Charli Mills’ prompt:
September 28, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a prickly story. Is it the temperament of a character that is prickly or is it a hardship he or she faces? You can write about cacti, rose thorns or other natural elements. Think about how the prickliness conveys the story.
I did a gardening job as a youngster, working for a friend of my mother’s, Iris Gostling. I wasn’t that keen on gardening but if paid better than pocket money and enabled me a small amount of freedom. Freedom, not in the going out sense, but from the strictures of a household that had no interest in music more modern than 1955. But gardening had its dangers one of which were rose thorns covered in a chemical bug killer than had my left hand swelling to twice its size. I still wonder what was on that blasted plant because I’ll never really forget the sense that my skin was on the verge of splitting as the swelling grew rapidly.
Mum didn’t believe in unnecessary (judged by her and her alone) trips to the doctor but even she thought this warranted a visit. The doctor prodded a bit and sent me to the nurse with a note: penicillin.
The nurse chatted to mum as she found the horse needle she needed. Finally she deigned to involve me in the conversation. ‘It’s big; we’ll need a big muscle.’
Then and only then did I realise my bottom was going to have to front up, as it were. Mum understood something about being a teenaged boy and left me in the hands of the less than sympathtic nurse. ‘It’ll be a bit of a hit, this. You’ll want to sit for a while after.’
Ha, I thought. Not me. I’m tough. On cue, I proferred my glut and awaited the sting. Nothing really, I thought.
‘Ok, sit there and let me know if you need a sip of water.’
I felt fine. It was but a mere prick. Mum sat outside desultorily reading a magazine.’I’m good. I’ll go then.’ I wasn’t waiting. I was tough. I could cope.
By the time the nurse had turned back and begun to encourage me to wait a while I was up and reaching for the door handle. Then and only then did my stomach suck all the energy out of my legs and arms and turn on the sweat button. My knees divorced themselves from me as I sank into the quicksand that, moments before, the hardwood floor had just become.
I vaguely heard the nurse call out something uncomplimentary and Mum stand and say something equally unbeguilling. After that I must have measured my length against some floor planks because the next thing I knew I was stretched out, sniffing dust.
The two women smiled but not with sympathy, nor in a way that suggested they were sharing a joke with me – more that I was the joke. ‘Shock’ they said. I’ve always felt it showed a certain meanness of spirit. I mean, maybe I’m allergic to penicillin. Or maybe just to formidable women in combination.
And so to Mary’s story and a prickly lesson
The thin-skinnedness of youth
‘Grandpa could be prickly.’ Mary looked at her daughter. ‘Not when you knew him, mind. As a young man.’
‘He wanted to fit in. Your grandma said he hated the fact he missed the war.’
Penny frowned. ‘Why? He might have died.’
‘Yes, but others his age fought. He felt he’d not done his bit.’
‘No more than you wanting to be friends with Jane even though she’s mean to you.’
‘I don’t. And don’t say it.’
Mary smiled. ‘Say what?’
‘That I’ll understand when I grow up.’
‘Yes, about the time you have a daughter.’