So last week — inspired by the book Lit Riffs – I challenged all of us to write a short story inspired by or based on a song. I won’t lie to you — I’m more uncomfortable writing short stories than I am writing blog posts. I’ve always found writing fiction to be difficult. So I really struggled with this one. And — for once — I wasn’t trying to be funny. But being serious is hard for me. I feel awkward, uncomfortable and unnatural. Plus I think my “serious” writing sucks rocks. I feel it is contrived and simplistic and formulaic. It makes me appreciate “real” writers all the more. But I challenged you to do it so I can’t really skip out on it myself, can I?
So here you go — my short story based on the song “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles. The song lyrics that “inspired” me can be found here. And Mr. Linky is down below for you to link up your own attempts at this game. I can’t wait to see what you came up with! I’m sure I’m going to read them and say “DAMN IT! Why didn’t I think of that?”
(For lack of a better title. I told you it was dumb!)
Eleanor sat quietly — feeling the pains in her back subside a little. She sighed and wondered how long she had left. She knew the time was getting close, but she didn’t know exactly when it would come. She wondered if it would happen during the night and she wouldn’t even know. Would she just wake up and find herself some place wonderful? Some place full of light and happiness? Or would the end come suddenly when she was awake? Perhaps a fall and a long fading away when nobody came to find her.
Better to just dream and not think about it. Eleanor had always been good at dreaming. It made her life more bearable. She dreamt of far-away places she read about in her books. She dreamt of her childhood. She dreamt of that long ago day when she’d realized that she had found love — only to have to tuck that love away, deep inside her heart, where no one could see it. She dreamt about how different her life would be now. She dreamt of a son. A daughter. Grandchildren. A house full and noisy instead of empty and quiet.
Eleanor blinked away the tears. Better to dream about happier things that could be rather than what hadn’t been. If only. If only….if only he hadn’t been so sure of his calling.
Father McKenzie was working late in the rectory — trying to find just the right words for tomorrow’s sermon. Although he knew the minds of most of the congregation would be occupied with other matters — the yard work to be done after Mass, the bills that were mounting up — he took his time and wrote slowly. Because there would be one person who would be listening.
He knew it was painful for her to make her way to Mass each day. But she never missed a day. Not a single day in 20 years. And although she had given up her volunteer work on the church committees a few years back due to the pain from the cancer, she didn’t stop coming to Mass. His sermons were the only way he could communicate with her — to tell her what he wished he had told her years ago on that day. The day he regretted and thought of daily. The day he turned away from her love and dedicated himself to God.
He wondered now if he had made the right choice. Some days, it seemed that he had — especially when listening to the troubled couples in the parish lay out their problems and vexations with each other. But other days — especially on days when the church was filled with the happiness and joy of a wedding — he thought perhaps he had made the wrong choice. He could see himself in the groom’s face. And he could see Eleanor glowing in her bridal dress — instead of sweeping up the rice after a wedding had ended.
He wasn’t sure if she knew he had watched her during those times. She had always volunteered to help with weddings — whether with the decorations or singing or clean-up afterwards. He’d seen her once sweeping the rice that had been scattered on the church steps. Her hair had caught the sunlight and she’d been outlined in a glowing light that seemed to transform her from an ordinary woman into an angel sent from heaven. That day, he’d almost run to her and cried out “I was wrong! I made a mistake. Let’s go somewhere where no one knows us and start over again.” But when he’d looked back, she’d disappeared and the moment passed and the years passed and now he only talked to her in the sermons. He wondered if she knew.
He began working again — writing slowly. Trying to find the right words for her.
The next morning, Father McKenzie entered the church and immediately felt her absence. He looked at her usual spot. It was empty. Perhaps she was moving slower today. She would be here. He knew it.
Mass ended. Eleanor had not arrived.
After greeting the last of the parishioners, Father McKenzie quickly walked down the street — hurrying past the children playing in the yards. He didn’t hear them call out to him. He didn’t hear the dogs barking or the birds singing. He heard only his heart beating loud and fast. He turned down her street. Her house was at the end. A tiny little cottage with a lovely little garden out front — her one vanity. He knocked at the door. There was no answer.
He tried the front door and it opened easily. In such a small town, no one locked their doors. He stepped inside and stopped. The house smelled like lavender and gingerbread. The room was plain and simple but comfortable. He heard a clock ticking. He’d never been inside before.
Beside the door, there was a small blue jar and inside was a photograph he recognized instantly. It was from that glorious day, that tragic day. The day when he’d walked away from her forever. In the photo, they were smiling at each other. He could see now that Eleanor had never looked the same after that day — the light had gone out of her eyes on that day. The sparkle. The hope.
He found her in her bedroom. She looked peaceful and she had a small smile on her face. He laid his head on her chest and wept.
The funeral was sparsely attended. Only a few of the older ladies attended, as they always did. They were surprised by how emotional Father McKenzie seemed to be. He was barely be able to get through the mass, and his voice quivered and trembled. He looked like he had aged 10 years in a single day.
He was the only one who attended the burial. He laid a single red rose on the freshly dug grave and walked away — wiping the dirt from his hands.
Later that night, Father McKenzie died in his sleep. He had a small smile on his face.
Literary Criticism From Mr. Jenners:
Literary Criticism From Mr. Jenners:So after writing this little story, I asked Mr. Jenners for his thoughts. His first comment? “It would have been better if there was a surprise ending … like if at the end he finds out she is f**king another guy.” Gee — thanks, sweetie. I think that would have been a much better and more exciting ending.
Then he thought I should have had it go this way: They took a photo booth picture (you know, those ones in little strips?) way back when. Each of them had one of the squares. Father McKenzie looks at his each night. And in the end, he finds Eleanor with a photo clutched in her cold, dead hand. He pries open her hands … and finds a photo of his brother. Needless to say, I decided to disregard this suggestion as well.
And Mr. Jenners alternate title for the story: Always the Pastor, Never the Groom.
So now it is your turn! What song did you choose? What story did you come up with? I sure hope it is better than mine! I’m really excited to see what you came up with. Link up using Mr. Linky below. Thanks to everyone who played along. I love that you join me on these little writing exercises!