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September 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

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Carrot Ranch Flash FictionShe arches her back into the cup of my hand as I stroke her soft black fur. She’s so skinny I can feel each knobby bone of her spine, tiny and hard against my palm. Her name is Bootsy and she’s a feral barn cat that we feed in the detached garage. Only, I’ve run out of kitty kibble.

Food is many things. Sustenance, for one. Bootsy has come in search of it, but it’s been almost two months since I’ve seen her and all the other feral cats were gobbling it down in her absence. But no one ever comes to my place without being fed. When I saw her slinking across the front lawn as I scrubbed dishes–so black and white against the green grass–I knew where she was headed.

Bootsy paused to sit beneath one of the two great Ponderosa pines that tower above our house at 70 feet tall. She’s classy-looking with her tuxedo markings–black pants and jacket over sharp white vest and cuffs. As she sat, I felt as though she were making her presence known. Not unlike stories on the pioneering prairie when gangly Sioux boys would crouch outside a farmhouse in hopes of a loaf of bread. They never spoke, just watched, but left with their gift when offered food.

Grabbing a can of tuna, I open it and head to the garage. Bootsy is already at the door. The owners of this ranch built a cat door years ago and who knows how long she’s been using it. We were told that part of our rent was to feed Bootsy and that she was wild and don’t bother trying to pet her. The Hub worked his magic and when the Rock Climber (Cat Tamer) visits, Bootsy greets her. By proxy of their patience, I occasionally get to pet this tiny, bony creature.

Today, she accepts the tuna and my hand. This makes me think how food connects us. We share a table, break bread together and gather for family feasts. In a few days the Hub will return from his 10-day shift in Boise and when he does, I’ll be cooking for his arrival so that he’s greeted with evidence that I’m happy he’s returned home.

My thoughts go to Sarah Shull. Was she a cook? Somehow I don’t get that sense of her as homey. Unlike her siblings, she didn’t marry young and take up the expected domestic duties. Instead she worked as an accountant at her father’s store, the core of his several businesses. I assume her mother cooked and she benefited even as an adult. Later in her life when she returned destitute to Shulls Mill, North Carolina after her husband left her (she did marry after Cob was killed) she lived in a tiny cabin outside of town, alone.

Evidently Sarah did not cook in that cabin. There’s several accounts of her conveniently showing up at homes that were friendly to her–and there were but a handful–around mealtime. Toward the end of her life, family members (who had shunned her since having Cob’s illegitimate child decades prior) reluctantly set her up in a shed behind the hotel the family owned. Perhaps they gave her scraps, no one says. But she died as bony as a barn cat, shivering beneath a thin, dirty, gray blanket at the age of 98. One could almost stretch a metaphor to say that her life lacked food–love, dignity, care.

If we look at what Sarah was doing the day Hickok shot Cob, she was in the kitchen with Mrs. Wellman (the station manager’s wife). Was she cooking? Is this an indicator that she’d fallen out with Cob or was she genuinely seeking the comforts of the hearth, hanging out with the women of the Pony Express and being industrious on the prairie? After Cob is killed and Leroy pays Sarah the money Cob owed her for accounting, she left for Denver where she found work as a laundress. Not as a cook.

Yet, I’m uncertain as to what food was like in the mid 1800s. What influences would North Carolina have had on Cob and Sarah? I sometimes think food might be the advantage that Mary (Cob’s wife) had over Sarah; the older woman could cook. To learn what she would cook, I reached out to southern food historian, Michael W. Twitty of Afroculinaria. He directed me to the Library of Congress, specifically to their slave narratives and to Horne Creek Living Historical Farm. As he reminded me, corn would be big. Pork, apples, peaches, persimmons, coon, possum (Norah, I thought of you in Australia with your noisy critters), squirrel, rabbit, leafy greens, cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes included.

