Well, the NPR Three Minute Fiction Challenge finally ended and the winner was chosen. To say that my paper was not among those mentioned would seem as though there must be the taint of sour grapes upon my words, but there simply isn't. I had a really great time writing a piece of fiction again after many years' hiatus. It held all the fun of an assignment's parameters - without the pressure of a grade. We were given the first and last lines, which I have underlined, and a limit of 600 words. I didn't like my title, so I'm leaving that out of this post. Any suggestions?
Some people swore that the house was haunted, although everyone knew the niece delivered groceries to her back out in these hills once a month. That’s just the kind of wicked thing kids would come up with, spinning tales to add delightful pleasure to torment. No one else ever drew near, and her world held safe and secure as it had for the past twenty-eight years. Only the monthly exchange of food and essentials for the waste she bagged up to be removed broke the routine of her days. Library books traded in and out on her niece’s card. Occasionally they would exchange small talk, but what was there to say, really? Her niece didn’t read.
She looked out the hazy window from her one chair, pausing her rocking at the end of a sentence, mid-paragraph. The niece’s visit had been three days ago; however her ears caught the unmistakable intrusion of tires. Instinctively, she took her glass of water, wiped the ring of condensation from where it had rested on the window sill, and stepped back into well-known shadows.
An old can-opener of a Buick crept close; it’s every advance whispering secrecy and shame, even in this remote place. Ever so slowly it rolled to a stop. She could see waxen hands behind the windshield, clenching and unclenching the steering wheel. The door uttered audible protest and two tennis shoes emerged, resting lightly on the gravel. The steady hum of the sun continued. A girl emerged to stand unsteadily on white legs, her movements painful and jerky. Opening the back, she pulled out an oblong swaddling of pale fabric and limped into the sagebrush. The swaying straw grasses caught one another as she crouched down like a rabbit, murmuring soft and vulnerable words. After long moments, the rhythmic scratching song of crickets rose with her and she returned to her car. Nothing would change. The door slammed shut with a muffled oath and the ignition turned over; she circled around and drove off, the dust barely rising behind her.
Behind the grey clapboard of the house, the controlled beating of the older woman's heart continued. Eventually she took measured steps toward the window, scrutinizing the faded scrub some twenty feet or so from her. A world away. She lifted her glass to her lips and drank. As she returned to her chair, it gave a simple wheezy sigh, receiving her with companionable familiarity.
She turned the pages, her every sense crackled sharply to what lay outside in the chasm of distance. In the hours following, all other accustomed sounds were muffled by the silence that met her ears, straining for a vibration unusual to the norm. Dinner was eaten in regular solitary stillness. Cleaning up and preparations for bed passed like the steady count of an old clock.
Deep in the dark blue of night a mewling, poor and faint, stroked its finger over her sleep. She remembered that softness. She knew. Two tight fists were struggling within the cotton folds of that bundle in the dark. Life was wrestling, pleading to be recognized.
The worn floorboards creaked in anticipation beneath her bare feet as she walked slowly forward and peered out. Nothing was ever the same again after that.