For several weeks I’ve been writing very short flash fiction (100 or 150 words), and neglecting longer forms. I’ve found this very helpful for understanding the structure of stories, but it’s not very satisfying. It’s a bit like surviving on dehydrated food concentrate. Today, I’m blogging a longer piece. At just over 600 words, it will take about 5 minutes to read.
“Mom?” Little Gemma fidgeted, and wouldn’t meet Debbie’s eyes.
“I don’t want to tell you, ‘cos you’ll be cross.”
“I won’t be cross, love, of course I won’t.”
“I don’t want my friends to hear.”
“Then whisper it, honey.”
Gemma still hesitated. Debbie squatted so she was the same height as Gemma.
Gemma leaned forwards, and whispered “I don’t want to go to summer camp, Mom.” Her grey eyes were lustrous with unshed tears. Debbie gave her a big hug.
“You’ll be fine, honey. You’re a big girl now. Just think how grown-up you’ll feel when you tell Mom and Pop all the fun things you’ve done!”
Gemma held her mom’s hand tightly as they waited. As the camp leaders started to line up the children ready to board the bus, Debbie kissed Gemma.
“Go on, sweetie. Be a big, brave girl, so I can tell Pop how grown-up you were.”
Reluctantly, Gemma let go and sidled towards the group.
A girl with long, dark hair and dimples grabbed her.
“Gemma! Wow! Isn’t this exciting! I can’t wait till we get there!”
“Hi, Natasha.” Gemma smiled. Natasha was her best friend.
As the bus pulled away, Gemma waved through the back window until her mom disappeared in the distance. Her bottom lip trembled a little. She was seven years old, and it was her first summer camp.
Debbie watched until the bus was out of sight. She felt sad and angry. It wasn’t right to take a small, timid child like Gemma; she wasn’t ready for summer camp. The previous evening she’d said as much to her husband, Frank.
“Well, gee, sweetheart, let me tell you what happened at work today. First off, I was called to Bill’s office – that’s my boss’s boss. He told me how pleased he was to hear that Gemma was going to camp this year. Then Andy, my boss, he called me in, and said that he had been instructed to make sure that all members of his team were patriotic; good, churchgoing, God-fearing people who honoured the flag and our brave servicemen and women. ‘You know what I’m talking about, I hope?’ he said. ’No socialists here.’”
Frank had taken Debbie’s hand.
“It’s only four days, sweetheart. She’ll do great.”
Gemma was back on schedule on the Friday. She came out of the bus holding the hand of an even smaller girl.
“This is Pamela,” she announced to her mom. “They asked me to be her special friend so she didn’t feel lonely. Can we give her a lift home?” Pamela cuddled up to Gemma, and gave Debbie a small, shy smile.
“Sure, honey, of course we can.”
It wasn’t far out of their way, and they were soon home. As they pulled up in the driveway, Gemma asked, “Why don’t we have a flag, Mom, like everybody else?”
“Well – I guess we don’t like to make a big show of things, honey.”
“I’d like a flag, Mom. I want to salute it in the morning before school.”
Inside the house, Debbie watched with delight as Gemma ran up to her room, and greeted each one of her dolls with a cuddle and a kiss. She played with them until Frank came home.
“Whee!” yelled Gemma, as Frank swung her round in circles.
Debbie put her arms around both of them.
“Did you have fun at camp?” she asked.
Gemma looked thoughtful.
“Well, I missed you, Mom, especially the first night.” She snuggled her face against her mom’s tummy for a moment, and then stood up as tall and straight as she could.
“But I’m a big, brave American!”