The Woman by Amber Jager

He sat alone in his chair, quiet for now. It is the first time all week that he has kept to himself, the soft slippers given to him when his daughter last visited settled calmly on the grey industrial-style carpet. All around him people mill about; those others that live here easily distinguished by their walking aids, grey hair, and shuffling steps. Slippers to match his own are extremely common, some marching slowly from place to place and others seated in chairs identical to where he now rests. Among the groups is the occasional younger person, the footwear being the comfortable easy walking style common in those that work in the medical profession. Not all are nurses, but all work taking care of those unable to take care of themselves any longer after the sands of time took their toll.

For the most part, everyone leaves him alone. Some smile over at him if they even bothered sparing him a glance, but he does not pay attention to them. His focus lingers on the far wall, waiting. The nurses call him ‘troubled’ and do what they can to keep him settled, but no one dares try to move him to another place with another wall to watch. This was the only place where there was ever a quiet moment. If ever placed somewhere else, he would fight and scream and demand to be placed in his usual chair.

When he had first moved into this place it had been different, of course. He’d had the occasional episode. Moments where his children were frightened by his rage-filled tirades, directed at empty spaces. He never turned on them specifically, but after one day where he had fallen after lunging at a lamp, they’d had no choice but to seek out somewhere that he could be kept safe. Since then, the episodes grew more and more common. The medication had helped in the beginning, but now he instead had straps carefully keeping his pajama-clad arms in place on the chair, which was securely bolted to the floor. Short of constant sedation, there was only so much that could be done for someone in his situation.

“Hello Mister Turner. How are we feeling today?” The voice came from his right but he didn’t turn. The nurse came to check on him every afternoon, and he didn’t dare look at her and away from the wall. He did give her a slight nod though, an acknowledgement of her greeting. Continue reading

The Grieving of the Butterflies by Anthony Hulse

Spencer Pardew whistled as he paced along the picturesque and tranquil harbour road. The morning sun heralded another fine July day, adding to the contentment of the thirty-five year old teacher. He and his wife, Jill, recently purchased a cottage in Whitby, after agreeing to sell their home in Loftus. The two teachers found employment in a local primary school; the circumstances prompting their decision.

 

Whist Jill was in the process of decorating the riverside cottage, Spencer opted to visit the local market, situated at the foot of the abbey steps. He breathed in deeply, the bracing sea air filling his lungs. The squawking seagulls foraged for food and tidbits, left by the early morning fishermen.

 

Spencer mingled with the locals and holidaymakers, who had risen early to search for a bargain. After purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables, Spencer headed towards a bric-a-brac stall. His unblinking eyes focused on two oil paintings. The first was of a young, unsmiling, medieval boy. He wore a brown, floral gown, black hose, and pointed shoes; his hair cut in a pudding basin style. The girl, who bore a striking resemblance to the boy, wore a green, laced-up gown. A black French hood covered her loose hair. She too showed no sign of merriment.

Continue reading

Zinotchka – Anton Chekhov

ZZinotchka
by Anton Chekov

(about 2400 words)

Petya is a young boy full of all the mischief of most young boys, and when he happens to catch his governess in an indecent kiss with his older brother, he can hardly contain himself with amusement and excitement for what he’s seen. He’s overeager to let Zinotchka and his brother know that he knows, and when one day he accidentally lets slip a little of his secret in front of his stern and virtuous mother, Zinotchka’s whole attitude for him changes. Suddenly he is the most hated, vilest creature on the planet to her, and she’s not afraid to let him know it, either. Finally. Petya blabs the whole thing to his mother who is naturally outraged, and by the by lets Zinotchka go. Years later she is married to his brother, and despite Petya himself having grown up, her dislike of him is still strong. One’s first hate, after all, is not dissimilar from one’s first love.

anton chekhovAnton Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860 in Taganrog, Russia. His father was the owner of a grocery story and his mother a story teller to her children. The former was the abusive head of the family, which left a lasting impression on Chekhov. His father, who was a devout orthodox Christian nevertheless made life miserable for his family, and after going bankrupt, fled to Moscow which broke Chekhov’s mother. Chekhov stayed behind to finish his eduction, and to sell all that remained of the family possessions, and was forced to board with another man in a similar situation. He sent all the extra money he made that didn’t go toward paying for his education back to his family in Moscow. When he finally finished his schooling, he moved in with the rest of his family to pursue a medical degree. This is a man who had an abusive, financially insolvent father, no place to live, and paid for his education in part by catching and selling wild birds, and he not only became a doctor, but one of the most celebrated short story writers of all time. No more complaining about the hard life of a broke college student! Oh, and I forgot to mention that even though he became a doctor, he didn’t make a lot of money off of it, as he treated the poor for free because he was just amazing all around, apparently. During this time he was still writing as well and quickly gained popularity. Unfortunately he also gained tuberculosis, but really, do I even have to mention that at this point in the challenge? He traveled for a good long time, writing as he did and stubbornly refusing to admit that his lungs were dissolving in his goddamn chest until finally he was reluctantly persuaded to go see a damn doctor. He died on July 15, 1904 at the age of 44.

