Writing Prompt: Time Out

I woke at 4am, then at 5am, then 7am…Each time, I woke with an ache that filled my whole body. My tee-shirt, soaked in sweat stuck to me and pools of moisture gathered in every bend of my skin. Oh no, I thought, it’s the weekend and a cold is imminent. My breath was laboured and as I made my way to the kitchen for something to drink, I cursed at the thought that I have a house-guest coming in the morning, I have loads of housework to do and I can barely lift my head. I’m angry because my guest is coming from the States and I don’t want to let him down by being too ill to take him around the city.

I’m curled up on the sofa with a duvet, the cat, some soup, cold tablets, a box of tissue and the remote control. This always happens to me. Every holiday, every break, every time I have people to stay, I get sick. I think it’s my body’s way of saying, “Hey you, you know that lighter you’ve been holding at each end of the candle? Well, guess what, you’re fresh out of wick…”

I’m taking the hint and chilling out until tomorrow when my friend arrives in the hope that a few hours rest with a load of fluids will do the trick. Have you ever wished you could just slow everything down for a little while to let the body and mind catch up?

If you could have one day when you could do anything and not worry about the world outside, what would you do?

Me, I’m sleeping, petting the cat, watching Wimbledon and slowing it down.

Writing Prompt: Time Out


Writing Prompt: Where the Heart is…

As I stepped off the platform at Charing Cross Station, I knew I was home. Crossing the Thames over the rail bridge afforded me a view of Big Ben, The Millennium Wheel, The Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s and in the distance, Canary Wharf. The city opened out before me and welcomed me back. I could see the boats along the Embankment crowded with people enjoying their drinks on the sun-kissed deck. I belong here, I think and I smile at memories of walks at night along the river.

Eventually, I wander through the cobbled streets of Covent Garden and I’m distressed to hear that the street performers might be banned. Outraged, I press towards Leicester Square and curse any authority that would dare deprive the public of its jugglers, actors, singers and musicians. They are London.

I reach the throng of Liecester Square passing my favourite wine bar and I feel a tug towards the door. Today, my will is strong and I remember my purpose. When I arrive at the top step of the National Gallery, I breathe a sigh of relief. The doors are open, Monet is only a few steps away.

I turn and look out over square and raise my eyes across the horizon and see Big Ben perfectly framed between the buildings and in my line of sight. Inside, I find my painting and drink in its colour. I wander into the gift shop and find a little copy. It’s a little bit of the day to look at and keep with me until I’m home again.

Writing Prompt: Where the Heart is…

A Thought – The Rose Covered Garden

the rose covered garden

The petals are dangling low, heavy with the scent of summer. From where I lay on the cool grassy lawn, I would swear the flower was winking at me. What shall we do today, it seems to say.  Will you lay here with me and enjoy the breeze or will you keep your word and fill your days with adventure?

I’m tempted by its whispering words of laziness and its little hint of folly. Go on, it says, close your eyes for just a little while. The day is still young and you can go to town anytime.

My eyelids droop and a slow smile creeps involuntarily across my face. The rose, so sweet and seductive is undeniably smiling down at me. Its little friends of varying sizes and shapes dance in the breeze, lulling me to sleep.

Suddenly, as something clicks in my head, I sit up. It’s the first day of summer, I tell myself, and I promised myself a trip to the National Gallery. There are man-made works of art to be appreciated.

The rose, aware of my decision bobs in the air. What will she do now, it wonders.

I stand and as I turn towards the house, I decide something. With a flick of my wrist, I break its neck. The others look at me, shocked. Are they angry or jealous?

“You’re coming with me.” I say and breathe in its perfume. There’s no reason why we can’t enjoy the journey together.

Writing Prompt: The Joys of Travel

The travel Gods, it would seem, are against me. For the second time this week, I’ve run into trouble whilst attempting to journey between London and Edinburgh. I arrived early, already checked in with my boarding card in hand. For the first time in months of frequent travel, neither the heels of my shoes, the under-wire of my brassiere, nor an innocuous if slightly bling belt buckle have triggered the metal detector. This, usually having the effect of a keen, if unnecessarily intimate security guard in cropped hair and shoes of conspicuous comfort handling me in the most vigorous manner.

