The Dilemma of Purpose | A Short Story

Close up Ink drawing of the lighthouse keeper, Abe/ Loscotoff 2022/ he introduces us to the "Dilemma of Purpose"

Driving along the curving ocean road, the cliffs to my right and the crashing waves to my left, I head north, wondering who it is I’ve become. 

Chartreuse succulents with purple flowers line the highway and I see a sign for a lighthouse turnout.  I pull into the dirt parking lot and see the trail that winds along the rocks and the plants, twisting out to a lighthouse on the edge of a cliff; painted white and red, the glass at the top reflecting the sun’s light. 

Photograph of the galley of a Northern California Lighthouse/ Loscotoff 2022/ short story Dilemma of Purpose
The glass at the top reflecting the sun’s light/ Loscotoff 2022

I wear so many titles; wife, mother, writer, artist, teacher, chef, maid. Wear each like a uniform, often dirty without time to throw it in the wash. I keep pulling these identities over my head.  

There is an old worn sign, 2.3 miles at the trail head.  The cold wind whips my hair around my face and I clip it into a bun.  The sun is warm against my skin, contradicting the wind.  Just as I am a contradiction, a little piece of many opposing stories. 

Before I threw my things in the truck, before I started driving up the California coast, I called my friend and told her that I no longer knew who I wanted to be.  She blamed motherhood and my dedication to my child; prefacing that it was not “bad” but that I had left no room in that relationship for me. It feels like a backhanded compliment; you were such a brilliant mom that you stopped existing as anything else.  Why does it feel like an insult?

I disagreed.  Still disagree.  Will probably always disagree. 

My muscles are tired from the driving.  I stretch as I walk along the trail.  The flowered ocean fauna is sprinkled with tiny lady bugs.  A flock of cormorants sun themselves along the crags beyond the cliff edge.  I look at the inside of my wrist, a tattooed reminder of my creativity, my muse.  A tattooed reminder of who I am, who I thought I was, who I will someday become.

You see, motherhood has not been about letting myself go.  It has not been about losing myself.  It has been about becoming something more, someone more.  That is part of my question, who am I today? Who am I when all these puzzle pieces pull together and create something larger, something more than they were individually. 

I am not going through this question of identity simply because my daughter is starting her own life.  The truth is, I have never known.

I get bored with identity. 

A flock of cormorants sun themselves along the crags/Loscotoff 2022

I can feel the skin on my neck beginning to burn, despite the ice of the wind.  My skin has always been a sort of villain in my story, blistering and rebelling, crying out as if the sun were pricking it with daggers. I keep going.  I am closer to the lighthouse now and can hide inside, give my skin a moment to convene with the shadows.

The lighthouse is small, perhaps only two stories tall with a lean-to type building on either side of the tower.  A small straw colored cat sits on the steps leading into the lighthouse, holding a mouse in her mouth. 

“Hello, friend,” I say to her.  

She drops the mouse which scurries along the step, only to be stopped by a small orange kitten, batting and playing and practicing. 

The mother cat mews at me, gracefully moving from the steps and rubbing against my legs. 

I squat down to scratch her neck, morphing her body to fit into the curve of my hand.  Her purr is louder than the wind or the waves. 

“She likes you.”

I jump a bit, having lost myself in the moment of affection.  Standing in the door is an ancient man, the lines carved deep beneath a grey shaggy beard.  He’s wearing faded overalls over a thick sweater, a black knit beanie on his head and an unlit pipe hanging from his mouth. His eyes twinkle and dance.

“Sorry to scare you,” he says.  “I see you met Cheetah. If she thinks you’re safe, you probably are. You might as well come on in.”

The moment he said the cat’s name, she pranced up the stairs and into the lighthouse.  The kitten had it’s nose pressed up against a wooden crack, it’s tiny paw batting at something just out of reach.  I smiled to myself, imagining the relief of the little mouse as it taunted the kitten beyond the lighthouse boards. 

I stepped up the wooden planks into the lean-to style quarters attached to the tower; my eyes take a moment to adjust to the light.  A small bed with thick woolen blankets neatly made sits in the corner.  A small kitchen shares the room.  There is no wall separating the room from the tower and I can see the spiral of the stairs moving upward, tracing the inner walls.  On the opposite side of the spiral stairs is another room filled with tools and what appears to be containers of kerosine. A small round table with two cups and a steaming tea kettle sit in front of a window that looks out over the ocean. 

“I’m sorry, I thought this was a museum?”

The old man chuckles.  “Aye, it is.  You might call it a working museum.  I show people around.  But you’re the only one today. Call me Abe.”

“Are you expecting someone?”  I gesture to the cups of tea.

“Oh, I saw you coming some 20 minutes ago.  I thought you might like a drink before you see the tower.” 

I laughed, “Do you treat all your visitors like this?”

“Only the ones feeling the weight of the world.”

That makes me pause, and my face must show some sort of surprise.

“Oh, you wear it around your eyes.  You don’t know who you are, you’re on some mission to discover yourself.”

“Is it that obvious?” I stutter, and suddenly I find myself holding my breath.  I hadn’t realized how much tension I wore in my skin, how rigid I felt.  I start to laugh.

Again, I see the twinkle in his eyes.  

“Let’s have a bit of tea before you go up to see the lens and the view.”

We sat at his little table and for a few moments, we were just quiet.  Cheetah curled up at the base of the bed and I could still hear her purring.  The old man poured tea from the kettle, filling the little china cups to the brim. The tea smelled of herbs and had a golden glow.  He began to drink and sat back into his chair, his eyes closed, in perfect contentment. 

He’d poured us both from the same kettle and so I trusted that it must be safe.  I took a sip and found myself relaxing, the tension is my shoulders letting go.  The tea had an earthy taste, woody yet sweet.

“What is it?” I asked.  “It’s almost familiar, but not quite.”

The old man kept his eyes closed, but responded as if it were a sacred secret. 

“It is the root of one of the sea cliff plants.  They grow in abundance, and you don’t need to kill the plant to take a bit of root.  When you cut a bit, it seems to grow back faster.  Or perhaps that is because I always thank the plant.”

We drink in silence for a few moments.  Finally the old man opens his eyes to refill his cup.  As he does, he says, “So, what is it you think you need to find?

“I’m not sure it’s finding anything,” I say.  “It’s more that I feel like there is something I’m supposed to do, but I don’t know what that is.”

“Ahhh, the dilemma of purpose.”

“The dilemma of purpose?”

“Yes, some people walk through this world never giving it a thought.  They just live their lives, work their jobs, and move through the experience.  Some live their lives like it’s a cliffhanger, everything is a drama with a great climax.  Some know their purpose from their earliest memories; they know they were meant to be a doctor or an actor or a writer or a pilot, and they do everything they can to achieve that.  Some, like you, never quite know.”

“What am I supposed to do about that?”

“What do you want to do about that?”

