Thanks for your patience as we transition from Elissa Nelson facilitating Mini Sledgehammer to Kristin Thiel returning to the role! Thanks so much, Elissa. Salud, cheers, to you! And congratulations to this month’s winner, Pam Russell Bejerano, who successfully incorporated the following four prompts into what the judge deemed the most successful story of the evening.
Character: Rich lady
I sat on the beach, absolutely engrossed in my book. It was one of those perfect days, rare for the north Oregon coast. The sun was out, the breeze was only mildly distracting, and the number of annoying tourists was minimal. I flipped quickly to the back page, counted the 39 pages left, and continued reading. It wasn’t until I finished the last sentence, re-read the last paragraph two more times, and slammed the book shut that I realized I was no longer alone.
A woman, at some point, had sat down next to me, her giant beach towel spread carefully on the sand and her equally giant beach bag flopped over by her side. She wore a loose fitting beach dress that had more colors on it than a 64-count Crayola box. Her thick grey hair was the only thing about her that was neat and tightly pulled back into a ponytail at the base of her neck. Her hat, as wide as her beach towel, rested crooked on her face, half covering her eyes. I wondered that she could see anything, but quickly diverted my attention from her when I realized she was looking at me. The last thing I wanted was to be distracted by this woman, to destroy my beautiful solitude. I buried my face in my bag, desperate to find the other book I had brought with me. I dug and dug, but found nothing. My headphones were a second alternative, and one that would at least give me an excuse to not answer, but I couldn’t find those either.
“Damn it,” I said, slamming my bag shut.
“Sorry?” she said, jumping at any opening to talk to me.
The euphoria of my wonderful finished book evaporated with the mist floating up off the waves. I was ticked because the last beautiful thought I’d had with that last sentence was gone, now replaced by a woman who chose to sit five feet from me on a beach that started in Washington and ended in California.
“Nothing,” I said, and wondered whether I should just get up and head back to my car. But damn it, this was my one day, my last day of vacation, and the only dang day I was taking for myself. I decided to chance it and leaned back in my camper chair and let my eyes float out across the waves.
“I am a rich lady,” she said, leaning in to be sure I heard her.
I did the airplane leave me alone half smile, quick glance out of the corner of my eye and slight nod reply, in spite of the fact that her comment had me slightly curious.
“You know that song?”
“No,” I said, before I could stop the word from escaping my lips.
She began to sing, humming the notes and lifting and dropping her chin with each note. The tune was completely unrecognizable to me, but I began to watch her in spite of myself.
“Wait,” she said, holding a hand in the air and pausing. “I got that last verse wrong.”
She started again, smiling and nodding, as if now it was right, though it sounded as random as the first. Suddenly, she stopped.
“Do you know the next verse?” she asked.
She hadn’t uttered an actual word, so I didn’t know how to answer so I simply shook my head.
“Sure you do,” she said, “it goes like this.” She hummed a few more notes, lifting and dropping her shoulders this time along with her chin. “Your turn.” Again, I politely refused.
Her eyes narrowed at me, and her face instantly grew sad. I felt my heart sink with the corners of her mouth.
“But you’re so young. How could you not know the song?”
Again, I had no idea what she meant, so I said nothing.
“Try,” she said, standing and sliding her towel within inches of my chair. When she sat, a loud fart escaped and reverberated on her towel. Her eyes grew wide, then her mouth opened and she threw her head back and laughed. It was one of those beautiful, full laughs that moves even the bottom of your feet. Falling under her spell, I found myself laughing along with her. When she opened her eyes and saw that I was laughing too, she laughed harder.
“I did that once in the middle of class, during our AP exam.” She laughed more, taking several deep breaths before she continued. “The proctors tried not to laugh, but they did. Then so did the two students next to me. Then, you know what?” She raised her hand in the air and landed it on my forearm, leaning in to me as we both giggled even harder. “Then the whole class started to laugh.” It took us several minutes to stop laughing and breathe enough to be able to talk.
“That’s a great story,” I said.
“You know the best part?” She turned and looked at me, her intense blue eyes finding a place in my mind and holding me there. A beautiful smile spread ear to ear, revealing yellowed, tin-filled teeth. “We all passed!”
“Sing with me,” she said, and again started humming along.
Giving in to the forgetting of my second book and my headphones, I began to hum along. This only encouraged her, and her song grew louder, encouraging me even more. Soon the two of us were lifting and dropping our shoulders, leaning in to each other, swinging back and forth on our hips, and singing out at the top of our lungs. I couldn’t remember the last time I had had this much fun.
A distant voice called out, and my new friend disappeared as suddenly as she had appeared. Her face was stone and expressionless as her eyes scanned the beach then stopped. I followed her gaze and saw a young man and woman walking quickly towards us.
Before they reached us, she leaned in to me, putting her mouth next to my ear. “Don’t let them stop your song, my beautiful one,” she whispered, “ever. Promise?”
I turned and looked at her, but her eyes had not left the man and women. “Promise?” she said again, this time with more emphasis.
I took her hand in mine and turned her head so her eyes refocused on me. “I promise.”
Briefly, a smile reappeared on her face.
“Nena!” the man said. To me he said, “I’m so sorry,” then turned back to her before I could reply. “Nena, you know you are not supposed to leave the home. How did you get out this time, huh? They said you were locked in your room and couldn’t get out.”
“She was no problem, really,” I tried to interject, but my voice was drown out by their ridiculing of her. When I realized they had packed her towel and were about to shuffle her away from me I stood and yelled.
“Hey!” It worked. All three stopped and turned to look at me. I had no idea what to say next, and stood awkwardly for several moments. “We…we weren’t done with our song,” I finally stuttered.
Nena smiled. “I am a rich woman,” she said. “Do you know that song?”
I looked from the man to the woman, who were both obviously annoyed by their pursed lips and one-eyed raised brow.
I looked back to Nena. “Don’t you mean ‘I am a rich lady’?” I asked.
Her face went blank.
“She has Alzheimer’s,” the woman said. “She’ll forget you before she’s back in her room.”
© Pam Russell Bejerano 2013
Pamela Russell Bejerano is a writer who works as a school administrator in Portland, Oregon. Pamela has published a poem, and was invited to read a short story at the Cannon Beach Historical Society; this is her third Mini Sledgehammer win. Pam has lived abroad several times, and weaves multicultural issues and the strength of women throughout her writing. She is currently working on her second novel about a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua whose tenderly crafted life and community are shattered by an atrocity that she alone must find the strength to overcome.