My Three Minute Fiction

NPR's Three Minute Fiction Round 8 winner was announced and it wasn't me! Periodically, National Public Radio runs a short story contest where a famous writer comes up with a writing prompt and you have to write a story of no more than 500 words. The stars aligned and I submitted an entry. Every entry had to begin with the sentence: she closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Below is my story


Will You Plant Lilacs for Me?

She closed the Book of Psalms, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. No, she wasn’t walking through the misty veil to the other side.  She would be soon. The doctor said; her demise was at hand. She loved the phrase “at hand”; it was old fashioned and dated.  On second thought, she went back for the Book of Psalms, if she collapsed along the way, the world would think she was a pious woman.

She walked out of the white clapboard house, the house she has grown up in, inherited, and raised her family in.  Her children had escaped, walked away, vanished. Two had returned in pine coffins, one was still at large.  At hand and at large, she loved them both.

She hadn’t spoken to Susan in years. Susan was just plain missing.  She was undecided, had the pain evaporated like a puddle under a summer sun or worn away, like a stream over rocks? That was the first question she would ask God.

Her destination was the family cemetery, a quarter mile past the rock wall, where as a small child, she once found a rattlesnake.  Her son loved that story; chided her if she didn’t tell just right, make the S-S-S snake sound and rattle a jar full of dried beans. He asked if the rattler had scared her. He believed her when she said no.

Her son had died in a war—not a noble one, a self inflicted one. Her older daughter had driven herself off a craggy, granite and mica-flecked cliff.

When the red and black mist of grief lifted, she went on a pilgrimage, to the last place her daughter was alive, got down on knees too old to bend, and prayed for a miracle: Susan come to me here, come to me now, love me anyway.

She veered west, and walked through a grove of elms, maples, and oaks. She had the one of the last stands of American Chestnuts--most had been destroyed by beetles. She took pleasure in denying the arborist access to them; at heart, she was a cruel woman. At hand, at large, at heart; words she treasures.

The three silos her father built were still standing; empty but sound. Each summer she paid a college student or two to maintain them; to replace rotted wood, cleanout the nests and keep the red paint fresh. Once, a young man asked why she let the barns and coops go, rot, fall in on themselves; collapse.  “You can see the silos for miles,” she said. He scratched his beard and looked impatient.  Pride was the root of her sins. Pride was her down fall. Pride would kill her.

The cemetery gate was rusty and hard to open, crooked and stuck. She pushed. She shoved. She heaved, as much as a dying woman could, enough to squeeze through. She stepped around the broken liquor bottles and cigarette butts; paused at a small ring of stones, where the hooligans made fires. The headstones stood erect and untouched, by anything more than dry, gray-green lichen. And time.


She had planted crimson red roses for her son, fragile pink ones for her daughter; beautiful, poisonous and deceiving hellebores, for her father; nothing for her husband.

Soon she would lie next to her husband again; soon she would know the Mystery; soon she would be blessed with certitude.

Susan, will you plant lilacs for me?


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