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FIREWORD • by Deborah Winter-Blood

Lorraine was comparing brands of incontinence products when she realized she was being watched. She glanced sideways and spotted a tall, old man standing at the end of the store aisle. He was leaning on his shopping cart, smiling at her.

Old fool, she thought. She snatched a package of store brand pads and dropped them into her cart before turning away.

She encountered the man again among the frozen foods. She spent as little time in that department as possible, moving through it as quickly as her equally frozen joints would allow. The cold was unsettling. It crept into her fragile bones and hung there like a wraith for hours afterward, reminding her of a time when she used to run out to greet the snow, a bundled-up child clinging to each hand. I used to make you feel alive, the cold taunted her.  How do I make you feel now, Lorraine? Old? Do I make you feel old?

The man brought his cart up beside Lorraine’s. “Pardon me,” he said, “I must make an observation.”

Lorraine turned to look at him. He certainly was old, even older than she, but unlike most people her age he was taller. She had to look up to meet his eyes. “Must you?” she snapped.

The man’s smile was crooked, and of course he thought it was charming. Lorraine was suddenly sure there had been a time when he’d used that smile to tumble young women into bed quite easily. “I’ve been watching you,” he continued. She detected an accent that was as faded as the man’s blue eyes; British, perhaps. “I hope you won’t think I’m impertinent, but you carry yourself like a woman who’s conscious of her own remarkable beauty.”

Lorraine stared at him. “I suppose you think I’m flattered.”

He had his own teeth; they were uneven and stained, but his own nonetheless. All of them showed when he laughed. “I don’t flatter myself that you’re flattered,” was his response, “but I felt compelled to say it.”

She fumbled for a package of broccoli — she didn’t know why; broccoli wasn’t on good terms with her digestive system. She placed it in her cart and moved away again. She moved slowly now, damn it. Her knees were aching and she wanted to get away from the man more quickly than her body would allow. He was following her. Of all the nerve.

“Can you wait just a minute?” he called out softly. He came up beside her at the endcap. “I’m not as quick as I used to be.” His smile was a bit self-deprecating that time.

Lorraine stopped and looked at him again. “What do you want?”

He leaned against his cart again and shook his head. “I’m not sure. I just know that I can’t let you walk away like this.” He chuckled. “You’re looking at me like I’m some rare species of cockroach.”

Lorraine snorted. “Not that rare.”

The man’s laugh was truly merry. “Touché, my dear, touché. I admit that I’ve been a hound. But now you must admit, you spent your younger days being the hare. Pursued. Desired. A tantalizing prey to those who came across your scent.”

He talks like an actor, she thought, like he’s onstage. Something stirred in Lorraine; cherished memories of being able to stop a man in his tracks with one sultry glance from her doe-like eyes. “I had my day,” she admitted.

“Dear lady,” the man said, “your day isn’t done.” He placed a gnarled hand over the area of his heart.

“You’re out of your mind.” She knew she should move away, but she remained rooted to that spot.

“Yet you stay,” he pointed out.

“Against my will,” she said, but her voice had no conviction.

“I like the sound of that, ‘your will’. My name is Will. William, actually.”

Lorraine put a hand up to the French twist of gleaming silver at the nape of her neck. She was conscious of the admiring way he studied her thick hair. “It was nice to meet you, William,” she said with finality.

He really is a pest, Lorraine thought, when she realized he had followed her to the check-out. He could not take a polite hint.

As he wheeled into place behind her in line, a young cashier came up and put a hand on his cart. “I can help you on three, sir.”

William pulled his cart gently away from the young woman. “What?” he exclaimed, “and take me away from this lovely lady?”

The cashier’s eyes widened. She looked at William, then at Lorraine, then back at William, and a smile broke over her face. “Of course not.” She glanced at them both with admiration before moving away to help someone else.

Lorraine paid for her groceries. After they were bagged and placed back in her cart, she lingered at the exit. William’s eyes flitted up to meet hers several times as he fumbled with the card reader. He was obviously delighted to find her waiting for him at the glass doors.

She stared at him for a long moment. “This is foolish, you know,” she said at last. “We won’t have much time.”

William looked around at the other shoppers: A young mother with a lower back tattoo visible above her jeans, a middle-aged man with a smoker’s cough standing at the magazine rack, a teenage girl who giggled as a teenage boy whispered nonsense in her ear. The old people’s eyes met again and he shrugged matter-of-factly. “No one does, darling.”

She considered this for a moment, and then nodded slowly. “My name is Lorraine,” she said.

Deborah Winter-Blood is a writer, dog mom and displaced California Valley Girl. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications (including Every Day Fiction) over the past 30 years. She’s recently finished her second novel, which she hopes to see in print in 2011.

GD Star Rating
FIREWORD • by Deborah Winter-Blood, 3.9 out of 5 based on 103 ratings
Posted on January 5, 2010 in Romance, Stories
  • http://oscarwindsor-smith.blogspot.com Oscar Windsor-Smith

    An nice story, Deborah, potentially a corker, but I wish you hadn’t put incontinence products in the first line… or anywhere, for that matter. I do understand that you want us to know that the characters are elderly, but that ‘visual’ lasted throughout the piece – for me, anyway – and curdled the otherwise excellent bitter-sweet atmosphere you worked so hard to build.

