Our prompt for June 2019 has been:
An artist (e.g. writer, painter, sculptor) is working on a new piece of art. Suddenly, the artwork does something that startles the artist. Write about that moment in up to 1500 words. Your story must include three or more of the following:
A turtle, a really annoying habit, a pirate’s hook, a hard hat, the number 14, a cheap violin.
We would like to thank everyone who has entered the contest. It was interesting to read such a variety of stories based on a prompt that left so little wiggle room.
As there can be only one winner, and we’ve received so many good stories, we’d like to highlight a couple of our favorites before we declare the winner:
- We loved “Flash” by Marty Weiss for its originality and amusing punchline.
- And we loved “The Week I’ve Had” by Ella because of its unusual take on a well-used theme.
And now, without further ado, the winner of our July story contest is… Mulan Rose’s story “Honey Jars”!
Mulan Rose has masterfully conveyed the unique voice of her POV character in a story that was touching and full of beautiful metaphor.
By Mulan Rose
There was not much Mary Lou could not do when she put her mind to something. Death was just one of those stubborn things she had insisted on going through.
Winter came and passed outside the firm wooden sills without much fanfare, leaving my obscure breath on the glass without once threading the path between the back garden and the front door. They came to check on me a handful of times, then left in a hurry when they saw the resignation behind the cracked lens of my glasses.
“Mr Pelletier,” one of them addressed me after listening to the faltering flutter behind my ribcage, “we could help get those fixed up for you.”
My parched tongue had scoured the dry cavern of my mouth for words then, flopping around like a beached whale.
“It’ll do for the time being,” my voice finally crowed its way out from somewhere in my body. He left the warmth of his hand on my shoulder as the light of the world came through, unfiltered between the cracks.
I heard it around then for the first time. It was pissing rain one day and snowing the next, typical asshole March weather. There was a hum from the backyard when they opened the door to leave. The familiar sound droned on despite the door creaking to a close.
I can still hear it. A relentless drone underneath the sparse symphony of my tired life lived to the metronome of that damned bird clock still chirping out its ridiculous assortment of trills and hoots between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Your honey jars are frozen. The cylindrical pots, topped off with that red-chequered material you would carefully measure out to seal them with, have cracked from the winter frost. They told me this when they brought in your jars, asking me what I wanted to do with them. I have not looked through our backyard window since November, washing the dishes in our bathroom sink to avoid looking through the glass. That’s how I missed it. I did not notice until now that your books are still there in the window and a jar of honey left, propping up the browning pages.
I adjust my glasses, haltingly approaching the outside world now as I follow the sound. Though I am nearly blind, I can still make out a dark thing darting around in there, Lou. And my hands, they shake as I reach toward it.
This is where the humming is coming from. A bee knocking at the glass walls of the jar.
You were an artist of aromas and smelled like sunshine and hyacinths. I could smell you before I saw you. You had laughed at how cheesy it was when I sheepishly asked for a single rose for that date my folks tried to set me up with. I had been hoping, you know, for some action. But you, you made me forget the possibility of other women with that gentle curve of your neck and the pointy tip of your freckled nose as you snipped off stems and leaves bare-handed.
“So what kind of a girl is she?” the bounce in your light-brown curls teased me, just above shoulder-length and just sun-kissed enough at the tips as you swayed around in the shop between your compositions that I wanted nothing more than to fill the space between your shoulders and your brown apron with kisses.
“I – I don’t know yet,” my voice skipped across the surface of our conversation.
“Maybe she doesn’t even like roses,” you murmured as your hands fussed over that thin flower paper which rustles with every move.
“Maybe her favourite colour isn’t even red.”
“Well, what’s your favourite?” I braved the question.
Your sky-light eyes rose to meet mine from behind the counter.
“Shouldn’t you be asking your soon-to-be girlfriend that?”
And I still don’t know what came over me in that moment when I blurted,
“Am I not? ”
It took me seven days to work up the courage to kiss you. Fourteen days until I could call you mine. I swear, Lou, my heart has never beaten the same since. You said you loved me and then we began building this place together. It was filled with the sharp, sweet smell of firs on those sweaty summer evenings.
You knew exactly what you were doing. You knew what sort of flowers were needed for the Smiths’ engagement and divorce two years later, the graduating class of ’63 and the funeral of the high school principal Mr Wisemore. When I asked how you knew what the perfect flowers were on each occasion, your crescent smile would hide your face and you would answer by painting with your palette of flowers.
That’s when I knew you were the moon. But you would only reveal your full colours once, to disappear forever in the shadow of our attempted orbit. The excited patter of your feet across the firm floors slowed to a dull drag in the middle of a night cleaved by endless wails, the sickly sweet scent of whiskey burning into the scent of firs that had once clung unto the hem of your dress in those early sunrises.
The light floral scent of bergamot baby powder dotted our house, white dust strewn like a Morse-code cry of help to anyone above. Those howls could not form a single word for twelve years and the earnest, light-blue eyes, like storm clouds, darted around without the ability to form contact with anyone outside their own universe. Like with you, there was no transition. He was there and then he was gone. There was noise and then there was silence.
The first time the spicy scent of that otherworldly Grey Flannel aftershave ricocheted off the well-worn walls as I lay on the couch where I now slept, I knew. When I asked, your hands would enact your irritating new habit of tucking that threadbare lock of hair behind your scarlet ears in response. Hearing me and wishing you hadn’t. Your hands couldn’t keep a secret.
And you always knew how to make something out of nothing. Now, out of thin air, I behold the last of your artistic legacy that conjured a creature whose wings are squeaking like a cheap violin behind a glass prison in my craggly hands.
Goddammit, Lou. The red-chequered shit still smells like summer and flower fields and you, caught up in life and not consumed by it.
I got locked out looking for you. You were lost, lost in another world in an unforgiving winter, sitting on a muddy sidewalk mumbling to yourself when they called me. You couldn’t remember anything except for those honey bees you kept out back when you withdrew to that place within you. You were like our son, retreating to an untouchable place.
That hive was your masterpiece. It would have been self-sufficient without you, but somehow you never forgot about them. The colony must have had its queen, yet you were the centre of it all and they revolved around your crescent-moon smile.
And here it is, one of your loyal workers. It seems to be nervous, scratching at its antenna with its back paw or leg or whatever, hiding your secrets.
What do you expect me to do? How the hell did it get in there? What do I do, Lou?
I abscond from my evening crossword-browsing to set the jar on the other side of our chessboard. The jar’s captive keeps inexhaustibly buzzing against the red-chequered cloth as I make my moves, playing against the pawn of the queen’s hive, playing against you, against me.
I must have fallen asleep on the board, waking up to the 6 a.m. jeering of a barn owl’s mechanical hoots, drowning in a puddle of my own drool dribbling down unto the black and white spaces. Raising my right hand to a chorus of groans from my joints to adjust the glasses, I notice what seems to be a stray button on the chessboard. I bring myself up to see a pawn formation attacking my queen.
It’s the body of that worker bee.
Grunting out of the hardwood seat, I reach across and draw the jar close enough to see the whisper-thin sickle-curve of two wings resting on top of the golden liquid. I run a shivering finger across its surface, feeling a tiny hole at the edge of the material. It must have wriggled free, leaving its wings behind as it made its way out of the jar.
I can hear a buzzing outside, Lou. So they really are still alive. You were always certain, but now I know it, too. I grab the white queen and hobble towards the door.
The fresh air sweeps across the cobwebbed corners of my lungs, making space for the sunshine and the flower fields and beneath it all, you.