Trying something new today. Joining a short story prompt link-up hosted by Grammy Dee at Grammy’s Grid. In 12.2013, I retired. The reason I began blogging a few years later was to help make the transition into retirement easier. It’s been 5 years since I closed the door on my library career and I think I am fairly well adjusted to being retired, although working part-time helps to fill the idle hours. One of the reasons I continue to blog, is to prompt me to write.
The guidelines for the party are simple:
• Start with the partial sentence below
• Create a short story by adding to the sentence
• Post the story on your blog
• Add your post to our linkup below
• Check out the stories from others, see how they compare to yours
And that I did.
Here’s the prompt for this week’s short story: A woman, sitting alone on a park bench, hears something that… and here’s my story.
A woman, sitting alone on a park bench, hears something that is hard to make out above the din of the pouring rain. Just the slightest sound. A tiny squeak coming from the bushes behind the bench. She adjusts her umbrella and chooses to ignore the noise. With a bowed head, and balancing the handle of the umbrella between her thighs, she fumbles with the bottle of pills inside her coat pocket. A couple passes by, huddled under a single umbrella, deep in conversation. The woman drops the bottle back into her pocket and busies herself buttoning her coat.
Her index finger finds a hangnail along the cuticle of her thumb. Moving her meager belongings into storage the day before had been hard on her back and her hands. Never one for manicures nor chewing her nails either, she realizes her nails need a trim. She remembers hearing that one’s nails continue to grow for awhile after death. For how long, she wonders. And then – do morticians trim and manicure the nails of the dead? Do they apply polish when they are applying the deceased’s makeup?
Both would be artificial on her. Who gets to decide that? Should it be a clause in one’s living will? Or should the family of the deceased somehow be able to intuit whether their loved one would want to wear mascara and a French manicure into the afterlife? What happens in a case like hers where there is no family ‘to know’ these things? Does it really matter then? And if so, to whom?
A jogger dashes by on the running path in front of the bench. Her windbreaker is soaked and sticking like a second skin to her lean torso. Her pony tail swings as she picks up her pace in the rain. She nods at the woman on the bench, giving her a somewhat quizzical look as if to ask, “Why are you dressed up like that sitting on a bench in the rain?”
The woman on the bench returns the look and wonders the same of the jogger. Instinctively, she tugs on the hem of her skirt a bit and recrosses her legs at the ankle. Rainwater is beginning to pool inside her kitten heel pumps.
The sound behind her stirs again in the bushes as if rustled up by the passing jogger and the thoughts of the two women. A louder squeak. No. A mew.
The woman turns to look over her shoulder dumping her purse and its contents onto the grass beside the bench. She begins to lean forward to retrieve her spilled belongings but decides against making the effort. Why bother?
That’s when she sees it. Tucked into a drenched azalea, peeking between its lowest branches and bedraggled, rain-beaten blooms is the tiniest kitten she has ever seen. Soaked down to its tiny skeletal frame. Its long, gray and white fur plastered to its body much the way the jogger’s jacket had been plastered to hers.
The woman purses her lips to make the universal sound used to call a cat. That almost kissing sound. The kitten’s ears twitch and perk up slightly as it makes eye contact with the woman. It stops mewing for a second then mews more enthusiastically as if crying for help. The woman kisses the air between them again, in reply. Then offers, “Hello, little one. What are you doing all alone out here in the rain?”
The kitty locks its gaze on the woman as if to be sizing her up and asking the same thing of her.
The kitten and the woman share a simultaneous shiver or shudder. Are they cold or tired or both?
With four tiny paws, the kitten steps out from under the bush that has been its shelter. It sniffs and tries to shake the water from its rain slicked fur and little wet feet. Never breaking eye contact with the woman.
“Oh, baby, come here. Come get dry a minute.” The woman whispers in an almost feline tone. She moves slightly, to set the umbrella on the ground by her feet so she can get up from the bench with both hands free.
The kitten stops its advance. But out of a desperation to be dry and warm, as if it could understand the woman’s words, it doesn’t retreat back under the bush. It continues to hold its gaze at the approaching woman as she moves slowly behind the bench then kneels to the ground in one fluid motion. Even the clicking and creaking of her knees doesn’t scare the kitten away.
