Sunday in the Park with Nat

‘What about Hester Prim?’

Prynne.’

‘That’s what I said.’

‘No, it’s Prynne. Not Prim.’

‘Ah.’ I say. ‘Prim would’ve been more ironic, given her character.’

‘Names are important to get right, Miss Lynch. A true writer has a responsibility to their readership to produce believable characters—down to their names.’

‘Like yours?’

‘Pardon?’

‘Like your name.’

‘Well, it may sound old-fashioned now but Nathaniel is a fine, reputable name. A notable name. There was Nathaniel Saltonstall and Nathaniel Lee…’

Nat King Cole.’

‘Who? No, no,’ corrects Mr. Hawthorne. ‘Nicknames are for the uncouth.’

‘The uncouth?’

‘My imposing statues in parks, my paintings in galleries–they are all engraved with Nathaniel. Most certainly not Nat!’

‘I’m referring to your surname.’

I recline and swig back the remains of my drink. The man assesses me scornfully across the table, his two thick eyebrows merge into one. I imagine him plonking a large A onto the lapel of my leather jacket. An A or any other letter of the alphabet to publically announce my sins.

‘My surname, young lady?’

‘Yes. Hawthorne.’

‘Hawthorne is a good name. A noble name.’

‘A strong New England name?’

‘Indeed.’

‘Like your great-great-grandfather?’

‘Hmmm.’ He scratches the moustache thatch dwarfing his upper-lip. Whiskers are stroked back into place. A tidier mouth contrasts the messiness of tangled wrinkles across his high forehead.

Hawthorne gulps, then emits: ‘My great-great-grandfather?’

‘John, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ he replies quietly.

‘A nobel man? Upstanding in the community?’

‘Well, I—’

‘Are you not the direct decendent of John Hathorne, judge and executioner?’

‘Aye, I am. You know your history. But who are we to judge the judges? The past is past.’

‘Was your great-great-grandfather not the only judge of the Salem witch trials never to repent for the trial’s destructive madness? Young girls telling wild tales, women hanged?’

‘It was a frightening time in Salem back–‘

‘Mr. Hawthorne, is that wise philosophy, given the current political climate and shenanigans? Should we not scrutinise those holding political power? Have you looked at Twitter yet?’

‘Twitter?’

‘I’ve gone too far,’ I say to the 19th-century fellow opposite.

‘My great-great-grandfather tried to oversee justice in Salem. He had a job to do, Miss Lynch.’

‘You changed the spelling of your surname when you discovered he was an unrepenting man. A man whose ill-judgement inflicted catastrophic harm on Salem’s community. Was it not shame that inspired your identity crisis?’

‘You’ve clearly done your research, miss.’

‘That, sir, is why God created Google.’ I extract my mobile from interior Birkin bag pocket and present it for Hawthorne. He appears visibly rattled by the technology, daring not to touch the silver device.

‘What’s Google?’ His eyes remain fixed on my compact Apple.

‘It’s a writer’s dream, Mr. Hawthorne!’ I tap the Safari app then nudge the phone across the table to his bony hands. ‘Type in Arthur Miller. You’d love The Crucible. Amazing. And talk about memorable characters–there’s Tituba–‘

‘Tituba?’

‘She’s a slave. Not a witch.’

‘Whose a witch?’ The Puritan does not touch the phone; instead, he swings his greying head briskly back and forth, scanning the room for cauldrons and broomsticks.

I don’t compact with no devil.’

‘Devil? What are you speaking of, Miss Lynch?’

‘Tituba says that line in The Crucible.’

Then Hawthorne slowly smiles at me—a full-lipped grin, belying a romantic quality that surely fueled his writing for decades. ‘You are a peculiar girl, Miss Lynch. Enchanting, if not also a curiosity. You know, I was not always such a serious man.’

‘Weren’t you?’ I ask, coyfully.

‘Indeed, no one ever said I was fun at parties—not Longfellow or Emerson—but this glimpse of modern society today excites me. The twenty-first century! Imagine the stories, the novels I could write with this inspiration!’

