What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day and Mardi Gras on the same day than to head to a wine and cheese shop to compete in a women-run writing contest?
This month’s writing prompts are:
Character: Women’s activist
Setting: A church
Prop: Mardi Gras beads
With these prompts, tonight’s story topics ranged from an illicit affair to an angel with an agenda. Congratulations to Blythe Ayne for writing the winning story. Stay tuned to read it!
by Blythe Ayne
I was crawling around on the church floor after my Mardi Gras beads, which had mysteriously jumped their string and flown every which way in a wild jumble.
At that moment, in the middle of the rowdy carnival celebration on the street, a bunch of women’s activists came bursting through the door of the church. Don’t ask me how I figured that’s what they were, they just had an air of self assurance and determination to change the world for better.
The first one came up to me as I squatted under a pew, gathering my beads. She stepped on one of them. It went “crunch!” under her sturdy shoe.
“What are you doing, sneaking around on the floor of the church?” she asked.
“I…” I gestured at the beads, green and silver and orange all around her… “My string of beads broke, and I’m….”
“Never mind.” She waved to her compatriots, three other very sure-of- themselves looking women. They formed a crescent moon curve around her. Looking up at them, it was like a visitation. The street lights came through the stained glass windows making a halo around them. I felt like I was looking up at guardian angels. Gabriel, at least, for sure.
“This young man,” she continued, “has broken his string of Mardi Gras beads. Help him pick them up.”
The three women fell to their knees and scrambled around for the beads, under the pews, in the aisles… everywhere.
“How did you come to be in this church?” one of the women asked me. “Oh look, here’s seven beads, all together.”
“I don’t know. I was in the street, celebrating…” I looked into her eyes. They were that kind of hazel composed of green and brown and almost red segments. I stopped talking.
“Go on,” she said.
I… you… your eyes…..”
“I know, kind of strange, aren’t they?”
“But I’ve seen you… Do you know me?”
She shrugged, but looked away.
“Do you know me?” I asked again.
“Here’s another bead.” she moved across the aisle on all fours, but somehow so gracefully, almost floating, as if it was a well-practiced dance move.
I scrambled after her. Clearly less graceful. “You know me, don’t you?”
As she picked up another bead I reached out to stay her hand. A flash of light passed between her hand and mine.
“What the?….” I sat back on my haunches, stunned.
The first woman came up to us, standing over us, disapproving.
“Just gather the beads!” she ordered.
The hazel-eyed woman moved away from me, picked up another bead, but didn’t hand it to me.
“Give me the bead,” I said. She cautiously reached out her hand, her long fingers stretched impossibly toward me, she dared to look me in the eye. The flash of light passed between us again.
“I know!” I fairly shouted. Then quietly I said, “I know where I’ve seen you. In my dreams. In my dreams,” I repeated. “Have you seen me? Do you know me?”
She looked over my shoulder.
“Yes,” she whispered, “yes, I know you. But just leave me in your dreams. You don’t want to bring me out into your real world.”
“What do you mean? You are in my real world.”
A saxophone player belted out a song in the street, a song I’ve never heard but felt I knew so well.
Just gather the beads,” she said. When you have 108, you’ll arrive.”
“What are you saying?”
“Count the beads–108–you’ll arrive in nirvana.”
I counted the beads, wanting only to look one more time into those strange, amazing eyes.
I counted 107 beads, then looked up, discovering that I sat on the sidewalk, under the saxophone player. He was about seven feet tall, his music came from far away.
“Hey…” I asked him, “Hey, did you see a hazel-eyed woman? An amazing hazel-eyed woman?”
He looked down at me and again, I felt like the guardian angel in the church window had come alive. He didn’t stop playing, but he nodded.
Yes, he’d seen her.
The faint lace of dawn crept up the sky behind the saxophone player, pink and pale orange. I looked down at my hands filled with Mardi Gras beads, longing to see the hazel-eyed angel again. But I knew I never would.
She had kept that one single bead to nirvana.
© 2011 Blythe Ayne
Blythe Ayne, Ph.D., lives on ten acres of forest on the north side of the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon. She’s is an author, artist, and university instructor of writing and speech. Her written work has appeared in over one hundred publications. This is her second Sledgehammer appearance.
Along with her writing, her greatest commitment is to the stewardship and preservation of her forest, where wonderful and diverse flora and fauna thrive.