That makes me pause.  I take a sip of my tea.  

“I don’t know?”

“What if you aren’t supposed to know?  What if that is the great cosmic joke?  What if the ones who want to know the most are the ones that spend their lives searching?”

“Well that isn’t very fair, is it?”

The old man laughed.  

“Who said life was fair?  What if this life is only the seed and you become a seeding in the next?”

“But I want to know what type of plant I’m growing into.”

“Does it matter?” 

I thought about that for a moment.  

“I don’t want to be a weed.”

“Weeds are only plants growing where someone doesn’t want them.  Do you think you are a weed?”

I smiled, “No.  I don’t think I’m a weed.  And some of the most beautiful plants are considered weeds.”

“This tea, for example.  There are many that rip it from the ground, but when we treat it with love, it helps us heal.” He took another sip.

We drank the rest of our cups in silence.  

Photograph of succulent flowers on the California coast/ Loscotoff 2022
“But I want to know what type of plant I’m growing into” / Loscotoff 2022

“Why don’t you go up to the light room and see what you see?” said the old man, Abe.

“Thank you for your kindness,” I said, still unsure on what my journey was but also feeling a sense of peace. 

He walked me to the lighthouse stairs and patted me on the shoulder.  

“May your journey be safe,” he said.

I look up the steep spiraling staircase.  It seemed to go up and up, much taller than the two stories I saw from outside.  I began to climb.  With each step, I think about my life so far.  I think about my gifts at the arts and at writing as a child.  I remember falling in love with my husband, thinking he was my perfect match.  I remember the birth of my daughter, and how much love I had in that moment.  I remembered the moves, the trips, watching my family change over time.

I come to top and enter the inner gallery surrounded with glass. In the center sits the lens, ridged glass that focuses the light as it spins to warn sailors of danger.  It is not moving now, not on this bright sunny day. 

I turn to look through my reflection, through the glass at the top of the lighthouse–before me is the wild ocean, a rough world of hardship and beauty.  And then I pull focus back to the woman staring back at me.  Her freckles stand in hard relief from her skin, ruddy from the wind and sun.  The lines have deepened around her eyes and through her forehead.  Her lips have thinned and the hair at her temples has become white and kinked. She is also one of hardship and beauty, beaten by a rough world, softened by love and age. 

I think about the man’s words, Abe’s words, “the dilemma of purpose”.  It often sits on the tip of my tongue, an answer I just can’t quite find. 

Perhaps this life, which has stretched late into my 40’s, has only just begun.  Perhaps I am still only a seed with all my potential still before me.  Perhaps this is not my only life and my only chance to get it right. Perhaps there are lives before me.

Perhaps I am here to just question.

I smile at the woman in the reflection, and turn to head down the stairs.  

The climb down seems shorter, the floor comes more quickly.  I hear voices talking and wonder how long I spent staring into the sea and my own reflection.  As I come to the final turn, I realize a rope has been tied across the base of the stairs.  The room is now painted bright white and where the bed had been is bookshelf next to a postcard rack.  Where his table sat is a countertop with a register.  A teenage girl sits behind the counter, staring intently at her phone.

“What are you doing up there!” 

I turn and see a woman standing where there were once tools; now filled with glass cases and written descriptions.   She is frozen behind her name tag, her face flushed.  There is a family of four staring at me.

“You are not allowed up there!”

“I’m… I’m so sorry.  There was a man here, and he told me I could go up.”

The look on the woman’s face changes from a sort of shock to red and angry.

“I have been here all day,” growled the woman as she marched over to the stairs.  “There have been no men working today, and I would have seen you.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I spy a photo on the wall in black and white.  It is of a middle-aged man in a thick sweater and overalls.  He stands in front of the lighthouse with the ocean behind them, a small cat leans against his leg, posing for the image.

The woman sees my eyes shift.

“What are you looking at?” 

“Him,” I said.  “The man in the photo.  He’s the one who told me to go up. He was much older, but it was definitely him. And that’s Cheetah, his cat.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said the woman, but her face had gone pale.

I walk to the photo. 

There he stands, much younger, less lined.  I traced my finger over the gray tones of his face.

Attached to the base of the frame was a little gold plaque; 

Abraham J. Williams
1872 - 1965
The Keeper of the Lighthouse
Serving 1893 - 1965
"May your journey be safe."

As I walked the path back to my car, the sun setting along the horizon, the fog rolling in, I looked back at the tower.  The silhouette of a man stood up in gallery, preparing the light to guide the ships.  I could see his grizzled beard. He raised his hand to me and I raised mine in return.  The light of the lens lit up and began to turn. 

Pen and Ink drawing of the lighthouse keeper, Abe/ Loscotoff 2022
Abraham J. Williams, 1872-1965. “May Your Journey Be Safe” / Loscotoff 2022

This Week’s Prompt – The Dilemma of Purpose

17. The main character goes on a trip alone to gain perspective

Include: lighthouse, flock, muscle, sprinkle, insult, cliffhanger, cheetah, chartreuse, wrist, seedling

Read Bridgette’s Tale for week 17

A photograph of a sun setting over the ocean through fog.  The colors are gold and black / Loscotoff 2022
The sun setting along the horizon, the fog rolling in / Loscotoff 2022

Notes

I had a tough week last week. Sometimes I am just overwhelmed with this idea of whether I am on the right path, whether I am doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing, and what my purpose even is. So the arrival of the prompt this week seemed like synchronicity.

When I started writing, I just started writing as me. I posed it as a “what if my daughter was in college and my husband was busy working and I just went on a road trip to try and discover who I am and what I will do next?” I dumped some of my thoughts and feelings into the keyboard, following the inspiration of the required words while still being within me as the character.

It was interesting that one of the words was “wrist”; how am I going to incorporate the word wrist, I thought? My inner wrist in the real world holds a tattoo of great importance to me, and that tattoo is important around my feelings of who I am. Perhaps my writing this week is helping me find the answers to my own questions, and that tattoo and the story behind it are perhaps part of my answers.

Whether it was this story, or my thoughts on who I am, this week did inspire me to take a new step in my art. I’m working on creating a second website, linking it to this one, that will highlight and offer professional prints as well as original pieces or my art. Is this my journey? I don’t know, but art and writing have always been a part of my path.

The idea that Abe wasn’t in our current time, or of this plane of reality, didn’t occur to me until I had basically finished the story. I originally had him in more of a museum like space and couldn’t figure out how she would say her goodbyes, or honestly that they would even have this philosophical discussion.

As I pondered their ending, it occurred to me that perhaps he was the spirit of the lighthouse. Perhaps he only came to those who needed a good talk and a good cup of tea. Perhaps, once she came down the stairs, she would see the museum as it really was.

One of my favorite books is “Jonathon Livingston Seagull”. I quite literally changed my life in high school. While I haven’t read it in many years, I recommended it to a local teacher a few weeks ago. This story has me feeling like I need to go back and read it. I think I found a certain inspiration there, even if that inspiration is some 30 years in my memory. It is a book on the philosophy of life and learning.