In the modern era there’s a few unappetizing items on the list, but it grounds me in that time, before my time. Most unappetizing is slavery. But it’s a reality that can’t be ignored–America’s original sin. And food ties us to that time and the “peculiar institution” that loomed in 1859. Hickok was an northern abolitionist and Cob a southern unionist. That adds a layer of complexity leading up to the incident at Rock Creek. I thank Michael W. Twitty for his educated response, his vast knowledge and his mission to heal what still ails us in America (take time to read his post on Ferguson).

We cannot escape food and all that binds us to it.

The September air is already cool. Rain has returned to the relief of dusty dirt and crackling grass. The horses are sassy, kicking up their heels with this change in weather. And I am thinking about food. Fall has that profound effect. The cooling air reminds us that we have warm ovens; warm ovens remind us that we like to bake, cook and eat.

It’s not just me–sales in the food industry increase September thru October with a holiday peak of food madness in November and December. By January we wake up from our food comas and hit the gym. Spring gets us gardening, summer grilling, and fall returns with its obsession of food. It’s as much a cycle of life as seasons and milestones.

I’m not sure who is more comforted by the can of tuna–me or the cat–but Bootsy is satisfied enough to let me pet her and I’m pleased to have provided food. The exchange is complete.

September 3, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include food in your story. Is it the focus or part of the setting? Does it speak (à la Larry Laforge style), smell or feel slimy? Is it sensual or practical, basic fare or feast worthy? Food is a part of every day life. It connects us, is a part of cultures and regions, and can be emotive. As Michael W. Twitty writes, “Food is also extremely culturally connected and inherently economic and political. ”

Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, September 9 to be included in the compilation.

This week I wrote two flash fictions. One continues to explore Sarah, Cob and Hickok and the other is inspired by both Michael W. Twitty’s post (where I learned about the Red Summer of 1919) and Pete’s story, Rivals .

A Full Belly by Charli Mills

Cob sprawled in the four-poster bed. He’d picked up enough carpentry skills from his father to build a solid frame. Sarah rested her cheek on his hairy chest. He snugged her close.

“There’s nothing like a full belly.” Cob sighed, drifting toward sleep. Sarah stiffened. She had eaten some stale bread sopped in milk along with a mealy apple from the station.

“Possum pie with the first sweet potatoes from the garden. Fried apple rings. Corn fritters. Cold milk from that cow Leroy brought over for Mary to make sweet cream butter.”

Sarah sat upright. “Hickok stopped by today…”

###

Again by Charli Mills

After the gym, the trio met up at Frutta. Meg babbled about “Baby Einstein” and Jade mistook it for the unborn baby’s name.

“Silly, it’s a learning program. Jacob Marcus Green III will have every educational advantage.”

Bre was browsing her Kindle Fire, slurping a cranberry wheatgrass smoothie. She mumbled, “…black youth killed…riots in the streets…militia called in…thousands homeless…”

“What’s that about?” Meg sipped her carrot juice sweetened with organic pressed apples.

“Sounds like Ferguson.”

“Huh?” Bre looked up to wide blue eyes set in canned-tan faces. “Don’t worry. Just reading one of those 100 Years Ago Today articles.”

###

Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

Bootsy Sept 2014


73 Comments

  1. The Manoj Arora says:

    Superb!

    Also, I was wondering if you’d check out my work too when u have time @ https://themanojarorablog.wordpress.com/

    Like

  2. TLPoague says:

    I think I love fall the most because of the harvest and changing of the colors. My heart broke at the thought of those starving animals and people. I bet Bootsy will warm up to you and before long become an indoor pet…LOL! My mother-in-law had a wild one called Twister that she claimed would always be an outdoor cat. By first snow, she was inside. I don’t know if it was the thought of a warm bed or endless food that allowed her to become an inside cat, but she sure lived a good life. Great story! I will give this challenge some thought and hopefully will find a chance to post one.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      It amazes me that Bootsy survives. The garage is the only place she’ll let me touch her or even come near. I think she feels safe out there. Not sure where this “colony” of cats live–maybe just between the ranches out here, but all the other cats I see are orange and white. If they so much as see me in a window they are gone! Hope you join in!

