Friday, October 1, 2010

Back in the Group

My writing group met last was the first meeting since May of the group of four. A few of us decided to take on a three minute fiction challenge posted by NPR. We were tasked with writing a fiction piece of no more than 6oo words. The rules stated the piece must start with the phrase, "Some people swore the house was haunted." The story needed to end with, "Nothing was the same again after that."

Here's my offering:

Some people swore that the house was haunted. At first I refused to believe, mostly because those people were my two brothers who I didn’t think knew anything at all. Well, they knew how to annoy me, and pinch me harder than any pinch I’d ever felt. They knew how to never get caught feeding their vegetables to the dog under the table at dinnertime, whereas I always got caught.

But haunted houses? No, they didn’t know that. Besides the house they insisted was haunted wasn’t real. It was in the picture that hung in our living room. The house wasn’t even the center of the picture. It was just a run-down old building in the background of the photograph. I hadn’t even noticed the house at first. My attention had always been focused on the old lady standing in front. Her dark hair was pulled back in a tight bun that had to be giving her a headache. Frustration and anger seeped from her eyes. The worn features of her face disguised her real age. Her tightly pursed lips silenced her story. My dad told me she was only about 30 at the time the photo was taken. It was hard to believe. From my own 12 year old perspective she looked to be about 70.

She was my great aunt, times four…my grandmother’s mother’s mother’s sister. Aunt Annie had boarded a boat for the promise of the United States of America sometime during the potato famine. She left the coast of Ireland with a broken heart and arrived in Baltimore six weeks later and twenty-five pounds lighter. The crossing was much rougher than expected. She spent the last 21 days of the journey in misery with nothing but oranges to eat.

I didn’t know much else about her story. For the most part I made it up in my head. I spent summer afternoons in my own world. After lunch I’d race out the back door with notebook and pencil in hand and head for the cool privacy beneath the front porch. By the end of the summer I had made up and written down my story of Aunt Annie…

Annie had left Ireland in desperation. Starvation had taken her family, her farm and a good part of her heart. She had been a woman who loved her children more than anything. When they were gone there was no love left in her, only anger. Coming to America was her last chance. Her sister, Lizzie, had begged her to come and sent the money to do so. Lizzie was sure she could help, she knew if Annie was surrounded by the love of her nieces and nephews her heart would begin to mend itself…she could know love again.

Lizzie arrived at the dock in a state of nervous anticipation. She knew the rough trip was going to be one more thing to deal with--another part of the mess of Annie that must be mended. She felt strong and sure that she could help the older sister who had been such a part of her life back in Ireland. Life in Baltimore had turned out to be better than she ever imagined. As children she and Annie had spent many late night hours planning the happy path their lives would take. She smiled just thinking about those nights, the two sisters wrapped up together under a torn blanket with nothing but happy dreams for the future.

Lizzie looked up to see a slow, dark figure moving her way. Her eyes wrinkled in confusion as she looked into the empty face and dark eyes of the woman that she was there to rescue. An initial tentative hug turned into a five minute, sob-filled embrace.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.

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