Invitation from a Stranger: A Flash Fiction Answer to Ann Carr's Challenge

Updated on October 15, 2018
MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers has been a professional writer/editor for all of her adult life. Before that, she was just a little girl storyteller.

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:

Source

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.

Source

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

Source

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

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Doris James-MizBejabbers

    Comments

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      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        3 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Roderic, I think I threw a few breadcrumbs down along the way, and you picked up upon them. Maybe Jemma will figure it out after she's had time to think about the gift of the photos. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      • Rodric29 profile image

        Rodric Anthony Johnson 

        3 weeks ago from Peoria, Arizona

        This was nice. I hope that Jemma finds out one day that Jerome was her dad. I like the fact that Jerome did not want to destroy the idea of what Jemma's family is. As I read, I thought the ending would be that way. Loved it.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        And your comment was beautiful, Manatita. I really appreciate it, especially the critique on flow. And of course, your calling it brilliant! Thank you.

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 

        4 weeks ago from london

        Miz,

        I really loved this one. So beautiful! If Ann is giving a prize then you should definitely get it.

        It was reading and flowing natural, way before the end but that last poignant touch was awesome too. A brilliant piece!!

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Pamela, thank you so much for your nice comment. I was afraid that everyone would guess the ending when they got to the part about the nieces and nephews.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Zulma, my muse didn't tell me whether Jerome married, but I really believe that he did not. After all, he does tell Jemma a little white lie that he doesn't have any children.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        4 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I love this story. i think you did an excellent job, and a suprise ending was suburb. Obviously, you met the challenge and then some.

      • phoenix2327 profile image

        Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

        4 weeks ago from United Kingdom

        Ooo...I like it. So did Jerome leave in a snit or did he genuinely feel it was the best for all concerned? Has he been carrying a torch for Katie all these years? I guess so or he would have thrown those pictures away. Did he ever find love with someone else? And if so, did it work out or was Katie always in the background in his mind?

        There are so many ways this could go.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        You weren't so late, Ann. I just posted it late last evening. I knew your reasoning for the dry intro because I know what a colorful writer you are. I had some feature writing classes in college, but no creative writing or fiction. In my editorial page writing classes we occasionally were given subjects to write about, but no prompts, so this is new to me. Back then I'm afraid I might have failed if we had been required to write from prompts. This is great exercise.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Wow, Zulma, you've just about written it for me. The similarity between Jemma and Jerome wasn't planned by me. I originally had another name picked out for him, Joseph, but as I mapped out the story in my mind, I kept calling him Jerome. Bob was originally Bob, then Brad, then back to Bob, but Katie was always Katie. Funny how things like that happen.

        Actually in my mind, the friendship led to romance between Jerome and Katie, but in college Bob slowly came between them. Katie jilted Jerome for Bob. They married and Jerome left. Jemma was a "7-month baby," so in this case, Jerome knew she belonged to him. What do you think of the story's going in that direction?

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 

        4 weeks ago from SW England

        Absolutely superb, Doris. Thank you for such a great response to the challenge. It's well-written, drawing us in and painting a clear picture. The last line is perfect; clever.

        I wanted the challenge intro to be bland to make people think, 'I can do so much better than that'! You certainly have, but then you know already how to write well without any hints from me.

        I've added your link. Once again apologies for arriving late for this one.

        Ann

      • phoenix2327 profile image

        Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

        4 weeks ago from United Kingdom

        I like to think that Jemma's conception was a heat of the moment episode. Maybe Katie and Bob had a falling out, she turned to Jerome for comfort, one thing lead to another...

        Maybe Jerome realised they had no future together and bowed out gracefully for everyone's sake, but especially for the baby's. He must have thought about Jemma or he wouldn't have bothered coming back and getting in touch. And Katie must have had a soft spot for him. I notice that Jemma and Jerome sound similar.

        I think there is potential here for a novella at least.

        Have a good evening, MizB.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Elijah, whenever I can, I like to write "hangers". I'm glad you enjoyed it. I will try to write another soon. Thanks for reading, and as always, for your comment.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Mary, I'm glad it was engaging to you. Sometimes it is hard to live up to these challenges, but I enjoyed this one once I got into it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Shauna, it could have really happened, I think. I'm glad it was heartwarming to you. It takes me awhile to warm up to a challenge, but I enjoy them. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Bill, I'm so glad that you enjoy my stories. I'm glad I found flash fiction. I can write creatively and still attract readers who don't have the time to read short stories. Thank you for such a complimentary comment, my friend.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Zulma, that is exactly what I thought about their losing touch and the excuse he gave. But that raised more questions, don't you think? Did Jerome leave because Katie was pregnant, and Bob picked up the pieces? Did Katie jilt Jerome for Bob? Did Bob even know? Sometimes I think I will elaborate on my flash fiction for longer stories for a book. Thank you. I always love your comments.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        John, loved your comment because it was so true. As I said, I didn't want it to be a mushy love story, so this came about. Thanks for your comment.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Rinita, I wasn't sure how this would go over. I like to write true to life stories with a twist. I appreciate your informative comment. Thank you.

      • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Flourish. I thought the same thing, but my muse didn't. Thank you for your comment.

      • The0NatureBoy profile image

        Elijah A Alexander Jr 

        4 weeks ago from Washington DC

        Aaaaaaah, Doris, You left me hanging!!!

        Worth every bit of the effort that created a mystery to the end.

        Thank you for sharing it and do it again soon.

        Elijah NatureBoy

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

        You got me engaged in the story. It was an unexpected turn and a lovely one.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 weeks ago from Central Florida

        Wow, MizB. I love your take on this challenge! Your story warms the heart and could very well be a chapter out of a dying ex-pat's life.

        Very well done!

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        I miss taking part in these challenges, but if I'm ever going to write another book, I have to draw the line somewhere. My absence is not missed, though, because of writers like you. It is a joy having you write these stories; it is a joy to see good writing displayed on this site; well done my friend.

      • phoenix2327 profile image

        Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

        4 weeks ago from United Kingdom

        I suspected he was more than an uncle to her. It was still a surprise to learn he was actually her father. I imagine that's why he and her parents lost touch with each other. Less complicated that way.

        This was a lovely story, MizB, and I'm glad he got to see Jemma one last time. (sob)

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        Oh, MizB, this was too ..... something....sad... kind of, but satisfying that he at least got to meet and a hug from his daughter., Wonderfully written and a great response to Ann's challenge.

      • Senoritaa profile image

        Rinita Sen 

        4 weeks ago

        This is a beautiful story, one of the most beautiful I have read in recent times. It is so well-written. Being of the emotional nature such stories are difficult to put across. You expressed it so skilfully. Truly loved it.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 weeks ago from USA

        Send the taxi away! Stay awhile. What an ending! You are quite the storyteller.

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