Today, I give you a sentence prompt sent to me by Patti Yager Delagrange. I used her sentence to begin my flash.
I ask her indulgence and yours to imagine a willow tree that might grow in Brooklyn.
Jenny stared out the window at the rain drops spattering off the leaves of the willow tree, wondering how the hell her life had spun so out of control.
It was difficult to see through the mist. Was it the rain or was it tears that blurred her vision? The memories of him threatened to wash up, reverse inertia, a river running up stream like a salmon.
Behind her, the children played one of the hundreds of games children play to occupy their time until life stacked the deck and one of them might draw the Ace of Spades. She swiped the tears with the back of her hand, turning sideways to watch the little one.
She won’t be like me. No, she’ll be brave and strong. She’ll know who she is and she’ll never let life beat her down. I’ll see to that.
Jenny had been too long, too thin and too trusting. All these conspired to make her a target at seven, a tom boy and a second grade misfit.
That’s when it all ended, ended before it had a chance to start. For too many years she had lived within herself, hiding from the life she so desperately wanted to live.
The little one shouted, “No, it’s my turn.”
The older one knew it wasn’t her turn, but he’d let her go again. It was his way. Separated by three years, Jenny saw he would grow to be the protector. Did Jenny expect her son to protect her, protect her from the memories of another older brother?
Someone told her to write it all down. “It was a long time ago and I might not get it straight.”
“Write the parts you remember,” they said. “The parts that were the most important.”
After much debate, she wrote her story; wrote it in her own words.
It began when she was seven. That’s how old she was when he told her. It ended six months from this day with a phone call.
She wrote about all the nights she sat at her bedroom window with her brother, listening to music on her radio. He would tell her who the singing groups were and teach her all the dances. They would play Go Fish or tell stupid jokes. He taught her about maps from the giant Atlas in the living room and gave her dozens of books to read. Alone and the only girl among six boys, her brother, six years older, became her best and only friend.
Fourteen years her senior, her older sister poked her. “Why don’t you go out and make real friends?”
“I hate boys and those two girls down the block are stuck up.”
For years he came in and out of her life. Adventure, as they say, was her brother’s middle name. He traveled the globe in search of new and exciting places, met dozens of new friends, learned to speak three languages, and twice each year, he blustered in the door, his arms filled with presents from his travels.
She’d get all happy and then he’d leave again. No one could talk to her during the times he was gone.
She turned her face from the children’s play to the window. Always a window.
In the first house she sat at her bedroom window, the one that faced the gray factories, the one where they had shared so many good times.
It was the week after her seventh birthday, the year she was to receive her First Holy Communion. He had been teaching her the questions the nuns would ask.
“I’ll forget and they’ll call me a dummy.”
“You won’t forget. Don’t worry so much.”
But it was at that same window, between their music and the new dances that he told her. They were bored and started counting the cars along the elevated highway. He leaned over and asked, “Hey baby, you think if I jump, I’ll bounce back like the Keystone cops?”
She hadn’t answered. There was a new sound in his voice, a sound that frightened her.
“That’s what I’m going to do some day.” He turned to her and laughed. “Some day I’ll jump. Jump out of the window and off this rotten world.”
In the next apartment she sat alone and looked out across the small backyards with their rows of fences, pigeon coops and neatly strung clothes line. He was off somewhere doing the bad things that older boys did at his age.
Her habit barely registered when she stood by the window in the next house. By then her older sister was married and he was gone most of the time. She sat a chair by the back window and listened to the music of a new generation, read more books, and watched the traffic and the daily routes of pedestrians along the avenue.
Her mother prodded, “Why don’t you go out with your friends?”
How could she tell her mother that her best friend was busy and that soon none of them would ever see him again? She waited, worried and sat alone.
After three more places, more music and new windows, Jenny took one road trip on her own. In this place, Jenny fixed the room for the children, planted a chair by the fire escape window, and joined the legions of lonely women who live encased in wood and glass.
Jenny knew people loved happy endings like the ones in fairy tales, like the tale of her older sister. Her life had been a fairy tale written by Grimm. First came love. Then came marriage. Then came Jenny with the baby carriage.
Christmas or Fourth of July, family gatherings came and her brother no longer blustered through the door with arms filled with presents. Weddings and children, nieces and nephews, deaths and births, all found him missing in action. He became a voice on the other end of a phone, lines that connected them in strange ways. She was hungry to touch his face. “You know Mom gets crazy when you don’t come home.”
“Don’t you miss me too?”
She lied. “No, I stopped missing you a long time ago.”
Then the phone call came. It was her older sister, the one who had been the model child, the one who bore the responsibility for letting the others know.
“The police found one of my letters in his wallet.”
Jenny didn’t ask and her sister became annoyed. “Don’t you want to know what happened?”
Her best friend, her worst enemy, her confidant and her adversary, had finally fulfilled his prophecy. “He jumped.”
“Don’t tell ma.”
“It’s too late, she already knows.”
Her brother made his last road trip in a box. A box they sent back to his mother, sealed, concealed, hiding the truth from nosy neighbors and family.
And today, like all the dead days that had followed the phone call, twenty years after the fact, Jenny sat and wondered what had happened to those two happy kids. Wondered how he could have known so long ago. She hated him for telling her, for making her the confidant in his deadly secret and still loved him and the new music she listened to alone at night.
The rain had stopped and a soft twilight bathed the room in shades of purple and pink, the soft colors of sunset, the time they could walk to the bay and watch the round ball descend into the bay.
The older one pulled her shirt. “Ma, it stopped raining. Can we go by the bay?”
The little one clapped. “And buy ice cream at the Carvel?”
Her best friend was gone and he’d never come back. She was a cute kid, that kid at seven watching traffic on the elevated highway. A cute kid with lots of love for the life she lived. But after that night, her innocence had never returned. Her life, her marriage and everything she touched spun out of control.
A little girl can live a lifetime in seven years. At twenty-seven she wondered if her life would start again without him.
At night, she’d hear his song and remember.
I originally planned to make this a sad love story … and perhaps in my own strange way … I did just that.
Have you ever started a story with one clear intention and then for no reason you can find, it changes … like the words have a life of their own? Do your characters ever tell you what to do next, how they want the ending?
What happens when the words don’t cooperate and some unknown something takes over?
Tell me reader, does this story work with Patti’s sentence?
Do you think it is a love story
or just the tale of a sad little girl?
fOIS In The City
Note: If this inspires you, and if you have not done so already, send me a sentence prompt.
LATE NEWS FLASH. My good friend Patti Yager Delagrange has hooked an agent for her next book. CONGRATS again, girlfriend !!