Life’s Lost Instructions

Life is a collection of reminders.

“Socks before shoes -wait! Fold seams inside the socks first…”

Every moment is a list of instructions we pull from the linted clump of a cranial pocket. Frowning, we take it out, straighten it, and make sense of the blurry pen marks and dog-eared corners.

“Put the car in Park before turning the engine off…”

How many notes; how many memories end up in those pockets? Once they’re full, is that when we discover -to our confused dismay- a hole in the lining?

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

©2021 Chel Owens

Tell Me the Story, Daddy.

“Tell me the story, Daddy. Tell me …when you met Mommy. Tell me when you knew.”

Arthur smiled that smile that never quite touched his eyes anymore. “When I knew what, son?”

Little Sammy squirmed atop his bedcovers. “You know, Daddy. When you knew… You know.”

Arthur almost laughed. Almost. “Okay. Okay. …Once upon a time, your dad -me- was young. I was barely an adult and was working my first job, at a bookstore…”

Arthur could still smell the scholarly breath of time and leather that greeted him each morning, could still hear the muted tinkle of the bell over the door, could still see the morning light filtering through mullioned front windows. Tomes ranging from paper romance to hardbacked alchemy built labyrinth paths between the barely-visible masonry walls. The dust of every bibliophile’s essence hung, distilled, in the motes that danced where empty spaces dared exist.

“I stood at a desk where I could see the door. Everywhere else was books.” This is where he changed the story; embellished it. “Harry Potter, James and the Giant Peach, Shel Silverstein, and even Where the Wild Things Are; comic books, picture books; fat ones, thin ones; old and new.”

His son’s eyes shone and then twitched over to the bookshelf in the corner. “What about your books, Dad? Did they have those, too?”

“Yes, son. Those, too.”

“Did Mom like your books, Dad?”

Sammy hadn’t asked that one before. The question gave Arthur pause. “No, not really. She -well! That’s a different story!”

This elicited a giggle and more rocking. Sammy even turned a lopsided somersault into his pillow.

Arthur wagged his finger in a pretended sternness. “All right. One day, I heard the bell on the door that meant someone had come in…”

There had been more light that day, enough that the younger Arthur could not see who entered the store. He raised a hand against the brightness and squinted at a diminutive shadow. The door closed, the bell sang, the shadow resolved to a timid, tiny young woman. Encircled by light and interrupted space, Arthur was smitten.

“I saw a very small, very beautiful woman. She came up to the desk and slid a paper on the glass -too shy to ask me for the name of the book she’d written on it.”

His son’s eyes -her eyes- were round in his small, attentive face.

“It was a book on poetry. ‘For school,’ she whispered. She wouldn’t look up, but I saw her look at me when I was searching through our book about books. …We didn’t have computers then, you see. We had a book that we wrote all the books in -well, we typed them on papers, then…”

Sammy yawned.

Now, Arthur managed a shadow of a chuckle. “I came around the desk. She seemed surprised when I stood; later, she said she hadn’t realized we were so close to the same size.”

Something inside fluttered at being nearer to her, he remembered. Her smile set it off again. The feeling was unlike any he’d felt in his lonely, empty life; one spent with one relative or another handing him off till he could move out and raise himself. Whether she smiled, or not, her very existence shook his. Next to her, he could be anyone or do anything.

“But, Daddy! When did you know?”

Arthur’s eyes refocused to the bedroom of the apartment he and Sammy shared, just the two of them. “I …walked with the gir- woman, over to our poetry section. I found what she needed. Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. She took it from my hand, and our fingers touched.”

It had felt electric, a touch of divinity that opened an eternity of thought and feeling for this tiny, timid woman before him.

“And that, Sammy, was when I knew I loved your Mommy.” Arthur smiled. For an instant, it reached his eyes.

His son somersaulted again. “So, then you asked her to marry you?”

Arthur blushed. “Yes.”

