Notoriety

This story was originally written for a Friday Fictioneers prompt and posted Feb 8th on my original site. I’m transferring older posts from that site now, so hope my long-term followers will bear with the reruns and new followers will enjoy this tale. Since the story’s no longer connected to that prompt, I’ll edit it a bit and use a different photo.

 

Blue car tilt.jpg

“There,” Phil said. “Took some doing but I’ve Photo-Shopped Uncle Elbert out of this crazy prank.”

His wife, Vannalee, looked over his shoulder. “Too bad. Uncle Elbert looked so proud of himself draped on the hood of that old car.”

” I know. Shame to lose that smug grin of his, but my folks insisted. They say he was always up to something that would shock people. And from such a straight-laced clan.”

Vannalee grinned. “I can imagine how dear old Uncle Elbert besmirched the family name by taking up robbing banks — and Grandpa’s bank first of all, to add insult to injury. Mind you, I wouldn’t want our bank robbed, if we had one.”

“It was a humiliation Grandpa never lived down. Dad says when Elbert’s notorious career was terminated by state lawmen one fateful day, Grandpa refused to attend the funeral.”

He set the picture down. “Well, I’ve successfully deleted Elbert from the family photos now, but you know what must have old Grandpa turning in his grave? At family gatherings his great-grands mention him being a successful banker. But they talk about Uncle Elbert’s wild capers for hours.”

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Stroke of Bad Luck

Levi groaned and shifted in bed. Groggily he opened his eyes. Man, the light hurt! Then he was jolted awake by the realization that someone was lying beside him.

He turned to see who it was and his eyes opened wide. Who was SHE? He sat up and looked around the strange room. Was he drunk? Why did his head feel so funny? He rubbed his face with his hands and noticed…a wedding ring!

Whoever she was sat up and kissed his cheek. “Morning, love.”

He rolled out of bed and stood, gripping the corner of a dresser. His glance fell on a studio photo, a wedding picture. Him and her. When? Why couldn’t he remember? He touched the picture. “Uh, how long have we been…married?”

He heard a little gasp. “It was two years last month. Levi, are you okay? Is your headache worse?”

“Headache?” he echoed and shook his head.

“You went to bed with a headache last night, remember?”

He felt no pain now but something wasn’t right. Nothing in the room looked familiar. He eyed the picture. At least he’d picked a pretty wife. Her voice was nice, too. What was her name?

He glanced out the window and the whiteness startled him. “It’s winter!”

“Maybe you should lie down again, Honey.” She sounded hesitant, worried.

Carefully he turned toward her. “My parents? Where are they? I need to see them.” Were they even still alive?

“Dad will be leaving for work about now, but Mom’ll be there at home.” She stood up and looked at him, her dark eyes reflecting her fear. “Sure. Let’s go see her. And maybe you should see a doctor, too?” She grabbed a robe and left the room.

Levi found the bathroom and had a shower. Then he hunted through dresser drawers to find clothes. He picked out some familiar ones and put them on.

When he found his way to the kitchen later he saw a laptop on the table, open to a screen headed “Signs of Stroke.” He pondered that word. Is that what had happened to him?

Writer’s note:

The dialogue is fiction, but a friend told me about a 30-year-old neighbour of hers who had a stroke in the night and five years of his life’s memory banks were completely wiped out. Not only had he gotten married a couple of years before and bought a little house, but he’d also started a business. Life can hand you a real whammy sometimes.

The Look

Another Wednesday has come and with it the prompt for Friday Fictioneers, the rule of which is to gaze at the prompt until inspired, write our tales and trim them down to a bare-bones 100 words. Then participants shall post their stories and link our posts to all the others via InLinkz.

“Muchos gracias” to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting this menagerie of writing talent, and today for also supplying the photo prompt. To read what others have written, or to add your own, you need to find and click on a blue frog. You’ll find one on Rochelle’s blog, but alas, I can’t get the things to survive on mine.

I like to write humor, but this morning’s picture made me think of something other. Since the basic facts here are true, I guess one would label this story Creative Non-fiction.

