Invitation from a Stranger: A Flash Fiction Answer to Ann Carr's Challenge
When Ann Carr, a superb writer on Hubpages, first issued her challenge as part of her article "How to Edit to Sustain a Good Standard of Writing;...," her article piqued my interest as an editor. Then I got to the part in which she issued the challenge. When I saw the intro that was the inspiration for her challenge, my mind went blank.
The dry intro began:
‘Jemma walked up to the door of the house and rang the bell. There was no answer. She went round the back. In the back garden was a figure….’
Not Very Imaginative, Huh?
After I read some of the other writers' responses, I realized they could see what I had not seen; there was an opportunity here. Most responses were macabre or at least bordering on it. I wanted to write something different, not so heavy, but no mushy stuff or fluff. Soon my muse was hard at it, and the story unfolded. Here's my response:
Nobody Answered the Door
Jemma paid the cab driver and included a generous tip for she instructed him to return at 4 o’clock to take her home. Confidently, she walked up to the door of the small brick bungalow and rang the bell, once, twice. No answer. The note said he would be home all afternoon on Friday and asked her to please drop by at her convenience. It was from a J. Howland. She had been selling life insurance for nearly a year, and figured that he was a prospective client. Maybe he was around back.
She strolled down the blacktopped driveway past an old red trailer full of unfamiliar equipment. Interesting, she thought. I wonder what he does for a living? Around back a silver-haired man sat at a patio table with his back to her, but he arose at the sound of her footsteps and turned to face her. He was handsome for his age, but he didn’t look well. Still, the song, “Brown-eyed Handsome Man” popped into her mind.
Smiling, he greeted her, “Ah, Miss Smith, I believe?”
“Yes, I’m Jemma Smith, and you are Mr. Howland?” she returned the greeting, wanting to get down to business. But the setting didn’t look too business-like, and sales people don’t usually get formal handwritten invitations in the mail. Her cream silk blouse and yellow skirt could suffice for either business or a social call.
“Please, Miss Smith, call me Uncle Jerome.” He pulled out a second chair and motioned for her to sit. The day was lovely and inviting. The table was set with some light refreshments, including a pitcher of lemonade. “Would you like some?” His trembling hands picked up the pitcher and poured her a glass full, then refilled his own.
“Uncle?” Her brow wrinkled. She had no Uncle Jerome.
“Not really, I am just an old family friend, and I have no children,” he answered. "I have nieces and nephews, and it would be an honor to consider you a niece. Years ago, your parents were my best friends. I am terribly sorry that I could not come to their funeral. That accident was so tragic. I was still out of the country then. I guess it is never too late to express my condolences.”
Jemma nodded. She didn’t remember her parents speaking of a Jerome Howland, but they had grown up on this side of the city, so it was possible she just didn’t remember. She saw sincere sympathy in the stranger’s eyes. She shrugged and thanked him.
He passed her a plate of small cakes. Jemma took one and bit into it. Their conversation wandered pleasantly until he suggested, “You might want to see some old photos." He picked up a small box on the table, which he opened and handed to her.
He Handed Her a Small Box of Photos
She recognized a young version of her mother in the first photo, laughing as she was pulled along on water skis. “I took that photo of Katie; Bob was driving the boat,” he explained. Next there was a photo of three people laughing and holding up glasses of amber liquid in what appeared to be a bar. Her mom was sitting between her dad and Jerome. She went through the latest photos. As she viewed the rest, she realized that her father didn’t appear in any of the older ones. She asked why.
Jerome smiled pleasantly and said, “Katie was my best friend starting in first grade. We met Bob in college, and then we became the Three Musketeers.”
Continuing, he said, “You look just like her, the blond hair, blue eyes, right down to the dimples. She was so curious about the world and into everything. Bob was the quite one. I guess it’s true that opposites attract.” Then his eyes turned to her necklace. “Those look like the pearls I sent her one Christmas from the South Pacific. Are they?”
“Could be, I found them in Mama’s jewelry box after she died. They are beautiful, but she didn’t wear them much. I believe I remember her saying that a friend gave them to her for Christmas."
Jerome’s eyes glazed over and for an instant he was lost in thought. “I was a geologist and worked all over the world for 35 years. An ex-pat, you know. Your family and I kind of lost contact with each other. No internet then. Occasionally, I worked in remote places. Sometimes it took months to get mail from the states.”
“Why did you come back here?" She blurted.
“To die. Brain cancer metastasized. I have just a few weeks left and I wanted to spend it here in my family home. I invited you over because I wanted you to have these photos. I had hoped you would want them.”
Jemma’s jaw dropped, but her response was interrupted by a car honking in front of the house. She had lost all track of time. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I wish I could stay longer, but that’s my cab. Thank you for the lemonade and these wonderful pictures. I promise won’t forget you, Uncle Jerome.” Clutching the box, she jumped up and impulsively hugged him. She turned and rushed down the driveway to the cab.
Jerome’s eyes followed Jemma until she disappeared from sight. It was worth knowing he was dying and coming home just to get a glimpse of his only child. But a hug … that was to die for.
Starts Slowly, But Worth the Wait
© 2018 Doris James MizBejabbers