Finally, I leave you with of a picture of me and my grandpa Mike. The man in the story reminded me a bit of him, even without the bushy beard. Perhaps because we would always take him to Bodega Bay when we would go and visit him at his farm in Santa Rosa, and I imagine this lighthouse somewhere around that area. We used to sing his favorite silly songs as we drove. I think what reminds me of him the most is that my grandpa always had a twinkle in his eye.

I believe my love of words was passed down from my grandpa Mike, through my dad, directly to me. My grandpa was the first US born son of Russian immigrants, born in 1908. They were Molokan religious refugees, immigrating for freedom to follow their faith. Despite being raised in a Russian speaking community, and leaving school after the 6th grade, my grandpa loved words.

My dad recently showed me photo albums that my grandpa filled with quotes, philosophy, and jokes, cut from American magazines and newspapers. My dad also has note card boxes filled with 3×5 cards, covered in his favorite quotes. I did the same as I grew up, and still keep those journals. I honor my grandpa for this love.

If you liked this story, I hope you will share it with someone you love. Thank you for spending a bit of time with my thoughts, dear reader. If you’d like to read more, you can sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

Photograph of me and my grandpa near Bodega Bay, California
My grandpa and I near Bodega Bay, approximately 1984/ Loscotoff 2022

Links

Lighthouse Keeper Tools

Lighthouse Fresnel Lens

Jonathon Livingston Seagull

About my tattoo discussed in the story

Bridgette’s Tale for Week 17

Next Week’s Prompt

18. A child’s dream literally becomes true

Include: high school, captivate, portfolio, argyle, witness, fertile, eyebrow, pentagram, thirsty, guidance

Sun setting over the ocean, sepia toned / Loscotoff 2022
Caucus/ Loscotoff 2022

My 52 Week Journey So Far

What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

Week 15 – White Coats

Week 16 – My Forever Love

My Forever Love | A Short Story

The Las Vegas sign with blood dripping from the Las Vegas letters, Digital drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2022.

“I now pronounce you…”

We married in Vegas; my forever love, my soulmate.  The nights were long and when our eyes locked, we knew.  We knew it was meant to be and we both fell hard. We knew we were bound by something we would never understand.  His touch was all I could feel, his sparkling eyes all I could see. All the years we had both been alone, finally meeting in this loud and dirty place. It had all been for this.

We slept together that first night in the dark of a hotel room, the shades drawn from the hot Nevada sun. Having this man next to me, loving me, wanting me. There was nothing else; would never be anything else. Together we were electricity.

The second night, we married. He proposed, down on one knee, in front of the Bellagio as the fountains hit their climax.  The ring was a large heart-shaped ruby, red as blood. I kissed him fully, knowing he was everything I had ever wanted, ever imagined.  I would marry him today, tomorrow, for eternity. As long as he would have me.

Elvis said our vows, “I now pronounce you…”

That was when my husband sliced the man’s throat, and gave me my wedding gift.  Elvis tasted of whiskey and smoke.  It was comical really, you could almost imagine the thought bubble of surprise, exclamation marks in his half-glazed eyes as he realized a moment too late.

Las Vegas is an easy place to hunt.  The drugs keep the minds numb; communities living in tunnels beneath the city.  We are aware of others like us, but I had never seen him before, my love. We live solitary lives.  Until you find your soulmate, huddled in an alley, teeth in the corpse of a prostitute. I had heard her last breath, a beautiful echo on the still night air. He looked up at me and we both knew this was our destiny.

On the third night, under the light of a full moon, we hired a pilot.  He knew us for what we were, but you can get anything in Vegas, especially when you are beautiful and rich. He didn’t fear us, he was confident in his place in the cockpit, treating us as if we had souls.

He flew us to San Francisco, a place I’d dreamed of yet had never been.  

Our hotel looked out over the Golden Gate Bridge, the misty fog swirling as it ebbed and flowed. Mysterious and beautiful.  A place to escape. A place alive at night with numb, wandering souls. A place for us.

We watched from our window as the sky filled with an early morning glow, purple to orange. We pulled the blackout curtains and went to our bed, wrapped in each other’s arms.  Loving each other, trusting each other. Believing, finally, in something more that our next fix.

We awoke as the sky filled with stars and made our way into the city.  Our first real night of honeymoon.  His touch made me feel alive again. It had been so many years.  So many years alone.

Japantown and the Buddhist temple, a couple’s shiatsu massage in the darker corners of society.  When I kissed the woman’s wrist, she did not pull away.  Our eyes were locked, hypnotized, and I watched the light leave them and she collapsed to the floor.  

We drank our wine and danced along the bay.  Drunk on each other’s love, drunk on the life energy of the souls we took.  How I have waited for this man. 

We watched the tourists snapping their selfies in the city, watching this human expression of saving a moment.  What are these moments when time has lost its meaning?  We will never change. We will never grow old.  The hourglass to these humans is but a fraction of a moment for us.

We stole kayaks and paddled to Alcatraz, exploring the island in the dark, making love on a picnic table.  I could imagine the men, trapped behind the bars.  Willing to swim the cold water just to be free.  And here I lay in the cold arms of my lover, my husband, willing to give everything for him. 

We will stay here for awhile, in this beautiful city by the bay. We can move unseen in the deep fog. No longer will I wander this world alone. How many years I have painfully longed for companionship; forsaking motherhood, forsaking community, forsaking family. Giving it all for immortality.

I was lonely. I can see that now.

Perhaps, someday, we will make our way down the coast of California at night; Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexico. We will move south. I dream of seeing the tip of Argentina in winter. We will move at night, unseen and unsuspected.

We are in no hurry, reveling in the passion of each other.  Hungry for love.  Hungry for life. Hungry for blood. 

Digital Drawing of the Golden Gate Bridge, abstract oranges/ by Anna Loscotoff 2022/ My Forever Love
We watched as the sky filled with the early morning glow / Loscotoff 2022

This Week’s Prompt – My Forever Love

Week 16. Newlyweds on their honeymoon

Include: cockpit, selfie, kayak, thought bubble, picnic table, wander, propose, shiatsu, motherhood, temple

Read Bridgette’s Tale here.

Notes

This week started with several different possibilities.

There was a somewhat dramatized personal lament. It is unfinished. The required words were driving me crazy because they just didn’t fit into the emotions I wanted to write about. (I’ve included a small bit of it at the end of this blog, if you’re curious about the initial direction I was headed.)

Bridgette and I discussed being less attached to the words, perhaps committing to 5 of the 10, or allowing ourselves to leave out one or two each week. I did end up using all the words in the above story, but freeing my commitment to those words may be a change we consider for the future.

