Welcome to Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group and the fifth story on this blog. This 3,052-word piece is by romance mystery author Rosanne Dingli.
Please do comment in the section below telling us what you liked about this story and, what if anything, Rosanne could do to improve upon it. Thank you – it’s very much appreciated!
I do have some feedback but I’ve just included it (below the story) as links to the scans of my handwritten-notes so I can let others comment here without being influenced by me.
Comment / feedback sought by Rosanne: “This story was written very quickly, so no doubt readers can pick holes in it. It appears in the collection The Red Volkswagen and other stories, a bundle of stories all about cars.”
The Blue BMW © Rosanne Dingli
The withered hand rose out of the water, slowly rotating away from her. She watched it, horrified, as it turned and dripped. Skin and bone, with long curved nails, it was the nightmare hand she feared. The hand she had dreaded would reach out from under the bed as a child, to grab her ankle if she dared step down to go to the bathroom.
She never dared. And now, it slowly turned, making no sound as it splashed into the oncoming waves and disappeared. Rings – three rings – formed and spread outwards from where it had shown itself. It was a few seconds, but she had seen it, just like she had dreamed it, just like she had witnessed it: the withered hand of her mother as she lay dying.
‘I’m leaving you everything.’ The soft voice was clear and sharp. It did not sound like her mother’s voice. ‘See that you get it – everything in the house. My will – it’s all in my will.’
‘Mum, don’t talk. Hush,’ she said. Grief was starting to knot itself into a tight wad in her stomach and a vice around her throat. She could not cry now, yet she could not stave off the tears. ‘Mum – please …’
‘Listen. It’s important. Take the jewellery. Don’t let your brother’s wife … take the green jade bowl. The kerchief box – it’s yours. The box is important.’ Her withered hand, dry, with papery skin and veins that were once blue, now blackened under a weak tarpaulin of dying nerves.
Looking at the place in the water where the hand disappeared, remembering her mother’s closed eyes, thinking of how she had gone through the old house, finding things, losing things: packing. It would never fade, that cold misery that had her in its fist those first few weeks.
Now, the sun returned from behind a low bank of clouds and she told Ray. ‘I saw a hand, right there.’ She pointed. ‘It came out,’ she gestured with her own hand, ‘like this, like a slow whale’s tail, and splashed back.’
‘Good heavens! Are you sure?’ He looked at her, uncertain. ‘A human hand? Moira – are you sure?’ He repeated himself in confusion.
She nodded. ‘We saw the news. A diver was taken by a shark. Do you think …?’
‘If that’s the case, we should tell someone.’
‘No, Ray.’ She closed her eyes. Did she really see it? The hand she always feared, that might shoot out from under the brass bed and grab her if she did not get under the covers quickly enough?
The cold nights of her childhood were long gone. Her mother was long dead. The jewellery and the green bowl – where were they? She had spent what seemed like a decade on this boat and all she owned was in storage. She was exhausted. She was seeing things.
‘No, Ray. I must have … it was nothing. I’m not sure. No.’
He nodded, moved aft and started coiling rope. She joined him and pulled at the large sail, rolling it neatly to stow away below.
‘Leave it,’ he said. ‘I’ll do that. Put the kettle on. I’m hungry.’
She smiled. Ray was always hungry. It was over. She had seen something, but whether it was a figment of her exhausted brain or a piece of driftwood she had no idea. She braced her arms and threw both legs together down the companionway. It was neat below: shipshape. Her book and pen were packed tightly against the laptop on the side counter.
Moira lit the burner under the blue kettle and wondered what she would write that night, when she filled the day’s journal. Would it come out, the hand she had seen, or would she confine her account to the practical things that happened that day?
He stood in the car yard, surrounded by placarded vehicles, none of which he could afford. This was something that he had to do, though, cost or no cost. Moira was so unhappy living on board the yacht that he desperately needed to do something to lift her out of the despondency that was eroding everything he had built. Everything he had planned for, over so many years. He could not let it happen. This was his dream, and it would all be ruined if Moira remained miserable.
