Story Chat for September

This month’s story is by Val Chapman.

Val is one of the founder members of our writing group, The Whittlesey Wordsmiths.

No Stone Unturned

Val Chapman

Barbara sat back on her heels and tilted her face to the sun.

She had spent the last half-hour on her knees weeding her garden, and her back was screaming out for a break.

Despite the pain, Barbara smiled. She loved her garden. She would sometimes get so lost in her task that she almost forgot she was eighty years old and could expect a few aches and pains. For late September, the weather had been very mild, and Barbara relished the opportunity to potter about in her garden. She loved spending time here, tending to her roses, and keeping the borders neat and tidy.

The cherry tree was her favourite; its beautiful pink blossom guaranteed to lift her spirits and, although it didn’t last long, it was worth the wait. With a sigh, she came back to the moment.

She had seen the cherry blossom for the last time.

She was dying.

Cancer, the doctor had said.

A few weeks, he had said.

That was two months ago, and Barbara knew it wouldn’t be long now. She could feel death creeping through her bones. She wasn’t sure whether or not it bothered her.

She decided to leave the rest of the weeding for now. There wasn’t much left to do, and she could always finish it tomorrow. The weather forecast predicted more fine weather, so she would be able to sort it out then.

Back in her bungalow, Barbara made herself a reviving cup of tea, and took it outside to the seat beside the back door. Settling herself on the floral cushion, she allowed her mind to wander back to when she and Gordon had moved in.

She had met Gordon on the bus. They travelled on the same route every day, and quickly struck up a friendship, leading to much more. Love at first sight, Gordon had said.

She had just started work at the local department store, and he was working for the council: an office job. Barbara was impressed: thought he was going places. Her family, coming from generations of farmers and labourers, were less sure: wary of the ‘posh bloke’ their Barbara had set her sights on.

Despite the reservations of her family, Barbara and Gordon were married quickly and moved into the little bungalow where Barbara still lived.

Whilst all the surrounding houses had changed to some degree – extensions here, conservatories there – their home had barely changed except for new double-glazed windows and carpets or wallpaper every few years. Although Barbara decided to have a new kitchen put in a few years back, that’s as far as she was prepared to go. She liked it the way it was and focused her efforts on the garden. A product of her upbringing, she was stronger than she looked, and loved being outdoors.

The pond she dug was her pride and joy for a while until she became tired of scooping out leaves and other debris and filled it in to make a rockery. She had been careful to select the right plants for the right places, and it didn’t take long to recapture the garden’s pristine appearance.

Ar first, even Gordon had enjoyed working in the garden, but he soon tired of it, leaving it the sole domain of Barbara.

She and Gordon had a few rows during their marriage; what couple didn’t? Since he lost his job, though, these became more frequent and vicious as Gordon gambled and drank his way through their savings.

It had been years now since he disappeared. Just walked out and left.

She called the police, of course, but they didn’t seem too concerned about a married man walking out on his wife, even suggesting it may have been her own fault for nagging him. If a grown man wanted to leave, there was little they could do about it. They searched for him, but soon found more important things to look into.

That was many years ago. There had been no trace of him since.

elm leaf

Several weeks after Barbara had finished the weeding and pruned the roses, death finally claimed her.

One of her last thoughts was for the new owners of her house. She hoped they wouldn’t be too upset when they discovered the skeleton of a man with a hand weeder in his chest, buried under the rockery.

Over to you!

  • Did you visualise other endings to the story? Where would you have taken it?
  • At what points did you emphathise with Barbara? 
  • Imagine those new owners. Can you feel a story coming on?

Don’t be shy. Join the conversation.

36 thoughts on “Story Chat for September

      1. Well at least the dark ideas for murder or other crimes are just in writing… for now.
        Writing gives us a platform to explore totally different sides of our personalities. I’m normally quite happy and upbeat.. honestly.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean about guessing the end. I often do the same. Must be our naturally suspicious minds. Maybe your husband didn’t really fall in, perhaps he was trying it for size…?!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have two ponds in ours. One was empty when we moved in and my husband re-lined it to hold fish. I’d have suggested we fill it in if I’d known then what I know now (about pond maintenance, that is… not about hubby).

