It was the second day of the Hearts of Gold Festival, late August when the desert air of Fallon, Nevada felt like the inside of a clay oven. My husband was hawking hearts of gold cantaloupe with a childhood friend who farmed the melons. I was slicing orange-fleshed samples that were as refreshing as sherbert on a hot day. Nearby, our 10-month-old daughter in her Wrangler diaper cover, red-and-white striped top and straw cowgirl hat was riding green watermelons like a pony.
Today is the first day of October, yet my mind wanders back to this one in August a quarter of a century ago. My Wild Watermelon Rider will soon celebrate another autumn birthday and I’m ever so grateful. We almost lost her that day.
Recently, someone who knows us mutually online commented about my daughter, “Is there anything she can’t do?” Modestly, I can reply that Watermelon Rider is a typical first-born, a high-achiever. I could boast in ten thousand words what incredible talent she has with which to line her many achievements. But I’ll spare you a bragging mother, and her some privacy.
I almost missed seeing her her in ballet slippers, arctic parka and wearing her radio producer Muppet-like sound recording gear. On that day long ago, Watermelon Rider disappeared.
Where could a baby–a baby!–dash off to? I was slicing, Todd was hawking, she was gone.
Panic flushed the crowd. This was a close community and one of their own was missing. As people spread out to look, I called her name in sobbing tones. Shortly, the rodeo announcer paged the “parents of a missing three-year-old.” Oh, my God, someone else’s child was missing, too! Was it a serial kidnapper come to prey on a sleepy farm-town festival?
We’d later find out that the announcer couldn’t tell the difference between a 10-month-old and three-year-old. The child he spotted was ours. He was horrified because he could see from his lofty view over the rodeo arena that a tiny tot all alone was ambling to the tug-o-war pit–a wide and deep expanse of water and mud built for one team to drag another through. He was afraid she’d go in and made the hasty announcement.
Her Dad found our wee Watermelon Rider and we were like drunken sailors trying to find our shore legs after that. In retrospect, she wasn’t missing for long but long enough for me to write a series of thrillers out of all the thoughts that battered my imagination. It made me realize that there are worse things than death. The word gone stops my heart.
For the remainder of motherhood–two more joined their sister in giving me frets–I developed a quivering fear that my children would disappear and I would never know what happened. This fear drove me to watch shows like America’s Most Wanted, hosted by a man whose son disappeared in the 1980s; a heartbreaking mystery never resolved. Cold Case Files and Missing tortured my thoughts with fates I swore I couldn’t bare.
Somehow, we all survived their childhood. There’s nothing like in-the-trenches experience to conquer fear and as they matured, I began to let go of that idea of “the worst thing that could happen” and savor the moments I had with each.
Then a morbid thought came to me this past weekend as I worked on the last revision of my novel. I came to a point where I felt satisfied. There’s still work, there’s still the editor and no one has yet picked up my glass slipper and made me a writing princess with a publishing contract. But I’m satisfied to say, “I wrote a novel.” And the queer thought that came to me was, I can die now.
It surprised me, the peaceful feeling that came to rest, knowing I could die and not regret ever having written a book. It’s not published, but that doesn’t matter. I’ve finished something I’ve wanted to do since childhood. Instead of being shamed in death by volumes of notes, journals and incomplete stories–I’d leave behind proof that I did this. It fulfills me. I laughed off the idea that I was ready to meet my maker.
Until I suffered an ocular migraine on Sunday. I have had two in my life, both under extreme duress and within days of each other. I went blind, total darkness. This happened decades ago, when I escaped a bad situation. The terror of escape brought on the migraines and I’ve not had cause to experience one since.
Except that I gave up coffee a week ago. And replaced it with black tea. Caffeine has never left a noticeable calling card for me. I don’t get jittery or headaches. But this new tea–organic, expensive and not my cuppa evidently–caused an eye spasm that triggered an ocular migraine. I’ve since eliminated the tea and have not had a re-occurrence. Back to the safety of coffee.
Knowing that the weird zig-zaggy flashing lights are the first sign of going blind, I panicked. Because I was not even remotely stressed, and hadn’t yet connected it to the tea, I didn’t know why it was happening. I tried to ignore it, but soon I couldn’t read my own writing on the screen.
And that’s when I realized that although I was accepting of death now, the worst thing that could happen to me is to go blind. I’m visual. I write visually. I’m not auditory and when I speak I often say things like, “It’s better in writing.” I’ve come to trust that if I write, I’ll discover the story on the page. But what if I can’t see the page? I depend upon my eyes for my craft.
This week we’re going to poke a stick at our hidden fears–or those of our characters. Anne Goodwin wrote a review of literary dementia on her blog Annecdotal and recites a masterful passage by author, Michael Ignatieff from his novel Scar Tissue, as he describes a character facing the same deterioration of dementia as he witnessed in his parents.
She challenges anyone to come up with a better description of terror.
Yet fears can be quirky, too and an interesting way to create unique characters. Amber Prince wrote this week that she fears teeth (congratulations, Amber, on your One Lovely Blog Award and thank you for sharing). While it made me chuckle and recall wriggling baby teeth, I also thought it would be a brilliant quirk to give a character. It’s such details that build the story.
October 1, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) show a character confronting something worse than death. It can be a universal fear or something unique to the character. What does this fear reveal about motive? Does it color the tone, deepen the plot or add to absurdity? Go ahead, poke a pencil at fear this week.
It’s an interesting question for me to ask of Sarah Shull. History is vague on what she did after Hickok shot and killed Cob McCanles at Rock Creek July 12, 1861. Legend says that the Pony Express put Sarah on a stage the next day. That Sarah left Rock Creek the next day after the incident is most likely, and historian Mark Dugan suggests she lived with Cob’s brother Leroy at least until August 12, 1861. Sarah faced death at Rock Creek. What more did she fear?
Widows by Charli Mills
“You were fixing to leave again, weren’t you?” Mary climbed the buckboard to sit next to Sarah. “With Cob?”
Sarah stared at buffalo grass on the prairie horizon, waiting for Leroy. He was taking her to his ranch north, but wanted to see his nephew before they left Rock Creek. “Maybe.”
“Why keep running? You afraid I’ll follow?”
“Wasn’t me running this time. I don’t want to be mocked. And I don’t want to be alone.”
“I’ll not go back to Carolina a widow. They shunned me, too, Sarah.”
Sarah shuddered despite the summer sun. Not that. Never again.
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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