He looked at a two-door Toyota, a little Holden whose colour she would never stomach, and a bright Fiesta that was so old it was bound to break down only days after the brief warranty expired.
‘This is what you’re looking for, if it’s for your wife.’
Was the man joking? He could never afford a BMW. But it was a good one. Dark blue, a 330 Coupe. He knew less about the make and model than he knew about Holdens or Fords.
‘The price is right.’ The salesman smiled, and pretend-kicked the tyre.
Ray shook his head.
‘Look – I can shave a few hundred off. Why don’t we talk in the office? Why don’t we arrange a spin?’
He drove out of the sales yard several thousand in debt, in a dark blue BMW he had no idea Moira would like or hate, with a half-boiled plan in his head. She would kill him. But she had started seeing things. It was no joke to have a hallucinating woman on board, muttering in her sleep and losing things overboard. A perfectly good spaghetti pot was the latest thing she lost, and all they were left with was its yellow enamel lid, to remind him of how bad things were. Every time he saw it, when he opened the small corner cupboard to stow away washed cups, or pull out a folded tea towel, it mocked him and his retirement plans.
‘You did what?’ Moira’s jaw dropped but her eyes lit up. ‘You said folding bikes were just the thing. What … where … how can we afford this?’
‘We can’t. I figured …’
‘I have to drive it. Oh my God – can I drive it?’
He held the keys up, and she snatched them away.
She almost shrieked as she slipped on some shoes and pulled a comb through her hair. ‘Oh my God. I’m going to be me again. Me again. Me again.’
She did not return to the marina for two hours.
During that time, Ray tidied up, spliced the ends of some sheets and made raisin muffins. He threw out a stack of magazines, looked on eBay, sent an email to his brother, watched the news, and tapped fingers on the chart table for fifteen minutes. Where was she?
‘It is fantastic!’
He heard her voice, then heard her footsteps hurrying along the boardwalk.
‘Ray? Ray! What a wonderful car. You have made me this happy …’ She held out her arms as if to measure the extent of her delight, like a successful fisherman at a pub.
‘Brilliant. Great, Moira. You were gone so long that I …’
‘I did land things. I shopped. I window-shopped. I bought a takeaway coffee. I got caught in traffic. I beeped the horn!’ She threw herself on the padded seat, exhausted and replete. Glorious in delight and contentment.
He knew she would say she could sleep in the thing.
‘It’s wonderful. I could sleep in that bee-em-double-you!’
He sighed. A gleeful landlubber she was, unwittingly confirming her former misery, and her efforts to seem happy just to keep the peace. Just to make sure he got his dream.
‘All you need now, Moira, is a garage to keep it in.’ A broad grin did not show her the concern in his eyes.
Oblivious, she sat down to a cup of tea and a muffin. ‘Mm – these are good.’
She would not stay happy long. Ray watched her closely, trying not to seem probing or too concerned.
‘Tomorrow it’ll be twelve years since Mum died.’
‘If we were home, we’d go to the cemetery with flowers.’
He nodded again, and bit his tongue. If he asked whether she wanted to be ‘home’, she would say yes, of course. It meant she did not think the boat was home. Moira felt she was homeless. Living on a boat was not for her. Her things were in a warehouse.
‘Happy with the car?’
‘Over the moon.’
‘Needs something though, doesn’t it?’
She laughed. ‘Yes – a pair of fluffy dice hanging from the mirror!’
Ray shook his head. She was in a good mood.
‘I think I should sail onward to Parchment Bay …’
She looked up. ‘You?’
Ray saw the hope in her eyes.
‘Mm. You have to drive the car there. I’ll meet you there. You like Parchment Bay, don’t you?’
‘Not the bay so much as the village. There’s a second hand book shop, remember? And a little dress shop and there’s a theatre and …’
He filled the teapot again. ‘That’s what I mean.’
‘But it’s miles and miles away.’
