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Fiction

Miss Parker was the very definition of refined. That’s what my dad said anyway. I didn’t believe him, I’d looked it up in the dictionary and it said nothing about Miss Parker.


She lived on our street, three houses down on the opposite side of the road. Her house had been there for forever, old, but not decrepit. A place that looked like a castle or a haunted mansion without the spiderwebs. The street-facing windows were gently curved in a fancy arch and high on the wall by the front door was a circular window, like a single large eye watching us. The front yard was enclosed by strong smelling roses with huge thorns and a low stone wall with a small iron gate that was all lacy and delicate, like flowers, if flowers were made of metal. Me and the others, my siblings and neighbours, we would play cricket in the street, and if our ball went in that front yard, the game was over. No one wanted to enter the dragon’s den.


Well she wasn’t a dragon, really. I mean Miss Parker didn’t have scales or breathe fire, she never yelled at us or sprayed us with a hose like Mr Jones did that day our ball shattered his window. She stayed inside and never came out, so we made up stories, whispered among us, about how she ate children, or some other nonsense. There was no reason for it at all, Miss Parker was just a mystery, kind of like an imaginary creature, and we only knew she existed on Sundays.


Every Sunday, Miss Parker would don her hat and gloves, open the little gate and walk, straight backed and prim, all the way down the street and round the corner to church. Sometimes Mum and Dad would take us to church too, and we would see her there, sitting straight and still in the second-to-front row. Because there were always so many of us, and we were usually late, we would sit at the back, where mum could secretly give us a pinch or a clip behind the ear to get us to behave. I would watch Miss Parker. She never wriggled, or looked left or right. She stood, kneeled, sat and sang at all the right times, but she never looked at anyone other than Fr O’Shea. She never smiled or caught anyone’s eye in the procession for communion, neither did she look left or right when she marched out at the end of the service. She would nod at Father and shake his hand, possibly murmur some polite words, but I never heard them, and then she would march home. 


This Sunday, however, she didn’t arrive at the church. It was most unusual to look up and see the pew near the front empty. 


“Did you see Miss Parker walking to church today?” I whispered to Susan, the sibling next closest to me in age, and was promptly pinched by the octopus arms of my mother who glared at me, as only mothers could, with eyes that said ‘if you know what’s good for you, you’ll not let another peep cross your lips!’


Susan shook her head, her eyes fixed forward.


But I sat there and wondered. I wondered all through the readings and the service, I wondered as mum made small talk with the grown-ups, I wondered as I was bundled with my siblings into the back seat of the car, and when we got home, I continued to wonder. Miss Parker simply never missed Mass.


Mum would kick us out every Sunday after we had changed from our Sunday best into play clothes. She said it was because she wanted to clean the floors without us tramping dirt all over, but I know it was so that she could have a few moments of quiet time before cooking dinner. We knew to make ourselves scarce or we’d end up as her slave for the afternoon scrubbing the toilet and bathroom. 


My brothers and sister scampered on their bikes toward the local park, but I paused, staring down the street at Miss Parker’s place. I was ten, practically a teenager, and a teenager was nearly a grown-up and grown-ups had a duty to look out for one another. That was one of Dad’s sayings. “Katie,” he’d say to my mum. “We’ve got to look out for one another in this climate.” I was never sure what the weather had to do with it. 


Well it was warm. And perhaps Miss Parker had succumbed to the weather and as far as I knew, she had no one to look out for her. She never had visitors, never went out anywhere, except church, nor was she seen with anyone. Someone should look out for her, and maybe I’m the only one who noticed that she wasn’t in church today. Maybe that made it my duty.


I dropped my bike outside her little stone wall, and carefully tried the latch on her iron gate. It swung open without a sound. Someone kept it in good condition. Our gate never latched and it was permanently propped open. If you did close it though, it made a god-awful racket. I took a breath and strode along the path to knock with staccato taps on her front door. The big circle window was too high for me to peer in, and I wondered if it was even too high for Miss Parker to look out. She wasn’t a large lady, or at least I didn’t think she was. I’d never stood next to her, but she always looked tiny, like a little bird wrapped in feathers of a different age, always in gloves and hat.


“What do you want?” I hadn’t noticed that Miss Parker had opened the door until she spoke, her voice light and crunchy, like a paper bag crumpled into the rubbish bin. She was wearing some kind of jacket, long and neat, buttoned all the way to her chin and down to her wrists. Her hair was caught in a fine net with little fishy tendrils escaping around her ears. Her hands were soft and spotted with age, nails buffed to a neat edge. I noticed them because I had never seen her without gloves.


“Um, I’m sorry to bother you Miss Parker, just I…” I wished I was better with words. I never knew what to say when the grown-ups scowled at me, and Miss Parker’s eyebrows we’re definitely frowning at me as they met over her nose in a pattern of wrinkles. “That is to say,” I swallow, “you weren’t at church today, and I was just wondering if you were alright.”


“Of course I’m alright!” Her voice was crisp and her tone was short, like I had offended or upset her. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come. I begin to apologise but she stopped me, her face softened, the creases over her eyes unfolded and smoothed away, as her eyebrows returned to their usual arch. “Thank you for your concern though. What is you name?”


