The Iron Writer Challenge #44
2013 Iron Writer Winter Solstice Challenge #8
A Can of Campbell’s Alphabet Soup
The phrase “Live long and Prosper”
A 2000 year old Map of the Earth
An Empty Snuff Box
Valle Vista was a nice middle class suburb where people watered their lawns, washed their cars, held backyard barbecues, and watched Monday Night Football.
On the Zenith, Howard Cosell was hotly debating the Pittsburgh Stealers chances of going all the way to the Superbowl. Greg was sitting at the dinner table. He had not wanted any pizza. Pepperoni burned his mouth. His mother made him a bowl of Campbell’s soup. He sat there stirring the little alphabet shaped noodles in the broth as he rested his cheek in his hand and watched his dad hooting and hollering at the TV in the living room.
Greg didn’t like football. He liked watching Mork and Mindy. Mork was funny and his mom looked a lot like Mindy. That made him smile. He finished his soup and took the bowl into the kitchen.
“Mom, I am going to go upstairs and play,” Greg said.
“Okay honey. Be sure to brush your teeth first, and don’t forget your homework,” she said.
Greg left the kitchen and walked into the living room. His father looked over at him.
“Hey sport, headed upstairs?”
“Well tell your sister to come down as you go by her room.”
“Sure thing dad.”
Greg’s father tousled his son’s hair and then held out his hand with his fingers separated like a V and said in a funny voice, “Live long and prosper.”
Greg laughed. “Wrong show dad.” Greg turned his father’s hand sideways and said, “Repeat after me. Nanu Nanu.” His dad shot him a strange look and then quickly refocused on the TV as the football program resumed from commercial break.
Up stairs, Greg went by his sister’s room. He opened the door and called her name loudly, “Dena?”
She startled and threw something out the open window and whirled around, knocking a dirty blue box off her lap and onto the floor.
“Oh shit. Greg, I thought you were mom,” she blurted out louder than necessary. She had her Walkman on. She picked up the old snuff box Greg sometimes saw in her room and put it in her vanity. The air smelled sickly sweet.
“Dad said to come downstairs,” Greg said. He didn’t feel like sticking around and left his sister to her business.
Greg brushed his teeth as he was told and went to his room. Inside, he went to his desk and took out his crayons and finished up an ancient map of Egypt for school. He slid the paper into his book bag. With that little bit of work done, he could now finally play.
He flew his toy X-wing around in the air above his bed. Star Wars was his favorite movie and Greg wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. Never mind that business about Skylab plunging into the ocean.
Greg fought the evil galactic empire until it was time for bed. He climbed into bed and slept, dreaming big dreams as only an eight year old could.
K. A. DaVur
My first memory is in Nanna’s living room, staring as the sun shone through the cloth, turning it into a kaleidoscope. Rhythmically a needle appeared and disappeared. Usually I hated it when she quilted, would cry whenever I walked in to find the wooden behemoth suspended from her ceiling. Not this time. I had picked out the pattern for this quilt. The fabric as well, pulling gaudy polyesters and workworn dresses out of the scrapbin. This quilt was mine.
Years later the quilt covered me in Nanna’s lap. I was too old for such things, but Nana didn’t mind. I would bring her a pinch of dip from old snuff can that had belonged to her mother. She would reward me with a mint and I’d settle into her lap, the both of us sucking contentedly. Her arms fascinated me. I would trace the loose, crêpe skin for hours at a time. They looked like an ancient map. In many ways, they were.
I sat on the quilt later still, trying my first rushed, crooked attempts at quilting while soaps blared. A cup of alphabet soup sat beside me. “I love you,” I spelled with the noodles, waiting until she saw. “I know darlin” she said. She looked at my stitches and shook her head. “Do it again.”
“Do it again,” I whispered to my husband as the quilt lay over us both. On our second anniversary I presented him a pair of baby shoes. We spent that winter in a flurry of preparations, and I visited my own scrapbin to prepare for my son a quilt that matched my own. I was binding the border when the first contraction hit. Three days later I came home from the hospital, empty-handed and broken.
People praised me time and again for “how well I was holding up.” Only I knew that, under the façade, I was coming apart at the seams. Then, the inevitable call came. Nana had died. My Nana. My map. Gone. Lost in hopelessness, I took refuge in hate. I hated my husband for his seed. I hated the doctors. I hated myself most of all. It was up to me to clean out her house, and so I did, hating. I hated her cheap costume jewelry that I couldn’t bear to get rid of. I hated her Star Wars toy with the pointed ears. “Live long and prosper?” I asked it. “No thanks.” I packed the quilt away.
When I found out about the new baby I hated it as well. I couldn’t bear the thought, and a week later I found myself in the “consultation room.” There was an overstuffed couch, sympathetic posters on the walls, and a quilt. The clock ticked. I started at the quilt, different from my own and the same. The lines. The seams. Suddenly, the wall of hate began to crack. I thought I was going to suffocate with the hurt. I curled up, knees tucked to my chest, arms balled in front of me. “I can’t do this, Nana,” I whispered. “Yes you can,” she replied, and for a second I felt her arms, my maps, wrapped around me. I rose, and left to sew the pieces of my life together again.
