The Iron Writer Challenge #204
2017 Summer Solstice Challenge Tournament
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
(Authors names will be posted to their stories next Thursday, after the voting is concluded.)
An Osiria Rose
A photo album
A novel (real or fictional)
A talking piano
Play It Again
Dani J Caile
“Play it again, Sam,” said my owner, a slightly delusional literary nobody named Charles.
“Firstly, my name isn’t Sam, it’s Hans. Secondly, Sam was the pianist and I’m a piano, a talking one at that but there you go, we can’t all be perfect. And thirdly, stop leaning on my fallboard! Playing me is one thing, tinkling on my ivories, so to speak, but pressing against me like that… it’s too much,” I said.
“Sorry, I forgot.” Charles stood up from my seat. He held a small photo album and flicked through the leaves.
“Oh, not her again. And the photos? Oh, please. You Photoshopped them. I saw you on the computer, pasting your image onto all her Snapchat uploads.”
“How else am I to be close to my soulmate? She is far, far away.” He leaned against the frame of the French windows and looked out into the city below, dropping the photo album carefully on the side table.
“Far away? She works at the local KFC, just around the corner. Charles, this ‘infatuation’ you have with this fast food cashier is not real ‘love’, and nothing like the one Rick has in Casablanca with Ilra! They had something, they fell in love in Paris. All you have is California Zinger Doubles and Grill Twister Classic Boxes!” This whole obsession he had with this girl less than half his age was beginning to make my strings quiver.
“We converse, we share time together.”
“Listen, Charles. You are the one who waits until her shift starts and makes sure you get served by her and only her. You are the one who strikes up a small conversation first. It’s never her, it’s always you.”
“But she does converse with me, she smiles at me, and I…”
“Yes, you, Charles, you. It’s all inside your head, get over it.”
“Head? My heart, my heart. I wrote her a book…” That damn book and his damn dreams of becoming a writer! I can see it on the shelf, staring right at me, a book he wrote just for her.
“Charles, she’s just being a decent person when she talks back! And she’s doing her job! If she doesn’t she might lose it!”
“She gives me extra ketchup!”
“That was once! And it was a special offer. Everyone got extra ketchup that day!” I pressed my damper pedal to make my words echo across the room.
“What do you know?” He began to sob and moved over to a bunch of osiria roses he’d bought yesterday, taking one and smelling it’s strong fragrance. He was a good sort. A bit of a softy, though.
“Yes, Charles, what do I know?” I watched him wiping his tears away, caressing the rose as though it was the most precious thing in the world. “Why don’t you just come over here and I’ll let you play a little tune, okay?” He slowly made his way over and sat down, lifting my fallboard. He began to play. “What is that? That’s not…?”
“Yes, it is. “Stressed Out”. It was our song…”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake…”
Loki and the Angel
Loki thought of angels all too often. They were so high in the sky that he could not reach them, though he tried. He tried to talk to them, but he could think of nothing to say. He smiled when they seldom passed, but soon gave up his efforts as hopeless.
Loki talked to his piano quite often. It never talked back, but he played Debussey and Satie as well as he could. They spent many afternoons repeating the same old novel again and again. Yet the hammers and the keys felt nothing. They cared not for Loki in their mechanical ways. Loki longed to talk with angels but did not know how, for he was only Loki- a simple piano man far below the sky.
Then one day, in the garden, an Osiria rose began to grow without a sow and, as Loki poured his feelings into his music, the piano came to life. The notes became more brilliant, and the tones were more vibrant. Even the noise of the hammers fell in harmony with the oscillation of the strings. It struck Loki as fairly odd, for he wasn’t that great of a player. And right in the middle of “Clair de Lune” Loki stopped playing, but the hammers stayed in song until the end.
Loki sat on the bench with his jaw dropped an octave or two. When the song was over, the pedal was released and there was muffled silence once again. Loki feared his mind was spiraling towards insanity, but the piano spoke in his thoughts without sound. Instantly, Loki became at peace.
“I know what it is you seek” the harmonic chord sounded clear within his mind. “You seek to talk with one of the angels, but you do not know how.”
Loki dropped his head and could not deny this wish.