The laughter from his son sounded so much like her startled laughter, from all those years before. At first she’d been shocked, of course, then she’d laughed. How much it sounded like the door bell, he’d thought. He had also thought to hide in a pile of The Rise and Fall of the Greeks and Romans.

“All right, Sammy. Time for bed.” Arthur stood and pushed the chair beneath his work desk. He’d be revisiting it in the morning while Sammy slept in.

Sammy snuck a few more twists and wiggles in before allowing his dad to lift the covers and shoo him beneath them. “‘Night, Dad.” He rolled his head up to see the framed photograph on the desk. “‘Night, Mom.”

“Good night, Sam.” Arthur went to the door and stood. Good night, Catherine, he thought to her picture, and turned out the light.

©2021 Chel Owens

Time Lost, and Found

His gnarled, brusque, tannin hands caressed the watch band. He’d found it and its watch face along Lake Superior; brushed it from forgotten memories and dormant agate stones. Now, warmed in his fingers, the band changed. He saw it new, cut, fresh, oiled; attached to his grandfather’s timepiece for his son’s eighth birthday.

A long time later for one as rough as he, the old leatherworker released a breath. Rising, he set the wind-worn watch on his curio shelf near a faded photograph and a curling crayon picture. Tears in eyes, he shuffled out to put the kettle on.

©2020 Chel Owens

In response to Carrot Ranch‘s prompt:

November 5, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about lost time. You can write a realistic scenario or something speculative. How does lost time impact the character of your story? Bonus points if you include a 1982 brown rubber watch Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 10, 2020. Use the comment section [on the site] 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.

Memories Within the Old Hutch

“What’s this, Grammy?” Pearla’s granddaughter, Ella, squatted on the old hutch, something wooden in her hand.

“Ah. That’s the lovespoon Grampy brought back from Wales.”

Ella retrieved another piece. “An’ this one?”

“A model plane your Daddy-”

“An’ this one?”

“Aunt Michelle’s locket from-”

“An’ this one?”

Pearla laughed and kissed the curly-haired forehead. “Slow down, Ella, dear.”

“Sorry, Grammy.” Ella pulled something from the shadows. “An’ this one?”

“That’s-” Pearla choked; whispered, “Those were your Aunt Ella’s.” Taking and returning the tiny baby shoes, Pearla took the living Ella’s hands, instead. “What do you think about making cookies?”

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Captured for Carrot Ranch‘s prompt: hutch

January 2, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something found in a hutch. It can be any kind of hutch — a box for critters or a chest for dishes. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by January 7, 2019. Use the comment section 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.

 

Photo Credit: Image by Rotaru Florin from Pixabay

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Eight

Jakob went first, allowing their father to walk with Wil. Dr. White, with a, “Please call me with any questions,” offering of business card, and final wistful look, departed. The three remaining members of the Winters family walked down the hallway in silence.

Each time a doctor or nurse and patient came hurrying past, Wil was surprised. She saw her father, heard his solid steps. She saw her brother, heard his solid steps. Yet, she also saw herself, from a panoramic view apart from feeling. How curious, that dark-haired, serious-faced girl! Her eyes saw somewhere beyond the flurry of a busy hospital while her boot-clad feet carried her on and on.

Wil thought of her mother. Although they’d seen her body and said their goodbyes, Wil realized she still expected to find her mother alive. This was the hospital they’d visited countless times; surely they were all walking to whatever room Cynthia had been checked into. Surely they would knock, enter, and find her mother and her kind, apologetic smile. Cynthia always apologized for the trouble she’d caused, as if she and they didn’t know about her incurable and fatal condition.

Jakob reached the door to the lobby. Ah, Wil’s feelings told her, We’re leaving the hospital and heading to the apartment. She’d see Cynthia there, at home. Her mother would be resting on the couch; again, with that recognizable smile.

“How was school today, Wil?” She’d say, and sit up. “Tell me all about it.”