Another idea was two people meeting in Vegas at a poker table and both think the other is rich. It would have been written in a sort of back and forth dialogue, with spoken words in bold and thoughts in italics. The spoken words would have been them playing some sort of relationship poker, but the thoughts would have been all about stealing the other person’s money. They would have run off to marry at the Little White Chapel, only to discover the next morning that they are both poor thieves, fallen into their own manipulations.

I really loved this idea for a story, but it seemed bigger than I was able to do this week. I was limited on time, I was limited on energy, and I honestly don’t know enough about Poker to write that story.

My third idea was the story you find here; a love story that glosses over the bloody parts because they are just life and it’s the love that matters. I wanted a sort of run-away romance between two vampires, where the blood eating is the norm and love is new. I also wanted to hold off on letting you know they were vampires, so that there was some mystery about the story. My drawing of the Vegas sign gives you that foreshadowing, but hopefully in a mysterious way.

Last weekend was my parents 50th wedding anniversary, so this story came at a good time for thoughts on honeymoons. They have film of their honeymoon on Super 8, silently watching my mom with her long brown braids as she wore miniskirts, swinging on a set, their wedding, the little bronze Toyota with cans tied to the back. Time is passing quickly and I need to find a way to make those silent films digital. (For their 25th anniversary, I had the Super 8 transferred to video, but who has a video tape player these days?) I’ve been working on a drawing for them, and hoped to post it here, alas it’s just not finished yet.

My own 20th wedding anniversary is next month. Our life together has both been beautiful and complicated; as I think all marriages are. We’re all just human, after all.

Happy 50th anniversary to my parents. Happy 20th to my husband.

Happy 50th Anniversary to my parents!

Unfinished First Attempt

It wasn’t the proposal I wanted. It wasn’t the honeymoon.  I didn’t care about the ring.  It was just him; I just wanted him.

You could almost see a thought bubble when I told him, some sort of exclamation mark radiating like electricity from the top of his head.  The fear in his eyes, a look of terror. 

“Time,” he said.  “I just need time.”

I didn’t want time.  I wanted commitment.  I wanted to know that he loved me as much as I loved him. I wanted to envision a future together. I wanted to wander the world with him.  To discover motherhood with him.  To create some sort of temple to our connection.

“How much time?” I asked, as if he knew.

“Just… time.”

It was a long distance relationship.  Passionate together, quiet apart.  He wasn’t good at phone calls, didn’t write letters.  Busy with following his dreams.  Not really knowing much about mine.

His true love was in the cockpit, freedom in flight.  He wanted me to experience his passions, to love them all as much as he did.  

The air currents made me sick, the wings wobbling, the small hot space. 

Under the light of a full moon / Loscotoff 2022

My 52 Week Journey So Far

What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

Week 15 – White Coats

Light of a city in the distance, the stars stand out, photo by Anna Loscotoff 2022
We awoke as the sky filled with stars and made our way into the city / Loscotoff 2022

White Coats | A Short Story

A ball of wires held in someone's hands/ Loscotoff 2022, short story of paranoia

It was a Saturday when I set the explosives.

That damn office.  I couldn’t bear the screams.

I can not write buried in screams.

The men in the white coats, they’ve been watching me.  Watching me while I watch them.  Watch them go in and out of that office.  

White coats.  From the government.  They are listening to my thoughts.

I hid in the alleyway with the wires beneath my coat.  Watching for the men who are listening to my thoughts, who are telling me to mind my own business.

But I can’t.  I must save the children.  Save the children from their screams. 

I hid the bombs from my mind, so they couldn’t sneak in and find me out. 

It’s all a front, you know, that office.  The hearts on the doors, the palm trees lining the walk. 

I try to write, but the screams.  The screams.  They echo through my brain as if the children were in this room. 

I see them, the mothers, lattes in hand, as they lead their children through the door.  The door with the rainbow and the hearts. 

They should be carrying cactus, their hearts are sharp.  Leading their children who have no idea.  The mothers are in on it.  Leading their children to the screams.

I try to write, but the faces of the children.

They are watching me, the adults who trick their children into eating beets.  Tricking their children into this unsafe world. The men from the government. The men in the white coats.  They watch me while the children scream.

They took my teeth and replaced them with radio wire.  Radios to hear my thoughts.  Radios to tell me what to do.

But I was smarter.  I took my teeth and buried them beneath the trees.

Now I try to write. 

Try to keep my thoughts from the government, listening to me through the TV.  Listening to me through the radio. Listening to me through the windmills that cause cancer.

I threw the TV from the window.  The radio is dead in the tub. The windmills will be gone in the morning. Gone with the wires.

They see me watching from the window, trying to write.  They usher their children into the office as they see my eyes.  I know they are watching me.  I hear them whispering in my ears as the children scream. 

There will be an explosion.  An explosion.  I will save them.  I will save the children from the man who steals their teeth.  Tried to put radios in their teeth. Steals their souls, to sample them to the highest bidder.  

The horizon will be different tomorrow.  Through the smoke.  

They call him dentist.  But I know better. 

I will save the children from their screams. 

An image of a child's teeth/ Loscotoff 2022
Save the children from the man who steals their teeth / Loscotoff 2022

This Week’s Prompt – White Coats

Week 15. A writer with noisy neighbors

Include: dentist, rainbow, explosion, horizon, cactus, palm, Saturday, latte, beets, sample

Read Bridgette’s Tale here

Notes

You’ll notice we changed the format this week. If you are new here, we (my writing partner and I) generally put the prompt and a link to our writing partner’s work at the very top. Sometimes the prompt and the words give the story away. If you read “dentist” before reading the story, you might have had a hint of where I was headed. In an effort to make the story the important focus, we are moving our prompts and our partner’s link below the story. I hope this will give a sense of mystery as you wonder which are the required words and what was the inspiration.

I hadn’t given my story much thought, it was spring break and I went to visit my parents, planning my trip around accompanying them to doctor appointments. As we sat in the doctor’s office, my dad asked me what the prompt was this week. I told him what I remembered (a writer with noisy neighbors) and that the only word I could remember was “dentist”.

My dad is apparently a random idea generator just like my daughter is. He immediately responded, “the writer lives next to the dentist and he can’t handle the screams.” That is where this story was born. I thought the idea was brilliant and decided to play with it. I wanted to build on the idea of conspiracy theorists and mental health.

This story is short, but it came quickly and reminds me of my week 5 story, “Drink the Kool-Aid“. I loved that story because it told the story in so few words. I feel the same about this one. They feel like they belong in the same collection.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s story. If you did, please share. I send out a newsletter every Friday with new blogs from the week. You can sign up here.