“In the garden, grows a rose. You shall use this rose to gain an audience with one of the angels, if you be worthy of it. Take the rose and your honesty and present it to one of the angels. Fear not what becomes of you for it. Focus on the melody, for life is a risk with every beat of the measure. Listen for the melody in her voice, and accompany it with harmony.”
And Loki found a beat. The air did not become still around him again, until he had found an angel. And he stuttered and spoke a word for the first time. It was flat, and she had no idea what he said. But the second word, she made out. She accepted the rose with a smile. The red and white petals would capture anyone’s breath.
As time passed, the rose wilted. The piano spoke to Loki no more, but Loki had learned to speak with an angel. And their symphony was pure musical genius in every concert.
Loki and the angel have since departed forever to the sky. The piano sits in storage out of tune and out of time. The photographs in the album tell quite the tale as the music lives on in the songs of Loki and the angel.
Below the Surface
The last of the mourners filtered out of the room. Lingering behind, the funeral director leaned over and inhaled the exquisite aroma of the Osiria rose on the baby grand where the deceased’s photo album and her one published novel were set for viewing. Straightening, the directer picked up the novel. He admired the scene on the cover, read the blurb on the back, and raised an eyebrow before setting the book back down. He pressed a key on the piano sending a soft reverberation through the empty room as he gazed at her photo in the open album. As the tone receded, fading to silence, the man pondered aloud, “Evelyn Jackson, hmm, I wonder who you were?”
Turning to leave, he paused; a voice spoke from the piano. “She was a competant musician. She taught herself; a determined, highly motivated woman who loved to entertain at parties and get-togethers. But she really loved to sing and play when she was alone. It’s how she expressed her emotions; the pains and frustrations she had. She even wrote a few special songs for those occasions where mere spoken words weren’t enough.”
The novel interupted, “She wrote more than songs too. I represent an idealistic mixture of how she interpreted her life; how she saw herself and the role she played within her sphere of influence, and what she was trying to accomplish. I was mostly cathartic for her as she attempted to put all the disparate pieces of her life together into a revealing tale that made sense. I’m full of happiness and adventure, but between the lines … a sad story, really; lonely and disconnected, but still hopeful and optimistic.
The photo album turned several of its pages and added, “Look here.” The man shifted his gaze to several pictures of people on vacation. The album pointed out, “Notice, she’s always standing near someone and, more often than not, touching them. Oh, she was fun and outgoing. She laughed a lot; had a great sense of humor, but she always felt alone; always seeking to connect with others in a meaningful way. See here? She’s got her hand resting on his shoulder; over there, they have their arms around each other. In this one, their cheeks are pressed together.”
Then the rose came to life and spoke. “ To know her, look at me; I am gorgeous, unique, unusually beautiful and stunning. But if you lived with me day in and day out, you’d find me moody and difficult. I have thorns, weaknesses, and faults. My blooms aren’t exactly like the photo-shopped images in magazines; sometimes they fail, or are drab. But, if you take me for what I am, rather than what you think I should be … I am amazing, but most of the time I’m difficult, fragile, and vulnerable.”
The man picked up the rose and inhaled its fragrance once more. “Evelyn Jackson.” He said to her picture in the album, “ That’s a nice name. This is for you.” Sitting at the piano, he played and sang In the Garden just for Evelyn.
The Heaviness of a Broken Heart
He placed the umbrella in its stand on the large wrap-around porch of his home. After removing his raincoat and shaking the rainwater off of it, he hung it up on the rack in the foyer of the house. Standing there, he looked around and thought how his large home just got a little bit larger and just a little bit emptier. The mahogany staircase creaked as he slowly walked upstairs and to his bedroom. He paused for a moment by the bathroom and looked at the old iron claw foot tub. It was a favorite spot of his wife to relax. She would fill it with warm water, bath oils, and bubble bath to soak the day away. He pictured her sitting there in the dimly lit room, lying back with her head on a small pillow, some candles and a snifter of wine sitting on the tray in front of her. He thought it peculiar how he always took notice of this without really ever taking notice of it. It was a scene that he had always taken for granted.
