Friday Fictioneers – The Music Teacher

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!

FF - The Music Teacher 180627

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

The Music Teacher

She was an excellent flautist, with a string of diplomas.

Naturally she had to earn a living – at least until an orchestral post came along – so she taught by day, performed with semi-professional bands by night, and auditioned for every orchestral playing job she could.

She married, had children, auditioned in Cardiff, Stavanger and Tel Aviv, and kept teaching.

She taught good pupils to excel, she nurtured slow pupils; everyone caught the joy of music that she radiated.

Retirement came, but she kept on teaching.

I wonder how many hundreds of lives are richer for the life she has lived?

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Evergreen Memories – long version

In “What Pegman Saw” last Saturday, I wrote a 150 word story “Evergreen Memories”. Several friends were kind enough to say they wanted to read more about the young couple in the story, so I’ve written a continuation that fills in their past, and hints at their future. It’s about 600 words long.

WPS - Evergreen Memories 180127

 

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!”

We stare at each other, then I laugh and pat the bench beside me. Peter smiles and sits down.

“You can’t imagine how flattered I feel that you recognised me, Peter!”

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw you sitting there. I go this way every few months and I’ve always looked out for you – just in case.”

“How very romantic!”

The young Peter would have recognised my teasing; this Peter looks hurt. I take hold of his hand.

“I don’t live very far away, Peter, and I think of you every time I cross College Green. I like to remember the fun we had together.”

“You wear a ring,” he observes.

“I’m a widow.” A little bit of the sunshine dies; I’d been so happy with Frank.

“I’m sorry. Tactless of me.”

“Would I be equally tactless if I were to ask what happened to you all those years ago?”

“All those years ago. 1972. I had a phone call from my Mum; Dad was seriously ill in hospital. I raced back to London just in time to be with him as he died. He was only young, only thirty-nine. He’d never thought about dying, and he wasn’t insured. Mum had a breakdown.”

He paused. He looked away from me, his face full of pain. I pressed his hand gently.

“I tried to care for her, and find work to pay the bills, but all I could get were menial jobs that wouldn’t even pay the rent. Luckily for us, family stepped in.”

“I understand, Peter. It must have been awful for you. I’m not surprised you didn’t have time to make contact.”

“Well it was very difficult, but the real difficulty was that all my family are South African; Mum only came over to England because she married an Englishman. Before I knew where I was, I was on the plane to Jo’burg. I tried so hard to contact you before I left.”

He shook his head – and then he smiled.

“And before you ask, I’m divorced.”

“So lunch wouldn’t be out of the question then?”

He chuckled.

“I’d forgotten how impulsive you were. It was one of the things I loved about you.”

“Did you love me then, Peter? Did you?”

“Oh, Annie, how can you ask? I doted on you; I adored you; I worshipped the ground under your feet. Here, look – I wasn’t going to show you this, but…”

It was a rich man’s wallet that he pulled out, fine leather holding platinum credit cards – and there, protected by a transparent plastic cover, was a photograph of me, aged twenty, laughing.

“I remember you taking that photograph!” I exclaim with delight.

Peter rises, and, still holding his hand, I rise too.

“Where’s the best place for lunch?” he says.

 

Waking up in June

Although most of what I post on Autumn Leaves is my own, original work, just occasionally I read something exceptional and want to share it. This poem is by Karen Rawson, and in my opinion it’s outstanding. It will be one of my ‘go to’ poems if I need cheering up, because it’s just bursting with joy!

k. Rawson

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

Waking up in June

Hey Koolaid, get your summer on
Morning dew, I don’t back down.
School’s out, summer!
Playground, dayground, butterfly garden
I can swing so high the chain goes slack
Squealing on the breath-catch dizzy-down.

Ready or not, here I come!
Barefoot and coppertoned, hear my rally:
I’ve got a pool pass, wanna see it?
Olly olly oxen free
Jarfull of night and firefly
I don’t see no streetlights;
I can stay out late ya know

Twenty-five cents buys a fresh box of crayons
Didja wanna know a secret?
Look inside:

I’ve got a million colors.

98 words

This has been an edition of Friday Fictioneers, hosted by the talented Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. This week’s photo courtesy J. Hardy Carroll. To read more stories inspired by the prompt, click here.

A tidbit for you….I am actually in this picture…

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In the moment – Growing Older

In the moment – Growing Older

When I was young – and even when I was mature – I had quite the wrong idea about what it was like to be old. I thought it was just slower, everything a little less acute. Perhaps, too, I felt that grey hair was an indication of a greyer, less vivid experience of life.

Now I know that I move slowly because I have less energy; that hearing less well makes it harder to have a conversation in a roomful of chattering people; that my sense of smell has deteriorated.

And yet, I’m more joyful now than I’ve ever been.

Largely that’s because I know and accept who I am. It’s also because I have learned, at least to some extent, to live ‘in the moment’ – savouring the experience of life, whatever it is, moment by moment.

DSC00002

There are also blessings that are reserved for older people; grandchildren, plenty of time to reflect, leisure to spend with those you love.

So, although it’s been years since I could run upstairs, I can walk up them and read a bedtime story to my grandchildren.

Although I can’t smell the coffee in the morning, I don’t have to rush off to work. I sit with my wife over breakfast and enjoy her company.

I’m no longer the fastest to solve problems and learn new skills, but I can quarry my experience for memories and images, wisdom that I can share with others.

I no longer have the responsibility and status of working as a manager, but I have time for the privilege and joy of sharing love with my friends.

