Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Opening Line

Another piece written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenges. This one is simple: Choose a sentence from the options he posted here, and write a story with that as your opening line. I chose ‘I never trusted that statue in the garden behind the house’ and wrote this.

I’m calling this ‘Garden Idol’

~~~

I never trusted that statue in the garden behind the house. It brooded on a pedestal against the back wall, hunched like a gargoyle, darkly weathered, and menacing. Its eyes always seemed to follow me about the garden on dreary days and it faded into the brick-wall when the sun shone cheerfully on the bright profusion of the old English Garden. But despite my dislike, there the statue remained while my mother lived. She never spoke about it, but the one time I tentatively suggested putting it in the dustbin, she nearly blew a hole through the roof. I never mentioned it again, and neither did she, but neither did she seem to pay the statue any special attention.

The day she died, I caught her whispering urgently to it, her attitude one of a supplicant to a capricious god. She was weakened and frail from the cancer, but she could still walk about with her cane on the good days. I watched her through the kitchen window, my hands submerged in the mundanity of soapy dishwater while I watched my clever, pragmatic mother beseeching a hunk of old weathered stone. When she was done, she glanced about surreptitiously and then propped her cane up against the plinth, on the back-side where it was hidden by the wall.

Three hours later, she had breathed her last while I held her thin, purple-veined hand. She looked me in the face, smiled, and said “Don’t worry, love. You’ll be fine. I’ve taken care of everything.”

“Yes Mum. I love you.”

“I know. You’re a good girl. You’ll be alright.” She drew in a deep breath. Her eyes drifted closed. She murmured, “I’ve seen to it. You’ll be-”

~

They took her body away immediately, whisking her to the funeral home to primp the husk for burial. The house echoed emptily after the men left. Mother was never very loud, soft-spoken and gentle except when angry. Still, her absence resonated from the attic to the kitchen, and drove me out into the sunshine of the back garden. Here the wind murmured and whispered, filling the silence in my heart a little. I wandered among the flowers until I found myself standing in front of the statue. A sudden anger gripped me and I snatched Mum’s cane up and used it to push the ugly thing off its pedestal. It lay among smashed stems and crushed petals, glaring malevolently at me. I turned my back and marched up to the house, laying Mum’s cane across her favorite couch, where she had lain earlier that very day. Somehow, it comforted me while I cleaned the house, ate my solitary supper, stared blindly at a book, and finally went up to bed. I slept badly, dreaming strange dreams of terror and anger and sadness and loss, all featuring the garden statue.

The next morning, the cane was gone. I stared blearily at the couch, wondering if I had moved it and forgotten. Shaking my head, I stumbled into the kitchen to put the kettle on for the morning’s first cup of tea. Staring absently out the window, I suddenly realized the statue was back on its plinth against the wall. I left the door standing open, ignoring the heavy dew drenching my slippers and the hem of my dressing-gown. The statue was as menacing as ever, glowering from its plinth as if it never moved, with Mum’s cane propped against the plinth. Only the crushed flowers assured me I hadn’t dreamed my fit of pique the day before. I glowered back, hands on hips as I contemplated the thing. I picked it up and marched through the back gate. As always, the feel of the thing made my skin crawl, and I gladly deposited it into the dustbin. I returned to the house to finish my tea and prepare for the visitors I knew would arrive later — Mum’s friends, our few relations, our neighbors. I slammed my finger in the door on my way inside and burned the tea.

~

I slept badly again that night, haunted by dreams of misfortune and memories of all the little mishaps which had plagued the house throughout the day. This time I wasn’t surprised to find the statue back in the garden and Mum’s cane beside it. I set my mouth in a grim line and loaded the thing into Mum’s old car, driving towards where the river curved away from the village into the countryside. The garden statue sank with a satisfyingly final ‘KERPLOOSH’ and I drove home to dress for the funeral.

The plague of mishaps returned with a vengeance during the funeral, from the hysterics of one of my female cousins to the minister using the wrong name in the service, to one of the wreaths catching fire from a candle. Each one grew gradually worse building up to a grand fiasco. As they left the church, bearing Mum’s coffin, somehow the pall-bearers grew tangled and fell. The casket tilted crazily, flew open with a bang on a man’s head, and Mum rolled out in an untidy heap on the stone steps. Her stiff limbs flapped and her funerary garment went askew, showing her knickers to all the assembled mourners. Gasps, sobs, and one muffled titter greeted the sight of my mother’s inert indecency. I shuddered and looked away as people scrambled to load her back into her casket and continue the procession to the grave-site.

That night, the familiar dreams barely impinged on my exhaustion. I woke early and glanced down into the dawn-gilded garden fearfully.

The statue crouched, dripping river-water, in its place. I trudged down in my dressing-gown to stare silently at it. Fear, exhaustion, and resignation warred in my breast. At last I whispered my concession.

“You win. You stay, and so does Mum’s cane.”

The statue smiled slightly.

I never trusted that smile.


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