From the outside the Christmas tree glittered and sparkled with lights, tinsel and ornaments. It’s place in the bay window as always. Miriam gazed at the symbol of Christmas shining like a beacon of family and cheer. Pulling her coat more tightly around her, she walked on stopping at each window to gaze at the many Christmas trees on display along the street.
At the corner she entered the park, the light dimmed the further she walked away from the streetlights. The only beacon of light came from the old bandstand decorated for the season by local authority workers the week before.
She looked forward to attending the carol service the following week – a regular occurrence each year. After looking this way and that, Miriam pushed aside a panel on the side of the bandstand and crawled in.
This was home, a safe place hidden from sight and as comfortable as she could make it. A platform made of old pallets kept her off the cold wet earth, cardboard and an old single mattress on one side and food supplies on the other. She’d been able to hook up a little heater scrounged from a dumpster, to an electrical outlet on the underside of the bandstand to keep warm. To disguise her apartment she’d placed panels on each side so even if the workers crawled under they would not see her. Well, that was her hope.
A can of soup and a stale loaf made a meal and then she lay down to sleep.
Arthur tugged at his dog’s leash.
“Come on, Duke, its getting cold and I need a cup of tea.”
The old dog ignored him and continued to sniff the grass unaffected by his owner’s impatience. As Arthur tapped his foot, he saw a shadow approach the bandstand and disappear under it. Well that’s odd, it’s too late for authority workers and I can’t see a truck. Duke pulled on the leash and Arthur followed him down the path to home. The incident left his mind until two nights later when once again walking Duke; he saw the shadow repeat the disappearance into the bandstand. Now he was curious.
The following evening he walked closer to the bandstand but hid behind a clump of bushes. A figure appeared after sundown and with a glance back and forth crawled under. The person was wrapped up in an old assortment of clothes and could have been man or woman; it was too hard to tell. Was there a homeless person under the bandstand? Well that is sad. Once he returned home he pondered what would be the best thing to do. Report them? Engage them? Leave food and blankets nearby? I’ll sleep on it and make a decision tomorrow.
Miriam saw a box to one side of her secret entrance and stopped in her tracks. Was it discarded, some local workers possession or something else? She looked around but did not see Arthur crouched behind the bushes. Cautiously she approached the box and raised the lid with one foot. Inside were cans and a thick blanket. Conflicting thoughts entered her head. Someone knows where I live, I’ll have to move, a kind benefactor has left me a gift, do I take it or leave it? A slip of paper fluttered and caught on the breeze, she grabbed it before it blew away. A hand written note read:
Please do not be alarmed, I will keep your secret but wanted to help you. I have put some supplies in the box. I know it is getting colder and food is probably hard to come by. I happened to notice you while walking my dog one evening. If you need anything my name is Arthur and I live at number 36 Amber Avenue just across from this park.
Miriam read the note twice, it was a long time since someone had been so kind to her. She made up her mind to thank him but to say this gift was enough.
The next evening she took her note and walked Amber Avenue searching the house numbers. To her surprise and delight, number 36 was the house of her favourite tree nestled in the bay window. Tiptoeing carefully, she pushed her note through the letterbox and turned away. A bark halted her tracks. Fearful the dog’s warning would alert Arthur to come to the door, Miriam hid around the corner of the house.
The front door did indeed open and a wet nose and wagging tail found her with ease, followed by an elderly gentleman.
“Well hello, you must be the mysterious bandstand occupant.”
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to disturb you, I was leaving a note of thanks. I don’t want to be a bother.”
“No bother at all, it would be lovely to have company, apart from Duke for a change. Why not come in for a cup of tea?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I’m rather dirty to enter a house.”
“Nonsense, just take off your boots, old Duke here comes in with more mud and dirt than anyone I know.”
Miriam took off her boots, curling her toes to try and hide the holes in her socks. Arthur led her into the front room, a fire flickered in the fireplace and that tree stood in pride of place.
“Oh, its so much more beautiful than through the window.”
Arthur smiled. “I always take pride in decorating my tree, the family only come on Boxing Day for the afternoon but its not Christmas without a tree, I always say.”
“I walk past all the houses and look at all the trees and this is my favourite.”