‘Mr. Hawthorne, if you took a deeper look at today’s world, spent a few hours surfing the web, then you may very well long for a return to the 1800’s.’

‘Surfing? Ha! I’ll drink to that–a toast to the grand, old days and the web of lies today!’ He summons the barman, a portly chap undeniably annoyed to leave the Red Sox broadcast on the flatscreen telly. ‘Two more glasses of your finest whiskey!’

Chilled bottles of Sam Adams land to the table in under a minute.

‘To your health, Mr. Hawthorne.’

He leans forward to clink my glass. ‘A toast to us. Oh—and call me Nathaniel.’

‘So, you used to hang out with Longfellow? Bet you have some stories to tell. What about Poe?’

‘He wasn’t my biggest…my biggest…’ He pauses, perhaps mulling over ravens and Salem or poetry and foreshadowing.

‘Fan?’

‘Did you say fan?’

‘Yes, it means perhaps Poe didn’t have the highest regard for all of your work. He was critical of Twice-Told Tales.’

‘Pish!’ Exclaims Hawthorne, rather too loudly.

The natives seated around us gawk open-mouthed at my dark-suited friend. It may be the starched high-collar or perhaps they recognise him from their childhood literary books. It may be his black hat still perched on head, boasting a brim circumference of a tractor tyre.

‘Shall we go for a stroll?’

‘Indeed, miss. ‘Tis a fine day in our state’s fairest city.’

We stride together across Boston Common in rhythmic steps. We are lost in a formal pas de deux. I swap over my iPhone so to offer Hawthorne my hand nearest to him. He clutches my fingers delicately with his own gloved hand.

A sight we surely are that June day: ambling paths that criss-cross the enormous urban grassy rectangle, bordered by Tremont Street, Beacon, Charles and Boylston. Skateboarders swivel past us at speed and silently I watched Hawthorne devour the visual madness surrounding his misplaced Colonial self.

A gregarious toddler fleeing his young mother’s clutches wobbles our direction. He sports a blue t-shirt emblazoned with an enormous red S, stretching against a yellow triangle across his small torso.

‘That child is stamped with the letter S! What has he done?’ Hawthorne says with a hint of fear in his warbly voice.

‘You misunderstand, Mr. Hawthorne—‘

‘Nathaniel—‘

‘Nathaniel. Gone are the days of your bodily lettering. That S stands for Super!’

Super?’

‘Actually, it stands for Superman but I fear we will lose our readers if I inject more fantasy into this farce.’

Superman, you say? Today has indeed been a revelation, Miss Lynch.’

His leather breeches come to a sudden halt outside Park Street station, then a perfunctory swivel of his lean body brings us face-to-face.

‘Thou art quite the interesting girl, Miss Lynch.’

‘Snap.’

‘Snap?’

‘It means I could say the same of you, sir.’

He casts his eyes afar, in the direction of The Public Gardens. I follow his stare to a wide patch of green where a juggler on unicycle captivates a crowd with a spectacular display of ten airborne bowling pins, tossing madly above his head. I mentally erase this colourful clowning melee and replace that spectacle with an imaginary, imposing plinth. On it, Hester stands. In my mind’s eye, the crowd cloaked in drab greys and blacks stand aghast at the woman. In 2017, Hester’s sin would evoke little less than playground tittle-tattle from the parents of her daughter’s childhood friends. I then wonder whatever became of her daughter, Pearl?

‘Fancy a jaunt on the swan boats ?’

Hawthorne retracts his focus from outfield to infield, settling closely on my blue eyes.

‘You truly are such fun…oh, I am afraid I never caught your first name.’

‘It’s Estella.’

‘Estella? Lovely.’

‘Cheers, Nathaniel.’

He snags my hand again, this time with playful abandon and an audible chuckle. ‘Call me Natty, Miss Lynch. Call me Natty!’

And away we head, alighting across the park towards a fleet of enormous, gliding swans.

