Hard places are universally known. The teacher put on the spot by a parent; the childhood friend who died too young; the ailing family member; the medical condition that won’t go away; roadblocks and stream-blocks; abandoned buildings and glimpses of earlier struggles.
Yet circumstances such as these have a rock — a way through the hard place. It might be the support of a colleague or pure determination to get through. It might be a way to remember or a way to honor what has passed. This week, writers looked for connections. We might not control the hard places we are in, but we can find connection.
Connection is the monthly theme for a group of writers and bloggers who gather to overcome hard places and connect with one another in compassion. These stories are part of the May collection from 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion and are based on the May 13, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows a hard place and a connection.
Connection in a Hard Place by Irene Waters
Natasha dreamed of death. These visions were always pleasant unlike the bombs that fell around her, killing all in their path. Except her. She who longed to die seemed immune to the terror surrounding her. All her family were dead. Her lover too had died, beheaded. They had forced her to watch. Now, except when dreams of death lulled her, the nightmare never left. The latest bomb left her scrabbling at the rubble to reach the trapped cry below. She pulled the unharmed baby to her and connected her to her breast. She smiled as the milk flowed again.
A Game by Mercy.James.
Rock Paper Scissors
Scissors cut paper. Rock smashes scissors. Paper weighs upon both.
None exists without the other – each complimentary – a serving of needs met – sometimes left wanting – as reliable as the waxing and waning moon, sitting in crescent left or right-faced.
Does not paper come from the earth? From trees that are deeply rooted in soil, rock and nutrient infused. And silver – precious metal – it too comes from the earth, lying in rock’s embrace.
What matters in the end – now – we realize connection is absolute truth – no room for control over elements in purity – nature’s way.
A Dawn Concert by Jeanne Lombardo
Four a.m. The pain a staccato knock. No going back to sleep. She pushed up on gnarled hands, scooted, let the sharp ache push her into the wheelchair.
She followed the grooves in the carpet, pushed past the girls’ rooms, imagined their young bodies. They looked like her, thirty years ago, before the arthritis made a crippled birch of her.
She parked at the kitchen table. No coffee until Dan rose to percolate it. She waited.
At last a pale lemony light washed through the window. The familiar room emerged. And the concert began.
The robins never forsook her.
United With a Song by Kate Spencer
She sat on a log hugging her knees, smiling softly as she gazed at the campsite community seated around the blazing fire. Some were chatting quietly; others were busy roasting marshmallows.
She nodded to her husband who leisurely reach behind him and pulled out the worn guitar. He tinkered with the strings and began strumming an old familiar ballad.
Slowly he started singing, the lyrics filled with love and sorrow, longing and hope. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes as she raised her own voice, joining her husband. Gradually everyone joined in – united with a song.
Fiona Meets the Universe by Ula Humienik
Fiona felt alone and small under the twinkling of the universe and sweeps of the Milky Way. She’d never seen the night sky living in the city all her life. Tears made rivulets on her cheeks.
She remembered her last conversation with her sister.
“Dad never meant to hurt us,” Nina said.
“But he did. He hurt me. I can’t trust men, I’m afraid of them.”
“You have to forgive him.”
“I can’t,” Fiona said as she ran off. They hadn’t spoken since.
She looked up at the expansive sky and imagined each star a soul watching over her.
The Friend Inside by Sarrah J. Woods
A sudden breeze rose up and ruffled Maggie’s hair as she gazed over the valley. The wind was changing inside her, too.
Loneliness had become her straightjacket in the past year. The more desperately she struggled to make friends in this unfriendly town, the more isolated she felt.
Now she was giving up. Aloneness had won.
But, somehow, this decision only lightened and sweetened the silence that had oppressed her for so long.
“I’ll keep trying to make friends,” she said, “but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my own company. I will become my own friend.”
Her heart smiled.
