Weekend Writing Prompt

This morning I rode my bike into work for the first time. I’ve been a slave to the car culture for as long as I can remember and in a sudden fit to get healthy (and to reduce the damage done by too many pies) I’ve decided to start doing something that requires more energy than lifting a pint.

On my way in, having put bum to saddle for the first time since the removal of my stablisers, I managed to do two things:

1. Tear a strip off my favourite baggy jeans (if they didn’t already have half a dozen holes in them, I might have been upset)

2. Take in the scenery of Edinburgh on a bright Friday morning.

I saw all manner of people bustling around, from city workers, to parents and children, dog walkers, joggers and of course, fellow cyclists. I was a cyclist!

Anyway, your writing prompt for this weekend is: “On my way in to work this morning”.

Try to keep it to under 1000 words and see where the new route takes you.

Happy writing.

Happy Birthday Dad

Today is my father’s 66th Birthday. I’ve been living in the UK for 10 years now and I have missed the last decade’s worth of birthdays. I’m going home in 9 days and I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to give him. People have offered up suggestions that have ranged from a set of bagpipes (I live in Scotland) to a bottle of Glenmorangie (which I send every year anyway). I think I’ve settled on a Scotland rugby shirt for ease of transport, but it hardly represents the depth of feeling I have at the prosepct of seeing my dear old Dad again.

My father and I were not close when I was a child. Although I sensed I was the apple of his eye and I was spoilt for all things material, in terms of being able to communicate with him beyond the hugs I gave him, there was not much there. I admired him, and feared him a little. Being from a large Mexican family and the oldest, he was used to giving the orders and although I doubt he was aware of the effect his presence had on me and my brother, we avoided him.  We respected him, but opening up was not the done thing.  So, the development of our parent/child relationship was largely left with our mother to contend with. The PTA meetings, bake sales, conferences and pep-talks were her remit while our father worked all hours, 65+, 6 days a week, to keep us fed and better off in the toy department than that other kids in the neighbourhood. The downside, is that we didn’t know him, except as the disciplinarian, a role my mother was happy to relinquish.

When I was about 14 years old, my mother fell seriously ill. She was in hospital for about two weeks and in that time, my brother was away at college. Suddenly, I was alone with my father. We went to the hospital each day and sat at her bedside. Each evening, as he whispered to her, willing her to get well, I sat on the stiff backed chair in the corner of the room reading and sketching in my notebook. Dad would sometimes disappear into the corridor where the vending machines stood and come back with a coffee in one hand and a snickers bar for me in the other. We barely spoke in those first few days, when the outcome was uncertain.

As my mother’s condition improved, my father underwent a change in demeanour. He was no longer aloof, but engaged me in conversation, asking me about my life and interests. We went out for dinner together in the evenings and talked about ourselves and our family. I learned about my father’s life on a ranch in Mexico, about how he and my mother met. This is a story she had told me many times before, but hearing it coming from him made it more real. For the first time, I realised my workaholic father was human and that he had a wife and children he loved.

 When my mother recovered and was home again, he was a changed man. I began to go to him for comfort and consultation when I had problems at school. I turned to him not for pocket money, but to learn from the benefit of his experience and to hear stories about the life and culture I was a part of, but never bothered to learn before.

Now, when I need to talk about work or family or issues that concern me, I ring home and listen to my parents fight over the receiver, each wanting to be included in my life even if it is just for the hour we share over the phone at the weekends when I remember to call. I hang up happy to know they are well, but filled with guilt for not calling regularly enough or for assaulting them with my problems when I do. I realise that, like so many people my age, I take my parents for granted.

I’m trying to remember my father’s size for the rugby shirt. I’m anxious for September to come so that I can be home again. I make a mental note to call more often. All these thoughts pass through my head as I wonder if once I’m back I’ll keep my word or if life will be allowed once more to get in the way. I have become my father of the early years, too busy with work to speak about anything real; a ghost to my family and I wonder what event will befall me in order for me to change.

THE FLOP – A Short Story

poker.jpg 

As he pulled on his belt, it did not slide away from the loops of his trousers with the ease and finesse that he had hoped. The black leather belt was slightly too wide for the loops, put up a fight and threatened to bring the material with it on the way out.