-End-

 

Photo credit: Vintage The Scarlet Letter film poster sourced @ http://www.allposters.com

Jolt to the Heart

Flash fiction writing in twenty minutes–the perfect means to kickstart a day of carving new chapters in my novel. Thanks to The Daily Post for providing a morning prompt to write.

A Tale of Love and Loss

There is a man. He looks eighty. He is crossing the road whilst gently scolding his Pekingese for the dog’s meandering pace. She will have dinner waiting and promised to make his favourite: roast lamb with homemade mint sauce.

There is a woman. She looks young. She is navigating a sharp bend whilst swiping left and right with thumb across illuminated screen. She is seeking passionate connection on her mobile phone but most faces are a disappointment.

Ten seconds until they collide.

The woman is now kneeling, cradling the old man’s head. His legs are crumpled and his wee dog squeals. The woman is baying loudly, cursing her choices, fearing what next. This is a gut-churning scene.

Strangers amass around this pair—the crackled-faced man with slowing heart, the guilt-filled woman with broken heart. A heart-connection. Consequences of two lives making choices.

A crowd now surrounds. Some onlookers weep, some try to console. Sirens blare loudly, the alarming volume increasing as help nears. The old man is mumbling softly into the lap of the young woman, where her hands hold his head with comfort and shame.

‘Tell my wife I loved her all my life.’

An indiscernible shape approaches and wraps his jacket over her shoulders from behind. She does not see his face. Her shaking is soothed slightly by the fleece lining of his coat. Two figures sporting green jumpsuits take action swiftly, disentangling the woman from the lifeless man. They unfold him carefully onto stretcher and wheel him with dignity to the open ambulance doors.

She watches the flickering blue lights retreat down the dark road ahead as police approach.

Then hands on her shoulders. Her head tilts up, catching glimpses of a tall man’s profile beside her. He has come to remove his insulating coat from her body. When the swirling lights rhythmically cast against his cheek, she notes his kind and handsome face. Her heart jolts. She would have swiped ‘yes’ if his photo had graced her screen.

But in that moment, there is no place for love to be found. Love is lost. And so it shall be forever more.

Estella Lynch,  2017

All writing and original photographs published on my blog are copyright of Estella Lynch and can only be reprinted by my permission.

Outlier: A Writer’s Life or Fictional State of Mind?

Today, I go without food. Stale bread for my boy, the last drops of milk I selfishly steal for my coffee. I need that injection of caffeine or I cannot make the school run–I need it to inject petrol into my eyelids. He will have to go without Rice Krispies today.

I deliver Ritz crackers smeared with peanut butter to his lap, a store-brand box of apple juice as accompaniment. The slim cardboard drink fits awkwardly into his fist. I remember when he would hold his drink with two dimpled hands. I am lost in this reverie of when he was tiny, then retreat to the kitchen, murmuring promises under my breath that soon we shall afford freshly-squeezed juice in see-through bottles, containers that offer you a glimpse of an orange pulp pond under the lid. I look at these expensive drinks on shelves in my supermarket and salivate, virtually tasting nutritious sweetness guaranteed to ignite a happy, sunshine feeling throughout my body with each sip. Energy would be restored.

He is licking peanut butter from the crackers. I fix eyes on his silhouette from the kitchen. It’s cold today. I daren’t boil the kettle again for another coffee. The milk is gone anyway. Soon we will afford better juice. How stupid I sound. I should be grateful for being able to give my son breakfast not murmur promises to him. Years of promises remain a steady, unbroken stream. Undelivered ‘some day we will have’ mantras, spoken to his cherub face. In the corner of the kitchen this morning, shoulder pressed against my cool fridge, I curl fingers over my eyes. I shield shame from my boy.

I have tried. Tried my best. I see now that our poverty is easing onto my son’s radar. The other boys have Playstations. They have sleek, shiny bicycles and look forward to holidays in France. I observe his smile weakening as he reassures me that I am the best mother in the world and he is happy. I consciously distance myself from comparing my life now to when I earned a six-figure salary and amassed a collection of over one-hundred pairs of stilettos and practical pumps for work.

