Burning in the Crucible of Love

Occasionally I take part in a prompt at Alissa Leonard’s blog, Finish That Thought. You are given the first sentence and have up to 500 words to craft a story. This week I came up with a tale of obsession. See what you think and if you are minded to have a blast, pop over on Tuesday for next week’s prompt. Warning. I’m the judge!

Flames curled round the letter’s edge, its message vanishing in the fire. To Betty the ashes seemed to push up, as if the paper was fighting the fire, wrestling with it, determined its message would not be lost. But fire trumped paper and when, at last the flames retreated, their work done, Betty bent close to the defeated ash and obliterated the residue in one indifferent breath.

Betty rocked on her heels, imagining the sequence of events she had just put in train. Doris waiting on the RSVP. Doris pressing Clive to check with the postman. Doris pressing Clive to check with the delivery office. Doris pressing Clive once too many and him shouting at her. Betty knew the words he would use by heart. Doris begging Clive to ask Betty if she had received the invitation and Clive refusing. Doris’s tears. Clive’s fists.

Betty gave it two weeks before Doris called her, wanting a chat, wanting to bare all about her mistake, her guilt, her regret. Doris wanting guidance, suggesting Clive was looking at someone else.

Betty would be that ‘someone else’. Betty would call Clive, say she’d heard about Doris having second thoughts. Clive, sceptical, given the circumstances but given Doris’s withdrawal easy to convince.

She would have them both precisely where she wanted them and then…

Betty looked at the grey ashy-smear. The silhouette of a bride and groom that had been embossed on the top of the invitation had been transferred, ghost like, onto the stone surface. Betty reached out a foot and twisted her heel on the slab. The image remained. The harder she tried to remove it, the deeper the image seemed to go. And with each turn the generic bride became more clearly Doris and the ubiquitous groom morphed into Clive.

When Betty stopped the picture had become a part of the hard surface, seared into the stone as if it had been branded.

The phone rang. ‘Yes?’

‘It’s Estelle. Doris’s mother?’

‘Yes, Estelle.’

‘I’m ringing wedding guests…’

‘I’ve not been invited.’

‘Oh silly, of course you have. Maybe the invitation has been held up. The thing is, the lovebirds were so excited they shot off to the registry office and are already man and wife. Isn’t that romantic?’

‘But… I don’t understand.’

‘I know, it was all a bit sudden. They were committed to the full Church thingy but then the Church burnt down – apparently a bible caught light in a ray of sunlight through the south window – a freak they said and they decided it was an omen. You’ve been so good, Betty, so understanding after that unpleasantness last year. I knew you’d want to be the first to congratulate them.’

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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15 Responses to Burning in the Crucible of Love

  1. roweeee says:

    Geoff, a great story.I particularly loved your grippng description of the fire and the flames all but consuing the invitation and the twist at the end.
    I don’t know if we ever outgrow that childhood fixation with fire. That mesmerising sensation. I caught my son lighting a candle yesterday with the matches and thought I’d let him indulge himself under supervision.
    We get big bush fires up this way and once we managed to get up close to a hill that was alight. It was a controlled backburn and were about to photograph it all. We loved it. That said, however, that intrinsic beauty is also so destructive!
    H9ope you are having a good day. After struggling to get the kids off to schoiol, the dogs and I went for our morning walk along the beach. It’s quite sunny and we meet up with a range of other dogwalkers, most of whom, we’ve met before. It’s a good detox. xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      My gran always had a bonfire going. I remember the baked potatoes and bananas and roasted chestnuts. Such a childhood fascination. And we got to make fires in the Scouts. Do your two get to do that?
      We see a lot of films about the dreadful fires you guys get. When we were there in 98 we visited some burnt out areas in the mountains north of Sydney. Terrifying. They showed us a film of a eucalypt exploding. Geez.
      And I’m glad you’re enjoying the simple pleasure of a dog walk, after all you’ve had to put up with. I really do admire your positivity. Having a husband called Geoff obviously helps you!

      Liked by 2 people

      • roweeee says:

        Yes, my kids definitely build fires with scouts. Indeed, Mister and his mate sprayed insect repellant in an aerosol can on the camp fire a few months back and were in very serious trouble. They meant well, which actually made it hrder to deal with. They thought they were helping to get the fire going. He keeps us on our toes!

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        We used to put aerosols in the camp fire. Extraordinarily dangerous but thank heavens no one was hurt.


  2. noelleg44 says:

    This is a great story with all the implied manipulations, the burned-in image, and the news of the wedding already occurring — burning up all of Betty’s plans, just like the wedding invitation.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Norah says:

    Brilliant, Geoff! How well you have shared Betty’s thoughts, feelings and intentions. I love the connection between her burning the invitation and the church burning down to set her revengeful plan to ashes. Well told. I had to keep reading.
    And why are you the judge?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so pleased I’m not in Betty’s shoes although I can imagine just how silly she must feel, not to say how very disappointed. Revenge has a habit of turning around and biting you back sometimes.

    Nice piece of flash fiction Mr Le Pard. The descriptions were excellent and I could almost smell the burning as Betty burned the invitation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Charli Mills says:

    Chilling supernatural elements to your story reminds me of some of the scary comics I used to read in the ’70s. Maybe Kate and I will pop over on Tuesday. I’ve got her writing again!

    Liked by 1 person

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