Stop by Thain in Vain’s blog to read entries from some wonderful writers. See below for info about this week’s prompt.
The boys across the street call me “the old lady.” I hear them when they walk by my house. “The old lady is raking her grass,” one of the boys will say. Or “I bet the old lady is looking for her newspaper,” as I root around the bushes. They must assume I can’t hear them but I have excellent hearing. I am like a cat.
I am 92. I have lived through war, childbirth, and famine. I remember the bombs of England and Edward R. Murrow’s broadcasts of stoic British heels clicking along the pavement because life must go on. I gave birth to a daughter during the war; her father married me but soon left. I was a missionary in Ethiopia during the 1983-85 famine, pinned down in Tigray, holding the bloated bellies of toddlers who had never known anything else. These memories flip through my mind as I pull thistle out of the garden bed.
The boys who live across the street and call me the old lady are teenagers. I remember when they were ten or twelve, before they flitted between households—their father’s house across the street and their mother’s somewhere else. They seem rootless to me now, like air plants that require no soil to grow.
I am the old lady who rakes her lawn in the summer when the leaves can still be counted. I am preparing for fall because it comes sooner each year. I wasn’t always old but they have never seen me any other way. I am fixed in their minds as always having gray hair, always stooping, always moving, sloth-like in orthopedic shoes. They can’t imagine me at 28, ginger haired and fair skinned, rocking Elizabeth in my arms, standing in front of the bay window of our suburban Detroit house, looking out on the world and wondering when it would be mine again.
It isn’t their fault that they call me the old lady. I’ve never told them my name. I walk to the end of my driveway and lift my cane to get their attention as they sit on the curb at the edge of the lawn. “Do you want to know my name?” I ask.
They look at each other and I see the question on their faces. The younger one says, “Your name is Clara Simple.”
“That’s right,” I say, surprised. “But you always call me ‘the old lady.’”
They bow their heads. I don’t mean to shame them. “Oh,” I say, waving my hand. “Don’t worry.”
I walk back to my house and pick up the rake. The younger one runs up to me, “Mrs. Simple, why do you rake your yard in the summer?”
“Leaves still fall in the summer. If I die before fall, there will be fewer to rake.”
“I’ll rake them. I’m Jake.”
“Jake the rake,“ I say. Maybe I will tell him about the bombs over England.
Flash Fiction Challenge #33 at Thain in Vain
Prompt: Open the book you are reading right now, turn to page 33 and write a super flash fiction about the first proper noun (person, place or thing) on the page! Word count is 500 as usual.
The noun I selected from reading Anagrams by Lorrie Moore was “lady.”
Word Count: 494