And as for ‘a less vivid experience of life’ – nothing of the sort! Life is great!

 

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?

In the moment - Gandhi 170626

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 – 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.

In the moment - Mount Aspiring 170613

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.

A heavy bag

We carry all sorts of baggage through life, and often it distracts us from experiencing joy. Do we know what loads we are carrying? What do we need to carry? How can we relinquish the things we don’t need? I tell this story with thanks to my youngest daughter who, indirectly, inspired it.

the-gunny-sack

There were people everywhere.

Some were in families, some in tribes. Some were in uniform; many were not. There were a few smiles and some laughter; there were a few tears and wails; there were many shouts, of anger, triumph, and lamentation.

The people were walking, some slowly, some briskly. Some striding forward purposefully; many meandering; some marching busily in one direction, then changing course to tramp equally energetically in another. Gradually though, no matter how winding their path, they made their way due west.

And all but the smallest and youngest carried a bag, a hessian bag, a gunny sack.

I approached one of them, a woman about forty years old. Her hair was streaked with grey, and her face was lined. Her bag seemed heavy.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking – it’s nosey, I admit – but would you mind telling me what you’re carrying in your bag?”

She sighed deeply, and glanced inside the bag as though to remind herself.

“It’s grief for my mother. She died twelve years ago.”

“You would travel more easily without your burden. Why don’t you let go of it? Here, leave it by the roadside and go on without it. Nobody will mind!”

Tears welled in her eyes.

“Then I would have nothing,” she wept. “My grief is all I still have of my mother.”

I didn’t know what to say, and so I left her and approached another, a young man. His face was steadfast and his movements purposeful. He had energy and, maybe, humour. His bag was large, and looked heavy, but he was strong and made light of it.

“I wonder – it’s inquisitive I know – but would you satisfy my curiosity about your bag? What is it that you prize so highly that you carry it everywhere, even though it is so heavy?”

He stood tall, shoulders held back, and looked me boldly in the eye.

“I carry the expectations of my family!”

“Why not lay down the burden? Travel light. You don’t need to carry it; you can choose!”

His face stiffened. “If I did that, I would be saying that my parents made the wrong choice when they toiled all the hours of the day to give me a good start in life. I’m not going to do that!” Then, sheepishly – he was a young man after all – he added, “Besides, it’s not so very heavy. I can manage it.”

I wished him good luck, and looked around.

There! Over there! A meadow, where a young couple are playing with two children! Their bags are empty, and the woman has flowers in her hair!

She smiles at me as I approach, a merry, mischievous smile.

“You want to know why my bag is empty, I think,” she says.

There is a scent of roses in the air. The noise of the crowd is hushed, and I can hear birdsong and gently falling water. The children, playing with their father, laugh joyously as he tumbles them aloft and a-low.

The girl laughs with them, then turns to me. Her expression is serious, but bears the memory of her laughter.

“It was hard at first,” she admits. “I would take something out of the bag – pride, say – intending to leave it behind, and I would look at it. Out there,” and she gestures at the vast plain with its toiling figures, “pride can sometimes look quite attractive. And then I would put it back into the sack again! But eventually I realised that what looked like a big lump of pride was actually made up of lots of little bits of pride. It was easier to let go a bit at a time. And the more I let go, the easier it was.”

“It sounds okay,” I say, “but what happens if you throw something away that you later find you need on the journey?”

“That probably won’t happen. There are so many resources we can draw on. But, even if the lack of something brings your journey to an end, wouldn’t you rather travel here than out there?” Once again I look at the monotonous expanse, the grey figures struggling with burdens they can scarcely carry.

The girl can sense my hesitation.

“You don’t need to make up your mind all at once,” she says quietly. “A little bit at a time is all it takes. Go now! You need to see more.”

She holds up her arms as though to shut me out, and I trip and fall.

People barged into me, cursing. A heavy sack landed on my right arm, bruising it painfully. The man carrying it swore vilely at me.

“What’s so important about your sack?” I demanded.

“It holds the will to rule,” he snarled. “Honeyed words, lies, delight in others’ pain, and the wish to wound. Now get out of my way!” He hauled the cumbersome bag onto his bull-like shoulder, his muscles writhing, his veins bulging, pulsing with turgid blood.

He barged past me. I watched him, this ox, this gorilla, this serpent, and I saw him stop. He held up his bag, and, with a great roar of frustrated rage and defiance, he tipped out the contents. Awestruck, I watched as they spilled out and broke into a million fragments, first chunks, then crumbs, then dust, until finally they were a mist that the lightest of breezes swept away. I looked back at the man. He had faded, was almost gone. And as he disappeared I realised that I could remember nothing about him.

As I gaze, and struggle to understand, I feel the lightest of touches on my arm. It is the young woman, only now she is no longer young. Laughter and love have left lines on her face, and her body sags where gravity’s pull has exaggerated the stretching of childbirth. She carries a small, empty bag.

“You see?” she says softly, “You see?”

The gentle air hints of roses in the twilight of evening. Birds sing merrily about a night that is just the prelude to a new dawn. With a laugh as merry as the birds, she shakes out her bag. There is nothing in it, but as she shakes the fabric it becomes silken. It glows white, crimson, emerald, azure. It grows and grows, stretching up and out as she holds it aloft at arm’s length, like a banner. The light grows brighter and brighter, until I can see only her face, her eyes and her smile; until there is only tranquillity and joy, great joy.

 

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