It’s flash fiction time as I ponder another challenge from Carrot Ranch. Charli’s May 27, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the above photo. You can make it a garden party or an international spy thriller. Who is there and why? Does the backdrop scenery make an impact or is it ignored? The place is on an island, if you wish to make use of that. Go where the photograph leads you this week.
The stunning locale first suggested a tale of romantic suspense, like those so beautifully evoked by mistress of the genre Mary Stewart in The Moonspinners or This Rough Magic. A boat landing on a remote mountain estate seemed a perfect setting for a flash about a chance meeting between a smart, independent (and yes, attractive) young woman and a generic tall, handsome, initially-suspect-but-ultimately-kind-and-sympathetic love interest. After all, it was authors like Stewart and Victoria Holt, whom I read voraciously through my teens, that compelled me to pursue my own foreign and romantic adventures upon reaching the age of burning freedom myself.
But then, a real-life story came to mind.
I heard the tale last July in Florida during a visit to a long-lost cousin of my husband’s. We’ll call him Billy. Affable, hard-drinking Billy had done very well for himself, not only in his career as an attorney but in his marriage to a wealthy sparrow of a woman with camellia skin and fair wispy curls, whom we shall call Savannah. On the patio of their luxury home, after a dip in the saltwater pool, I listened with deep fascination to Savannah’s story.
She had not been born into wealth. Rather, the youngest of seven children in a hardscrabble West Virginia family headed by a down-and-out alcoholic widower, the trajectory of her life had been radically redirected when a rich, local attorney adopted her as a young child. Overnight penury and hunger and squalor gave way to the privilege and trapping of a lonely, wealthy man’s only child.
Savannah never returned to the shack she’d shared with her rag-tag siblings, only visiting her father a few times before his death two decades later. Still, her wealth had not brought great happiness, or a love deepened by shared struggle, or health. Savannah told me her story in a thin whisper, conserving the breath now imperiled by her lung cancer. And during the six hours we spent there, Billy followed up on the libations he’d clearly imbibed before our arrival, downing beer after beer after beer.
The Lake House
Savannah surfaced and gulped the sweet, heavy air. It’s a dream, she thought. This lake, the blue mountains, the murmurings in the pines and skimming dragonflies.
She bobbed for a moment, then hoisted herself up the metal ladder. No, it was real, these wooden stairs, this path, the big house just ahead.
Clean, sweet-smelling New Papa was waiting there. She didn’t know why Real Papa had let New Papa take her away after Mama died. Or why New Papa hadn’t chosen one of the others.
A prayer beat inside her. Let me stay. Let me stay. Let me stay.