Today was a difficult day, so I wrote a short story. It’s about a girl learning to live on her own terms, so it felt appropriate. I used the prompt from Visual Verse, an online literary magazine full of flash fiction inspired by paintings and photographs. This picture (by Manon Bellet) is their current prompt.
“Mary, what’s on your skirt?”
Mary blinked. She hadn’t been listening to her father as he read, but he didn’t seem to notice. He still held the book too close to his face, but his narrow eyes peaked out over the top of its cover, staring straight at Mary’s sister.
“Elizabeth.” Their father’s voice was strained. “What have I told you about interrupting our daily reading?”
Elizabeth bounced in her seat, making her white prayer cap come loose. She was at that age where she was still oblivious to their father’s severity. Mary envied her.
“But look, Papa!” Elizabeth said. “There’s something sticking to Mary’s skirt!”
Now he was looking at Mary. “Well?” he said.
Mary looked. Clinging to the side of her long blue skirt was a torn piece of a plastic bag with the handle still attached. She touched it gingerly before she peeled it off.
“What is it?” Elizabeth asked again, because she truly didn’t know. How could she? Their father was a staunch environmentalist. No plastic, no visits to stores with electricity, barely any paper except in books or when required for school. Even in a town full of Amish, their father looked extreme.
He snapped the book shut, narrowly missing his nose.
“You know we don’t allow such materials under our roof,” he said. “Our neighbors may be fine with damaging the Earth, but God put us here to protect it.”
“Where did you get it? You haven’t even been out of the house today.”
Because it wasn’t today. The last time she’d worn this dress was two nights ago. It was the only one with sleeves loose enough to roll up and buttons up the front. When adjusted, it could almost pass for a dress that someone outside of her town would wear. And that was exactly what Mary wanted. To look like someone from Indianapolis, or Bloomington, or even Muncie.
The sounds of the city still filled her head: the screech of tires as her bus rolled into town and cars honking and the bubbling of conversation on the sidewalks.
She remembered the whir of the automatic doors, the chime of the cash register as she bought her first candy bar, the swish of the plastic bag as the convenience store employee slid the candy into it.
It was a simple stroll in town, Mary told herself. She just wanted to see what it would be like.
But she couldn’t tell her father that.
“I think the Nicholsons are littering,” she said.
Mary’s father stopped short. He had already been drawing a breath, preparing to yell at her, but now his rage was redirected. He flung himself to the front door and burst across their lawn to the Nicholsons’ house. Elizabeth covered her ears, and Mary reached out to pat her head.
Poor Matthew, Mary thought as she heard her father screaming at his parents. I’ll buy him a candy bar next time.