The Names of Things


Tall grasses dance and wave in the breeze.  From the trees, Peter hears birdsong that he cannot identify.  He regrets this.  Too busy with the day-to-day responsibilities of owning a newspaper, he forgot to learn the names of the things that surround him.  He will go to his grave with only a nodding acquaintance with the trees.  All the various types of clouds will be just clouds.  He doesn’t know what to call the weeds and the grasses and the insects.  And this thought saddens him.  It weighs heavily upon his mind and darkens the day. 

“What is that bird, do you think, Ellen?”

She scowls.  “Does it make a difference, Peter?”

The sun slants through the trees and, squinting furiously, he tries to determine the hour.  He gives up the endeavor easily enough and instead glances at the watch he wears upon his wrist.


In his right hand, he carries a picnic basket; a basket full of Ellen’s favorite things to eat: prosciutto ham on crusty rolls with a hint of Dijon mustard; potato chips and a fruit salad, even though he hates fruit salad for what it does to her.  Truth be told, it gives her gas something fierce.  But she likes it, and it’s not every day you get to celebrate fifty years of marriage. 

With his left hand, he reaches for Ellen’s elbow.  “Careful, now.”

She jerks her arm away.  “I’m fine.” 

“It’s a bit rocky here,” he says.

“I have eyes.”

He feels silly still holding out his arm.  He wonders what he ought to do with it now that she has rejected it.  He remembers the picnic basket.  He pretends it’s getting heavy.  He switches it to the other hand.  “I’m just trying to help…” 

“You try too hard.”

“But…”

“I’m not incapable.”

“I know that, Ellen.”

“You’ve always been so overprotective of me.  I am not a child, Peter.”

“I never said you were a child.”

“For fifty years, you’ve been protecting me.  But I’ve got news for you, old man.  I don’t need your protection.  I’m going back.”  She turns and begins picking her way up the hill, leaning into the slant of it.  Her legs are white spindles.  She never did like the sun. 

He puts a hand in his pocket, fingers the diamond band he saw her admiring last week.

She turns.  “Are you coming or not?”

He considers this question; the same question she asked him fifty-one years ago.  Ellen had met him after work one day; told him that his fiancée had been seen at the movies with Billy Humphries, the wildest boy in town.  Everybody knew Billy was an improper boy.

Peter had broken the engagement immediately.  A year later, he married Ellen. 

“Peter.”  Ellen’s tone is sharp; she’s aggravated.

“Yes?”

“I asked if you were coming.”

He smiles.  “No.  I don’t believe that I am.”

He turns and continues down the hill and into town, smiling at the sharp cries behind him.   

He remembers the way as if it were yesterday: Left on Maple.  Right on Green.  Another right on Lawrence Street.  Then three houses down.  A white Victorian with red shutters. 

He takes the stairs two at a time.  Presses the doorbell.  Waits.

But it feels improper for him to be standing here on the porch fifty years after he last stood here.  He leaves the porch and waits on the sidewalk.  He hears footsteps in the hallway.  And it seems his heart beats in time with those steps. 

The door is opened.  And there, before him…“Lydia.”

“Peter.”  She smiles broadly and steps out onto the porch.  She walks down the stairs and onto the sidewalk.

“Careful.”  He reaches a hand out to take her elbow.

“You were always such a gentleman, Peter.”

“Am I too late, Lydia?”

“Never.”

Again he hears the birdsong.  He turns.  “What is that bird, do you think?”

She turns to the sky.  Holds up a hand to her eyes and squints.  “I believe that’s a sparrow.” 

* * *

The next day, Ellen slips and falls while out walking with her old high school friend Lydia.  An unfortunate, yet fatal, accident. 

At least that’s what the newspaper called it.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, MrMacrum challenged me with "setting: outside.  A conversation ending acrimoniously."  I challenged Lilu with "should have learned from the Romans..."

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Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: The Names of Things

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Names of Things


Tall grasses dance and wave in the breeze.  From the trees, Peter hears birdsong that he cannot identify.  He regrets this.  Too busy with the day-to-day responsibilities of owning a newspaper, he forgot to learn the names of the things that surround him.  He will go to his grave with only a nodding acquaintance with the trees.  All the various types of clouds will be just clouds.  He doesn’t know what to call the weeds and the grasses and the insects.  And this thought saddens him.  It weighs heavily upon his mind and darkens the day. 

“What is that bird, do you think, Ellen?”

She scowls.  “Does it make a difference, Peter?”