The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

YThe Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(about 6000 words)

A young woman who is in poor health as judged by her husband and brother, both physicians, is taken to rest at a country house. Once instated there, she’s told that she shouldn’t go out, or move much, or eat much or in general do too much that would cause her excitement, for fear that it would upset her delicate lady constitution and throw her into a mad fit the likes of which men of this time are always trying to prevent, presumably because they all don’t know a damn thing about how women work. Not unlike today, actually. Anyway, she takes this as the way of the world and more or less remains trapped in a single room for so long that she starts going loopy in the head, seeing things that aren’t there on the yellow wallpaper. Soon, her stifled mind begins imagining all sorts of strange, horrific scenarios that have taken place in the room she occupies. This of course leads her husband to think her condition is worsening, and he confines her even more, until at last she giddily escapes, assuming the identity of the woman she’s imagined this whole time has been staring at her through the yellow wallpaper. Cabin fever guys, it’s serious business.

Charlotte_Perkins_Gilman_by_Frances_Benjamin_JohnstonCharlotte Perkins Gilman was born on July 3, 1860 in Connecticut, USA. Like Poe, Gilman’s father abandoned the family when she was still a baby. Unable to support the family, Gilman’s mother often received help from some of her paternal aunts, among which was Harriot Breecher Stowe. Gilman was forced to teach herself to read at the age of five, since her mother was too ill to see to her schooling herself. Her mother discouraged the reading of fiction and deep friendships in a misguided attempt to protect her children from the sort of hurt her husband’s abandonment had left with her. Fortunately Gilman’s father wasn’t a complete deadbeat, and he did support her continued education as well as advancing her mind with book recommendations. Gilman married when she was 24, and after the birth of her only child, suffered a severe bout of postpartum depression. This largely became the inspiration for The Yellow Wallpaper. She separated from her husband four years later and joined several feminist movements in California. During this time she also sent her daughter east to live with her husband and his second wife, acknowledging his right to know his daughter and visa versa. Perhaps her own experiences with an absent father helped shape this progressive view. When she moved back east she became romantically involved with her first cousin, and the two were happily married until he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Gilman herself was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in 1932, and three years later, ended her life on her own terms.

Uncle Richard’s New Years Dinner – L. M. Montgomery

UUncle Richard’s New Years Dinner
by L. M. Montgomery

(about 1500 words)

We can’t have a L. M. Montgomery story without a dead parent, so in “Uncle Richard’s New Years Dinner,” the protagonist, Prissy, lives with her father, having never known her mother who died when she was born. She used to be close to her uncle Richard, too, before he and her father had a falling out. Now Uncle Richard shuns the both of them, which is hard on both her and her father, neither of whom hold any hard feelings toward Uncle Richard. When Prissy hears that her uncle will be away for all of New Years day, with no one at home to cook him a dinner when he comes home late, she gets the idea to sneak into her uncle’s house to cook for him and leave before he gets home at one o’clock. It’s the perfect crime: sneak in, cook a whole meal and sneak out. Nothing could go wrong. That is, unless her uncle gets home early.

lucy_maud_montgomeryLucy Maud Montgomery was born on November 30, 1874 in Clifton Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her mother died when she was just a baby and her father gave her up to her grandparents. Her grandparents didn’t show a great deal of warmth toward her and in fact, reading her more famous works, “Anne of Green Gables” or “Emily of New Moon” it’s easy to see where Montgomery drew inspiration for her key antagonists. During this period of strict discipline and lonely isolation, Montgomery drew up several imaginary friends which became the bedrock for her creative writing later in life. While visiting her father in Prince Albert, Montgomery had her first poem published. Four years later she received her teacher’s license, and studied literature for the next four years after. She had many fleeting love interests, though never serious for marriage until she became a bit desperate, only to back out at the last minute. While she received much fame and popularity from her writing, “Anne of Green Gables” in particular, she knew that it was most economical for her to marry, and so ended up with a minister who moved them both to Ontario soon after. She died on April 24, 1942 from what may have been a heart condition, or suicide. Her last note/journal entry is somewhat ominous and various sources provide different arguments for both.

The Tinder-Box – Hans Christian Andersen

TThe Tinder-Box
by Hans Christian Andersen

(about 2900 words)

The Tinder-Box is a fairy tale, and has all the trappings of fairy-tales: a witch, a downtrodden soldier, copper, silver, gold, three guardians, and a princess trapped in a tower and a king who has seen her marriage unfavorably prophesied to–you guessed it–a common soldier.

