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My bare feet pad across the cool boards of faded decking, relishing the warm places where the morning sun has touched. It’s spring in the Keweenaw, that season ever hopeful of summer. I’m arranging all my pots for planting, having saved mushroom trays all winter. With four drill holes, they make great pots for four seedlings. Last weekend, I cleared the deck planter my SIL built for my daughter but was too big to move. This is my first season getting to plant it and my kales, Yankee mixed lettuces, and nasturtiums have arrived, awaiting a push into the soil. But first, I must decide where to plant the garlic, snapdragons, and peas and which kind — dwarf sweet, snow pods, Tom Thumb, or purple.
These small decisions distract my mind from the fact that 60,000 Americans have no say in what happens next in the pandemic. I plant to the memory of all those around the world who have lost their lives to a virus that cares not what our favorite food is, or whether we prefer mountains to ocean surf. I can’t claim my potager as a Victory Garden as many did in WWI and II. There is no victory in surviving a worldwide pandemic, but I’m going to declare my veg, flowers, and fairies a Hope Garden.
I’m as excited about the fairy garden as I am the unicorn room. Both offer space for play, an important element to any creative person. Already, I’ve been using my room to work out scenes and develop secondary characters. Just when you think you’ve “got” this fiction writing down, another layer emerges to work seamlessly into the overall design. Secondary characters need to be as round as primary ones — the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). Does your book need a villain? No, but you must derive tension from somewhere. The purpose of an antagonist is to agitate the areas the protagonist doesn’t want to touch. A situation, place, society, or self can all stand in as an antagonist.
Right now, I’m building an arsenal against my garden’s anticipated antagonists — slugs. Every morning, I crack fresh farm eggs for scrambled, panakuchen, or buttermilk pancakes. I then crush the colorful shells of cream, green, orange, and rusty-speckled in a spent paper bag from our monk-coffee. I’m building up a supply to mulch around my slug-vulnerable Brussels sprouts this year. I’ll also set out some Keweenaw Brewery Widowmaker, a dark ale, to entice the slugs to drown their worries in a saucer of beer. I’ve also hired a garden pixie to watch over the potager. She’s set to arrive next week from an Etsy shop that specializes in fairy gardens. I’m serious about my play.
Somehow, opening up to play reminded me of my great-grand Uncle Fred Paullus and great-grand Aunt Myrtle Nuñes. They were in their seventies and still ranching in Tres Pinos, California when I used to go play with them. It was before kindergarten when my mother would go off to work in her mini-skirts. I think they were family tapped to babysit me. Whatever the arrangement, I loved my Uncle Fred and Aunt Myrtle. He was a cowboy from Idaho who had ranched in California since the time of the Spanish Flu, the great-grandnephew of Cobb McCanles. Aunt Myrtle was the grandaughter of vaqueroes who had lived in California long before it ever became a US state.
One particular memory became my uncle’s favorite story to tell. At that time, I loved riding with them in the truck to check on the cows and calves. Uncle Fred had a water-trough where the cows would come out of the oak and grass-covered hills to drink. On this particular day, we got out of the truck and walked up to a gruesome sight — a dead calf, bloodied and torn. I’d seen death before on the family ranches, but not one so violent. My Uncle Fred scratched his head under his Stetson, looked over to Aunt Myrtle whose eyes had gone wide behind her cat-eye glasses, then looked down to me with a kind expression and said, “Lil’ Charli, ‘fraid a mountain lion got this little fella.”
That’s all he had to say. My five-year-old brain kicked into survival mode, and I ran. You know the saying — you only have to run faster than the slowest in your group, and at pre-k age, I discovered I indeed could outrun two seventy-year-olds. I ran to Uncle Fred’s truck, scrambled inside, rolled up both windows, and locked the doors. For the next 30 minutes, my Uncle tried to convince me to unlock the doors. I would feel more shame as an adult that I left my beloved relatives to fend for themselves if it weren’t for the fact that Uncle Fred found the incident funny. He thought me a clever girl for thinking to lock out the big cat that had taken down a calf. They also instilled within me a sense of play based on a curiosity that I still retain, as I realized their humor eased what could have been a traumatic incident in my young life.
Have you ever wanted to curl up at the feet of a good storyteller? Draw a blanket around you like an eternal child, burrow into its warmth, keep an ear out to hear, and a hand to hold a mug of coffee. Well, maybe kids shouldn’t be drinking coffee, but I long to sit blanketed and child-like at the knee of my friend and captivating storyteller, Myra Möyrylä. Since the pandemic, she’s stepped up on Facebook to entertain the community with memories of her ancestors, writing detailed, heartfelt stories of the people from her past who taught her sisu and other values in their adjustment to the New World from Finland to the Keweenaw. Some of her kin remind me of mine though we both came from such different regions and cultures.
To give you a taste, Myra writes the following caption to this week’s challenge photo:
Long boards aren’t only for surfers❄💙🇫🇮these cross country skis from Finland are well over a hundred years old and serviced a lineage of ancestors for their transportation needs. They were last known as Great Uncle Vic’s skis. Before cars and roads people walked were they needed to go and in the winter laced the leather straps to their boots and set off on skis.🇫🇮❄ Sisu, sauna, farming, cross country skis and a love for the outdoors and strong coffee came over with our families 💙🇫🇮 good memories during these complicated times💙☕🇫🇮❄
This is the first time I’ve seen cross-country skis so long or heard the phrase long boards for skis. In addition to surfboards, I’ve heard of long skateboards, too, and can imagine the phrase extending to snowboards. Who was the first human to decide that a board was good transportation upon water, frozen or deep?
I wonder the fate of Uncle Fred’s things. I know he had tools made by his Grandfather Riley, a Union soldier from Tennessee. People like Uncle Fred or Uncle Vic learned to do with what they had, and innovate for what they needed. Women like Aunt Myrtle and Myra’s family made homes and passed down values like sisu and endurance. It is an interesting time to consider what we have from our past that we can use in our future. Perhaps the stillness a pandemic offers is a gift to revise old stories in new ways, plant heirloom seeds for future harvest, and laugh away the fear. This is life. And we are the ones who write about it.
April 30, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features long boards. They can be used in any way you imagine, including a name for sporting equipment. How are they used and who is using them? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by May 5, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Precautions Not Needed by Charli Mills
Sam King parked the Willys Jeep in first gear. “Get the long boards,” he told his daughter.
Gripping the roll bar, Danni swung out the open side. Near the gate, the Lazy T Ranch kept long boards for crossing the boggiest parts of the high-meadow springs. Using her leather gloves, Danni moved one board at a time, setting each through the open space in the backseat. They stuck up at an angle. “Dad, you want me to tie a bandana on the end?”
Sam laughed. “We’re not likely to get rear-ended, Kiddo. The bulls are all down at headquarters.”
Well, it is finished: Term Two Week Ten. My final grades come out on January 16, and this week, we wrapped up our discussions. My thesis, when accepted, will be a contemporary novel about Danni Gordon who is an archeologist ready to settle down but married to a restless veteran who finds a way back to Iraq. In Advanced Literature, we studied the four primary genres of my MFA program: YA, romance, speculative and contemporary. Our final project was short and creative. We had to write a two-sentence story for each genre to show the differences.
Here’s my homework:
YA: My name is Danni and I’m a Nevada girl who can drive steers, mustangs, and any old Jeep. Before you start thinking that’s all cool, understand that my life is misery, too — my name came up on the teenage ranchhands list at the bunkhouse today and I drew short straw to muck out the calving barn.
Romance: Danni couldn’t resist staring at the way the fisherman’s black tee-shirt stretched across his muscled chest and she could forgive him for walking across her archeology grid. Ike had no idea who the stupendously sexy woman digging in the dirt was, but he could forgive her from distracting him from fly-fishing the rest of the afternoon.
Speculative: With a single brushstroke, Danni uncovered a metallic glint among fragments of Navajo potshards. She kept brushing until days later the outline revealed what archeology had not prepared her to find — an ancient spaceship.
Contemporary: Ike charged her with his knife drawn but the full-body impact came from her left side. She never saw the charging moose her husband took down with a single slash.
Can you spot the differences? YA is a teenaged version of Danni told in the first-person POV and demonstrating a strong narrative voice. Romance focuses on a relationship and famously includes a first meet, and often told from alternating perspectives, which I did but as close third-person POV. Speculative includes spaceships. Contemporary creates verisimilitude through details that put the reader in the story. My biggest takeaway, though, is that no matter our genres of preference to write or read, we all blend genres. What is important to know for the purpose of publication is which genre best describes yours. Do you give this topic much thought or do you write what you write?
I’ve come to decide, for now, at least for we are always evolving, that I write contemporary fiction about the women’s frontiers. Typically I look for stories not being told or forgotten in time. As a researcher, it can be hard to find women in the records at all. Yet, stories have a way of rising to the surface, even ones buried in time.
Today, I took an artist’s date with a friend who claims to be the longest-standing student of Finnish language who still can’t speak it. I admire her attempt — it’s like Nordic Welsh. Hancock (Hankooki) has street signs double posted in English and Finnish, and after two years in the Keweenaw, I’m still no closer to understanding how to say a single word. Still, I appreciate living in a place with strong cultural identity from many sectors. While I originally planned a post inspired by my local Italian neighborhood, I got sidetracked this afternoon at the Finnish Cultural Heritage Center, where my friend and I watched the new documentary, Sirkka, by local filmmaker and Finnish American, Kristin Ojaniemi.
At 99 and a half, Sirkka Tuomi Holm is blind in one eye and can hardly see out the other. Born five days before women had the right to vote in the US, her foreign-born Finnish parents raised her to fight for what is right. She stood on picket lines as a child with the working class, joined the Army as a WAC in WWII, and stood up as a hostile witness under the hysteria of McCarthyism. She writes a column in the Finnish American Reporter monthly and says history will always repeat itself. She should know. She’s lived through it. A veteran and a woman born before the Vote. Yet living, breathing, and showing how the past informs the present.
You can see from the film trailer how easily Sirkka captivated me. She relates a story about her shoes falling apart, repairing them with cardboard. She lived through the Great Depression and remembers the harsh times. A teacher referred her to the school principal for a shoe donation. The principal wrote out a slip for the program, but rather than hand it to Sirkka, she crumpled it and threw it on the ground to make the girl fetch it, saying, “You foreign-born make me sick! Lazy! Your father should be working to provide your shoes.”
