May 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

May 5, 2017

Someone has propped a frail and wrinkled woman on a metal folding chair by the entrance to Earl’s diner. The folds in her face are deep, like an dried apple doll I once saw in a folk museum. Her white hair is piled on her head in Navajo style, and she seems shrunken with thin arms drawn up. Her dress is traditional Navajo and I approach her with the respect due an elder. She’s selling beaded medicine bags and has a few dollars and quarters on her display tray.

“Ya’at’eeh.” I cringe at how poorly I form the greeting in my mouth, hoping she doesn’t take offense.

Softly, I hear her words, clicks and sounds I don’t understand. I kneel beside her and she touches her hand with bent fingers to each bag. I hear clearly, “$45.” More clicks, more explanation in Navajo, her hand on the next bag. “$45.”

I shake my head. I don’t have the money and won’t dishonor her by offering her $10, the only bill I have.

She moves on to each bag, “$45.”

“They’re beautiful. Thank you for letting me look.”

Then her hand with the bent fingers taps the change on her tray. With the saddest eyes she looks right at me and says, “All I have.” If it weren’t illegal to nab a woman from the streets, I’d have picked her right up and given her room in my RV, adopting a forever Grandmother. How could I leave her there? We gaze into each other’s eyes. Wiley old woman. Her black eyes twinkle. She knows she has me.

A younger woman, as in 70 not 240, steps up and begins to talk in Navajo and I’m let off the hook. As I walk away I hear another woman click in the Navajo way, but say in English, “I’d have offered you $35.” I smile. Humor in this culture is subtle, polite and true. Inside Earl’s I catch up with the Hub and we take a table in the full restaurant. Earl’s is the heart of Gallup. No matter which reservation or pueblo you come from, this is where you go. I’m aware that we are the only Anglo faces. Bilagaanas.

What is it to be a minority? Is it about culture, skin tone, position of power? I don’t feel like a minority in Gallup, the Indian Capital of the World. It’s not so much a reflection of my own sense of being, but that I feel welcome although a stranger to these parts. No one stares, or glares. I don’t hear snide comments or feel dehumanization of the other. Those are disconnecting experiences for any marginalized group. Toas musician, Robert Mirabal, sings a sad song about the disconnection that leads to the high rate of suicide among Native youth:

“Can you take it away,

can you kiss it away,

can you take it away,

can you kiss it away…

I’m the mirror that reflects all…”

I’m the mirror that reflects the forgotten and disenfranchised in America. I know what it is to feel alone and broken. I can recognize the brokenness around me in a place called Earl’s. And what I mirror is not disconnectedness, but acceptance, beauty and strength. There’s no pretense here. No one is on a diet, recovering from plastic surgery or driving the latest luxury car advertised for discerning tastes. I don’t know the stories seated around me, but I know they are rich with love and loss, pain and beauty. Beauty, not suffering. Recently a veteran therapist said to me and the Hub, “Pain in life is inevitable; suffering optional.” To me beauty is taking that pain and working it into something meaningful and connected.

Not everyone understands.

Since becoming stranded in Gallup, we’ve come to know that this is a busy RV park for travelers going elsewhere. This is not the destination. We’re the odd ducks who stay longer than a recovery day or two from driving what was once Route 66, America’s Main Street. Gallup emerged as an overnight hub for travelers going to LA from Chicago. Old motels with peeling paint and faded signs line the old Route 66 strip. Trading posts that once attracted tourists on the road now sell Chinese-made knock-offs online. Others sell plastic beads to local artists. A recent RV neighbor told us she went downtown and there was “nothing.” Gallup has nothing is a common phrase we hear from travelers.

Gallup has warrior-artists, people who battle the pain of displacement, irrelevance and poverty to produce visual treasures. I’m razzle-dazzled like the ghosts Mirabal sings of, “The dawn has come…” At Earl’s I anticipate the dawn, the parade of “sellers” as they are called, walking through the diner with their trays full of their art. Different genders, different generations, different clans or tribes. Each artist expresses their own designs, stamps artist initials to distinguish authenticity and politely shows what they have for sale. I’ve become curious to know about their designs, meanings and stories. I’m the literary artist seeking shades of words to tell the tale.

“It’s the sunset,” he leans in to tell me as if disclosing a secret. I’m chatting over a full cup of coffee with the Hopi man who makes pottery in traditional colors (black and white or red and black with white accents). Yet he has a few pieces with non-traditional hues. The one that catches my curiosity is a red clay pot with a band the color of butter circling its middle. Above lavender darkens to purple. Below is a band of dark green like mesquite. When he says it’s the sunset, I see it. I’ve seen it out my RV door. I can’t buy the pot but neither can I un-see the gift of its beauty, the sharing of its intent.