Today, metal-free and carrying only my laptop, I scooted through security without incident only to find my flight delayed by 2 hours at the other end. I dropped my shoulders, bought a new journal, two books, a pint of lemonade (with ice) and a plate of pasta to see me through to dinner in London. (the pasta quite creamy but the garlic bread better suited to driving nails than to human consumption).

The retail therapy is my only defence from creating a scene of air-rage. Two days ago, I missed a flight altogether merely by being misheard by a taxi driver.

“Paddington Station.” I said.

We ended up in Farringdon, which for those of you who don’t know London, is at the other end of the city. The consequence of this mis-communication whether by my inability to enunciate or through his inability to interpret my North American accent, was a missed train to the airport, a missed flight, new ticket to be purchased at an inflated price, a hotel bill and general annoyance.

So, are the Travel Gods out to get me or am I just unlucky?

Although this is a bit of an irritation, it is by no means a catastrophe. Everyone has had a bad journey. Whether its lost luggage, missed flights, being stranded in a foreign country, sea sickness on a ferry crossing, etc. Tell us about your worst travel nightmare.  Where were you going? What happened and how did it affect your plans?

Note: Can you believe it used to be nothing but walking or horse back as an option?

When you consider all of the travel options available for getting from point A to point B, its a miracle this isn’t more common…

flight, hotair balloon, cars (yes, that means taxis too), Horseback, Boats (row to speed), walking, trains, bikes, etc…

Writing Prompt: The Joys of Travel

Writing Prompt: It’s Not What You Think

I’m sitting in a bar on the Grassmarket nursing a pint of Peroni. My eyes, swollen with tears attract attention from anyone who either approaches in an attempt to share my table on this busy Friday night or who see me as a potential conversationalist. Neither stop, put off by the red in my eyes and the furrow in my forehead.

I imagine what they must be thinking and snigger. The truth is, despite the dramatic and uncontrollable animation of my eyes there’s nothing wrong at all. Well, there is a bit, but its more aesthetic than emotional. I’m waiting on my own for a while until the appointed hour when I’ll meet a friend for dinner. I left early so I’m having a post-work drink on my own while I wait. That explains the solitude.

As to the tears, also not what you think. To the casual observer, I’m a girl on her own in a bar, have a tear-streaked face, a half-consumed pint and am writing in a journal. (they don’t know this is going to make it online when the opportunity permits) Here’s the truth, I’m careless. I fell asleep with my contact lenses in and upon waking up gave my eyes a rub. The lens scratched my cornea, only slightly but this means glasses and no contact lenses for a week, eye drops every day,  new glasses on order (the ones currently on my face are not only terribly out of date, they are no longer fashionable), and most importantly an endless supply of tears until my eye decides to heal itself.

It just got me thinking about all the stories people have. Behind every scene, every action, every snapshot of life is a story and its almost never quite what you think.

Oh, just had a deja vu, have I written this before?

So, here’s the prompt. Look around until you see something that interests you. Put a frame around the scene with your hands and construct a back story for what you see. If you’re feeling brave ask your random, striking story victim about themselves. Were you close? Bet not…

Write a background for what you see and tell us about it in 1,000 words or less or try writing a story around this theme.

Writing Prompt: It’s Not What You Think

Writing Prompt: Pride Before the Fall

As the gauge read 9.26K, I felt smug. I had asked a colleague at work to pick a number between 1 and 10, promising that I’d run that distance tonight in kilometers after he had chosen a number (he chose 9). On my way to the gym, I tripped straight through the doorway at Zara and tripped out again with a shopping bag. My good intention to go to the gym and run like a hamster on its wheel was slipping away from me. I walked, steady, straight and swift to the train station and made my way home. As I reached my door, guilt set it. I had challenged myself (with Dave’s help) and I couldn’t go back on it. With the cat cuddled and my shopping put away, I changed into my faded sweats and pink and white trainers (chosen for fit, not for colour) and went purposefully to the gym.

I ran, quickly at first, then slowly, then fast as Sweden scored their first goal. I watched the two colliding teams run around the field and said to myself, “If they run for the next 50 minutes, so can I.”

