Friday Fictioneers – One family

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

An Apology!

I may not have commented on your Friday Fictioneers post last week. I have had trouble with my internet which has made it difficult to read stories, and next to impossible to comment on them.

If I have failed to read and comment on your post, I am sorry and I will try to do better this week! Many thanks to all those of you who read my story despite my lack of reciprocity.

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PHOTO PROMPT © Carla Bicomong

One family

I scoured market stalls selling lanterns decorated with images of dragons, of cash, of storks, until I found one bearing the image of a dove.

Under the trees at the lakeside, with a thousand other people, I waited until the last bird had finished her evening song and then I lit the candle in my lantern. I launched it and it drifted into the indigo twilight.

At first I could identify it, but after five minutes I was no longer sure, and after ten minutes mine was just one gleam of light among many.

I sighed, content and at peace.

Friday Fictioneers – Fulfilment

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

Fulfilment

A peacock screeched.

Inside its pupa, a damselfly larva stirred.

Alice dabbled her hand in the pond, gazing through a haze of reflections at the coloured pebbles on the bottom.

“You look thoughtful. Not worrying about tomorrow, I hope?”

Alice smiled.

“Just nervous, Frances, that’s all.”

Frances hugged her sister.

“Silly girl! Everything will be fine.”

The damselfly’s pupa began to split.

Next day the church was full. Alice stood beside Matthew and wondered whether it was possible to feel any happier.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

Beside the pond the damselfly’s wings flashed. The peacock screeched exultantly.

What Pegman Saw – Evergreen Memories

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Bristol in the UK.

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Evergreen memories

College Green was our special place, wasn’t it, Peter? We often met here between morning lectures and afternoon practical classes. We sat on the grass and watched the gulls hover, soar, dive, brilliant white against the blue sky. We shared our lunch, our stories, our laughter; especially our laughter. We laughed a lot, at people, at things that happened, but mostly simply for joy at being alive and together.

Then one day you weren’t there. Nor the next day, nor the one after. You weren’t in classes either. You’d never told me your home address or phone number. I asked the University what had happened. “He left us voluntarily,” was all they would tell me. No address, no phone number; I wasn’t part of your family.

I still come and sit here occasionally, and remember, quietly.

A shadow falls on me.

“Annie?” The old man’s voice is tentative, disbelieving.

“Peter!”

What Pegman saw – A beautiful world

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. I found this week’s location so stimulating that I wrote a second story, and here it is!

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 The sun warmed José as he sat on a bench overlooking the sea in the main plaza of the old fort. Dazzling white birds swooped above the ultramarine water. José, listening to their plaintive voices, could imagine them diving, seizing silver fish, swallowing them whole.

He heard the stranger approach, but didn’t turn; he had no wish to be disturbed.

“Señor, good day! May I join you?”

José grunted, and the man sat down.

“Cigarette?”

“No, thank you.”

“Do you mind if I…?”

“Go ahead.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Jose seldom indulged in a cigarette, but he enjoyed the smoke that trickled to him on the breeze.

The clock struck eleven. Time to go. Acindina would nag him if he were late for his midday meal.

“Isn’t the view beautiful?” exclaimed the stranger.

José turned to the man, smiled at him.

“Good day, Señor,” he said.

He rose and walked away slowly, tapping the pathway before him with a white cane.

 

A Chance Encounter

A Drabble is a piece of flash fiction that is 100 words long. The subject of this Drabble came to me as I was enjoying lunch in Café Kentrikon in Syntagma Square, Nafplion. Full of beer and tuna sandwich, I knew that all was well with the world. Life was good. Don’t read too much into the story, though; it is fiction, after all!

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The warm breeze caressed me like a lover. I settled comfortably into my cushioned seat at the café under the plane tree, and gazed across the marble square. I thought of my grandchildren playing there sometime soon.

He was tall and instantly recognisable, despite grey hair; my former boss, the man who had fired me. It had not been an amicable parting.

I waved. He squinted at me, did a double-take.

“Penny?”

“Adrian! How are you? How’s Joy?”

He shrugged.

“She wanted kids. I didn’t.”

“You made it up the corporate ladder though?”

He shrugged again.

“For what it’s worth.”

In the moment – power to choose

Let me start this week’s post with a “Health warning”; it’s not written for those suffering from clinical depression.

There are some effective therapies for clinical depression. If you suffer from persistent, long-term unhappiness, please seek medical advice.

