This is a short piece that I wrote in a short story writing class I took a couple of years ago. I remember that this was the assignment where the teacher, inspired by one of my favorite cooking shows: Chopped, provided us with four mystery baskets to choose from. Each had a writing ingredient. I can't remember the exact four or so ingredients that were in the basket I chose. I do remember a mood, possibly set in October, but that's about it. The other elements came from an experience and I tried to convey that feeling.
Yesterday this quote spoke to me; I'm going to place it where I can see it every day:
"Inspiration exists, but it must find you working."
Amanda washed off her hands and placed the carved pumpkin in a brown sack and headed out to visit her Aunt Rose and Aunt Vivian at Bluestone Retirement Community. As she pulled out of the driveway, she looked into the sky: clouds hung like heavy gray sheets, hugging the dry mountain peaks.
She rolled the window down, prepared to be alone with her thoughts. “I hope Aunt Rose is feeling better today,” Amanda thought out loud. The highway wasn’t crowded this Sunday afternoon. She let her thoughts drift into the breeze, into fields of dry grass that appeared stiff and stuck in place. She could feel the pierce of time looming low. She exited off the highway, took a few more turns, and pulled to the back parking lot of the Bluestone.
When she walked inside, the light was dim as though it had been washed out. Oldsters pushed their walkers around, some wheeled themselves in wheelchairs, while others had assistance; some sat in the lounge area watching the television with a mix of alert and vacant faces. Nurses walked briskly past the slow moving oldsters. Finally, Amanda pulled herself away when she didn’t see her aunts and went into the facility’s ice cream parlor where she thought they might be. It wasn’t very crowded. There were a few circular tables with seniors seated around eating their chosen desserts.
Amanda walked over to where she saw her aunts and noticed that Aunt Rose was eating while Aunt Vivian was not and wore a scowl on her face. Amanda felt a chill when she realized this would be a difficult visit.
“Hello dear,” said Aunt Rose. “Sit down.”
“Hello Aunt Rose. Hello Aunt Vivian.” Setting the sack down on one of the empty chairs, Amanda pulled the pumpkin out and set it on the table. “Look what I brought you!”
Aunt Vivian turned her head and glared at the smiling pumpkin. “Hmmpf,” she said.
“Oh, Viv, don’t be such a grump,” said Aunt Rose. “Thank you, dear. It’s lovely. You’ll have to forgive your Aunt Vivian. She’s having a day.” Aunt Rose took the last bite of her ice cream and dabbed her mouth.
“I thought it would add some cheer to your room. I hope you like it. It reminds me of when we used to carve pumpkins at your house.”
“There have been many adjustments since we’ve come to live here, dear—and well, it’s not the same as living in your own home and taking care of yourself.”
“I can only imagine how difficult it must be, Aunt Rose.”
“Well, dear, I think the adjustment has been especially hard on your Aunt Vivian—“
“It’s not home,” cut in Aunt Vivian with a slight snarl. “I miss my things. My home. My furniture. My independence. Bah!” Aunt Vivian waved her hand as if to wave away the ice cream parlor and to wave away Amanda and everyone there. She sat in her wheelchair with an unmoving pride on her face, stubbornness etched into her eyes. It seemed she wore the permanent mark of a struggle.
Amanda looked into Aunt Rose’s eyes and was comforted by the kind twinkle looking back into hers. She looked to Aunt Vivian and was only met with a cold icy feeling looking back. “I’m sorry that you feel so bad, Aunt Vivian. It must be difficult.” Amanda shuffled in her chair uncomfortably, trying to remain positive.
“It is, Amanda dear. I’m sorry to be so cold to you. It’s not you. Being old, losing your eyesight and hearing. These things are never easy to accept on top of losing your home—or rather not having the ability to stay in your home.”
“There, there, Viv, see I know you’ve got it in you to turn your scowl to a softer shade,” said Aunt Rose.
“I can’t control my moods, Rose. I’m not able to keep as upbeat as you. I don’t know why. I’m happy with the life I’ve lived. It’s just that when—“
“Aunt Vivian, remember when we all used to carve pumpkins…you always made the best one, with intricate details around the hexagonal eyes. It was as if your pumpkins would come to life and start speaking.”
Aunt Vivian’s eyes began to soften even more; she unfolded her hands and reached for the pumpkin that Amanda brought. Amanda pushed it over closer to her. “Yes, I do remember…my, my, it seems like so long ago. This is a nice pumpkin you’ve carved. Hearts for eyes and a four-leaf clover for the nose, how clever; and the mouth, why, it reminds me of a silly hill Billy with a missing tooth. Ha!”
“Vivian, my goodness gracious, what has gotten into you.” Amanda and Aunt Rose look at each other and then they all start laughing. “Amanda, dear, would you like a scoop of ice cream, and since you’re so spunky all of a sudden, Vivian, maybe you’d like a scoop too?”
Amanda let out a quiet sigh of relief at Aunt Vivian’s change of mood. She had come to expect these ups and downs from Aunt Vivian. The two sisters began chit chatting, while Amanda’s thoughts were on the other topic she wanted to bring up, but had not. She didn’t want to spoil the mood. Maybe next time she would feel up to it.
“Dear…dear?, Amanda, dear…”