Those words echo down through time and find new mouths to spill out from, shaming those who migrate for a better life, enduring poverty and hardships in the transition. Sirkka was shamed but held her gaze directly at the interviewer and said of the principal, “She was a bitch on wheels.” 80-some years later, Sirkka still recalls how that woman made her feel. As writers, that’s what we want to capture no matter the genre and its tropes we write. Readers should walk away from books remembering how the characters made them feel.
As for living history, Sirkka participated in the fight against fascism, aiding D-Day in Normandy. Yet, less than a decade later, she watched fear of communism turn to hysteria. Many Finns, such as Sirkka and her parents, were indeed Red Finns. They maintained their language, love of theater, religion, and politics without any subversive motives. She embraced being American because it meant the freedom to be who you are, speaking out, standing up for justice. The tide turned against her, and McCarthyism left her hating. Then, she realized that hate was making her like those who had wronged her. She loved people and made a choice to dispell hate.
Sirkka has a message for us. She says history will repeat itself, and it’s up to us to remain human. We do that together. She said, “Sing together. Go for walks together.” I’ll add to that — write together.
The debut of Sirkka’s film kicked off the mid-winter festival in Hankooki — Heikinpäivä. In Finland, they say, “The bear rolls over,” meaning winter is halfway over. And here’s how they say it:
Heikinpäivä 2020 includes a stick horse parade, pasties, kick-sledding, and a wife-carrying contest. Little appeals to me in the sport’s origins or modern contest, but it makes locals laugh and cheer the contestants without being as intense as other races. But it got me wondering, as writers are wont to do with strange little tidbits — what other ways and reasons might wives be carried?
January 9, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a carried wife. Why is she being carried? Who is carrying? Pick a genre if you’d like and craft a memorable character. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by January 14, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
Arrival to Rock Creek by Charli Mills
Her black hair sleeked and pinned, Mary Green McCanles rode the Tennessee Walker sidesaddle alongside the wagon train from Carter’s Station. Among the dusty herd and hands, she looked regal and rested. Sarah’s cheeks flushed, and she patted the frizzy sides of her brown hair, feeling like a pale version of Mary. Sarah dimmed when Mary dazzled. Cobb strode from the barn, ignoring the new livestock that just made him the wealthiest man in Nebraska Territory. He swung his wife off the horse and carried to the outburst of cheers. Sarah would have to sleep in the barn tonight.
In the Anishinaabe tradition, Water Walkers are the women who do the work of the water. They collect water from one place, relay the water in a copper pot, and return it to another. Water Walkers pray for the water, contemplating its life-giving force. They sing with gratitude and respect. Modern Water Walkers unite all people and all nations to protect the water for the next generations.
Writers from all walks used Water Walkers as a title or phrase, offering new stories and different genres to expand the concept.
For a personal account of the 90-mile three-day 2019 People of the Heart Water Walk and 99-word stories inspired by the experience, see the article in KeweenawNow by Charli Mills.
The following stories are based on the November 7, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes Water Walkers.
PART I (5-minute read)
I Am Water by Ann Edall-Robson
I remember the rumble of the rocks and the quiver of the earth below. The same memory that took me into darkness; but it did not stop me from breathing. Hope in my heart moved me onward beneath the lifeless blanket. A continual hunt for an escape route. Always in search of new orifices to travel. The rocks are on the move, again. A pinhole of light encourages me to push, gushing upward. Released. Victorious! A breeze dances across my soul. Carefree and unchecked I tumble over rocks that once were my jailer. I am water. I am life.
Elemental by D. Avery
Since the beginning, These Ones delighted in their individual strengths but the essence of These Ones was harmony. In celebration, they sought to give form to harmony by coalescing their essences. Fire would spark potential, Air would give breath, but it was formless Water that gave form to the colorful soils Earth gave for their bodies. Without Water, these creations would be dust. Like the plants that gave them life, these creations could only stand when filled with Water.
Water prayed as these creations walked the Earth, breathed the Air and tended their Fires. Go in peace, Water Walkers.
A Walk Amongst Watery Words by Bill Engleson
Somewhere under the earth,
in veiled aquifers,
water waits for birth,
the magic that occurs.
Drawn from the depths,
life sustaining fluid,
purified in steps,
swallow, and we’re refueled.
And though it gives life,
quenches our parched thirst,
it also causes strife
for some, forever cursed.
Locked in arid land,
water walkers sacred soil,
poisoned rocks and sand,
blighted by extorted oil.
Fields opined, “I never drink water.
That’s the stuff that rusts pipes.”
And there was gurgled laughter
cause it takes all types.
Yet, beneath the earth
in hidden aquifers,
water waits for birth,
the magic that occurs.
Water Striders by H.R.R. Gorman
Skri water walks over to me. “Lookit – those things are on the island again.”
The short-limbed creatures watch me from the shores. I do not bounce as if to play, do not acknowledge them. Instead I reach below the surface to grab a chunk of algae. “I thought nothing lived on land.”
“You know what the elder says?” Skri leaned in close. “She thinks they’re monsters.”
The materially-rich monsters move as if to avoid scaring us. There’s something knowing about them, something intelligent, but they’re absent the holiness of water.
I shudder. Nothing with a soul walks on land.
The Water Walkers by Joanne Fisher
The abandoned house was so cheap they were practically giving it away. A local told me I shouldn’t have moved into it as the house was too close to the bay and the Water Walkers would come. Water Walkers, apparently, lived under the waves and occasionally took people away. As local legends go, this was a crazy one! I ignored their superstitions.
One night I awoke to find dark figures standing above me. Their wet slimy hands grabbed hold and carried me off to the water. I was screaming when they dragged me down into the depths with them.
#27 Liquidity by JulesPaige
I walk, carrying my own water. uncomfortably, but manageable. I should have gone before I went on my Día de Muertos errand. I think am my own conversation piece – with a mutt, a crow in a basket and a kitty in my jacket pocket.
I think I’ll have one right here, a little rest by little fresh water spring that draws me closer. Dawg drinks, and looks at me; “Try this!” His eyes say. “Magic water”. Byrd caws…My eyes blink like wipers on a windshield… there is a sparkle poking out from under a rock, a diamond bracelet…
Water Walkers (“Crater Lakes”) by Saifun Hassam
In early spring waterfalls cascaded from caves high in the Granite Mountains. Creeks filled with rapidly flowing water. In the valleys, underground springs fed the Crater Lakes with an abundance of water. By early summer the lush green mountain ridges turned golden brown.
Mountain goats and deer followed trails of Water Walkers from the ridges down to the Crater Lakes. There were trails of Water Walkers along the ridges, of vanished pueblo dwellers and of more recent pioneers. Ruins of wells dotted the ridges. Nesting blue jays, blue birds and nuthatches splashed in the overflowing water in the spring.
The Last Laugh by Jo Hawk
They laughed and said I was off my rocker.
I smiled, content to bide my time. I would win the bet, earn the last laugh and gain some cold, hard cash. Summer turned to fall, and autumn succumbed to frigid winter. I set the date to prove them wrong.
“It’s the coldest day in a century,” they complained. I remained steadfast.
The polar vortex froze Lake Michigan’s shoreline, her beaches transformed from a liquid to a solid, firm enough to hold my weight. Warm vapor rose from her waves, and for a moment, I dared to walk on water.
No Water, No Walk in Life by Miriam Hurdle
“Dad, what is the most powerful of the five elements of nature? Metal, wood, water, fire or earth?”
“If you were deserted in an island, or a drifting boat in an ocean, what is one thing you need to survive?”
“You made a point. I guess it’s water.”
“A human can be without food for more than three weeks, but he can only go without water for a week.”
“Lost at sea could drink seawater.”
“Seawater contains salt higher than human can process and makes us thirstier.”
“Only fresh water helps us survive then.”
“You got it, Son.”
Water Walker by Susan Sleggs
I am an American. I raised my right hand and affirmed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against any who oppose it. I agreed to follow the orders of the President and all others ranked above me. I have been to war and done things I believe are morally wrong, but would do them again to protect my country. Like my friend’s grandmother, a Water Walker who fights to protect water because it is life, I will fight whenever and wherever I am told because Freedom isn’t free and I’m willing to pay the price.
PART II (5-minute read)
Water Walkers by Charli Mills
My Nakomis shields my body with hers when they pelt us with rubber bullets. They don’t understand why we don’t die like all the others around the globe. They think we hoard a stash of stolen science. We are the Water Walkers, and we speak on behalf of the world’s poisoned water. Scientists can now alter the DNA code of entire families to survive the hydro-toxicity crisis. Only select families, though. They want to know why we aren’t altered or dead. Threatened us to give up our secret. Nakomis says we never held back. We tried to teach them.
Water Walk by Anita Dawes
Water has a memory
Especially when it comes
to trying to wash the world away
Down some metaphorical drain hole
Flooding seems to drag all water together
It’s hard being reminded that there are many
Taking the water walk to survive
When so many take their hot and cold taps for granted
I remember my grandmother walking out of the house
To the pump room where she would carry her bucket
the three flights to her two small rooms
From preparing food, washing, cleaning house
she would need to take the water walk
I like to walk beside her…
Women at Work by Anne Goodwin
From a distance, you’d think they were walking on water. Serenely they float in bright-coloured saris, balancing baskets and pots on their heads. Traversing lagoons with gifts for their gods in the temple or visiting friends for chai and a chat.
Come closer and you’ll see something different, as they hitch up their skirts and step down from the banks built of mud. In the fields, crosshatched by embankments and walkways, tender green shoots poke out from ankle-deep water and mud. These women have no time for gossip: rice demands their devotion; their families need rice or they’ll starve.
Lluvias Monzónicas by TN Kerr
Just up country from the old church, a redbud tree stood alone on a rock strewn hillock, a vigilant sentinel minding the landscape, watching. At least thrice a week Miriam would walk there with a yoke and two large buckets filled with sweet water drawn from the creek. She’d sing and offer water to the tree.
When the lluvias monzónicas came and swept away Miriam’s adobe she went to plead with the redbud tree. She went to ask for shelter. Redbud shuddered with the storm and cooed, “Of course niña. Come close, take refuge, and sleep beneath my branches.”
