A Glimmer of Hope (Flash Fiction No.4)

By Deborah Rickard

A thatch of sugar-frosted blades crunch beneath my feet and an icy nip catches my nose. I pull my collar up, thrust my hands deep into my pockets and push on through the cold. I’ve a way to go and wonder if I should bother; my reception will be cool, my welcome curt. My pride says go back, my heart says go on.

I rap the iron knocker on the paint-flaked door – the bell is mute and she’s too … careful with money to replace the batteries. Everything about her is sinking into a mire of neglect and decay, her life withering while she cracks the whip on those who care.

‘Hhmph,’ she growls as she opens the door, turns her back and retreats down the dark, narrow hallway of her existence. ‘Did you get everything?’

‘I think so,’ I say, trying to sound cheerful but she doesn’t answer. Her words are short and uttered only to hurt, her heart hard, her emotions calcified.

I put my shopping bag on the kitchen table. I could do with coffee but she doesn’t offer. ‘When I left yesterday,’ I say, ‘I thought maybe you needed cheering up, so I bought you these flowers,’ and I hand her the lilies, some bound tight in green coated buds and some wide open, revealing their silk-white purity, their honeyed vanilla scent already overpowering the mildewed the air.

‘Funeral flowers,’ she grumbles, staring slightly out of focus as if seeing them yet not seeing them. Straight as a rod she picks up the loaf of bread and tin of peas.

I fetch a vase from the cupboard, wash encrusted grime from its deep carved crevices and fill it with cold water; gushing from the tap and catching sunlight from the window till the cut-glass diamonds glisten with new life.

I carry the flowers through to the living room, shrouded in darkness and dust. It should be called the dying room. I stand the vase in the empty fireplace and draw back the curtains, letting daylight kiss the lilies and waken the room.

As I turn to leave I notice a photograph in a silver frame, strangely bright against the faded wallpaper. It must be the only thing in the room she’s kept polished. I stop and smile at the bride and groom from years ago, who smile only for each other. And I recognise the bride, with the glow of love in her eyes … and a bouquet of white lilies clutched tight against her silken dress. I look up and there she is again, standing in the doorway watching, creased with age now, and with the glint of a tear in her eye … and a glimmer of life in her smile.

Outside the front door I pull my collar up and push my hands deep into my pockets. A thatch of sugar-frosted blades crunch beneath my feet and an icy nip catches my nose, but green shoots are peeping up through the dark, winter earth.

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17 Responses to A Glimmer of Hope (Flash Fiction No.4)

  1. John Wiswell says:

    The prose of the first two paragraph tingle with distinct details. Helps establish the whole piece. Well done, Deb!

  2. clarekirkpatrick says:

    Your descriptive prose is beautiful, Debs. A lovely piece 🙂

  3. A beautiful piece. The imagery is really moving.

  4. alisonwells says:

    Wow this is really super. The language is both precise and beautiful, the emotions described but not too heavily, not overstated and I love the symmetry at both ends of the piece, something I often find myself doing in my own writing. It feels just right. You’ve done brilliantly here!

  5. I agree with the comments above on the writing. I love all the questions that the story poses and doesn’t (have to) answer. What’s their relationship? Why is the old lady so embittered? etc. Really enjoyed that!

  6. Thank you all so much for you comments. It really means a lot when people take the time to read, digest and give an opinion. Thank you again. x

  7. Maggie says:

    Debs, I love reading your work. Here, you have captured a moment in time so well, and a situation many people can relate too. Well done!

  8. Mandy says:

    Great story Debs. You deliver a sense of place really well. I could almost feel the cold and smell the flowers. I love the bit about her emotions being calcified – a great word to use, gets to the point beautifully.

    Was it about a mother and daughter? I think it must have been, given the impolite and demanding way the old woman speaks to the other one. Only a daughter would put herself out and expect nothing but derision in return!

    • Thanks Maggie and Mandy for your lovely comments. I didn’t specify too hard and fast what the relationship between the two women was because I didn’t want it to particularly matter, but I probably hinted that the younger woman wasn’t her daughter by the fact that she hadn’t seen the photograph before. However, as Peter says, I was hoping the precise relationship wasn’t too significant and don’t mind what the reader feels about it.

  9. Lee-Ann says:

    You’ve painted a gorgeous scene here. Well done.

  10. ‘a thatch of sugar-frosted blades’ is such an apt description. This is a lovely emotive vignette, Debs.

  11. Matt Merritt says:

    I’m very sad for the old woman but happy that good spirit can persist despite the grumbling.

  12. There’s a real Miss Haversham feel to this! A cautionary tale of how the maturing psyche can be hijacked by degenerative bitterness that will inevitably calcify it, and cause atrophy rather than promote growth.
    The hope feels outside in nature where the deep cold of winter is but part of a natural cycle, already yielding to spring. Instead, inside, the house is home to an unnatural order & here there is no sense of hope only an expression of that bitter introspection. The luscious bridal lilies become funeral flowers instead. The sad thing is this is actually not an uncommon tale; probably we’ve all had experiences of knowing people like this! Dickens of course wrote the character par excellence!
    I like your rich juxtaposition of sentiments and sensualities: lush with barren, warm with bleak, supple with brittle; hopeful with hopeless. The stark ordinariness of the loaf of bread and tin of peas against the lost hopeful symbolism of the soon forgotten flowers. I was glad to get out of the house into the real winter chill and sense authentic freshness, hope & life here. Very evocative Debs, thank you!

  13. Thanks Lee-Ann, Maureen, Matt and Liz for taking the time to make your lovely comments.
    And Liz! Thanks so much for your astute analysis! You’ve picked up on so many layers in the piece and it’s a great to have one’s work explored in such detail. The allusions you discovered were indeed, intentional. I’m not so sure about the inside/outside perspective though, but it’s amazing what the subconscious can do without one realising. The last paragraph was intended to hint at the re-emergence of the character’s emotions from their previously calcified state. However, many literary (!) works have alternative interpretations and I’m more than happy with yours. Thanks again for the time and care you’ve obviously dedicated to this. I’m extremely flattered!

  14. Love the way you weave the weather into the state of their relationship, the sense the mother whips her on as she declines. I suspect she’ll die when she stops being quite so vicious.

  15. JulesPaige says:

    Ah, Flash Fiction. I’ve read your latest three. I might just have a go. As it seems a good way to write up my dreams that begin in mystery, evolve in detail and end in confusion. Something to work at. Thanks for the intro. ~Jules

  16. Martha says:

    Great piece — I love this line, ‘sinking into a mire of neglect and decay, her life withering while she cracks the whip on those who care’. And the nostalgia of peas and bread which to me hint at a life before.

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