Archive for the ‘Flash Fiction’ Category

The Blessing of the Old Sewing Machine

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An antique sewing machine from the 1800s. It is one of my collected antique pieces acquired over the years. The photo above was my inspiration for the fictional story below.  I don’t use this machine for personal use, but I do sew, on my own Kenmore machine I have had for about fifty years.

The Blessing of the Old Sewing Machine

Bent over at the shoulders, her bones small and brittle she leaned in, head bowed to see clearly her stitches as the old sewing machine made a repetitive pattern on the fabric pieces, all of them cut from dresses she’d made her granddaughter when worn as a little girl. The machine made clicking sounds as it faithfully worked across each row, fed under the presser foot by thin, arthritic fingers. Her foot tapped with steady rhythm the large iron foot pedal below the machine. Her family tried to bless her with a new Singer sewing machine one Christmas, but she would not hear of it. Her old ‘Nelly’ had been with her for so long she refused to give her up, a gift from her long departed husband. Nelly was an old trusted friend, that would remain with her until its end, or hers.

Her eyes were failing her as she attempted to finish the quilt in time for her granddaughter’s dowry shower. Wire rimmed glasses rested on the indented straight nose. They helped little in gaining her vision acuity as she squinted. She looked for any puckered or uneven stitches. Ah, Nelly, you miss a few, too. We work hard to catch up, growing old together, and where will your grave be when my foot can peddle you no more? Soon, Darla will have her dresses again, reborn in this dowry quilt.

Ah…I remember this one, the dark blue damask. She wore it to her piano recital. Such a beautiful piece she played. A concerto, I think. Her fingers danced across the keys. And oh, this one, the red rose brocaded pattern. It was worn for the children’s Christmas program at church. They sang the Carols of the Nativity. Like an angel choir come down from heaven, they were. And this green striped plaid, she wore for her… ninth, or tenth birthday party? She’d spilt punch on it, and we worked to get out that stain. There’s just a hint of it left here, I can see, barely. Oh, the memories that child has given me. If I am not around when she has her first…oh, what a thought. I will be there to see her face when she opens her gift. Now, I am almost done. There, the blocks are all in place.

Aligning the front of the quilt to the back, the underside done in a flowered pattern with the batting between, she stitched up the sides. With short lengths of colorful embroidery floss and buttons stitched through the thickness she finished with little bows. She then folded the quilt and laid it between sheets of white tissue paper in a large box, sealed it up, and wrapped it in paper.

Feeling the weariness come over her, she laid down to rest, and went to sleep.

A month later, the wrapped box sat on an empty chair at Darla’s shower. It had been saved for last. As she pulled away the tissue from the quilt folded inside, her tears fell like a summer rain on thirsty ground.

“Mama! It’s my old dresses, all sewn into a quilt.”

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Joyce E. Johnson (2016)

Brothers Divided

Hagar approached Abraham’s tent, Ishmael following after his mother with little concern for what was coming. Abraham had no choice if he wanted to keep Sarah happy. Hagar and his first-born son, Ishmael would be cast out, homeless and destitute in the desert of Beersheba with no promise of a future, and certainly none of the coveted inheritance. It would come through Isaac, Abraham’s second son, born to Sarah. He would receive God’s covenant blessing and favor, and all future generations of the Jewish nation after him. But, the God of Abraham did not turn away from Hagar and Ishmael. He heard her cry, and saw her distress. He would spare them both, provide for them, and through Ismael many nations would be born. (Paraphrased; Genesis, chapter 21 in the Old Testament Bible NIV.)

The above story is true. When I read about Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, Ismael and Isaac I think about the division, hate, and turmoil in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians, and people and cultures of other Middle Eastern countries with the ongoing conflict. One might think that what was written centuries ago and recorded of stories like Abraham’s might be of little consequence to us today. But, what was written back then by those who lived and recorded their stories is relevant to our lives today. It comes back, bigger, more profound. The two most basic things we need most are love and acceptance. They can unite and bind us, but. if we have neither only divide and separate us. The characters in the story below are fictional, but their situation and circumstances could be real. It is not just their story, but one in places all over the world.

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Tel Aviv, Israel – present day

“Why did you wait till now to tell me?”

“Gamal, your father deserted us. I never saw him again after that. I felt shamed, as if it was all my fault. So I left, moved closer to the settlements and just tried to blend in.”

“Like a Jew.”

“I had to find work, to support us…even though…” Sahar said, through her tears.

“Even though you were pregnant with a bastard’s son.”