Water Walker by Liz Husebye Hartmann
The days were endless, the nights not long enough. She was tired, but too well-rested. She had all she needed to restore her health, but was weary of doing the work to rejoin the world.
Yet there remained moments–lilac’s scent, chickadee’s song, soft cashmere blanket lying beneath her cooling hands–that hinted shucking her failing body, she’d become what, rather than who she was meant to be.
The child with her own smile approached from the dark corner of the room. Thirsty, she received the child’s caress, the sweet water in a simple glass, finally hers to enjoy.
Erie Kai Water Walker by Nancy Brady
This Water Walker was a member of a tribe who left during the war that was being waged by the British, Canadians, and Americans. While they left, she stayed to protect her home and family. Her bones were discovered later near the shoreline of the lake. She was called Old Woman (Minehonto), and the stream bears her name still.
Even now, Old Woman Creek forms a natural estuary with the lake her tribe called the Wildcat, Lake Erie. Just as she protected her territory long ago, the locals of the Estuary Research Center protect the creek and the lake.
Anishinaabe and Josephine Mandamin by Susan Zutautas
It was grandmother Josephine’s purpose in life to save, and protect the clean water, and the unpolluted lakes.
She could not do this on her own so she would protest along with other water walkers every chance she got to tell people how sacred water was and how it was a lifeline for all of us. The water was becoming endangered and she was determined to let the people know.
Josephine walked 17,000 kilometers around the great lakes, and she co-founded the Mother Earth Water Walk.
The first Mother Earth Water Walk was in 2003 and still continues today.
Oo-wa! by D. Avery
“Ya mean fer the prompt?”
“This’s a tough one, Pal, talkin ‘bout water. I’m comin’ up dry.”
“Kid, yer all wet. It ain’t ‘bout talkin’ ‘bout water. More ‘bout listenin’ ta water. Lookit Shorty there, walkin’ the talk.”
“Yeah, Shorty’s walkin’ tall. Thet’s somethin’, the leader of Buckaroo Nation carryin’ on with the Anishinaabe.”
“Yep, carryin’ Nibi. Shorty took her chuck wagon on the road an’ ended up bein’ a Water Walker.”
“Oo-wa! It’s good work. Was that sacred water Pal?”
“Course, Kid. All water is sacred; water is life.”
Water is life.
It’s 4 a.m., and I’m brewing a pot of coffee in the Hub’s stainless steel pot. I pour the water into the reservoir, scoop coffee grounds dark as dirt into a filter, and hit brew. Back upstairs, I shower beneath hot water, letting the flow ease the stiffness from my body and revive my senses. I dress in layers to prepare for the biting cold of Gichigami — the Big Sea called Lake Superior. It’s October, and I have no plans to dip a toe in the sea, but I will be spending much of the day along her frigid fall shores. In a skirt.
Skirts feel like a foreign language to me; I’m never sure if I’m wearing one correctly. But I’m part of something sacred, and protocols state that kwe wear skirts so the earth can recognize that we are women. Fortunately, protocols also allow for pants underneath (translation for Brits in case you thought I might go commando, pants as in trousers). I’ve packed extra socks, a first-aid kit, communal drinking water in a 10-gallon cooler, snacks baked or donated by my Warrior Sisters, food for tonight’s feast in a small church basement, and the steel coffee pot.
Forty-five minutes later, I’ve avoided the deer hanging out alongside the road and drive in the pitch dark past Copper Harbor. It’s 5:30 a.m., and I park my car at Astor Shipwreck Park across the road from Fort Wilkins, which is shuttered until next spring. My car companion is going to drive a truck behind two senior citizens who will ride behind a group of women who are gathering this early morning to walk the water from Copper Harbor to Sandpoint Lighthouse in Keweenaw Bay, home of the Anishinaabe. They are meeting us here in the dark, teaching us their protocols so we might unite all peoples to do the work of the water. The Anishinaabekwe — the women — all wear traditional ribbon skirts and good walking boots or tennies.
It’s so dark, we don’t know each other and laugh as we begin to figure out voices. The air is cold, and the weather forecasters predict mixed precipitation. The Water Walkers of the tribe plan to make the 90 mile trip in three days. I’ve been helping with logistics — social media, communications, securing food and shelter. No one is in charge, but without a doubt, the Anishinaabekwe lead us. They hope to break down cultural barriers and teach us to protect the water according to their traditions. Gichigami is their Big Sea. The lands we walk across are ceded territories. To do the work of the water is to take a spiritual journey.
A small motor put-puts in the dark, heralding the arrival of two elderly women in a golf cart. People move and shift in shadows. Terri has the copper pot with Nibi (water), and another person carries the Eagle Staff. I can’t see, but I hear the pitch of excitement in her voice. The walk has begun. We are all asked to place acema (tobacco) in our left hand, the hand closest to our hearts, and say a prayer for the water as we cross over Fannie Hooe Creek and follow the kwe carrying Nibi in a copper vessel. Once the water is in motion, it cannot stop. Kwe take turns conveying the water, and any gender or non-binary can hold the staff. Several young and robust women from the Copper Harbor area will take turns with the Anishinaabekwe.
My friends are among those who have gathered — Cynthia and Laura (rodeo judges, they are, too). I set out with them at a brisk speed. It’s so dark and silent as we walk to Copper Harbor. We chatter and laugh. I start to worry that the pace is faster than I anticipated. My friend, Bon, is waiting at her house along the lake route with breakfast for the walkers. I plan to walk and catch a ride back to my car, but no one seems to know how far ahead the relay van is. So, I turn back and walk alone to my car, my thoughts on my role to support the Water Walkers. I feel like a contrary clown, walking backward.
That was October 19.
I had planned to offer snacks and water. Bon gifted me with the use of her air-pots for coffee and a recipe for omelets on the go. The ones she made for the walkers were a huge hit. I had set up the feast at Bethany Church in Mohawk. I would feed people. The next day, I might fill in where I could, but I knew another person was managing that night’s feast, and the following day, I’d touch base. The Tribal Council was in charge of that feast. I felt like the event was going smoothly, and I’d be needed less and less.
Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans? Nibi had other intentions.
Fourteen years ago, my daughter was a junior in high school. I had hoped she would attend secondary school at my alma mater — Carrol College in Montana. But she was also interested in another liberal arts college — Northland in northern Wisconsin. We made trips to both places, and the first time I saw Bayfield, Wisconsin, I fell in love with the Chequamegon Bay. For years, we had camped in northern Minnesota, and the North Shore of Lake Superior captivated me. The cliffs and waves of the North Shore are terrifying and majestic. Along Chequamegon Bay, the Apostle Islands buffer the inland sea.
When I first wrote Miracle of Ducks, I set it in Bayfield. I knew that Ike’s best friend, Michael Robineaux, would be from the band of Red Cliff Ojibwa. That’s how he came to me, in the way characters do.
What I didn’t know, until after the walk, is that Bayfield is ceded Anishinaabe lands. Madeline Island, where I studied the W-story structure at MISA, is a spiritual place for the tribe. It’s a sacred water place. In 2012, I seriously contemplated making it my home, the draw of the water had been so strong that summer I had lived there, writing and bobbing in the bay. Instead, I went to Idaho to be with the Hub. My eldest and her husband moved to Missoula, Montana. Our middle daughter moved out west, and we joked that our son would come next. But the water called us back. Gichigami called me home — Lady Lake Superior.
Day two of the Water Walk I learned that it is not about the walk. People peeled off, leaving a small core group. We had to strategize relaying the water, keeping it flowing forward. My focus shifted to the Grandmothers — the two in the golf cart. I felt drawn to carry Nibi and asked the Hub if he’d carry the Eagle Staff. He said no, citing his other knee, which will need surgery. That deflated me. I’ve had three back surgeries, and I’m fit to run a desk. I realized I was not one to walk the water. And I had a role to play. I was doing the work of the water, too. When the Water Walkers crossed the Houghton Bridge, more people joined. I wanted to walk across the bridge, too, but someone needed to drive the Tribal van.
Arranging for police escort was tricky. They wanted to meet the walkers at a certain point and time, but the water doesn’t stop or wear a watch. Neither does the woman carrying Nibi. I stayed in contact with our officer as another woman, and I scouted the route and where we could cross. By the time the Water Walkers caught up, the group had grown to twenty. At that point, I took over the van (“Look Native,” Kathy told me). I parked on the other side of the Keweenaw Waterway, the great canal large enough for lake freighters, and hoofed it back up to the bridge, camera in hand.
The video catches an awkward cultural miscommunication — the Water Walkers recognized me and shouted oo-waa! I did not shout back. Sometimes I’m slow to understand social cues. Later, when I learned more about this vocalization, Kathy told me she likes to go into the woods and shout. Sometimes she gets a call back. It’s the early communication system of the Anishinaabe: “I’m here, I see you, where are you.” But I knew I was seen, I was called to merge with the walkers as they passed me on the bridge followed by the flashing lights of the Hancock Police.
People asked what we were protesting. The police asked if we were carrying signs, and what did they read? One of my roles was to educate people, and I made small handouts to explain the Water Walk. Our message joins all colors, philosophies, faiths, and beliefs — no matter our differences, no matter our political standings, no matter our knowledge of science, one simple truth binds us all — Water is life. Cutting through the bike trails to avoid traffic in Houghton, our Water Walkers passed homeowners mowing lawns and raking leaves. One man dismounted his riding mower and salutes the procession with his hand on his heart. The Grandmothers teared up, touched by the simple recognition.
Our mixed group is called People of the Heart. Kathy and Terri come from the same Lodge where they practice traditional healing. Their teachings clearly state that they are for “all people.” In fact, 500 years ago, the Anishinaabe left their eastern lands to adhere to prophecy. They were to go where the food grows on the water (wild rice, manoomin) — the Northland (north Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and the upper peninsula of Michigan). There would come a time when the world would need the teachings of the Anishinaabe. The time has come for us to protect our water
Water is life.
Not oil, not money, not the latest iPhone or Unicode emoji. Kathy is not only a Water Walker, but she is also a biologist for the Tribe. For many years, she fought wildfires out west, leading a Native crew. Terri is an early childhood educator for the Tribe. The Grandmothers both serve on Tribal Council and sew. Sewing includes traditional skirts, shirts, and vests with ribbons, embroidery, and beading. The Anishinaabe traditions co-exist with the modern world, and it’s a gift packed with wisdom and experience and wonder. It’s teaching based on responsible use, respect, gratitude, and protection. Water is life, and we are to protect it not only for our generation but for the next seven.