PHOTO © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

THE LOOK

Zanna stared into her mirror. “Lose another five pounds,” her photographer had said. “You can do it!”

This time she’d resisted. “Don’t men want women curvy?”

“Designers want spaghetti strands with a smile, sweetheart. Curves I can add digitally. Long and lean brings the best fashion shoots.”

At 5ft-11″ and 105 lbs Zanna could count every rib. I could start selling organs, she thought wryly, those that still work. She opted for skipping more lunches and jogging longer.

“She’s got the look.” The ad words struck her funny as she eyed her reflection. She laughed until she sobbed.

Thrift Shop Find: A Good Read

Book Review: THREE CAME HOME

When the Japanese army took over Borneo in May 1942, Agnes and Harry Keith and their 18- month-old son were taken prisoner along with others associated with the British colony there.  The men were put in one prison camp; the women and children in another, along with a group of nuns.

This insightful book reconstructs the scene immediately before the invasion, the two years and four months they were interred, and their trip home. If you don’t value your freedom enough, this book is a MUST READ.  With clarity and charity Mrs. Keith details life in the two prison camps, their ways of coping with abuse and starvation rations.  She describes guards, prison commanders and interpreters as well as her fellow prisoners.

In her opening she says,  “The Japanese in this book were as war made them, not as God did, and the same is true of the rest of us…  If there is hate here (in these pages), it is for hateful qualities, not nations.  If there is love, it is because this alone kept me alive and sane.”

Three Came Home, by Agnes Newton Keith © 1946, 1947
Published by Little Brown and Company,  Boston,  MA, USA

Agnes Newton Keith has also written LAND BELOW THE WIND, WHITE MAN RETURNS, and BAREFOOT IN THE PALACE.  Although I haven’t read LAND BELOW THE WIND, I know it describes their life in Borneo (an English colony in the South Pacific) before the war and the reviews were favorable.

My Mom Was Simple

One day I was given a writing prompt: tell about a person you’ve known, someone you’d describe as simple. Well, the simplest person I ever knew was my birth mother, Mom Vance. She was about as simple as they come.

Mom’s stepmom Maggie told me Mom was born “simple,” as far as she knew. I suspect that circa 1923 a number of babies were damaged at birth by various factors not controllable in the days of home deliveries, without x-rays or antibiotics. A difficult labor, a baby deprived of oxygen at birth, or an infantile infection resulting in days of high fever. The brain was damaged and the child was classed as slow, simple, or addle-pated.

And part of the problem was that Mom got her head stuck inside a cream can when she was nine years old. The family says she was already blue when they got her unstuck, so that oxygen deprivation likely did yet more damage.

Mom was friendly enough to people she knew, but not the cheerful, everybody’s-friend like a Down’s syndrome child. More like someone half asleep. Sometimes we say of such a person: “The lights are on but nobody’s home.”

I nodded when I read in Oliver Twist that “Mr Bumble struck Oliver with his cane; once on the back to make him lively and once on the head to make him wise.” Yeah; that was the policy and it probably made some normal children “simple.” One woman talked of how her father would knock the kids’ heads together and she’d see stars. It wasn’t because all folks back then were so cruel, but in that society nobody seemed to know any other way to raise children.

So I feel Mom’s upbringing was a contributing factor to her mental state. When I was young the old folks held to the concept that if a child was slow, a good whack on the head would straighten things out “upstairs.” And being slow, Mom got more than her share of whacks on the head — with frying pans even, I’m told. In one instance Mom’s father blew up and beat her over the head repeatedly with a chunk of wood until his brother intervened.

My Dad F, incensed at me over some density on my part, would often say, “You don’t have the brains you were born with!” Well, Mom V literally didn’t have the brains she was born with — or the emotions, either — because they’d been beaten out of her. Today we’ve tumbled into the ditch on the other side, where parents hardly dare discipline their children, but these former excesses have been cited to support the current position.

