View Full Version : A Year of Change

Amy Gallow
June 24th, 2010, 09:53 PM
This magazine short appeared in one of our women's magazines a little over a year ago. It was my first attempt at writing a story this short and it paid surprisingly well.
It was Sunday.
Carole still liked Sundays. They were her one chance to lie in bed and let the world pass by outside her window. No morning rush to open the shop, no early morning deliveries. It reminded her of what it had been like before Dan died—four years, three months and two days ago.
She had to think now, the exact length of time no longer at the forefront of her thoughts. Another of the changes that made her feel guilty.
A sudden restlessness propelled her from the bed. It was no longer comfortable and she had to be moving. The full-length mirror of the wardrobe confirmed she wouldn’t see thirty again and she turned away to hide from it.
Her dressing gown was dowdy, middle aged. Too good to throw away, but getting more threadbare by the day. Soon, not even being Dan’s last gift would save it. Guilt made her hands clutch the lapels together, she couldn’t bear the thought of this final link gone.
Breakfast! Tea and toast only these days, her waistline was beginning to thicken. She’d have it on the balcony. The sun was shining and there was little wind.
The kitchenette was a lonely place, the memories of too many meals for one draining it of warmth, so she hurried through her task, escaping to the balcony as soon as she was done.
He was out already.
She could see him on his balcony, two floors down on the opposite tower. Exercising again, sun-browned body glistening with a sheen of perspiration as he worked the weights. She’d watched him often enough to know it was the early part of his routine, so she pushed the chair back until the gap between the rails gave her a clear view, but kept her privacy.
A soldier of some sort, he often aired his camouflage uniforms on the balcony, she thought she’d caught a glimpse of him on a news programme about Iraq. He lived alone, worked long hours, and was frequently absent for weeks at a time. She couldn’t remember when she began to notice him. It had crept up on her unawares. Now she tracked him unconsciously, noting the times he passed her shop, his absences and his routines. It embarrassed her when she thought about, so she didn’t.
His exercises lasted an hour, much longer than her breakfast, but she lingered, watching him. He had a nice smile. She couldn’t see it from here, but he’d made way for her once in a doorway and she remembered it. Taller than her, she’d been wearing flat-heeled shoes, she could opt for the stilettos Dan had loved…she stopped. Her thoughts had gone too far for comfort.
It was the last time she saw him on the balcony, the months passing slowly until she accepted he was gone. The arrival of new tenants confirmed it, a husband and wife with a small child. She met the woman down the street a few times, a pretty blonde with a face that verged on being familiar. The child was blonde too, a serious faced little girl with a surprising smile and delightful laugh.
The husband came into her shop twice, an anniversary and then a birthday bouquet for Rachael, his wife.
“I’m sure she’ll love these,” she twitched a bloom into place. “She wears blue so well.”
“That’s true,” he glanced at her name badge. “…Carole.” There was a question in his eyes.
“I’ve seen her passing with your little girl. I live opposite you, in the south tower.”
He smiled. “Thank you very much. I’ll look out for you.” He had a nice smile too.
It was the same month she signed up with an Internet florist, the beginning of a very busy period that led to her arrangements being showcased online. She had to employ an assistant, a girl she’d known when Dan was alive, because she was spending more time doing publicity, even appearing as a guest on the morning show of national television. Even her Sunday mornings were taken up now.
She seldom thought of her soldier, or of the people who had taken his place, so it was a surprise when Rachael stopped her on the street.
“We saw you on television,” delightful smiles were a family trait. “Ken told me how helpful you were when he bought my flowers. I’ve been meaning to thank you.”
Any polite response Carole might have made was lost when the little girl joined the conversation. “You are beautiful,” she said. “My Pa is right.”
“That’s enough, Bella,” Rachael hushed her daughter. “Dad’s away at the moment and we send him DVDs we record from television. I put in a note saying that you lived opposite so he said something to Bella last time he phoned.”
“Hi,” Ken, the husband joined them. “What have you been up to, Bella? I saw the shocked look on your faces,” he explained.
“I’ve just been paid a compliment,” Carole allowed a chuckle to escape. “I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more sincere one.”
The week after, her guest spot became a regular feature of the morning show and one assistant quickly became two. Her flat was still lonely at nights but the days were filled with movement. There was even talk of her leading a tour to the Chelsea Flower Show. She went out twice with one of the directors, but decided she wasn’t ready for that yet.
Odd moments came when she thought about her soldier, usually coinciding with the glimpses she caught of Rachael and Bella. The little girl was growing visibly, her chubbiness becoming as delicate as her mother, who still displayed those intriguing moments of familiarity. Carole decided it was because she looked a little like Kylie Minogue. It wasn’t a satisfying explanation, but she couldn’t think of any other.
Ken came into the shop just as it was closing on Saturday. “Do you have wreaths?”
“Of course,” she said. “Is it someone close?”
“Rachael’s Mum. We’ve not seen much of her for a long time. She went to live in England when she separated from Michael. We didn’t even know she was back in Australia.” He looked puzzled. “The first we heard was when the hospital called. Rachael’s devastated she didn’t want to see Bella when she knew she was dying…” his voice trailed away and then strengthened. “I’m sorry. It’s not your trouble. I guess I’m still in shock.”
“Nonsense.” Carole laid her hand on his shoulder. “Please tell Rachael how sorry I am. I’ll get my display book and you can decide what you want,” and afterthought struck her. “Is her father coming back for the funeral?”
