The Price of a Pearl is now available on Kindle for $2.99. As of today it was ranked 1,386 in Historical Romance. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app for free to your Smartphone, tablet or computer.
*This is my entry for the Dog Days of Summer contest. I wonder if anyone will recognize himself in any of the characters?
We had lived in Eden for a whole year with my grandparents while Dad was flying somewhere in the Pacific. I was happy to picture him in his plane, safe from the gruesome stories of Guadalcanal in Life magazine. Like most of the homes in Eden, we had a Blue Star flag hanging in the front window; a few homes had Gold Star flags as well. Cody’s grandma hung hers when she received it; but his mom, Clara, didn’t get a Gold Star flag.
School was over and summer was finally here. Mornings, Cody worked with the colored people planting tobacco and melons. Thomas and I weeded the Victory garden while we waited for Cody to get off work after lunch. Once a week, the three of us went around the neighborhood collecting scrap metal, aluminum, tin foil from gum wrappers, any kind of metal really. Another day, we would collect the cooking fat which was smellier and messier. All the ladies fell over six-year-old Thomas, but if he got a cookie or a cup of lemonade, Cody and I got the same thing without having to be oohed and aahed over.
The Mortons had moved into the house across from us in April. There were four girls, all with wavy brown hair and blue eyes. My mother called them stair steps. The oldest, Janet, was 13; Marie was 11; Bette was 7; and Luise was 5. Their mother, Mrs. Morton, who was the tallest stair step, was expecting another child. Janet told me that the baby would be named either Joan or Gary as they had all been named after Academy Award winners. “Pop hopes it will be a Gary,” she said and I hoped as well for Mr. Morton’s sake.
Marie was in my class at school. When she came over, she usually had Bette or Luise. My mother was in heaven with the girls, happy to comb their hair, play dolls or just sit and talk. Janet spent a lot of time helping her mother in the house or out with her own friends; she thought she was too old to play with us. It was a shame because she always came up with the best fun.
One afternoon, Cody, Thomas and I had picked all the ripe blackberries in the lane behind the Morton’s house. Our fingers stained with juice, we found Janet in the backyard watching her sisters.
“Oh good!” she said when she saw us. We need you boys to help us excavate this site.” She swept her arms around to the patch behind the garage the Morton’s shared with their neighbors. Like I said, Janet had the best ideas. We were always finding old buttons and bullets in the garden at our house. Granny said that the land had been a soldier camp during the Civil War.
Janet was in charge because she had read a book about archeology. We weren’t digging long before Thomas was working on a deep hole and Luise was throwing clumps of dirt at Bette. Cody, Marie and I followed Janet’s lead and sifted carefully through the dirt, one section at a time. We found marbles, some old coins, nails and lots of rocks.
When Luise threw a worm at Bette, she screamed and ran inside to tell her mother. Marie picked up the worm and said she’d give her marbles to whoever would eat it. Of course, no one volunteered. Then Janet offered the coin she had found if someone would eat the worm.
“I’ll eat it for all the coins,” Thomas offered.
Now we were on to something. Between the four of us, we had found a nickel, four Lincoln pennies and two Indian head pennies. Marie offered to throw in her marbles as well.
Thomas had brushed the dirt off the worm and it wiggled in his hand. We all looked on while he decided. “All the coins, Marie’s marbles and Charlie’s Lou Gehrig card.”
“Not my Lou Gehrig. What about my Joe DiMaggio?” I countered.
Thomas thought for a second. “Deal. All the coins and marbles and Joe DiMaggio.”
“You have to shake on it,” Cody said.
“Cody’s right, Charlie. You have to shake on it. And we’re all witnesses,” Janet said.
Thomas and I shook hands then I said, “The whole worm, no throwing up.”
“The whole worm,” he repeated. We waited while he brushed non-existent dirt off the worm. We heard the back door of the house open and knew we had seconds before Mrs. Morton came out and stopped our fun.
“Hurry,” Janet urged.
Thomas shoved the worm in his mouth and chewed really fast, making all kinds of scrunching faces as he swallowed. Luise screamed and we all shouted, “Ewww!” Thomas opened his mouth to show us it was gone.
