This week the prompt word is ‘fire’.
So, for my first effort in Tuesday Tales, here is a complete short story.
Pictures in the Fire
Snow, silent as stealth, filled the driveway beyond her front door. Inside silence filled the room while she sat staring at the fire.
“Can you see the pictures in the flames?” Her mother’s voice came across as clearly as if she stood next to Monica.
She’d been five the first time her mother asked the question. Five and eager to experience a new adventure. For hours she’d sat in front of the fire, its orange flames curling round the logs her father cut and hauled in each morning. At first she’d pretended to herself and her mother she’d seen all sorts of things. The pony she wished for peering over the stable door that didn’t exist, the baby brother who arrived two years later, and the puppy her best friend Lillian received two days later. She even imagined she saw the letters written in the flames of the name Lillian chose for her new friend.
“You’ll never guess what I just got?” Lillian had bounced into the school playground her face glowing with excitement.
“A puppy?” Until she heard the words, saw her breath mist in the cold playground air, she’d not realised she’d spoken aloud.
Deflated, Lillian glowered at her. “How’d you know that?” Then she’d beamed her usual sunny smile. “I s’pose my Mom told you, and made you promise not to tell.”
Not quite sure why, Monica remained silent, but thought perhaps that’s how she knew.
When Lillian asked her to guess the puppy’s name, Monica sealed her lips and hoped that her best friend would not say ‘Jasper’.
“Jasper.” Lillian squealed while jumping up and down on the spot and clapping her hands together.
A frisson of trepidation skittered up Monica’s spine. How had she known? Had her friend mentioned a liking for the name? If so, she couldn’t remember. The frisson of fear grew, when later that evening she told her mother and was met by a concerned silence.
Her mother’s smile usually so open and encouraging, faltered and slipped away altogether. Her smoky blue eyes usually filled with love and laughter turned chilly. Her voice, when she answered was the most frightening of all.
“Don’t tell lies, Monica.” Instead of the usual bed-time hug, her mother stepped back from the bed, ordered Monica to say her prayers twice and to include a request for forgiveness for telling lies, before halting in the doorway, her hand on the knob. “And if this is the result of sitting staring at the fire so much, I suggest you find something more constructive to do with your time.”
The slamming of the bedroom door punctuated her mother’s words.
Miserable, confused, and suddenly tired beyond sleeping, she’d pulled the covers over her head and cried into her pillow throughout the night.
In the morning, Monica decided her mother’s smile could freeze the fires of hell. Her jittery stomach refused to accept the breakfast her mother placed in front of her and she left for school feeling sick, tired and hungry all at once.
When Lillian ran up to her Monica smiled with relief, at least she had her friend. And then she noticed Lillian’s stony-faced glare.
“My Mom said she never told you about the puppy so how did you know, and how did you guess the correct name?”
To Monica it seemed everyone in the playground stopped and waited for her answer. Isolation, heavy and penetrating weighed down on her shoulders. What could she say? She didn’t know, so took the easy way out, and simply shrugged.
In that moment everything changed.
Her life changed.
At school, when she approached conversations stopped. Instead of sharing camaraderie her former school friends ignored her. She learned to stand alone.
At home her young brother continued to give her his unconditional love, but her parents, Monica noticed, walked around her as though she’d caught the plague. She learned to stand alone. Only young Billy penetrated the barrier of self-preservation she erected.
And now? Now, nearly twenty years later she sat in front of her hearth, her hands cradled round her knees, and watched the images of her mother playing with her in the snow in the days before she’d encouraged her daughter to seek pictures in the flames.
For months before she’d died, her mother had accepted the healing her daughter offered to alleviate the pain.
Durng those months they talked. Really talked.
“I’m sorry.” Her mother’s frail voice drew Monica’s attention as she sat at the hospital bedside.
Bewildered, she searched for explanations and come up empty. Her parents had dished out edicts as she’d grown up and if she ever returned home after escaping at sixteen, she was usually met with disapproval.
“Your grandmother had the ‘gift’,” her mother started. “It frightened your father, and when you developed it he threatened to walk away from us. I promised him I wouldn’t let you develop your gift if he stayed.”
No wonder her father treated her like a pariah, Monica thought as she struggled to marshal her thoughts.
And the irony?
He’d left anyway. Maybe not for ten years, but he’d left her mother for a ‘newer model.’ And she’d been shattered. Filled with an unexplained guilt about the breakup, Monica had taken off a few months later.
At first she’d buried the experiences that bombarded her. Later when new friends discovered her ‘gift’ they’d come to her for help and advice. Finally after some hefty pleading she’d succumbed and let the feelings and ‘knowing’ in.
The sense of isolation, both inner and outer, eased, and in time disappeared. She felt complete, if not quite comfortable with circumstances. And now her mother informed her it was genetically inherited.
The relationship between them grew closer, and finally Monica recognised that barely remembered loving glow in her mother’s eyes.
“Yes, I remember when you encouraged me to look for the pictures in the fire.” Monica’s words shimmered on the silence around her.
“Never stop.” Her mother’s voice, as loud as her own, filled Monica’s mind. “Never stop watching. Never stop dreaming.” Her mother’s voice faltered, dropped. “Fire, like love can burn or warm. Never let the fire within you go out.”
A log in the grate shifted, sending sparks soaring up the chimney. The silence around her shimmered and settled, and a warmth like a scarf, wrapped around Monica’s heart.
To read more exciting adventures and romances in