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What are you feeling at this precise moment?

Stop reading, and feel.

Okay.

Are you feeling happy? Sad? Bored (oh, I do hope not!)? Frustrated?

If you have a negative feeling, ask yourself the question, “Do I want to feel like this?”

Don’t misunderstand me. Feeling negative is okay – when there’s something to feel negative about. But we often persist in negative feelings for much longer than we need to, and this can become a bad habit.

What we feel is, to a certain extent, our own choice. We can choose to feel happy rather than dismal. We can choose to feel tranquil rather than worried.

When you recognise that you have a negative feeling, the first thing to do is to relax physically. Take a few deep breaths and let your tense muscles relax on each exhalation. Let your shoulders drop. See how the simple act of relaxing has made you feel better?

Now that you’ve relaxed, ask yourself why you have a negative feeling.

Often there is a specific reason. For example, perhaps somebody has been thoughtless and rude, leaving you feeling angry. Or you had a row at breakfast with a family member, and you’re feeling fed up.

If you can identify the reason for the feeling, ask yourself whether there’s anything you can do about it. Doing something positive helps deal with the negative feeling. Can you forgive the person who was rude, for example? You’ll feel much better if you do. Can you, perhaps, plan a shared treat with the family member with whom you had a row?

Sometimes there’s no obvious reason for a negative feeling. That’s okay. It’s not a problem.

Whether or not you know the cause of the negative feeling, the next thing to do is to accept it. Don’t try to push it away, imagining you’re strong and can overcome it. There is no shame in having negative feelings. It is emphatically not a sign of weakness. Accept it; recognise it; it’s your feeling, and you own it.

But do you want to go on experiencing it? No. And you don’t need to. You’ve recognised and accepted it, and that gives you the power to make a choice. You can choose to feel positive. So you might choose to replace frustration during a difficult day with acceptance that some days are like that – and in any case the evening will be pleasant. Or you might choose to replace anger with forgiveness – and, hey, let’s get on with the day!

Then relax again. A few deep breaths. Drop the shoulders. Let the muscles of your back relax. Let the new, positive feeling have space. And then move on, in a happier state of mind.

Have a good week!

In the moment – change the world

In the moment – change the world

When I was young, I wanted to change the world. Probably you did too. Young people do, don’t they?

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A few people do indeed grow up and change, if not the world, at least some part of it. Nelson Mandela comes to mind. What a wonderful man! Twenty seven years of brutal imprisonment borne with courage and without bitterness, after which he became an inspirational leader to his nation.

One of the most notable of those who changed the world was Mahatma Gandhi, the architect of India’s independence, and a thinker who wrote many books. He said this:

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

This teaches us several things.

  • It is a call to action. If you want something to happen, play your part in bringing it about. For example, while few people can go to Syria to help people suffering in the civil war, we can all donate to Médécins sans Frontières, whose brave volunteers risk their lives to provide medical care.
  • It is a call to set an example. If you want a world that is free of war, live a life that promotes peace within your own community. Take every opportunity of showing caring love to those around you. The effect of a good example is very powerful.
  • It is a guide to good mental health. To have good mental health we must accept the nature of the world as it is. If we don’t, we will always feel conflict. We will feel that the rules by which we live our lives are being broken by other people.

We need to accept the world as it is, and people as they are, and that can be difficult. When I was being treated for anxiety, I was encouraged to develop a mantra that was specific to my needs. After much thought, I chose “I will live my life with joy.” I repeat that and reflect upon it several times a day, and it’s made a big difference.

The world is flawed, yes; mankind struggles to live together in harmony, certainly; but it’s such a beautiful world, and many, many people are good, and loving, and courageous.

For those billions of us who are little people, whose actions will never have a dramatic effect, Gandhi had an encouraging piece of teaching:

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

Nobody else can do it. It’s our task. We are each uniquely qualified to care, to nurture, to love those around us. Even if it’s as small a thing as a hug for someone we can see feels troubled, it’s our hug that’s needed, and our hug that will make a difference.

And, finally, as we live like this, in the realisation and acceptance of our own uniqueness, our own weakness, our insignificance for the world at large but our significance for those around us, we will know the truth of this saying by Gandhi:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

In the moment – barbecue time!

Living in the moment is when we pay attention to reality. We stop dwelling on the past, we stop planning for the future, and we allow ourselves to experience the present, the now. By the way, those of you who know me personally will realise that my wife Daphne was equally involved in the barbecue I tell about.