  Stephen grinned, looked at the surrounding faces and carefully withdrew the offending article of clothing. He coiled it like a snake and placed it at his side. With that done, he sat back on his heels and the next hand was dealt before him. His opponent sat with a serene expression on her face.  

The pocket cards were Aces. As he looked at his hand, he tried not to reveal the glee and excitement he felt. He had pursued Gemma for months. Although they occupied the same social circles, it was rare for them to be in such close proximity. She usually stood at the opposite end of the room at parties and in the pub, glanced in his direction and continued her conversations with others. He was peripheral to their social sphere and was comfortable with his place there. He was not a great talker and preferred the company of his online poker pals. Having said that, Gemma’s existence in their circle of friends and the possibility of meeting her now and again where alcohol was involved was promising and kept him from becoming a hermit within the confines of his bedroom.  

The poker game had been an impromptu suggestion from Ricky. The group had exhausted both their funds and the publicans in town and left them with nothing to do but to take a walk to Ricky’s flat in Morningside. Once there, he produced the last remaining bottles of Merlot from the rack and a pack of playing cards.  

“What’s the buy-in?” Stephen asked. “We’re all skint, right?” 

Ricky dropped himself on the sofa and leaned towards the coffee table. Its surface, scuffed and burned from careless cigarettes was wide enough to accommodate six people for a game of texas hold’em if all the players sat on the floor.  

“How about strip poker? We’re even on lads and girls.” 

Anna, who had positioned herself beside Kevin on the floor raised an eyebrow. “Dirty sod. I’m not playing strip poker with this lot.” She winked and pulled her jumper off over her head.  

“You have to play the game first, Love.” said Lindsey.  

Stephen, who had until then been struggling with a wine bottle and corkscrew, looked up and saw Gemma smiling. Normally, he would have been appalled at the idea of polluting his favourite game by playing it in such a way, however, as he looked at Gemma; he began to ponder the possibilities. Beside, he thought, he could out-play them all. The hours and hours in front of the computer at night would not be a waste after all.  

“How are we going to bet? None of us are wearing enough to play more than a hand or two.” asked Gemma.  

“Everything has a value. Shirt can be a fiver; one shoe is two quid, etc. etc.” suggested Ricky.  

With the terms laid out, the group settled into their game. As the poker progressed, Stephen began to feel sorry for his friends. He realised that most of them were not entirely familiar with the rules. He could tell by their clumsy betting and poor judgement. Clothes were being removed and dropped to the sides of the table at an alarming rate. Only he and Gemma seemed to be concentrating on producing the best possible hands from their pocket cards and the shared cards on the table. One by one, the players were eliminated from the game.  

“Stevie, what do you call it when the three cards are put out face up?” asked Lindsey. She sat in her knickers and socks. She had withdrawn from the game once she was forced to surrender her bra. She sat with a throw over her shoulders and there were no more than dregs at the bottom of her wine glass. 

“It’s called the Flop. First comes the Flop, which is three cars face up, then the Turn and finally, the River. You make the best pair out of your pocket cards and the five cards face up on the table. Weren’t you paying attention?” 

Anna, now stripped down to her knickers and smile, drained her glass. “I don’t know about Lin, but I wasn’t.  

“Come on Stevie, you’re being boring. Finish the game already.” said Ricky. He had lost the bulk of his clothing in the first hand.  

Stephen had just removed his belt and saw his Aces when Gemma, at her turn to bet surprised him. “All in.” she said.  

She wore a pink jumper with one of its small white buttons missing, baggy blue jeans and socks. Of all the others, she was the one who wore the most. Her hair, held loosely behind her head in a ponytail, began to slip from its knot and fell about her small face.  

Stephen looked at his hand. For so long he had imagined what it would be like to see her lovely figure undressed and close to him. The opportunity was before him and would most likely never come again. Yet, the notion of taking advantage of someone he had admired for so long, for her grace, her loveliness and at that moment, for the childish eagerness of her face sent a pang of remorse through him. 