Clarence Wellington came from old money. His great-grandfather, made his fortune in oil and natural gas. The family fortune stopped with Clarence though. This was because in his 70 years of life and 52 years of marriage, he never had any children. This was something they had always regretted but it was through no fault of their own; his wife could not conceive. Now, she was gone, losing her battle with cancer and he was truly alone. No fortune could ever change that, nor could it bring back the love and happiness he shared with his wife.
Clarence changed out of his suit, put on a pair of silk pajamas and a smoking jacket. It was his wife’s favorite ensemble. Walking back downstairs and into his library, he poured a glass of single malt scotch, and pulled a Montecristo from the humidor. He sat down in his leather, high wingback chair. A wall behind his large Cherrywood desk separated his library from the solarium, another favorite spot of his wife’s to relax. When he finished his drink and smoked all of the cigar he wanted to, Clarence got up from his chair and walked to the solarium.
The walls and the ceiling of the solarium was constructed of glass so the plants could get plenty of sun. Her prized and favorite plant is the Osiria rose sitting by one of the glass walls on a small wrought iron table. He sat down in the chair that she had always sat in and watched the rain drizzle down the glass. Just returning home from his wife’s funeral, he thought the rain apropos. The novel she was reading, The Talking Piano, sat on a table next to her chair, on top of a photo album.
A heaviness grew in his chest as he looked at the photos and remembered happier times. Clarence wept as he looked at the photos. As the heaviness in his chest increased substantially, he sat back in the chair and closed his eyes.
Erika pressed harder on the piano keys and pushed the pedal as the music soared. “Talk!” She whispered to the dancing ivory and ebony. “Sing to me.”
Just a little more hold on this section. Quiet now. Softer. Slower. A gentle breeze.
Turn the page. This was always the hard part.
Her fingers fumbled. That chord.
One more time. What was wrong? Oh, the key changed.
She started again, but after the third try, stopped mid-note, threw her hands in the air, and flung herself on the couch. Dino opened one eye, wagged his tail twice, curled into a smaller ball, and went back to sleep. She scowled at the score, got up, shoved it in the bench, and closed the lid.
The clock ticked. From somewhere, Hip-Hop was blaring.
A sunbeam hit the photo album, the one from their recent family vacation at the lake. The gleam of light danced on a book that sat beside it, the novel she wasn’t supposed to be reading because it was probably too old for her and her Mom wanted to check it out first.
Dino opened one eye when Erika flounced to her room, picked up her bow, settled in a chair, pulled her cello between her legs, and began a low, deep, rich harmony.
A string broke after the fifth scale. There was a spare. Somewhere? Maybe not.
Practicing wasn’t that thrilling anyway.
Nothing on TV.
She forgot and slammed the door on the way outside. The sun was bright and white. It was way too hot, even the grass seemed prickly and dry. Some kids were playing across the street, but they were really little, like kindergarten age. Was Marcy around? Erika stood on tiptoe. Maybe.
The Osiria roses were blooming, both of them, in the blinding light. She sniffed and stroked a silky bloom, careful of the thorns.
It happened so fast that Erika almost didn’t see it.
The children were still playing, their heads down, intent on the toys. A truck going down the road turned right. A bird wobbled on a branch and fell to the ground. It didn’t move.
Erika’s feet slowly backed up towards the house. Halfway there, she broke into a run.
Dino’s tail peeped from under the couch as she raced through the living area, down the hall, skidded into her room, and huddled in her closet. After a moment he leaped into her arms, then scrambled into the far corner, under a blanket
“Erika? Was that you? Come here!”
She cowered into the hall.
“Want some?” Her Dad pointed at a pizza box.
She shook her head.
“You’re awfully pale. Are you sick?”
She inched forward and swallowed, but her voice came out like a croak, “Dad. Did you hear a big bang just a minute ago?”
“There was this flash of light.”
He sighed, “Are you going to start that again?”
“No. No, Dad. I was just asking.”
“What are we going to do with you?”
She slowly backed away as her father’s face began to melt.
Moonlight and Love Songs
Humphrey Bogart, Peter Falk and The Queen of Hearts watched with glazed eyes as the night watchman entered the elevator. As soon the dial indicated he was back in the lobby, they relaxed, their flawless wax doppelgängers assuming characteristic poses.