How will decisions made today impact the future? Does policy or pollution threaten those seven generations from now? If we do this today, what happens tomorrow? Imagine if seven generations ago, those in power thought this way. We have become short-sighted. Doing the work of the water means taking time to contemplate its future, our future, a future we won’t live to see, but one we impact right now. Water has no voice. Corporations have personhood, but water does not. Kwe speak for the sovereignty of water, we are the life-bringers, the women with the capacity to carry a baby to term in a sac of water. Corporations have legal rights, but water is life.
Day three dawned long after I had. Three mornings in a row, I rose at 4 a.m. to fix four pots of coffee, refill the water jug, pack snacks, and fix breakfast on the go for the Water Walkers. I have relaying down by day three. Our support vehicles leap-frog ahead half a mile. My warm car is ready for walkers to take a break. We are operating lean — one kwe to carry Nibi, one person to carry the Eagle Staff. Once the sun comes up, several other women walk in support, and we continue the half-mile to a mile relay. The water moves forward, not stopping
The Grandmothers have accepted me, and they laugh and joke, waving their mugs my direction for more coffee. They take my succession of snacks, loving bologna sandwiches the best. Kathy calls it “Indian steak.” In America, it’s the comfort food of the poor. I know bologna well. When we were broke down and homeless in Gallup, we shared all the poor food I knew growing up with the Natives in New Mexico. Never had pinto beans tasted so good as when shared by others who know life’s struggles and yet still smile and give all they have to give. At feast the night before, the Grandmothers claimed me, and the Hub says the Navajo wanted me, too. Kathy says, “The Dine can not have her,” and we all laugh.
It’s a wonder to me, a moment of serendipity, that Michael Robineaux came to me as an imaginary character for a novel years before I’d come to be known to his people. When I felt the draw to Lake Superior, I was called by Gichigami to know her fully, to know all nations touching her shores. Oo-wa! I am seen. This time I understand enough to call back. Oo-wa! I see your humanity, too. We are one. The water unites us.
At dawn on the third day, I found a snowmobile bar open and willing to let us use the restrooms. By then, the whole UP had heard of the Water Walkers with news coverage. All the kwe used community connections and news media to get the word out. Somehow, an officer with the State Troopers missed all that. He pulled over Terri’s truck that drove behind the Grandmothers like an honor guard. In her absence, I slid in. The Grandmothers are all-seeing from behind. They watch the walkers, the water, the staff, the land, and the sky. They speak up when they need to and stay silent to let the younger ones experience for themselves. We need all generations in unity.
We need all peoples, all nations. Water is life.
One of the walkers asked me to walk Nibi. I didn’t think I could. But I tried. She said she’d walk with me, carrying the Eagle Staff. This kwe, whose dog was dying as we walked, focused on life, not death. This strong woman wanted all of us kwe to spend time in contemplation, carrying Nibi no matter our levels of strength. As I faced the Water Walker coming my way, I confessed my fear — it’s the same one that hits me when I submit my writing — it’s not enough, I’m not enough. Old recordings, debilitating doubt, lies we believed. I focused on the truth. Water is life. I grabbed the copper bucket, I did not look to the left, I did not look to the right, I walked forward. At my own pace.
I’m surrounded by women dancing circles around me in skirts and shawls. Why was I ever averse to skirts? They flow like water, skirts to skirts, shawls to shawls, women encircle the work, doing the work of water. I carry Nibi in me. Gitchigami rises overhead in a thick bank of clouds pushing away the storm that was supposed to hit us during the walk. Water kept us dry. Eleven eagles greeted us at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community border. We walked the Anishinaabekwe home. I walked the water. I am a Water Walker. I am kwe. This time the story caught the story-catcher.
November 7, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes Water Walkers. It does not have to be in the Anishinaabe tradition; in fact, it would be more interesting to see interpretations from across all nations and walks. It can be a title or used as a phrase. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by November 12, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.
SUBMISSIONS CLOSED. SEE OUR LATEST CHALLENGE.
Water Walkers by Charli Mills
My Nakomis shields my body with hers when they pelt us with rubber bullets. They don’t understand why we don’t die like all the others around the globe. They think we hoard a stash of stolen science. We are the Water Walkers, and we speak on behalf of the world’s poisoned water. Scientists can now alter the DNA code of entire families to survive the hydro-toxicity crisis. Only select families, though. They want to know why we aren’t altered or dead. Threatened us to give up our secret. Nakomis says we never held back. We tried to teach them.
Pasty Fest holds all the old world charm: Finnish dancers in traditional dress, street-side vendors in the shadow of copper-mining era buildings, and — of course — pasties. Hearty dough enfolds savory meats and vegetables, and old-world debates rage across the Keweenaw to declare who first brought pasties to the region.
Pronounced pass-tee (like from the past, not pastey glue), the etymology is British. Tradition holds that Cornish miners from England introduced expertise, technology, and pasties to the Keweenaw when copper mining began during the 1840s. However, a contender for origination comes from Finland. During ethnic events like Pasty Fest, the Finns of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan declare the food a Finnish specialty.
The dispute doesn’t end with who brought pasties from the old world to the new.
Another debate contends which filling is best — sliced or diced. Those in the veggies-must-be-diced corner claim the “grandma says” rule of filling pasties. Families heatedly argue the issue, though, when one grandmother dices and the other slices. Knife skills aside, modern observation notes that pasties made with sliced ingredients stay hotter for a longer period. Amy J’s Pasties in Hancock (world headquarters to Carrot Ranch) slices. Roy’s Bakery across the Keweenaw waterway, dices. I have taken both to the beach to hunt rocks on Lake Superior, and I can tell you that Amy J’s pasties stay hotter much longer.
What does this tell us? The Cornish miners probably understood that slicing created thermal layers.
The next argument has led to Copper Country divorces and involves veg. To carrot or not to carrot? Well, you can guess my opinion on that subject. Fortunately, the Hub agrees (no divorce lawyers needed). We like carrots in our pasties. The other questionable veg is parsnip. It’s a root vegetable similar to carrots, and likely has old-world connections to Finland. Amy J’s adds both carrots and parsnips to their pasties, and Roy’s omits parsnips. Some add gravy to the filling, other ketchup. I like my veg naked and in harmony with the meat.
Shape creates more consternation. The final shape of a pasty that is. Suomi’s, a local diner that serves pannukakku and remains a place where you can still hear the Finnish accent, mounds their pasties into softballs. Amy J’s conforms to a more traditional (Cornish) half-moon pie. Roy’s fills a pastie that is in between the two shapes. And some, frankly, have no shape at all. If pasty-makers were to be on the Great British Bakeoff, the judges would question the efficiency and aesthetic of their shapes. Does the dough hold the liquid of the filling? Is it appealing?
A more current debate has less to do with pasties and more with land, as in, who claims the Keweenaw. Yes, Canada, sometimes we wish it was you. I’m fond of describing my home as “that thumb of land that juts into the belly of Lake Superior.” It’s part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, an unwanted mass of land that came with the old world land deals. No one wanted the remote region, but after the Toledo War of 1835, Michigan and Ohio fought over “downstate land” because of erroneous geographical maps from 1787. In the end, Michigan was given the Upper Peninsula. Better historians than me can understand the land dispute, but I get that the Keweenaw was a consolation prize that paid dividends to Michigan when geologists discovered copper.
But Wisconsin is the state to cry sour grapes. Even today, the UP is referred to as “that land Michigan stole” from the neighboring cheese state. It would make more sense for the UP to be Upper Wisconsin (or Lower Canada). Water does not divide us like it does from downstate Michigan. To go to our state capital (and all major cities), we have to cross the Mighty Mac. Recently, a Mountain Dew marketing campaign mislabeled the UP of MI as the UP of WI. The cheese-heads laughed, and Mountain Dew had to apologize. Everyone in the UP got free sodas.
Despite our old world squabbles, we get along well in the UP. We gather for Pasty Fest in Calumet to celebrate tradition as we each best experience it. The city that once boasted a population over 30,000 is now a National Historic Park with 727 remaining residents. The streets feel wide, and the buildings loom tall because it was once a booming epicenter of copper mining full of migrant workers and millionaires. The oldest cobblestone street in Michigan is open to vehicles, though it’s advisable to avoid the jarring drive, especially if you are eating a pasty.
The first Pasty Fest I attended was in 2017. The Hub and I finally limped to our destination the night before. Although we had arrived, I felt defeated. My daughter and her troupe were dancing at the community celebration, and on our way to the performance, I saw the Vet Center Mobile. It’s a mobile unit dispatched to meet veterans in need where they are at. I bum-rushed the staff, pleading our case — my husband needed help, we were homeless, and I was desperate. No pasty could soothe me that day. I didn’t even eat one.
Two years later and I attended Pasty Fest as a guest author in the local author’s booth. I hawked 99-word stories, handed out Carrot Ranch bookmarks, and sold anthologies. I earned enough to eat pasties and drink a thimbleberry margarita. What a difference two years, a ton of advocacy for the Hub, and hard work make. I feel as much a part of this community as I have ever felt anywhere. It’s welcoming, vibrant, and full of history. The Keweenaw has old world charm, and I’m smitten no matter who invented pasties, sliced or diced.
This week, my coursework includes discussion of genre — what it is and how it informs our writing. Even the experts struggle to define genre beyond the obvious ones of romance and cozy mystery. Marketers stretch genre to use them as labels to sell books to audiences defined by reading preferences. Ursula K. Le Guin protested the value judgment critics past on genre writers as if such writing was of lesser quality than literary fiction. Authors often have no idea what genre they are writing. If you want to add your thoughts, give this article a read (keep in mind that it was written in 2011, but it remains relevant).
August 22, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about old world charm. It can be nostalgic or irreverent. You can invent an “old world,” return to migrant roots or recall ancient times. Go where the prompt leads you!
Respond by August 27, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Suomi Dancing by Charli Mills
A blonde quartet of girls dressed in blue dances. They twirl, holding hands. Singing, they remake the lyrics of Finland’s midsummer. No longer homeland, home is here, Finlandia, USA. With old world charm, they brighten the backyard of a house owned by the Calumet Mining Company. New life for Finns.
