Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Picture

It's time for another Red Dress Club writing prompt. This week's assignment is to write about finding something in a closet or a drawer and what it means to the character. I think the item was supposed to be an article of clothing, but, well, I tweaked it. Because I can.


Charlie Simmons didn't have any friends. They didn't much suit him. His carefully constructed life was free from the obligations required by social interaction. He preferred, instead, the warm company of Tchaikovsky and Pinot during the unproductive hours of a quiet evening.

One night, Charlie couldn't sleep. After several fitful hours, he rose from the bed and wandered downstairs. The house was silent.

In the kitchen, he glared with disgust at a carton of milk. There was nothing wrong with the milk, other than the fact that it was milk.The housekeeper purchased some each week when she went for the groceries, insisting that it was healthy and he might like it if only he would try. For months this standoff had led to nothing more than a lot of wasted cartons. Still, he stood there staring at it. Until, without thinking, he poured himself a glass.

A light was on in the office. He couldn't remember leaving a light on, but the glow illuminated the carpet around the door. He pushed open the door, half expecting to see someone at the desk. The room was empty and he shook his head at his own foolishness, crossing the Persian rug to snap off the lamp.

He stopped.

The closet door was open. Just a few inches. The housekeeper had probably missed it earlier when she was  cleaning. Charlie tried to push it closed, but it was stuck on something. He tried again. Still nothing. He pulled the handle and the door swung out, revealing the obstruction. A half-open box lay on its side, the fall from a shelf causing its contents to spill at his feet.

A t-shirt. A ball. Several books and a few baseball cards. Trinkets from a long-forgotten childhood sentenced  to an eternity on the top shelf of a rarely used closet.

He scooped the mementos back into the box, brushing his finger against the sharp corner of a picture frame.  There were four boys in the picture. All around age twelve. Frozen in time beside a glittering lake, surrounded by mountains and pine trees and miles of brilliant sky. The colors in the photo had faded some with time, but the sudden discovery of the image caused Charlie's knees to buckle and he sank to the floor.

It was summer camp, some forty years ago. Painfully shy, the 12-year-old Charlie spent most of his time alone. And then, one warm June afternoon, his parents left him at the front doors of Camp Neyati. His mother would come alone to collect him at the end of the summer, after the divorce proceedings were well underway.

He'd barely had time to pick up his suitcase before being descended upon by three boys his own age. John, Tim, and Billy.

Charlie touched the photograph, brushing each of their faces as he remembered the details about them. Where they were from. Who their families were. All the pranks they managed to dream up. Flashes of memory became a flood as he thought of archery contests and unauthorized canoe races across the lake. There would never be another summer like the one he spent at Camp Neyati.

They got together as often as they could. But Billy got sick the next year. He never went to camp again. A few years later, John survived most of the war, only to be killed in a plane crash on his way home. Charlie and Tim eventually parted ways. They had their reasons. Both agreed it was for the best.

But as he sat on the floor of the quiet office in his empty house, Charlie found himself wishing to talk to his old friend.

With a sigh, he got to his feet and picked up the box. He had no use for those souvenirs. He would tell the housekeeper to get rid of them in the morning.

The picture, though. That, he kept.

18 comments:

Nancy C said...

This hit me right in the gut. Four boys, each fighting their own battle, finding each other.

I believe in the power of summer camp. I would love you to dip into their experiences more. Great stories there, I'm guessing.

Nicely done.

Stacey said...

Very nicely done! I can feel how powerful that summer was for him. You portrayed very well the importance of it. And the fact that it's the only thing he wants to keep from the box makes it mean that much more!

Ratz said...

It is a nice, longing work Karen. I admired the way you decided the fate for John...

I have to ask here though why did you bring forth the bit with the milk. I am actually confused as to know about its significance.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Aww...kind of sad, but nicely done. :)

Lori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sonora said...

I loved your first paragraph. I thought it was beautifully written, to the point, and let us get a quick snapshot of the character. I also loved the line "Trinkets from a long-forgotten childhood sentenced to an eternity on the top shelf of a rarely used closet."
I don't know about you, but I have a hard time keeping my stories to 600 words when there is so much more to say. Intriguing story. I enjoyed reading it!

tsonodablog said...

I loved this story. It said something we can all relate to. I would love to read stories about him and his friends from the past. There could be so much more to tell here.
And I agree with Sonora...it is very hard to keep these stories at 600 words and say what needs to be said. I have gone over every time but once.

Mandyland said...

Your first paragraph hooked me. It was brilliantly crafted to give me a vivid picture of your character.

Nice job!

Jennee said...

This makes me sad. Well done on capturing the emotion but for making me sad, I demand something funny next time.

CDG said...

Such a great beginning! So many questions...

Jack said...

I enjoyed this because you captured a moment in time that is easy to relate to. Most of us lose touch with friends and spend some time wondering what happened to them.

This could have real legs and turn into a much larger tale.

Jennifer said...

Oh, I so wanted him to pick up that phone. I loved the suspense you set up and the milk battle, and I certainly wanted to know what happened with Tim, what a teaser!

Carrie said...

I've happened across an old photograph and wondered what had happened to some of the people in it. This rang very true

Visiting from RDC

Stephanie said...

"Trinkets from a long-forgotten childhood sentenced to an eternity on the top shelf of a rarely used closet." I love this line. Absolutely love it. It sums up all of our memories of the past I think. I don't really get the point of the milk in the beginning either, but I understand his sudden loneliness. I want to know more about these 4 boys and if he and Tim will ever actually talk to each other again.

(Florida) Girl said...

Your description of Charlie in that first paragraph was spot on. I felt like I knew exactly who he was as an adult.

Jessica Anne said...

I loved the description of him in the beginning, I really got a sense of him as a man. I also liked the glimpses into the four boys' lives. I would love to read more of their stories. I hope this is part of a longer work. :)

MrsJenB said...

This was a nice story, albeit a sad one - but you knew that... ;-)

I'm wondering, though, about the milk...maybe a little more could be drawn about the characters, about why the last of the friends stopped contacting each other, if the part about the milk was left out? Just a thought.

Amber @ The Mom Road said...

This was so sweetly sad, I hope he called him. I hope he made the effort and reconnected. Great story.