“Hey!” At the loud and friendly voice I turn to see my favorite silversmith. She’s the artist who walks to town on her Goodyear tires, in joking reference to her tennis shoes. KJ was the first artist we met and today she makes us feel like family. “You still here?”

“Still no transmission,” I say and she commiserates with us a moment then shows me her near empty tray.

“Sold ’em all. Ha! I better go make more!”

I’m happy for her. It’s like running into an author with a near-empty box of novels at a book fair. She tells us her son, one of three children serving in the military, has shipped out to Korea. Suddenly, politics have become real. How many patriots has this community lost? I’ve seen the profusion of American flags snapping in the wind at every cemetery we’ve passed on the reservations. Gallup is also known as the Most Patriotic Town in America. Home of Code-Talkers, medal recipients, those who gave their lives in service. It’s not a populist patriotism. It’s dedicated, honorable and non-partisan.

We don’t eat out often and usually we make it our one meal of the day, snacking on cheese and crackers or PBJs later. We don’t come for the food but for the community, the connection. I’ve ordered meatloaf, comfort food. The menu describes it as Spanish, which means it will have a red or green chili sauce. It wasn’t specified. In New Mexico chilis come green or red. You have to be careful. Red is actually mild. Green can blow your head off, especially if it has chunks of bright green chilis. Christmas is not just a holiday in New Mexico; it’s a combination or red and green chilis.

“Excuse me, I overheard you are having transmission troubles,” says the man at the next table, who had been quietly chatting with two women in Navajo. Turns out he’s a diesel mechanic. He and the Hub discuss the transmission and how to solve our problem. I listen, interject and continue to watch the walking art show.

Then my salad arrives and I’m transported to my roots. I’d ordered Thousand Island, a dressing not often on menus. Now I’m tasting the Thousand Island dressing of cowboys, a Depression-era recipe of ketchup thinned with mayo. It then occurs to me that meatloaf is also a Depression-era recipe, extending ground beef with saltine crackers. I once thought I grew up with traditional recipes, but now I’m facing the truth of that tradition — it’s poor food. I don’t mean the food is poor, I mean the people consuming it know poverty. The farmers, the fruit pickers, the Oakies, the Mexicans, the ranch hands, the transient. And I know why I’m struggling with the pain of my situation. It’s the shame of my impoverished roots.

I’m the mirror that reflects all. I realize my comfort in what should be a strange culture. We find comfort in poor food. We’ve gathered in a restaurant to pay money to eat poor food! The foodie in me wants to gasp and run away. Certainly for the same amount of money I can go buy some gourmet ingredients at the Gallup Safeway and whip up something tastier, fancier, richer. Instead, I own it. With absolute relish I eat my runny dressing, dig into my meatloaf with red chili sauce next to mashed potatoes with brown gravy and relish my plain pinto beans.

The beans I savor. Bare naked dried pintos hard boiled at least a day. This was the staple of my childhood kitchen. When you bite a boiled pinto, the fiber releases a distinct bean flavor. My grandmother grew these beans, dried them and boiled them with cloves of garlic. Even better, is to fry these beans in lard, mashing them as they fry. Refried beans. Mana of every westerner. Edward Abbey writes about refried beans and every initiate to the West eats them as the “Edward Abbey diet.” It’s my go-to. I always have a can of refried beans and a packet of corn masa tortillas. A little jack cheese and I’m transported to my comfort zone.

To realize this connection between my childhood and the those around me, I feel like I belong. Earl’s would not be the kind of restaurant I would have written about in my food column years ago, but it has given me a valuable insight. I’m no longer ashamed of my poor food roots. In fact, I didn’t realize I was and I’m pleased to have extracted that awareness. It brings me back to Mirabal when he sings about the burn of conflict we all feel because no one escapes walking in two worlds.

There’s the world represented by the ancient Navajo woman outside, the medicine world. Call it your spirituality, your Christianity, your Muslim or Hindi faith, your atheism. It’s your inner beliefs, your culture, your desire to know who you are and why you are. Mirabal says it has a dance, a language, the music and the arts. It’s all the beautiful things. The other world is that of confusion and computers, of cars and telephones. It’s chaos and yet we need it. He shouts, “Do you feel that burn of conflict? DO YOU FEEL THAT BURN OF CONFLICT? Yeah, I thought you did…” But then he prays for the next generation that their paths and transitions will be smoother, easier and that their fires will burn with hope, desire and love. “Do you feel that love? DO YOU FEEL THAT LOVE…”

Like the Taos People we live with our angels and demons. This is the dance between pain and beauty. Push into the fire, extract your art.