He spooned sugar into his cup, stirred pensively. He had made calculations in his head all afternoon. ‘What would you think if we rented a flat there, and you could join me on trips every now and then?’
She upset her cup as she rose and flung her arms around him. ‘Oh Ray! Really? I didn’t want to suggest it myself. You might have been hurt. This has been your dream for so long.’
‘And your nightmare for two years.’
She righted her cup and dabbed at the table with kitchen towel. ‘Not a nightmare. But I do so want a home.’
His grin broad grin settled it. That night, he heard her hum as she got ready for bed. Ready for bunk, she called it. Soon, she would have her home.
It was brilliant. Small, poky in places, and it made the furniture look too big and cramped. But it was perfect and brilliant. Moira stood in her dining room surrounded by half-unpacked boxes.
Balled newspaper, tissue, and polystyrene packing beads lay all around her on the carpet. She lifted something green, half swaddled in butcher paper. It was her mother’s green jade bowl. That meant that underneath, at the bottom of the carton – yes, it was the old handkerchief box that belonged to her great grandmother.
‘The box is important.’ Her mother’s voice resounded in her head. It was so many years ago. She could not remember how long these things had been packed away. Many years. What was so special about the box? It was light and did not rattle, and she did not think she ever had the key. Forever locked. Moira grinned. She had all the time in the world now, with Ray away sailing. She could take as long as she liked to arrange the flat, get rid of some old stuff, and shop for some nice new bright things, without breaking the bank. Ray was ever so careful. They were always on a budget, but she knew they were comfortable enough for that.
She carried the box through to her bedroom, which was already tidy, and sat on the bed, arming herself with a hairpin.
She had the box open in less time than it had taken to unpack three packing crates. Surprised it was so easy, Moira was even more astonished to find it was stuffed with a yellow silk scarf that seemed almost new. It weighed almost nothing, as light as air, but it was wrapped around some jewellery. The scarf had stopped it all rattling when she shook the box.
A ring, earrings, and a pendant on a gold chain fell into her hand. They were set with beautiful blue stones. Sapphires, Moira thought, and admired them, slipping the ring on a finger. It fitted perfectly. So that was why her mother said the box was important. She always thought it was empty.
She would have to take them down the High Street to that nice man at the jewellery shop, and he would value them for insurance purposes, and she would have to include them on their policy. What a lovely find!
Blue, to match her darling BMW. To think that she thought Ray was insensitive. It must have taken a lot of thought for him to figure she was unhappy living on the boat. Now he could come and go, and she’d meet him at the marina with the BMW. What a great car.
And now, jewellery to match.
‘No, not sapphires.’ The man put the loupe back in his eye and squinted at the ring. Then he took up the ring. ‘Amazing, though – beautiful colour. Oh, wait. Now I remember. But I must look it up. There was a special… my goodness, these are lovely stones. Very very nicely set, too.’ He moved to the back counter and tapped away at the keyboard.
Moira waited patiently. She had all the time in the world. Under the glass-topped counter, pearls, wristwatches, diamond rings and cuff links winked and blinked. Piped music from the arcade across the street was audible because it was so quiet in the shop. No one else came in. She heard the hiss of tyres outside and realised it had started to rain.
‘I love the rain when I know I can go home to my cosy little house.’
But the man was too engrossed in what he was researching to listen. ‘Aha!’ He finally surfaced. ‘Benitoite. That’s the name of the stones. Benitoite.’
‘I’ve never heard of a stone with that name.’ She approached the counter again and he handed her the ring. Moira looked at it closely.
‘They are worth a packet. Very very rare stones found only in San Benito in California. Very light for their size. These are very nicely cut. You have a fabulous set here, worth several thousand dollars. It says on that site that large stones like this are extremely rare. The gold is eighteen carat. Did you say your mother left you this set? You are very lucky.’ He looked directly into her eyes, and she saw the flecks in this irises.
‘Before she died, my mother said something about a box being important. I put it into storage … for years. I only opened it this week. Had to use a hairpin!’