House of Thorns by A. R. Amore
Nesting in the back are a pair of cardinals. They’ve chosen the most evil of shrubs, a dark red demon laced with poisoned oblong pellet sized berries and black tipped briars. The bold male roots in empty planters on the deck for building materials while the duller female scuttles in and out of the shrub seemingly unscathed, her beak filled with a gathering of grass or twig or twine. Like any couple, they visited and revisited, no doubt debating merits and drawbacks. Flitting in and out, despite the risk of harm, they nestle hopeful in their house of thorns.
Little Boy Lost by Sherri Matthews
I saw him, that little boy. His back turned to me, holding the hand of a man leading him further into the crowd.
I recognised his saggy blue jeans and the curl of his boy-short, soft brown hair.
Don’t go, oh God, please don’t go.
Then the boy, hearing my silent cries and knowing my love turned back, and his brown eyes locked into mine.
He tugged at the man’s hand, but the man held too tight and kept walking.
Gone. Just like that.
Now my boy is a man and I hug him with everything I have.
Just a Soul by Ruchira Khanna
Jane was pensive, yet persistent as she was staring at the pen.
Took a deep breath, blinked a couple of times.
“I am not the body. I am not even the mind,” she chanted as she disinfected a small area of her thigh and placed her pen over it.
Clicked the pen, and the pain was intense. Her eyes were moist by the ache.
She waited for the syringe fluid to enter her body, while she continued her chant, “I am not the body. I am not even the mind.”
Released the pen, and wiped the drop of blood.
Brown by Norah Colvin
She glanced at the child, usually so eager to please, and knew this was no ordinary day.
Downcast and avoiding eye contact, the child trembled. Her instinct was to reach out with comfort to soothe the hurt; but stopped. Any touch could end her career. What to say? Brown earth/brown rocks? would ignore and trivialise the pain. Any talk now would be insensitive with other ears listening. Any word could unravel the relationship built up over time. Nothing would harm more than doing nothing. Her steps moved her body away but her heart and mind stayed; feeling, thinking.
Selfish Devotion by Rebecca Patajac
Fist clenched, Warrick scribbled signatures across paperwork. His wife, face pale, breathed hard on a hoverbed. She looked worse with each day.
Labouring took a greater toll.
She screamed before the relieved laughter and a nurse placed their child in her arms.
Warrick relinquished the papers and nodded.
The nurse reclaimed the newborn.
His wife turned her head to him, eyes trained on their child, “Warrick? What’ve you done?”
Men guided the hoverbed to a cryo-chamber.
She screamed, “No! I want my baby!”
Warrick steeled himself, muttering, “should’ve had the treatments.” He left the child. “I’ll find a cure.”
Mentoring the Gaps by Roger Shipp
“Mr. Raycomb, you are needed in the office.”
Having just left the office, I wondered why I was needed to return.
“Come on in. Push the door shut.”
I do so. With stomach and thoughts intermingling… I’m wondering why the sudden closed door conference with our new principal.
“Steven’s mother is on the phone. She has asked, what I feel is a very unusual request.”
I gasp. I immediately know what has happened.
He presses speaker-phone.
“Hello, Ms. Jackson.” My faltering voice answers.
“I can’t tell him it’s returned. I won’t win this one. Will you tell him? Please!”
For Chris – The Rock by Susan Zutautas
I have a rock I keep upon my window ledge that is my connection to you
They were handed out at your funeral so we had something to hang onto
It sits in sunshine almost every day
I pray your pain has left and gone away
Young children should never die so young
Your life had just begun
You are and always will be Garth’s best friend
For the rest of eternity
We talk about you after all these years
Remembering your courage, showing no fear
Until we meet again one day
You are in our hearts Chris Jackson
The Yellow Rose of Kennedy by Deborah Lee
It feels subterranean inside the ruined cabin. Dust motes eddy in the beam of light fingering through the glassless window. This gold-panner’s squat has long been picked clean of souvenirs. Fine dirt like powder covers the floor. Smell of decay and old scat.
Outside again, he is brought up short. Growing hard against the cracked and weathered wood under the window is a vibrant green rosebush, blooms at once shy and defiant in this wilderness. Not wild; deliberate.
Who planted it? A woman, in a mining camp? A cultured forty-niner? That is the story he would like to hear.