    😉 scar

  • http://patriciahale.blogspot.com Patricia J. Hale

    Well done.

  • laura

    i liked it incontinence products and all.you made a checkout person (society) recognize life in an elderly and slow moving couple. good job. i did have a hard time with this paragraph (The man’s laugh was truly merry. “Touché, my dear, touché. I admit that I’ve been a hound. But now you must admit, you spent your younger days being the hare. Pursued. Desired. A tantalizing prey to those who came across your scent.”). it seemed to pop me right out of the mood. different voice for the older guy maybe. of course, it could just be me this early in the morning. thanks for the read.

  • http://www.mostlyunsure.blogspot.com Pete

    Creatinly a lot of potential but I’d agree with Oscar that the visual at the begining might last too long for some. In fact there seems just a little too much effort spent on telling the readet taht these characters are over 60. For me that killed an otherwise great ending, re:

    ‘The old people’s eyes met again and he shrugged matter-of-factly. “No one does, darling.”’

    Just cut out that first half and you have a nice snappy point.

    Apart from that it was well written

  • J.C. Towler

    This was a very visual story for me. I had in mind an elderly Dick Van Dyke and Julia Christie playing the parts. I’m in the camp where incontinence products wasn’t a problem but also in the camp that thinks some dialog honing would have improved the characters/situation. My main pick was involving the 3rd party clerk in their courtship. Sappy.

    Good story, overall. Liked Pete’s (#4) stopping point suggestion.


  • http://www.portiris.com Casey Seda

    The first sentence actually hooked me exactly because of incontinence products. The first paragraph was able to clearly identify Loraine as elderly and sensitive to the fact.

  • http://www.theprodigalscribe.com Mickey

    Yes, I have to agree with Casey. The reference in the first line really nailed the age right away. Sure there may have been other ways to do it, but your choice gave it lasting power… (Hell, we’re still talking about it)

    Love this piece. Five from me!

  • http://pittsburghflashfictiongazette.com Guy Hogan

    A well written and visual story. It’s well paced. These people have a history as they should and it comes through adding substance to the story. And there is a real feel of reality to the piece. As in reality there are things that are not pleasant. I gave the story a 5.

  • fishlovesca

    Five stars from me. I didn’t like the ending, the man seemed to change character, however the rest of the story was amazing. Very talented writer.

  • http://teenangel.netfirms.com Jim Hartley

    Nope. I didn’t like it. The ending did not seem to tie things up, it just left everything hanging. The story didn’t seem to go anywhere.

    And I must admit that I was turned off right at the beginning, by the “incontinence products.” Besides being somewhat gross, I know that such things are used by other than just the aged, so it did NOT contribute to an awareness of the characters’ ages.

  • Jen

    Cute litte story, it shows that you can find at any age. :} The inconnteinence products didn’t bother me any, c’est la vie!

  • lindsay

    What is the significance of the title?

  • http://www.theprodigalscribe.com Mickey

    As I said…. it had the affect… we’re still talking about it.

    May you be one of the fortunate ones not to have to deal with incontinence in advanced years.

  • http://www.deborahblood.com Debi Blood

    Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to read this little story of mine. I appreciate the encouraging and constructive comments.

    Lindsay, I was hoping someone would ask about the significance of the title! It’s from a poem by Robert Lowell: “Some other love will sound his fireword for you and wake your heart, perhaps, from its cold sleep…” The poem is “Will Not Come Back”. Thank you for asking!

  • http://wanttogetpublished.blogspot.com Bernard S. Jansen

    Overall, good. The pad purchase seemed to be a distraction to a lot of readers. The scene didn’t help me establish the age of Lorraine. She saw the man as old, and thought him an old fool. Therefore, I thought Lorraine was shopping for a parent or grandparent, etc.

    While I appreciate the title link too the poem, I think that titles should be self-explanatory. Maybe that’s just me.

  • Margie

    The older I get, the more I appreciate having such a love still in my life. My “Will” is called Bill. :)

  • http://www.lauramchaleholland.com Laura McHale Holland

    Love this story! It drew me in; I felt like I was right there, absorbed in the fictional world Debi created in the store, and I was amused and moved by Lorraine’s shifting reactions to Will’s efforts to connect. I was wondering about the title, too, and see that Debi spoke to its origin. I’ve never read the poem so didn’t have a clue, but that was a minor thing.

  • http://myspace.com/cherylmgower29 Cheryl Gower

    Great story. Poignant. Tension built gradually–as gradually as a short story allows–and reached a conclusion that left more for the imagination. I save many of EDF’s short stories, and this will definitely go into that file. Thank you for a great example of a short story.

  • http://www.deborahblood.com Debi Blood

    Thank you again for the wonderful comments! 😀

  • Kathryn Gerbert

    Lovely story. You have a distinct and beautiful voice.

  • Pingback: Reaffirming that whole “Ink for Blood” thing « Deborah Winter-Blood()

  • http://wwebb3@comcast.net Bill Webb

    Now at last a story I can relate to. At 75 I often “hit” on the beauties in the grocery store. It’s harmless for them with me anyway but it gives them a smile and me too and life is to soon over to be stuffy and no fun.
    I loved it, write more

  • Ronnie Pruitt


    I really liked this. Your narrative is excellent; the characters vivid. In my opinion, you write rather well. Keep up the wonderful writing and congrats on your upcoming novel – I will buy and read it.


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