Writing Prompts. Every writer has used them at some point in their career, (whether willingly or not.) They’re like an adrenaline shot to your muse. You know, usually.
Looking for a way to keep our writing fresh and versatile, my friend Anna and I are going to be starting a prompt inspired post that we call Writing Wednesdays.
Breakdown: Every first and third Wednesday of the month, on both Anna’s blog and mine, we’ll post a prompt that we’ve either found or come up with ourselves, as well as our own flash fiction or short story for that prompt. Please feel free to join us! Just make sure that when you post, you link your work back – and comment with a link – to one of ours so everyone can read yours too!
PROMPT: It had been too long.
It had been too long.
Ethan stood at the bottom of the staircase in front of the padlocked door, trying to catch his breath. He didn’t have it in him to get down stairs like that anymore. In one hand he gripped the handle of his walking cane and the other groped beneath the collar of his shirt. He drew out an old key that hung from a chain around his neck. His arthritic fingers clutched the brass awkwardly as he unlocked the door, which creaked as it swung open.
The room beyond was concrete and square, with no windows and only the one door. Ethan shuffled cautiously into the room and reached up, finding the chain that activated the bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. He squinted as his eyes adjusted to the pale yellow light that filled the room, and it took a minute before he could fully make out the meagre contents of the room.
Against the wall opposite the door stood a small, upright piano. The mahogany wood was nicked and scratched and covered in a fine layer of grey dust. A single page of sheet music rested in the stand, yellowed with age. Above the piano was a square mirror, reflecting back a face of lines and creases with foggy eyes and thin hair. Next to the piano was a small end table with a large blue photo album on top of it. He traced his fingers over the cover, outlining the ornate golden E in the bottom corner, before flipping it open.
The pages were filled with photographs, starting with a black and white photo of a young couple on their wedding day. Curling script on the bottom declared them ‘Ethan and Moira,’ with the date beneath it, some sixty-three years ago. Ethan dragged a fingertip fondly over the woman’s beautiful face, smiling and bright as she gazed up at him. That had been so long ago now.
Normally he never waited so long. Normally he’d have been sat at the piano decades ago.
But then he’d never known anyone like her before.
Flipping through decades of memories, Ethan felt his eyes stinging with loss and love. They had had such a good life together. A whirlwind romance and an extravagant wedding. A honeymoon in Europe. Fourteen pages in was the photograph of their first child’s birth, little Michael who was now an old man in his own rights, with children and grandchildren of his own.
Six pages later came Jessica, and then Tyler. The entire middle of the book documented the steady growth of the three children, from infancy to college graduations. Then came the grandchildren. Throughout the whole thing was her smiling face, eye crinkled at the corners and nothing but pure adoration and happiness in her gaze. Gradually her hair turned white and her face became etched with wrinkles, but that same smile was always there.
He turned to the last page in the book and stared at the blank photo sleeve. There was really only one thing left to add now. Ethan reached into his pocket and drew out the folded sheet of newsprint he’d cut from the Sunday morning paper. He smoothed it out in his palm, a more recent photograph of Moira grinning up at him beneath the bolded heading of ‘Moira Lynn Anderson.’ His eyes slid over key phrases – ‘died peacefully,’ ‘survived by her husband, three children, seven, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild,’ ‘will be sorely missed.’
A tear trembled at the corner of his eye as he slid the obituary into the photo sleeve. After nearly seventy years together, she was really gone. In all his life he’d never felt a pain quite like that moment when he’d watched the light disappear from her eyes, the corner of her mouth still turned up in the ghost of a smile.
Ethan shook his head and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. His legs shook as he lowered himself down to sit on the piano bench, leaning his cane against the side. Deep down he didn’t want to do this but she had made him promise, and no matter how badly it hurt him to think about, he could never break a promise. Not when it came to her.
The hinges screeched loudly as he opened the lid, revealing the row of ivory keys. He struck one note, the middle C, and listened to the out-of-tune sound. Not that it mattered if it was in tune. Never had before. He stretched his painful fingers and set them on the keys, squinting through his bifocals at the sheet music.
It truly had been too long. He should’ve done this ages ago but he couldn’t bear to leave her. Now that he had nothing to stay for, he wasn’t sure if his fingers had the strength to do what they had always done before.
The notes came out coarse and sickly as his fingers stumbled across the keys. Every time he faltered he would stop, find his place on the sheet music, and begin again. The longer he played the easier it became. The aches left his fingers and they moved with deft precision; his posture straightened as the weight lifted from his spine. After six measures his vision began to clear and he removed his glasses with a quick jerk of his wrist. His breathing steadied, his muscles strengthened, and his eyes drifted shut as decades of memories softened and faded into the music.
The song ended on a quick series of high eighth notes that vibrated in the concrete room, and Ethan’s eyes opened. There was a pleasant fuzziness in his head and he blinked slowly, trying to get his bearings. He looked down at his hands, the fingers limber and the skin smooth and pale. When he stood, the face that greeted him in the mirror was fresh and youthful, the very image of a man in his prime.
His gaze landed on a blue photo album on the table beside him and he stared at it curiously. Part of him longed to reach out and touch it, to open the pages and see what lay inside. At the same time, something in him was holding back. He knew that whatever was in that book was gone and knowing would only bring him pain. He couldn’t say how he knew it, but he did.
Shaking his head, Ethan closed the lid on the piano and turned away. There was no point in longing for things that were over. He reached up to turn off the light and froze. There, on his left third finger, was a simple gold band. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what it was: a wedding ring.
“I was married,” he breathed in surprise.
Well that was a new one. He stepped up to the table that held the photo album and hesitated. The curiosity was burning inside of him. Of all the times he’d woken up at that piano, there had never been a ring on his finger before. His hand lingered on the cover and all it would take was a tiny movement to open that door to a life he had had before.
“No.” Ethan determinedly slid the ring off his finger. After staring at it for a long second, he set the band on top of the photo album. He was better off not knowing. He turned off the light and shut the door to the room behind him, hanging the key on its chain around his neck again.
Whatever lay in that book was over. It was time for a new beginning.
Anna’s post: here
Next Week’s Prompt: There was too much dust.
Please leave comments with suggestions, prompts, and of course links to your works. We look forward to seeing what you write!