      Like

  3. Sherri says:

    Ahh…sweet Bootsy 🙂 I can just picture that special moment between the two of you as the food/petting circle is completed in a sweet-second of trust…
    I feel so sad about Sarah and her life, not much better than a barn cat. But glad to know she had a few friends who shared meals with her at least.
    Enjoyed your flashes and the sharp contrast between the two, not least of all the food differences…clever!
    I’ll be back soon with my flash after chewing it over…enjoy the weekend and the hub’s happy return 🙂

    Like

  4. susanzutautas says:

    Oh I love this challenge but not sure if I’ll be able to participate this week 😦 I’ll try my hardest though.

    Like

  5. Here is The Enchanted Tea Room – It’s Merlin but not as you have come to know him:

    http://wp.me/p4rcRJ-bL – the link goes my website where there are some extras, like the full version of this little story and some pictures :-).

    The Enchanted Tea Room

    “So, you will go then? You’ve decided?”
    “All but, yes.” She grinned. It made her realise how much she was looking forward to a new adventure. With a man. With Brian.
    Their lunch arrived. Salmon sandwiches, with the crusts cut off, cut into fours and placed on … a doily? Who used doilies these days? She noticed that the china was just that, china. Lifting the lid of the teapot she noticed that it was full of real tea leaves, and realised that the tea must have been poured through that strainer in its silver holder on the maid’s counter.

    Brightest Blessings to ALL,

    Tally 🙂

    Like

  6. A tasty post. So much food for thought. I’m always amazed when I hear of people from the 1800s hitting 98 particularly when nutrition was obviously not a factor in Sarah’s life. Bootsy obviously has good survival skills as did Sarah. I wonder whether she was given love when she came for food. Even when she was with Cob he was fed, she wasn’t. A flash that has really got me thinking about love, jealousy and food in the belly. The other flash with its twist at the end shows beautifully that sadly times don’t change even though the food and the way of reading about it has. I have to get my thinking cap on now…….

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s a wonder that Sarah lived to be 98. Sadly, I do not think she was given love. It’s recounted as a “humorous” story about Sarah that she “had a habit of showing up at people’s houses at dinnertime.” This same person claims that her mother “gave Sarah at least two free meals a week.” At least she was not turned away. Bootsy and Sarah are survivors (and Bootsy actually sat on my lap tonight while I was outside reading). Food can tie into all the emotions! Thanks for reading and getting your thinking cap on!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a lovely journey your post took me on, Charli. From Bootsy to Sarah and Cob (love the way you reveal more and more details in your posts) to the past and future flash fictions. Not forgetting the food link (which has made me peckish) which is a great topic. Your descriptions of your farm are very evocative – loved the way you casually threw the past (food and Sioux boys) in there as well. Great writing and a very enjoyable post.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you for taking the journey, Teagan! Flash helps me digest the research as well as explore story ideas with Cob, Sarah and Hickok. Food is powerful (and can make us powerfully hungry)! The Sioux boys often supplemented food this way until one misunderstanding with a Norwegian family who tried to frighten then off rather than offer bread or eggs, started the great Dakota uprising in 1861 (in Minnesota). To think the bloodshed that ensued started with the lack of offering food. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  8. Norah says:

    There’s much to savour and digest in this post Charli. I love hearing the continuing story of Sarah and Cob. Like Irene, I’m surprised to find that Sarah lived to the age of 98, particularly when it seems she wasn’t well fed. She must have had a very strong constitution. Love your flash – rather foreboding at the end. And the second piece ‘Again’ just makes me shake my head – when will we ever learn?
    Food is an interesting prompt with a smorgasbord of possibilities. I look forward to having a nibble around the edges. 🙂