A tear slipped down Wil’s cheek. She heard her mother laugh, cough, recover.

“Oh, Wil. Only you could have a day like that…”

The echoes of her mother’s voice and expressions lingered in Wil’s mind as she, too, exited the hallway and entered the small waiting area beyond. She saw Jakob had stopped; to her side, her father stopped as well. All stared as a woman rose from one of the pastel couches and strode toward them.

She was not someone Wil had seen before, yet her appearance seemed familiar. Long, dark, thick hair framed a pale almond shape. As she walked toward them; locks swishing, scarf waving, arms swinging with confidence; Wil noticed the woman’s blue, stormy eyes. They locked onto Wil’s and held her gaze.

“Hello, Wilhelmina.” The woman stopped before Wil, smiling a smile very different from Cynthia’s. “I’m Guinevere Greene, your mother. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

 

THE END

 

Continued from One Hundred Seven.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Seven

Wil sat. In the absence of father, brother, counselor she stared at the empty space before her. Empty wall. Empty room. Empty.

The clock hand scraped around its face. Footsteps beyond the door and wall stampeded down the corridors. The heating system bellowed. A rushing roar of thought rose in Wil’s mind and her heart drummed faster and louder and faster and louder. She raised her hands to her head to stop them -to stop all the noise trying to fill the awful emptiness.

*Clonk* *clonk* “Mina?” Rob’s voice came through the door. “Wilhelmina? You okay?”

Wil uncurled from her fetal position atop the chair. She tried to speak. Tried again. “Ye- Yes.” She thought he might not have heard, so tried a louder assent. “Yes; I’m fine.”

She heard nothing, blessed nothing, then her father cleared his throat. “Okay. Let us -” He coughed. “I’m here if –we’re here if you need us.”

The emptiness following his assurance did not fill again. Wil stared at the floor, thinking on his words. We’re here, she thought. We’re still here if you need us. A small flutter of feeling stirred deep inside, near her heart. Wil found herself able to move; rising, walking, drawing near to the bed on which her mother’s body lay.

Wil stopped and studied the form there, analyzing the beautiful, peaceful, strange woman atop the clinical bed. She looked so like Cynthia, her mother; yet, so different. The differences were not in the skin marks and swells of equipment attached and removed; but, as Wil first felt upon entering the room, in the missing aura of warmth Wil had always felt around her mother.

She took the hand nearest her. It felt limp and colder than hers. She stared at the face that once exuded happiness, patience, and near-unconditional love. Wil frowned, trying to match this shell with the mother she’d known for all her life. Looking heavenward instead, Wil whispered, “Goodbye, Mom.”

Replacing the hand and glancing at the body for the last time, Wil nodded. She turned. In sure, soft footsteps, she crossed the floor, clinked the curtain aside, and clicked open the door.

As she entered the hall, she also entered the warm embrace of both father and brother. They pulled apart and looked at each other’s faces. Each felt relief in the comfort and resolve he saw in his neighbor.

“Right,” Rob managed. “Let’s go home.”

 

Continued from One Hundred Six.
Keep reading to One Hundred Eight.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Six

Question by question and sad, understanding smile by sad, understanding smile; Dr. White moved Wil and her family through the stillness of a world that had stopped as far as they were concerned. An occasional rushing sound of footsteps or the movement of wall clock hands hinted at an elsewhere; yet elsewhere, should it actually exist, was of little consequence to Wil anymore. In fact, had Wil been able to see beyond the mind mist, she would have found elsewhere to be more bland and colorless than the landscape within.

Hours and days and months and lifetimes passed behind the Emergency Room door. Dr. White finished. He pressed his clipboard of papers to an orderly pile. He rose. He spoke. “If you wish, each of you may say, ‘Goodbye.'”

They stared. Rob nodded first, then Jakob. Wil sat. Goodbye? she thought.