I curse the decisions I have made to render us into this stifling existence. I hold firm affirmation that the big break I need to regain my footing is lurking behind a cunningly disguised hiding place around the bend. I dream one day of being discovered. I am determined to write every day and apply for jobs employers ultimately declare me too experienced to fill, then my talent as a writer will emerge from this darkening, abridged life of not sleeping and my daily state of ‘just getting by.’

I am hungry. I won’t empty the box of Ritz crackers so there will be a few left to munch when we have our tomato soup tonight. Soup again. But my boy smiles at this meal: his small but maturing face still crunches with delight at mealtimes when I serve the heated tin of Campbell’s aside toast topped with circles of ham for eyes, a knob of cheese for a nose and squiggles of bright yellow mustard for a mouth. He still laughs at this, my gorgeous boy. How long will he source joy in my efforts to dress up our bare cupboard with such imaginative folly?

I never cry. Okay, untrue. I cry at silly triggers. Not the obvious ones about my life or personal hopelessness. I cried yesterday when I moved the sofa and trickles of coins littered the floor. The relief! I watched an old man last weekend incite an argument with a group of young boys in the park. The teens were dropping wrappers and plastic bottles indiscriminately as they munched and gulped along the path, paying no heed to the littered trail that exposed them as culprits. They didn’t care. They don’t care. The old man cared. He spoke up, shaking his walking stick their direction and ordering them to pick up their mess. The stick was a mistake. One lad grabbed the end—not harshly but enough to stop the flailing action and it scared the old man. I watched them lock eyes—two men: one shrunken and silented by the world; the other, youthful and brash in his loudness. The young gang then continued on their way, discarding detritus in their wake. The pensioner retreated to the nearest wooden bench. My son continued holding my hand, looking up at me for answers. I cried. Not so much for the old man or the fear of what is happening in our world, where people stomp around dirtying the few public places left for me to bring my child. It costs nothing, an afternoon of kicking a ball around together in the park. I didn’t even cry because how deeply saddened I felt that this is the world my son will inherit. A world of rudeness and entitlement by some who still have not reached the age of shaving their pimply faces. And it was not a big cry, so do not worry that my son witnessed any outdoor breakdown by his mother. No, it was a simple cry, over in seconds. A release of grief in a moment of helplessness, a sympatico felt for the old man who similarly inhabits a world where he knows what is right and has a good heart, but he is also silenced and he has then, invariably, been disempowered.

Deep in my core, I feel a rage of power rumbling like lava—it’s a determination and knowledge that I have everything I need to propel me and my boy out of this life, towards something better; for now, though, I sat on a park bench alongside an old man, contemplating how to share my voice with the world and consider tactics to increase its volume. Using my voice–not a cane–as weapon.

Like the majority of television-gazers each December, I also weep at John Lewis Christmas adverts. We know these are designed to be emotive, to elicit tears from even the hardest-hearted of individuals, yet the advertising trap ensnares us. I cry. I cry for the images of family portrayed in beautifully-filtered videos: always a mother and father and child experiencing holiday magic in a knife-to-the-emotional-fortress scene where a dog or penguin or gorgeous garden features. A child wishes for Santa and dreams come true. Yes, it is obvious. I don’t cry then for what my boy and I do not have. Not because I no longer can afford to shop at John Lewis. Not for my present circumstances. But I weep at the surging attack on my nostalgic sense of when my little-girl-self stood at the window of my grandparent’s house and expelled Christmas wishes with hot breath against cold glass, then traced my finger through the steam to make small pictures my grandmother would rub with gusto to remove from the pane.