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’m already having fun with all these food-related comments–savor, digest! Such clever writers you all are! Thank you for continuing this exploration with me to find out more regarding Sarah, Cob and Hickok. Amazing how old she lived to be and yet both men died in their 30s. Can’t wait to devour the smorgasbord that ends up on the table by Tuesday! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Annecdotist says:

    Delicious writing, Charli, in both these flashes and on the journey through your warm-hearted hospitality to take us there. The interaction between Sarah and Cob beautifully encapsulates the dynamics of the love triangle – or perhaps it’s a square? Your modern version works well too, such a strong sense of the women’s self-absorption. I wondered if you were thinking of Strange Fruit when you put them in that particular cafe?
    I’ve just posted my effort – my usual ramblings through novels I enjoy and some short stories before getting to the point – it’s a modern version of a Hindu morality tale though I am not sure if putting it on such a strict reducing diet has made it lose some of its shape
    http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/food-in-fiction-novels-short-stories-and-a-hindu-inspired-flash
    but you do like to stretch us.
    Now I’m off for a makeshift lunch in the garden.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for taking a bite, Anne! I’m thinking a love square which kind of sounds like a love knot–tangled and complicated. Ah, Strange Fruit–actually I had in mind the smoothie bars that have grown in popularity especially at the more swanky health clubs in the Midwest. Where I worked even had one and I always thought it funny for that certain set of women who are indeed self-absorbed to be drinking these weird concoctions s if it were fine wine.. Excited to go read your flash and short story! Glad you like the stretching!

      Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Actually, Anne, you made me think of something I hadn’t before. “Frutta” was just a fancy name for a smoothie bar, but now that I reflect (after reading your post and links) this particular group of women would be wives to the kind of power bullys who would cloak their heads at night and hang black men in those trees that bore “strange fruit.” The wives are so self absorbed they have no idea of the violent history and how it is unfolding–unhealed and simmering–now. These women don’t know their own history.

      Like

  10. Pete says:

    Mr. Cool

    Courage, they must have put in the soup today. Because when I saw Jill Cawthorne just after lunch, I didn’t duck away or hide. Instead, I slid one hand into my pocket, ignored the storm of nerves in my chest and strode right up to her locker. And I was on. She ate it up, her eyes like two ponds of shimmering fluorescence. I joked, she laughed, then the bell rang.

    “Dude, were you just talking to Jill?” Jake asked in Chemistry. I felt my lips part.

    “Yep.”

    “Because you have like a branch of broccoli in you teeth.”

    Like

  11. […] Mills had challenged us to write a 99 word flash with food at its […]

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  12. TanGental says:

    Now that’s a prompt to make you think. It’s bad enough to have to squeeze the flash into 99 words; to have to find an idea with 99 ingredients clamouring for inclusion is a recipe for indigestion!. You story of Bootsy is beautiful. Ever since my 30th birthday we have been home to at least one cat. The first – Sisyphus, don’t ask – caused me more terror than my first child. Subsequent cats have forced their personalities on us. There was Crocket (he looked like the hat when asleep) who’d sneak upstairs in the morning, lie on the dozing Textiliste’s chest and purr so hard he dribbled out of his nose onto her face. Nothing, not even mewling children, have got her out of bed faster. The current incumbents are sisters who demand food and strokes and have yet to sit on a lap in fourteen years. One leaves small gifts inside my shoes. Only once has said gift still been alive much to both my and the rodent’s surprise when I came to put the shoe on.
    Now, my flash. Sorry for the ramble.
    https://geofflepard.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/food-glorious-food/

    Like

    • Annecdotist says:

      Enjoyed this ramble, Geoff, adds to the pleasure of your glorious food post.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      Love the cat ramble! I had to find a home for our cat in Minnesota, and it was such a hard thing to do. Lovely home, but the cat dissed me so bad for the desertion that I’ve ached too much to think of getting another. Bootsy has been to the house 5 days in a row and I went outside and sat in the sunshine and she actually sat on my lap, pawed my chest and purred. I felt forgiven by cats in that moment. Funny–the nose dribble and live gift!