One concern I have as a writer it is that of right. What do I have the right to write? I’m all about diversity in books and making the literary arts available to all cultures. But do I have the right to write about other cultures? This was a topic at BinderCon LA in 2014. The grievous act is that of perpetuating stereotypes in fiction. In memoir, the concern is where does our story end and invade the privacy of another? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I’ll do my best to kneel in respect and try to understand. I’ll look for connections and common ground. I’ll share handshakes, art and laughter. I’ll be me and recognize you.

Writing Ike’s best friend, Michael Robineaux, as Native American initially felt uncomfortable to me. It wasn’t gratuitous. It was to honor a teenage sweetheart whose uncles had all been Marines. We worked together at a state park and he drove me crazy with all his boyish teasing. I didn’t know until later that he had wanted to ask me to be his girlfriend. I would have liked that, but I think we were both shy in that regard. I knew even as a teen that Natives were proud to serve in the military and I wanted to find a way to recognize that, thus my character’s creation.

What helps with developing any character is to think of him or her outside the frame of the story. What was childhood like? Did he move around or never leave until military service? What’s his favorite book, or does he like to fish after work? Is he neat or untidy? Who is his sister? What’s their relationship like? Does he hate a certain band? Why? And what food did he grow up with? What brings him comfort, or feels familiar?

May 4, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about comfort food. How can this familiarity influence a story or character? Is it something unusual, like Twinkies from the 1970s? Or is it something from home, from another place or time? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 9, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 10). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Normal Tastes (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Tobasco Sauce?” Danni sat down with Michael and sprinkled her eggs liberally.

“I tasted it once on raw oysters, and it was not pleasant. Might have been the oysters, though.”

“I love fried oysters. If we ever ate out as a kid, we’d go to the Red Lion in Elko. I’d have liver and onions or fried oysters.”

“No hamburger and fries like a normal kid?”

“Nope, but if I’m to eat slimy things I like them peppered, breaded and fried.”

“Hmm.” Michael sprinkled two dots of sauce on his eggs. “Not sure I like food that bites back.”

###

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134 Comments

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Joelle!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      A succinctly told sisterly tale of bait and switch.

      • floridaborne

        Thanks. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Reena!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Poor thing. If she could deal with the “background score” she might change the scale.

      • Reena Saxena

        Absolutely right!

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      Sometimes you have to build up a cushion of comfort before you break through…

      • Charli Mills

        I really like that thought, Liz!

    • Charli Mills

      Good to see you, Kalpana! Thanks for joining us this week!

  1. julespaige

    Charli,

    I’m not a fan of food that ‘bites back’ either. 99 words isn’t a whole lot of room to stuff three prompts including 12 wordle words, but I did it.
    I’m still very far behind. But I am making minute waves of progress to catch up. There are links to the two other stories that connect to this one – though it can stand alone. (Title should be the link to post.)

    How Far Was Far Enough?

    How Far Was Far Enough?

    Janet didn’t like the rotten masquerade of life she had with
    the man Richard; who always had a visible whitewash type
    pastey sheen about him. Often singing in bedlam, an odd
    smatter of a narrow genre – briefly, because it also lead to
    him quarreling about the price of just about everything.
    Janet had to scramble to quelch any argument – with a good
    homemade meal.

    The insect on her computer keyboard reminded her of a
    tsetse fly. That last dinner she served him before running –
    it was tainted with enough potion to keep a bull elephant
    asleep for a week.

    ©JP/dh

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Jules! I found a green chili on .50 cent tacos for Cinco de Mayo that made my tongue want to run away! It bit hard. The Hub asked how it was and when I could finally speak again, I said, “good!” Although I only had one taco with it. I went red and mild after that. You had some heat to deal with, too in your mash up but you pulled it off well. Hope you are getting caught up!

      • julespaige

        Its slow going catching up from falling behind…

      • Charli Mills

        There’s a western adage for taking on something big: It’s like eating a grizzly bear… One bite at a time.

    • Deborah Lee

      That’s a different kind of comfort!

  2. Kate

    “Beauty, not suffering. … To me beauty is taking that pain and working it into something meaningful and connected.” And that is what you accomplished with this beautiful post.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Kate. I think it’s taken a while for me to recognize this connection, and interacting with a community of artists who live on the land despite its hardships has helped me see it clearer.

    • Charli Mills

      And a good weekend to you, too Michael!

    • Deborah Lee

      Sounds good!

      • Michael

        They are. Thanks for stopping by????

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing the plate at your place, Lady Lee!