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Yesterday morning I cleaned the barbecue ready to entertain some friends. The weather here was glorious, so I took a bowlful of hot water and detergent into the garden, found a convenient shady spot, and sat down to wash the grill. I enjoyed being consciously aware of the warm breeze, the bright colours of the flowers, the sound of bees. I enjoyed seeing the grill start to shine as I scrubbed it.

It wasn’t perfectly clean – there were some burned on deposits that weren’t going to come off whatever I did.

Some other things that weren’t perfect for the barbecue last night; the patio had been brushed but not pressure washed; the water in the pond was rather murky; the flowers in pots had not been dead-headed; and, worst of all, I’m not particularly skilled at cooking on a barbecue (I started by dropping an uncooked beef-burger onto the ground! And I forgot about the sweetcorn, which is still in the fridge along with a few burgers and sausages that were too charred to serve…).

I would have loved everything to be perfect, but the fact that it wasn’t didn’t spoil my pleasure in the evening at all, nor did it affect my guests’ enjoyment.

Perfection was not necessary!

It’s the same in life, too.

Now, I would be the first to agree that there are some circumstances where we need to do a task to the very best of our ability, and where a mistake can be extremely serious. Driving a car is an obvious example.

But for most of us, most of the time, is perfection necessary? If ‘good enough’ is all you have time or energy to achieve, isn’t that sufficient?

Personally, I find that I am more relaxed and happier by living ‘in the moment’. I enjoy what I am actually doing rather than wishing I’d done better. I enjoy today!

 

In the moment – The Mountain

Maybe happiness and joy don’t mix.  For happiness, you have to work hard and persistently. You have to learn how to find it in all sorts of humdrum situations. Joy is different. You have to step beyond the conventional; you have to take risks.What do you think? The story below is about joy, and the taking of risks – and the price that may be exacted.

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The picture is of Mount Aspiring, New Zealand, and is courtesy of Pixabay.

Of course, her parents had equipped her as well as they could for the challenge, but, even as she stood in the foothills of the mountain, Alys was aware that she was lacking both tools and technique. Never mind. She smiled as she looked at the trail in front of her. This was going to be one heck of an adventure!

She was well below the treeline and the going was easy. The track was broad, running between pleasant woods and close to a sparkling river. There were others following the same route. Alys smiled at everyone she met, and greeted them with a cheerful “Hi! How are you doing?”

Some of them were faster than Alys. She didn’t mind. If she thought about it at all, it was to remember the story of the hare and the tortoise.

The way climbed. Sometimes it went downhill for a short distance, before climbing higher and more steeply.

And then there was a rock face. At its foot was an opening from which the river, narrower now, bubbled and chattered.

There was a broad path leading to the left, away from the river. There were broken areas of rock going up the low cliff, that may, or may not have once been steps. Alys hesitated, and drew out her map. The path to the left led to a town; her route was shown going straight ahead.

As she was inspecting the cave that was the river’s source, she heard a voice.

“It’s up the cliff.”

It was a pleasant voice. Alys could imagine the man was a singer. She smiled.

“Thanks.”

“My dad told me to expect it,” explained the young man. “My name’s Robert. Would you like to walk along together? At least for a while.”

“I’m Alys. I don’t want to hold you back.”

“The route’s rough. We’ll be quicker together. Here, let me give you a hand.”

He clambered up, and stretched out his arm.

“I can manage, thank you,” said Alys, gripping a rather flaky rock edge to haul herself up. They climbed in company, but separately, to the top of the rock face. It wasn’t particularly difficult.

They were above the woods, and the mountain stood splendid before them. Alys turned around and looked back. She was surprised at how high she was, and how far she had travelled. The canopy of the forest stretched out for miles in all directions from the cliff. She could only just make out the town from which she had started. She took out her mobile and photographed the scene.

“Do you mind if I photograph you?” she asked Robert.

“Go ahead.” He smiled, looking relaxed against the mountains beyond.

“Now I’ll take one of you,” he said, taking out his own mobile. “And a selfie on both of our phones.”

Alys giggled as they snuggled up close for the selfies. The feel of Robert against her was comfortable, and just a little exciting. There was a moment when…but it passed.

“Time to move on,” exclaimed Alys. “I have a long way to go!”

Robert released her, and they walked on together. They scrambled up a scree slope. It was a long, dry ascent. They could taste dust from the stones. The scree gave way to bare rock, and still they climbed.