The sun slants through the trees and, squinting furiously, he tries to determine the hour.  He gives up the endeavor easily enough and instead glances at the watch he wears upon his wrist.


In his right hand, he carries a picnic basket; a basket full of Ellen’s favorite things to eat: prosciutto ham on crusty rolls with a hint of Dijon mustard; potato chips and a fruit salad, even though he hates fruit salad for what it does to her.  Truth be told, it gives her gas something fierce.  But she likes it, and it’s not every day you get to celebrate fifty years of marriage. 

With his left hand, he reaches for Ellen’s elbow.  “Careful, now.”

She jerks her arm away.  “I’m fine.” 

“It’s a bit rocky here,” he says.

“I have eyes.”

He feels silly still holding out his arm.  He wonders what he ought to do with it now that she has rejected it.  He remembers the picnic basket.  He pretends it’s getting heavy.  He switches it to the other hand.  “I’m just trying to help…” 

“You try too hard.”

“But…”

“I’m not incapable.”

“I know that, Ellen.”

“You’ve always been so overprotective of me.  I am not a child, Peter.”

“I never said you were a child.”

“For fifty years, you’ve been protecting me.  But I’ve got news for you, old man.  I don’t need your protection.  I’m going back.”  She turns and begins picking her way up the hill, leaning into the slant of it.  Her legs are white spindles.  She never did like the sun. 

He puts a hand in his pocket, fingers the diamond band he saw her admiring last week.

She turns.  “Are you coming or not?”

He considers this question; the same question she asked him fifty-one years ago.  Ellen had met him after work one day; told him that his fiancée had been seen at the movies with Billy Humphries, the wildest boy in town.  Everybody knew Billy was an improper boy.

Peter had broken the engagement immediately.  A year later, he married Ellen. 

“Peter.”  Ellen’s tone is sharp; she’s aggravated.

“Yes?”

“I asked if you were coming.”

He smiles.  “No.  I don’t believe that I am.”

He turns and continues down the hill and into town, smiling at the sharp cries behind him.   

He remembers the way as if it were yesterday: Left on Maple.  Right on Green.  Another right on Lawrence Street.  Then three houses down.  A white Victorian with red shutters. 

He takes the stairs two at a time.  Presses the doorbell.  Waits.

But it feels improper for him to be standing here on the porch fifty years after he last stood here.  He leaves the porch and waits on the sidewalk.  He hears footsteps in the hallway.  And it seems his heart beats in time with those steps. 

The door is opened.  And there, before him…“Lydia.”

“Peter.”  She smiles broadly and steps out onto the porch.  She walks down the stairs and onto the sidewalk.

“Careful.”  He reaches a hand out to take her elbow.

“You were always such a gentleman, Peter.”

“Am I too late, Lydia?”

“Never.”

Again he hears the birdsong.  He turns.  “What is that bird, do you think?”

She turns to the sky.  Holds up a hand to her eyes and squints.  “I believe that’s a sparrow.” 

* * *

The next day, Ellen slips and falls while out walking with her old high school friend Lydia.  An unfortunate, yet fatal, accident. 

At least that’s what the newspaper called it.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, MrMacrum challenged me with "setting: outside.  A conversation ending acrimoniously."  I challenged Lilu with "should have learned from the Romans..."

Labels: ,

12 Comments:

At December 28, 2011 at 5:54 AM , Anonymous Tara R. said...

A satisfying ending to their love story. Well done.

 
At December 28, 2011 at 8:17 AM , Anonymous MRMacrum said...

Excellent use of my prompt. Loved the ending.

 
At December 28, 2011 at 8:23 AM , Anonymous jaum said...

Neat piece of fiction. You did it to your readers again with the last line which kind of sneaks up on you. And... Great charector development in such a few lines.

 
At December 28, 2011 at 8:34 AM , Anonymous Crosshavenharpist said...

Very nice! I love the ending.

 
At December 28, 2011 at 3:09 PM , Anonymous Elizabeth Young said...

Ooh, I loved this!

 
At December 29, 2011 at 11:19 AM , Anonymous Marian said...

yikes!

 
At December 29, 2011 at 5:16 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Good yikes or bad?

 
At December 29, 2011 at 5:16 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading, Elizabeth.

 
At December 29, 2011 at 5:17 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks - Looking forward to seeing your subs this week.

 
At December 29, 2011 at 5:17 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading!

 
At December 29, 2011 at 5:17 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks - It was a neat prompt.

 
At December 29, 2011 at 5:18 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks, Tara.

 

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