I’ve taught a few workshops on writing from prompts, and participated in a few challenges using both verbal and visual prompts on Scribophile. While I sometimes hate the fact that the story takes time away from my real goal of finishing a novel, in truth all such exercises are good. It’s like stretching after hours of working on the computer, or going out for a walk to clear the brain. So here’s my most recent product. The prompt was visual, based on an indoor picnic with lots of tiny candles. Hope you like it.
Everything on Earth To Me
The front door opened inward just a crack, then the security chain stopped it. Brendan pulled his key out of the lock, while his heart began to hammer in fear. She’d been so depressed and angry this morning. “Stella? Sweetheart, let me in, please.”
“Hang on, Bren! I lost track of the time.”
He heard her moving around, and could smell – candles? Had he forgotten a birthday? She smiled up at him through the crack, and his heart settled to normal.
Wait. Stella, smiling? The door shut so she could undo the safety chain, then her wheelchair tires squeaked on the tile entry. “You can come in now.”
He could hear the smile in her voice. Brendan’s throat burned with hope and wonder. And still, some fear. He went in.
Their sparsly-furnished living room, empty mostly to accommodate Stella’s chair, glowed in the evening setting of the sun, and sparkled with a few dozen candles in tall glass jars. A plaid blanket covered the floor, and a basket, a huge thing with a lid, occupied the middle.
Brendan retreated into routine, setting his briefcase on the chair, the keys in the bowl on the desk, his coat on top of the case. He couldn’t think of what to say. When he looked at her, Stella’s smile had slipped a little.
“Do you like it, love?”
“I do. I just don’t know what ‘it’ is. Is this an anniversary?” He bent to kiss her.
She captured his hand and held it to her cheek. Her blue eyes sparkled in the flames, tears kept at bay through her determination, he thought. “No special occasion. Not really.” She pulled a remot control from her lap and clicked a button.
The stereo played “Dance with Me.”
Brendan closed his eyes, the tears winning this time. “Stella. Don’t.”
She let go of his hand, and he opened his eyes. Stella moved her chair back, and locked the wheels. Holding his gaze, she said, “Brendan, look. I can stand now.”
He ground down the urge to shout No, to spare her from any more pain. But he couldn’t move. She leaned forward and flipped up the one foot rest in use. The other, not being needed, already rested out of the way. She scooted forward and placed her right food on the floor. She pushed herself into a standing position, allowing her long skirt to cover the missing left foot.
“My God. My love.” He crossed the room and hugged her. He had missed being able to hold her tiny form against his chest, to rest his chin on her head and feel the tickle of her blond curls. “You did it.”
She leaned back so he could see her proud and happy expression. “I made dinner, too. Only sandwiches, this time. But I did it myself.”
Reluctantly he allowed her to pull away and, using her chair for a brace, slide down to sit on the blanket. Brendan pulled off his shoes, his suit jacket, and his tie. As he sat across from her, questions boiled up from his brain, but his mouth declined to form whole sentences. He settled for, “How?”
Laughter! He hadn’t realized how much he missed her laughter. “I really have astounded you, haven’t I?” At his nod, she went on. “Do you know that I thought I hated you this morning?”
Brendan blinked. Oh yes, he knew, but he’d tried not to think about it.
“You would never let me do anything for myself. You dressed me, you fed me, you brushed my hair. Why the hell did losing a foot mean I couldn’t brush my own hair anymore?”
“Mostly I wanted to be touching you,” he told her. “You stopped letting me do much else.”
Stella looked down, and seemed to notice the basket. She opened it up, pulling out plates, napkins, and sandwiches. Turkey and avocado on wonderful whole wheat, with lots of veggies. The way they both loved their sandwiches. He took the one she handed him, willing her to meet his eyes again.
She did, a half-smile crinkling her blue ones. “I know. I thought you deserved better. But today I realized, as I screamed at you, long after you had gone to work, that you only stepped in to do what I refused to do for myself.”
She reached across to him and placed her fingers on his mouth. “Wait, please listen.”
He sat back. If he ate his sandwich, maybe he could stay quiet. He took a bite but didn’t think he could swallow.
Stella removed a bottle from the basket, encased in a thermal wrapper. She poured the sparkling golden liquid –apple cider if he knew her– into two tumblers.
I spent the morning making a list of what I want to do. I want to be your wife again and make love with you. I want to have a aby. I want to go shopping and clean the house when I wish to. I want to get the prosthetic, and learn to walk. And maybe, in time, I can dance again.”
As if perfectly timed, the stereo played “I Could Have Danced All Night.” My Fair Lady.
“I love you so much, Brendan. When we met, I adored the way you would pick me up, your body still thrills me. Your skin is so fair, your black hair such a contrast, all over your body. Did I ever tell you how much that excites me?”
Brendan gulped some apple cider to wash down the sandwich. “No, you never did.”
“I should have. I love your brown eyes, your crooked nose, the dimple in your chin. I love your smile, your humor. And I can’t believe I almost threw it all away. I felt so sorry for myself. Why did I have to get that infection? Why didn’t the doctors try harder to save my foot? Maybe I should have died.”
“No,” Brendan set down his plate and glass, and moved closer. He scooped her up into his lap. “I don’t care how many bits you might lose, I want you, love. I want you to be my wife, please. Stay with me.”
His tears dropped on her head, and hers soaked his shirt. Brendan hadn’t felt this happy since their honeymoon. Maybe since the day the beautiful dancer noticed him, agreed to go out with him, said yes to marrying him.
“Brendan,” she sighed into his mouth, and kissed him.
Desire rushed through him, and for once he didn’t need to cool off, think of something else. He stood up, holding her, and set her left leg around his hips. She dropped her foot to the floor.
Brendan nodded, smiling, as the stereo crooned, “Stella by Starlight.”
They danced around the candle-lit, blanket-draped living room. He let his joy wash over him, over her, and pictured a brighter future than ever.