Aunt Jo kneads the dough until it stretches smooth. She slices parsnips and carrots thin the way her neighbor instructed. “Thin layers keep ‘em hot longer in the mines,” she told Jo.
Jo smiles at the children Suomi dancing under maples trees. “Supper,” she calls. “Time for pasties, hey!”
Many hands make light work. Women converged on Lady B’s yard, a twisting wreckage slammed by flood and debris last year. Someone — maybe a county worker — laid down straw last summer which snow matted like unruly hair. Depressed and unable to muck out her yard, Lady B expressed sadness. That’s when we formed an informal rake brigade. With six women and six rakes, we piled leaves and straw, collected debris and shattered ceramic pots. Lady B, 86-years-old, fussed over all of us with graciously served cups of sweet tea.
On Saturday, I’m looking forward to returning with annual plants to splash color in remaining pots, and give my friend something to water and care for each day. My daughter will join her hands with mine to plant, and other women plan long-term garden solutions. Approaching a year after the Father’s Day Floods, my community remains Copper Country Strong.
Across town, all hands are on deck to celebrate the Vet Center’s 40th Anniversary. A BBQ fires up, women set up tables laden with food — sloppy joes, taco salad, fruit salad, cheesy potatoes — and the color guard stands at attention. Vietnam Vets and their spouses stand to receive recognition pins.
But let’s back up past WWII, WWI and the American Civil War to better understand what the Vet Center is all about. President Abe Lincoln made a promise to the surviving soldiers and families of the Civil War. The following opens Miracle of Ducks, my novel-in-progress:
In his second inaugural speech, President Lincoln delivered a remedy of justice to those who have served a nation in times of war, understanding that the price paid by soldiers and their families comes at a cost to the nation:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
To this day, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs operates under a solemn commitment made to those injured in service and vows to take care of the families whose soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice. Less than one percent of US citizens ever serve, giving the entire group of veterans an obscure and minority voice. Veterans rarely speak up for their own justice, making it difficult to receive their benefits for what they endured. It is important that we speak up for them. That we welcome them home, understanding they won’t fit in with the civilians they protected. That we do the one and only thing they ever ask for — “Please take care of my family when I pick up arms for you.”
Those who marry these veterans are loyal. A service to nation that often goes unrecognized.
Miracle of Ducks gives voice to veteran spouses through the story of Danni Gordon. This character has evolved with my own understanding of the service spouses give to the nation. Mary Gauthier, a songwriter who works with veteran families to capture their experiences in song, sings about the War After the War. Here are the lyrics that resonate with the “invisible” spouses:
Who’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war
Land mines in the living room eggshells on the floor
I lost myself in the shadow of your honor and your pain
You stare out the window as our dreams go down the drain
Invisible, the war after the warI’m a soldier too, just like you
Serving something bigger than myself
I serve unseen, caught in between
My pain and the pain of someone elseI’m stronger than you think I am, I’m right here by your side
I am not your enemy I don’t want to fight
There’s no going back in time I know you’re not the same
But you are not the only one for whom the world has changed
Invisible, the war after the war
Yet, the price soldiers and their families pay comes at a cost to the nation. In subsequent wars, US citizens paid taxes to fund war efforts, which is why great thought was given before entering into such a commitment. Those who stayed home planted victory gardens, learned to cook and eat rice so that grains could go overseas to soldiers, went without nylons and other items to ration resources. When soldiers came home, citizens rejoiced with ticker-tape parades. And then came Vietnam, an unpopular war during a time of civil unrest. Soldiers became objects of derision.
The Hub remembers when Georgia hated the Army Rangers. They were barred from businesses and snubbed by society. Grenada changed that attitude and made the Hub wary of fickle views of citizens. He enjoyed getting a parade and allowed in establishments previously off-limits, but he still feels annoyed when someone says, “Thanks for your service.” I’ve tried to understand because I recognize that most people are sincere when they give thanks.
But consider this: Post 9/11 “War on Terrorism” has been the longest US war in history, and yet the smallest percentage of population serves. The toll on physical and mental health is high because of repeat tours. Giving thanks is not what Abraham Lincoln intended. The nation — its citizens — must bear the burden of the cost of war. What does this ideal look like in practice?
Soldiers get medical and mental healthcare without stigma, shame, or pressure to soldier up and take the pain and suffering in silence. That’s the VA’s job. On the homefront, soldiers get readjustment counseling to improve quality of life. That’s the Vet Center’s job. So what do citizens do? They can hire veterans, prevent homelessness, and break down barriers that cause veteran isolation. Isolation kills. Even though veteran suicides have dropped from 22 a day to 20, the VA reports that 14 of those suicides never sought VA services.
And I can tell you why — the VA is difficult to access and penetrate, staff often minimize or ignore concerns, funding goes into marketing a suicide prevention hotline instead of programs that encourage veteran inclusion and fitness, homelessness prevention is nonexistent and does not actually help veterans, and moral injury continues after service. Today, at the open house, I expressed my views based on three years of homelessness and 35 years of VA medical neglect to the regions suicide prevention coordinator. I gave her the view from the other side. And as a spouse, I don’t soldier up, I advocate.
My hands are not alone. As Josh Groban sings in The War at Home, “they are a million strong.” I stand beside my Warrior Sisters. Today, I wept as those of the Vietnam era were honored alongside their husbands with pins that represent their courage and indicate a grateful nation. My husband sat beside me and wept to see his Vietnam era Brothers honored and welcomed home. The Vet Centers exist because the Vietnam vets insisted on helping one another if their country wasn’t going to. The Vet Center exists to keep the promise Abe Lincoln made. It is the legacy of the Vietnam Vets.
Many hands make light work. Won’t you join me in bearing the burdens found in our own hometowns? A better world is not just about veterans. I know we are a global community, but each of us can see and meet the needs of others around us — helping a new mom, visiting the elderly and writing down stories, breaking barriers that isolate vulnerable populations, seeing the humanity in a homeless person, fostering community beautification, giving voice to the voiceless, taking on stories bigger than ourselves. We can all be of service.
June 13, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the work of many hands. Is it a cooperative effort or something else? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by June 18, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Difficult Decision (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Hands reached out to Danni as she slumped in her chair. “I can’t do it alone,” she said. The women in her group, surrounded her.
Roxie patted Danni’s shoulder. “What do we need to do? I’ll bring my vacuum cleaner.”
Everyone offered to help Danni tackle Ramona’s empty house. She wanted to be angry with Ike for his absence, leaving her to make the decision no one in his family wanted to make. Ramona’s dementia progressed beyond Danni’s ability to keep Ike’s grandmother safe.
“Will she hate me?” Danni asked.
“Nah, she won’t remember you,” said Roxie. “We’ll help.”
It’s a mac-and-cheese kind of read — comfort food for the literary soul. From beyond the myths of Marco Polo, pasta has traveled the globe in many forms from different cultures. Which came first, the Chinese noodle or the Italian spaghetti? Who knows for certain, but we do know that Thomas Jefferson introduced the colonies to macaroni and cheese, solidifying a future for America’s top pasta.
Writers took to pasta like worker bees, buzzing around the idea of how to dish it up in a story. Like fine dining or a casual dish to pass, these stories will leave you wanting seconds.
The following is based on the September 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes pasta.
PART I (10-minute read)
Tradition by Reena Saxena
We love Grandma, and yet are never on the same page where food is concerned. She cannot appreciate the subtle flavors in a pasta or pizza, or the convenience of having carbs, proteins and fats all in a single meal. She is so stuck up in her concept of a traditional Indian thali meal. Who has the time for that kind of luxury eating?
Yet, today, as I celebrate a festival away from home, I miss the unique, delicate flavors of different dishes. I try to put a meal together. I am more Indian at heart than I realized.
Pasta Bee by Floridaborne
She waited for her word, looking down from the stage of her elementary school auditorium. She’d loved sitting at the kitchen table learning to spell while pasta cooked and tomato sauce simmered on her mother’s stove. She didn’t like standing under lights, stared at by 200 people.
“Antonia Giordano, spell…”
Starched ruffles itched at her neck, compliments of the dress her mother sewed from remnants for this occasion. But that didn’t stop her from spelling out a word she’d known since the age of two.
“S-p-a-g-h-e-t-t-i,” she replied.
Maybe next year they’d give her a harder word; like Vermicelli.
Too Bad It’s True by Susan Sleggs
Dear Diary, They say pasta is a comfort food. I’m choosing to believe that and plan to make a serving every Saturday from here to forever because it seems I end up at one hospital or another on Sunday. A few months ago I sat with my sister while she and her husband decided whether kidney dialysis was worth the extra time on earth for him. Two weeks ago it was my daughter fighting sepsis (she won) and this Sunday it was my son with a smashed shoulder. The wine is gone tonight, the yummy red sauce pasta awaits.
Remember that Old Elvis Song, In the Ghetti? by Bill Engleson
“So many noodles in the world. Whatdaya think…? You gotta choose, eh!”
Right, buddy. It’s been a long day, All I want is a quiet bus ride home. But that ain’t happening, is it?
There I am, going all silently rhetorical on the fellow sitting next to me. And all he wants to do is chit-chat about pasta.
I try and remember what Emily Post had to say about Public Transportation Etiquette.
Nothing immediately jumps out.
So, I say, noncommittally, “Noodles?”
“Yeah man,” he says, “My mom’s Mac and Cheese. It was the best.”
Yeah, I think…mine was too.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara by Bladud Fleas
The rule for pasta requires the water to be as salty as the Mediterranean. Paolo gives thanks it’s not Jordan and the Dead Sea. Nonna scrutinises him as he puts the chopped guanciale in the pan, heating slowly, extracting its flavoursome fat. She’s a fine mentor; he’s a teaser.
He gets the cream jug from the fridge; she cries out, “ai-ai-ai!” and tries to snatch it but he keeps it out of reach. He laughs then, returns the jug and chooses an egg for beating. She pinches his cheek, within reach. So he knows Carbonara; she’s taught him well.
Pasta – Preschool Style by Ritu Bhathal
“Okay, today we are making Mother’s Day gifts for your mummies, grandmas, or aunties.
What I want you to do is take the string in one hand, and pick up a piece of pasta.