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Resurrections, D. Avery

    There are still mason jars filled with sweet pickles, and dill beans; jars of raspberry and blackberry jelly, apple-butter. The potato bin is at the last board, but there should be plenty.
    With spindly white sprouts, the potatoes feel about for spring. The sprouts are rubbed off. They need to feed us a little longer before the leftovers can go back into the ground.
    The ice isn’t yet out in the lake, though peepers are singing in the beaver meadow. Soon there will be fiddleheads and wild onions, then cattail greens.
    Soon enough there will be freshly dug potatoes.

    • Charli Mills

      Lovely homestead details that are timeless and comforting, D.

    • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

      Potatoes are a staple the world over and create a lot of comfort foods that without many a belly would be empty – thinking of the Irish potato famine. Loved the detail of your cold climate way of surviving the winter. I’ve never heard of fiddleheads.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Fiddleheads refers to emerging ferns, found by streams in the spring. Cut them, then steam, fry or dill pickle them.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Thank you for explaining these. I have never heard of ferns being eaten but you make them sound quite delicious.

      • Charli Mills

        For a long time, potatoes were feared as poisonous. The potato bought that led to the Irish famine was horrific devastating because by then they were the staple. I love fried potatoes with my beans.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I have a friend whose husband’s life work has been potato research and one thing that I learnt from his is that the green colouring that you sometimes get on a potato (which I used to put down to the potato being not yet ripe) is poisonous and that often this is what leads to food poisoning in fish and chip shops, not the fish but the potato. As long as you take it off the potato is right to eat but if it goes all the way through discard. I just love potato fullstop.

      • Charli Mills

        Irene, I was always taught to never eat potatoes raw and cut off any green parts, but never knew why!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Amazing how many of our foods forbidden in some religions stem from sensible precautions from the era and the location. Some make little sense now health wise but are still passed on and obeyed. Some like your potatoes make a lot of sense still.

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      Nothing like freshly-dug potatoes, skin thin & smooth with a little water and a soft brush. Mmmmmm!

    • Charli Mills

      And you have a lovely weekend, too Lady Lee! Oh, I love adobo!

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Wrangling, D. Avery

    “Whoa there, Kid.”
    “Guess I’m anxious to git ’em to the Ranch.”
    “You’ll git ‘em all there in good shape. Just watch for strays.”
    Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, Shorty was busy at her chuckwagon. Shorty, who was of great stature, preferred the wagon to the cookhouse, liked to have her wheels ready to roll.
    Shorty congratulated and cajoled the hands as they rode in from near and distant ranges. She noted the herd amassing in the corral, some branded, some a bit wild and unpredictable.
    Hungry for Shorty’s nourishing comfort food, the hands hung around the chuckwagon.
    “Carrots!”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Because it had to be done and because I have always wanted to use the line “meanwhile, back at the ranch”.

    • Charli Mills

      Carrots y’all! Every one in that corral deserves a sweet fresh carrot with green-top, braving the journey and getting familiar with the herd. 😀 The comfort food of the ranch.

    • Charli Mills

      Order the red chili, Allison! I had some green that bit my tongue off and I had to stitch it back on (that’s my tall tale and I’m sticking to it).

  5. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Charli I found this such a moving post. I love the idea of you grandma napping but I guess her family would not have liked it too much. You show such respect for a different culture – I just wish we as a world wide entity could show a similar respect for all the peoples of the world. I love how you learnt about yourself in the meal that was served. I think that the food of childhood can bring out a myriad of emotions and you found some of yours. I have heard said that in character development it is a good idea to formulate him/her from childhood onwards giving them definite belief sets and past that can then guide them through their role in the story. This is something we don’t have to do in memoir as all those things have been set in the past. I guess my flash this week has to some extent been set in the past also
    https://irenewaters19.com/2017/05/07/comfort-food-99-word-flash-fiction/

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      At those gatherings where you know who is going to bring “their” dish, there’s comfort in the familiarity. Your take on he prompt knows no borders.

    • Charli Mills

      I wish for the same thing, too. We have much to learn from each other and our interactions. I figured my forever grandmother had a family that would miss her fiercely! I like that technique to craft a character’s belief system. I feel like I need to be with my characters, to build relationships with them. In memoir, you have much reflecting on the past and yet, I would think, much polishing to try and get an accurate reflection. Glad to see you at the ranch this week!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Glad to be back in the saddle. Don’t know how long before I’m thrown again but whilst I’m riding its a good feeling.

      • Charli Mills

        It always feels good riding tall in the saddle, but the grounds often calls. 🙂

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      How deeply embedded our food memories are with family comforts!

