“You can call me ‘spots’,” says the diminutive woman with hair so white and eyes so blue that I don’t notice the spots she’s referring to. She holds out an arm and points to two healing spots where recent moles were removed.
“Oh, well, you can call me ‘freckles’,” I respond, holding out my own arm to hers noting that we both have a generous sprinkling of freckles. Maybe when I’m pushing 80 I’ll have spots, too.
“You seem nice,” she says looking at me. And I’m relieved. She seems nice, too.
The drive from Elmira to western Montana is not long, but the road winds along the bank of the vast Clark Fork River as it cuts through Cabinet Gorge. My husband humors himself by taking the curves, suggesting we should go faster. I’m not humored. I’m nervous. Not because of Todd’s driving, as of this past Friday I have officially endured 27 years of it, but because I’m meeting a woman whom I’ve met online for the first time.
Bobbie is my husband’s third cousin once removed. She’s my father-in-law’s second cousin and just a few years older than he is. We met through a genealogist who was trying to help Bobbie trace her paternal family line. It turns out that Bobbie is a Mills (something she never knew until we met) and she descends from the one black sheep I couldn’t track.
With the help of the genealogist, we were able to repair a broken branch in the family tree. You can read about the story at “Tracking a Black Sheep.” By coincidence, she and her husband like to camp near my home. She also likes history as much as I do.
Sitting on the hulking campground table I spread out my three-ring binders and carefully unwrap a photo album that is over 150 years old. In it is an 1850s photo of her great-grandfather. She tells me she hardly knew her father. He hardly knew his and her grandfather didn’t know the man in the photo album at all. This broken chain fractures each link.
Blue skies. In the fall, the skies seem so deep blue. The sun is not so hot as to feel like it scours everything, washing away color, nor is it icy yet. We sit under these blue skies, repairing the broken links. From Bobbie’s perspective, it’s come at the end of life. She’s uncertain how much longer she will be around, phrases I try to ignore.
When she gets out her notebook and starts writing down her grown children’s names, addresses, emails and even cell phone numbers, I’m struck at how important it is to her that the chain continues. She wants her children to know who they are. I receive the piece of paper as reverently as she holds the photo of her great-grandfather.
We leave, hugging like family, swapping final jabs of humor as if we’ve known each other a lifetime, and drive away. It hits me that I’ll most likely not see this woman again. It was the one meeting of our lifetime. It brings to mind lyrics from the song Promises by local musician John Shipe:
“Blue skies won’t wait for you, blue skies don’t wait for you,
To put you in the mood, to put you in the mood, to put you in the mood,
We have to go after those blue skies, go seek our dreams, find missing links and decide to greet another day. Death often stuns us when the rest of the world continues. Each day, each patch of blue sky encourages us in living. We can’t wait to be in the mood for it.
This week’s prompt is a phrase. When I heard the John Shipe song after meeting Bobbie, I thought of Sarah Shull and blue skies. The intent of the song is not to ponder death, nor is that the prompt. But “blue skies won’t wait for you” made me consider all the things Sarah waited for in her life and how they ended abruptly one fateful day at Rock Creek.
I wonder if Bobbie’s great-grandfather waited for the right moment to reunite with the son he left as a baby, only to discover that his son died first.
September 24, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a story where “blue skies won’t wait for you.” What is your character waiting for? Is it too late or does the impulse come in time? Maybe blue skies are a calling. Try not to think to deeply, and do a quick free-write. Invite your unconscious mind to the page and see what it makes of the phrase.
I don’t know if I’ve pulled off what I’m feeling inside about Sarah Shull and what it was like for her the day after Hickok shot Cob. What I like about flash fiction is that it challenges me to bring that feeling out without telling you the story of it. But like all practice, we try, try and try again until we get the lines right. This is my first go at it.
The Day After by Charli Mills
“I’m not ready for this.” Sarah had spent the long night alone at the sod house, scrubbing congealed blood from her hair. The stained dress she burned in the woodstove. Several Pony Express riders came by to convince her leave on the morning stage to Denver. Hickok was not one of them.
Leroy settled a trunk with her belongings in the back of the buckboard. “It’s best you come with me, Sarah. Emotions are running hot.”
“I know. But…a funeral?”
“He’s already in the ground.”
“Mama tried to tell me ‘blue skies won’t wait for you.’”
Rules of Play:
- New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
- Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
- Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
- Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
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