Remember, the other day, we painted it?
It’s like a tube, and you can thread the string through it, and make a lovely necklace.
No, David, you can’t eat it.
Penny! Stop strangling Julia with the string!
Peter! Don’t tip the tray upside d-…
Don’t worry Mary, we can pick it all up, stop crying, please…”
The life of a pre-school teacher.
Elbow Macaroni by TN Kerr
Margarite grinned wildly, stepped off the bus and hurried toward me.
When she got close she dropped her backpack and leapt into my arms.
“Holy smokes, Kiddo,” I pushed her hair back and kissed her, “what are you so excited about today.”
“Art class, Daddy. I made a picture of you.”
“No, Daddy. Mixed media,”
“Mixed media? What’s that?”
I put her down. She pulled a paper plate from her backpack and showed me.
Macaroni was glued to the plate. There were pencil lines and hints of orange marker. It looked just like me.
Pasta Pray Tells: What Are We Eating, Exactly? by Peregrine Arc
The little girl grimaced in her seat, staring at her plate of pasta. The garlic bread basket sat in the middle of table, steamy and pleasant. Her parents urged her to try her meal.
The little girl sighed resignedly and tried to eat. The fork and spoon soon fell to her plate with a clatter.
“I can’t do it!” she exclaimed. “Please, don’t make me.”
“Why not, dear?”
“It’s angel’s hair!” the little girl sobbed. “Give it back to them, please!”
Traditions by Heather Gonzalez
Angela stood on her tiptoes to be able to see over the counter top. Her nonna was mixing the pasta dough with her hands, and she was finally tall enough to watch. Each movement seemed like nonna had choreographed an intricate dance. Fingers and dough intertwining to create the magic of pasta.
After each piece of pasta was perfectly shaped, nonna motioned for Angela to come closer. This was it. She was finally getting a chance to be apart of the magic. Gently she lowered the perfectly crafted dough into the water with pride.
“Al dente. Perfecto.” Nonna smiled.
A Fish Tale from Lake Country by Liz Husebye Hartmann
It couldn’t be un-seen. It was right there in front of me: the giant spaghetti bowl, the splash of Tante Lianna’s special sauce, meatballs rolling off the table and onto the floor, parmesan spread all over the dining room table, like sleet in a Minnesota mid-June storm.
And the noodles! Seemingly caught in mid-flight from the bowl, they lay heavy as nightcrawlers escaping a flooded sidewalk, the aftermath of the aforementioned storm, turned to punishing rain.
And Uncle Wilford, face down in the middle of it all.
He should have heeded the warning twinge in Tante Lianna’s trick knee.
Love’s Give and Take by Sascha Darlington
“Pasta Puttanesca? Do I have to perform an intervention?”
“I’m at a crossroads.”
“Something you’re not telling me?”
“It’s not about you. It’s Chloe and that jerk.”
“AKA her husband?”
“He got fired. Wants to be a stay-at-home dad. Do consulting work.”
“Don’t see the problem.”
“You wouldn’t. You’re nothing like him. He’s perpetually lazy, doesn’t know how to use a vacuum or a dustpan. Stove’s foreign as well.
“Why’s this your problem?”
“I promised Mom I’d look after Chloe. I’ve failed.”
“He’s failing. Your pasta smells good.”
“You didn’t use anchovies?”
“Not when you hate them.”
Peter the Pasta Maker by Michael Grogan
Peter, the Pasta Maker, was a jolly chap.
Peter had a crush on the Lady Macaroni who would swan in each day and buy his freshest pasta. She never passed the time of day with him, she was focused on her pasta.
Always five hundred grams of spaghetti, she could never be tempted by a fettuccine or a Peter’s famous spiral.
One day she surprised him by asking he would cook for her, a pasta party with Peter the Pasta Maker would go well she thought.
Peter was flattered and prepared to make Lady Macaroni his best ever pasta.
Flash Fiction by The Dark Netizen
“Is the order for table number ten ready?”
I turned the blaze of the cooking flame down and grasped the pan in my left hand. With my right hand, I expertly arranged the lines of spaghetti on the plate. Reuben walked up to me and winked.
“You know, she’s looking quite fine in her black dress today.”
I peeked outside through the kitchen door window. There she was again, sitting in perfect poise, making my heart beat harder. Reuben whispered.
“Tell her, man!”
I put the final touch on the dish with the red sauce.
“A red heart, sweet!”
A Visit To The ER by Patrick O’Connor
“Pasta! I want pasta!”
“It must be penne pasta, with meatballs, and marinara.”
The doctor stared at me with a quizzical look.
My wife shook her head and said “That sounds about right. He loves his pasta.”
After the x-rays, CT Scan, and EKG, they worked on getting the blood pressure back up.
“I’m sure your wife will take you to get some pasta once you are released.”
“I’ll make sure of it Doctor.”
Seemed like forever before we got out of the ER.
Got to the restaurant and ordered penne pasta with meatballs and marinara.
“I’m not hungry.”
Flash Fiction by Robbie Cheadle
“Would you like some spaghetti bolognaise, Nan?”
“Absolutely not. I don’t eat that foreign food. Nasty, gloopy stuff. You can’t even pick it up on your spoon properly; it slithers right off.”
“Why don’t you just give it a try, Nan? It really is very tasty with David’s sauce.”
“No, thank you. I would rather eat English mashed potatoes. Such a versatile food. Did I ever tell you how we used it to make pastry during the war when we couldn’t get flour?”
“Yes, Nan,” said Julie with a sigh. “You have told me about potato pastry many times.”
Lunch by oneletterup
“I think I know who she is.”
“What should we do?”
They whisper, but she hears.
Crouching in the hall shadows. Hidden.
Disappearing. Like before.
“Lunch time!” the nice man calls.
The little girl and little boy are at school.
She perches on the edge of her chair.
Her very own place at their table.
“Honey…” the nice lady begins.
“We’re so sorry…”
“You can’t stay here anymore.”
The girl freezes. Stares. Forkful of spaghetti suspended.
Fingers clench into a fist snapping the fork upright.
Steaming tomato sauce spatters.
Drips down her hand.
Red spreading. Staining.
Pasta for Breakfast by Norah Colvin
Papa Bear pushed back his chair. “Not this muck again.”
Mama Bear stopped mid-ladle. “It’s Baby Bear’s favourite. I— I thought it was yours too.”
Baby Bear’s lip quivered.
“Pfft! Sometimes a bear needs real food.” He grabbed his hat. “I’m going for a walk.”
“Papa!” Baby Bear went after him.
Mama Bear dumped the porridge, pot and all, into the bin, grabbed her hat and followed.
“Where are we going?” asked Baby Bear.
“Somewhere nice for breakfast. It is spring after all.”
Papa Bear paused outside BreakFasta Pasta, then went in.
Mama Bear smiled; pasta was her favourite.
The Legendary Feud by Anurag Bakhshi
The boy’s great-great-great-grandfather was apparently the one to blame
For he called the pasta sauce of the girl’s great-great-great-Nonna tagliatelle, listless and tame
The echo of that insult had now been felt by these two star-crossed lovers
Who, let’s admit it, were just looking for some good old action between the covers
Their dead bodies were a testament to the folly of pride
A lesson that a family pasta recipe is not something to mock or deride
As the Bard put it so succinctly- For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo
No Pasta Was Harmed in Making This Story by Anne Goodwin
She snipped off the seal and upended the pack. Closed her eyes as fusilli clattered into the bowl. Paused, shook her head, reached for the rigatoni bag.
An hour later, there was barely room for his coffee cup among the bowls of dried pasta on the kitchen worktop. “Tell me, you’re cooking dinner at six in the morning or you’ve invited a kindergarten class for hands-on play?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m researching sound effects for my radio drama next month.”
“You’ve set it in a restaurant? In Italy?”
“A shack in Madagascar. I’m recreating rain on a corrugated-iron roof.”
My London Marathon by Kelvin M. Knight
I squinted through the rain. The other competitors looked comically savage – the way their dyed hair dripped down their faces. Nonetheless, these fun runners were out my league. Hugging my bin liner coat, I felt under dressed. I felt under trained. I should have done more. These words were my epitaph.
Still, I eat more than anyone else at the pasta party yesterday evening, so the complex carbohydrates would be on my side, along with this pantomime horse, this huge banana, and this Herculean woman with a refrigerator chained to her back.
Groaning, I waved at the BBC cameraman.
World’s Worst Poem, Plated by Chelsea Owens
Perdonnez, signora, will you taste my
veritable vermicelli which lost a
Tagliatelle or gnocchi -or was
it tortellini or gemelli?- that cost a
Few dozzina homemade noodles: measured,
mixed, rolled, chopped, shaped, and boiled -hasta
Domani, questa mattina -when nappy
And wriggly rigatoni-head rastas
Dangle candid cannelloni for
colazione (o pranzo o cena o altro) sauced, a
Banchetto of bavett, bucatini,
bigoli, e barbina; which fosta
Amore, our home country joy; precious
mem’ries of mamma o zia o ci, who bossed a
Flourishing, famishing family,
practically-plated with a plethora of pasta.
If that doesn’t bake your noodle, you’ve lost-a.
Pasta by Anita Dawes
What is it good for, not eating.
Throw it at the wall, see if it sticks.
Leave it until it falls off, give it to the kids to play with.
Oh, wait a minute they have already done that.
My granddaughters have used it for school projects
Picture frames you cannot dust…
The Italians love to tell us it has to be Al dente, the bite.
The thought of eating pasta makes me want to run for the hills…
And I know it’s well-loved across the globe
But seriously, why was it ever invented?
Does it grow on trees?
PART II (5-minute read)
Mangia, Sii Benedetto e Mangia! by JulesPaige
Mama thought a good way to teach us to listen was to keep our mouths full. Mama would serve us bountiful plates of Orecchiette. Sometimes the way Nonna Bella would make It, or she used recipes from Nonna Julia. Northern and Southern Italians cooked a bit differently. But there was always too much food!
Nonna Bella made rich red tangy sauces. While Nonna Julia employed creamy cheeses to dress her pasta.
Today you can get Gluten free pasta. Though Doc’s say a serving is one cup cooked of any shape you choose. And that Isn’t nearly enough, is it?
