This post was written in response to Chari Mills’ Flash Fiction Challenge.
August 10, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something or someone who is transient. It can be a fleeting moment, a rogue vagabond, or ephemeral like trending hashtags. What is passing by and how can you capture the passing in a flash?
Respond by August 17, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Transient: An Old Lady and her Suitcase
I watched her sipping the takeaway coffee she paid with the coins she’d collected earlier that morning. A suitcase by her side carried all her belongings.
She wheeled them up and down the seafront promenade, alongside the tourists, until lunchtime, when someone bought her a sandwich and a bottle of water.
They told me she slept on a different bench each summer night, and a different doorway each winter evening.
Some say she’s looking for her dead daughter, others say she’s run out of money, or lost her mind.
Maybe they’re all wrong and she only wants to be free.
I read Doris Lessing’s novels and short stories many years ago. Two short stories have remained in my thoughts long after, and one of them is, An Old Woman and her Cat, many years ago, but it’s one of the short stories which has remained with me.
Her short stories are as most of her work, challenging, thought-provoking and perceptive. She places her characters, often marginal or unconventional people, in testing situations. They deal with loss and isolations, often coupled with mental illness.
An Old Woman and her Cat describes the stubborn resistance of an ageing free-spirited vagrant, who refuses to adhere to social conventions, as she descends from a life of capable street-trading and marginal social acceptability into the homelessness of an outcast.
It’s about the loss, isolation and mental breakdown of an old woman, with gipsy blood, who breaks away from society’s stifling conventions when her husband dies, and her children leave home. She embraces a marginal, unconventional existence, accompanied by her faithful cat.
I’m on holiday in a beach town in Malaga, Spain, right now, and there’s a lady like the one in my story. Nobody knows why she lives like this, where she’s from, or where she’s going. Everyone has opinions and theories about an estranged family, poverty or mental illness.
I was thinking about this weeks’ prompt, and I immediately remembered An Old Lady And Her Cat and the mysterious, homeless tourist I see most days with her suitcase, and I came up with this flash.
Why do we always want to find a reason for everything, so we can define everyone and put them into neat compartments. Suppose she has no reason. Suppose she just wants to be free from society’s conventions, like Doris Lessing’s heroine?