Sahar shook her head, overcome with the emotion coursing through her like a hot iron.

“What about Sam’s father?”

“I was working in Jerusalem at a shop on Haifa Street when I met him. He was serving in the Israeli army then…At first I wanted nothing to do with him. He was Jewish. He came in often, was kind, and gentle…”

“And he married you.”

“Yes. We were married by a clergyman from another faith, because the Jews would not accept me, nor my people him.”

“So he captivates the pretty damsel, and off they ride into the sunset with her bastard son in tow.”

Sahar screamed at him. “Stop calling yourself that. You’re not! I never thought of you like that.”

“No? But, I was the curse that came with the shame of a sordid love affair with a man from Gaza…”

“We were a family. I tried to raise you both the same. I loved you. I never told Sam’s father anything…about your birth, or father. He accepted you and was willing to raise you as his own. He was not Orthodox so my past was not an issue with him. Then, one day…while on duty…with the military, rockets came. He was out there, trying to pull people from that carnage, but there were…Palestinians out there, shooting at them, and he was hit. He died, soon after.” Sahar’s shoulders shook, her cry intensified with every breath.

“And Sam? What does he know?”

“He only knows about his own father, how we met, how he died. Nothing about yours.”

“Then why tell me now, mother, after thirty years, making me believe I was Jewish, instead of…the son of a Palestinian?”

“Because your ties with Israel’s enemies affect your relationship with Sam, and his position in the army. You are brothers for God’s sake.”

“For God’s sake?” He laughed, sarcastically. “Your God does not care about us.”

“Gamal! What are you saying? The God of Abraham and Isaac is our God! We have no other. He is God to all.

“We come from different people, mother. Or have you forgotten that?”

“I don’t serve Allah!”

“But, I do!” He said, his eyes glaring at her, cold and dark. “Goodbye, mother.”

Gamal! She yelled after him, but he did not listen. He was gone, slamming the door behind him, shutting himself off from her, Sam, and all that he knew.

_____________________

Joyce E. Johnson © 2016

Footnotes: Last year I posted short fictional stories under the title, Acid Rain, the first one under the title of Brothers Divided where Sam, a Jewish Israeli defense officer comes against those in the Arab nations set on destroying the Jewish people and the country of Israel. You can find those stories here. The above story is fiction also, and the prequel to Acid Rain.

Elevator Shaft

His hand gripped tightly. With grunting, gasping breaths he climbed up, and saw nothing but the tunnel of hard, cold steel that went on, endlessly in the claustrophobic tomb.

“Help!” He cried out.

Save your breath. It will only tax what energy you have left and be your downfall.

A hoarse cough broke from his parched throat.

My ‘downfall.’ Yeah! Done that! 
Don’t look down. The bottom is endless, too. Grab hold! Anything!

His feet felt like iron weights.

Climb! I can do this.

Please! Someone!”

The elevator shaft opened.

Light! Voices! 

Oh, thank God!

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Psalm 31: 2, Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of rescue, a strong fortress to save me.  NIV, Old Testament

The above short story is fiction, but I used it as an illustration of the times when we need to be rescued from some trap or downfall, either by our own doing, or one of a literal sense. To acknowledge God, and His power to save, rescue and heal us, however it happens is when we need him most. The Psalms are full of the many stories and pleas of David, King of Israel who often found himself trapped by his enemies, or caught in literal or personal traps he’d set for himself. I’m thankful for the way God always provides us with a way of escape from that which the enemy sets up for us, either to catch us by surprise, or one placed there, warning us of what might come if we do not acknowledge Him, or seek His help .      

Joyce E. Johnson © 2016


Self-reflection – Chapter 25 of The Informant’s Agenda

The below story is fiction. It is chapter 25 in the ongoing story, The Informant’s Agenda. You can find chapters 1-25 posted under the heading,  The Informant’s Agenda

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The minutes, hours and days tick on, but one loses track of all under heavy sedation and can seem an eternity has passed making one feel like a part of their life has gone missing. There was a sterile smell, the sound of the soft padding of feet near my bed, and hands adjusting tubes, IVs and monitors. When the bandages were removed from my eyes shapes and shadows moved in and out of my blurred vision like apparitions. My skin was red and blistered. My throat felt as if scraped with glass.

My family, and my supervisor in the U.S. were notified of what had happened. My mumbled pleas to speak to them went unnoticed until I would be, “physically able to talk coherently and process emotionally what happened.” I was told by the ‘doctor in charge’.

“You need rest right now. We’re taking care of everything. You’re getting the best care and attention. Then we’ll be able to assess what you need, and approve visitors and calls.”

