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
“…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.” This line stopped me in my tracks. In a good way.
Super cool prompt…maybe I need to look into this?
Yes, you should! Go to Thain in Vain’s blog thaininvain.com
You really captured what growing old mean: so many memories of history, of a life lived. Yet, the world assumes you were always that age, and this is demonstrated when Clara says, “I wasn’t always old but they have never seen me any other way.” So true. As I get older, I definitely see younger people looking at me like I were never that age; never experienced the things they did. On the flip side, I know so much more and can often stump them with cultural/historical references that happened before they born — when the world began! Another amazing story, Meg! You really have a way with words! TiV
Thanks so much for your kind words, TiV. So glad you liked this. I feel the same way about aging.
This sounds like a fun prompt! There is much to like about this story, but what I think stands out most for me is how the boys respond to her. I think this is because my own kids happen to love ‘old’ people.
Yes, it was a fun prompt, Janna. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Glad it resonated!
A year or so ago I met up with some old friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. We were discussing how we were content to talk and catch up and were not compelled to “do stuff”. One of these friends observed,”Remember those old guys we used to laugh at?” We all nodded. “We are those guys.”
Hah! Yep. My husband and I were listening to a heavy metal song and I had to walk out of the room because I was afraid I was going to say something old-lady-like. Husband followed soon after, “I’m becoming the guy who talks about how great Bennie Goodman was.” Thanks for reading, Thom.
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Yeah I’ll second thain in vain’s comment, I had a volunteer job working with older people and I have thought about that idea before in the way folk act and discuss older people in that context, also with my grandparents too. like, i have always thought of my grandparents as old people, my whole life. pfff, time does not even exist in the way we perceive it. it’s all cultural concepts! Narrowing our thinking again. or something. But anyway, another great piece, i have just read your process bit and i completely empathise with you in everything you say, but also think it is a spectrum and to fall somewhere in the middle of being healthily self-critical is possible and the ideal but probably there will always be wanders into hellish self-doubt because you are so close to your form of expression, there kinda always has to be if it is a natural extension of yourself. I think going by what you say you must always write (you know that anyway), to be happy&complete, it is a part of you. Our lives are that much better for your having gotten back on it again because you are one of the best writers i have come across online…as evidenced here again by moments like ‘they seem rootless to me now’. Best thoughts! 🙂
I’m so honored by your comments, Stephen. Thank you. And yes, passage of time is something of a cultural concept. But that’s lucky for writers who like to play with time! I stopped by your blog and saw that you’ve been especially prolific lately (or I have a complete obliviousness to the passage of time). Must read!
She sounds like such an interesting person–she’s lived through so much. I’m glad she found a friend among the boys.
I love Clara, but man, I love Jake too. I was once that young man – the one who stepped forward to help. I remember them well; Agnes and Tony, a sweet, older dutch couple who fled to the U.S. during WWII. Amazing people with amazing stories. When all the other kids on the block thought she was a witch and he was a nazi, I had the gumption to find out for sure. This story brings back many, many happy memories.
What a lovely memory, Mark. Thanks for sharing this.
You must have struck an inner chord, dear Meg. It’s not what I would call sad story, but it makes me feel a little weepy inside.
I must be feeling old this morning 🙂
Beautifully written and poignant. xo
Thanks, Michelle! So glad you liked this. Hugs to you!
I found this beautiful and touching. Too often, today’s society discounts the importance of our older generations and see them as little more than a drain on the state. People forget all too quickly that these folks were once young, vibrant and full of hope – just like us.