“Well, that’s is kind of you to say. May I ask your name?”
“Well, I will make the tea, why not take off your coat and sit by the fire?”
Miriam eased the coat off her shoulders and lay it on the floor. The warmth of the fire was wonderful. Arthur walked in with a tray with a teapot, cups and biscuits.
“Now we can get warm inside and out. Take as many biscuits as you like.”
With the strong tea and several biscuits inside her and the warmth of the fire, Miriam could feel herself getting sleepy.
“Thank you so much for the tea and biscuits and the lovely blanket and food. I should go before I fall asleep.”
“Well, it is up to you but you are more than welcome to stay if you would like.”
A tear rolled down Miriam’s cheek.
“Oh dear, I’m sorry did I upset you?”
“No, no not at all. It has been such a long time since someone has been kind to me, that’s all.”
“Well that settles it. Have a nap and then you can enjoy a bath while I make supper. I should have plenty of clothes in my closet you can choose from, we are close to the same size I think.”
“I don’t know what to say but thank you so very much, this is the best Christmas ever.”
“Tis the season, as they say and it brings me joy to help you.”
Bathed, dressed in clean clothes and feeling peaceful, Miriam re-joined Arthur later to find he had cooked a feast of a meal for them both.
“Are you expecting more people? There is a lot here.”
“No just us two but you are welcome to take the leftovers.”
“You are so kind, thank you.”
“And if I may, I would like to ask you if you would visit me from time to time, I get so lonely you see.”
“I would love to visit again.”
Their glasses clinked as they smiled at each other. Their loneliness forgotten.
The prompt today is to use this zen garden as your inspiration.
Here is my response:
Shoulders slumped, feet heavy on the glistening pavement, Jocelyn makes her way home in light rain, which gradually soaks through her jacket and trickles down her back. The grey drizzle matches her mood, yet another day stuck inside the call center, reading by rote the same sales pitch over and over again. This hadn’t been her dream, she had believed she could find a career designing and tending gardens but no-one would hire an inexperienced student so she had make do with the first job offered and there she had stayed. Even after paying rent and all her bills she had a surplus, which was reflected in her savings account but she had nowhere to spend it. Holidays alone did not appeal, a fancy car would stayed parked in the under ground garage most of the time as she could walk to work in less than ten minutes and she wasn’t into fashion. She had made her small apartment a Japanese inspired haven with rich colours and objects; this was where she was happy. Opening the door she placed her lunch bag on the kitchen counter and headed straight for the shower, the warm water soothed her, her silk kimono feeling luxurious against her skin. After a light supper, she sat redefining her Zen garden, comforted by the slow motion of the small wooden tools, watching the fine grains of sand move and the careful placing of the miniature stones.
The sudden ring of the phone breaks her peaceful meditation.
“Is this Jocelyn Woo?”
“This is Jocelyn, who is calling?”
“Hello Jocelyn, my name is Harry Kyoto, I was given your number by George Ita at the Sumay Garden Center. He told me you were very talented at design when you worked with him in your summer holidays from college”.
“That was a while ago Mr. Kyoto but I do continue to design gardens in my spare time”.
“Yes, George has shown me some of your designs and that is why I am calling. I would like to offer you a job. Would you consider it?”
“Mr. Kyoto I would be absolutely delighted to accept. What position are you offering?”
“Well garden designer, of course, what else?”
Jocelyn felt dizzy with excitement, her heart was pounding – a dream come true when she had been at her lowest since moving to the city.
“When do you need me to start Mr. Kyoto? I only need to give two weeks notice”.
“That’s excellent news Jocelyn. So shall we say you will start on the sixteenth?”
“Thank you so much Mr. Kyoto, I’m really overwhelmed at your offer”.
“Well from the designs George showed me I think I am the lucky one, Jocelyn. Take care and I’ll see you soon”.
As she replaced the mouth piece, she couldn’t contain her excitement and let out a yell of pure joy – no more stuffy crowded tower block office with the constant gabble of voices saying the same thing over and over. She would be living her dream in two short weeks.
I would love to read your poem or short story inspired by this prompt – leave it in the comments.