By the time I finished, the gym staff were getting ready to kick everyone out. (ok, I’m slow, but I started late) I panted my way to the finish and felt satisfied that I’d done what I set out to do. However, in my eagerness to get going I forgot something critical.

1. I haven’t done this for a while.


I’m on the couch with my laptop settled to one side of me and an icepack on my knee. I’m afraid to stand up for fear I might topple over. Christ, I’m getting old…

Have you ever persevered at something that might do more harm than good in the wrong hands (or without due preparation) for the sake of your pride? What happened and if you had it to do over again…

Writing Prompt: Pride Before the Fall

Lost Luggage – A Short Story

The fault lay with the wishbone. Thanksgiving dinner was served at the appointed hour and what remained his family sat at the table eager for James to carve the turkey. As he looked across at the faces of his relatives, he felt content. His sister Sally sat across from him next to his nephew Dean. He looked admiringly at the young man who he always treated like his own son and felt a slight pang that he and his departed wife had never had children of their own.


The Quinn family had been a small one considering their Irish Catholic roots. James and Sally’s father had raised them on stories of their ancestry and his upbringing in the town of Kindsale in County Cork. Mr James Quinn Sr. had moved to New York as a young man, married a sturdy Irish American girl and settled in Brooklyn where they had James a year after their marriage and Sally two years later.


In his youth, James’ father instilled in him a pride of the beautiful, lush country he had never visited, always promising that one day the family would make the journey back. Throughout his life, he imagined the seaside town with its local shops and boats in a harbour. He imagined himself strolling along a seafront promenade with the cool wind at his back and a paper under his arm. In his imaginings, he would wander into a pub where he could share stories with the locals about life in America and everyone would recognise his father’s name.


Alas, this was not to be. One by one, members of his family passed away, first his mother, taken by cancer, then his father of a heart attack and most recently his wife. As he thought of these things, James grew sad but carried on carving.


When he came across the wishbone, he dug it out and presented it to Dean.


“Are you game?” he asked.


Dean, who up to that point had been twisted backwards in his chair to watch the football on the television behind them, turned around.


“Yeah, I’m game.” He said.


He stood up from his chair and took hold of one end of the wishbone. The two men looked at each other, each wearing a challenging smile for the other and began to pull.


James gave the bone a little twist from his wrist and the lion’s share came away in his hand.


Works every time, he thought.


Dean defeated slumped back into his chair. “You get me every year.” He said, smiling at his uncle.


“Year’s of experience.” James said.


Sally began to pass the plates over to her brother. “So, what are you going to wish for?” She asked.


James loaded the plates with turkey. “I can’t tell you. If I do, it won’t come true.”


“That’s just an old wives’ tale. Come on Jim, tell us.” Sally said.


“Ok, but you two have to promise not to laugh, deal?”


Both nodded in agreement.


“Well, I was just thinking. I’ve never been to Ireland. You remember how Dad used to tell us stories about where he grew up? He’d go on and on about how beautiful the town was and how he wished he’d made it back and what we should do if we ever managed a trip… Well, after Anna got sick, we never managed it and it seemed wrong to go without her. I guess I wish I’d made the trip. I look at pictures of the place on the internet sometime, you know, just for fun. I even stopped in at a travel agent once, but I never found the time or the money to go over.”


“Why would we laugh? I think that’s a lovely thing to wish for. Why don’t you just book the trip and go?” Sally said.


“I’ve thought about it, but at my age, I’m not sure I’d take well to travelling on my own. Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll get up the nerve and go.”


“I think you should Uncle Jim.” Dean said, the football forgotten.


“Maybe someday I will.” James said.


Later that night, when Sally and Dean had gone home, James poured himself a whiskey, slid his feet into his slippers and settled into his chair in the living room. It had been a pleasant evening. He closed his eye and drifted off, thinking of the errands he had to run in the morning and wondering if the weather would be good for a walk in Central Park at the weekend.


The heart attack came in the night, quick and silent as he slept in his chair. The empty glass slipped from his fingers and didn’t even break as it hit the carpeted floor.


*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *               

Dean wandered into the airport with his large, heavy suitcase dragging behind him. Like his dear uncle, he had never travelled overseas before and fearing he wouldn’t find his favourite food and wary of the cold weather of the Irish coast, packed enough woollen sweaters and Twinkies to keep him comfortable on his mission.


