Welcome to Tuesday Tales, a weekly blog maintained by Jean Joachim. where a number of authors present their work based on a specific word or picture prompt. This week’s word, LIFE, is truly inspiring to me, and I wanted to share this wonderful news with you this week.
Some of you will be disappointed today because I am not posting from Wedding Bell Blues. Instead, I am posting a short story that may be published in an anthology someday, but was written as part of a challenge to a writers’ group I belong to. We were to write a story–about 1000 words, and then the artist would interpret our stories in some way. In other words, my words, were her prompt and she brought my words to life. Tracy Davies is the artist and the painting hangs in the Cailuan Gallery on Pitt Street in downtown Cornwall. If you have a chance to go and see the exhibit, please do.
Here is the story: Fated
“This is insane, Julia,” Kay pleaded, her face mirroring her confusion and sorrow. “You’re throwing away everything you’ve ever wanted and for what? A feeling? Do you have any idea how crazy that sounds?”
Julia raised her head, pushed a strand of chestnut hair off her face, and gazed into her best friend’s eyes.
“Kay, it’s more than a feeling. It’s a sense that if I don’t go, I’ll never be whole again. Part of me is missing, and I have to find it. I wish you could understand—”
“Understand?” she cried loudly, frustration fueling her disbelief. “I’ve done everything I can to make sense of this. You’re sick, Kay. This obsession isn’t healthy. You need to see a shrink and figure out what’s broken up there.” She pointed to her head. “You’ve worked at the museum for five years and unpacked thousands of exhibits. If this were something from Ancient Egypt, I could see it—that stuff’s notorious for curses and disease, but Pompeii?” She stood, dropped a twenty dollar bill on the table and reached for her coat. “Promise me you won’t do this. It’s too dangerous.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to. I’ve handed in my resignation, and my flight leaves the day after tomorrow.”
Pain crossed Kay’s face. “Then, that’s it. I wish you well. Maybe we’ll meet again someday.”
“I’m only going for three weeks,” Julia said, standing and putting on her suede jacket.
“So you say, but I have a feeling this is goodbye.”
Kay reached for her, gave her a fierce hug, and pushed away. Turning on her heel, she left without another word.
Julia added a twenty of her own, left the café, and crossed the street to the museum for her last afternoon as a curator. Stepping into the exhibit labelled “The Last Days of Pompeii,” she took a deep calming breath. Kay didn’t understand what was happening to her, but she did. This was more than a recreation of the town’s dire fate; it was a moment in time—one from her own life. The streets in the photographs were familiar. The perfectly preserved bodies were family, friends, and slaves, people she now mourned deeply.
Strolling along the aisle, she stopped next to the bronze krater that had stood in her Aunt Flavia’s entrance. Beside it was her Uncle Antony’s money chest. Taking a few more steps, she stared at the gold necklace, recognizing its ninety-four intricately carved ivy leaves, knowing that the smooth rondels were loose and in need of repair. Closing her eyes, she imagined herself in a lilac stola, feeling the weight of the necklet and the heat of the man’s hands fastening it around her neck.
As happened each time she did, the burst of joy she felt was replaced by an anguish so deep it was crippling. Fighting tears, she left the exhibit, and returned to her office to pack up her things. In two days, she would be in Rome, and from there, she would go to Pompeii. One way or another, this preoccupation would end.
Five days later, she stood, waiting for the tourist bus. So far, coming to Italy hadn’t changed a thing. In fact, it had reinforced her belief. In the Trajan Market, instead of the ruins that stood unchanged for centuries, she’d seen a thriving market place with merchants from all over Rome’s mighty empire. Her carved necklace had come from a goldsmith’s shop on the second floor.
At the Coliseum, the amphitheater was under construction as it had been the last time she’d visited Rome. All around the city, where others marveled about churches and modern structures, she caught glimpses of familiar Roman temples, palaces, and the homes of friends.
Once everyone was aboard, the bus pulled away from the station. Finally, she was on her way to Pompeii, the place she’d visited in her dreams each night for months now—visions where he held her close to him and swore he would never stop loving her. Nothing could keep them apart, but something had—time and death.
As soon as the bus pulled into the parking lot, the tour guide began his spiel, one she knew far better than he did.
“On the morning of August 24, 79 A.D. disaster befell the citizens of Pompeii. In twenty-four hours, three meters of volcanic ash covered the town before four pyroclastic flows, ground-hugging avalanches of lava and poisonous gas moving at more than 100 km/hour destroyed every living thing. Come; listen to the death throes of Pompeii.”
With each step Julia took, the familiarity increased. Dizzy, she held out her hand to brace herself against a stone bench. The scenery flickered.
“How much longer will this last? Dust and ash stand several pes deep in the streets. We can’t take much more.” She cradled her distended stomach.
“It’ll stop soon, my love. I made a sacrifice at Apollo’s temple. They’ve assured me all will be well. If there was any danger, the priests would be the first to know.”
He held her close, the movement of the new life she carried pleasing them both.
“Our child is anxious to join us,” he said, chuckling.
She coughed. “I find it so hard to breathe.”
“Here, drink this; then you must sleep, Julia.” He handed her a glass of herbed wine. “You need your strength for the birth.” He bent and kissed her. “Now, rest.”
“Yes, doctor. Lie with me for a while?” she asked.
He smiled and nodded.
She lay on her side with his arms encircling her, pulling her to him
“Lucius,” she gasped, choking in the powdery blackness surrounding them. His body covered hers, burning rafters and ash raining down on them.
“I’ll always love you,” he said softly, his mouth finding hers.
Unable to breathe, the hot air burning her throat, she exhaled into his mouth, and closed her eyes. Everything went black.
“She’s coming to!”
“Move. The dottore’s here,” a man cried loudly.
“I’m fine,” she croaked, and stared around the ruins. Her head ached.
“Signorina, let me look at you,” a familiar voice said, wonder in his eyes. “I am Luc Boriello. I know you.”
Julia sucked in a breath. Only moments ago, she’d gazed into those eyes. Tears of joy and incredulity ran down her cheeks.
“Julia Mason. You do—or rather you did. I’ve come home, Lucius. I’ve come back.”
She raised her head and kissed him.
He smiled. “We both have.”
And here is the wonderful work of art created for it. Look closely at the dark ash. The words of dialogue spoken that fateful night are there.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Fated. Don’t forget to check out all the other posts on Tuesday Tales.