Photograph close up of teeth/ Loscotoff 2022.  The men in the white coats take the teeth.
They took my teeth and replaced them with radio wire/ Loscotoff 2022

Next Week’s Prompt

Week 16. Newlyweds on their honeymoon

Include: cockpit, selfie, kayak, thought bubble, picnic table, wander, propose, shiatsu, motherhood, temple

Links

My Writing Partner, Bridgette

Bridgette’s Week 15 story

My 52 Weeks So Far…


What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

52 Weeks – Week 14 – Andromeda’s Lament

Original Art by Anna Loscotoff, the constellation Andromeda

Something bad is about to happen but nobody believes the main character

Include: Andromeda, stop sign, dandelion, iceberg, spectacle, poet, candle lit, keyboard, bumble, robotic

Read writing partner Bridgette’sTale here.

Andromeda’s Lament

Andromeda's Lament

The poet sat
The world in her scope
Writing on her keyboard
A breath of hope
As the dandelion blew
The iceberg melted
The bumble of life
The poet lamented
Original art by Anna Loscotoff, a poet sits atop an iceberg, constellation Andromeda in the background/
The poet sat, the iceberg melted/Loscotoff 2022
Andromeda
The chained woman
Screams to the heavens
Bring me salvation
Lift up your weapons
Eyes wide
A spectacle of truth
Into the beast's mouth
We have stolen her youth
Original art by Anna Loscotoff, Andromeda chained to a rock, 2022
Andromeda screams to the heavens/Loscotoff 2022
The sky
She said
Is falling
The candle now lit
You have become too busy
Robotic
Unfit
Earth's Candle melting down, original art by Anna Loscotoff, 2022
The candle now lit/ Loscotoff 2022
Cetus will come
He'll devour us all
Perseus will not save us
We are destined to fall
Alpheratz, Mirach, and Almach
Can not stop the signs
For we are blind in our vanity
The Nereids divine
Cetus, Original art by Anna Loscotoff, the Sea Monster
Cetus will come/Loscotoff 2022

Notes

The word “poet” in the list of required words brought me directly to poetry for this week. As I finished something I moderately liked, I took it to my teenage daughter. She was thoughtful and honest… she didn’t like it. Well, most of it. She liked the stanza about Cetus. I set back to work, cleaning it up, bit by bit. In time, it became just a jumble of words. I wasn’t sure if it said anything at all.

Why do I take the constructive criticism of my daughter so seriously? The honest answer is that I trust her opinion. If she says my poem is rough and needs work, I can assume it’s rough and needs work. When she says it’s better, or even that there is a part she really likes, then that means more to me, because I hear her honestly.

The idea of something bad happening and no one listening made me think of our world today. Conspiracy theories, politicians who only want to win, war; we’ve stopped listening. Climate change and the destruction of our planet was at the forefront of my thinking. Every sign is screaming at us that something bad is about to happen (actively happening), but most people only casually listen and refuse to see it in their lifetimes. Others see the changes in the weather patterns, in the heat of the summers, in the natural disasters, but they feel helpless to stop it.

We feel small in the scope of the world and try to affect change. We hope someone in power will fight for the necessary steps, but we can’t control other’s votes or if what matters to us, matters to them.

This prompt reminds me of the movie, “Don’t Look Up“. I didn’t want to rewrite that story, it’s already been done, and done brilliantly. The prompt also reminded me of Chicken Little-only the version where the sky really is falling–and the Boy Who Cried Wolf, when the villagers stop believing because they can’t see through his lies. I thought about plays on these stories, but couldn’t quite find the path. I still feel a story, on the tip of my tongue, but so far, I haven’t found it. Perhaps it will find its way in the future.

So, I leave you with this poem. My daughter ended up liking it, which is my biggest win.

I cheated on the words this week. I felt limited by “stop sign” and “candle lit” and made the choice to adapt them to what I wanted to say. This has been a struggle for me in the past. I don’t particularly like forcing the words, but rather appreciate them as a guide.

The candle I created, if not obvious, is Earth’s candle; we must act now. Alpheratz, Mirach, and Almach are major stars in the constellation of Andromeda; I imagined them as three biblical kings. Nereids are the 50 sea nymph daughters of Nereus and Doris of Greek Mythology. While they helped sailors during storms, they were enraged by human vanity, which is why Poseidon sent Cetus and the floods to Ethiopia. This makes me think of rising sea levels, and the idea that those of the sea become God-like in their power; thus Nereids divine.

What became essential for me this week was the art. I discovered new Procreate brushes that allow me to digitally draw with gold leaf. (I will link them in the comments.) The learning curve in Procreate was a giant step. I drew all of the images by hand in my watercolor notebook, photographed them, and then digitally colored the images. I also found textural canvas backgrounds for Procreate that allowed a more painterly feel. (Also linked in the comments.)

I’ve included two images of Andromeda because I loved each for it’s own voice. I included the version in dark blues inside the poem because it makes me think of Greek black-figure pottery. I included the gray and gold version below because it highlights the stars of the Andromeda constellation.

If you liked this week’s poem or my artwork, I hope you will share it with someone you love. Thank you, dear reader, for coming on this journey. I send out an email every Friday of new blog posts from that week, if that interests you, please sign up for my newsletter here.

Original art by Anna Loscotoff, Andromeda chained in gray and gold
Andromeda Chained in Gray and Gold/ Loscotoff 2022

The Myth of Andromeda

In Greek Mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, rulers of Ethiopia. Cassiopeia is arrogant and brings the wrath of King Poseidon by bragging that both she and Andromeda are more beautiful that the Nereids, the 50 daughters of Nereus, the old man of the sea. Poseidon sends the sea monster, Cetus, to wrathfully destroy the coast of Ethiopia. The oracle of Ammon tells King Cepheus that he must sacrifice his daughter to the monster of the sea to end its destruction. She is chained to a rock at sea’s edge where she awaits the monster to devour her.

Perseus has just killed Medusa and is carrying her head, flying in his winged sandals. He sees Andromeda chained to the rock and falls in love with her. He battles the monster, Cetus, killing him with the sword used to kill Medusa. Andromeda has been promised to marry her uncle, Phineus, however she is marries Perseus. A fight begins between Phineus and Perseus during their wedding. Perseus ends the fight by showing Phineus the eyes of Medusa, turning him to stone.

Perseus and Andromeda have seven sons and 2 daughters, ruling the land of Mycenae. Upon Andromeda’s death, the Goddess Athena places her in the sky as the constellation Andromeda, next to Perseus and her parents, connecting her to the constellation of Pegasus.

Links

Andromeda Constellation: The Ultimate Guide (2022)

Andromeda – Greek Mythology – Britannica

Andromeda Mythology – Wikipedia

Nereids – Wikipedia

Types of Greek Pottery

Procreate Sparkly & Metallic Effect Brushes

Magic Canvas for Procreate – Texture Overlays

Don’t Look Up – Netflix

Don’t Look Up – 2021 Film Explained

Next Week

15. A writer with noisy neighbors

Include: dentist, rainbow, explosion, horizon, cactus, palm, Saturday, latte, beets, sample

My 52 Week Journey


What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Week 13 – The Cufflinks

52 Weeks – Week 13 – The Cufflinks

Two Roman Coins, top face of the cufflinks described in the story/ Loscotoff 2022

Week 13 – A haunted house

Include: silver, relativity, watercolor, Copper Beech, limited, affect, broccoli, politician, arsenal, cufflink

Read Bridgette’s Week 13 Tale here.