Aunt Gloria by Geoff Le Pard
Rupert called, ‘She’s taken a turn for the worse. Her cancer is back.’
Mary dreaded visiting. Letting herself in, Gloria’s call was as usual cheery. But her face was grey. She saw Mary looking. ‘Cheekbones like Garbo. About time.’
Mary wept and felt guilty that it was Gloria comforting her. ‘Who will I talk to?’
‘Paul’s a rock. Rupert too…’
Mary shook her off.
‘God’s still here.’
‘I don’t believe in him anymore.’
Gloria put a hand on Mary’s stomach. ‘I’m here, every time you need me. Just talk, dear and we’ll be listening.’
‘I’ll try. Both of you.’
The Power of Science by Larry La Forge
Ed stared at the weathered concrete wall still standing behind the Science Hall patio. His mind drifted back nearly five decades.
A power outage had sent the class outside. Ed sat on the wall facing the professor. A cute coed plopped down next to Ed—it was the only spot left.
“This stuff’s impossible,” she said.
“Tell me about it,” Ed replied as he mimicked the current assignment: Calculate the magnetic flux density of a parallel plate capacitor when completely submerged in a homogeneous isotropic dielectric.
They agreed to try to figure it out together.
Her name was Edna.
New Friends by Ruth Irwin
First day at this school. She had been to many schools before, but not long enough to settle in and make friends. Small for her age, very thin, unkempt hair, stained ill-fitting clothes and battered shoes revealed that this six year old had been doing it tough. She remained aloof at recess, watching the other children as they played in already formed friendships. She wondered how long she might be at this school and if she would have friends. Then she saw an out-stretched hand and a smiling face saying “come and play with me”. How could she resist?
The Rock by Sarah Brentyn
“It’s cool that you don’t say stupid shit like ‘How do you feel about that’ or whatever.” She grabbed a grey rock from its shelf and examined it.
“Well,” he swiveled in his chair, “glad to hear that. But I do need you to talk to me.”
She turned the rock over in her hand, “Okay. I’ll talk. You have this like professional office with expensive leather couches and shit then there’s this ugly, little rock. Seems out of place.”
“My father gave it to me. He died last year. You think it’s ugly?”
The Portal by Ann Edall-Robson
A welcome familiarity reached out as she stood in the doorway.
The aroma of coffee brewing and bacon frying coming from the old wood stove. The quiet murmur of voices around the kitchen table, interrupted by intermittent laughter.
Through the curtain-free window, the hand hewn log barn stands silhouetted against the early morning sky. A stoic soldier offering shelter and sanctuary while scrutinizing the activity beneath its massive structure.
There was no doubt within her soul. These old abandoned buildings were the portal to the inception of life. The premonitions would be answered. Finally, she had arrived home.
Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin
Revenge fantasies kept me warm in bed. She’d lose her job; she’d crash her car; some thief would take her precious ring. The news infused my heart with joy. Let her learn how it feels to lose a husband.
The kids, though, mine and theirs, would lose a father.
I made a casserole, seasoned with rosemary, his all-time favourite. Thought I’d leave it on the doorstep, but the door opened before I could nip away. I took no pleasure from seeing her so unkempt. She opened her arms. We wept on each other’s shoulders. Soon we’d both be ex-wives.
River Ganges by Kalpana Solsi
And she tried desperately to hold his deliberate loosening grip, the diamond
ring slipped off and remained in his cupped palm, as she saw his sinister smile
before the foaming Ganges sucked the bride into the river-bed.
After the last rites, he sat, staring at the diamond ring.
Horror was largely writ on his face as he saw a hand with the wedding ring,
rising above the rapid Ganges water-current. His feet gave away as he
couldn’t resist her strong grip dragging him.
“In life and in death together”, the wedding vow, he remembered.
A watery grave they had.
A Chink in Her Armor by Sarah Unsicker
“We are concerned, Mama,” Kate said. “You spend too much time alone. I found a widow’s support group that might help you …”
“I don’t need a support group,” Cecilia said.
“You need friends.”