Before I was released from the hospital I was put in touch with the American liaison at the U.S. Embassy in Odessa. They arranged for my things at the Ayvazovsky Hotel to be packed up and moved to my new room at an American agent’s home while in recovery. A nurse came in on scheduled visits to check on my recovery process and see to any additional care I needed.

Irina came to visit me twice to give me news and updates on the investigation of the explosion, and to tell me that it was reported that Vasyli’s and the superintendent’s bodies had not been found if they were indeed dead as reports speculated. It was then that I just lost it. I felt as if the train in my dreams had run over me, crushing me. What stared back at me in the mirror was not the ‘Monica Mengelder, archivist from Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.’, but a scarred, frightened woman, broken and alone in a country trying to make sense of what had happened, and why.

My heart ached to be home with my family. In my thoughts I was still sitting with grandmother Lisle at the kitchen table. We’d go through a whole pot of coffee and plate of cookies while looking at old family pictures scattered across the dining room table, some with grandfather Jacob’s sisters siting erect in front of the men on straight back chairs, their dour faces looking like they were constipated or something. Grandmother said whenever she tried to lighten things up with a funny joke or story the two unmarried spinsters hardly smiled.

“It was as if they just sat there with a pained expression on their face, so it was nearly impossible to get them to relax, or even open up, share anything about family secrets.”

“Did it ever work?” I asked.

“Rarely. At times I thought I saw a faint crack in their plaster face, until maybe they thought it was an indiscretion of some kind to loosen their corset strings a little.”

I laughed so hard I had to run to the bathroom to keep from wetting my pants. Too much caffeine that morning.

My tears now met with the energy bar when I thought about the fun we had in the kitchen stirring up a batch of Oatmeal Raisin cookies.

Such a long time ago. I will never have those moments again with her.

My head ached. The dizziness and fatigue returned. There remained just a few pain pills from the prescription provided for me after my release from the hospital.

Newsprint swirled around on the paper before me. Reports of the accident filled space in local, regional, national, even some international issues. It was presumed an “accident,” an “irreversible mistake in judgement…to allow anyone other than construction personnel down in the unpredictable subterranean underground structure before the completed restoration, when there had not been a full inspection…” authorities were quoted to have said. The stories went on, “although the investigation continues, it has not been determined an intentional incident in nature,” but the blame and speculation seemed clearly directed at the superintendent and Vasyli, consulate of Ukraine, Odessa, both, “presumed dead.”

Maybe, if I had not ‘requested’ a tour of the Catacombs Vasyli and the superintendent…. If only I had not…

There is no time for self-reflection. I cannot do anything to bring back Vasyli or the superintendent, if they are… But, what I keep only to myself is not fair to those who deserve to know the truth. And, I know I cannot leave this country knowing what I know if first I did not try to report my findings, or inform the authorities of what I have learned.

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Joyce E. Johnson (2016)

           

 

The Mouse (flash fiction for Friday Fictioneers)

PHOTO PROMPT - © Marie Gail Stratford

Photo credit: Marie Gail Stratford. Thanks, Marie for the photo prompt for this week’s Friday Fictioneers

 

I have not submitted a flash fiction story to Rochelle Wisoff Field’s Friday Fictioneers for the last three years, but thought I would jump on this one for old times sake and join in the fun. Here is mine of 100 words, exactly.

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I needed a break. Pouring myself another cup of coffee I sat down to relax. But, my brain still worked on the next chapter of my book. The gnawing, grinding sound like tiny teeth, chewing was driving me insane.

But, it came from my desk. The mouse gyrated, moved around in crazy patterns, made clicking sounds, jerking itself free from my grasp. I stared, unbelieving as it came alive. Using keyboard shortcuts I clicked My Docs. Gone! Nothing! I clicked on my last saved file of my years’ long book project. It was not there. Gone!

The mouse was still.

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Joyce E. Johnson (2015)

Riding the Poudre (Part 2, conclusion)

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Pam leaned over the raft trying to pull the paddle loose, caught beneath the rocks.

“Let it go. Leave it!” the guide yelled, trying to stabilize the raft. But it spun around in a whirlwind of churning white water.

She was jerked from the raft, pitched into the rapids. Her scream was drowned out by the force and strength of a river gone wild.

As she floundered about trying to swim back, the guide and others in the raft tried working the raft back towards her. But, as they came dangerously close to the ‘Big Drop’ the current was too strong. The raft went over and disappeared from view.

“No! Please! Don’t leave me.” She screamed, but they were gone.

