Friday, August 26, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: "Miss Mary's House"

I learned about Flash Fiction Friday thanks to Cherie Reich and her #flashfiction tweets. I have to admit, I'm still learning about the ins and outs of Twitter and the use of hashtags, but I'm finding the whole Twitter world more and more addicting. :)

Anyway, I decided to join the party myself, and give Friday Flash a shot. I wrote this story a few months ago, using a first sentence prompt from The Writer's Toolbox, one of my favorite toys. The prompt caught my interest as I found the line so dark and chilling, and I ended up with this story as a result. Hope you like it!

Miss Mary’s House

I put gardenias under her pillow, and then I set fire to her house.

I figured Miss Mary would want to be surrounded by her gardenias. It only seemed right. Nothing in this world meant more to her.

She planted her gardenias every spring and fall, making sure they got just the right amount of sun. She lovingly coaxed the bushes into bloom, and tended to the flowers with the devotion of a mother caring for her newborn. Miss Mary cut the most fragrant blossoms and placed them in glass bowls around her house. Her visitors were always greeted by the sweet scent of gardenias.

Everyone said Miss Mary had the most beautiful gardenias in six counties. Hell, they'd put her garden up against any in the country. Just driving past those flowers could brighten your day. 

Miss Mary played the organ every Sunday at church. She organized the hospitality guild, and she always had a smile for newcomers. She ran the flower guild. The pastor said he was sure the church wouldn't be able to function without Mary. Indeed, they said. We're so lucky to have her.

They rarely talked about me.

When they did, they spoke in hushed tones in the church hall or the grocery store or the teacher's lounge.

“I don't know how Mary puts up with that foster child.”

“Incorrigible, that's what he is.”

“You'd think he'd be grateful she took him in.”

 “A saint, that's what she is.”

I tried to tell the teachers and the social workers about the beatings with a belt. About the cigarette burns, and Miss Mary's laughter as the tip of her cigarette singed my skin. I tried to tell them about the pitch black closet she locked me in for days on end while she drank bourbon until she passed out.  I tried to tell them.

“There you go, making up lies again.” That's what they told me.

Miss Mary always kept me out of school when the bruises were at their worst. She sought guidance from the pastor and the school counselors on what to do about a child who harms himself with cigarettes. She fretted with the church ladies over lunch.

“You're doing all you can,” they said. “The child is lucky to have you.”

Miss Mary sighed and lit a cigarette, her hands trembling from the stress of it all. The church ladies shook their heads and patted Mary's hand.

“There, there. We're all here for you.”

Miss Mary loved her cigarettes. And not just for burning me. As the townspeople put it, smoking was Mary’s only bad habit. They wished she'd stop, for her own good, but surely she deserved this one vice.

When the fire marshal came to our school and talked about fire safety, I didn’t pay him much mind. Until he talked about the leading cause of house fire fatalities. Do you know what that is? Cigarettes.

I walked home after school and looked around at the upholstered furniture in Miss Mary's living room. The fire marshal had said that a lit cigarette can set a couch on fire in the blink of an eye. I glanced at the silk curtains covering the windows behind the couch, and I heard the fire marshal's voice in my mind.

“Silk, cotton... natural fabrics like these are highly flammable.”

That night, I stayed out of Miss Mary's way as she drank herself into a stupor and stumbled upstairs to her bed. I waited until I heard her snoring.

I went outside, and I cut every last one of her beloved gardenias. I scattered them around the first floor before I headed for Miss Mary's bedroom.

I took Miss Mary’s bourbon glass from her hand and placed it on her nightstand.  I arranged the gardenias, making sure to put a few extra under her pillow. My stomach lurched and I nearly vomited as the cloying smell of the flowers mixed with the stench of the alcohol.

I lit one of Miss Mary’s cigarettes, and took a long drag to steady myself. I breathed out the smoke, and dropped the burning cigarette onto the carpet.

I ran back downstairs, cigarettes in hand. I lit another, and tossed it onto the couch cushion. I waited until the upholstery ignited, and I watched as the flames shot up the curtains and spread along the wall to the ceiling.

And then I walked out of that house.


  1. Aww! Thanks for the mention. :)

    And this is a fabulous piece of flash fiction! I loved it!

