Short Story Exercise Week #1

Okay, first week’s challenge  is done. It was done pretty quickly, without a lot of revising, but I think it turned out all right. I’d love feedback if you feel like taking a look at it. Thanks! (In case you were wondering, it’s 987 words)

The harsh wind rustled through the brittle weeds. It had been a hot summer. Not the hottest, but still warm enough to keep the kids inside in the afternoon. Jeffrey had been gone for six months now. With the farm dying and the cow drying up, there was no money to be made here.

It had been torture on Melody, watching the man she loved leave, knowing it was up to her to keep the family safe for those months, knowing he might never come back. The weekly paychecks were all that she looked forward to, less because of the money than the evidence that he was still alive, still going to come home one day. And finally the day was here.

The radio crackled to life, bringing again the storm warning. Melody dried her hands on her apron and took it off. She couldn’t believe a twister was going to hit, today of all days. But the thunderclouds had been gathering for the last few days, and now their pregnant bellies hung low and dark and ominous.

Melody had been avoiding the front window. She knew if she looked out to the lane that wound up the property line, she’d be rooted there all day. Any puff of dust in the distance would have sent her heart hammering, only to surely be disappointed when Jeffrey didn’t appear. So she kept herself busy. The walls and floors had all been scrubbed, as had the children. She’d organized the kitchen and pantry and living room and bedrooms. Anything to keep her from looking out that window.

As the hours crawled by it seemed the sky inched closer and closer. She glanced out the kitchen window and caught a flash of blue lighting. The storm was going to be merciless when it hit. Yesterday Melody had cleaned out the storm cellar. It had been a few years since they’d needed to use it, but it looked like it was going to be time again soon.

With the children down for their naps, dinner cooking, and nothing else to keep her busy, Melody sat down with a book she’d been meaning to read. But she was scarcely a sentence in when she heard a beating noise on the porch. For a split-second her mind told her it was Jeffrey’s boots on the wood. But reality pushed the thought aside and revealed the truth: hail. The size of marbles from the sound of it. Another moment and the whole house seemed to be shaking with the pelting it was receiving. A window shattered upstairs, and Melody leapt up, rushing to make sure the children were safe. By the time she reached the top of the stairs, the worst of the hail was over. The old hallway window, already cracked from last summer, had given way with the volley of hail. She checked on each of her sleeping young ones, but the commotion hadn’t roused them.

Melody sat on the top step and tried to calm herself. The hail was over, but what was coming next? Would a twister hit? Would it tear across their land, destroy their house? And what about Jeffrey? He would be walking from town, with no cover to protect him if the storm let loose. She pulled her hair back and tried to ignore the tears that wanted so badly to spill out. She looked at her hands, once soft and white but now rough and worn from endless hours on the farm. They ached to be held, to be touched. She pushed the thought away. She’d been strong these many months, she could be stronger still.

Slowly, Melody made her way down the stairs, listening closely as the wind outside picked up. The radio was a low buzz of static. No sirens to be heard yet. She walked back to where she’d been sitting. She picked the book up off the floor, replaced the bookmark and laid it on the corner table. She glanced up and realized where she was looking: straight out the front window. The weeds were flowing back and forth, the trees bending in the wind. And there was the dirt path that seems to stretch to eternity, empty as her heart.

She couldn’t help herself, couldn’t tear her eyes away. She rushed to the window, bent over for a better look, and stared. Her eyes darted to the horizon, trying to pick up any movement. But for all the chaos outside, the road was calm. She hung her head, and this time didn’t hold back. Her whole frame shook as the sobs escaped her. She’d tried so hard to be strong. What would she do if he never came back? Could she be that strong? The thoughts raced through her mind as she pictured the man she loved. She thought of the family portrait, and the faces of her children came to mind. Of course. For them she could be strong. Would be strong. She’d do all she could, and it would be enough.

She stood up, drying her eyes on her sleeve. She’d better check on dinner. And then there it was. Without realizing it, she had looked down the lane one last time, and she saw it. Just over the horizon, dust kicking up, scattering through the wind. She held her breath, not wanting to deceive herself. The dust died down, and she had to steel herself against the emotions that wanted to burst out. But just as she was about to look away again, something moved. A hat was rising over the crest of the far hill. She’d know that hat anywhere. Without even waiting to see Jeffrey’s face appear, she was out the door at a dead run. Through her tears she could see him running now as well. The twister could touch down between them for all she cared. Nothing would stop them from reaching each other.

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5 responses to “Short Story Exercise Week #1

  1. Loved the story you wrote. Especially about the clouds being pregnant. I’m a sucker for tragedies though, so was sad it ended happily.

    When I first saw this painting last week, I was thinking somewhere along the same lines. It seemed like she was waiting for her man to come home from the war and checking if today would be the day. After doing a little research about the painting, his wife actually made the comment along the lines of “it looks like she is checking to see if it is nice enough to hang up the laundry” and he told her that she was looking into it to much… it was just a woman looking out the window. So with that in mind, I wrote a poem to try to capture the moment of what it’s like to just look out the window. It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything, poetry or prose. Here it goes:

    Sunlit fields swaying constant;
    gentle breezes break
    on closed glass panes. Insulating
    glow of dawn rays radiated,
    permeated through endless

    seas of clouds. While forest
    shadows creep and softly creek,
    the horizontal golden beams
    fill both mind and soul: Truth and
    Tranquility.

  2. Thanks for the comment Oliver. That’s really interesting about the story behind the painting. I purposely didn’t do any research on it so it wouldn’t inform my story at all. But now that I’m done I think I’ll go back and look into it. I love Hopper’s stuff.

    Very nice poem. I think it captured the feeling you were going for. I hope this was fun for you and I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  3. I’m so glad that he made it home to his family. I loved it Dan and keep up the good work your wonderful. I love Ya. soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo good.

  4. I could just feel what she was feeling. Many times I have waited for Dad to come home from work late at night and worry that he might not make it. I did a lot of praying.

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