Writing is one activity which energizes me. The process of creating characters and the stories in which they interact is an exercise for my imagination.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Editing is my Kryptonite because as much as I want to start reviewing the characters motivations and the grammar, giving in to the urge in the early stages of my writing process stifles the creativity and overall potential of the final product.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes I have considered writing under a pseudonym but as I write in the YA and nonfiction genres, I didn’t feel a need to have distance or different identity, or anonymity associated between myself and my work.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
As I experience a disability, it was important that my books always have a character experiencing a disability in them. The disabled characters can be secondary characters but must not represent incorrect disability beliefs and stereotypes.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The best money I have spent as a writer has been for any books or classes in which have helped me to build my writer’s skill toolkit. There are so many facets to the success of creating and marketing as a writer, that any money spent learning is returned with each completed project.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I currently have one book in which I’m finish the third draft, two which are finished the first draft, one children’s picture book and one YA sequel which are waiting to be written.
What does literary success look like to you?
Literary success for myself is when I receive reader feedback about how my books have affected them. While it would be wonderful to be on bestseller lists and be financially sustained from writing only, realistically if I have enough success to continue to write and publish books which find audiences, that is success to me.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Research is a part of the writing process which I complete at the beginning, during and also when my manuscript is completed. In order to build realistic characters and circumstances in which they negotiate, it is important for me to construct a realistic world. That said, I am working on a science fiction book right now and so while the characters are moving around in the real world, human anatomy, ethics, energy and time are areas which need exploring. As much of the one character comes from the future and the mission needed to be completed to save humanity from their own extinction, as much as I can base the fictitious elements from reality should help build legitimacy for my readers.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
The time I spend greatly varies but I am for an hour and a half a week editing and three hours writing or working on activities to grow the manuscript content.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Sometimes I will hear a name that I really like but usually I look on baby name websites for the names and origins to see if they fit with my characters.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
The genres in which I write are Young Adult, Memoir, and Plays. Usually my writing projects become the one in which draws me to write. I chose YA because I wanted to write the books I was searching for when I was the age of the audience. Memoir was because I had read several and found I had something I wanted to share that was the truth as I remember it. Plays are because I love theatre and found limited opportunities for persons experiencing a disability to act or have a voice in the theatre community. When in the creation process, the genre in which the story can best be told balances which area I write and work in. As for balance, the project which I am most eager and energized to write is the one I select.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing poetry, lyrics and screen plays when I was in my teens. Writing manuscripts with the intention of publishing has been only in the past few years. I still consider myself as an emerging writer as I fell there is so much for me learning to be a lifelong experience.
What inspires you?
Life is my inspiration. Sounds weird but being in the world and interacting with people provides me sparks of interest which act as a jumping board for creation of my stories and characters.
How do you find or make time to write? Just like with most activities, I have to schedule in the time to write to ensure that there is a space and time where I’m able to do so.
What projects are you working on at the present?
In the draft stages of my sci-fi book.
What do your plans for future projects include?
My future plans include brainstorming and writing the next children’s picture book in my friends and family series.
Alison Neuman lives in Alberta, Canada, where she works as a freelance writer. Her debut novel Ice Rose: A Young Adult Spy Novel, a YA book integrating her love of gadgetry with the broad imaginative license afforded by the secret agent genre, features a female protagonist in a wheelchair and was published in 2010 by Fireside Publications.
Alison’s work has appeared in MacEwan Today,Westword, and the EdmontonJournal, and on three tracks of the CD release, Outside the Window.
Alison was honoured in 2011 for her human rights work in advocating for the rights of persons experiencing disabilities and in 2013 she won the Glenrose Courage Award. One of her greatest achievements was the founding of Camp Mission Access, an integrative camp for children from all walks of life—both with and without disabilities. Her memoir, Searching for Normal, was released in 2013, and a musical of the same debuted in the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival in 2014. Don’t Eat Family and Help From Friends, in her children’s Friends and Family series were published through Dream Write Publications.
Her play, The Sunset Syndrome was selected for Walterdale Theatre’s 2016 “From Cradle to Stage New Works Festival” and produced in the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival in 2017. Don’t Eat Family and Help From Friends, in her children’s Friends and Family series were published through Dream Write Publishing.
Alison is currently working towards her Master of Arts in Integrated Studies through Athabasca University.