  6. Annecdotist

    I hadn’t realised Gallup was the Indian capital, and I certainly didn’t know Navajo was a language of clicks, like the African Xhosa – and probably others – and great that you can speak at least a bit. I can identify with that feeling of deeper connection with people of different language and culture from my travels in rural India – it’s a lovely feeling. I’m so glad you are finding these jewels amongst the difficulties of being stuck in a place you hadn’t planned to be.
    You might imagine that I take issue with your therapist saying that suffering is optional – if only! Although if she means long-term, when the physical pain is past or at least reduced, I’d agree.
    Everybody’s comfort food is different – for myself I can’t identify any that comes from childhood, except perhaps Farley’s rusks. Mine is based on simple and very healthy south Asian staple vegetarian food: rice and lentils! But I’m afraid I’ve gone a bit darker in my flash was a somewhat perverted comfort:
    The absurdities of cheese and cake http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2017/05/the-absurdities-of-cheese-and-cake.html

      • Norah

        Interesting article, Anne. Thanks for linking.

      • Charli Mills

        Thank you for sharing this, Anne! I think it’s worthy of continuing discussion.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I have written a comment on the post but your article has certainly given me food for thought and your points for writing from the outside in make much sense.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I just happened to grab Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” from the bedside stack last night and it seems relevant. He wrote that joy and sorrow are inseparable, and that “could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; …accept the seasons of your heart… watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” Gibran also writes that eating and drinking should “be an act of worship” through which we “rejoice through all the seasons”.
      Already this week’s prompt has brought in responses that evoke joy and sorrow, even pain and suffering.

      • Norah

        The Prophet is one of my favourite books. 🙂 I always love to read snippets from it.

      • Charli Mills

        Ah, yes the tangle of the two and the reminder that even pain is a wonder. Certainly we are seeing these emotions play out in food this week. And a lovely book to have at your bedside!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Great quotes. I like “accept the seasons of your heart…” A long time since I have looked at Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” and perhaps high time I went back for another read.

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      Dark, yes, but there is much truth in darkness. Loved this!

    • Charli Mills

      Mmm, I do like black beans and rice (with cilantro, red pepper flakes and lime)! Legumes and rice form a complete protein. And I love cheese, but that was a later in life love affair to blossom. I should qualify the Navajo clicks as an addition to what is a tonal language, like Mandarin. For example, tii has three different meanings at three different tones, risking calling your uncle your horse! The click comes in where the “t” is actually formed like a hard “d” and kind of like a hard slide of the tongue. Language formation is fascinating but alas beyond my mastery. And as for the suffering, I do believe it was meant as in choosing to stay in your pain or move beyond it. I was attempting to make it perhaps more meaningful. Yet the Navaho do have a spirituality based on the beauty way which is finding beauty on one’s path despite the pain or suffering. That’s the heart of it, but I’ll practice trying to express it! Off to have a slice of cheese and cake! 🙂

  7. Norah

    I’m with Michael. I’m not keen on food that bites back either. I’ll leave the Tabasco for Danni. Your comfort foods bear some similarity to those of my younger days. Mum must have had a hundred ways to cook mince, though it was usually just browned in gravy. Macaroni cheese was also a staple, particularly on no-meat Fridays. Sometimes on Sunday nights we’d have what Mum and Dad called puftaloons – fried dough dipped in syrup. Other times we’d have bread and duck under the table.
    What an enormous heart you have, Charli, clearly drawn through your story. Your question about writing of other cultures perplexes me as well; and I love that you say you will write about you and include me as well.
    Gallup sounds like a poor place – poor in finance but rich in inner beauty, love, courage and culture. I do hope the Marine shipped to Korea comes home safely.
    I hope your transmission soon ends its transmission and finds its way to you so you can continue your journey. Best wishes.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, the memories of food from the childhood kitchen! I’ve only had minced meat cookies, so I’m wondering if it’s something different. Macaroni and cheese was my favorite but we rarely had it. Having cowboys in the family I don’t recall meatless nights, although when I was young, Fridays were clams, frog’s legs or trout, all caught ourselves. Puftaloons! What a great word and a familiar treat. The Navajo make fry bread and as a desert they serve it hot with raw honey. It is both poor and rich in Gallup. I think I saw a sign somewhere in town proclaiming more Purple Heart recipients (wounded or killed soldiers) than any other town. I do hope all the young people serving come home safely. And I hope for a complete transmission soon!

      • Norah

        Minced meat cookies!! My mind boggles. Are they like burger patties? I can understand that cowboys would not relish a meatless meal, even it it was packed with beans! I’ve never tried frogs’ legs but clams and trout I’m sure would be good. How much fun to catch it all for yourselves.
        With the numbers of Purple Heart recipients, Gallup must be rich in love and generosity. I’m saddened to know the town has lost so many to war. How tragic.
        Yes – transmit that transmission!