        Like

  1. Good story with a twist at the end. Made me chuckle which is always good. Not enough story about Gordon though. Did Barbara still love him once he changed. Our neighbours found what looked like an old grave way up in the bush behind their home. We had a few wines one day and told stories of what we thought it might be. Maybe there is a Gordon lying somewhere beneath the rubble.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I did think about including a bit more of Gordon, but it was written as a group exercise and I was a little limited regarding word count. This is one of the first stories I wrote since joining the u3a writing group and therefore one of the first stories I have ever written. As I (hopefully) progress with my writing I may find the confidence to know what to include and what to discard.
      I have since discovered quite a number of people who have ‘grave shaped’ plots in their gardens. They can’t all be filled in ponds can they?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Cathy.

    Welcome Val! Loved your story. I tend to not try and guess much about how the story is going to unfold as I prefer to let the writer simply unfold it as he/she prefers.
    That said, I did somehow manage to guess in general what was coming but mostly because I expect some twist in each Story Chat offering. But let me get there.

    You created a wonderful opening scene with Barbara and her garden. I could see it, feel it and almost taste the fresh scents. You crafted her very well and the note about her dying of cancer felt exactly as some elderly I’ve met and known received similar news. Mature, self-composed and ready for the next phase of life.
    Your use of her stopping for tea and her comfy cushion to recall the rest of the story, put the story telling into her mind rather than the narrator’s voice. As a reader, this device works wonders for me. The character’s voice or thoughts rather than the omnipotent narrator is always helps draw me into the story.
    The story of Gordon felt perfect – a nearly perfect match with just enough blemish to allow them to succeed where it was unexpected, a bit of us against them style victory that only made them stronger until the job loss, hmm, I could see this. With his background, he was expected to succeed so when he did fail, a sad and point-less crash made sense. But now the tension is baited and something is bound to break. But what?

    Then he left. Fitting but, I’ll let you decide if it causes a problem.
    I think you left a small problem, but easy to resolve.
    Recall that at this point, the reader can assume that we’re listening in on her thoughts, not a narrator.
    A narrator is thought to be omnipotent (within the story) and can’t lie to the reader. So if a narrator told us that, “…he disappeared. Just walked out and left.” the reader should register this as a fact that can be trusted. If a character says or thinks it, then the door is left open for possible deception but in this case Barbara is just thinking to herself with us listening in. Why would she lie to herself? It does not seem consistent with her character.
    But, I think this is easy to resolve with something like: “She recalled how everyone thought he disappeared. Just walked out and left.” and completely keeps us in her mind without her oddly telling herself a known untruth.
    I loved how you finished the story. I did not see how the old pond was finally used because like her, I might have been tempted to fill the thing in after years of trying to keep it clean.

    Then there was a nice contest switch back to the narrator and your last two paragraphs.
    She succumbed to the cancer and worried about the new owners.
    Oh my — these lines were perfect and delivered like a pro!
    Bravo Val.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A masterly summing up, Gary. Thanks for putting so much into it.
    I see your point about ‘Just walked out and left’, but I think there’s an even shorter way for Barbara to phrase her reminiscence without lying to herself. How about, ‘…disappeared: left the house and never came back.’ ?
    She’s being cheekily ingenuous by relaying what the rest of the world sees, and it’s the truth. After all, she doesn’t say he was alive at the time.

    Like

    1. Oh Gary, thank you so much for your comments. I feel humbled that you took the time and effort to let me have your thoughts. As I have mentioned previously, this is a new venture for me (if anything for us over 60’s can be considered ‘new’) I am very happy to accept any hints and tips to help improve my writing. You are of course quite right, and Cathy too, in pointing out a way to make the story more…, well, “more”.
      Perhaps I could have just left it as “It had been years now since he disappeared.” Though on reflection I think that would really have given the game away.
      Whatever, I will endeavour to look more closely at my writing in future.
      Thanks once again for your input and delightful remarks.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, Patsy, you may say that now……
      I can only assume you haven’t been married that long!
      I know what you mean about gardening, although sometimes I come back inside more stressed than I went out after seeing the effects of the snails’ overnight shenanigans.
      Glad you enjoyed it.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I have been reminded of a quote from Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad which I recently re-read…
      “She had buried three husbands and at least two of them had been already dead.”