“No. He can’t get away.”
“A pity. Rachael seems to think the world of him.”
Ken smiled, genuine pleasure showing. “Too true. He’s the best of Dads and Bella’s favourite Pa. Having him here would be great.”
The phone took Carole away, the caller too important to ignore, and her assistant helped Ken make his choice. He was gone before Carole finished the call.
She left for Europe the next day, there was much to finalize before she led the first tour. Her assistant took over her spot on the morning show.
The tour was a great success, acknowledged by all as a precursor of the future, cameras recording most of it for rebroadcast the following morning. Bookings flowed in for the following year and returned evaluation forms were sweet with her praise. She flew back to Australia first class. The television company insisted.
It was Sunday when she woke in her own bed and she lay there, content to let the world pass by. A stray thought made her calculate Dan had been dead for five years, three months and one day. It felt longer. She thought of him less often these days, the memories gentler than before. It had been a good marriage. She would always miss him a little.
Time for a cup of tea, she decided, jet lag or no. It was mid-morning by the sun, the distant plume of a factory smokestack rising vertically to a cloudless sky. She didn’t feel hungry, but a piece of toast would be nice. She’d take it out on the balcony and sit in the sun.
The full-length mirror captured her reflection and she could look at it without embarrassment. A personal trainer provided by the television station had done much to change her image. The peignoir had come from Paris, an extravagance she’d not attempted to justify. Her hair was cut short now, in a cloche cap style perfect for travelling, a sacrifice she’d made with reservations. She had every reason to be satisfied, but knew that she wasn’t. There was something missing…
An impatient shake of her head and she turned away. A cup of tea, a piece of cinnamon toast, her latest fad, and an hour’s relaxation on the balcony would banish the blues.
She stood at the railing, a steaming cup in her hand and looked out. If she opened a second shop, this place would no longer be convenient, the morning rush to the television station set already tried her patience. It would be hard to leave, but foolish to hang on to. Perhaps she could rent it…
The shrill of a child’s voice in the distance drew her eyes and there was Bella, waving her arms and calling, the sound distorted by echoes. She waved back just as Rachael appeared behind Bella, holding her hand to her ear in a recognisable mimicry of a telephone. Carole exaggerated her nod so they’d understand and went inside, reaching the phone just as it rang.
“Hullo, Carole,” Rachael’s voice was bubbly with excitement. “I didn’t know you were home.”
“Got back yesterday,” guilt made Carole hurry on. “I’m so sorry I had to leave before I expressed my commiseration in person. Ken told me the circumstances and I felt for you.”
“It was Mum all over. Dad spent a long time on the phone talking me through it. Made me see there was nothing personal, just part and parcel of Mum’s problems.”
“He sounds a good man.”
“The best!” there was no doubt in Rachael’s voice. “That’s why I’m calling. He flies home today and we’re having a party tonight. Would you come? Bella asked especially that you be there.”
“Won’t he be tired. I was shattered yesterday.”
“He’s only flying from Darwin. He’s been there for the last week. Please come.” Rachael had sensed she was looking for an excuse.
Carole had no plans and the flat felt suddenly cold. “I’d be glad to come. What time?”
“Around seven.”
“Should I bring anything?”
“Just yourself. Dad’s looking forward to meeting you. Bella sings your praises all the time.” Rachael was almost laughing. Having her Dad near was obviously important.
“I hope he won’t be disappointed.”
“I’m sure he won’t. See you at seven.” Rachael hung up, leaving Carole holding a silent phone.
At six fifty, Carole checked her appearance for the final time. This was foolish. She didn’t know these people well enough to be invited to such a special event. The father had been away twelve months. He wouldn’t want a stranger there tonight! Better to call now and make her excuses.
She reached for the phone and it rang just as her hand touched it.
“Hullo, Flower Lady,” it was Bella. “My Pa’s here. As soon as you come, we can start the party.” The childish voice bubbled with excitement, a junior copy of her mother’s. “Please come soon.”
There was no way she could quench such joy. “I’m just leaving,” she promised. “A ride down in the lift. A walk across the courtyard and I’ll be in the lift coming up.”
“I’ll watch for you from the balcony.” Bella hung up and Carole could bet she was already of her way to the balcony.
It was time to go.
Bella kept her word and Carole could see her from the courtyard, a larger figure behind her indistinct in the gathering dusk.
Their door opened before she reached it, Ken waving her through to the lounge room. “They’re waiting,” he promised.
She paused in the doorway, catching the tableau of an adult crouched down to match Bella’s height.
It was her soldier!
He looked up, saw her, and smiled.
Carole knew two things in a single instant. Why Rachael seemed so familiar, and what had been missing from her life!

June 25th, 2010, 12:16 PM
I really like the story, what magazine was it in???

Amy Gallow
June 25th, 2010, 08:12 PM
In spite of the name, it comes out weekly, and only has one piece of short fiction. They have a general rule of publishing no more than two stories from any individual author in a calender year.
Still, it paid well, and I'll submit again when I have a suitable story.

June 27th, 2010, 12:44 AM
I have a boy is school that was published in a Austrailian Mag. I think it is more of a 1-2 times a yr and they take maybe 15 short stories and publish them. He lives in the states but he submitted it down there. I will have to ask him again what the name is.... It is a Sci-Fi mag/book I am not sure if he uses his real name or a fictional name.

Amy Gallow
June 27th, 2010, 03:38 AM
There are numerous specialist magazines for various types of fiction, including literary fiction, out here. Some pay well, the other offer only glory.