      • Charli Mills

        Minced meat cookies are a bar and you buy minced meat in a jar — it’s sweet. I haven’t seen it in stores for years. Hmm. Now I’m curious. Lots of heart here. Transmitting transmission…

  8. elliotttlyngreen

    Comfort food has to still be the gatherings we had at my mothers home. Great family, and great foods…

    Food does not have to be eaten to provide that familiar feeling.

    I like this one. Its like we (writers on the ranch) are taking a break, gathering at the table to have a meal together.

    Burnspots by Elliott Lyngreen

    Sneak the narrow path between the neighbor’s garages as a squirrel crashes off branches to triplex above.

    Another squeezes hiding behind space under the shredded portion of tarp that meets the old garage slab; where the disease-ridden boat sits.

    While a different cousin crouches up the jutted back of the kitchen; I am slinking past its open back door, that warm aroma – burnspots of homemade tortillas.

    I see another cousin duck into the broken bricks, gapped, behind shriveled yews, hear his palm slap the chalky capstone off the front porch; and shout limitless to the curbless sideroads, “JAIL-BREAAAAAKK!!!”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Your neighborhood is not so different. I was right there with you and your cousins, playing outside while inside that comfort food is being prepared by the mothers and aunts.

      • elliotttlyngreen

        Thank you for your kind comment.we had some pretty good games through the neighborhood.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Your piece took me to my six year old self’s neighborhood where we ran between lots, played wildly and raided gardens. Mrs. D. turned the hose on me for helping myself to…. carrots!

    • Charli Mills

      Elliot, I think that’s the ultimate comfort — gathering around the table. I’m glad we can do that here in a writing sense! Burnspots — oh, yes! What a clever focus for building the remembrance of games with cousins while tortillas were on the griddle inside. Great flash.

      • elliotttlyngreen

        Kamaal (sp.) … we use a kamaal. Kamal? A flat cast iron pan. Im sure its the same. Idk i was outside playing yes. Im just kicking myself i forgot to use that word & detail in my flash.

        Mmm could u pass the dessert please =]

      • Charli Mills

        Sounds similar to the cast iron we used, and I still have a couple tucked away in storage. One was just for flapjacks. Mmm, yes dessert! I think there’s a lava cake here somewhere…! And cheese.

      • elliotttlyngreen

        This post is making me hungry!! Like when i used to watch cooking shows cuz in the ancient precable-preinternet days… when whatever i was eating never seemed satisfying

  9. 40levenreasons

    Hi All
    It has been a long week for my family and I……with a positive-ish outcome. Surprisingly I was taking stock of the little things we take for granted as I sat beside my son’s hospital bed.
    Though I’d share my 99 words worth ……..
    Take care xxx

    https://40levenreasons.com/its-the-little-things/#more-316

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, I’m hopeful to hear it’s been a positive-ish outcome, but not many seats worse than by a hospital bed. Sometimes the comfort food we need it that of the touch and presence of others. Thank you for sharing a difficult moment, and may the writing of it bring some measure of comfort as well.

      • 40levenreasons

        Thank you Charli……writing is, itself, a comfort food of sorts xxx
        ????????

      • Charli Mills

        It certainly can be. Those words can let us feel and release. Hope your son continues to heal.

    • Charli Mills

      When expectations fall short of the comfort needed. Perhaps the iced-coconut sponge will work… 😀

      • Hugh's Views and News

        I’m not so sure it would, Charli, given that the iced bit is made of icing sugar mixed with a little water. Delicious, though. ????

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! Sounds like I really had a different idea of it. No, that wouldn’t work.

  10. Sarah Brentyn

    So much to chew on here. (Sorry…couldn’t help it.) I guess I grew up on “poor food”, too. Never really thought about it. But I’ve thought a lot about comfort food in my life! 😉

    P.S. The art sounds stunning (though the selling of it a bit heart-breaking).

    • Charli Mills

      I have an inkling or two about what comfort foods you like these days. 🙂 I think of how the Depression Era and WWII shaped the convenient foods of the ’70s and the lingering recipes like meatloaf. Comfort foods from those times have stayed left a mark. I do think much more about my preferred grown-up comforts. And yes, the art blows me away.

  11. gordon759

    Here is my contribution, yet another historical tale.

    An Uncomfortable Meal

    Everyone else was asleep but he couldn’t settle.
    “What had he eaten?” He felt uncomfortable.
    His companions had caught the bird, a Rhea, a flightless bird that was good eating, but there was something wrong. He looked at the scraps that were left, then he saw it, the legs were the wrong colour!
    He scrabbled around for what hadn’t been eaten, the head, wing, legs and feathers, but it was enough, it was a new species. In London they were impressed, perhaps this young man would make other discoveries, now they would honour him by calling it – Darwin’s Rhea!