“Just a little further until we reach the top of this bit.” Robert took Alys’s hand, and they walked the last hundred metres together.

They crested the ridge, and stopped dead. To their right, the ground sloped down towards meadows, and beyond them, to a great plain. There were cities with spires and towers, set in fields of gold, brilliant yellow, purplish-blue, burgundy and green. There were rounded hills draped with gentle woodland, silver rivers winding into the hazy blue distance, where surely must lie the sea.

Robert put his left arm around Alys’s waist and pointed to one of the cities.

“That’s where I’m bound. I’m joining my uncle in his business. Would you come with me?”

Alys felt a sting of disappointment. She pointed up the mountain.

“That’s my way, Robert. I hoped you might be going that way too. You look adventurous.”

Robert shook his head.

“This opportunity with my uncle won’t come again. I’d be a fool to squander it. But please come with me. I can offer you comfort and security, and later I hope to become wealthy and powerful, like my uncle.”

Alys hesitated a moment. Her parents were poor. Comfort and wealth sounded attractive; she could help her parents as they grew older. Nevertheless, “I’m going to climb the mountain, Robert. I have to accept the challenge; it’s part of my nature,” she said.

They kissed, on the lips, each hoping the other would be won over; then they parted, Robert striding downhill, and Alys labouring upwards.

The going was harsher now. A wind blew down the mountainside, bringing the chill of the heights with it. Alys put on a warm jacket from her backpack.

Another cliff face reared before her. This was no scramble; it was a climb, and not an easy one. Alys studied the route she would have to take. She could see handholds and footholds for about twenty metres and then the rock sloped away and the higher supports were hidden. She took a deep breath. She had no rope, and no companion. If she missed her footing she would be lucky if she only broke a leg.

She climbed strongly, making each move positive and precise, never thinking of the drop behind her. As she went higher, the next footholds were revealed. Up she went, steadily. Then she paused. Her fingers were becoming very chilled because the rocks were covered with a thin layer of ice.

The last ten metres of the ascent were a nightmare. No matter how carefully she placed her feet, she always slipped. Sometimes it was just a stutter in the climb, sometimes her foot slithered all over the perch until she found the exact point of balance. And, once, her foot slipped right off the rock, leaving her hanging by her arms with her left foot perched precariously on the tiniest of ledges.

At the top, she pulled herself over the rim of the cliff and lay gasping. It was cold. She was lying in snow, crusty snow left over from the winter. It only took a minute for her pulse to stop pounding, but that was long enough for her to become chilled. Fumbling with stiff fingers, she opened her pack and took out a pair of warm, windproof trousers. They hadn’t cost very much. She hoped they would be adequate as she climbed higher.

The wind strengthened. She struggled to keep moving forwards and upwards. She was on the last stage. A narrow track led along a ridge to the peak. But the wind. The wind seemed determined to blow her off the mountain. She hesitated. Did it matter so much whether or not she scaled the summit? Surely it was the adventure and the attempt that mattered?

“I’ll wait fifteen minutes and see whether the wind drops,” she said to herself – although she couldn’t hear her own words for the noise of the wind roaring.

She found a boulder which sheltered her from the worst of the storm, and waited. The tumult was abating, wasn’t it? Another great gust seemed to shake the heights, and then came calm. Hardly able to believe her good fortune, Alys rose, swiftly walked along the arete, and scaled the last slope to the peak.

She was on the summit! For a few seconds, she felt at one with the entire world. Her spirit soared. She could see so far! She looked at her hometown, dwarfed by distance. There were other towns, other cities, too. Between them, she could just make out motorways, spearing across the plain, and the narrow scars of railways, arrow-straight. The whole power of civilisation was spread out for her delight.

Finally, she turned and looked for the city to which Robert was headed. She hoped they might meet again in the future. She took half a dozen photographs, and then realised that little blusters of wind were buffeting her once again. It was thrilling to have reached her goal, but it was time to go.

Quickly but carefully she worked her way along the ridge path. The wind was treacherous, now blowing fiercely so she leaned into it, then suddenly dropping, unbalancing her.

She was paying so much attention to the wind, that she didn’t see the tell-tale brightness of ice. Her foot slipped. She gasped. Her body lurched to the side. She fought to stay on the ridge. As her body slid over the edge, she grabbed at the path, and, for a moment, she held on. She heaved with her arms, scrabbled with her feet against the rock, sobbing for breath. There was no fear, just a burning urge to survive. She focussed everything on the task of regaining safety. She was only feet away from the path.