I am determined not to reach a day when I reveal to my son how poor we are becoming. I sold my grandmother’s jewellery last week. The sole possessions left to flog now are my grandfather’s coin collection and the pearls my mother gave me on my sixteenth birthday. But these I want to save for my son. Maybe someday he will hold each cold coin in his hand, as I did decades ago when sat on my grandfather’s lap, running my unwrinkled fingers around smooth edges of round and octagonal metallic circles. I have looked into selling this collection and the reward would be next to nothing. This is purely a sentimental hoard. Copper and silver with little value, only precious to me, stored in my closet but I remain hungry.

Perhaps one day my son will love a woman enough to enclasp my strand of pearls around her neck. He might streak his lips near her ear and whisper tenderly that he loves her. She would feel warmth emanating from his body, the warmth that fills his body now, the blood connection he and I once shared when his heartbeat began inside of me. The blood now circulates through his small body, pumping his life in rhythmic beats, nourishing his organs, blood flowing to extremities so his fingers still move and can clutch that juice box and crackers, tie his own shoes and control the telly via remote.

I pray he becomes a man one day who is fortified in the knowledge he can excel at whatever his passion. I fear my shame will stick to him and diminish his destiny to be a grown up with loving heart and integrity. Despite barriers, I trust I have carved a childhood of learning for him that solidifies his mission to be a human emanating kindness to others and to himself.

My belly is empty. I last ate yesterday morning. My hands tremble as they hover over keyboard. I am mistyping sentences because I lack any source of energy to sustain me. I hear my son watching cartoons in the other room. He is giggling at silly voices of puppets and animated characters.

I will write myself to a better life. I will do this for him, for me.

After an indulgence of soup tonight, I shall write with a steady hand.

[Daily Post]

The Champion of Charades

Tipples toppled down merry throats, the guests warming themselves by crackling fire—some slouched whilst patting their overstuffed tummies, others arranged their legs in lotus position, backs straight and eager to glean what adventures awaited them before dessert.

‘Charades?’ Maurice queried the group of eleven other warm beings sat around the skewed circle, an equal balance of men and women.

Jonty extracted vintage briar pipe from pursed lips, his other hand pinching the lapel of tartan waistcoat and proclaimed: ‘A champion idea!’

‘Indeed!’ The rest of the gaggle agreed.

‘Bunny is the charades champion!’ Boasted Maurice, Bunny’s fiancé who idled most at his days at Father’s vineyard, savouring liquid grapes before firing purple streams of wine into spittoons.

‘Good girl yourself, Bunny!’ Puffed out Pierre, circulating a stock of Montblanc pens and watermarked paper to his guests. ‘A champion girl!’

Bunny beamed with pride at this affirmation from her old school chums. She had never been champion of anything at school—hardly passed a subject each term—but Mother’s call to the Headmaster of Claridge’s Day School netted Bunny admission despite her universally-acknowledged inferior intelligence. Requiring little reminding to the Headmaster, Bunny was Bunny Richmond of the Richmond Richmonds, a family dripping with riches and titles. Whilst her brain was under no pressure to perform at school, Bunny had excelled to inspire fellow Claridge pupils in all matters of disguising provocative brassieres beneath cashmere twinsets and mastering the art of peeling curly lemon twists for martinis. She was a good-time girl.

‘Oh, Maurice! That was a million years ago at summer camp!’

‘Yes, but when you are crowned a champion you are a champion, m’dear,’ her fiancé clarified. ‘And if I remember rightly, you were the champion of strip charades!’

At his risqué disclosure, the ensemble tittered and guffawed, some tinkled expensive pens lightly against their lead-crystal flutes of bubbly. Bunny blushed at the yesteryear memory of late-night frolicking with fellow campers amongst the lush Welsh cabins on the lake. That was a summer to remember. There, the posh young teens assembled in secret when those in charge tucked into bed on 300-count sheets. There, the boys with exploding Adam’s apples enticed girls blossoming to womanhood to kick off the games with Spin the Bottle, then Truth or Dare. Strip Charades was the finale of the night and, like tonight, a youthful and rather bawdy Maurice had played compere.

‘A jolly good night that was! One to remember, Bunny. One to remember!’ Shouted Jonty, looking her up and down with obvious jut of his strong jaw, evoking a greater volume of guffaw from the guests.