The grief counselor walked to the cloth curtain at the door, his white-soled shoes patting against the reflective floor. He paused before opening and looked back. “I will wait for you in the hall, and no one will disturb you.” Then, with a final, sad, understanding smile; he left.

Rob shifted. He stared at the floor and sighed. Turning to Jakob and Wil, he cleared his throat. “I… I spent some time with her this morning….” In a lower tone and glancing down, he added, “This morning.” Lifting his gaze once more to his children, he breathed deeply in and out. Resolved. Sad. “I’ll go first, then wait for you outside.”

Rising, clunking, scuffing, pausing; Rob reached the bed. He took a slender, pale hand in his. With his other, he stroked a few blonde hairs to the side. “I love you,” Wil heard him whisper. She saw the moment; framed it in her memories. Sniffing, sighing, looking heavenward; then clunking, scuffing, pausing; her father pushed the curtain aside. And left.

A rustle of polyester coat told Wil that Jakob moved. Had sighed. He rose, blocking the light as he stood there. Wil raised her head as still he stood there. Her brother sighed again and met her eyes. Both blinked, worlds away.

Jakob’s mouth became a firm line and his focus hardened. In much quieter tread than their father’s, he traversed the distance between chair and bed. Wil saw his dark form pause. He, too, reached out. “Goodbye,” he choked out, barely audible. “Goodbye, Mom.”

Before she knew it, Wil heard the *click* *clink* of metal hooks and the silence of an empty room. She was alone, alone with the woman who was once her mother.

 

Continued from One Hundred Five.
Keep reading to One Hundred Seven.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Never Forget the Soap

“It happened again.”

“What?”

“The door.”

….?

“The door of the laundry room.”

….

*Sigh* “It hit me on the way out again.”

“Oh…” “Well…” “It’s just a door.”

“It doesn’t hit me every time.”

“Huh.”

“I’m serious!”

“I know! -Look, maybe you’re just jumping to conclusions.”

….

“Like, you know, that… say, air currents from a different door or whatever sometimes close that one.”

“On me.”

“…Yeah.”

“Never on you.”

“…Yeah.”

“Never on anyone else.”

“Yeah!”

“And only when I start a load at midnight.”

“Yeah! -wait; why are you starting laundry at -”

“And only when I can also hear whispering…”

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Inspired by my own laundry room experiences for Carrot Ranch‘s prompt: someone unremembered.

September 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about someone unremembered. Is it a momentary lapse or a loss in time? Play with the tone — make it funny, moving, or eerie. Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by October 1, 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.

The Flash Fiction CONTESTS start after this, so check them out beginning October 3!!!

 

Photo Credit: Ryoji Hayasaka

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Five

Forever passed in the few minutes they all sat, all in stasis within their memories of loss. Had the shiny, hard, hospital floor been of a more comfortable material and temperature, Wil never would have moved.

Dr. White shifted to a new position. “This floor is harder than I thought,” he apologized; using his practiced, sympathetic smile. The Winters family turned to him, more alert than they’d been upon his entrance.

Rob sighed. “You probably want us to leave.”

The grief counselor’s expression became softer. “No, of course not.” He shifted again, smiled again. “I merely came in to see what I could do for you. To help. I also,” he repositioned a third time, “suggest, perhaps, we move to the chairs.”

Rob nodded; Wil saw the movement in her peripheral vision as her attention was focused somewhere on the base of the bed. She heard her father rise, followed by the rustling coat chorus of Jakob. “C’mon, Wil,” her stepbrother encouraged. She turned her head toward the sound and saw a hand extended; took it with her own. Somehow, not under her own power, she rose. She found herself walking, turning her body, sitting. She felt Jakob sit beside her.

A scraping noise to her left drew her attention. Dr. White dragged his own chair over and set it to the front and side of her father. 10 o’clock, Wil thought, As Mr. G. would say.

