On the first Friday of every month, the Australian Writers Centre reveals a new set of story prompts. Writers have 55 hours to submit their best 500-word (or fewer) story.
THIS MONTH'S CRITERIA:
“Where is it?”
Ruth was balancing on the footstool, reaching deep into the top shelf of the wardrobe, dragging out weird and wonderful relics from a bygone era. She was about to give up when she spotted the wooden box, overbalanced, and jarred her bad knee as she stepped down.
“Everything alright?” Down the hallway, her sister Kim was in the kitchen, efficiently (and officiously) sorting the cupboard’s contents into clearly-labelled boxes: Donate. Discard. Decide. There was much sighing, clanging and noisy taping of boxes which had briefly stopped after Ruth’s involuntary cry.
“Yep. Fine.” She wanted to sit on the bed, but it was buried under a mountain of clothes, in a half-hearted attempt to clear out the chest of drawers. Ruth hobbled down the hallway with the box into the “good room”, as her parents had called it.
“OK,” called out Kim. “Nearly finished here, then I’ll pack up the buffet in the dining room. Have you finished the bedroom?”
“Nearly.” Ruth knew her lie would become apparent soon, but for now, she just wanted to sit in Dad’s brown leather recliner, look at the 70s wallpaper with fading palms, breathe in the familiar, but ‘old’ smell, remember the Christmases of her childhood and forget the sadness of the recent past. She longed to put on one of Dad’s jazz CDs, but knew Kim would complain.
Ruth opened the box, and her heart leapt. She’d found it! Black and white photos. Her parents, Rose and Bert, on a picnic in the 1950s, wearing twin set and pearls, and collared shirt and tie. Wearing Sunday best for a picnic. Ruth laughed, but tears pricked at her eyes. Other photos too. Kim blowing out candles, opened gifts next to the cake. Aunty Joan and Mum at a farm. Ruth flicked through the rest of them, but there were none of her.
Aunty Joan had been wrong. At the funeral, she’d whispered something about a secret box, but Ruth had been too distracted to listen. Ruth didn’t really expect any photos of herself. There’d been no baby photos. Grief had accompanied her arrival, a grief buried in silence. She wondered for the umpteenth time what it would have been like if her twin had survived beyond 24 hours. She had lived for 58 years on this planet, missing someone she’d never met, who’d barely been spoken about.
“Look what I found, hidden behind the good china,” said Kim, jolting Ruth from her daydream. Kim was holding a silver box, but it was actually black and desperately in need of a polish.
Ruth opened it. Inside was a faded photograph, and an envelope with a lock of hair. Rose was holding two babies, in matching hospital blankets. No date. No names. No identification, but Ruth knew, instantly. Tears fell – for her sister, her parents, even the family home.
But tears of joy, too. In a time of loss, a part of her had been found.
Grateful to the Australian Writers Centre for sparking creativity each month with the Furious Fiction competition.