      Like

      • TanGental says:

        We had a Boots who was very loving and came to a sad end courtesy of a car. Worse thing was finding a way to tell the children as it was their first brush with death.

        Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        Poor Boots! Our children learned of death through a series of cats who met outdoor ends, too. We were better at raising children, thank goodness. We had a run on cats not living long–outdoor kitty adventures gone wrong, shattering the myth of nine lives.

        Like

  13. rllafg says:

    Food for Thought by Larry LaForge

    “You can’t be serious,” said chief academic officer Jeremy Roggins.

    “Times are changing,” development officer Roger Caperly responded. “We have to roll with the times.”

    “But we’re a university, not a vacation resort.”

    Caperly shot back. “We have to be whatever our students want us to be. Otherwise, they’ll go somewhere else.”

    President Wilson Cumbert reluctantly agreed with his development chief. With enrollment falling and costs rising, he plans to transfer significant funds from academics to student amenities.

    The Board approved and President Cumbert announced their new strategic initiative to grow enrollment:

    Gourmet food in all campus dining halls!

    ********
    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine:
    http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2014/09/08/food-for-thought/

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      This is the new expectation! Children raised on organic fig and goat cheese pizzas can’t abide cafeteria food! 😉 Great scene development, Larry. I like how you use discussion to introduce the dilemma.

      Like

  14. […] struggled with this week’s Carrot Ranch prompt, which is to incorporate food into your short story.  I had been planning how to have a character […]

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  15. Sarah says:

    My story was prompted by my 5-year-old’s question of “why do some people put a flag on the moon?” He didn’t want to go to sleep tonight!

    http://fictionaslife.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/space-station-surprise/

    Like

  16. […] 3, 2014 challenge from over at Carrot Ranch Communications prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include food in your […]

    Like

  17. Amber Prince says:

    How sad and lonely for poor Sarah. The more we get to know about her, I just want to give her a hug.

    I love that part of the rent was to feed Bootsy. It always worries me a bit when the neighborhood cats go on lengthy hiatus, and right when I have started thinking the worst has happened to them, they show back up at my windows for a little bit of fun – torturing my inside kitties.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      She had a long, hard life, yet she was a survivor. Like the barn cats. Why do cats go on hiatus? Bootsy will disappear and reappear like the Elmira magician. Aw, do your poor indoor kitties get teased? 🙂

      Like

  18. […] I consider it to be a bit like inviting someone to a feast but feeding them pap, which is the essence of my flash fiction piece written in response to the prompt suggested by Charli Mills this week at the Carrot Ranch: In 99 words (no more, no less) include food in your story. […]

    Like

  19. Norah says:

    Hi Charli,
    There’s a bit of food for thought on offer over at my place! I hope you enjoy 🙂 http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-jY

    Like

  20. […] was written in response to Charli’s prompt. Join in, its great […]

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  21. Sherri says:

    Here’s mine Charli, cutting it fine as usual… hope you like 🙂

    To Die For – by Sherri Matthews

    “Mmmm…so good…” groaned Adam as he shoved most of his double-double cheeseburger into his mouth.

    Reaching across the table he grabbed a fistful of Janine’s fries mumbling, “Mind if I have some?” without waiting for her reply.

    Mayonnaise dripped down Adam’s chin to Janine’s disgust.

    “Want some?” he offered later on at the movie theatre as he plonked the super-size popcorn container on her lap.

    “No….thanks….”

    Adam clutched his chest in agony just as the movie started.

    In the restroom, Janine called her best friend. “I swear, if he doesn’t quit filling his face, he’ll have a heart attack!”

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, that’s a biting twist on food good enough to die for! I like the contrast in characters, he seems blissfully ignorant of his behavior and she’s rigidly disgusted. You made in in time! Remember two things–you are ahead of me in time zones, and I’m never really a morning person! 🙂
      Great flash–somehow I feel stuffed!

      Like

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