The Cufflinks

The woman had grown old in the Victorian house along the sea.  

She walked with a cane now, making her way into the drawing room.  They had once entertained here, when the days were young. The furniture had been covered in the finest of fabric, the wood was dark and imported.  A gilded gold mirror hung over the mantel. Now, her easel stood in front of the bay window, looking out over the ocean; an unfinished watercolor reflected the green of the sea.  

She caught a glint of silver reflecting from the center of the oriental rug; worn and a bit threadbare.  Her hands and spine were twisted with age; swollen and angry.  

Slowly and with much bodily protest, Eleanore stooped to pick up the silver cufflinks, turning them in her palm. 

She had given these to her first husband, Stanley, as a gift.

“Hattie!” the old woman yelled.

There was pounding on the stairs as the young girl hurried to her mistress’s aide. 

“Yes, Lady Eleanore?” The child was only 16, her apron crumpled and her hair falling loose about her face.

“How did these come to be here, in the middle of my drawing room floor?”

The girl stepped closer.

“Why, I don’t know?”  The girl looked frightened now.

“I have told you not to go through my drawers.”

“I didn’t, Lady Eleanore!  I promise you!”

“Then why are these laying here?”

“I swear to you…”

“Do not swear, it is unladylike.”

“I only meant…”

“I know what you meant.  Take these up to my room and place them at my dressing table.”

“Yes, Lady Eleanore.” 

The girl took the cufflinks and headed up the stairs.  

It was only her and the girl now. A cook came in a few hours each day to prepare supper and to leave food for the following day’s breakfast, dinner, and tea.  There were no visitors, and the money had dwindled over time.  Hattie was all the woman could afford. 

Eleanore turned back to her easel, remembering her first husband.

He had been a banker, tall and handsome, with soft curling blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She was the daughter of a politician, 20 and beautiful.  He had built her this home, looking out over the sea. He had Copper Beech imported from Europe and planted around the back of the home, saying the leaves, when they turned, reminded him of the copper in her hair.

Representative image of the protagonist's first husband, Stanley/ Losctoff 2022
Stanley/ Loscotoff 2022 – Photo taken in Polish Salt Mines 2016

Years past, and she thought they had been happy, until she found him kissing a maid.  She had pretended to ignore it, to continue her life in the comfort of wealth and privilege.  What was it to her that he sometimes chose to share his bed with other women?  She was his wife. Until the night of the ball, when she had found him pressed up against a girl no more than 16, the daughter of an investor.

At home, they had quarreled.  He told her that she was becoming tedious, that he thought she would have given him children by now.  Perhaps, he said, he would take another wife. 

She had these cufflinks made, a gift for her husband.

Before an opera, she had given them to him.

“I do not wish to quarrel with you, my dear husband.  Please do not put me aside for a younger woman. I have had these made for you, a token of my forever faithfulness.”

Stanley smiled, turning them over in his hand.  Sterling silver with Roman coins as their front face.

“They are finely made.  Who is the man?”

Eleanore smiled her beautiful smile, “Why this is Emperor Claudius, my love.  He was the ruler of Rome and helped to reestablish the Roman finances, just as you have done here.  He was an ambitious builder and began the conquest of Great Britain.  He was worshiped, just as you will be worshiped, my husband.  May I put them on you?”

That night, Stanley slipped from their box at the Opera, leaving Eleanore alone.  He did not return at the end of the show, and while Eleanore waited patiently, the theater emptied.  

There soon came a bloodcurdling scream from backstage. 

Stanley had been found, blood trickling from his nose, laying on top of a young ingenue, his pants around his ankles.  The girl had laid underneath him, silent, afraid to be found, afraid of the wrath of the wealthy. While she lay there, she slowly went mad.

Eleanore came from her memory and seemed to catch a glimpse of a shadow as it moved through the room.  

“My eyes have become old,” said the woman. 

She opened her paints and dipped the brush into the water, looking out over the shapes of the ocean.  

When she looked down at her canvas, the glimmer of silver caught her eye.  Sitting on the lower handle, where the canvas sat, were two cufflinks, the face of Emperor Claudius looking up at her. 

Eleanore gasped slightly, picking them up in her old hands.  She had watched as Hattie took them from her, had heard her ascend the stairs, yet here they sat.  

Eleanore turned and looked around the room. For a slight moment, she thought she saw the face of a man peering out of the gilded mirror over the mantel. She blinked and the face was gone.

He had black hair and his eyes reflected green, like her second husband, Thomas.  Thomas was a politician and well liked in society.  When Stanley died, Thomas swooped in and made sure that Eleanore was supported, finding lawyers to make sure she received all she was due from Stanley’s estate.  He also made sure that Stanley’s death was covered up, paying off the members of the Opera and legally binding their secrecy.  It was reported that he had fallen victim to a heart attack while leaving the theater, allowing Eleanore the discretion of staying within society without scandal. 

Representative image of protagonist's second husband, Thomas/ Loscotoff 2022
Thomas/ Loscotoff, 2022 – Image taken in Polish Salt Mines 2016

She did not love Thomas the way she loved Stanley, but he did care for her and had kept her out of society’s gossip.  So, when he began to be rough in the bedroom, she thought perhaps this was what some men did.  She did not want to insult him, but time came when she begged him to stop.  He hit her.  Bruising her legs and arms, but never her pretty face. She threatened to take him to the police, but her reminded her of how her first husband had been found, pants around his ankles, over a young girl who was now in a mental hospital.  He stated that he would be happy to tear up the legal document keeping members of the Opera quiet, and that he was quite sure the local newspaper would be happy to print the story. 

Eleanore withdrew, only appearing in society as was required.  The household saw the change, saw the mornings when she did not seem to be able to get out of bed, saw the way she limped through the house.  They were afraid of Thomas as well, and wished to keep their jobs, so they kept quiet. 

Finally, the night came when Thomas was to speak at a dinner in front of his supporters. 

“I have a gift for you, Thomas.”

She stood in a gown of silk and brocade, her copper hair twisted and piled on her head.

He was ill mannered, trying to tie the bow at his neck.

“Let me do that for you,” she said.

She fixed his collar and knotted the bowtie before giving him a little box tied with a blue ribbon.  

“What’s this?”  

“Just a gift. They are antiques, passed down from royalty in England, and seemed perfect for you.”

He opened the box and saw the cufflinks, not knowing they had once belonged to Eleanore’s first husband. 

“They are made from Roman coins, of the Emperor Claudius.  He was a great Emperor and sat among the men of the Roman Senate.  He reminded me of you and how you have continued to rise within the world of politics.”

