Thursday, May 16, 2013

Write at the Merge: Part of the Family


I met her because of the piano.  Peeking around my front door-propped open in hopes of creating enough of a breeze to cool off my stiflingly hot apartment-she was snapping her fingers and nodding her head in time with the Boogie-Woogie I was banging out on the enormous old upright I’d inherited from my grandmother.  “Gee whiz, I love that song!” she crooned. "Scrub Me Mamma With A Boogie Beat!”  I smiled and thanked her.  I didn’t have the guts tell her that in reality I was trying to play “Cow Cow Boogie.”  No matter.  From that melody on, we were destined to become friends.

She was a little older than I, and living in a small studio at the back of our building.  A stark contrast to my much grander two bedroom, with a balcony overlooking the city.  As she laid her past out before me, like a fortune teller with a deck of cards, I also learned that she worked as a secretary but dreamed of being a lady farmer, drove a 1939 Plymouth with a broken driver’s side door, and had rented a room in a boarding house up until a week ago, when fire destroyed not only the house, but most all of her possessions as well.  When I asked about family, she simply responded  “I’m on my own.”  I did not pry, but my glass of sympathy was full to the brim.

After that, I took her under my wing, inviting her to come along when I visited my own parents.  We made the hour long drive in her car, laughing each time at the spectacle of both of us having to climb in on the passenger side- while I was eternally grateful for the fact that riding with her saved me having to take the bus.  Most importantly though, it gave her a taste of what it was like to be part of a family-a family that welcomed her arrival every single time, with hugs and genuine happiness.

After leaving our apartment building one afternoon to go to a matinee showing of Double Indemnity, we were short-cutting across the college campus towards downtown when she stopped without warning, turned around, and pointed after a man walking away from us.  “See him?  The guy in the plaid hat?”  Her voice was ragged.  “That’s my father.  He’s a professor here.”  And then, sensing an explanation was needed,  “Oh, he doesn’t bother to acknowledge me anymore.  In fact, I haven’t spoken to anyone in my family for years.  It’s complicated.”  

I stood there, stunned, as she bit her trembling lower lip.  Watched helplessly as her eyes welled up and her body sagged, revealing the depth of her pain.  She might not be an orphan in the technical sense, but she certainly had been sentenced to live like one.

“I have an idea,”  I offered, taking her arm and linking it with mine.  “Let’s go home.  I bet mom will make us a rhubarb pie.”


This piece of fiction was inspired by a college friend who really and truly had the worst luck of anyone I’ve ever known-including the broken car, the fire, and the ultimate sorrow-rejection by his family.  He spent many happy hours visiting my parents, who treated him with kindness and made him feel like he mattered.  I’ve heard he lives in a neighboring town, battling schizophrenia, but now thankfully, is reconciled with his mother.

writing prompt 

Welcome to Week 20 of Write at the Merge, where you have up to 500 words for your creative writing response to the week’s prompt. A quick reminder that Write at the Merge welcomes fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry responses and that you are free to use either part (or both) of the prompt in your response.

The link will be open until 11:59 PST on Thursday. Happy Writing!

The first part of this week’s prompt is the word: orphan. Please feel free to use any definition of the word for inspiration.

The second half of the prompt is an image:

This image courtesy of F3D3.86 via Flickr Creative Commons

This image courtesy of F3D3.86 via Flickr Creative Commons


  1. OOOOh, my grandparents met because of her love for a piano. He bought her one after they were married. He died after 15 years of marriage in the Flu of 1919 leaving her with 4 children and a piano. The youngest of the 4 children (My Aunt Essie), Essie's son and his wife have the piano in their home today. Essie inherited it from Grandma. awh.

    Now stop that mushy stuff and I will proceed to thank you for your loving words of my joyful grandies. Oh yes, you haven't seen the last of them.


    Love to you too, my sweet friend!

  2. ..........hahahahaha, the old green lemon hahahahaha...........

  3. I always enjoy the way you capture the mood and era of your subject - the little details work so well. Thank you.

  4. I love that she found a safe place after all. Sometimes I think that family is what you make it. I really enjoyed your story LM x

  5. Oh I loved every sentence of this story. I could feel the emotions of happiness at the family you shared and then sadness overwhelmed me at the endand I wanted to cry and then back to happy. Oh you are so good at that. Great job. B

  6. Oh I really love this one! It's a bit different than most of your stuff. I love the characters and the sympathy in the piece.

    I went to a local writer's club meeting last night - I will have to write you about it!

  7. I like how you approached the prompt. Lovely narrative voice.

  8. Oh gosh, what a bittersweet ending. I'm happy she was able to find a family that truly loved and accepted her :) Great story, Valerie.

  9. What a lovely way to show that family doesn't have to be the people to whom we're related by blood. I love that the response wasn't a conversation but the reminder that she HAD found a family to love her.

  10. The family you choose is just as important as the family you're born into. What a great friendship!

  11. I LOVE a good waterfall....

    The story was so very lovely Valerie! Every story ends best with rhubarb pie :-)