“Janet! Marie!” we heard Mrs. Morton yell.
“He did it,” Janet said and we were all impressed. We handed over the coins and the marbles as Mrs. Morton came into the backyard.
“What is going on back here?” she asked.
“You better go,” Janet urged and Cody, Thomas and I slipped over the fence into the back alley so Mrs. Morton wouldn’t see us.
“Who said you could dig back here?” we heard. “You better put all that dirt back where you found it!”
“Thomas ate a worm!” exclaimed Luise.
“Don’t tell tales, Luise. Thomas isn’t even here. Janet, you and Marie put all that dirt back…” We didn’t hear the rest because we were laughing so hard.
Of course Granny didn’t believe Thomas ate the worm, but Mom did. “You shouldn’t torture your brother like that,” she said.
“We paid him to do it,” I protested.
“Thomas,” she called out to him. “Don’t let them pressure you into doing dumb things. Worms are dirty.”
“But Charlie gave me his Joe DiMaggio if I did it.”
“Still,” she said, but she was laughing. Summer was going to be great.
Lila had always been the one to wait. Ben was five minutes late for their first date, misjudging the amount of time it would take to walk across campus. By their third date, Lila knew she had at least ten minutes more to primp before Ben arrived
On his way to their wedding, Ben’s cab broke down and he was late to the chapel. He was flustered and apologetic when he showed up, but Lila smiled serenely. “I knew you would be here,” she whispered.
Dinner was always warming in the oven when Ben came home late from the office. She woke when he came to bed, long enough to kiss him good night.
Now it was Ben’s turn to wait for Lila. Everyday, he waited with the other husbands, peering into the mist, waiting for his wife. Finally he understood the longing she must have felt all those years she waited for him.
*My second win in Flash!Friday. I find it curious that my first was for a story set in Hell and this one is set in Heaven. It was written the weekend I said goodbye to my oldest son as he headed off into adulthood and his first serious job since graduating from college.
Oh. My. Tears. I don’t know if this resonated so much because my mom is always late to everything, but I know couples like this. You gave their entire history such depth and specificity in large, sweeping brushstrokes. I especially loved how Lila accepted this sometimes annoying character trait and learned to roll with it: giving her ten extra minutes to primp, ‘serenely’ waiting on his arrival – expecting his tardiness and not getting flustered by it, keeping dinner warming in the oven, and greeting him when he finally came to bed. She accepted all of him, and that is beautiful. But the thing that put this one over the top is the way you rounded it out. Your first line “Lila had always been the one to wait” and your last “Finally he understood the longing she must have felt all those years she waited for him” have a beautiful symmetry. I can picture him now “waiting with the other[s], peering into the mist” and my heart breaks – for him, for her, for loss, for love. So special. Thank you. (Judge Alissa Leonard)
Shararah had not known a time without violence; first the Taliban, now the Americans. Soon, the Americans would leave; at least, that is what she was told. There would be another violent group, freeing the people in the name of Allah or God or Freedom or some other deity.
The stench outside of goat pee and stale cigarettes was the smell of despair and occupation, the smell of her life. When Shararah volunteered to wear the explosive belt, the others tried to discourage her, tell her this was a job for a man. They wanted the glory. But she insisted. Soon enough, women would no longer be allowed in public. Let me do this for them.
She walked into the square close to the GI’s and took one last picture to post. This was what she hated most, the collateral damage. No one would know this was not about hate, but an act of freedom for Shararah’s soul.
*First Runner Up in Flash!Friday. She had me transfixed by the sentence “The stench outside of goat pee and stale cigarettes was the smell of despair and occupation, the smell of her life.” The ending is chilling. It captures the emotional chaos in the modern global world: I have a point to prove, and even though I have nothing personal against you, you are going to be blown to pieces. (Judge Pratibha Kelapure)
Father never considered the consequences of his actions. He had married Deirdre knowing she loved another man. Father was incapable of love; he cared only for the position Deirdre’s dowry would purchase. It was a good life, nonetheless, Deidre giving him Tamsin and Moira, two daughters who greatly resembled her. When the third child came, there was no hiding her paternity. Father threw them out, Deirdre and the infant with her lover’s coloring and Tamsin became the lady of the house.