So this soldier is returning home form the wars when he comes upon a witch who asks him to go down into a big tree. Inside, she says, he will find three doors guarded by three dogs, containing chests filled with copper, gold and silver and he can take as much as he wants but all she wants is a tinder-box. So, the soldier goes, loads up his pockets with gold but refuses to let the witch have the tinder-box until she tells him what she’s going to to with it. Being just as stubborn as the soldier, she refuses to tell him. Unfortunately for her, he has a sword and is so fresh from the wars that committing homicide in the middle of the road over the usage of a tinder-box doesn’t strike him for a moment as morally reprehensible. So, after punting the witch’s head into a ditch, he goes into town with his new wealth, spends freely and amasses a huge number of friends who all abandon him when the money runs out. Despondent, he stokes a flame on the tinder-box and POOF! the first guardian dog appears and offers him any wish that he wants. Well, of course the soldier wants more money. Soon he is rich and all his friends come back to him. He then learns about a beautiful princess trapped in a copper castle by her father who doesn’t want her to marry as the insanely specific prophecy has foretold. With one murder under his belt, the soldier thinks nothing about sending his dog to kidnap sleeping beauty (who seriously doesn’t wake up the whole time riding on the dog’s back) and kisses her before sending her back. Just add one count of sexual assault onto that tally. This continues nightly until finally the queen finds away to catch him and really, it’s no wonder that he’s sentenced to hang for all that he’s done. Fortunately he has some kid go grab him his tinder-box, and on the day of his execution calls his three dogs who proceed to straight up murder everyone: judge, jury, king and queen, everyone, until the remaining, unmauled towns people declare that the soldier shall be king and the imprisoned princess shell be his queen. The princess comes out of the tower (presumably stepping over the intestines of her still warm parents) and says she’s totally OK with this outcome. Fairy tale.

hans-christian-andersenHans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark on April 2, 1805. Though his family was lower class, his father had been told that the family had once come from high society and his father held onto this belief firmly. It seems, however, that this was untrue. Andersen was an only child and received his education at a school for impoverished children. While attending school he worked as an apprentice, before moving to Copenhagen at the age of fourteen to study to be an actor. When one of the theater hands suggested that Andersen was a poet, he switched his goals in life and began writing in earnest. The director of the Royal Danish Theater petitioned King Frederick VI to pay in part for Andersen’s grammar schooling, where he was an average student. The schools at which he studied were abusive, wouldn’t let him write, and in general made him depressed. During his writing career, he wrote many of the fairy tales that are common to most childhoods in the west, including The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Princess and the Pea. He had a personal and professional friendship which Charles Dickens, as they both wrote about the common theme of under-privileged children and poor workers of the industrial revolution. Unfortunately this friendship was taxed to the breaking point when he overstayed his welcome by five weeks at Dickens’s home, and never received another letter from the great author again. Andersen had many romantic obsessions with both men and women, but none of them were returned. He died of liver cancer on 4 August 1875.

The Sphinx Without a Secret – Oscar Wilde

SThe Sphinx Without a Secret
by Oscar Wilde

(about 2100 words)

By chance, two old college friends meet in Paris where they spend some time catching up before one of them lets slip that he’s had some sort of a mystery woman in his life. Upon being pressed he tells his story. One day he happened to see a lovely young woman, wandering around and looking alluring. He had no idea who she was, or where she could be reached, but her image refused to leave his mind. By chance one day he was introduced to the same woman by a mutual acquaintance, and after a brief dinner date he managed to find out her address, and that she was a recent widow. Bolstered by this, he sends a letter to her house, and when he finally receives a reply back, it is to tell him never to send her letters to her house, only to a care-of address at the library. Obviously he’s puzzled by this, but as most of their subsequent dates are normal enough, he lets it pass. That is until he finds her skulking around a room letting house. He picks up her dropped handkerchief from the location, and when she later lies to him that she hadn’t been out of the house all day, he throws a tantrum and leaves her and France to go instead to Norway. When he returns, he learns that the lady has died of congested lungs following a cold she caught at an opera. Distraught, he seeks to find the cause of her mystery but finds nothing. The room she let she only just sat in and did nothing else, and saw no one else. What a mystery indeed.

Oscar_Wilde_portraitOscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. His father was knighted for his work as a doctor and his mother, a poet, greatly influenced Wilde’s own writing. Wilde excelled in his studies, winning awards in all levels of his education for his academic performance. It was while attending Oxford that he first seriously attempted writing, and won prizes for these early poems. After releasing a collection of poems to moderate critical success, Wilde toured America, giving 140 lectures in nine months. There he met some prominent American writers of the time. During his tours through America and England, Wilde became known for his place in the aesthetic movement which denounced using art for social or political statements, and instead insisted on appreciating beauty for the sake of beauty. He married in 1884 and had two sons with his wife, though he is most well known for the stint he spent in prison on accusations of homosexuality. While not strictly secretive about his sexuality, Wilde was screwed over by the father of a male lover who insulted Wilde so badly that he sued for liable. This unfortunately made his ‘open secret’ complete public fact and had him charged with gross indecency and sentenced to two years in prison. Despite all the literary success he had achieved before his imprisonment, when he was finally released he was broke, broken and in desperate need of a change of climate. Like D. H. Lawrence, he went into a period of self exile where he couch surfed with friends in France for a time. He died three years later of meningitis at the age of forty-six. His most famous works are his novel “The Picture of Dorian Grey” and the play, “The Importance of Being Ernest.”