Thomas looked at her with tenderness she had not seen in many years. 

“Thank you my wife, will you do me the honor of putting them on?”

Later that night, Thomas stood in front of his donors and began to speak of their plans, to rise from the local constituency, to become a senator and perhaps even president.  He spoke of their arsenal of men, of lawyers and donors and influential spokesmen, and how they would all climb to the top, no matter who got in their way.

Eleanore watched from her table and, when Thomas began to gasp through his speech, asking for water, and then spitting up blood, Eleanore cried and tried to rush to his side; the affect of a woman in terrible grief. She was held back by men, trying to protect her the sight of her dead husband, lying on the stage.

Eleanore looked at the cufflinks in the palm of her hand, and then dropped them into a tall decorative vase which sat on the mantle, imported long ago from China.  She heard them clink through the narrow porcelain neck and settle at the base.  

Turning back to the room, she thought she saw a shadow pass the drawing room door.

“Hattie?  Is that you?” asked the old woman, walking with her cane to the door.

“Did you call me, Lady Eleanore?” The voice of Hattie drifted down from the bedroom. 

Shaken, Eleanore called up, “No, child.  I’m going to go walk through the garden.”

“Let me help you with the stairs!” Hattie called back.

“I can do it myself, I’m not feeble.”

The old woman moved slowly down the stairs, using her cane to balance while holding tightly to the banister in her left hand.  She came to the landing and passed the dining room on her right, walking to the front door.  She stepped out, looking at the sea in front of her.  The garden was around the side and the Copper Beech, now a grove, grew tall behind the house.  

Eleanore looked at the overgrown plants.  There was no one to care for them now, no one to love the land except her, and she rarely stepped from the house.  The herbs had become tangled bushes, the broccoli was a mass of yellow flowers going to seed.  In the dirt, Eleanore caught the glint of silver reflecting in the cold light. 

Careful not to fall, Eleanore slowly bent to investigate what was lying in the garden bed.  She brushed back the dirt.  Emperor Claudius looked back at her.  Digging her nails into the ground, Eleanore grabbed the cufflinks from the soil and with a scream, threw them as hard as she could towards the ocean. Her arms were weak and she felt the protest from her shoulder. The cufflinks did not travel far, but they landed somewhere outside the fence in the tall weeds. 

Eleanore no longer wanted to be outside, she felt tired as she slowly walked with her cane back to the house.  She seemed to see the shadow of a man as he walked past the corner.

Eleanore thought of her third husband, Edgar.  Edgar was young and thin, a bit mousy, but he made her feel beautiful.

Representative image of protagonist's third husband, Edgar/ Loscotoff 2022
Edgar/ Loscotoff 2022 – image taken in Muiderslot Castle, the Netherlands, 2016

Eleanor was moving into her 50’s when she met Edgar.  He was in his 20’s and she knew he was more interested in her money that he was in her, but she didn’t care.  She was lonely, and very few men looked at her after being widowed twice.  Edgar took her to dinner and showed no embarrassment at their age difference.  Edgar gambled with the possibility that he could, should he be patient, inherit everything Eleanor had to offer.  And so they married. However, in time, he not only gambled with her affection, he gambled with her money.

At first, Eleanore discovered items that seemed to be missing; jewelry and bits of cash she hid throughout the house.  Edgar questioned whether perhaps a maid was stealing, or perhaps even Eleanore was confused at where she had left her items.  When she went to the bank and realized her fortune was diminishing, when she saw that her husband’s signature marked the transactions–small amounts, again and again–she knew he would take her to poverty. 

Edgar was going out one night, he said to play cards with the fellows.  Eleanore knew what that meant now, that he would continue to gamble with her fortune.  And so, she gave him a gift of cufflinks.

Edgar’s eyes shone with a greedy desire. 

“These were my first husband’s, Stanley’s. I hope you will care for them, my dear.”

Edgar could not take his eyes from the precious treasure, and wanted to feel their weight in his hand.

“Will you wear them tonight?  For me?” Eleanore asked.

A smile spread across Edgar’s face.  He cared nothing for the coins or who the man looking up at him was, he cared only that he could gamble them away.

“Will you help me with them?” he asked.

Eleanore did.

Edgar died at the gambling table.  He had been winning, for once, and when his body was taken to the morgue, the cufflinks were still at his sleeves.  Eleanore collected the links and buried him next to her first two husbands; three men in a row. 

Three skulls in a row, from the Paris Catacombs/ Loscotoff 2016
Three men in a row/ Loscotoff 2022 – image taken in the Paris Catacombs, 2016

As Eleanore climbed the steps to her decaying home, she caught a glimpse of the face of an old man peering down at her from at upstairs window.  She stumbled, caught herself, and put her hand to her heart; the beating was frantic.  When she looked again, the face was gone.

She made her way into the morning room and collapsed into a deep chair.  She closed her eyes and imagined the face she thought she had seen, the face of her fourth husband, Nathaniel.  

“Are you okay, Lady Eleanore?”

Eleanore opened her eyes and saw Hattie in the doorway.

“I am quite tired today,” Eleanore said.

“You look pale, as if you’d seen a ghost,” the girl responded.

“Perhaps I have?” said the old woman.  “Will supper be ready soon?  I think that I would like to go to bed straight after I eat.”

“It’s early yet,” said Hattie, “but I will go ask the cook if she can be ready more quickly.”

“Thank you, dear,” said the old woman, and closed her eyes.

Hattie didn’t know how to respond.  The old woman had never called her “dear”, wasn’t sure she had ever thanked her genuinely.

Eleanore thought of Nathaniel, her fourth husband.  He had done nothing wrong.  He was simply old and he bored her.  He did not like to go out, he did not like the opera; he liked puzzles and reading before the fireplace.  And so Eleanore asked him one night if they could perhaps dress for dinner as they once had, in their finest clothes. 

Representation of protagonist's fourth husband, Nathaniel/ Loscotoff 2022
Nathaniel/ Loscotoff 2022 – photo taken in Polish Salt Mines, 2016

“Perhaps, after we eat, we could put on a record and dance in the drawing room?” Eleanore asked.

“My dear, I would love to dance with you.  There is a man of science who speaks of relativity, and how the functions of the world interact. I simply wish to be near you. It is that relativity in which he speaks.”

“I have been saving these for a special occasion,” said Eleanore, and she pulled the Roman coin cufflinks out.  

“They are beautiful,” he said, “ and perhaps even an important piece of history?”   

“Yes, I do believe they have been instrumental in the role of men,” she responded.  “Can I put them on you?”

And so they ate dinner, and that night, while they danced in the drawing room, Nathanial died in Eleanor’s arms. He went quietly, with very little fuss.  He simply said that he was tired and slumped into her arms.

“The cook says that we can start supper now, if you wish?” said Hattie, pulling Eleanore from her memories. 

“Yes, dear, please help me to the dining room.”

