During my search for writing competitions, I came across the CREATIVE WRITING INK website, where they feature a prompt in the form of an image, every Thursday and invite creative souls like me to submit their ‘take’ on what they see. There’s also an ‘overall winner’ bi-monthly (I think, if I read it correctly) from all the submissions.
I’ve never done anything like this before, and I hope I’ve done it right, according to the ‘rules’ – and so here’s the short story I wrote using this week’s featured image:
The sign above the door to his shed reads: Sam-ctuary; a poor and obvious play on words but one he’s never objected to, given the circumstances of its conception. Because anything created by your firstborn is a prized possession from the moment it’s given – regardless the age of the child.
Sitting at the rain-bleached slatted table to the side of his shed, Sam touches the rough ‘face’ of a sunflower whose head is suitably bowed, and recalls how he (like most newly-weds, he supposes) and Glenda always believed they’d be the best parents; role models for every offspring that off-sprung from their sweating, conjoined loins. Today he has no cause to doubt they were right.
And he couldn’t fault his own upbringing. The eldest child of farming parents, his future had been mapped out learning everything necessary in the running of their small dairy farm in Wiltshire. He’d never worried, hadn’t even known really, about exams and the like – those hadn’t been invented in his time. He simply remembers coming home from school one day and tucking his weather-beaten satchel under the nook between the sink and the tin bathtub. Then he’d rolled up his sleeves and gone out to help his da’ bring the herd in from over the way.
Glenda’s home life, though, had been more fraught. Her father, a heavy drinker and wife-beater, had died leaving a raft of debt. And then she’d arrived at their farm – with her mother, bedraggled the both of them – in the middle of a warm and wet afternoon in April, asking for lodging in return for hard labour. And Sam’s father, an honourable, charitable man, hadn’t turned these two strays away.
She’d been fifteen then. Glenda. He’d been eighteen, and instantly in love with this wary, wide-eyed scrap of a girl from the moment he’d watched her take her first feral bite into his mother’s freshly-baked bread in their kitchen. In time, she’d proved to be stronger than she’d looked, and after her mother’s death, showed herself to be tough, if not tougher than Sam and his siblings – in mind as well as deed. Sam had always known that any man capable of capturing the heart and mind of Glenda would be the proudest, most envied of all.
He’d bided his time though; told her on her eighteenth birthday that he truly believed they were the 20th century equivalents of Cathy and Heathcliff –with their roles reversed of course – and they’d married the following year.
Sam feels the fresh bruise somewhere inside his chest pulse painfully at the thought and takes out his tin of rolling tobacco, setting it down on the slats of the table. Next Friday they’d have been together forty-nine years and last week she’d brought these – “Sam-flowers” she’d called them, pushing his shoulder to encourage him to join in with her joke – out here whilst he’d been idly watching the tomatoes ripen in the sun, Classic FM a background hum. Now, concentrating hard, he slides out a cigarette paper, arranges hairy brown tobacco along one end, carefully rolls the cigarette up, inserting the filter, licks the length of it and secures it into place. He puts it between his lips and lights up.
Tugging down his tie and unfastening the top button of his shirt, he takes a deep drag, pulling the funereal restrictions from his hot neck. He knows he’s meant to be in the house thanking everyone for coming this morning, but he also knows that Glenda wouldn’t object to his being here for a moment. She’d be here with him if anything.
A shout rouses him and Sam watches Michael approach, his eyes – the same green as Glenda’s – are pink-rimmed; his forehead damp. He tries a smile but it doesn’t work.
‘Those need chucking,’ he indicates the sunflowers’ sagging heads in the ancient milk jug.
Sam nods. ‘Your mother thought they’d cheer the place up.’
He takes their boy’s hand, presses it between his own, feels sobs pulse along his arms and into his heart. He doesn’t have words. Glenda would know what to say, but not him. He’s just a man.