It Starts with The Word: Ball

The first of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once. This week’s word was: Ball.

Gloria Weiner walked past the house on the corner, a one-story ranch from the forties, green stucco and white wood, its hammock-frame empty in January. The landlord had cut down the big plum that grew in the corner of the yard at Christmas, the tree that shielded the small yard from the street. For Lease signs hung on the fence.

She’d lived on this street for thirty years, a hillside neighborhood where rentals and duplexes alternated with the homes of long-timers like herself,  like Frank and Paul, all aging together like old fruit trees. Frank, a sturdy, robust seventy with gleaming white hair and moustache, swept nonexistent leaves from his immaculate driveway.  “Empty again,” he called out. “That didn’t last long.”

As if it were some sort of triumph, Gloria thought, picking up a plastic sack blowing down the early evening street.  To them, the oldtimers, the hill was a bit like the shows where people were voted off islands.  Only the survivors mattered. She and Paul and Frank, Betsy and Irv down the street, the composer, Ben, and his little dachshund, the Changs, with their mother in law unit which somehow failed to meet code, she’d watched them all, as they had watched her, painting and sweeping and repairing leaks in garages and roofs,  working on gardens, divorcing, as she and Sam had, their children growing up, leaving for college…

While the young people came and went.   On the balconies overhanging the steep curves of the street, they played their guitars and smoked their cigarettes and weed, drank beer and barbequed on smoky hibachis, while the drummers among them practiced in the ground-level garages with the doors raised.  Every month or two, one would have an enormous party, and the old-timers would patiently wait out, glancing at the clock, 3 a.m., 4 a.m., hoping not have to call the police.  They too, after all, had been young.

But the house on the corner… the pretty couple, a sunny-haired girl and her broadshouldered husband, playing with their toddler in the little fenced yard in the shade of the black plum, drinking cocktails in the evenings with friends, lying in the hammock together on long summer afternoons, throwing a ball for an exuberant lab who would catch it in midair, leaping up, its ears flying.

She didn’t know them. They were renters. They didn’t come to the neighborhood watch, they weren’t on the phone tree. They didn’t garden or paint or repair or make friends with the neighbors. They lay in the hammock, made cocktails for friends, listened to Elvis Costello in the waning afternoons.  They’d decorated their giant agave for Christmas, purple balls hooked onto each wicked blue-green terminal.

She wished the landlord hadn’t cut down that tree. It denuded the small house, turned it from a graceful thing of summer evenings and fairy lights into another object of commerce. She missed those people–honestly, more than she would miss Frank or Paul.

Frank had painted his house again, the same green he painted it every year.  And the pretty young couple, their front-yard sundown cocktails, their toddler, their flying dog, had gone away.

next week’s word: scissor

9 Responses to “It Starts with The Word: Ball”

  1. are we supposed to write something too?

  2. I can picture the whole scene – bitersweet.

  3. I used to have a girlfriend, her name was Ellen. She was always saying that we were going to have a ball. I liked her a lot and wanted it to work. A few weeks into our relationship we’d gone skinny dipping in the reservoir and got caught by her uncle, the town sheriff. He made us get out naked and soaking wet, then rudely watched us get dressed and told us that next time he’d run us in. That sure wasn’t a ball. There was something about her though, that I didn’t trust. But she was a good kisser and that made up for a lot, I kidded myself. I wanted to trust her because she had the deepest, purest blue eyes of any girl I’d ever been with.

    One night she said she couldn’t meet me after work because she had to work late. Ellen was a nurse and I knew that sometimes she had to work into the night in the Emergency Room. But I didn’t believe her when she’d called me. Something in her voice told me she wasn’t really going to be at the hospital. Around eight that night as I was getting gas I saw her on the back of Nicky Soldattos Harley as they flew down South Street with her arms locked around him. They sure looked like they were having fun. I stopped pumping the gas and put the nozzle back on the hook and leaned against the door of my VW. I stood there for a long time and looked at the pavement and listened to the drone of the traffic.

    I didn’t see Ellen for a few days, but when I did she asked me what I was doing for the week- end. I said I didn’t have any plans. She smiled her perfect smile at me and pulled me close to her and hugged me, “Man, we’re gonna have a ball.”

    I looked at her and wanted to make believe that I hadn’t seen her on Nicky’s bike, but couldn’t.

  4. Starr Kuzak Says:

    Janet – Your details are precious. I love “front-yard sundown cocktails,” and “flying dog.”

  5. I enjoyed your vivid use of imagery; felt like I was there.

    Funny coincidence, we live in a 1920’s cottage, bungalow, surrounded by: a massive , condo, (balconies included,) a two story apartment building and a duplex next door, complete with party people and hibachi’s.

    That being said, I could easily relate to and identify with your characters; they were realistic and entertaining – quite readable.

  6. How poetic … Just like you. The music of words and a lover of ink – your talent and gifts to the world.

  7. Kat Dellinger Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story of yours. The details, the imagery, you really made me feel like it was a place so familiar and felt as though I were walking along with the Gloria.
    The street that you write of here genuinely reminds me of the street I now live on, with my toddler and partner. We live up on a hill in a Duplex and just down the street are the apartments with the balconies. Then, there are some beautiful, spanish style homes with roses and magnolia bushes in the front yards with cute little fences. But somehow I felt like I knew that place you were writing of and I find that similiar in all of your writing that I have been able to read. I feel like I know the places and people very intimately. I love Detail and rich imagery like that. Thanks for giving me something nice and new to read on a Sunday Morning! I enjoy it.

  8. […] at 12:56 am (Uncategorized) Following Janet Fitch’s prompt of the week, I’ve written a short story that uses her word choice as an inspirational jumping-off […]

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