Friday, July 17, 2009

1000 Word Challenge

When Leslie, the indomitable Omnibabe, asked if anyone were interested in participating in a writing challenge, I jumped for joy and felt my stomach sink with stage fright. For, you see, the others who had been chosen to participate are very, very, Very good.

The Challenge:
I send you three sentences. You write 1,000 words in any format you choose -- short story, essay, poetry, screenplay, news article. You must use all three sentences. The twist is that you can use them anywhere you want in the story, as long as all three sentences appear somewhere within your 1,000 words.

I'll select four writers at a time, posting the challenge sentences on Friday, with the 1,000 words due the following Friday.


Being in the list was a compliment and a challenge unto itself.

Then, we got the three phrases we were to, somehow, incorporate within this 1000 word short story. I've put them in bold for you to identify. This challenged arrived with the simultaneous arrival of a surge in work hours, the advent of some 100 degree drought that had us watering everything almost everyday just to keep things alive, 'Pup being under the weather and me suffering from a dry spell in my writing... you might have noticed I'd not been posting as much here on the blog.

I missed my deadline, but Leslie, being the generous soul she is, told me to keep the story (finished by then) to post today with the second group of writers.

So, here it is.

Summer Ice
by Nancy France



The central air conditioner went out about the third week into summer. It wasn’t too bad at first, but then a heat wave came on and settled in like a broody hen. Fans just stirred the heavy air around and somehow made it seem hotter as it pushed the heated air into our noses and faces. None of us felt much like doing anything but sitting, and listening.

That summer, we all learned to listen. You know, that little series of sounds the ice maker makes as it slowly turns over to dump the ice, then the flat cracking chunk of the ice hitting the cold plastic…the cold, empty plastic… and the frozen screw that pushed the ice towards the door dispenser as you held your glass to the lever….we learned to listen.

We were hot, and craving coldness. More than the drink itself, we craved the cold tinkle in glass as we swirled it to chill the tea, and the wet, cold sides of the glass as we held it to our cheeks, foreheads and nestled it between our breasts. The cold was what we wanted, more than the drink, and there was not enough to go around.

Papa chided us, reminding us that he’d not had air conditioning as a boy and saying that we needed to appreciate nature. This was answered, once, by my mother’s plaintive voice saying: “I hate nature…and Wal-Mart!”

Wal-Mart had sold us an air conditioner that didn’t work and had so far refused to take it back. My dad, as stubborn as it was hot, refused to buy a new one until he’d gotten his money back for this one. It was only a window unit, meant as a temporary fix until the new central unit could be afforded. With it, our little house was bearable, especially at night.

None of us were sleeping. Even with the windows open, there was no breeze, just the sound of cicadas screaming in the trees.

We’d lay there in the heat, hating the whining sounds of the insects and swatting the mosquitoes that snuck inside. We hated the feel of our pajamas. We’d asked our mother to let us strip down, but she wouldn’t hear of it. What if the house were to catch on fire?

We wore pajamas. We were decent. We were hot. We prayed for a fire, dreaming of streams of cold water, and firemen and neighbors who would take pity on us and bring us glasses of something cold to drink in our time of need. We prayed for a fire.

And then, Grandmother Anna came to visit. We called her Nana, and had, until that time, celebrated her arrivals. Now, we dreaded having another person with whom we had to share ice. Worse than that, we knew that Nana, as our guest, would be getting the lion’s share of that meager treasure.

“Maybe she’ll make Papa get a new air conditioner,” said my youngest sister, “He’d have to get one if she insisted.”
Papa’s stubborn, righteous indignation towards the injustice of paying for a machine that didn’t work proved stronger than we expected. He wouldn’t even let Nana buy another one, saying that we had an air conditioner, and Wal-Mart would have to take it back.

Papa and Nana faced off with each other, over a dinner none of us had the appetite to eat. The only thing any of us wanted was glasses of cold milk. As we drank, we watched as first Nana, and then our father got very quiet and looked at each other with measuring eyes. It wasn’t a case of immovable object meeting irresistible force so much as two immovable objects facing off over cold milk and a hot house.

There was a long moment when no sound but the ticking sounds of the ice maker preparing to dump a tray of ice. When the cubes dropped, we all jumped.

Moments like this make me very, very nervous. You never really knew what she or Papa would do.

That night, Nana insisted on sleeping in the living room. She’d usually stayed in with us girls, but she said that the thought of one more body in that little room was more than she could bear.

That night, she slept in the living room. It had a brick floor. They were pretty, and they were cooler than the carpet in the rest of the house. With the front windows open, and a fan in front of the window to blow the cooler night air in, the room was more livable than the rest of the house.

That wasn’t enough for Nana though. Sometime in the night, Nana’d had a hot flash and that, combined with the heat, had driven her past her breaking point. That’s when Nana went commando. We might never have known that she’d come to lay with only a sheet between her and the night air, except that our prayers were finally answered.

We had a fire.

The fan had sucked in a curtain, and had wrapped the cloth around its motor. It overheated, the curtain began to smolder and set off the fire alarm. We all tumbled out of the house as fast as we could.

It didn’t take long for us, and most of the neighborhood and half the firemen in our small town to become aware that all Nana was wearing was a sheet. She stood tall in the sheet, holding it around her like a Roman toga, and giving my father an icy glare, daring him or anyone else to mention her state of dishabille.

The next day, Papa and Mother drove to the next town over and bought a set of new drapes for the living room, and three window units. One for the living room, one in my parents’ room and one went into our room. That meant the new compressor was delayed until winter, but we didn’t care.


We’d been able to stop listening to the ice maker.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting challenge. Nana going commando ... sounds like a Stephanie Plum novel! Good story, GG.

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  2. I like it! I can almost feel the heat.

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  3. You have a gift, Nancy France. I printed it out for Syd--she'll love it.

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  4. Great writing, Nancy! I love the images you create.

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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