Tell Me Your Story

Recently, the Springfield Writers Guild held another, or I should say, is holding another flash fiction contest.  We have been challenged to write a piece no longer than 1000 words on the story of the “Old Woman” in the picture.  I have included my submission.

I found this challenge more difficult than those in the past.  I studied the photo and tried to imagine her story.  The process didn’t work and ultimately the concept of the story I submitted formed.  I hope you enjoy it.

If you have a few minutes, and if you enjoy a literary challenge, I ask you to submit a story of the old woman.  If you feel the dare, and give me permission, I will post it in a following blog.

 


“Tell me your story”

 

I studied her and was lost in the depth of her eyes.  They sat deep in her face and the skin that folded around them was aged, but her focus was clear and she looked into my soul.  Her eyes could have been blue, or possibly green, but their heat came from the intensity of her gaze, not the color.  They were unblinking and returned my stare.  Four furrows traveled upward from her brow line.  Vertical, they started between her eyes and spanned her forehead until they were lost beneath her head cover.  They were not the indentations of anger, but the marks left by the passing of time.  The permanent grooves bore silent witness to the woman’s life.  A life, that left its mark on her face, but not her spirit.

Her skin draped from the pronounced cheekbones downward until it rounded the strength of her chin.  Her face can only be described as gaunt.  Her cheekbones form the frame, while the cheeks, themselves, are sunken.  Neither lotions nor moisturizers have ever touched her face, which seemed to be made of fine leather.  Leather that is tough but smooth.  Leather cherished for its use to make beautiful things.  Leather crisscrossed with the folds and creases created by time, challenges, and worries.  Resembling dry creek beds or forgotten flash flood paths, each crease would be a chapter of her life.  Each indentation would be as a medal to a soldier, earned in the performance of her duties.

“Tell me your story, please.”

I allowed my gaze to drop from her eyes to her mouth.  I so wanted to hear her speak, but I feared I would not.  Her lips are drawn tight, thin, and compressed.  I wait for them to give me indication of reward.  They do not.  They remain as they have been and represent a line in the sand.  A line she forbids her tale to pass.  They create a self-imposed barrier.  Whatever desire she may feel to talk to me is locked behind those pressured lips.  Does she fear I will not understand her story?  Does she see me as being unworthy to know her secrets?  Maybe she just chooses not to be that intimate.  She remains silent.

“Tell me your story,” I asked again.  “Where are you from?”

I search her face for hints.  Silently, I try to gather clues.  The structure is oblong and the nose is strong and permanent, but it does not intimidate the other features.  I try to discern her heritage.  I try to guess her genealogy.

“Are you Indian?”

She says nothing, only returns my searching back to me.  I look at the covering on her head.  It’s a woven cloth with a plaid and checkered pattern.  I feel it is handmade, possibly by her, and do not look for labels.  I do not touch it, and the fabric appears rough, simple, and crude.  It seems to me to be too heavy to be a scarf.  I settle on calling it a shawl.

I close my eyes and ponder the fabric, the pattern, and I try to detect any scent it may have.  I feel the urge to say it is a sample of South American Indian handicraft, possibly Peruvian.  I open my eyes, look at the woman, and ask.

“Are you from South America?”

Her eyes study me, but refuse to reward my guess.  Her lips snub me of my answer.

I reject the rise of anger I feel and swallow the frustration in my throat.  I struggle to remain as calm as she is.  It isn’t as easy as she makes it appear.  She is a lifetime of patience before me.

“Please,” I practically beg, “Tell me your story.  Without your story, I’ll have nothing to submit.”

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