Boon or Bane? by Deepa
I was drenched in sweat that soaked the back of my clothes like a scattered map. My fitness tracker blinked up a new record today. It was the best result accomplished for my running record.
Well, don’t I deserve a small treat?
I swiped the pasta mania app in my mobile and selected the double cheese creamy chicken pasta, porcini mushroom, and an orange drink to balance my cheesy treat.
From a fitness tracker to palatable feelings, everything in a swipe at your door service.
Mobile apps, is it a boon or a bane?
So What’s for Dinner? by Di @ pensitivity101
Hundred of marbles
On vines to be seen.
Pasta is long,
Pasta is thick,
Cheesy or savoury,
It’s simple and quick.
Put them together
A meal in a flash,
Wholesome and nourishing,
Even better than mash.
Add meat and an onion
For spaghetti bolognese,
Or kidney beans and chilli
On somewhat colder days.
Pasta is versatile,
Be it boiled or baked,
One thing I’ve not tried yet
Is a pasta filled cake.
Macaroni is pasta,
Add sugar and UHT
To make a sweet pudding
As afters for tea.
Pasta’s a staple,
For Hubby and me.
Chester, the Reluctant Dinner Guest by Molly Stevens
“Myra invited us over for pasta tonight,” Ruth said.
“Pasta?” said Chester. “Don’t she mean spaghetti?”
“No, she was clear about it. She said pasta.”
“Well, la-de-da! That’s what she calls it, does she? Was there another fancy name stuck to her highfalutin pasta, like ‘prime-a-veers?’”
“She didn’t say. It’ll be a surprise.”
Harrumph. “I better grab a six-pack of Papst Blue Ribbon. I know she’ll be pourin’ some cheek wine, like chardonnee that will give me heartburn.
“You can always stay at home if you’d like.”
“Nah, I’ll go with along you. Besides, I’m clean out of SpaghettiOs”
Mother’s Italian Cooking by AbijitRay
“I am going out, shall be back by evening.”
“I am making a new dish Shailaja, don’t go before you try.”
“Mother has become adventurous;” wondered Shailaja, “she is experimenting with non Indian recipes!”
“What’s cooking mother? Am I your only guinea pig?”
“Today I am making Italian noodles.”
“Italian noodles, mother! Its called vermicelli; noodle is Chinese. Spoken in public, this may result in a diplomatic incidence!”
“Stop lecturing, try this out. This is vermicelli cooked Indian way.”
Shailaja found her mother in kitchen juggling a cook book in Hindi along with a host of vegetables and spices.
Remembering Terra by Saifun Hassam
Down at the SeaQuail Market, by the old Fishermen’s wharf, we feasted on a picnic lunch under blue summer skies.
Jumbo pasta shells overflowing with sautéed shrimp, sun-drenched tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, red and green bell peppers, olives, garlic and onions marinated in olive oil and just that delicate touch of rosemary, fennel and basil.
A generous sprinkling of shredded mozzarella, Gorgonzola and Parmesan cheese.
Espresso coffee and cinnamon ginger fudge.
In a week, Adriana, an astronaut and biochemist, would report for training for her first assignment to Mars. She was my sister. Would we ever see each other again?
Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning
David shut the door, shaking his head. Heather smirked. “Who was that?”
“The Pastafarians,” he said with a flourish.
“Welcome to Austin, right?”
“You’d think they’d respect dinner time.”
“What did he say, about the Flying Spaghetti Monster?”
They watched the disciples slink down the driveway, the tallest holding a book with a noodle dangling from the binding. “Do you think they’re serious?”
David shrugged, halfway holding a smile. “No. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s the point. We take this stuff too seriously.”
“Careful. You could get struck down talking like that.”
“Wouldn’t that just prove their point?”
Fettuccini Afraid-O by Susan Shuman
“This menu is amazing…” Shelley feigned enthusiasm.
“Get whatever you want,” Eddie shrugged. “Looks like you could use a good meal.”
“Oh, I can’t decide…”
Eddie wished she’d leave her hair alone. It looked like she was trying to strangle her fingertips with it. “Why are you doing that?”
“Huh?” Shelley let go of her hair. “Oh, bad habit.” Her throat tightened.
The waitress brought a steaming loaf of bread to their table and began rattling off the pasta specials.
That’s what did it.
Shelley stifled a scream and scrambled for the door—
Phagophobia: a legacy from her mother.
Pasta by Deborah Lee
Jane ambles through the grocery store, pushing a cart and luxuriating in the experience of grocery shopping. Like people who have a food budget, cupboards to store recipe ingredients, a kitchen for melding them into a home-cooked meal, refrigerator for leftovers.
She hesitates in the pasta aisle, torn between the thought of a steak or her mother’s standby, macaroni with tomatoes and cheese melted through. She used to think of pasta as poor-people food – before she became a poor-people. But it will always be comfort food, Jane thinks, tossing three times as much as she needs into her basket.
It’s black as a mineshaft outside and somthing thuds and scratches at the window. I suspect a bat is feeding on insects drawn to the light I’m still burning. Try as I might to see the nocturnal creatures, I can only discern the sound.
In a way, there’s comfort in knowing I’m not up alone while the rest of the house slumbers. One dog kicks in his sleep, another snores and the cat nose-whistles. The third dog is silent like a youthful sleeper.
None wait up to catch a glimpse of bats with me.
I wonder if the mythology of security, the tale we believe that we can conquer change — look younger! erase wrinkles! defy gravity and time! — is why changes unnerve people. Are we all unnerved or do we each have our own tender spots?
When I was still in my 20s, but mum to three active toddlers, I grew excited to show them the monkey bars on the playground. We had recently moved from a logging town in central Montana to a small town halfway between Helena and Butte. Out west, it seems, we always lived in the shadow of mining country.
This new town had a small school with a playground, and our new place was a walk away. The monkey bars were just like the ones I used to do cherry drops from as a fifth-grader. From a seated position, I’d drop between the bars and swing upside down.
I had no intention of teaching my five, four and two-year-old such a thing, but I wanted to show off my prowess in skipping bars. I swung out from the first bar, skipped the second and while reaching for the third, I crashed to the ground.
My one arm protested that I was no longer a school girl and I sat dazed wondering how I could be so changed at such a young age yet. My children swarmed me like puppies do when you sit among a litter and soon I was giggling and telling them not to skip bars like mumsie.
Life is a series of accidents, happy or not. We do our best to steer the course, stay on track, but changes happen, and we have to set new courses or change our ways to accommodate a loss of strength, memory, or status. Change can be frightening.
And yet — some embrace changes as if that is the answer. Why wait for wrinkles when you can bask in the sun and paddle a board to get them early? Why wear what your father did when you can adopt something more like what your mother wore? Change also offers new experiences.
Last Friday, as I stood in the shadows, watching a pack of warrior women dance their myths out, stomp them into the ground and claim their power through movement and music, I noticed some of the men, too. It all began with glitter that evening.
As part of the show, reading my set of flash fiction to introduce each dance, I went to the studio with the dancers and read over my stories while they donned stage make-up. For the uninitiated, stage makeup looks daunting. It’s dark, heavy and not attractive close-up. But on stage, it catches the right contours and colors.
The ritual includes glitter. Lots of it — purple glitter, green glitter, silver glitter and gold glitter. My daughter smeared white glitter across my eyes, and I felt dancified. It was electrifying to wear the glitter. A man walked in — my SIL and the show’s MC and all heads turned. Glitter?
Solar Man is not one to fear change. He’s not threatened by a pack of dancers slinking toward him with wands of glitter poised. They all eyed his beard. He rubbed it, stroked his red tie, touched each cufflink and declared he’d only wear gold glitter in his beard. The moment passed — of all the colors, no one had gold with them.
We traveled to the performance venue and secured the dressing room. And lo and behold, a warrior found gold glitter. Soon the cameraman expressed interest and he be-glittered his blond beard. What happened next made me chuckle all evening. Other men took offense! The crowd accepted warrior women, but man glisten? No way!
Like twittering stereotypical old wives, the men chastized the glitter beards, stating it would cause regret, that the glitter would never disappear. At that comment, the scientists in the group acknowledged that glitter does not ever break down fully and pollutes the Great Lakes with other micro-plastics.
However, it did not discourage the newborn pride of glitter beards.
Bats hunt bugs, and likely always will. But men will evolve and accept the softer side of themselves.
June 7, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about man glisten. It was a fun term coined by two men with glitter in their beards. What more could it embrace? Look to the unexpected and embrace a playful approach. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by June 12, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.
Masks of Man Glisten by Charli Mills
Deep in the shafts of Mohawk Mine, men pounded steel to separate native copper from white quartz. Candlelight from helmets of miners caught flickers of dust. Mohawkite glittered in dim beams. At the end of shift, the men piled onto trams, hoisted back to daylight of long summer evenings and clean women waiting with baskets of fried chicken and Chassell Farm strawberries. Daughters and sons skipped to their dads, uncertain which belonged to them. Tired, blinking in the bright sun, masks of man glisten mined below the level of hell made them look alike.
Sparkle, sparkle hard rock miners.
We’ve all heard the old cliché about how a character “speaks” to an author? It happened to me a few years ago. This young girl popped into my head with a story. She was good company, persistent, too. She went on for about a month until one day I sat down and began writing what would become her story.
Now, this girl, she happened to be a person of color. And if you check my bio, you’ll quickly see that I’m a run-of-the-mill white guy, closing in on middle age. We’re talking, wears-cut-off-shorts-and-black-socks-to-cut-the-lawn. SPF 50 on the nose, kind of guy. But none of that mattered when I set out to write this thing. I can honestly say it never once occurred to me that it might be odd, me writing from the first-person perspective of a twelve-year-old black girl.
Maybe it’s because I hate to plot. Outlines for me are like creativity killers. And speaking of killers, people write from the perspective of serial killers so why did it matter? Okay, where was I going with this? Oh yeah, it does matter.
So I wrote a story about this old curmudgeonly blues player and this young girl, Nita Simmons. Even in the roughest—or rawest—drafts, I was aware enough to avoid stereotypes. No Ebonics or broken English for Nita. In fact, being so tip-toe careful to avoid stereotypes, I went the other route, and Nita became this gifted, straight-A student. A case-cracking superhero.
Reading through those first drafts, it was clear. In not wanting Nita to be a stereotype, I’d done something just as bad, or worse: I’d made her perfect.