Mom did have a kind heart and was generous — too much so at times. She’d let any pal call from her phone — and run up huge phone bills. Anyone could crash at her house. But if she got mad, you had to watch for flying objects. My sister Donna claims she’s dodged a few knives hurled by Mom.

Because of her damaged brain, she couldn’t keep any facts straight. When Donna was expecting her third baby, Mom V told me one day, “The doctor says Donna might be having twins. She wasn’t very happy about that.” Her next remark threw me for a loop. “They say I had twins once, but I can’t remember.”

“Who said you had twins once?”

“Maggie (her stepmother) and them,” Mom replied in her usual vague way. Everything she said was vague. I overheard her trying to explain to someone who I was and she simply couldn’t. I was “that girl.” So Mom wasn’t capable of tact, sense, or the deviousness the rest of us are. As one of my sisters said, “A couple of beer and she was drunk enough to do anything.”

Mom’s schooling ended at Grade Three. My sister and I guessed Mom to be at a nine-year-old’s level, but really, a nine-year-old would be much more capable and careful if made responsible for the care of young children. It was her irresponsibility when I was a three-month-old baby that led to me catching pneumonia and ending up being raised by my uncle & aunt. (I refer to them as Mom & Dad F and call them my “real parents.”)

I must give my Dad V some credit here. He didn’t have much education or smarts, never had a driver’s license, but he was a hard worker. I’m not sure if all my siblings would have survived if he hadn’t been around at least part of the time to keep an eye on things. He really did love his kids and never forgave my uncle for taking me away and keeping me.

It wasn’t till I was older, started meeting other relatives and learning the family story that I discovered what kind of upbringing Mom had and why she was the way she was. But simple she was.

Love at Second Sight

A middle-aged man was strolling down a street in a merry old English city when he took note of a young lady walking briskly along with her brown and white spaniel trotting beside her. She had the air of going someplace important and the appealing look of someone with a sense of adventure.

Two years later this same gentleman was traveling on an ocean liner when he happened to catch sight of – could it be that same girl he’d noticed walking so spiritedly down the street so long ago? He approached her and asked if she was the owner of a brown and white spaniel.

The young lady was surprised, but she replied that yes, she had a spaniel that was being cared for by a friend while she was on this trip. Then he asked her if she would marry him. This surprised her even more but she must have had a sense of adventure since she didn’t turn him down flat or run the other way. And once they’d made proper acquaintance she accepted his proposal.

The marriage announcement shocked all their friends, because Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts movement, was 55 and his bride-elect was only 23. They had a private wedding and went on to have three children. One “May-September” marriage that worked well.

Winnie on Tour

Town Hall

“Awesome architecture!” Raylene snapped another picture.

Winnie eyed the building. “All that brick to whitewash.”

“To achieve such symmetry back in those days…”

Winnie frowned. “All those windows to clean.”

“Oh, well. Help was cheap back then.”

They heard some chatter and the two cousins turned to watch a number of children crossing the street. “Looks like a school tour,” Raylene commented.

“Now there’ll be grubby little fingerprints everywhere.”

Raylene sighed and turned to gaze at the City Hall again. “I think those flower boxes add such a nice touch. Don’t you? The town fathers back then didn’t cheap out when they set up office.”

“Still don’t,” Winnie grumbled. “Just think how much red tape they could produce in an office this size.”

At that second Raylene wished for a roll of duct tape in her hand. She pushed the uncharitable thought away and checked her program. “I see the castle tour is next.”

“Hope we do the dungeon. Dungeons have always fascinated me.”

Raylene rolled her eyes. Somehow that fits. Then another thought flashed through her mind and she chuckled. Her cousin Winnie could probably bring an ‘Iron maiden’ to tears.

Winnie looked at her curiously. “Did I miss something funny?”

“Oh, I was just remembering how the cream on our table at the bistro was sour.”

“Hmph! That’s funny? And our table was the only one with sour cream. Really odd, I’d say.”

“Yes. An odd sort of funny. Let’s go find the rest of our group.”