    All I have done is retold the account that Darwin gave of how he discovered Darwin’s Rhea.

    https://gordonlepard.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/an-uncomfortable-meal/

    • Charli Mills

      It’s always comfort food to taste yet another historical tale from you, Gordon! I hadn’t realized Darwin’s first discovery was from his plate.

  12. Kerry E.B. Black

    Consuming Compassion
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Janie Higgins rarely got sick, yet Wednesday she woke from feverish dreams, shivering in the summer heat. She rolled into a ball and groaned.
    Her mother nestled her beneath Great-Grandma Leslie’s quilt. “You’re not going to camp today, young lady.”

    Jane whispered a protest, but her mother stroked her sweaty hair and hummed her to sleep.

    When Jane woke, her mother presented a tray with creamed eggs on toast and steaming, honey-laden tea. She propped Jane up on pillows and read poetry to her.

    “Yum, Mom.” One of six children, Jane consumed her mother’s attention and compassion with appreciation.

    • Deborah Lee

      Yes! With a busy mom, sometimes you have to get sick to really be coddled. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      What a comfort, indeed, and it’s summed up nicely in the last sentence. Somehow, I’m thinking creamed eggs sound so good right about now.

  13. Pete

    “Meatloaf”

    Thanks to Mom I was probably the healthiest kid in the seventh grade. And thanks to her genetics, I was also one of the shortest. But tonight’s meal was hardcore, even for her.

    The blue rectangular dish meant only one thing. A pulsing sponge of wet cardboard held together by carrots, red onions, asparagus, bell peppers. A gathering of yuck. Calling it meatloaf was false advertising.

    I reached for the ketchup. Mom spooned a pile of lima beans and I began to protest. Then she went for the nukes.

    “I can heat up the Brussel sprouts if you’d like?”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! The false advertising of meatloaf! I think for every 20 kids in class back in the ’70s who ate TV dinners and Ding Dongs, there was always one with carrot sticks. But this meatloaf takes the cake, Pete. 🙂

    • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

      Oh dear. I’d love to invite you to our meatloaf dinner tonight. I’m salivating at the thought of it but your Mum’s does sound……..

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Haha! Fantastic. “A gathering of yuck.” 😀

  14. Kate

    Comfort foods invites a party and it really reads like the writers at the Ranch are having one this week. Charli, thanks for hosting such a comfortable event! I brought back Carrie and her enlightened Granny back from an old post and here is what they have to say about ‘comfort food’.
    https://eloquentlykate.com/2017/05/08/comfort-food/

    • Charli Mills

      It’s reading like a banquet! I was thinking about pairing stories by food. It will create some interesting threads. I’m pleased to see Carrie’s return!

  15. Norah

    Hi Charli, I’m contributing a story called Stone Fruit Salad this time. I hope it doesn’t sink like a stone but adds to the compilation like the stone in the story. Thanks for the challenge. http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-Ui

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      Well, he was literally correct, if not technically.
      But what a good boy! This made me smile! 😉

      • Norah

        Thanks, Liz. I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

    • Deborah Lee

      I’d forgotten the story of stone soup. And your flashes never sink. I like his quite literal take on it.

      • Norah

        Thank you, Deborah. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      The first time I heard “stone” fruit was in the upper midwest. Where I grew up we called apricots and such “pit” fruit. Well, you can’t go wrong around here with stones; you know how much I like rocks! 🙂 Thanks for taking the challenge!

      • Norah

        How interesting that there are so many words for referring to the fruit, and an innocent little story like mine has alerted us to yet another difference in language across the waves – in all directions!

      • Charli Mills

        Norah, I think I assumed we both referred to the same stone fruit, but maybe not! In the Upper Midwest, stone fruit is anything they grow in that region with a pit like peaches, plums and apricots. What do you refer to as stone fruit? At least we both agree not to put pebbles in the salad!

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      Mac ‘n’ Cheese and bacon makes the world go ’round.
      (Drooling!)

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Susan! With all your delicious recipes, I would think this prompt is in your comfort zone. 🙂

  16. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    Rolling into the morning, and your weekly blog and prompt helped me get there. Thanks for the happy nudge!

    Morning Song

    Midnight river of earthy darkness, tumbles into indigo cup, trickle cutting the heavy silence of an empty house. A single tangelo, head snapped open, peel bent and bursting forth with the sharp scent of new ideas.

    Sunrise dapples through east-facing trees, trickles onto a cement slab, floods cracked stairs stepping down to suburban street. Neighbors, unmet after double-decade’s propinquity, are starting their daily commute.

    Do they see the other reality, the tumbled out of bed into shorts and sweatshirt, knees hugged close with coffee steaming, dreaming?

    No matter.
    Citrus sprays, catches sun, as she bites into the new morning.

    https://huldermn.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/morning-song/

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      A little too raw, have made some edits, below (Urgggh!):

      Morning song

      Midnight river of earthy darkness, tumbles into indigo coffee cup, cutting the heavy silence of an empty house. A single Tangelo, head snapped open, peel bent and bursting forth with the sharp scent of new ideas.

      Sunrise dapples through east-facing trees, trickles onto the cement stoop, floods cracked stairs stepping down to suburban street. Neighbors, unmet after double-decade’s propinquity, are starting their daily commute.

      Do they see the other reality, the tumbled out of bed into shorts and sweatshirt, knees hugged close with coffee steaming, dreaming?

      No matter.

      Citrus sprays, catches sun, as she bites into the new morning.

      • Charli Mills

        What a sensual morning delight, Liz! Love that opening sentence and the burst of the tangelo and morning thoughts and dreams. Ah, glad to share that cuppa!

      • Liz Husebye Hartmann

        Can I offer you a refill? Lol…It wouldn’t leave me alone until I rewrote it a 3rd time (shrugs).

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        You certainly got all the senses working overtime. Early morning is beautiful and that first cup of coffee – yum.

      • Charli Mills

        Yes, please, a refill!

      • elliotttlyngreen

        Neighbors unmet… so true and odd

  17. Lisa @ The Meaning of Me

    “Pain in life is inevitable; suffering optional.” That is so beautiful. And so true. It all comes down to attitude and character and how we choose to play with the hand we’re dealt.

    • Charli Mills

      Nope! That would be me! 😀 Oh, I recall finding a Hamburger Casserole Cookbook at a garage sale, thinking I’d struck gold. Even now, there’s a richness to hamburger. Hot dishes they call them in Minnesota!

  18. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    My dad spoke rapturously of SPAM after WWII. After so long without, he said all the fat was lovely, enough to make you cry!

  19. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Geoff!

  20. Charli Mills

    Hi Diana! Got it! Thanks!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. May 4: Flash Fiction Challenge – Empty Nest Man - […] Source: May 4: Flash Fiction Challenge […]
  2. 99 word prompt : comfort food | Two on a Rant - […] May 4, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about comfort food. How can this…
  3. Molten Lava – Reena Saxena - […] Carrot Ranch Communications […]
  4. (f) SPF/ MLMM Wordle/ CR / How Far Was Far Enough? (5.5) | Jules in Flashy Fiction - […] May 4: Flash Fiction Challenge May 4, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about…
  5. May 4: Flash Fiction Challenge – My Biscuits. | Morpethroad - […] Written for: https://carrotranch.com/2017/05/05/may-4-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]
  6. Resurrections | ShiftnShake - […] for the Carrot Ranch flash challenge:                          …
  7. Philippine Adobo – Ladyleemanila - […] For: May 4: Flash Fiction Challenge […]
  8. Flash Fiction: Soup | Allison Maruska - […] to another 99-word drabble in response to the prompt provided by Charli over at Carrot Ranch: In 99 words…
  9. Comfort Food: 99 Word Flash Fiction | Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist) - […] response to Charli’s prompt  where she […]
  10. Comfort Food #carrotranch #flashfiction | TanGental - […] Mills is feeling peckish with her prompt this […]
  11. Comfort Food #flashfiction – Hugh's Views & News - […] Written in response to Carli Mills 99-word flash fiction challenge with the theme of comfort food. […]
  12. An Uncomfortable Meal | The Curious Archaeologist - […] Mills gives us an unusual prompt this week In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about…
  13. Comfort Food | Eloquently Kate - […] Mills’ May 4th Flash Fiction Challenge was to write a story in 99 words (no more, no less) about comfort…
  14. Stone fruit salad | Norah Colvin - […] I was reminded of this when Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch dished up her flash fiction prompt this…
  15. Morning Song | From the Valley of the Trolls - […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (05/04/2017):  In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about comfort food. How can…
  16. Gone Fishing | Lemon Shark Reef - […] Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch which asks writers to pen a piece in 99 words (this week’s…
  17. Kitchen Healing – The Meaning of Me - […] post was inspired by the May 4 Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch […]
  18. Whatever Works (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) – 99 Monkeys - […] week at the ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In…
  19. Heart Attack – Fledgling Fiction - […] Response to Carrot Ranch’s May 4 Flash Fiction Challenge: Comfort Food […]
  20. What Were The Top 10 Most Viewed Blog Posts in 2017? – Hugh's Views & News - […] My most viewed piece of flash fiction which was written as part of the weekly 99-word flash fiction challenge…

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