Over his shoulder was a small rucksack that held a copy of Time Magazine for the trip and his precious cargo. After consulting the morticians, several blog sites, the airline and his mother it was agreed that the best thing for Uncle Jim was to see his wish fulfilled. In a double-bagged Ziploc container were the post-cremation remains of Uncle Jim.


As Dean made his way towards the check in desk he realised he had forgotten to buy cigarettes. He scanned the terminal and spotted a shop where he could pick up some cheap cartons. The sign said, “Marlboro Reds – 400 for $40”. What a bargain! He thought. “I’ll never fit them in here” he mumbled as he sized up his rucksack. God, he thought, I’ll need a cigarette before the flight and during the connection and once I land…


He opened his rucksack and calculated the space he would need for his new purchase and found it too small. He imagined himself waiting for his connecting flight in the strange, unfriendly place Heathrow was reported to be and shuddered. He decided. Opening his suitcase, he shifted the contents of his bag until he had created a little nest amongst his sweaters where he could rest what remained of Uncle Jim. There now, he thought. That looks comfortable and he’ll be safe and sound in this sturdy Samsonite. Content that he has made the logical decision, he checked in his suitcase and made his way back to the cigarette shop. Having made his purchase, he was delighted to find that the cartons fitted perfectly in his rucksack.


*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *


Upon his arrival in Cork, Dean went through immigration without incident. He shuffled his feet through the long corridors that led to baggage reclaim and dreamt of his first pint of Guinness in a proper Irish pub. He rummaged through his rucksack and fished out his pack of Marlboros, noting the “No smoking” signs that surrounded him. He would have to wait until he collected his large suitcase and could make his way out of the terminal to the taxis lined up outside.


A cluster of passengers surrounded the correct carousel. Tired and cranky after the 11-hour trip from New York, people stood shifting their weight from one foot to the other impatiently or sat along the edges of the room waiting for their luggage. For Dean, the torture was acute. During the normal run of things, an hour without a cigarette was too long, and it had been nearly three. The eight hour journey between New York and London had nearly done him in.


Not long now, he thought.


Finally, the carousel began to move and one by one the bags began to appear. First strollers, then odd-shaped boxes held together with duct-tape, then bags and rucksacks of all shapes and sizes.


As people recognised their bags, they shoved in between the crowds, pulling and lifting their bags off the conveyer belt and wheeling their possessions out the exit where the doorway had a sign that read, “Nothing to Declare”.


More and more people went through the door and Dean began to feel uncomfortable. So few bags were left unclaimed and few people remained standing.


When the last person from his flight disappeared through the door and the last bag had been collected, Dean remained alone.


God, this isn’t happening, he thought.


When he had given up hope that his bag would reappear, he found the baggage claim office and filed a claim. For a time he debated whether or not to tell the man behind the desk of the importance of his bag’s contents, but finally, he overcame his embarrassment and confessed.


An incredulous face greeted him and drew up the necessary paperwork.


“We’ll try to track it down, Sir. We can’t take responsibility for the contents of the bag, but as soon as it turns up we’ll have it sent to your hotel. Where are you staying?”


Dean sheepishly gave the address of the bed and breakfast his mother had booked for him in Kindsale and skulked out of the office. Once outside, he lit a cigarette and tried to think of what he would tell his mother when he called to inform her of his safe arrival.


He had barely managed to replace his toothbrush and underwear and purchase spare clothes before the shops in the small town had begun to shut for the night. By God, he thought, it wasn’t even six o’clock! What kind of hick town is this?


When the phone rang in his room, he reluctantly answered. “Hello?”


“Hi Honey” Sally’s voice said. “How was your trip? How’s the hotel? Tell me all about it!”


“Uh, Mom, I have something to tell you…”


*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *


The loudspeaker made its announcements for disembarking passengers.


“Bienvenidos a Madrid. Pasajeros llegando de Londres, por favor recoja equipaje despues de pasar inmigracion…”


When the passengers collected their bags, a lone Samsonite, ill-equipped for the sweltering Spanish weather, circled round and round on the carousel. Uncle Jim, it would seem, had  become better-travelled than he’d ever expected. 


© Eliza Dashwood 2008





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