“John’s been gone too long. My pain is stale.”
“Pain doesn’t go stale, Mama. It fades away, and yours hasn’t.”
Cecilia sighed dramatically. “I’m going up to bed. You know where the door is to leave.”
Before she had time to answer, she heard the stairs squeak as her mother climbed up to her bedroom.
For the first time, Kate’s arrows had pierced Mama’s armor.
Indomitable by Pat Cummings
The racetrack surges with imperative: we must return. Each mile upstream also means climbing a body-length vertically, darting past the rocks, and the other racers. Our run has the ultimate prize, but there is no call to win. There is only the urgent invitation of the water upstream.
Closer and closer we come to the finish. Suddenly the water almost disappears. The final lap is a tight tunnel, already full of racers. Has someone already won?
No, there is one more obstacle, a leap to a tighter passage. I alone make it home, one salmon of thousands hatched here.
The Rock by Charli Mills
A contact rock. Yin and yang. Feldspar and…?
Ramona frowned, retrieving the smooth river rock from beneath a wild rosebush in the west pasture. It felt heavy, familiar. She closed her eyes, willing recollection. Running water. Yes! She and Vic riding to the grotto, up the creek, metallic horse-shoes clanging on rocks this size. Vic, off his horse, reaching elbow deep into the water.
“Look, Ro, a contact rock.”
Her eyes fluttered open. Why did her memories have holes? She cradled the rock to her chest, willing herself to remember the twins. This rock was connected to them somehow.
Bugle Boy by Pete Fanning
They found his bugle amongst the bodies. A few of the survivors recounted of how fourteen-year-old Eli had charged right into the line of fire and dragged three soldiers to safety, only to return and man the cannon as confederates advanced on his position.
When Eli awoke his chest ached. Nearby, a soldier screamed out in agony. He watched through blurry eyes as a bandaged Colonel limped over and laid his mangled bugle beside what was left of his family’s songbook. Eli grimaced, studying the musket ball embedded in its pages.
Those rebels were going to pay for that.
Ministering by Paula Moyer
“Thou art Peter … upon this rock I will build my church.” When Jean heard these words – like most Baptists – she remembered what Simon did that caused Jesus to rename him: he declared his faith.
The rock was more than Peter.
Now Jean sat in her house with her little kids, five days after her husband had moved out.
The phone rang. “Jean, it’s Lynn.” Her cousin, a rock in her own right. “I’m here for you.”
Thirty minutes on the phone.
Lynn showed her faith by enacting a passage from a letter of Paul’s: Bear one another’s burdens.
Loved the theme and the compilation, Charli.
It brought out stories as beautiful as polished rocks.
Did I submit too late to be included in the compilation?
Ah! No! Just proof that a human being does this compilation. 🙂 It’s included now. I see I added one story twice and checked off your byline so I must have confused stories. It’s all good now! Thanks for alerting me! Too good of a story not to include!
It’s a great collection, Charli. Such a variety – no two the same. Sometimes I feel I have just one way to respond, but then I read all the others and realize the narrowness of my vision. It’s a delight to read them all. Thanks for your prompts that inspire and your efforts to compile the anthology for us to read. Appreciated. 🙂
Well, now that I corrected Ula’s entry, no two are the same. 🙂 I know what you mean, though because I was struck by the diversity and so many stories I never would have thought up! And thank you for your contribution! 🙂
It is my pleasure to contribute!
Fantastic, as usual. And I had missed some of these in the prompt post so it was fun to read them here. Thanks!
This was a good week overall. Diverse stories and some bright gems!
Some really well honed pieces this week. And ditto Norah, the variety of subject matter, POV, exposition, etc. provides inspiration!
It seems as though we were all having a good writing week!
Great compilation. Mine was missed off also but don’t worry about it I know you have had bad internet connections.
Internet or brain connections — both may have been off! My apologies and it is now included!
Thanks Charli but it didn’t matter. You have such a lot to do. Hope you had a wonderful trip/birthday and that your internet is now fixed.
When ranching a buckaroo never leaves behind a single calf! 🙂