And where’s the fun in that?
I dove back in, peeling the layers to the real Nita. The Nita in my head was a normal girl with normal problems. She was self-conscious, stubborn, she doubted herself and fought with her mother. She was still a gifted writer but shaky at math. And being a budding teenager, she was a know-it-all at times, terrified by the world around her at others. And she was gullible. She fell for the stories the old man told her. And it was through the stories that a friendship formed. After all, friendship—not race, was the heart of my story.
And because I write in frantic sparks of inspiration, always in haste, like an idea might slip away if I don’t get it down, it took multiple drafts for the Nita on the page match the Nita in my head. I worked at this story for over a year. I combed over every word and submerged myself into this world I’d created. I bought a guitar and taught myself some old blues standards. I’m awful, but I can pluck some chords now.
I’m no Harper Lee, but Nita is my Scout. I root for her every step of the way. I listen to podcasts, study black history and devour middle-grade books. I’ve read my share of Life Magazines. I fell in love with my characters.
Here was the original query.
Putting yourself out there can be tricky. Whether you’re 12 or 72, headed to a new school for smart kids, or strumming up the courage to play the blues in front of a crowd. Such is the case for Nita Simmons and Earl Melvin, two friends too stubborn to quit on each other.
After a disastrous day at school, the last thing Nita wants to do is solve the puzzle that is her neighbor, Mr. Earl Melvin. People say he’s crazy, that he once tried to burn down the city library. But something in that sturdy voice of his grabs her, and after a second encounter her fear gives way to curiosity. From there the unlikeliest of friendships takes hold.
Mr. Melvin regales Nita with tales of protests and sit-ins. How he marched against segregated schools and lunch counters. His stories are magical and inspiring, his cooking unmatched, and his guitar playing is the truest thing she’s ever heard. Nita decides that old man did all those things, then she can deal with school. But when she stumbles upon a discovery—one that threatens to prove everyone right about Mr. Melvin all along—Nita’s left with a decision to make: leave the old man in the past or drag him into the future.
Not perfect, but it worked. I got some bites. I think I queried over fifty agents. I don’t recall the exact number, but I received somewhere in the neighborhood of ten full requests and five or six partials. Not bad, I’m told.
But in all my research, in all my writing and revising, I completely missed something else entirely. Something big. Something raw.
As the agents got back to me, some were short and sweet in their rejection, and others came with some editorial advice. A few I never got back. Then, I got all the feedback I needed.
Here is a sample of what she passed along (as she passed on the story).
First, the good:
Your story intrigues me and I think you do a good job with the middle grade voice here. I really like the interactions between the characters, Earnest and Nita specifically, as well as Mrs. Womack and Nita, and of course, Mr. Melvin and Nita. You develop these nicely.
To write such a story, an editor will prefer you belong to the ethnic race of the primary characters. This story speaks to so many significant moments and people of the African American experience so, ensuring this is accurate is essential. But even more important, because you utilize first person when writing this text, Nita specifically, an editor will question your validity to do so.
Two things. I’m not saying the writing was perfect. It wasn’t. And let me make it clear that I’m one hundred percent in favor and support the #ownvoices movement. It’s great, a crucial tool in getting diverse books in the hands of kids who need them. Publishers want books about people of color written by people of color. Because think about it. How authentic is it going to look to find this book, with a black cast of characters, only to see some blue sock wearing, lawn mowing white guy on the cover jacket? (I suppose I could ditch the socks).
Rejection sucks. It hurts. And yes, it is personal. After spending so much time with a story and its characters and every single time it gets requested you feel like you could just march up a staircase to the clouds. And each time it gets rejected it feels like being knocked back a few steps. But I always hit the ground running. Until that last one, that one stopped me cold.
It was like a funeral, knowing it was the end of the road. Sounds dramatic, sure, then again, I do write fiction. After that last rejection, there was a new voice in my head (my poor wife), a suggestion to change the characters. Simply make Nita white.
I guess that’s on the table. But to me, it’s absurd to whitewash my main character in the name of diversity. So I’ve retired the story. Because Nita is Nita. And I still have control over that.
I’ve written a few novels since this one. One has gotten some requests, while another is getting closer to querying. And I don’t regret writing Nita’s story. I can’t help who spoke to me (pause here to acknowledge blatant cliché usage), or what characters emerged in my head. They’re mine. And if I could do it over, yep, I’d write it again. After all, I write for me first. In fact, I have, but that’s for another post.
Rejection is tough just one time, it starts to wear on you after a while. But those hours I spent getting lost in Nita’s world? In Mr. Melvin’s world? In their relationship? I think it was worth it.
I started and finished a project. I submerged myself in race relations and its ugly background (even as I ignored its current climate) and came out a better writer and person for it. And hey, maybe most importantly, I can play the blues on guitar.
So it wasn’t all for nothing.
By Hugh Roberts
November 2017 found me in a panic. A popular feature on my blog was coming to an end, and I had to replace it with something not only I would enjoy writing, but what my readers would enjoy reading.
Walking past the door of the guest bedroom, one afternoon, something stopped me in my tracks. I noticed the door of the wardrobe slightly ajar. Something was urging me to go and investigate. The moment my hand reached to close the door, something stopped me from pushing it, and I found, instead, myself pulling open the door.
Nothing unusual met my eyes. Empty clothes hangers hang neatly in a row but, when my eyes were drawn to the bottom of the wardrobe, my heart sunk when I realised that the last remaining box from our house move of April 2016 still needed unpacking. I could have sworn everything had been unpacked, yet this box seemed to have escaped.
Of course, I could have left unpacking the final box until another day but that feeling I’d had when about to close the wardrobe door suddenly came back to me, and I pulled the box out and pulled off its lid.
Nothing interesting seemed to be inside the box. In fact, I wondered why all the stuff in it had not been taken to the charity shop before we had moved. It wasn’t until I came to the last few items that the power of a word came rushing towards me. It was nothing special, just my name ‘HUGH’ handwritten across the cover of a burgundy coloured book. However, as soon as I picked the book up, I knew instantly that the panic I was having earlier about finding a new feature for my blog had come to an end.
As soon as I open the book, I realised that what I had come across was my diary from the year 1988. I read the first few entries before taking the diary to my study and started to scribble down a few ideas. By the time I sat down to dinner that evening, a new feature for my blog had been born.
The following day, I emailed over 40 authors, writers, and bloggers asking if they would like to participate in a brand-new feature I had planned for 2018. All they had to do, for now, was to choose a random date and a favourite song from the 1980s. As the replies came in, I continued to read the diary.
On January 10th, 2018, the first post of my brand-new feature was published on my blog. It included the diary entry from a date, chosen by one of my guests, details of their favourite song from the 1980s, and an introduction to my guest, their blog, books, and links to their social media accounts and author pages. However, as the series moved on, strange things started to happen.
As I prepared the following week’s post, memories came flooding back to me as I read the next entry in the diary. Not unusual, you may think, but what did become unusual was that I started having dreams about some of the memories and, sometimes, could actually ‘feel’ and experience the same feelings I had once gone through over 40 years ago. I’d wake up and, for a few moments, think I was actually back in 1988. Faces of people I had not seen for over 40 years became vivid in my mind. I could even remember some of their smiles and what they sounded like when talking. In one case, where I’d gone through a particular spell of jealousy, I woke up feeling exactly the same as I did during some of those days in 1988. It was a dreadful feeling that I struggled to shake off.
I’ve never really considered the power words can have on us but reading my diary from 40 years ago has completely changed my mind on how powerful they can be. Yes, we can read or hear a news headline that will have some effect on us, but I’ve never experienced the intensity of the power that words can have until I started reading the diary I found that November day.
I may only be a few months into reading my diary and sharing snippets from it on my blog, but I’ve gone through many strong emotions in a short space of time and, unusually, even while being asleep. It never occurred to me, when I sat each evening writing about my day’s events, that 30 years into my future those very words I was writing would not only enable me to travel back in time and experience events and emotions again but that they would solve a problem I would be panicking about 29 years later. Even the comments left on some of the posts from the feature tell me that some of my readers are also experiencing the power that words can have.
Even though many of the entries in the diary are short, they can certainly pack a punch. It’s the same with the 99-word flash fiction challenge Charli challenges us to every week. You may only be allowed to use no more or no less than 99 words, but some of the stories I have read that have been created out of those challenges have been powerful and have remained with me for weeks after reading them.
You can read the first entry from my diary by clicking here. I also had the fantastic pleasure of having Charli Mills as my one of my guests in week four of the series. The feature, which I have called ‘49 Days in 1988’ will be running until the end of the year. Click here to read the post that Charli featured in.
Have you ever experienced the power of words? I’d love to hear how ‘words’ and/or your writing help you.
Hugh W. Roberts lives in the city of Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom. He shares his life with his civil-partner, John, and their Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Toby, and Austin.
He has always enjoyed writing even though he suffers from a mild form of dyslexia. However, he’s never allowed being dyslexic stop him from having a positive outlook on life. Shortly after retiring, Hugh thought it about time he let his writing become public. Becoming a blogger seemed to be the perfect way for him to do this.
He started writing short stories at school but was never encouraged to continue writing them. In February 2014, when he discovered blogging, he wrote and published several short stories on my blog. They soon became hits, and Hugh was encouraged by some of his readers to publish some of the stories in a book. Now, finally, his dream of becoming a published author has come true with the publication of ‘Glimpses’ the first volume of 28 of his short stories. If, like Hugh, you enjoy shows such as ‘The Twilight Zone’ and Tales Of The Unexpected,’ then his short stories will hopefully take you on plenty of twists and turns to unexpected endings.
‘Glimpses’ is available to buy on Amazon and has already received excellent reviews. Hugh is now in the process of writing a second volume of short stories which he hopes to publish by the end of 2018. If you decide to buy and read Glimpses, then he’d be delighted if you would consider leaving a review on Amazon. Reviews help all authors and feedback is vital to improving writing.
Hugh’s blog covers a number of subjects, the most popular of which are his blogging tips and social media tips posts. He is a keen photographer and enjoys helping to promote other authors and writers on his blog. Despite considering himself to be an introvert, he also considers himself as a ‘peoples’ person. Please do feel free to contact him via his blog.
Blog: Hugh’s Views and News
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.