“Elizabeth, but everyone calls me Lizzy. Lizzy Franklin.”


“Well, Miss Franklin, since you have come all this way to enquire after my welfare and wellbeing, would you care to come in for a drink?”


Never go with strangers, never enter a stranger’s car. Never talk with strangers, never accept gifts or food or drink from strangers. Never enter a dragon’s lair. All these thoughts raced through my mind in an instant and I hesitated. 


“Never mind,” Miss Parker nodded, and moved to shut the door, her face prim again.


“No,” I almost shouted. “I would love a drink.” Miss Parker was not a stranger, not really. I knew her name, I knew where she lived and that made her a ‘not-so-strange’ stranger. Maybe I was making things up, but Miss Parker was not dangerous.


I stepped through into another world, my eyes wide with wonder. On every surface was a trinket, a little ornament. Covering every wall were paintings and pictures. We had a framed photo on our mantle along side a clock that was my grans and the small clay ashtray I’d made in year three. All our good things were packed away in the high cupboards, like mum’s good crystal vase that she got as a wedding present. I’d never seen so many beautiful things on display and my eyes were wide as Miss Parker showed me into her front room, the one with the arch windows looking out onto our street.


It smelled in there. Not bad, not good, just different. The smell of things that had not moved for centuries. There was a faint hint of oranges and something flowery, kind of like the powder that Mum used on the babies bums when they were little, but not really like that at all. It smelled like I had stepped into another world, like time stopped here even as I heard the steady tick of an old fashioned clock, one that looked like a little house.


“I have lemonade that I made, or tea. Do you drink tea?” Miss Parker asked me, her crackly voice soft and wispy, like a butterfly. I wished I drank tea, I’m sure she would have the most beautiful tea set, but I didn’t, so I asked for lemonade please. Always use your best manners when you visit someone, my mum would say.


After Miss Parker left to fetch the drink, I couldn’t help myself. I had to look, there were so many beautiful things. I firmly clasped my hands behind my back to keep them out of mischief. I was not going to touch anything, it all looked so delicate and fragile that even if I breathed, the little china things would shatter. 


Nestled on a shelf inside a glass fronted cabinet was a collection of teapots, each one decorated with flowers or painted with amazing lifelike scenes. Below was a shelf full of china dancers with intricate lace ballerina tutus and arms curved in graceful poses. Further along the wall were beautiful plates delicately painted with houses and scenery and each one displayed with love. A shelf held tiny animals made from china and painted to look lifelike. A cat and her kittens, several breeds of dogs and a horse captured mid gallop. By the window, catching the light and sending it dancing back into the room in rainbows, were a collection of crystal figures. There were swans and butterflies, a tiny teddy bear and a hummingbird. I wandered from display to display totally entranced, that I didn’t hear Miss Parker return.


“Do you like them?” She asked and I spun about, hands firmly clasped at my back.


“I wasn’t touching them, just looking,” I promised, but Miss Parker just smiled. Her lips barely moved, but her whole face seemed to soften. She placed two ancient glasses, the kind that were cut with curious patterns, on the little coffee table and carefully made sure that each glass was centred on the little circular lace coasters. I sat down on the frilly couch that was covered in rose printed fabric, it was so pretty that I perched just on the edge, hesitant to sit further back in case I damaged it. I drank my lemonade. It was syrupy and sweet and very icy cold.


“You have so many lovely things here, Miss Parker,” I said politely, proud of how I was making adult conversation.


“Do you think so?” Miss Parker looked about her and her face seemed sad.


“I don’t know what to do with it all.” She looked about the room, her eyes lighting on some items then skimming quickly over others. “You see that little horse on the shelf?” I nodded. “My brother sent that to me when I was twelve. It’s from Spain. They train dancing horses there, did you know?” I didn’t. “See it’s little hooves poised in mid dance? Well Bernard, that’s my brother, was posted to Spain and he saw this in a little market place, and sent it home to me.” She chucked softly to herself at the memory. “It probably cost him more in postage than the little thing was worth, but he did it for me.” She stood and picked up the small figurine, and passed it to me so that I could look at it. It was made from silver metal and had such amazing detail. I could see the flare of the horse’s nostrils and every wave of hair in its proud mane and tail.


“It’s beautiful,” I said as I handed it back to her.


“Yes it is.” She had a sad far away smile, the kind that tilts the lips but can’t find room in the eyes. “It is going to be so difficult to leave it all.”


“Where are you going?” Miss Parker never went anywhere that I knew.


“Oh, no where. Not yet anyway.” She stood and placed the horse back in its spot next to a little white elephant. “Bernard sent this one from India. It was his last trip before he died.” She caressed he elephant gently as she passed it to me to hold. It was cold, white stone but so detailed in its carving. I ran my fingers along the elephant’s smooth back. “Do you like that one?” Miss Parker asked.


“Yes, it’s very beautiful.”


“Well why don’t you keep that one.”


“Oh no, I couldn’t!” I gasped and shoved he little statue back to her.

“Please, it would make me happy for you to have it.”