The counselor set his clipboard on his lap and folded his hands atop it. “When Beatrice passed last year, she did so here -very near to here.” He paused. “I knew who would come in to talk to me and what they would say, since I worked as the grief counselor then, too.”

He waited. Wil glanced his way, still adrift and apart. She saw her father raise his head to meet Dr. White’s eyes.

“This won’t be easy,” Dr. White said, “So we’ll take it one step at a time.”

Rob stiffened. He looked toward the bed, then back to the counselor.

“If you all would like to stay here, I will walk you through things.” He looked at Wil; she seemed to see through him, through his white-blue gaze to the wall behind.

“I’m staying,” Jakob gruffed.

Wil, again of some force she did not control, nodded.

“Very well,” Dr. White continued. “We’ll start with what is written here.” He lifted a page of notes from the clipboard, glanced over them, and flipped to another behind those. “Cynthia.” Pause. “Your mother.” Another pause. “She wished to have her body donated to the research hospital.” He paused again. “In her words, ‘To help others with cystic fibrosis to find a cure.'”

The counselor looked up at each of them, ending with Rob. “Is this still your wish?”

Rob turned his head to the bed again. As he stared at his wife, unmoving, Wil saw a single tear slide down his unshaven cheek. “Yes,” he answered.

 

Continued from One Hundred Four.
Keep reading to One Hundred Six.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Four

Mom, Wil thought. Mom mom mom mom mom mom! The whisper of thought grew in volume within her mind till it could not stay inside. “Mom!” she burst out; just once. Jakob sunk to the floor beside her. Wil grabbed at the air, then herself. She hugged her own, small, helpless self and rocked, rocked, rocked.

A coat rustled somewhere outside the reality of Wil’s thoughts; Jakob began rubbing her back. Words eluded him and only the impulse to comfort Wil came through.

Another sound, of boots, clunked beyond Wil’s awareness. Rob sat heavily to her other side. He, too, could not speak. Not yet. He sat beside his family and before the bed on which his life’s love reclined, yet his mind roved farther than even Wil’s. If she’d been able to pull back to watch his grief-worn face, Wil would not have recognized her father.

Despite this, all three turned at a careful knock and entry. A man in white coat and white-reflecting glasses with white-serious face pushed the cloth curtain to the side. Stopped. “I’m sorry if this is a bad time,” he said, blinking white-blue eyes. He cast around for a second then sat on the floor as well. He did so nearest to Rob, setting a clinical clipboard to the side.

Three drawn faces stared at this intruder, curious; in similar stages of shock and sadness. “I’m the hospital’s grief counselor,” the man said. “Dr. White.”

Wil’s large, dark eyes watched Dr. White’s face. His expression conveyed professional concern mixed with deep understanding. She could almost hear his low voice telling other stories, other lives, other rooms with only the shell of a loved one left behind. “Where is she?” Wil asked.

The question was an odd one. Had Wil not been part of the dramatic play in progress -had, instead, been safely watching from the audience- she might have furrowed her brow in confusion. Might have remarked, “What does the girl mean, Mom?”

But her mother was no longer there. Cynthia could not answer Wil.

Dr. White folded his hands. “I don’t know what you know -” his eyes flicked to the clipboard. “-Wilhelmina.”

“Wil,” she interrupted.

A slight smile glimpsed the counselor’s lips. “Wil,” he amended. “It turns out that your mother caught an influenza at some point.” He met Wil’s gaze, kindly. “She left us some time this morning.”

Tears began streaming down Wil’s face.

“We don’t know where our loved ones go for sure,” Dr. White continued. “What I do know, Wil, is that they never leave us for good.” He touched at his heart. His own pale-blue eyes grew moist. “I said, ‘Goodbye’ to my Beatrice just last year, but have also felt her each day since.”

The four sat in a companionable silence. Wil and her family, inexplicably, felt a flutter of comfort; and knew it came from the one they loved.

 

Continued from One Hundred Three.
Keep reading to One Hundred Five.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens