Gina, Sal and Gladys: Short Story in Response to Lori Colbo's Photo Prompt Writing Challenge
Gina didn’t like pumpkin. Being a traditional English woman, she didn’t like Hallowe’en either. She regarded it as an unwelcome intrusion from the US, wriggling its way into British culture.
‘Pumpkin soup’s really tasty,’ her friend Tina had told her. ‘You should try it!’
‘I’ll stick to ham and pea, thanks, or good old tomato; nothing like the tried and tested.’
The next day, Gina was astounded when a woman she’d never encountered before approached her with a remarkable request.
Sitting in the teashop, minding her own business, Gina saw the woman shuffle through the door and was struck by her shabby dress and wrinkled skin. In contrast, she was remarkably clean. Remarkably because her nails were immaculate, her hands had seen little if no work and the smell of carbolic soap wrinkled Gina’s nose.
To Gina’s surprise, the woman, bent over her stick, shambled towards her, sat herself at the same table and smiled a, ‘Good morning!’
Gina returned the greeting and returned to her tea. She soon realised, however, that her peaceful morning break was not to be.
‘My name’s Gladys,’ her uninvited companion continued, ‘I’m on a search for a capable person to carry out an errand for me. I have a large pumpkin and it needs to be delivered across town.’
With that, her piercing eyes pinned Gina to the spot with kind but stubborn directness. ‘It’s a difficult undertaking but,’ she added with a theatrical flourish, ‘is not without reward.’
Realising she’d already lost her moments of quiet escape, Gina allowed Gladys to pique her curiosity,
‘Why would you want someone to do that? Why not a delivery company?’
‘Because vans involve bouncing over holes and bumps, swaying round corners and sometimes drivers who don’t care about their load. This pumpkin needs to be rolled slowly through town, treated with utmost care, to be delivered to an eminent recipient.'
With alarm, Gina realised she was imagining how she herself could roll a pumpkin through town. ‘Now wait a minute’ she thought, ‘I’m not the one to do this.’
Gladys replied as if she’d read Gina’s thoughts, ‘You would be ideal for the job; sensible, kind, full of initiative and you would respect your mission despite not being particularly fond of pumpkin.’
‘How on earth did she know that?’ thought Gina.
‘I’ve never tasted pumpkin’, Gina found herself divulging to this mysterious woman who sat opposite, staring at her, stubborn in her striking surety.
‘The pumpkin has to reach Lady Cinders by early evening for a special event,’ Gladys continued. ’It will not exist beyond midnight.’
Gina was about to speak but Gladys hadn’t finished,
‘There will be some obstacles on the way. You might need to explain to the law exactly why you are conveying this object along the highway, for it is too big for the pavement; you must keep it moving at all costs - stop, and it will disintegrate before your eyes and two of Lady Cinders’ guests will never fulfil their destiny.’ She abruptly held up an index finger, ‘That is, unless you stop for someone else’s benefit. You must take it via Town Bridge, across Victoria Park, through the precinct and finally straight to the main door of the Town Hall. Do this and you will reap untold rewards.’
Against all reason, Gina was captivated. Never one to shy from a challenge, she couldn’t see any possible problem, knew the route and couldn’t resist the prospect of rewards despite having no idea what they would be.
So, later that afternoon saw Gina pushing a preposterous pumpkin, awesome in its orangeness, through town on the prescribed route. People stopped and stared, moved out of her path in fear of being squashed, turned orange or worse! Cars veered to avoid her. She had the delivery address but had no idea regarding Lady Cinders, though the name seemed familiar.
Gina arrived at Town Bridge. Just as she was about to cross, a figure emerged from the sloping path beside the bridge, leading to the river. A young woman, eyes darting in fear, wrapped in a shabby raincoat and wearing shoes of tattered leather, grabbed her by the arm,
‘Come quickly, please help me! I don’t know what to do.’
Well, Gina didn’t know what to do with the pumpkin. Should she stop? Her instinct said the plea was genuine. Take it down to the river? No; she’d never push it back up again. Leave it? Where? Impulse decision; she rested it up against the river side of the parapet where it was the least conspicuous and followed the girl.
‘What am I doing?’ she asked herself. ‘This is one weird day.’
The uneven path made her stumble but she arrived under the bridge to see the young woman crouched over a boy.
‘I was walkin’ downstream, ‘e was lyin’ ‘ere, ain't moved, still breavin’, what do I do? I’m sorry, I dunno what to do, dunno what to do, dunno…’ her words faded into despair and sorrow as she kept patting the boy, stroking his hair.
‘Look, um… what’s your name?’
‘Sal, I’ll phone for an ambulance; that’s the best for him. While we wait, we’ll cover him with my coat, keep him warm.’ Gina smiled in an effort to give Sal some hope.
The fair-haired boy looked about ten. His clothes were tidy, modern; he didn’t fit these grubby surroundings. The ambulance arrived, took the boy carefully on a stretcher and drove off to the hospital.
Not until then did Gina notice the unpleasant aroma under bridge archway; a mixture of outside toilet and vomit. They moved out into the fresher air. At least Gina could see the pumpkin from there.
Sal had no fixed abode. She spoke of raiding bins, skips, ‘out of date’ cages behind supermarkets and occasionally going to the ‘Sally army’ soup kitchen.
‘I’m sorry I can’t stay,’ Gina felt sympathy but her errand was nudging her brain. ‘I have to deliver that pumpkin though I’ve no idea why.’
‘C’n I ‘elp you?’ asked Sal. ‘At least I c’n do summink in return for your kindness.’