His mind swam at the thought of letting her go, or letting her win a hand to make it a prolonged, less humiliating fight.  

He glanced up and met her mischievous smile and made his decision. He could stand it no longer.  

“I call.” He said and laid his cards down face up for all to see his pocket Aces.  

She smiled, nodded, and with perfect calm turned up her cards.  

“Two twos.” She said.  

As Kevin dealt the remaining cards, Stephen imagined how she would look without her clothes and how they would laugh someday about the drunken poker game they all shared…and then came the Flop.  

Kevin revealed a pair of twos on the table and the Queen of Hearts. By the sheer force of blind luck, Gemma had made four of a kind.  

When the Turn predictably produced a low card, Stephen realised several things at once, not the least of which that he was wearing briefs that night.                 

© Eliza Dashwood 2007

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR – 888 words

 I could tell Tiffany was upset about something when I found her on the swing set in the back garden. She’d come over sometimes, never unannounced, with her hair held back in the restrictive bands of floral patterns that her mother Angela made her wear. With Susie and Jim now grown up and moved away, I didn’t mind Tiffany’s occasional visits to our back garden. She would arrive on random days, just off the school bus and take the short detour home via our front door. Her gentle knock, once answered would signal for me to wave her past the living room into the garden and send me to the kitchen to fetch the squash she never asked for but always accepted.   

On this day, I had been doing the laundry in the garage. My whites were done and I was just transferring the soaking darks from the washer to the dryer when I looked up through the window and saw her. She rocked back and forth on her toes, with such a slow momentum that had no further force than her meager effort been applied, she would have sat perfectly still. The hair from her band was loose around her face and although partially obscured, I could see a tearless expression of pain.  

I abandoned my laundry basket and went out to her, surprised and a little angry with myself for my instinctive annoyance at her being there without permission and having left the back gate open.  

At hearing me approach, she looked up, but said nothing. I settled into the swing beside her and made a note to myself to lay off the tea cakes. “Hi Tiff. How’s it going?”

  “Fine, I guess.” She said. “Mum’s had a fight with Daddy and he had to go.”  I remembered hearing a row next door that morning, but thought nothing of it. From the times I had sat chatting with Angela over coffee in her kitchen, everything seemed fine on the surface. They had been married for a long time, Kev earned a decent living as a builder and Tiffany was the light of their lives. They had their routines and their holidays like any other family.  

“What did they fight about?” I asked. “Can you tell me?” 

“It’s because of something I found. I was looking for some loose change in Daddy’s sports bag and I found a receipt.”  

She turned to me and I could see what was coming. How many times had these events played themselves out in how many families? 

“What was it for?” I asked, understanding that it probably didn’t matter what the answer was.  

“It was for a spa day at the Hilton in *******. It’s just that, the receipt had Mrs. Ferguson’s name on it.” 

My heart sank. It was a bit funny and pathetic to think of Kev playing away with some stranger, a shop girl or some bint he’d met on the job, but quite another thing when it turns out to be Alison. She and Alan lived next door, on the other side of us. Kev had rebuilt their driveway over the summer and we had all known each other for years. Although we were all neighbors, we were not what I would have considered friends, but it was surprising just the same.  

“What did you do, Tiff?” 

“I showed it to Mum. She took it from me and sent me to my room. I heard her go out and about a half hour later she came back and went up stairs and called Daddy and told him to come home. When I looked out my bedroom door, she had a scratch on her cheek and she was shaking.”  

I imagined Angela marching across our front lawn and confronting Alison. Angela was not a large woman, but she was tough. I didn’t envy Alison at that moment, but I secretly wished I had been there to see the catfight that ensued.  

As we sat on the swings, I found my glance drifting to the left, in the direction of Alison’s house. I thought of the neighbourhood parties we’d had on the gala days and how we all got drunk together while the kids played on trampoline in the Ferguson’s back garden. From my kitchen window, I had seen their comings and goings. Alison’s house was always perfectly kept, the garden well groomed and Alan, the attentive husband appeared on random days with flowers for her. 

It took a moment for me to realize that Tiffany had been staring at me.  