Now Father was gone, the income squandered and Tamsin and little Moira alone in the dingy, rented flat they could no longer afford. Tamsin considered the letter she had just received as her sister wept joyfully: “My dear Tamsin, at last we can be together as a family. Now that Father is gone, I can marry the man I’ve always loved, the man who is truly yours and Moira’s father.”
They say no good deed goes unpunished, but what of the bad ones?
It was my dream job, film preservation. The opportunity to preserve art for generations to come, stories told to those who did not know the world before their grandparent’s birth. In a way I had the power to create my own propaganda with the actions I chose. I don’t regret them. After all, his propaganda films supported the regime that stole the lives of my grandparents, my cousins, my aunts and uncles and, indirectly, my parents, who would not grow up whole and healthy. As I held his film in my hands, the film that brought him worldwide acclaim and made him a legend, I remembered the other films I’d studied in college. The films promoting hate. I’m sure the obnoxious odor of burning film is not nearly as horrid as the smell of burning flesh.
*This story earned a Special Mention in Flash!Friday for the ending.
Rose wanted to run, but she carefully walked, balancing the full baskets. Any other day, the sweet aroma of strawberries would make her mouth water, but today they were only her last delivery. When she finished, she would take the penny she’d found that morning to Logan’s Store to buy a bag of candy. She thought of her choices: tart lemon drops that puckered your mouth; tangy-sweet horehound; peppermints so cool they made your nose tingle; a jawbreaker she could suck on for hours. She could get two pieces of licorice, one for her and one for her best friend, Alice. Alice had found a penny last month and shared her good fortune with Rose, a package of gum they chewed on for a week. Tomorrow, Rose would be back in the fields, her fingers stained with strawberry juice; but tonight, oh tonight, she would glory in the sweetness of her treat.
The concierge told them of the little village fortified by an ancient, impregnable castle. “You will not see a more beautiful view,” he assured them.
The towers were stunning white against a cerulean sky. Tourists outnumbered the natives and no one was in a hurry. Rick absent-mindedly took the bite of bread smeared with sweet honey Susan offered and smiled as if caught sleeping. “We can leave,” she offered, but he shook his head.
They came to the door of the church whose bell they’d seen as they approached the village. “Would you mind?” Susan asked and Rick again shook his head, but he did not follow her.
Susan dropped a euro into the box and lit a candle. She knelt and prayed for guidance and strength and discernment. When she looked toward the doorway, Rick’s back faced her, but she could see his shoulders tight and his arms folded protectively over his heart. There would be no happy ending.
It was titled “The Dance of the Planets”. Only the girls who could afford their own balloons were featured as planets. All the other children stood as stars, background for the dancing planets. Balloons were not in my mum’s budget. The money pop sent home was just enough for our flat and for food. The leotard I wore was a hand-me-down; the lessons, a gift from my aunt.
I wanted to be a planet. Instead I became the Balloon Equalizer. Mathilda, the mayor’s daughter, led the other girls whose fathers ran the industry and shops that exempted them from military service. When she and the other planets in their stiff tutus danced near me, their balloons went Pop! Pop! Pop! The audience loved it.
“We know it was you,” Mathilda hissed at me later. I didn’t care. Pop could fight the Japs where he was; I’d fight the enemy at home.
I’ve taken these steps before. Now I walk them with my little tiger. From the start, he was powerful, energetic, and ready to tackle the world. It was my job to protect him from his own strength and unpredictability. Like a good mother, I held his hand to steady him while he tested his footing on the steps. I let go a little bit at a time as he gained confidence. When he decided to make the loop, I let go, ready to catch him if he fell. Over and over the loop he went, stumbling into his adventures while I took the safer steps.
Now we reach the end of my steps and my walk is less steady. I would prefer to slow down and hide in my shell some days. But my tiger takes my hand and his energy pushes me through. When I reach the end, he will be there to guard my memory.
*Flash!Friday Honorable Mention