Over Town Bridge, more passers-by watched in disbelief as two women pushed a gigantic pumpkin. The terrain in Victoria Park was tricky. Obstacles of puddles, rabbit holes, fallen branches and abandoned bike wheels hampered their progress. At last, they were ringing the bell outside the impressive entrance to the Town Hall.
An old lady (whom Gina felt she knew from somewhere) answered the door. Seeing the pumpkin, she was overjoyed, ‘I’ll get Joseph to take it into the courtyard. You must come in.’
There was no refusing. Gina and Sal took a step into the foyer.
Neither had ever seen anything close to the opulence surrounding them.
A beautiful woman emerged from a long chandelier-lit corridor. She smiled a radiance seldom seen,
‘Can I help you?’
‘We were let in by an elderly lady, we brought the pumpkin for Lady Cinders.’
‘Well I am she’, she replied in puzzlement, ‘but I know nothing about a pumpkin nor an old lady. We have a few servants but otherwise it’s just me, my husband and our son. That reminds me…. Ah, Joseph! Can you find Peter, please. It’s his supper time.’
Turning to Gina and Sal, she continued, ‘Now, tell me about yourselves.’
Their conversation was interrupted by an agitated Joseph.
‘Ma’am, I’m afraid I have some bad news. Peter is in hospital. It seems he had decided to go fishing, told no-one, and fell by the bridge, knocking himself out. Some kind people helped him, called an ambulance and off he went. They say he’s recovering well but should be kept in overnight. Shall I arrange for a car for you to visit?’
‘Oh, yes! Whatever was he thinking?’ Turning to Gina, she added, ‘Boys will be boys, eh? I’m sorry, I’ll have to leave you.’
‘I think Peter might have been the boy we called the ambulance for earlier,’ said Gina. ‘He looked awful but I’m glad to hear he’s on the mend.’ The girls turned towards the door.
‘No, don’t go! We’re having a celebration tonight. Just a few friends and kind people who help us with our charities. Please stay. I’m indebted to you both.’
'You Shall Go to the Ball!'
Changes of Clothes and Kind Company
Gina and Sal looked at each other, then down at their clothes. Before they had a chance to say anything, Lady Cinders said with a smile, ‘I can find you a change of clothing as it seems the rain has got the better of you!'
So that was how Gina and Sal ended up being shown to a large dressing room where the same old lady who’d let them in fitted them out with exquisite outfits which fitted perfectly.
They mingled with kind, welcoming people, ate a delicious buffet bigger than Gina’s house and couldn’t believe it was all happening. The pumpkin had been hollowed out to provide a wondrous centre piece in the dining room, complete with coachmen and horses, all resembling, of course, the fairy tale of Cinderella. Guests had the option of giving a small donation to the local poor by leaving any money in the pumpkin.
Gina noticed that Sal had been talking to a rather good-looking lad most of the evening. At eleven o’clock, it was time to leave. Gina thanked their hosts, said goodbye to Sal, and was taken home by a chauffeur. Curtains twitched when she arrived at her little terraced house.
Inside was yet another surprise. Slap bang in the middle of her kitchen table was a smaller version of the pumpkin, full of money, with a note that said, ‘This should cover your costs for materials and your own shop.’ Who knew about her secret dream to make and sell clothes? Her view of pumpkins had changed. Maybe Hallowe'en wasn't such a bad idea after all!
Sal, meanwhile, had elected to stay a little longer. She was attracted to the gentle young man who had been by her side all evening. Trouble was, now he wanted to take her home. She hadn’t told him there wasn’t one.
As they left the building from the rear door, they were confronted with a coach and horses which looked remarkably like the centre piece inside. This one, though, was as real as romance! The coachman said,
‘I’ve been waiting for you, to take you home.’
‘I’ll come with you to make sure you’re safe’, said the young man.
Sal was speechless. Where were they going? What was she going to tell this man who liked her company so much?
The coach pulled up outside a pretty cottage. As it did so, in the misty cold night, they could hear muffled clocks striking in the distance - midnight. The coach disappeared.
The couple remained at the gate. Sal walked to the door, pushed it open, and found possessions she had left behind long ago, long forgotten.
The young man left when he was assured she was safe at home, promising to return the next day.
He did. He returned frequently, until the day when he didn’t need to go, when they were married.
Happiness and Success
Sal never understood what had happened that evening of Gina and the pumpkin push, when they had met Lady Cinders, but she told her husband all about it. He just smiled and told her she deserved to be happy.
Meanwhile, Gina ran a successful business in her shop. Now and then, Gladys dropped by. Sometimes they shared the same table at the tea shop. When Gladys heard the story about Lady Cinders and what had happened to Sal, she replied,
‘Well, I am Sal’s godmother, so I had to look after her somehow.’
In her hub ‘Let’s Make it Fun Writing Challenge’ Lori Colbo gave us these guidelines:
- Choose at least two photos (but certainly three if you want) from at least two categories. One must be a person. Any others are your choice.
- You can make your piece any form of creative writing - short story, flash fiction, poetry, even song lyrics.
- Make your piece either humour, mystery or fantasy.
I chose two photos and decided to concentrate on the ‘mystery’ category.
You can find the full hub here:
Thank you, Lori, for the inspiration and apologies for taking so long to respond!
No pumpkins were harmed in the making of this story.
I hope no US citizen takes offence at the reference to Hallowe’en as ‘an unwelcome intrusion’. My personal opinion is live and let live. I will never, however, dress up as a witch or ghoul - age having taken its toll, people might not notice the difference.
The ‘Sally Army’ is an affectionate term for the Salvation Army who help the poor, provide soup kitchens and usually have a brass band which plays Carols in towns at Christmas time. For me, they are an essential part of Christmas in a town centre.
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© 2017 Ann Carr