Good Times

Though I planned to post my work from last week, writing the same scene from two different perspectives, I want to give it another pass. In the meantime, this week’s assignment asked me to write of characters who remember the same experience(s) differently. Your comments are desired:

picnic in Bristol“We had good times when Mummy was alive,” Claire mused as she lay out two rows of honey wheat bread. She took ham, sliced cheddar, mayonnaise, and mustard from the refrigerator.

“Yes,” Eve responded dreamily one elbow leaning on her mother’s old Formica kitchen table. “But then she got sick… and died.”

“Mel,” Claire turned from a kitchen drawer holding the small spatula. A wide smile lit her face. “Do you remember the swings? I used to push you and you’d call out ‘Higher! Push me higher!'”

“I remember,” I told them. “There were picnics with olive loaf sandwiches and potato chips.”

“Weren’t those good times? Remember the zoo in Bristol? And the grape vines and olive trees in Gard?” Claire sighed, “We had the best picnics there. That was the best summer.”

“We should’ve stayed in Bristol,” Eve said. “We could’ve lived in Bristol with Mummy’s cousin. We’d have been happy but…” Eve’s voiced trailed off.

“But she wouldn’t leave. And even when she did, she didn’t take us.” Unshed tears highlighted Claire’s hazel eyes. She scooped out a shiny blob of cream colored mayonnaise with her spatula and spread it on the bread.

Eve stood, retrieved a six-box, shrink wrapped package of raisins from the cupboard and placed them in the basket. “Mel, when were you happy?” she asked.

“Me?” It was a squeak. “Never.”

“But there were good times,” Claire insisted her voice raising almost an octave.

I shook my head, “No. Not one day, not one moment when I was happy.”

“But you were happy when I pushed you on the swings,” Claire insisted.

“No,” I shook my head again. “Sometimes I escaped for…” My forehead rumpled. “A few seconds? Maybe a few minutes? But it was always there.” Tears threatened to leak out; I blinked them away. I hid my face, looking down at the scrubbed, yellow table top, where we had all learned to peel potatoes, helped to make biscuits, picnic sandwiches, and birthday cakes.

“What?” Claire asked.

“The hurt. I always hurt,” I said softly.

“Don’t you remember anything good?” Eve pleaded softly.

“Swimming, dancing, horseback riding, books — those help. But, no.” I shook my head,

“Nothing?” Claire asked.

I did not answer. The small kitchen grew silent except for the soft sounds of Claire arranging meat, cheese, and pickles.

I looked up at Eve, ​”I remember when he beat you. Your blood was all over your blue uniform blouse. Blood everywhere. So much blood…” I closed my eyes against the red tide.

“Why did Grandpère die?” my fingers picked at the roughness of Papa’s brown, herringbone tweed clad knee.

Marmar leaned over and placed her hands on my shoulders turning me to face her. Her dark brown eyes gazed intently into mine, “He died because it was time for him to go home and be with God.”

“No,” I shook my head. “God didn’t take my Grandpère. Soldiers shot him.”

He flung his hand out towards me, towards Marmar. Marmar’s hand gripped my shoulder. I was all eyes, absorbing a world that had changed with a thunderous Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop in the hallway; Marmar’s grasping fingers had prevented me running to see. Soldiers lumbered through the dark, wooden door of Grandpère’s study. The first wore a stiff cap, the second an olive green cap with a bill. Grandpère spared a rapid glance at Marmar and me standing on the raised area in front of the built-in bookshelves.

The first soldier spoke. Grandpère spoke. My forehead wrinkled at the rushing sound; their lips moved but I could not hear their words. The first soldier spoke again. The rushing sound still filled my ears. Voices had been sucked out of the room. The soldier in the olive green cap took a dark grey gun from the holster on his belt. He pointed it at Grandpère. His finger pressed a lever. Two immense explosion filled the room with the smell of rotten eggs. Grandpère’s back slammed against the white, plaster wall. He slid onto the floor. Blood gushed from his chest. His pale blue cotton shirt grew red with the hot, thick…

“Yes, they did,” Marmar’s replied in her soft, singing tones. “But when he fell, God was right there to catch him.”

My lip quivered. Papa pulled me onto his lap. I buried my tears in the softness of his grey wool sweater. My shoulders trembled as Marmar’s fingers stroked my curls.

“Mel!” Claire demanded.

But how could there be so much blood? It’s supposed to be inside.

I shook my head, “Huh?”

“Where were you?” Her tone was accusatory as if she’d caught me doing something shameful.

My forehead creased, my eyes narrowed. The image of blood across pale blue cotton, the scent of damp wool, slender fingers caressing my hair receded behind the dark, rubbery barrier. I shook my head again.

I blinked in the sunlight streaming through the sheer curtains. “The sun’s out,” I told them. “We can go for our picnic.” I stood and began placing wrapped sandwiches in the basket.

“The sun’s been out for five minutes,” Eve told me.

“Oh,” I shrugged.

Eve and Claire shared a glance.

“You know,” Eve told me, “It wasn’t that much blood.”

I blinked at her, my forehead crumpling again, “There was blue cotton soaked with blood, so much blood.”

Eve’s face was puzzled. Claire looked as if she longed to tap the side of her head and tell me, ‘You’re crazy.’ As I packed, silence again descended on the room.

“That’s why you don’t remember any good times?” Claire blurted out when I had finished with the basket.

“No!” my voice was an angry squeak. “I don’t know. I hurt. I always hurt.”

Tears welled up and threatened to spill. I sniffed and ran to the bathroom, fumbled with the handle, and made it inside before the tears broke free. I rinsed my eyes and face with warm water, then cleaned the tear stains from my glasses. Before replacing them, I looked at my swollen red face in the white-rimmed mirror.

There was blood, I told my Friend.

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