      Like

  4. Val, I loved the story and the title. I did not see the ending coming until the end, which is an art I have never mastered. So this story has started my brain humming, which I love about Story Chats.

    The story might have been a secret for generations if Barbara hadn’t tipped off the new owners. But did she? It’s not clear that she did tip them off. She only hoped they wouldn’t be upset. (her last thoughts)

    Pretty bad police-work, I’d say.

    Let’s say she did tip them off, which I don’t think she did.

    I know new owners love to make changes in the property, but digging up a rockery is a lot of work. If they received a tip then they are going to have to dig it up just for curiosity’s sake – or do they? What if they dig it up, and there’s nothing? The joke is on them for digging up their beautiful yard – obviously one of the major selling points because Barbara hadn’t done much to the house.

    Or maybe the new owners didn’t dig it up, and the secret is good for 60 years when they put in a new shopping mall or a multi-family complex.

    I think she should have left a letter for the inept police department to be found or sent when she died, as a poke at their professionalism. The police would then have paid the new owners a visit and insisted on digging up their yard, and the owners then would have an extreme cause to be upset and no recourse.

    Barbara was great at keeping secrets, and apparently Gregory had no friends or family who would miss him.

    Great story, Val. I loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Marsha. I really am very grateful for you kind words.
      As to the rest of the story, well, to be honest I just try to do the ‘homework’ that Cathy and others suggest and leave it at that!
      Once in a while I wonder where the next part of the story will go, and in this instance I think I may have turned it into a ghost story with the spirit of Gordon playing his part.
      You mentioned that Barbara was good at keeping secrets, but she was only keeping one secret really.
      Or was she?
      Maybe there was more to her than meets the eye?
      Who knows what else is lurking there?
      There may well be a reason why Gordon had no friends or family to miss him.

      Thanks again.
      A big thank you to Cathy too for letting me join you. It has been fun and very enlightening.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Great story and nice twist at the end. The ending wasn’t a complete surprise but maybe I just like to figure things out. I think the timeline could be worked on so that it’s clear that the husband “left” before the pond was filled in. I think you could do that without giving away where Gordon ended up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janis.
      Good point, well made about the timeline thank you.
      I too often find myself working out where other stories are going.
      It is tricky (well, for me anyway) to write something without including some little hints. Though perhaps that is just to remind myself where I am going with the story!
      On those occasions where I actually know that is, rather than ramble on until the story reveals itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Val, I enjoyed your story very much. As I read it, it came over so peaceful and quaint (it must have been the floral cushion that made me think it, but I love how you included it as ‘floral’ and not just a cushion).

    Barbara is a wonderful character. The way you described her and the way she was thinking made me think of Joan Hickson playing Miss Marple. As I read on, I thought everything seemed to be too perfect and this prompted me into thinking something nasty was coming.

    As somebody who writes lots of flash fiction and short stories that come with a twist at the end, I guessed the ending before I got to it, but this didn’t affect my enjoyment of your story and the way you wrote it. You drew me in from the first sentence to the last word.

    I love it when females are the murderers. I don’t know why, but even today it always comes over as unexpected when a female character is a villain. I think it still gives readers a shock when it’s revealed.
    I think many readers will never think of Barabra as a murderer, so they’ll be shocked when they discover the truth.

    Thank you so much for joining us on Story Chat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much Hugh. Lovely to be here. It’s nice when someone who writes a lot seems to like it.
      Barbara, a villain? Never!
      A murderer yes, but a lovely lady such as Barbara could never be villainous.
      Or could she?
      We little old ladies can have hidden depths…
      Who can say what any of us are capable of, given the right circumstances.
      And Joan Hickson, yes! Oh, I feel a “prequel” coming on.

      Thanks again

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I really enjoyed your story Valerie and was there with Barbara in her garden, seeing it as she did, through your words. Your twist was well done and i’ve enjoyed reading the other comments too, with ideas and suggestions. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you Debbie. I have really enjoyed the other ideas and suggestions too. As this is a relatively new venture for me it is very interesting, helpful and quite fun to be part of. It has helped enormously with my self belief and thanks to all the lovely people here and their comments I have no doubt my writing will benefit too.
    Thanks again

    Liked by 1 person

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