THE LAST SOMETHING THAT MEANT ANYTHING

I think it’s pretty hard enough writing a flash story. So imagine two people combining to write a single piece of flash fiction. Well that’s what we did, my sister and I. So I’m putting it out there – ‘irresponsible’ writers that we now are, just for the heck of it. Enjoy.

Writhing in pain and agony, Helen tossed and turned, jerking upright only to find herself awake and alone in her bedroom. The covers are rumpled and damp with sweat but the pillow beside hers bore no imprint: he didn’t come home, again. Her husband had taken to sleeping out lately, a habit that fed her dreams, turning them into nightmares; her greatest fears growing stronger having been continually fuelled by deep seated worries.

She got up and headed for the kitchen, pausing at the dining table to stare at the plates with the covering still on them, sighing at the sight of the untouched meal. It all sounded so easy when she was being told by every female model in her life: as a girl child you serve your parents, get married and serve your husband, conceive and serve your kids. If you meet the required expectations you are expected to be happy and fulfilled.

Unfortunately (or so it seemed),Helen felt she had bungled things from the start. She had tried serving her parents but being the sixth consecutive female born to an already disgruntled father and a frustrated mother, she found herself ignored and unable to get anything right,let alone please anyone.

Her sense of inadequacy wasn’t lessened by the fact that she’s on the ‘just there’ ranking on the beauty pecking order; not in the knockout beauty category that people were quick to acknowledge and admire, unable to make lots of friends in school because she “just didn’t meet up with standards”: not ‘hip’, not pretty and not rich.

So she sat at the table, toying with the salt and pepper shakers, thinking about how she had tried hard to please her parents. The only time she appeared to succeed was when she got married. However, she suspected that their joy didn’t so much stem from the fact that she was getting married as from the fact that they were finally free from the last of their responsibilities.

She smiled ruefully as she remembered that she had come into her marriage with guns cocked and ready, fires blazing and all such other clichés for being ready. The elders do say that your husband’s house is a place of learning and oh boy has she learnt!

Her fire started to fizzle out when after one year, she had failed to conceive. ‘Failed’, not ‘unable to’ or ‘hasn’t yet conceived’ but failed; especially when a one-year trailer became a ten-year episode. That’s how she viewed the disappointments and letdowns in her life; not as obstacles or temporary setbacks, but failures.

So there she sat at the dining table, trying not to imagine her face in the future as she fears that what she will see will not be her appearance but her mother’s frustrated look and tired smile, her shoulders drooping with the weight of defeat; her ‘failure’ as a woman.

The sound of the latch unlocking brought her out of her reverie to find her husband standing in the doorway. She didn’t even bother to glance up at the clock. Instead, she got up, all smiles and said “welcome home dear”.

That short greeting and the way she said it surprised her; it was as if the words did not form from her lips. A heartbeat ago, she was doing a playback of her travails, almost prepared to write everything off as one big catalogue of disappointment. But from within her, something finally woke up. A silent voice which told her that she was wired to get up no matter how many times the trials of life knock her down.This deep stirring in her heart was the reason for the sudden transformation in her actions. She would try again, determined to win this round of the battle.

To the late entree however, those three words were like a knockout punch that would make Mike Tyson proud. He had been psyching himself up at the bar on how to dissolve the marriage. “It just isn’t working”, he said to himself and the empty bottles of beer that were present to bear him witness. It wasn’t her fault, but neither was it any of his. Still he felt the best thing was to get home, sit her down and tell her what was on his mind – the divorce.

But something about her greeting,the smile on her lips despite the hurt he knew she was going through, struck a chord in him. In that moment, with him at the door and Helen at the dining table facing him, he felt a strong connection to her. He suddenly realised what she must be going through; with him, his family and others. But here she was,smiling at him; refusing to be beaten down by the threats to their marriage. In Helen’s singular act, he saw her determination to make things work no matter how hard it seemed.

Resolve dissolved, he suddenly felt weak but still had the strength to walk up to her and hug her – something he hasn’t done fin a very long time. She didn’t sob but he felt tears dampening his shirt, it was as if a weight had been lifted off him. If she was going to try, so would he; they were in this together. It is only through unity that they would be able to overcome all adversity and if there’s any chance of winning, they would do it – together.

***END***

LIMITLESS – A WAR VETERAN’S STORY

First published in gemMAN magazine, October 2013…

After serving in two World Wars, a certain soldier retired from the United States Navy to live in peace with his family. Since he had a degree, he was able to secure a job with an engineering company, supervising the construction of tract homes in San Francisco. It was a good job, the earnings took care of his family’s needs and he still had enough to save for the rainy day. For someone who had gone through the rigours of a devastating war, this was something good to fall back on. What more can someone in this situation ask for?

However, things hardly turn out the way we plan. In his case, it wasn’t any different. Six years after his retirement, a business mogul approached him – this was in 1954. The business man was looking for an engineer to help with an aspect of his construction project. The engineer accepted and at the end of the day, the businessman handed over the entire construction to him. It turned out to be a fantastic decision because a year later, the project resulted in one of the most breathtaking sites in the United States, and the world at large.

That retired soldier cum engineer was Admiral Joe Fowler; the business mogul was Walt Disney and the project is what we know today to be Disneyland. After construction, Joe was made a manager and he held the position for the first 10 years.

After this, Disney wanted something grander. Once again, he approached Joe – old Joe as he was already 73. Once again, Joe said “Yes, can do.” Four years later, Disney World became operational; till date, it is still a highly rated tourist/vacation spot.

Why didn’t Joe say he was tired, that the ordeals of two World Wars and an additional Korean war had worn him out? Why didn’t he say that the Disneyland project was more than he could handle – that he was content building houses? When he was 73, why didn’t he tell Disney that he was too old to oversee the design and construction of Disney World? He didn’t, Joe simply said “Can do.” This earned him the nickname ‘can-do Joe’.

I’ll mention three lessons from this: the first one is that whatever you’re going through now or wherever you are is in preparation for something in future. Joe was building gunboats as a junior officer, he graduated to building ships and when he retired, he was trusted with overseeing the construction of Disneyland and Disney World. If he didn’t go through the first stages, even undergoing the pressures of war, how would he have been able to cope?

Second, as long as Joe was alive, he felt he still had something to offer. As long as we’re human, death should be seen as the only limitation to whatever we want to achieve. We all have something to live for. Even death gets postponed so some people can live out their purpose. When there’s life, there’s hope – and something to offer. Barring engine or other mechanical issues, car will run so long there’s fuel in it. Examine the exploits of Moses do at age 80, Caleb at 85 and you’ll realize that every living person has something to offer.

Third, whenever Joe was confronted with something, no matter how big, he said “Yes, can do”. This should be our attitude; never write yourself off or believe you can’t do something. Limitations reside in your mind alone and you’re your only obstacle. God doesn’t have limits, we His children shouldn’t – but we think we do and this is a lie of the devil.

You can do it, ignore every voice telling you to quit or take it easy. Imbibe the can-do attitude today.