of the toast she’d eaten for breakfast on the ever growing shelf around her middle.
Stranded. Stopped on the side of the road. Sure, the car wasn’t technically “defunct” but with the flat tire, her round belly, and her dead phone, it might as well have been. Her dad had taught her to change her own tire. But with her T-rex arms now, she couldn’t even get the spare out of the trunk.
Leaning over the trunk, she contorted and twisted, trying for all she was worth but her belly wouldn’t squish out of her way. She simply could not reach.
She had run out of minutes on her phone. She was supposed to be able to buy more minutes today, but now she would have to pay for this tire. The tears continued, unbidden.
The sound of the large vehicle stopping behind her startled her out of her reverie. Turning, she watched a friendly looking “Good Ole Boy” climb out of the 4×4 behind her.
“Darlin’, you look like you could use some help.”
“Um, yes. I – I tried. But, well, I can’t reach, my arms are just too short!” she replied, waving her arms around for effect.
Eyeing her round belly, the good Samaritan chuckled. “Yes, your arms seem to have gotten shorter over the last, what, seven months?”
“Eight” she replied, smiling despite the tears and brushing the crumbs off her belly.
“I’ll have you fixed right up.”
The kindly man set about removing the flat tire, taking the spare from its hiding place deep within her trunk.
“Thank you,” came the relieved sigh. “My daddy, he always told me to be careful about people. You never really know who, or what, you are talking to. He warned me about strangers. Made them all out to be evil.” The girl nervously chatted as the kind man fixed her tire. “But my grandma, she was the sweetest lady. She’d sit with me at the dining room table and drink tea. She always kept those lovely flowers on her table. I don’t remember the name, but they were so pretty. Dark centers, orange petals with just a hint of yellow on the tips. ‘Sissy,’ she’d say, ‘don’t you go letting your daddy jade you. I think deep inside people are really good people. I gotta think that or else this ole life just ain’t worth living.’”
As the sound of the trunk lid closing echoed off the nearby retaining wall, the kind stranger turned to her, pointing a 9mm at her midsection.
“Well, ma’am, it sounds like maybe you shoulda listened to your daddy more than your sweet old granny.”
The sound of the shot was followed by the sound of two hundred pounds falling to the earth, dust flying, rocks spattering.
“Well, sir, as it turns out, I listened to both,” the young mother-to-be responded as she stepped over her would-be assailant’s body and headed to her car. “Thanks for fixing my tire.”
The Name Card
B. Y. Rogers
“Poppy, Nanna said to ask you how Mum got her name.”
“She did, did she now Bluey?” I yawned as I looked at her, my tiny ten-year-old red-headed granddaughter. “Well, I was a Yank. Nanna was a little Cockroach. We met during the Great War and I decided to stay, so I did and we got married. I was a battler back then. About a year or so later, in the evening of March 6, 1948 to be exact, Nanna was about to have your Mum. I fell asleep on the couch after eating some dry, burnt toast. The breadcrumbs were all over my shirt. I heard a loud moan from the kitchen that scared me. You see, your Mum was coming.”
The little ankle biter smiled.
“We lived in a basement flat of this bogan. Mean to us he was, but he loved his flowers, he did. He had flowers everywhere. You tripped over them all the time in the yard. I hated him and his flowers something fierce. Anyway, I ran to start the car so we could get to McBride’s, so Nanna could bring your Mum into this world. And do you know what I did when I got your Nanna in the car?”
“I drove over as many flowers I could. I put that car in reverse, turned the steering wheel so both tyres would smash those ugly red petals with yellow tips and brown middles that looked like a dingo had just pooped on ’em! I got ’em good, I did.
Bluey smiled as she tilted her head and asked, “But Poppy, how did Mum…?”
“I’m getting there. So we drive over to McBride’s. Your Nanna moaning and groaning as the old car bounced through every pothole. Then I says to her, ‘What we gonna call it?’ And she says to me, “I don’t know. Hadn’t thought about it.’ And I says to her, ‘If it is a girl, don’t call it Daisy or Zinna, ’cause I hate those flowers’. And she says, ‘I noticed.”
When we get to McBride’s, one nurse takes Nanna away. Someone takes me to a waiting room, where I wait, and wait, then wait some more. About ten hours later a nurse comes and gets me and says to me, ‘You want to see your daughter?’ And I start to cry but just a little bit, because I had wished so much for a little girl. I wanted someone just like you. And then the nurse brushes all the breadcrumbs off my shirt and says I need be presentable to meet my daughter.
She takes me to the big window in the nursery where you can see all the babies. Another nurse brings this tiny, kinda dark little beauty and holds her up so I can see her, but I can’t cause I’m crying too much. I nod so the nurse can put her in her crib. And on the crib there is this little paper card, with a name on it. Someone had written “Maureen” on it.
And I cried some more.
Mark Twang Attends Mothers Day
D. Lee Cox
“Have you told them yet?”
Even tho I was in the middle of a very poorly played rendition of “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” I heard that.
I have a well earned reputation for not finishing a song, so it went unnoticed when I butchered the lyrics “how the red Georgia clay stuck to the tires after a summer rain” and faded towards the refrain.
Not one doggone bit of my business, but I had to hear what this conversation was regarding.
What a beautiful day for Mother’s Day. Warm with a decent breeze. All the great-grandkids out on the nursing home lawn, chasing one another, throwing a baseball, and the littlest blowing bubbles into the wind. Grandmother in her wheelchair, crystal blue eyes gazing out at, well, nothing. We could have all been talking heads of broccoli as far as she knew. But ninety-two years of being humble, kind, and gentle doesnt fade easily, so she shook hands and hugged necks (stalks).
I reached for my lemonade, titled my head toward the youngest granddaughter. Made it look like I was listening to the strings as I tuned up a bit.
“Have you told them yet?”
“Not yet,” she replied to the oldest aunt.
This granddaughter was the one that had a child “out of wedlock.” (What a quaint old way of saying, “she got pregnant by her boyfriend.”)
The family had rallied around her, much to my surprise. I’d assumed this all-American nuclear family would toss her out on her ear.
Sounded to me like we were about to go around again.
Surely now I would see this beautiful family come apart at the seams. I might be able to get a good country song out of it.
Grandmother began opening her presents. Frail wrinkled fingers lightly grabbing the edge of ribbon, pulling gently, smiling at the cutest little floret.
A finger painting of her favorite flower, a flamethrower coneflower.
I knew granddaughter still wasnt married to the father. If she were pregnant again my despondent view of life, of the natural disposition of human nature being one of selfishness, of life being cold and uncaring, of families being incredibly judgmental of their own and perfectly capable, nay, willing to cut out the weak link, yes, if she were pregnant again, all of this could be validated and I could once again wallow in my own self-righteousness and pits of cynicism.
Oh happy day!
Youngest granddaughter leaned in close to oldest aunt. Muffled conversation, wide-eyed expressions, loud whispers leaving a bread-crumb trail of consonants amounting to nothing intelligible.
I figured I could help the situation along by playing something more apropos. Maybe, “She’s Having My Baby” or “Silver Dagger” where the two lovers kill themselves before the parents get ’em.
Alas, it wasnt to be.
“May I have your attention?” she said as she stood. “Luke and I are getting married.”
Gasps. A long (pregnant, if you will) pause, then squeals of joy and happiness and shameful displays of love.
They asked me to play something upbeat.
I broke a string.
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