“When Daddy came home he said he didn’t do anything, but Mum said she knew everything. She said, “that woman” told her everything. A few minutes later, Daddy started crying and said he was sorry.” 

I petted the back of Tiffany’s head. “What did your Mum say?” 

“She told him to get out and not to come back.” 

I nodded, stood up and held a hand out to her.  “Come on, Tiff. It’ll be all right. It’s not your fault. Sometimes grown ups do silly things.” 

She took my hand and I led her to the gate towards the house.  As I handed her a glass of squash, I looked out the window and admired the driveway Kev had built for me last summer.   

© Eliza Dashwood 2007     

DESIRE – 300 words

  She sat and stared. For weeks she had looked out the window of the office where she worked towards the shop across the road and admired the object of her desire. Everyday he sat, near the front counter with an indescribable sweetness to the contours of his shape.  

With the warm arrival of spring, his appearance in the shop had made her imagine what it would be like to peel away the layers that covered him like a cocoon. With each day, she reproached herself for her weakness, yet her eyes were drawn in his direction.  

Throughout the day, she thought of other things; of the work at hand, of the approaching holidays, of her post-work date with the treadmill, (Christmas had been unkind), and of the quiet flat that awaited her at the end of the day. However, as the hour of her coffee break approached, she found herself looking back across the street and pictured what it would be like to put him to her eager lips.  

What is he like on the inside? She thought. She grew excited at the possibilities.  

She wished he could be hers that she could tear what covered him and toss it away into the corner so that she might devour his whole body at her leisure.  

Finally, when all resistance had melted away, she drew herself up and went across the street. He had to be hers.  

The man at the counter greeted her with a look of expectation and recognition. “I thought I might see you in here.” He smiled and leaned in towards her, his hand sliding across the polished glass of the counter. “Is there something in particular I can do for you?” 

A mischievous smile spread across her face. “I’ll take the chocolate bunny.”   

© Eliza Dashwood 2007

War Games – 55 words

As the evening wore on, the boy grew more and more frustrated.“We’re like two opposing armies.” he said. “You keep putting up boundaries and fortifying your position.”

The girl pushed his hand away from under her skirt. “I think we can find a diplomatic solution.” she said, as she bent down towards his lap.

Mom and Grace – A Memoir

It started at around 2am. I had already been asleep for several hours when she came into my room to wake me. Tugging gently at my warm wool blanket, she bounced lightly on the bed while I struggled to understand what she was saying. No matter how often it happened, I was always startled. My eyes, heavy with sleep, could see flickering light coming from the living room and an anxious expression on her face.“Mom, what is it?” I said.“The Swan. It’s about to start,” she said, and then helped me into my terrycloth robe, the pink one with the little hole in the right sleeve.“Which one is that?” I asked.

“The one about the princess and the tutor. You know, Grace Kelly and Louis Jordan. Oh…and Alec Guinness is the prince.”

“Who?”

“Obiwan Kenobie.”

“Can’t we tape it?” I asked.

She shook her head. “That would be cheating.” We never taped the late night classics. The idea that we could miss something crucial kept us glued to the T.V., soaking in every word of dialogue, every screen kiss.

I yawned and slid my feet into my slippers as I got out of bed, thinking of the cold ceramic tile that lay between my room and the couch.

Within minutes, I was tucked in with a comforter around my legs, surrounded by pillows on the couch in front of the T.V.

Mom went to the kitchen and threw a bag of popcorn into the microwave and brewed a pot of tea. She joined me as the film began. Grace Kelly’s lovely face filled the screen and the opulence of the palace made me forget our cold living room. Soon after, there were only the actors on the screen and the enormous red Tupperware bowl of popcorn on my lap.

Mom sipped tea while she sat in the deep cushioned chair with a serape from Tijuana wrapped around her shoulders. Her pleasure and excitement by the action on the screen and my obvious enjoyment showed in her dark eyes. I think she liked it when I asked her about the actors, the story and the other films she enjoyed. This was our tradition, our means of communication. Every week when the TV Guide turned up at the house with the address label curled at the edges, she would sit and flip through its pages seeking out old friends; Garbo, Bacall, Dean, Stewart, Bogart and Monroe. When their names appeared, she circled the entry with a thin black marker and made a note in the calendar, indifferent to whether or not it was a school night. As I passed, I would gauge how much sleep I could expect to get that week.