Lord Harquest’s daughter, Angelica, tried to calm the throng sprawled out across the wall-to-wall Persian carpet her father had imported to match the floor-to-ceiling crimson curtains. ‘Shush now! This time we’ll keep our clothes on—we were kids then! These are the teams.’

Angelica reeled off the list of six names, followed by confirmation of the other six who would oppose them. Half a dozen then retreated to the drawing room with paper and pens, the other half remained in situ and began writing their charade clues—ones that surely the other team would never guess.

Fifteen minutes and three more bottles of Dom Perignon later, the full group reassembled and each team captain released their folded clues into shiny brass bowls atop either end of white marble mantelpiece. Jonty stoked the fire, illuminating the room further and reddening the guests’ cheeks.

‘The champion must go first!’ Christina heralded from her supine perch on chaise lounge.

‘Here, here! The champion!’

Butterflies fluttered Bunny’s belly and, were she not feeling increasingly squiffy from three hefty glasses of Barolo with the Beef Wellington and six flutes of champagne since, she would have retreated. But it was stirring to hear herself be proclaimed ‘a champion.’ Such victory had not been bestowed upon her bodacious and audacious self since life was a day of dreaming of her future.

‘And we have the perfect clue for you to start us off, Bunny.’

Antonia pressed a small, folded paper into Bunny’s manicured hand which Bunny unfolded, careful not to allow her team a glimpse. She stared at the word, written in neat and fanciful blue ink, gulped a weighty dose of oxygen then nodded to Pierre who clutched his gold Apple Watch, timer primed for countdown.

‘Go!’

Bunny slid the folded paper up the inside of her left wrist, tucking it inside the her pink cardigan cuff. To her team of faces staring agog, Bunny clasped her hands together, making sweeping gestures over her head in celebration. Her team remained mute. No guesses.

Next, Bunny extended both arms out each side of her body, bending them at the elbow then crunching fists together to show off her muscles. No guesses, just silence staring back at her.

‘One minute left,’ chirped Pierre.

She decided acting out the word was a fruitless exercise. She would break the word down into syllables.

Then they were on a roll. Three syllables they guessed when she brandished three fingers from right hand on left arm. Bunny nodded affirmation.

Third syllable was an easy guess: she acted out various prepositions of place and, once the team shouted out a stream of ‘ins’ and ‘behinds’ and other guesses, they correctly nailed ‘on.’

The second syllable called for more brazen actions. Bunny squatted and mimed that she was unrolling loo roll from the wall.

‘Pee!’ Blared Georgina, smug look on her flawless face when Bunny nodded.

‘So,’ Maurice said swiftly. ‘Three syllables. Something-pee-on.’

Bunny nodded.

‘Anyone?’ Maurice asked his team.

‘Fifteen seconds!’ Cut in Pierre.

Bunny was now desperate. How could her team be so dim? How could she lose this, lose her title? It may not be much, but she had her reputation to preserve.

In mad flurry, Bunny resorted to the only means for ensuring victory: she tore off her clothing until only the smallest of smalls shielded view from her most private of privates. The room fell collectively silent with twenty-two pairs of glassy eyes taking in the performance of Bunny’s lifetime.

Bunny ran to the mahogany coffee table which Jonty had pushed into the corner to make room for their game. Her long, bare legs leapt gracefully onto the wood. Upon landing on the table, Bunny extended her arms above head, imagining herself grasping a gleaming trophy, engraved clearly for all to see: ‘Bunny Richmond, the Charades—‘

‘Champion!’ They shouted in unison.

Indeed—Bunny was victorious!

 

via Daily Prompt: Champion

Poet Tree

Tough love meets the sharp prickles of a monkey puzzle tree in today’s five-minute poetry writing task. A few lines here, surely this poem shall expand:

The Fix

I can’t fix you

The broken boy crying out for a mend

The tall monkey puzzle from where you descend

Firing critical bullets, unable to bend

I can only fix me