We’re pleased to present here two very fine short stories from one of our most imaginative and prolific members–Connie Phlipot. We hope you enjoy reading these, and we welcome your comments.
By Connie Phlipot
Story inspired by the following SWC creative writing prompt: Imagine a unique Club or Society and tell the story of a new member.
Alice withdrew her hand from the heavy bronze door handle. The metal was slick with a light oil. She rubbed her fingers together to assess the texture of the substance and then sniffed it. Not motor oil, nor cooking oil. Something perfumed, an orange or tangerine scent. Alice felt for a tissue in her pocket. Empty, except for an old store receipt. She rubbed the oil into her other hand. The oil was so light it disappeared in her skin.
The door opened from within before Alice could touch the oily surface again. The hallway ahead of her was dark. She blinked a a few times and a figure took shape. A long skirt, a hooded cape and then she smelled the tangerines again.
“Welcome.” The voice was light like the oil on the door handle, but unmistakably present and affirmative. Also like the oil.
“This is..?” Alice asked, unsure how to finish the question. What was this society she had asked to join actually called?
The tangerine voice answered. “Yes, of course, you are in the right place. Follow me. Don’t worry about the dark; there are no obstacles in your way. We’ll go straight and then take one turn.”
The long skirt swayed ahead of Alice. The voice was right; the path was clear and together they floated smoothly forward and then around a corner.
“It’s much brighter in the room we are entering, so prepare your eyes.”
The sunlight jumped out at Alice, embracing her. Dazzling light. She had read that phrase many times but never experienced it. And yet it was also a gentle light, diffuse like candlelight, but a million times brighter.
Alice looked around the room. The light source was a wide floor-to-ceiling window that opened onto a flower garden. Every blossom was orange, yellow or gold. The skirted figure tipped the window open releasing a wave of tangerine scent.
The other three sides of the room were lined with books. Alice felt tremors in her chest — like an addict before the forbidden demon substance. The titles were in a babble of languages, scripts, alphabets. She could only identify a handful of them, despite her linguistic training.
“Come sit down.” Two chairs, pale yellow upholstery with carved wooden arms, had been placed by the window, facing away from the garden view. Alice slid herself deep into the chair; the other person did the same.
“Alice, right? I’m called Sophie or Sophia.” Alice put out her hand to shake Sophie’s but the other woman remained perfectly still, her hands clasped on her lap. “You know one must be approved to join our society?” Alice nodded yes. “But don’t worry, its painless. The only..” Sophie hesitated a second and licked a strikingly pink tongue across her lips, “complication, I guess, or condition, is that if you are not approved, you must never tell anyone about this society and you must never try to reapply. It has to be as if this never happened.”
“Okay, but what are the requirements?”
“There are no requirements. Nothing written or stated, I mean. You will talk to me for a few minutes or however long I want to listen, then I’ll consult with the Council. We’ll decide. Simple”
“Talk about what?”
The pink tongue wet Sophie’s lips again. Then she smiled for the first time. A smile as dazzling as the light from the garden.
“That’s the whole point you see. I give you no questions, no clues. Just talk.”
Alice’s stomach tightened. Like she was at a horrible cocktail party of strangers where everyone sits silent waiting for the first person to bravely spatter out some nonsense. But she couldn’t utter nonsense. This society was about knowledge, for people who approached life as if it were an endless university. From which you could never graduate. The subjects kept appearing on the catalogue, languages that you could never master.. where you were never satisfied with your level of understanding.
Alice look at Sophie with pleading eyes, but the woman continued to smile. The tangerine smile. Behind her the garden blazed. Alice opened her mouth, but the words stuck in her throat as if she had no power to form them properly. She shut her eyes and inhaled the fragrant scent.
Sophie got up and left the room.
Alice started to cry. She had been a total failure. She wiped her eyes with her fingers, leaving the scent of tangerines on her cheeks.
Sophie returned. “Congratulations. You’re a member.”
“But I said nothing.”
“Of course. Only a fool, someone who thinks they know enough, would dare to speak. But you thought about it, right? Why you are here?”
Alice nodded, a smile lifted the corners of her eyes.
4 Beaches, 3 friends, 2 murders, 1 summer
By Connie Phlipot
Story inspired by the following SWC creative writing prompt: 4 beaches, 3 friends, 2 murders, 1 summer – what happened?
Clouds clutched the edge of the shore, obscuring the mountains behind and the figures moving on the beach. Or were they birds scrapping at the pieces of pizza strewn along the boardwalk? Masha pushed aside the lacy curtain and peered through the smudged window of the pension. They were people, pushing a boat up on the sand. Why would anyone have gone out on the lake today?
She went back to her e-mails. Jacek wrote from Porto—- “The sun is blazing. Too hot to do anything but sit on the bench under a pinion tree and watch the children, oblivious to the steaminess, running, giggling in the waves.”
“Juliana,” he wrote, says hello. She is on another piece of Portugal, the Azores, sheltering from early Atlantic storms.
Masha looked outside again. The clouds had drawn back slightly. She could see the steeple of the town across the lake. The rain had settled into a fine mist. One more note to respond to, then she’d go outside.
“Skipping stones” Andrea wrote, “I learned in my childhood how do it and now do it every chance I get. The satisfaction of a three skip toss. Magical. The closest we can come to walking on water.
“But something else happened,” the e-mail continued. Oh no. This will be a long one. Maybe Masha should go outside and read it later when the rain returns. Masha kept on reading.
“The previous day had been hot, the night cool, the morning fog slow to burn off. I bent over to pick up a perfect stone. The size of a quarter, thin, smooth and round. I cocked my elbow to send it skimming along the water. Then I saw figures further up the lake. I lost my concentration. The stone thudded. A waste of a perfect stone. The figures were people pulling a boast to shore.”
Masha looked away from the screen to the window. The sun had exposed the mountain peaks and cast long shadows along the beach. Shadows of the boat and people removing a bulky object from it. She grabbed her umbrella from the bathtub where it had been drying since her last rainy walk and went outside.
Tourists were starting to return to the beach, tentatively, carrying umbrellas, raincoats covering their bathing suits. Masha shivered at the thought of going into the mountain stream fed water.
The boat was at the far end of town away from the summer cafes. Where the sand was mixed with mud and the grasses that made the walking difficult. Two men were dragging a long bag across the grassy shore. Another one was pulling the boat — a sort of canoe as far as Masha could make out — towards the woods where she suspected he was going to tie it up. The bag bumped along the uneven ground. She stared at it. The way one end bobbed along, like a round object, and the other end seeming to have two poles in it. Or legs. The round object a head.
She turned and picked up her feet to run back to the populated area. No, that make make them notice her. She turned slowly instead, glancing behind her. The head and legs continued to thump along. The two men looked down at their feet, not noticing her. Rain began to dent the sand.
Masha’s heart beat slowed as she sipped green tea at the cafe. She looked at her phone to finish Andrea’s message.
“Before it reached the shore, the boat stopped, caught perhaps by the reeds in the marsh. Two people began to unload something. Something heavy. They struggled to get a grip on it. Then finally they tossed it into the marsh.”
Masha re-read Andrea’s note then looked out at the lake. The rain had stopped. Once again the beach goers crept out along the shore. The mountain reflections shimmered on the still water.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie draws upon her experiences as a former U.S. diplomat in her short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her novel-in-progress is loosely based on her grandparents’ lives as Belarusan immigrants in the coal mining community of early 20th century America.