  2. Wow, Julie. That first line really grabbed me. I liked the way the story unfolded to make Miss Mary less and less saintly. Nice job.

  3. @Cherie, thank you!! And you're welcome, I definitely wanted to give credit where it's due. :)

    @Mary, thanks so much, I'm glad you liked it.

  4. Very neat, I'm a newbie to Flash Fiction Fridays. Thanks for hipping me to it:)

  5. Wow, powerful. And for me, the question I left this story asking was. Did Mary believe what she told her friends?

  6. I like what you did with this. I liked the disparate imagery of the gardenias and the physical signs of abuse. Good job!

  7. @Mark, thanks! And you're welcome, I'm looking forward to reading your stories.

    @Angela, thank you! Oh, interesting question, my thought was that she didn't, but it's interesting to consider from the other perspective too.

    @LG, thank you, I appreciate it!

  8. Chilling story. My eyes are watering. You're a brilliant writer!

  9. Awesome opening, and the story delivered! Good stuff, Julie!

  10. Dang, maybe I don't want to meet you on a hiking trail, you definitely have a grip on the dark side. Wonderfully executed story, who knew? I hope you did not read this out loud to Clancy. :)

    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  11. @Suz, wow, thank you very much! I'm so glad you liked the story!

    @EJ, thank you! I really loved that opening line prompt.

    @Jules, ha, I didn't, although I could probably read it to Nate. Cats seem to love the dark side. :D Thanks so much!

  12. Great story Julie! Very chilling in a Hitchcock or Twilight Zone kind of way! This is another shining example of how versatile you are! Julie

  13. Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

    Lola x

  14. Wow. I loved how you put the image of Mary against who she really was. Well done. :-)

  15. @Julie, thank you! That's such a wonderful compliment to compare my story to Hitchcock or the Twilight Zone, thanks so much!

    @Lola, thank you! So glad you found it as well, great to meet you and I'm looking forward to checking out your blog.

    @Misha, thanks so much, I really appreciate it. :)

  16. I loved the first line. And the rest. Cool story.

  17. Wow, Julie, this is awesome. I love the emotional journey you took the reader on, from sympathizing with Miss Mary to aligning with the child and feeling some relief (but wanting to know more) in the end. Excellent job!

  18. Loved this, Julie! You've created a wonderful character in Miss Mary.

  19. Awesome Julie. At first I thought Mary was going to be an admirable character, and then you revealed her to be a monster-well done.

  20. @Carol, thank you!

    @Robyn, thanks so much, I appreciate it.

    @Talli, thanks!!

    @Tim, thank you, I'm so glad you liked it.

  21. Great development of a fantastically creepy first line. I'm glad to know about Flash Fiction Fridays now too.

  22. @Jillian, thank you! I'm looking forward to your flash fiction, thanks for coming by!

  23. Okay, that is one of the best first lines I've ever read!

  24. I'm late again. Sorry.
    This story... You really grasped the ways of hidden abuse.
    Outstanding the way you showed that perfect never is.
    Good work!

  25. @Ciara, I loved it too, it really intrigued me and I couldn't resist trying to write a story around it. Thanks so much. :)

    @Giggles, thank you, I really appreciate your comments. So glad you liked it!

  26. I loved your story - it grabbed my attention and held it throughout.

    I am dropping in to say 'hi' from the Writers Platform Campaign - I am in the same group as you - Adult Fiction 4 - I look forward to reading more of your work/blog and to getting to know you better.
    Joanna (Helen Clancy)

  27. That's a great flash fiction! You grabbed my attention from start to finish. Excellent!

  28. @Joanna, hi! It's great to meet you, and thank you very much for your comments about my story! It's great we are in the same group, I will be checking in with your blog soon!

    @Kara, thank you! I really appreciate it, thanks so much.

  29. WOW! That was absolutely incredible. I can definitely see why that is your most prideworthy post. Really, really well done. I love how you start out making Miss Mary seem so great and then we get hit with the other side of the story. Very chilling. Also the first line of this story rocked my world. Awesome!

  30. @Lisa, wow, thank you! I'm so glad you liked it, and your comments made my day. Thanks so much!


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