After another long day of tensing in half-closed position, Osiria stretched until she bloomed in full, her perfume wafting through the room. “Christ, I thought he’d never leave.”
“Behave, now.” The Princess Bride fanned her pages at her neighbor. The breeze ruffled Osiria’s crimson petals, flashing their white undersides before settling back into place.
The piano, which visiting old timers affectionately dubbed “Sam,” tinkled a languid version of “As Time Goes By” to calm her compatriots. There was no use bickering when they had so little time left together. “You two are so predictable.”
Osiria huffed, brandishing her plastic thorns in a show of mock violence. Her only claim to fame was her role as Alice’s interrupted painting fiasco in The Queen of Hearts’ garden. She was still embarrassed at being typecast, and a little jealous that Princess’ cover had been retouched for roles in multiple films. But after thirty years in the business, fans still only knew Princess by her debut picture. Yet they always preened before visitors came, showboating just a little, hoping someone’s eyes would light up like the old marquees instead of scanning the room for the exit.
Few people were interested in silver screen memorabilia these days. The janitor would sweep up the popcorn and discarded tickets and forgotten handbills and disappear into the elevator, leaving just enough lights on to discourage vandals.
Children were no longer interested in old movies, props, stage sets. They wanted superheroes and CGI, robots and lasers. Nothing real life could offer under a painted backdrop. They didn’t want to understand the magic behind the artistry, the blood and sweat that went into each frame. Seeing a collection of things gathering dust was no different from staying at home, forced to clean their rooms on a sunny day.
“Remember how it used to be? It wasn’t that long ago.” Sam played three discordant notes in succession, a playful throwback to the “Old Dark House” pictures. “Goldy, remind us.”
The wall-mounted photo album flipped her gilded cover to a 1933 photo of Sam, freshly painted and spiffy, gleaming under the hands of a black man. A sad smile cracked Humphrey’s crow’s feet. Dooley Wilson had no wax double here. History had claimed him long ago.
Goldy flipped to 1951: a photo of Osiria in pristine white, before the makeup artist got his hands on her. Then to 1987: Peter’s hands cradling Princess as he read to his Hollywood grandson. The stage lights were brilliant then; the contrast never came out quite right in photos. At the time, it didn’t matter. They believed it would last forever.
They never should have gotten so excited about being uncrated. One museum was no different than another after the novelty wore off. The closing credits would roll any day now.
The night watchman, for the first time in decades, turned off all the lights.
Rich Soil and Proper Planting
Paul was a hell of a gardener.
Our first date, he gave me a rose I’d never seen before, he called it an Osaria Rose. It was gorgeous; deep red tips with white centers. I had never seen anything like it and was impressed that he’d shown initiative to be unique.
It wasn’t until our fourth date that I realized the unique roses weren’t just some cute trick – he seemed genuinely obsessed with them. When I saw his entire backyard was immaculately landscaped with multitudes of rose beds, I thought it was really cool that he had such passion for something.
He even kept a photo album scrapbook with various roses and magazine articles. I’d listen to him talk about the importance of rich soil and proper planting. He kept odd hours, too – insisting they needed to be cared for at night so the sun didn’t burn off the water.
I rationalized it all away, telling myself that we all have quirks. Everyone has hobbies and obsessions. For instance, my friend’s been dating a guy whose entire livelihood revolves around a comedy sketch with a talking piano.
And me? I’m working on a novel. Yep. Five years now, and I’m sure I’ll get started any day.
Anyway, Paul’s obsession with flowers was completely tolerable… at first.
It wasn’t until after I had moved in and his neighbor went missing that I started to feel strange about the garden and the weird tools in the shed. The fact that he always planted new bushes in the middle of the night.
So last Tuesday after I pretended to be asleep, I decided to watch him. He went down the alley with a wheelbarrow. I couldn’t follow him for fear of being caught, so I waited behind the shed for what felt like hours.
When he got back the sun was almost up, making it easy to see what was going on. He had something big and heavy under a tarp in the wheelbarrow.
I hoped and prayed it was just another bush or some fertilizer, but I began to prepare myself for the worst; a dead animal, perhaps a dead person.
“Paul?” I tentatively stepped out from my hiding spot.
