One thing I don’t always do enough of here at Hawleyville is share bits and pieces of my fiction. I’m going to try to start doing a bit more of that.
For starters, I’ve decided to post a piece I wrote for Writer’s Weekly’s 24-hour short story contest back in late April. If you’ve never participated in this adventure, I strongly recommend it! I won without winning. Although my piece wasn’t selected, I was happy with the outcome and enjoy looking back on it.
In the contest, you get the prompt and guidelines on the morning of the contest, and have 24 hours to submit your piece.
I can no longer remember the exact prompt for this one, but I remember that it included the following:
– a maximum count of 900 words
– the fact that a character had been going to “the stand” as long as s/he could remember.
– the dialogue “I’ll see you tomorrow, friend.” and the reply “no, you won’t.”
I had an additional prompt of my own. I had told a friend about the contest, and she had told me to incorporate a red tulip into my story for good luck, regardless of what the prompt ended up being.
I will definitely participate in this contest again at some point. Writer’s Weekly holds it quarterly, with a different prompt each time. I’d love to hear your experiences if you’ve ever done anything like this!
And now, the story:
A Tulip in July
His smile twinkled in his sightless eyes as he handed Julie the bag of newly ripened peaches.
“Your Aunt Rebecca will love these,” he said. “There‘s a slice of sunshine in each bite. She‘ll forget the pain in her back while she‘s eating them.”
Julie was momentarily startled. She had been visiting Blind Ben’s stand daily for as long as she could remember. As she selected apples, peaches and strawberries, Ben talked of the tourists who flocked to their beach town.
“I used to love people-watching,” Ben would reminisce. “All those stupid t-shirts and tiny bikinis and sunburned noses. Look around the boardwalk, Julie. Tell me what you see.”
She’d scan the fried dough stands and arcades, telling Ben about the child who squealed as a seagull swooped and stole a French fry from his container, or the lady in the pink mu-mu who swatted her balding husband’s shoulder when his eyes strayed to a blonde in a thong swimsuit. Ben would close his blue eyes and find the mu-mu woman’s shrill voice in the crowd.
Over time, Julie found herself opening up to Ben. She even shared her worries that Jake would never pop the question. Ben remembered the smallest details, even ones she couldn’t recall sharing, like Aunt Rebecca’s backaches. Those ageless eyes could see her thoughts even though they couldn’t make out her freckle-splashed cheeks.
Julie felt a sudden rush of affection for Ben, then her own eyes fell on a man strolling up the boardwalk. He was tall, with long raven hair pulled into a ponytail. He carried a perfect red tulip. It was brighter than a cardinal’s wing, putting Ben’s best strawberries to shame.
“Oh!” Julie cried. “Where would he get that flower in July?” The tulips Aunt Rebecca anxiously awaited each spring had long wilted away.
“The red tulip?” Ben asked.
Julie’s jaw dropped. “How did you know?”
He didn’t answer, but Julie saw a shadow pass over his weathered face. The man with the tulip was nearing them.
“I’ll ask where he got it,” Julie decided. “A tulip in July! I’d love to bring one to Aunt Rebecca.”
“Take the peaches and go, Julie. Peaches are for July. Your aunt will have her tulips again in April. Don’t hanker for things out of their time.”
Hearing Ben, the tall man stopped and favored Julie with a blinding white smile. His tan skin was unlined, his eyes a glowing amber. He was beautiful, but it was the flower that captured her gaze.
“Take it,” he said. His voice had the soothing cadence of a meandering stream. “The blind fruit coot speaks nonsense. A pretty flower for a pretty lady.”
With trancelike slowness, Julie took the tulip. She let the velvety petals caress her cheek. “Ben’s not a fruit coot,” she said. “But thank you.”
Julie turned to leave, but not before she noticed Ben‘s pensive smile. She patted his calloused hand, and said “I’ll see you tomorrow, friend.”
Still smiling sadly, he replied, “no you won’t.”
The next morning dawned thick and steamy. The farmers who paid Ben to sell their fruit were filling the bins with peaches and berries when he arrived.
Ben wiped sweat from his brow and settled into a lawn chair to await the morning’s first boardwalk strollers. By noon, sunlight would throw everything under a harsh glare. He hadn’t always been blind, and remembered that brutal brightness well. He had seen waves crash against sand, children jumping through surf, lovers holding hands under orange sunsets.
He had seen the man who carried the red tulip in July. Amazed, Ben had asked him where he’d gotten it.
“Take it to your wife,” the man had replied, handing it over.
The next morning, Ben woke to darkness. The doctors couldn’t explain his sudden loss of vision, but the man had come to him, as he sat on his porch in blackness.
“People want things out of their time,” he’d said in that soothing voice. “Rather than appreciating beauty, then letting it go, they cling to it and turn it brittle and ugly. Those who take a tulip in July want something that shouldn’t be. I bring darkness so they’ll learn to love things in their own time.”
Someday, the singsong voice added, someone else would take the tulip and Ben’s sight would return as the darkness moved on to teach its next lesson. Over the years, Ben had convinced himself it was a dream, his mind’s way of explaining what the doctors could not. Then the man had returned with the red tulip.
Ben was not perfect. He had ached for his sight every day, guiltily wishing the lesson-curse on someone else. Someone, but not Julie.
Ben stared ahead as bright bands of color began to swarm him. Hazy at first, then sharp and clear, the boardwalk came into view. Hotels, a pizza joint, the flashing signs of arcades that hadn’t been there when he’d last had sight. His eyes burned. The surf crashed behind him, and he wanted to turn his new vision towards the ocean.
Instead, he watched the boardwalk come to life, taking no joy in his sight. A mile away, in the tiny beach bungalow she shared with her aunt, Julie woke to a sea of blackness.