“Come here, baby.” She offers her hand to the kitten to smell. It responds with a flinch followed by several sniffs.
“Come on. See? Nobody’s going to hurt you. Come on, baby.”
The animal advances two steps more. It’s the woman’s move.
“There, there,” she soothes, reaching to pet the kitty’s head. Touching that soft, flat space between the ears. Soft only if this kitty were curled up on a fleece bed in front of a fire, warm and dry.
The kitty purrs. The slightest vibration from its throat. And it breaks gaze with the woman to lower its head in submission, allowing her better access to its ears.
“Aww, baby, come here.” She scoops the tiny body in one hand and pushes off from the ground with the other. She tucks the kitten under her coat and returns to her place on the bench. Kicking the umbrella out of the way as she sits down again.
“You are so beautiful, little one. What are you doing out here? Huh? Where’s your mama? Your family? Your home?”
The kitten nudges deeper inside the coat, wiping its face on the silk lining. The purring grows louder.
The woman reaches inside her coat to rub the kitten’s little body in hopes of warming it. She remembers a handkerchief in her coat pocket, touching the bottle of pills again as she retrieves it. She uses the handkerchief to rub the kitten’s fur partially dry. The purring grows louder still. Then, in a few minutes, the kitty has fallen asleep on the woman’s lap inside the coat.
From the bench, the woman looks about her for a litter mate or mama cat that this little one might belong to but sees nothing. She stretches her left foot toward the umbrella where she had kicked it out of the way. She’s able to hook the heel of her shoe into the curve of the umbrella handle to pull it to her. She bends to pick it up ever-so-carefully so as not to disturb the cat.
The purring continues. The kitten buries its face deeper into the fabric of the woman’s tweed skirt. The woman pulls the umbrella up over her head and the two sit there together until the rain begins to slow, then stop.
“This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go, you know,” the woman announces into her coat at the little cat. It lifts its head and opens its eyes as if in response to her quavering voice. Her hand returns to the pocket where the bottle of antidepressants waits. “I was just going to sit here until someone found me.” She glances down at the contents of her purse spilled on the ground beside the bench. An inexpensive cell phone, a note pad, pen, a small change purse, a little angel key fob with a single key attached. The key to the storage unit. And a sealed envelope containing an explanation of everything to whoever finds her body there.
“You know, I am homeless now, too. Gave up my apartment and moved my few belongings into a storage unit yesterday.”
The kitten meows as if to say “Yes, go on.”
“Today’s my birthday. My 62nd birthday. But I just can’t do it any longer. I can’t bear the thought of another year like this last one. I have no purpose in life. No one cares if I get up or show up or give up. I could sit on this bench forever and not one soul would know or care. I am very tired. Very tired.”
The kitten shifts on her lap and one of its tiny claws gets snagged the in the tweed of her skirt.
“Looks like you need a manicure too, little one. Those claws are sharp.”
She watches the kitty snuggle down again and listens for the contented purr.
The skies begin to lighten now that the storm has let up but it will soon be dark as evening is approaching. The kitty must be hungry, the woman decides. She wishes she had something to feed it. Years ago, she carried a can or two of cat food and dog food in her bag for instances just like this. And lollipops for unhappy children at the market. When had she stopped?
“It wasn’t supposed to go this way,” she repeats. “What am I going to do with you? You have your whole life ahead of you, little one.” She lifts the kitty close to her face and can feel its warm breath on her neck. The kitten licks her cheek with its sandpapery tongue. A kiss?
Lowering the little cat back to her lap she says again, “It wasn’t supposed to go this way.” She leans toward her belongings on the ground and with one hand, puts them back in her purse and sets the purse beside her on the bench.
She looks at the sky. There is a glimmer of pink and coral in the west, setting the clouds aglow. “It’s getting dark, kitty. What are we going to do?”
Another muffled meowed response from inside the coat.
“You know, I am hungry, too. I can’t remember when I last ate, myself. And these clothes are getting cold. Maybe today isn’t the day after all.”
She closes the umbrella with one hand, then picks up her purse. Rising from the bench, she holds the kitten close to her body still inside the coat.
“Let’s go home.”
Do you enjoy writing? If so, I hope you will hop over to Grammy Dee’s blog where you can find other bloggers’ short stories link-up there. In fact, I am going that way now, come go with me.