“Meredith?!” He was obviously startled and horrified to have been caught. “What are you doing out here?”
“What are YOU doing? Where have you been? What is going on?”
“Meredith, it’s not what it looks like. I can explain.” He rambled as he began backing away, pulling the wheelbarrow with him.
“Well. Start explaining.”
Paul swallowed hard, he was stalling for time. “I was going to tell you eventually.” He looked down. “I have a problem. I have it under control. But I…”
“Just tell me, Paul.”
“My roses. They’re just a cover up for my real obsession.”
“What’s under the tarp, Paul.”
He hesitated before pulling back the tarp to reveal something I never expected. A massive pile of money.
“What? How did you get that?” I stammered.
“I do… things. Illegal things. But for large sums of money. And I hide that money under the roses. And Meredith. We’re going to be rich.”
Notes of Grace
Alis Van Doorn
Elmwood looked thoughtfully, even a bit wistfully around the once beautiful room, dusted by motes of hazy memories, neglect, and disuse.
Speaking out loud to no one, Elmwood continued his rambling musings. “What a long and proud lineage this home, our family has, and to see it all come to an end like this; well, if I didn’t have to stay strong for Miss Osiria, I couldn’t bear it.”
Elmwood’s glance fell upon a family photo album, carelesslessly left opened, the page featuring Osiria’s mother, the incomparable Lady Caroline. Even in the age of madness, the late seventies, when everything civilized, decent was chaos, Lady Caroline managed to be both an original and wildly popular her debut year. She laughed at tradition while gracefully perpetrating it, was famous, remembered Elmwood, for accepting no flowers from her many, many suitors, except the incredibly rare and costly Osiria rose; introduced from France in ’78, it caused a sensation. Lady C made that sensation a part of her legendary coming out year, and of course, named her only child, his beloved Miss Osiria, after her favorite rose.
Elmwood wondered what Lady Caroline would have thought of this, the upheaval, change.
“Well, you raised her strong and free of the constraints of other’s expectations, Lady Caroline, and I daresay we both had a bit to do with nurturing the music in her soul, but I’m not overly fond of change, as you well know, and truth be told, I’m nervous about how I’ll fit in the new place.” Elmwood realized he was babbling, to a ghost at that, but couldn’t stop. “It’s a done deal, the manor is sold, most everything in it, the help dismissed with a hefty severance.” Elmwood stilled his voice as the magpie chatter of less melodious voices approached.
“Where do you want us to start packing up, Miss?” asked a burly mover who was paying more attention to Osiria’s flighty, but appealing assistant, than Osiria.
“There’s not much. Charlotte will show you the kitchen, bedroom and what’s going.”
Elmwood restrained a puritanical sniff at Charlotte’s lack of decorum, which quickly turned into a frown of worry as Osiria wandered out, head down, consulting a long list, a scowl on her face.
“It was”, he thought, “not a face of conventional beauty, or really any beauty at all, but rather something infinitely more compelling, alive with intelligence, wit and humor, with a curl of quick temper hinted in the tilt of her chin, the gray, green eyes, and the shock of short red tendrils of hair that seemed to be styled most of the time in the manner of an ungroomed baby chicken, that framed a narrow, rather pointy face. But somehow irresistible.”
Elmwood’s sentimental thoughts were interrupted by a banshee’s shriek and the thunder of ungoverned running.
“Yes, Yes, Yes! Oh Elmwood, they’re going to PUBLISH my NOVEL!!”
And as Osiria leaned down and gave Elmwood an impulsive hug, stroking his satiny long back, her gaze fell on the picture of her mother and wiping a suddenly damp cheek, heard Elmwood’s soft sigh, felt his music of pride and love. And grace.
Letter to My Love
Isn’t it amazing how you find the time to “listen” to what I have to “say”, now that I have left? I am sure it’s somewhat easier as you don’t have to look into my searching eyes any more. I sit here writing this letter, reminiscing over our photo album containing countless memories of happier times. It has just dawned on me that perhaps on every occasion that a picture had been captured, a little bit of happiness was left behind inside them because that would certainly explain the diminishing love between us.
