Thursday, May 05, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: sanctum sanctorum

Prompt: any phrase under the "S" heading of the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable becomes the title
Genre: any
Word Count: 1000 words


The scent of lavender greeted her as she cautiously opened the door. It wasn't an over-powering scent, the way lavender often is. In fact you could hardly call it a scent at all. It was more of a suggestion, the lingering ghost of her grandmother's fragrance, which clung to the chintz drapes and to the doilies placed so fastidiously on the slightly frayed armchairs.

Into each of the lower drawers of the ornate china cabinet that dominated the parlour, her grandmother had always tucked a bar of handmade lavender soap. It kept her collection of table linens, family heirlooms handed down from generation to generation, free of the moths and other vermin that plagued the house. These will be yours eventually, she always reminded Diane, whenever she chided the young girl on her haphazard towel folding techniques, you'd best learn how to care for them properly.

In front of the china cabinet, three overstuffed armchairs faced each other at precise angles around a mahogany table, whose dark surface had been buffed to a deep glow. Layers of wax, applied diligently over the decades, reflected the room back at Diane, the dainty flowered wallpaper, the portraits of dead ancestors anchored in heavy gilt frames.

It was at this table that Esther Lawrence had held court, the overstuffed chairs with their fussy doilies serving as thrones for neighbourhood royalty. It was at this table, under the watchful and judgmental eye of Grandmother Lawrence, that the restless grandchildren were coached in etiquette, pouring tea into delicate china cups, passing plates of sandwiches with crusts cut off.

How ironic, thought Diane, that she had once detested those sandwiches, those pretentious fingers of soft bread with watercress filling, the way they were arranged just so upon the tiered silver platter. She and Rob would take great glee in kicking one another under the table, at making faces at one another across the tea cozy. Tormenting one another, hoping to bring down Grandmother's wrath upon the other person was the only joy they could salvage out of those dreary Sunday afternoons when they had been summoned to Grandmother Lawrence's parlour. What Diane wouldn't give for one of those boring sandwiches right now, what she wouldn't give to see Rob alive again.

Her stomach rumbled at the memory of those high teas. It had been three days since she had eaten anything more than the granola bar and the apples that she had stuffed into her pockets as she fled. It had taken her three days to traverse the devastated city, three days of picking her way cautiously through deserted streets, giving a wide berth to the ravaged corpses that littered the sidewalks. She hadn't dared to enter any of the looted stores she had passed. They were in there, waiting, hungrier than she was.

She wasn't sure what she was going to find at Grandmother Lawrence's house, but it was the only place she could think to go. It had solid doors and heavy wooden shutters on the windows. It had a root cellar filled with preserves below the basement stairs, locked, but she knew where the key was.

She longed to collapse into one of the armchairs, if only for a few minutes, to rub her aching and blistered feet, but she knew she had to refrain from such luxuries. It was best to find her way down to the root cellar now, while there was still some light on the horizon.

Diane crossed over to the china cabinet that presided over the room, and crouched down, her thigh muscles shrieking in protest. She pulled open the bottom drawer and rummaged under the stack of neatly folded table linens for the root cellar key that she knew she would find there. Clasping the old-fashioned skeleton key in her hand, she painfully started to straighten up, then reconsidered and bent down once again to pull one of her Grandmother's lavender-scented tablecloths from the drawer. She could carry more if she used the table cloth as a rucksack. The more jars of pickles and jams that she was able to bring back with her to the parlour, the longer she would be able to barricade herself inside its flowered walls, against the hordes of undead that she knew would eventually descend upon the house.

The lavender scent of the tablecloth, which once - a lifetime ago - she had dismissed as fussy and stifling, would now be a godsend. She would press the linen against her nose as she stepped past the corpses that moldered in the kitchen. And she would not look down.


Allison said...

I can smell the lavender from here. Nicely done.

If seems like just yesterday we were at dinner discussing these flash fiction posts and here another week has passed and you've produced another gem.

Hats off, my friend!

Wandering Coyote said...

Ooooooooh, this is awesome stuff! I am very intrigued by the hint of post-apocalypic stuff going on in the background...

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That's not lavender you're smelling, Al, those are cherry blossoms! Glad you like this week's effort. But yes, it's hard to believe it's been a week since we discussed stretching our writing muscles over dinner.

I wasn't originally intending to go in that direction, WC, but once I started on that path, I couldn't turn back.

Doc said...

What a lovely little slice of life piece that blindsides you with flesh eating zombies and corpses at the end. I squirmed in my seat reading this, it was so much fun! Great tale dear, as always.


Anonymous said...

ok I admit when I read the first line I was thinking "good grief, a girly thing,I'm going to pass" but then I saw the comments and wondered what I missed.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

The squirm factor is what I was going for, Doc. I'm so glad you had fun with my barrel o' zombies!

You know I would never subject you to a Sex in The City story, Kelly. Did you ever go back and read it?

Anonymous said...

yes I did and I am looking forward to the continuation....patiently

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thanks for reading, Kelly! Your patience knows no bounds.

S.M. Elliott said...

Nice! Zombies and doilies...quite the combination. Very evocative.
This is a fab idea and I think I may try it out next Friday!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, SME. I would certainly encourage you to jump in next week! I would love to read your stories. If you are interested in checking out the Flash Fiction Friday group for weekly prompts and such, here's the link:

Beach Bum said...

Enjoyed this very much, sorry it took so long for me to read it, I'm way behind on everything lately.

Unknown said...

Even with the little hint you gave earlier in the story, the ending was still a surprise... I was not expecting zombies... the tale just seemed to "civilized".

Excellent storytelling... you make it seem so effortless. I love the way you describe the parlour... I can picture it in my mind.

I am so grateful to Joyce Juzwik for introducing me to the Flash Fiction Friday group... very entertaining... your stories in particular, Barbara, are true gems. Thank you for sharing.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thanks, Beach Bum, no need for apologies, these stories will always be here. Hope things have settled down for you now.

Thanks, Veronica Marie, I'm really glad that the surprise ending worked and that the little hints tied in.
I think we joined Flash Fiction Friday around the same time, and I'm really grateful that Doc Shaw introduced me to the group.

Joyce said...

Wow. I got caught up and kind of lost in the memories. So touching and kind of painful, as so much loss seemed such a big part of them. Then you find out why she went there, what's out there? What a fantastic way to ease all that darkness in. Great story!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Many thanks, Joyce! I wasn't actually sure where the story was heading when I started writing it, I just had a mental image of a parlour as a sanctuary of some kind. It was fun to write though.

RegCPA5963 said...

I definitely wasn't expecting zombies! That came outta nowhere, great tale, thanks for sharing.

L Turner

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm glad I was able to surprise you, L!