He wrote her an estimate for the insurance.
The withered hand rose out of the water, slowly rotating away from her. She watched it, horrified, as it turned and dripped. Skin and bone, with long curved nails, it was the nightmare hand she feared.
Moira was spending the weekend with Ray on the boat. She had brought a mountain of stuff, as usual, and stowing it away neatly was not her forte. He found the neatly printed pages under a pair of folded jeans. The writing drew him in immediately.
‘That story is excellent.’ He helped her on board, and took a large shopping bag from her extended hand.
‘That little car is a miracle. It’s been over a year now and I’m still over the moon with it. Best idea you ever had, Ray!’
‘Did you hear what I said? I read the story you wrote about the hand in the water. You should send it off somewhere.’
Moira laughed. ‘Where’s the cuppa you promised?’
Ray poured her a fresh hot cup of tea from the blue teapot. ‘I’m serious, Moira – it’s a beautiful piece of writing. Personal, but literary. It’s exactly like the stuff you show me in those university journal things.’
She reached for a scone. ‘You really think so, eh?’
‘I do. It’s terrific writing.’
‘Doesn’t it feel like it could be longer?’
He stopped to think. ‘Longer? Hm – but making a novel out of it would take time. And novels … they must be hard to publish.’
Moira threw her head back and laughed. ‘Anything is possible now I have that BMW.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’ve been working hard for this past year. I did write a novel. What you read there is the five page sample.’
Ray swallowed a scone in two bites. ‘Sample?’
‘Hm. I sent it off to Gerald Shakeshaft.’ She waggled her eyebrows at him.
‘Who’s Gerald Shakeshaft?’
Moira rose and did a little twirl and curtsey. ‘Only one of the most influential agents this side of the Thames. He wrote back for the whole manuscript.’
‘Oh my – you must do that at once.’
‘Oh, I did – four weeks ago. I got in the BMW and drove all the way to Swansea to see him and place the pages in his hot little hands myself.’
‘Well, you were at Cowes, Ray. Besides, it could have all come to nothing.’
‘He was lovely. We talked for twenty minutes. He phoned on Tuesday.’ She looked like she would burst.
‘And Bloomsbury have sent him contracts. I’m signing them next week.’
The room was packed with people. Ray could see a group in a corner that looked like the media. It was his turn to raise his eyebrows at Moira. ‘You look amazing.’
She did. The burnt sienna top over dark blue trousers worked well. She looked elegant but not overdone.
‘I’m wearing the benitoite jewellery, haven’t you noticed?’
Ray looked at the earrings and pendant. ‘Lovely.’ He sighed at what it all must have cost.
‘Mum’s jewellery. Ray – look at it. It was in that old box I never opened. Didn’t I tell you?’
He looked more closely. ‘I’ve never seen these pieces before. I’d have remembered. The stones are lovely.’
‘Benitoite. Only found in California. I keep wondering where she got these things.’
‘Well – they are great.’
She showed him the ring.
‘If it weren’t for the car I’d never have found them. I’d never have written the book. We wouldn’t be here today, Ray.’
It was all true. He looked at his wife as she swept up to the podium, and the launch of her novel Woman Overboard commenced.
Ray watched, mesmerized. It was not until Moira read an excerpt from the novel that he realised how happy she was. It was not merely the enjoyment of an event, or a brief burst of glory. No – Moira seemed deeply content. She was living the life she always wanted. And so, after all, was he.
Thank you, Rosanne.
If you’d like to see my notes, click on the links below but please give your comments to Rosanne here first. That way you won’t be influenced by my feedback, and we can see if we think alike. Thank you.
- My critique (page 1)
- My critique (page 2)
- My critique (page 3)
- My critique (page 4)
- My critique (page 5)
- My critique (page 6)
Her four collections of short stories appear together with her three novels on her website, and can be bought wherever good books are sold online.
Her fourth novel, another literary romantic thriller, is to be released mid-2013.
Rosanne’s website is http://www.rosannedingli.com.
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