Don’t worry, Justin, this is not one of my “long and boring” novels that I’m forcing you to listen to. But like them, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. Through this letter I wish to convey to you, the words that my mouth have failed to make your ears hear – the message from my heart. This is a summary of a few chapters within the novel of our lives.
Over the years things have changed, our surroundings, lodgings, jobs and even us. But the most drastic transformation has been our relationship. We went from finishing one another’s sentences, to not knowing what the other is saying. Communication was lost with the passing of time. It is understandable to a certain extent, you have your job and I have mine. Be that as it may, when we are together, there is no physical nor mental connection. Our minds are wandering somewhere else. We’ve both fallen prey to digital technology, socially interactive with others instead of amongst ourselves.
I’m glad that I have this piano in the corner of the room to talk to. The one that you had so often devotedly played for me. How our hearts had danced to its tunes, together as one, back then. Yet today, the tears dance within my eyes because the keyboard looks as forlorn as I have become. At least the vessel listens to me, and at times, I swear it speaks to me in volumes that you no longer do. Imagine that, a talking piano?!
It’s excruciating that we have succumbed to this, becoming strangers in the room where we once had nothing to hide, and even the walls had known our thoughts. The best thing for us at this point, is for me to give you the space that you so longingly desire. And maybe then we shall realise the standing that we have in each other’s lives.
In the box, you will find a perfect Osiria rose, like the one that marked the starting of our first date, allowing it to bloom into a wonderful relationship. The different colours stem from one bud just like two hearts to one soul. I hope that this beautiful flower signifies regrowth, for us both.
I’m leaving you now, to find myself. So that you can find me. . . when you find yourself.
With all my love,
Many abhor storms and bad weather but I find them either invigorating or soothing. Of course I eschew the type that relocates your house to Oz, but I love a gray Navy day. A night summer squall has paused momentarily and my window is open so I can enjoy a gentle rain should it return. I am in a happy place. Power is out so I am perusing my Mother’s photo journal by candlelight – reminded of her by the intoxicating scent of her favorite magnolia outside.
I am reminiscing of earlier years, the stories she told and memories created. Or, is the fragrance drifting from that peculiar rose bush which burst forth from our fertile river bottom soil last year. It seemed out of place at first but grew on me. Only one person in town could identify it — an Osiria rose. According to him, it is very rare and he was confounded that one could even grow in Zone 7, much less erupt from the earth completely unbeckoned.
Sweet thoughts of mother guided my fingers to the keyboard of my grand piano and gently elicited the pleasurable melody of her favorite song. I lapsed into a cozy reverie which was abruptly interrupted by an oddly accented voice — “That feels so good!”
“Who is that,” I shouted into the darkness, very unsettled.
“It is I!” returned the voice, which seemed to emanate from my piano.
How can my piano be talking to me I mused? “Who is this?” I stuttered.
“Oh, you are thinking you own a talking piano? ha ha ha ha ha.”
“No, It is I, Prince Khashayarsha, Ruler of all Osiria!”
“Osiria? I have never heard of such!”
“Well, of course you haven’t, but you have heard of Atlantis, no?”
“Atlantis wasn’t real,” I stated somewhat indignantly. “Of course it was real” replied the disembodied Prince. “We were most zealous and combative rivals in 4900 BC and were advanced and powerful civilizations.”
“You see, instead of the great Mediterranean Sea that exists now, the entire region was a vast and fertile valley.” “And, we were not the only great peoples thriving in a fertile land, beneficiary of the abundant flow of life-giving waters of the Nile and other rivers.”
“Around 1500 BC the Great Flood destroyed all.”
“Fascinating,” I replied, “but what are you doing in my piano?”
“I require a home. When a person is dispatched violently into the Netherworld, they remain disconnected for a period of time.”
“The heavenly familiar scent of your rose bush enticed me here and your piano comforts me.”
“I do not wish to have a possessed piano” I protested.
“There is no cause for alarm,” said the prince. “I am neither malevolent nor nefarious.”
“In fact, I am a magnificent Muse”
“I intend no harm and if you will be kind enough to host me for a while, I shall assist you in completing the novel on which you are currently so hopelessly blocked.”
In this surreal moment, the offer seemed to make some bizarre sense. “Agreed” I said!
“Bajarildi!!” shouted the prince. “It is done!”