Eleanor sat in her accustomed place, first being served a bowl of soup.  As she sipped the broth, she felt stronger.  Until, that is, she came to the bottom of the bowl.

There, sitting in the curve beneath the broth, sat the cufflinks. Emperor Claudius seemed to be staring into her eyes. 

“Oh!” she squawked. 

“Is everything okay?” asked Hattie.

“Can you look into my bowl, and tell me if you see anything unusual?”

“Of course, Lady… oh!  I swear, Lady Eleanor, I took them up to your dressing table as you told me!  I did not do this. Please don’t fire me!”

The old woman simply nodded her head.  

“I am not going to fire you.  But I do think I am full, and wonder if you would help me to bed?”

The young girl helped Eleanore, undressing her from her day’s clothes, dressing her in her night gown.  She brushed the woman’s long grey hair and braided it, tucking it under a fine cotton nightcap.  She pulled back the blanket and helped the old woman under the covers; slowly laying the woman back into her deep pillows. 

Eleanore gave out a little cry once fully laying in bed.

“Are you alright?” asked Hattie.

“My bones are just old, that’s all.  I’m ready to sleep now.”

Hattie said goodnight and closed the door.

It had not been her bones that caused her to cry out, it had been the prick of something sharp behind her left shoulder.  She could feel it cutting into her, sharp into her skin.  It didn’t matter what she did now, her death was close at hand.

She remembered when she had had the cufflinks made for her dear Stanley.  She remembered how she had asked that one of the toggles be made hollow with a sharp point that would not be noticed when it hid between the post and under the face. 

When she had put the cuffs on Stanley, he had cried out as she scratched his skin with the sharp point, drawing blood.  She apologized and said that she would have the cufflinks checked and fixed.  But he had died, and so the cufflinks had never been returned to their maker.

Thomas had struck her with his belt the night that she helped him with his cufflinks.  He had called her stupid and clumsy when she scratched him with the sharp end, and she had agreed that it was all her fault.  It was the last time he hit her.

Edgar hadn’t really noticed the scratch as she helped him with the cufflinks.   He had sucked the blood from the wound, perhaps hastening his death. He said it was nothing, for his eyes were focused only on the uniqueness of the coins, and wondered what he could get for them.  They brought him only a hole in the ground.

Nathanial had looked at her sadly when she had scratched him.  His skin tore easily, like tissue paper, the aged bruises standing out against his wrinkled flesh.  

Eleanore remembered dipping the hollow toggle into the poison, being sure the well was filled; knowing that the scratch would allow the poison into their bloodstream.  

Now, she lay, with the hollow toggle pressed into a scratch in her shoulder.  It had been many years since she had dipped the sharp point in poison and a part of her wondered if it was enough to kill her the way she killed them.

She did not wonder long, for a tall shadow with faded blonde hair and blue eyes stepped from the corner of the room and began to walk towards the bed.  Then a thick shadow, black haired and green eyed, emerged from the wall and moved closer.  The third figure, thin and mousy, stepped from the window.  Finally, the ghost of an old man moved through the door.

They all came and stood around her bedside, looking down on their wife, looking down on their killer.  Four men, four graves laid side-by-side.  

She had nothing to say to them in death, and so died silently.

In the morning, when Hattie came to wake her, the woman was cold, a single trickle of blood dried around her mouth, a cufflink embedded in the flesh of her shoulder. 

Statue of death in Rüdesheim am Rhine, Germany/ Loscotoff 2016
She had nothing to say to them in death, and so died silently/ Loscotoff, 2022 – image taken in Rüdesheim am Rhine, 2016

Notes

I wanted to leave a certain ambiguity in this story until the end. Is Eleanore murdering her husbands? Or is there a curse on the cufflinks? Perhaps there is a curse on the Roman coins. Could Eleanore be a victim in this as well, grieving for each husband despite the fact that they were all (except one) terrible husbands? Perhaps, if I had included an old, faithful maid, the maid could have actually been the murderer and the last husband died naturally in his wife’s arms.

I chose to make the murderer Eleanore simply because the story was clear in my mind. I was stepping into the shower (where I do all my best thinking) and I saw the whole story laid out before me. However, should I ever rewrite this story (or publish it in a short story collection), perhaps I will give you a different ending. One of the above or perhaps something even further from the original truth.

I love antiquity and own two Roman coins myself (the ones you see in the title photo). There is something really special to me about artifacts, the idea of all the people who held that coin; how it was probably lost through time, buried, and rediscoverd by someone in a field with a metal detector. I think perhaps I was meant to be a archeologist or anthropologist.

I wanted the Roman coin to bear the face of Emperor Claudius, as history believes he was murdered by wife, Agrippina, on 13 October, 54. I worried that the idea of a cufflink being able to introduce enough poison into the human body may push the limits of reality, however Agrippina may have used a poisoned feather to kill Claudius. I wanted the use of Claudius to be an element of foreshadowing. If you know his story, you will suspect Eleanore in the murdering of her husbands.

Finally, all photos come from when my family and I had the opportunity to live in, and travel around, Germany for 6 months in 2016. The majority of the photos are statues carved from salt rock in the Polish salt mines of Wieliczka Salt Mine. I’ve also included photos from Castle Muiderslot in the Netherlands, the Catacombs of Paris, and one from the torture museum, Mittelalterliches Foltermuseum, in Ruedesheim am Rhein in Germany.

Thank you, dear reader, for joining me on this week’s journey. I am publishing a short story every Saturday this year in my 52 week project. If you liked this story, please share it with a friend or loved one. I send out an email every Friday with any stories or blogs I have posted during the week, please sign up for it here.

A woman and four men, salt statues in the Polish salt mines/ Loscotoff 2016
Eleanore and her husbands/ Loscotoff 2022 – image taken in Polish Salt Mines, 2016

Links

Some of these links may seem random, but they are all sites I visited this week to research various questions I had for this particular story. Some stories need no research, others find me searching every little thought. This was one of those weeks.

Wikipedia on the Roman Emperor Claudius

Julia Agrippina – the wife of Claudius and the mother of Nero – Wikipedia

The Roman Emperor – The most dangerous occupation in Ancient Rome

Poisons, Poisoning, and Poisoners in Rome

Victorian Homes – Part 1 – Rooms

Victorian Rugs, Interiors, and History

The Copper Beech Tree

History of the Nightcap- Victorian and Edwardian Hair Care

History of Record Players

The Parts of an Easel

The Parts of a Cufflink

Wieliczka Salt Minę

Castle Muiderslot

Catacombs of Paris

Mittelalterliches Foltermuseum, in Ruedesheim am Rhein

Week 14 Prompt

Something bad is about to happen but nobody believes the main character

Include: Andromeda, stop sign, dandelion, iceberg, spectacle, poet, candle lit, keyboard, bumble, robotic

My 52 Week Journey

What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Week 12 – A Murder of Crows