Even now, many years later and thousands of miles away, I search the cable guide for mutual friends, each one a link to those lost late nights. I found Monroe and Curtis the other day and I promised to send her their regards next time we meet.



© 2003 Eliza Dashwood

Competition – 55 words

He looked at the girl running near him, her hair, tied back bouncing behind her. She quickened her pace. He quickened his. She pushed herself harder, he kept up; a girl could not outrun him. Later, in the ER they told him to be sure to tighten his laces next time he tried the treadmill.

About Barney

 “Are you going to tell her or do you want me to?” He asked.James sighed as his wife looked mournfully at the dead bird in its cage. 

“I’ll tell her”, she said. “I know how to handle these things.” 

“What will you say?” James asked. “I’ll tell her the truth.” Hannah said. 

James sat on the twin bed with roses on the duvet cover. The room was a mess. Shoes cluttered the floor and peeked out from under the bed, little white tights with pink flowers lay draped over the chair and little pastel coloured clothes were scattered around the room. 

“Are you sure about that?” James said. “Can’t we tell her something else?” 

Hannah looked at her husband and her lip curled into an impatient sneer.  “I told you we shouldn’t have left her alone. She’s too young. I might have known something like this would happen.” 

“Can’t we replace it?” James asked. “She probably wouldn’t notice.” 

“No, James. It’s time she learned some responsibility. She wanted to stay at Gemma’s for the weekend. She insisted that she would come home and feed Barney while we were away.” 

James searched her face. She looked as though she would cry at any minute. 

“I know, but he was her first pet. She’ll be gutted.” James said. 

“James, she’s old enough to understand that if you want a pet, you have to look after it. What sort of a message are we sending her if we get her a new one? She’ll think it’s okay to starve your budgies because Mummy and Daddy will just run out and get you a new one.” 

“She loved that bird. Besides, she’s only seven. Do you really expect a seven year old to understand?” 

“You can’t always protect her. Look at this room. It’s a mess.” 

“And?” 

“And…I’m not her maid.” Hannah said. “You never punish her. I always have to be the one to tell her when something is wrong, so I’m always the bad guy. On second thought, you tell her about Barney.”

“All right. I’ll tell her Barney flew away.” He said. 

Hannah shot him a look of disapproval. “No, James!” She slammed her palm on the top of the bureau. “Tell her she killed her bird. Tell her that she has to grow up and realise that if you don’t look after things they die.” 

“You’re taking this awfully seriously, aren’t you?” James asked. 

Hannah folded her arms across her chest and looked at the dead bird. It looked so peaceful. The water from its dish had completely run dry. The poor thing must have known that the end was near. No food, no water for days. Did it ever give up hope that it’s master would return, she thought, or did it think right up to the end that it would be saved? 

“This is serious.” She said. “We have to let her know that nothing lasts, that the only way to keep from getting hurt is not to invest your feelings on what you’re not prepared to look after.” 

James stood and went to the cage. The small green bird’s thin feet were curled up and stuck in the air. “You’re not talking about Barney, are you?” 

Hannah shook her head, eyes to the floor. “I’m talking about a lot of things.” She said. 

James took a step back and glanced out the bay window. He could just make out Ginny’s petite form coming up the path. Gemma walked beside her. The two girls held hands. 

“Didn’t this weekend help at all?” He asked. 

“I thought it would make a difference, but it hasn’t. We’ve lot too much.” She said. 

James looked at the cuddly toys one the bed, the Barney the Dinosaur poster on the wall, the abandoned hairclip on the floor. “What do we tell her?” He asked. 

“Everything.” Hannah said. 

“What about Barney?” He asked. 

“When it’s all over, I’ll get her a kitten.” Hannah said. “When they grow old enough, they don’t need anyone. We won’t even need the cage.”

© Eliza Dashwood 2004

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