Digging for Gold
“Why did I agree to this?” Katrina moaned from the far end of the campsite.
“Because like us you want to discover a new set of ruins,” her brother Matt shot back.
The two siblings and their longtime childhood friend, Reynold, were camped out deep in the South American jungle. Rumors of an undiscovered underground temple were mentioned by their professor at Pennsylvania State University. Over the past three weeks the three of them have searched night and day, but have yet to find anything signaling progress.
“Well I hope we find it soon because I’m starting to go through withdrawals.” Reynold chimed in.
Both looked over to see him holding up an empty snuff box. Matt went back to looking over the two thousand year old map of the world. He noticed that there was an area on the map with a strange symbol on it. The symbol was situated near their current location.
“I’m hungry,” Katrina whined.
“There is that can of Campbell’s Alphabet soup in the bag.” Matt snapped.
“But how am I supposed to heat it up?” She asked while shifting her glare to Reynold.
“What? What am I get the evil eye?” He asked throwing his hands up.
“You threw our only cooking pan at a monkey because it scared you.”
Matt tuned them out and studied the map again. He remembered the symbol, his anthropology professor said it meant, underworld. Matt folded the map and placed it in his back pocket. Katrina and Reynold were still fighting. Matt placed his index finger and thumb in his mouth and whistled loud enough to scare some of the wildlife.
“I think I know where it is. After today if we haven’t found it we’ll head home.” He stated.
“How did you figure it out?” Katrina inquired.
“The symbol tells us where to go, this is my fault. I should have known sooner.”
“Are you sure the symbol doesn’t say, live long and prosper?” Reynold joked before having to duck as Katrina threw the can of alphabet soup at him.
“I’m sure, let’s go everyone.”
Half an hour later the three new explorers were hacking and slashing through thick foliage. Matt was leading the way and secretly praying he was in the right direction. After an hour of hiking he was about to give up when a large cave entered view.
The group scaled through the cave and landed in a torchlit chamber. Stone floor led straight to a pedestal with a golden idol sitting on it. Exhausted, all of them walked up to the idol. Smiles grew from the two siblings while caution caught up to Reynold.
“Guy’s, shouldn’t we check for traps?”
“This isn’t Indiana Jones, no giant boulder is going fall.” Matt chuckled.
Matt and Katrina both grabbed the idol and lifted it triumphantly. Seconds later was a loud groan, but nothing happened. Homeward bound the three walked backed towards the entrance. Without warning the floor dropped out and only the torchlit spikes were visible.
It had been 12 days, 4 hours and 26 minutes since we, well she, came to our agreement. With time on my hands now and a brain in frantic need of distraction, I took it upon myself to go clean out my Grandfather’s house. Perhaps boxing up the life of one loved one would take my mind off the boxes being moved out by another.
Indeed, at my grandfather’s the recollection of hushed altercations were soon replaced by images of scrabble letters, floating anagrams and the scent of snuff floating up my nose and into my memories. ‘This isn’t living’ soon crossfaded into ‘this isn’t winning, Son, I’ve just lived a lot longer than you, that’s all’. Oh and that smell was unmistakeable; His empty snuff box shooting synaesthesia into the air on invisible puffs of old smoke, vacant to the naked eye but covertly carrying messages of chin whiskers, thick paned spectacles and whispers from a gruff yet gentle voice that could resonate through solid stone.
All of his belongings just sat there, still as anything, but in the gaps between their interrelationships grew an overwhelming sense of dynamism. I can hear the back alley dealings he must have made on his travels. How did a crumbling map of Damascus survive 2000 years of inquisition and paperweights to wind up neatly in his bedside cabinet? And which anonymous benefactor bequeathed to him a lifetime supply of Campbell’s Alphabet soup? Henry Wells had to have been well loved. The evidence was all around me, forensic proof of a life filled with joy and adventure.
There it was. His scrabble board. Twenty years ago, I spent every bus journey to school memorising pretentious words with my friends. Tin-tin-na-bul-a-tion. Anti-dis-es-tab-lish-men-tar-ian-ism. Whim-si-ca-li-ty. Not that any of those would help with scrabble. But of course, despite this extra-curricular expansion to my inner lexicon, even with his wrinkles tired of drooping, he still defeated me in straight and easy sets. Even in his death he was victorious. ‘If I could only swap places for just a short, short time,’ I thought. ‘Just until it all blows over. It would only be for a little while. Only temporary.’ As if it read my thoughts, his quilt beckoned me with its woven eyes and I lay down to feel its embrace.
Here, looking up at his roof of glass, I could see why he kept his map to hand. Here, I could see constellations making high roads on inky hills. Here, I could see the stars like coordinates and watched as the navy sky turned indigo, turned lilac. And slowly, my realisation dawning with the day, I rolled over and smiled, momentarily seeing that there may be time yet for me to live long and prosper.