Arrival at Backwater Charm


The house was too narrow for the yard, as if there were meant to be more houses between it and its current neighbors, several hundred yards away.  Or maybe they’d been condemned and torn down, if they were anything like the house still standing.

If there’d been any paint on it to begin with, it had long since peeled off and blown away in the constant sea breeze.  The garage door was partially open, revealing the back tires and bumper of a long-looking car.  The uppermost window–three stories up–had a missing panel, a matte gap to the darkness beyond.  Several shutters hung askew, if they were there at all, and the middle stair to the porch was rotted through on one side.  Several bikes lay collapsed in a pile next to the stairs.

My brother’s voice floated in my ear: How about Portrait of Eastside Retirement Home for Spiders and Termites, in Pencil?  Despite the cold lump in my belly, I had to tuck back a smile.

But look at the porch, I’d point out.  A line of mismatched, brightly colored glass bottles hung from the eaves by white strings.  Coins and washers wrapped around their necks clinked with every breeze.  It’s called Backwater Charm, I’d say.

Even coffins have shine, he’d say.  Or something like it.

As I walked up the driveway–cracked, almost to gravel–the screen door screeched open and a woman stepped out.

Something told me this was my grandmother even though I’d never met her and knew nothing about her.  She stood tall and spry despite her cap of pure white hair.  The worn white polo shirt she wore hung too loose on her knobby frame, her legs pressing through her floor length skirt like broom handles as she walked out onto the porch.  She held a mug of something in one hand and an empty pipe in the other.

When she noticed me, I froze, but she just raised her eyebrows and settled into the closest rocking chair, taking a sip from her mug, her eyes on me, steady and assessing.  Something about it made me stay where I was as I said, “Does Daniel O’Reilly live here?”

She took another draw from her mug and took a deep breath in through her nose as she set it on the ground beside her.  Elbows on her knees, she pulled a small silver tin from her breast pocket, took a pinch from it, and stuffed her pipe.  “Yeah?  You’re the daughter?”

It wasn’t an accusation or judgment, but something twinged inside me all the same.  I nodded.  “Yes, ma’am.”  And left it at that.

She nodded too.  “Not telling your name, that’s good.  Keep that habit.  He’s inside, darling.”

I waited until I’d successfully navigated the stairs before saying, “Thank you.”

Pipe stuffed, she hefted her mug at me.  “Like some honey whiskey?”

I stared at her.  “Honey–?  Oh.  No.  Thank you.”  Although I was glad my face had grown into my age enough so she thought I was old enough to drink.

She shrugged and put the mug back down, stuffing her pipe between her lips.  Tiny embers flared in the chamber as she took a long, deep draw, settling back into her chair and setting it rocking with a tip of her feet.

As I pulled open the shrieking door, my brother murmured, When did she light that pipe?

I’m not about to ask, I’d whisper back, as I stepped into the cool darkness inside.

Hey y’all!

Today’s prompt is bikes / glass bottles / honey

I’m so glad I’m doing this, and alongside my friend John Mastro, too!  It felt wonderful to get back into writing today.  Even though it took me over an hour to get this down, it felt like taking a nice stretch after a long nap.


I like how this turned out!  I think I could add a little more voice in some places, but I had so much fun with the descriptions and I think they turned out really well.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Tomorrow’s prompt is cotton candy / lemonade / window

For the full list of prompts and to join in on the 30 Day Restart Challenge, visit the prompt page here!


2 thoughts on “Arrival at Backwater Charm

  1. Hey my friend! A fantastic kick off to the challenge, I must say. You have a Southern flair to your writing, a certain imagery and pacing that creates a simultaneously relatable and other worldly quality. Mental pictures we can all see, like the hanging bottles or the broom handle-legged grandmother. Yet, a picture of a culture on the edge of familiar to most- Granny smoking her pipe and sipping her honey whiskey, her terse, no nonsense delivery of her questions. I like your style! :)


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