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Mini Sledgehammer April 2013: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

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.

Location:  Beach

Prop:  Song

Character: Rich lady

Action:  Fart

***

 

FORGETTING

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.

“Nena!”

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.

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Mini Sledgehammer: May 2011

Apologies for the delay in posting this month’s winner. The three judges deliberated for a long time the night of the event–at least it was a warm and sunny evening so we could do so outside!–so I guess it only makes sense that the announcement would be the long time in coming.

***
Prompts:
Character: a woman of a certain age
Action: fleeing by bicycle
Setting: between here and there
Phrase: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but . . . ”

Congratulations to Pam Russell Bejerano, who wrote the following in 36 minutes!

***

Pam Russell Bejerano

The Bicycle

Margaret stood looking at the bicycle in the shop. It was the latest invention – the front wheel large with iron spokes, a tiny seat atop made of wood, and one small wheel behind. She had seen many photographs of them, but this was her fist glimpse in person. It was magnificent.

“May I help you, Ma’am?” Margaret turned and looked at the young boy, less than half her age. “Are you looking for a gift for your husband?”

Margaret smiled. She knew women were not allowed to ride such contraptions, but she also knew that this was hogwash. Women of a certain age, in her opinion, were young enough to be able to break such asinine rules, and old enough to enjoy doing so. How little the young knew.

“No,” she said, then quickly corrected herself. “Actually, yes. I am looking for a bicycle for my husband. But truly, you cannot convince me that these contraptions are not highly dangerous.” She shifted her parasol from one shoulder to the other, getting a better look at both the boy and the bicycle.

“No, no,” he said walking to the bicycle and wheeling it towards her. “They are truly safe. Watch,” he said, stationing the bicycle by the mounting stand. He climbed up, swung his leg over the seat, and placed his feet on the pedals. “Watch,” he said, then proceeded ever so slowly to move the bicycle down the road.

She watched him go, then watched as he turned the corner ever so carefully, and rode back to her, dismounting again at the stand. He smiled at her, as if it were the grandest achievement to have ridden such a thing between here and there, when in truth, here was there. Thoughts swimming in Margaret’s mind were of a much grander sort.

“I supposed you’re going to tell me I need to purchase the contraption to mount the thing as well?” she said, goading him.

“Of course not. It is just as easy to mount freestanding. Watch.” He moved the bicycle away from the stand, kicked out a metal rod that held the bicycle upright, and proceeded to climb up the back wheel. “See, just as easy?”

“And this?” she said, pointing to the rod.

“Watch,” he said, beaming at her. As he rode away, the stand flipped itself up.

Again, he rode to the end of the dirt road and turned slowly, then made his way back. How he would dismount was the only piece of information she was lacking. She watched carefully as he slowed the bicycle, removed one hand from the handle bar and placed it on the seat between his legs, then quickly leapt back and down to the ground.

“Simple as pie. Your husband will learn in no time.”

“Indeed,” she said. “And how much does this cost?”

“Well,” he said, gently taking her arm and leading her closer to the bicycle. “This is not your average model. These spokes, see here, how they are connected at the center? That’s the latest fashion, making the model much safer. And the pedals, see how they…”

“How much, I believe, was the question.”

The young lad stopped and looked at her. “The seat, see there? It’s fine Italian leather that…”

“My boy, if I have to ask you again, you shall lose my attentions permanently.” She stared him in the eye, unmoving.

“75 pounds, 10 shillings.”

“75 pounds? And 10 shillings?” she mocked, feigning shock. “For a contraption that will make one sweat to take it simply down the road?” she said, gesturing up the short distance of road she had traveled.

“Oh, but madam, think of all the places one could go!”

“Such as?”

“Well,” he said, rubbing his chin and staring at the giant wheel. “You could ride it as far as, let’s see…”

“Yes, just as I thought. An overpriced bundle of metal to get one no where.” She shifted her parasol off her shoulder and overhead, turned on a heel, and began to walk away, smiling. She knew she had him.

“Ma’am,” he said, running around to block her path. “Please, I assure you, this bicycle s sturdy enough, fast enough, it could take you even off to the next town.”

“And where might that be?” she said, feigning ignorance. “There?” she pointed down the road she was facing that bent some 100 yards down into the overgrowth. A back road, she also knew, that led to Sussex, some 16 miles away.

“Well, of course, though one would have to be highly skilled at the thing to be able to ride down that road.”

“Oh, well, then,” she said, turning the opposite direction to the other road that headed out of town. “This way?”

“Well, this way, certainly. I’ve ridden there myself.”

“Indeed.” She looked at him with wide eyes, as if entirely impressed with his prowess. “I’ll take it. But only if you can guarantee me my husband could reach the next town by that road,” she gestured down the shorter path, “on his first attempt.”

“Ma’am, if I may,” he said, looking at her. “Please, don’t take this wrong, but riding such a machine will take some time. If your husband wishes to go over to the next town, it may take some time to accustom himself to the thing. But once he’s done that, I assure you, he can ride as far as the edge of town if he’d so like.”

Insulted as a woman, and by her age. It was amazing how well the youth managed to do that in one fell swoop. She smiled, thoroughly enjoying herself.

“If you would, please, then. I’d like to buy that one.”

The boy turned to where her extended finger indicated. “That one?” he said, the look of surprise unhidden on his face. “But Maam, that’s our delux model. It might be better if your husband learnt first on this one, then, in time, if he still likes it, he could come back and purchase this one.”

“Are you quite through?” she said simply.

“Ma’am?”

“With your juvenile preaching. Are you quite through?”

“Uh, well, uh, yes Ma’am.”

“Good, because you’re tiring me. I want that one.” Again she pointed to the larger model still in the shop.

“Right. Well, give me a minute, please, I’ll be right back.”

“I’m sure you will.”

Unfortunately for the poor lad, by the time he was right back, she had hoisted up the folds of her skirt, mounted the cycle, and disappeared around the bend. Once out of sight and out of sound, she realized she had done it – she had fled her godforsaken life forever, and had done so in the most unexpected of ways – by bicycle.

She lifted her head to the sun, flew her feet off the pedals and out in front of her, and let out the most joyous, giddy yelp of her life.

© Pam Russell Bejerano

***

Pam Russell Bejerano is a writer who works as an educator in Portland, Oregon. Pam has published a poem and one previous Mini Sledgehammer story, and was invited to read a short story at the Cannon Beach Historical Society. Pam is currently working on a novel to be completed in 2011. You can read more of Pam’s writing on her blog.