Her numbed hands slipped on the ice. Inch by inch she slithered further from safety. And then she fell.

At first the drop was nearly sheer. She heard the air whistling about her, saw, with a sense of awe, the rocks passing her faster and faster. Her left leg struck a boulder. There was a searing pain, and her body began to tumble. Her right hip struck the slope. An intense, fiery sensation stunned her with its ferocity. She rolled. She tried to spreadeagle herself, still fighting, still thinking of how she might stop herself from falling further. And then she rolled into a ridge on the mountain, her left arm shattering. Everything went black.

When she regained consciousness, she felt cold. She hurt. Her eyes gradually focussed, and she saw, with astonishment, how far she had fallen. She couldn’t move her left arm, or either of her legs. Breathing was difficult; little bubbles of blood popped from her nostrils.

Her right arm was still functioning. With what felt like an enormous effort she pulled her mobile out of her pocket. With a flicker of hope she saw that the screen was still illuminated. There was no signal. She tried the emergency number anyway. No response. She tried again. No. She was beyond any chance of rescue.

She clicked on the icon for her photos. There was Robert, smiling, happy. She hoped he would do well, that he had made the right choice. She scrolled on. There were the pictures from the summit. Even in her distress she felt the surge of achievement. She’d set herself the challenge, and by golly she’d done it!

Her vision was dimming. This must be it. Feverishly, she scrolled back. Yes! There were her parents. How grateful she was for their support. They’d let her follow her dream, helped her, supported her, even when they didn’t understand.

“Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mum.” Her last breath fluttered in her throat, and she was gone.

In the moment – be happy!

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Life holds many joys; the vigorous growth we’re seeing in gardens and fields; lambs gambolling on the moor; the love of families and friends. Even memories can bring us joy. Every day I look at the photograph of my wedding day – it’s in the bedroom, right in front of me as I drink my first cup of tea. It always lifts my spirits, not just as I remember the day itself, but because the picture reminds me how lucky I am to still be happily married to Daphne after more than forty years.

But life can also feel tough. There may be challenges at work, within the family, within society more broadly. Personally, I am deeply concerned about the political situation in Western democracies, where we seem to be increasingly polarised. We all have times when we feel sad; we all experience anger; we have all felt fear, or apprehension.

Now, here’s an interesting thing. Our brains process our feelings separately from our rational thought. Feelings come from our emotional brain, the amygdala, which is a very primitive part of the brain. When the emotional brain feels we are in a threatening situation it causes adrenalin to flood the body. This quickens the pulse rate dramatically and sharply raises levels of glucose in the blood. This is the “fight or fly” response, preparing us for combat, or for escape.

Once upon a time this was essential for our survival. In Western society that is no longer usually the case. In fact, repeated stimulation of the emotion of fear can lead to anxiety, where even ordinary daily life feels threatening. This can be sufficiently intense to disrupt our lives (been there, done that – it’s horrid).

Our brains process our feelings separately from our rational thought.

Our emotional brain has no way of knowing when it’s making the right response to a situation – it relies on our rational brain to tell it so. If our rational brain is consistently viewing a certain type of situation as a threat, then our emotional brain will believe it. So, for example, if we constantly worry about what’s going on in the world, our rational brain is sending the message, “I’m in a dangerous place. I’d better be on the alert.” Our emotional brain believes what the rational brain tells it, so that at the least sign of threat it goes, “AAAAGGGGHHHH!!! What’s that???”

The good thing is that our emotional brain also believes the rational brain if we consciously think positively about life. When, every night before bed, we write down three things that have gone well during the day, we are sending a powerful message to the emotional brain that life is good. When we count our blessings every morning, we are sending a message to the emotional brain that life is good. When I look at the photograph of my wedding day while drinking my first cup of tea of the day, I’m saying to my emotional brain, “Life is good. I’m happy.”

And when we do that consistently, day after day, the emotional brain gradually turns more to happiness, and less to vigilance. We become happier and more relaxed people.

And, while I don’t expect St Paul had this in mind when he gave the advice originally in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 4:8), it certainly sums up well a good way of staying positive:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (NIV translation)

I hope you found this interesting and helpful. It’s meant to encourage a more positive, and therefore happier approach to life in those who are basically well. If you are constantly apprehensive, depressed, or listless, to the extent that it affects how you live your life, I strongly advise you to seek professional help.