The flash fiction contest at ACFW Colorado begins with three prompts:
Opening Sentence: There she was, Amy Gerstein, over by the pool, kissing my father.
Non-Sequitor: She found the diamond bracelet in the back seat of the car.
Last Word: the tear in her dress.
And one month later, it ends with no more than 1,000 words weaving them into a story. Better leisure mental gymnastics than the New York Times crossword!
Here's what I made of them.
POCKETFUL OF HOPE
There she was, Amy Gerstein, over by the pool, kissing my father. Instead of killing him. Or herself. I expected after her prison years, she’d shove him in – wheelchair and all. I’ve often replayed the accident with the ending I’ve longed for – Dad rolling over the lip of the deep pool, sliding into the hungry river beyond. Last time I saw Miss Gerstein, dear old Dad was coolly tipping her in the deep end, figuratively of course. The police called it a suicide attempt. They never did figure out what really happened, but I knew. Still, what could I have said? I the ten-year-old son of the chauffer, and she the governess.
Miss Gerstein had left Lord Albert and me wrestling with fractions, while she went on an errand for Lady Carlisle, but we had shadowed her like T.E. Lawrence’s Arab scouts. As she burst into the estate’s garage, we heard a slam, then a cascade of little pops like a ratchet wrench twirling. A man’s muffled oath. A single pearl rolled into view. The door closed swiftly. We crouched below the window.
“So sorry! I’ll just …”
“Whaaat? This is Lady Carlisle’s! Martin!”
We had to see. Through the grimy glass, a diamond earring winked as it swung from the lip of the workbench drawer my father tried to block from view. Rising like an avenging angel from a hail of grounded pearls, our beautiful Miss Gerstein displayed the distinctive diamond clasp. My father turned, crowbar upraised. Miss Gerstein flung out a prohibiting hand.
I remember it like a flashbulb still, frozen colorless against the dusty sunshaft. My memory shatters on that image, fragmenting to flashes of motion, echoes of conversation.
“Wait, Martin!.....blood, too?”
…”never blackmail…” My father hunched, tense.
“Take them back. I’ll never tell…my word…Otherwise…” Miss Gerstein’s hand gentling, pitying. My father slowly nodding, an odd, calculating look in his eye.
Two bent backs, harvesting the pearls. A flash in my father’s hand by her pocket as he opens her car door. A miniature comet arcing through her back window. Rumble of the garage door. Oily smoke from Miss Gerstein’s shabby Mini. Two boys running for the safety of arithmetic.
Later that afternoon, Lord Carlisle leaned into the school room. “A word, Miss Gerstein,” he held the door open.
Surprise and sorrow washed across her face as she glimpsed my father flanked by two police officers in the hallway. I glanced out the window. A policewoman searched Miss Gerstein’s car. She found a diamond bracelet in the back seat.
“No, Miss Gerstein! Please…” I lunged for her hand. Missed, but tore open her pocket. The diamond earrings from my father’s drawer shimmered to the floor, sparkling like tears. As my hand spun her toward me, her heel came down hard on one earring. The ‘diamond’ splintered. All the air, all the color drained out of the room.
From a far country I heard Lord Carlisle, “A thief – and a forger! Get her away from my son!”
It took a hundred years for the cruel curve of my father’s smile to register as understanding, then fear on Miss Gerstein’s face. They were leading her away in handcuffs. I looked from my hand to her torn dress, overcome with dread and shame. She looked back at us as long as she could, trying to smile, trying to signal something. We couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t hear.
We watched the brief interrogation from the schoolroom window. Miss Gerstein shook her head decisively. We strained to hear.
“Where’s the money, Miss Gerstein?”
The stream was a diamond bracelet beyond the car, filling the languid pool before pouring over the cement rim into the river that bounded the estate.
“I don’t know! I don’t know anything! You’ve got to believe me! Have I ever lied or mislead you before?” Her voice broke on the question.
“Apparently, your whole life is a lie, Miss Gerstein. If that is your real name!” That from my father.
“I would not have believed it, but I saw it. Lady Carlisle and I have trusted you …our son.”
“Now you’ve stolen his son’s heart and his inheritance, too,” my father snarled.
“And you!” Miss Gerstein faced him squarely, “You have stolen all I had - my good name.” She broke from the police escort and flung herself into the pool, rolling over and over toward the river spillway.
We were screaming, “Handcuffs! She’ll drown!” but no one heard us over the pandemonium in the courtyard.
“Can’t let her escape!” my father dove after her. We saw him arc deep, then go absolutely still.
Broke his neck. After that day, we all parted to our separate prisons. Lord Carlisle sank to relative poverty, caring for the fraud he thought had tried to save his fortune. Dad, banished to a paralyzed body, extended his own little hell to anyone who came close. Lord Albert & I were sent to boarding school. Even graduating to adult life did nothing to lance the diamond-hard pocket of darkness where I perpetually tear Miss Gerstein’s dress. Miss Gerstein. I never did learn where they sent her.
Now here she was, a miracle. Silvering around the edges. Bestowing the kiss of peace on her traitor, as if his treachery never had defined her like it did the rest of us.
She turned to me, “There’s something I’ve wanted to say to you ever since that last day.” She reached for my wretched hand. I couldn’t meet her eye.
“Thank you. You were the only one who tried to help me.”
“I tore your dress! I let them all see! I...like I was his accomplice!”
“Never! I knew you.”
“But if only I had kept still, you never…”
She ripped my darkness like a searchlight. “…never would have known how much you loved me! That memory sustained me through all these years.”
Color. Breath. Freedom! Stony guilt spilling out like false diamonds. I laughed. Laughed! She forgave the tear in her dress.