I looked at Miss Parker’s lined face and saw the sadness sitting behind her eyes, her loneliness. “Maybe I could leave it here, and just come to visit it every Sunday?”


“It won’t be here.” Miss Parker shook her head. “I don’t know what I will do with it all, because I can’t take it all with me.”


“Why? Where are you going?” I asked again.


“I can’t stay here much longer, there is simply too much work to do. I have a place, a nice little, cosy room with lots of other people my age. I just can’t fit everything in, I can’t talk it all with me. It would make me happy if you had that little elephant. To know that someone knows its story and will remember it.” She looked around at all of her things. “There are just too many stories here that nobody will ever remember.”


“Why don’t you write them down.”


“Perhaps I will, one day.”


I looked down at the elephant still in my hand, its carved eyes stared at me blankly. What was Miss Parker going to do with everything if she had to go away? I wondered if there was anyone who would care about her lovely things. “Could I help you? Could I write the stories down if you tell them?”


Her face wrinkled softly as a small smile worked its way from behind her eyes to her mouth. “I think I would like that.”

February 15, 2023 12:31

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16 comments

Wendy Kaminski
23:55 Feb 21, 2023

This feels very real, Michelle, and I see now by another comment that it does have some realism behind it - it really shows, excellently done story!

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Michelle Oliver
06:59 Feb 22, 2023

Thanks Wendy.

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Zatoichi Mifune
13:04 Jul 17, 2023

Wow. It feels realistic and beautiful. What caused Miss Parker to change her mind and let Lizzy in? Just wondering.

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Michelle Oliver
13:37 Jul 17, 2023

I don’t know, I think she was just lonely and Lizzy was a precocious child.

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Aubrey Tabor
17:54 Mar 29, 2023

Such a beautiful take on the prompt! An easy read that left my soul smiling and the desire to walk around my grandmother's house asking her to tell me the stories of all her things. :)

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Michelle Oliver
21:56 Mar 29, 2023

Thanks for reading and I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

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20:43 Feb 24, 2023

This is a wonderful story, and you tell it so well. You are good with characterizations. I can visualize both the young narrator and Miss Parker very well. The story is both poignant and realistic. Miss Parker's loneliness and her gentility when she finally encounters someone who cares about her are well shown. Congratulations on writing a beautiful story.

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Michelle Oliver
22:26 Feb 24, 2023

Thank you for reading and leaving a comment, I enjoyed writing these characters.

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Laurel Hanson
12:58 Feb 20, 2023

This is a thoroughly enjoyable story. Like Rebecca, I thought of Scout. I think the idea of a neighbor of the Boo Radley variety, a mysterious enigma, is so appealing to kids. They can't help but wonder and the wonder leads to all kinds of creative interpretations. It's so relatable. Your opening is humorous and then the descriptions welcome the reader into the neighborhood and the mind of this narrator so well. This is charming, poignant, and still optimistic. Nicely done.

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Michelle Oliver
13:55 Feb 20, 2023

Thank you for taking the time to read it and give feedback. The mind of a precocious child, one who was, in her own mind, on the verge of adulthood was indeed fun to write.

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Rebecca Miles
17:11 Feb 19, 2023

I couldn't help thinking of Scout in To kill a mockingbird here. Although this isn't written in dialect, you've got the same curious child narrator, stepping out of the boundaries. Others flee to the park and she's concerned, her budding social antenna twitching. And we have a lovely Boo Radley character in Miss Parker with her collection of memories. I love how each object triggers a treasured memory of the giver. And the end, so sweet without being cloying; perfect for an audience of writers. Well done, I really enjoyed this drift back in ...

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Michelle Oliver
22:57 Feb 19, 2023

Thanks Rebecca. Michael Keller left a comment for me on one of my other stories, (In too deep) “I am an old man and one of my pet peeves is that people die with untold stories. It's not vanity. It is an important personal history.” And it stuck with me, so here is a story I dedicate to Michael. To be compared to Harper Lee is praise indeed. Thanks, I am humbled.

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Michał Przywara
23:33 Feb 18, 2023

Great voice here, definitely captures that edge of childhood, where the narrator is aware of the world being bigger, and curious about it. Particularly, I like her preoccupation with what her own hands are doing - she knows she shouldn't, and she knows she wants to :) And it seems like Miss Parker recognizes this, as I'm sure many people do. The idea of likening an aging person to a dragon is a good take on the prompt. "Perhaps I will, one day" gives this story a sad ending - because how often are those just empty words, right? - but then t...

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Michelle Oliver
01:48 Feb 19, 2023

Thanks Michal. So many stories are left untold and unheard, which is such a shame. Thank you for reading this one and for your feedback. I always look forward to your insightful takes on stories.

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Stevie Burges
01:56 Feb 18, 2023

What a lovely story. I couldn't write my story this week - it just didn't work, but you wrote the story I would have wanted to write. Thanks for writing.

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Michelle Oliver
03:21 Feb 18, 2023

Thanks Stevie. There is an element of real life in this one. I did meet the most interesting older lady living alone in her home when I was about ten. She gave me a carved marble elephant which still sits on my shelf today, so she was the inspiration for the story. The rest is pure fiction.

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