Her only thought now was survival. Getting out of the river, climbing to safety and finding help.

Grabbing at rocks, anything she could hold on to, Pam fought the current, working herself across the river to the south side where it ran parallel to the road. A rooted tree limb sticking out from the shore beckoned her.

She managed to pull herself up, out of the freezing water. As she climbed the steep slope towards the road she thought about her friends in the raft, and Mike, their guide. Did they make it?  Are they safe?

She shook from the cold, soaked clothes clinging to her body. When she got to the road she saw emergency vehicles and rescue crews with Katie, their guide and the rest in their group.

“Pam! Thank God, you’re safe. We were all so worried. We tried to get to you but the water was…”

“I know. I’m sorry, Katie. It was my fault…” Like a dam opened the tears spilled over as she could no longer hold it back. Shivering, dizzy and barely able to stand she welcomed the warm blanket and supportive arms about her shoulders as the emergency crew made her comfortable in the back of their vehicle for the ride back down.

“Pam. We’re all safe. It’s OK.  The bus is here to take the rest back.” Katie hugged her. “I’m coming with you.”

The guide walked over to Pam and smiled, “What are you going to do next time I say, ‘Let go of the paddle?’

“Do as you say.” She said, smiling.

He laughed. “Sometimes Pam, a lesson is best learned when taught by experience alone. We don’t always see the danger up ahead, until it happens to us. It is the way I learned.”

“You?”

“Yes. I know from experience what the river is capable of at flood stage, but this is the beginning of our summer tourist season. The trip was scheduled in advance, and I didn’t want to cancel, or disappoint. So, I take full responsibility for what happened to you, putting you at risk. I’m sorry. Your next trip is on me, if you want to try this again, sometime.”

“We’ll see.”

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Joyce E. Johnson © 2015

This is a work of fiction, part 2 and the conclusion. Part 1 was posted on Monday, May 18th. My story is not related to, or in reference to any real person or event. Whitewater rafting is a popular summer sport (among others like hiking, camping and climbing ‘fourteeners’) in Colorado. The Cache La Poudre River is one of several that offers it. You can find more information on whitewater rafting on the Cache La Poudre River here. I hope everyone’s summer season is off to a great start. Stay safe and have fun over Memorial Day weekend.

 

Riding the Poudre

Rafters on the Cache La Poudre River, northwest of Fort Collins, Colorado, May 15th, 2015 We drove up to see what the river looked like after getting so much rain and got there just as these rafters were ready for their trip down. This section of the river is just a few miles south of our mountain property in Glacier View Meadows, so we are always checking on water levels and conditions after experiencing the big flood in Sept., 2013

Rafters on the Cache La Poudre River, northwest of Fort Collins, Colorado, May 15th, 2015

 

The skies opened up, and the rain fell, picking up with earnest intent as if to emphasize the weather report, “cloudy with chance of more rain”. The river was rising with water levels looking dangerously high in places. Pam was not an experienced swimmer. If something went wrong and…

Why did I ever consent to go on this trip? Well, I just won’t think those thoughts.

“Everything will be fine. Don’t worry.” Katie said. “The guides would not bring up a group if they did not feel confident they could guide it safely back down.”

Pam smiled at her friend, nervously adjusting the straps on her life jacket. “That is easy for you to say. You’ve done this before. This is my first.” And I hope, not my last. She thought.

They climbed into the rafts, each grasping their paddles and began to make their way down the river.

OK. I can do this.

“We should navigate over and between the boulders easily with all the recent rains.” Katie said, loudly.

The foaming white water swirling about their raft promised a cold, wet and wild ride. It seemed to pick up speed rushing at them from behind.

They were getting closer to the ‘drop-off’ ahead where the rapids cascaded over a ridge of rocks. The settling of boulders fallen from the mountainside during a massive rock slide after the big flood had changed the dynamics of the river. What was easy navigating before now became more challenging and the “Big Drop” as they called it, steeper. The guide had instructed them when to pull up their paddles.

Pam’s eyes got as big as the lens on her camera as she now saw what was coming. But, this was like nothing she’d captured before on her camera. Because it was happening to her.

“Now! Pull up your paddles.” the guide yelled.

Pam’s paddle was caught. She pulled, trying to free it.

“Now.” he yelled again. At her.

“I can’t! It’s stuck.”

_____________

To be continued…

This is a work of fiction. Part 2, the conclusion will be posted in a few days. Information on whitewater rafting the Poudre can be found here.

Joyce E. Johnson (2015)

 


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