Apparently this is a Flash Fiction challenge: write a short story under 1,000 words inspired by the picture.
Below is the story that I wrote this morning:
By Matthew Reynolds
Janet said, “Thank you for meeting me here, like this.”
Ben said, “Wasn’t going to come. But thought about it, so, yeah.”
She shifted her weight on the bench, kept her hands in her lap, “It’s been a year now.”
Ben said, “I know what the date is, Jan. I know bloody well what the date is.”
“I can’t help it. I think about him every day.”
“And you think I don’t.”
“I don’t know. You never tell me.”
He put his hand on his leg and turned to her. “We haven’t spoken in months. How am I to ‘tell’ you anything?”
She pulled a piece of lint from her sweater. “You could phone every once in awhile.”
Ben paused. “I don’t really know what you’re playing at, Jan. You kicked me out of the flat …”
“I didn’t kick you out. You left.” Then, realising that she had interrupted him, she forced her shoulders to relax. She tried to slow her breathing, the way she always did.
Then she began again. “How’s Helen?”
“Mum’s OK,” he said. “Well, as OK as she can be, all things considered.”
“Shouldn’t you be with her today? I mean, it IS the same day for her as for us.”
“She’s at church,” Ben said curtly. And left it there.
They both left it there. The church. The memory of the service, and the fire that exploded and then faded to ashes among the lot of them. As Jan would recall, it seemed as though none of them left out of there alive. They had all be burnt to cinders, in the same church that she still passed, every day, on the way to catch the bus for work.
“He wasn’t ready,” Ben said at last.
Jan closed her eyes. She could already feel the slight shift of the sun behind them, making its way behind the row of flats atop the hill. “I don’t blame you,” she said, because she knew it was what he wanted to hear.
“I knew he wasn’t ready, but he insisted. He said he had to start making his own money. But he was just … he just wasn’t built for it. So I let him join the crew.”
“I told you that I don’t blame you.”
“You can tell me as many times as you want but that still don’t make it true.”
Jan thought about sons. How many sons does a woman truly have, she thought to herself. My God, she thought, even now, even now, even after one year, it is all about the Prodigal and the bloody whiny brother of the Prodigal, but this Prodigal will never return, never, she thought. And then she said, “The truth is that he is gone, and Helen’s constant praying won’t change it, and her accusation over his casket that I pushed him to do something he wasn’t ready for won’t change it, and truly, Ben, truly, I only wanted you here so that, on this day, this one day, we could, just the two of us, look at what we have helped build.”
And then Ben looked across the street. The new school. The new primary school, built atop the old.
Ben knew every step intimately. William had gone to the primary school. Then it had been demolished to be rebuilt anew. He had wanted desperately to join the crew, to work like his dad worked, with his hands, hard labour, to build things. But he had been such frail boy, and scattered. Scattered, he had been, never knowing whether he was here or there. And Ben looked at the wing of the building, the wing where the pile of masonry had fallen, one year ago today, and how the men had rushed to dig William out but there was nothing they could do about the frail child that was underneath the pile of stones, and Ben now saw how fresh the wing looked, how clean the paint, how clear the windows, how the sign above the front doors reflected his name: THE WILLIAM R MASON PRIMARY SCHOOL.
And then Ben looked away. He couldn’t take seeing any more, all that was left of William.
Jan continued to look. She studied each letter of that name until the sun finally set behind the both of them, there on the park bench across the street from the school, until there was no more light and all that they had was the darkness that separated them.
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