During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE. Selections for the anthology will be made in September, and editor Sydney Culpepper has set the deadline at September 15th, so get your story in quickly!
This is a short, beautiful story that shows just how much a single, inconspicuous moment can change someone's life. Parents usually do the best they can in raising their children, though in doing so they may try to make their children too much like them. With gentle, evocative prose that brings all sorts of emotions to light, this story will find a place in your heart. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor
Not a Moment Too Soon
by Jacqueline Marie Briggs
It was only two years after the First World War ended, when people still could not imagine there ever being another one. My father took me to see a friend of his; a woman. She lived in a pale yellow house with a roof that flowed down, not ending in the abrupt, sharp way of the thick Spanish tiles and waterspouts I was accustomed to. Her roof curved down and under like a wave. There were deep-set window frames painted this lovely shade of early twilight blue. And there was a wide verandah that wrapped all around the cottage with chairs and giant pots of mint and strawberries scattered all about.
It struck me that my father didn’t knock and I thought it rude when he just strode through the unlocked door. He must have sensed my discomfort because he turned to me and explained in the serious adult tone he used with me that his friend always knew when guests were close at hand and that she was always ready with tea the moment they arrived.
As we walked through the soft light infused parlor and into the open airy kitchen, I noticed small oddly beautiful treasures in every corner, nook, and cranny. In the picture window at the front of the house there were three small prisms like the ones that hung from our entrance hall chandelier. They were hanging from lavender ribbons of differing lengths, catching the morning light and bouncing rainbows onto the far wall. There was a tall blue bottle in the kitchen windowsill with small surf-polished stones and sea glass scattered around it.
There was no dining room, but a huge bouquet of what my mother would have called weeds ruled the center of a massive kitchen table. It was such a force of color I stopped and stuck out my tongue. I remember thinking I might be able to taste the reds and yellows and purples in the air. It confused me for a moment, how something my mother took such pains training me to reject, how those very same things could be so beautiful to me here. And then she swirled in.
She was beautiful, although maybe slightly older than my mother. What I remember most was that her hair wasn’t pinned or tied up. It was loose like my mother’s when she was getting ready for bed. We sat at the kitchen table and she brought us tea and lovely lemon scones and strawberries. Each cup, each saucer, each plate was a different design, different color, different shape.
I remember how my heart felt like it split open. It was a rush of blood and salt, of bottle-blue water and of this joyous sense of relief. That is when I committed the unpardonable sin of knowing, without question, that my mother was wrong. Her ordered beauty was weak and bloodless and I was free of it.
I was only six years old, and if my father had waited another year, another season, maybe even another month before bringing me to this place, it would have been too late. I would have been formed in the image of my mother. If my father had waited I am convinced I would only have seen the disarray and jumble of unmatched crockery. I would have been polite but my newly cemented sensibilities would have scorned this woman as poor and tasteless.
I will never know what kind of relationship my father had with this woman. It was never something I asked him about. Nothing a daughter should ever be told. He took me there, I think, because the qualities he admired in her, he recognized in me.
I used to hear Mother and Father argue over the proper way to raise me and he once vowed to me, as we watched mother push the gardener aside and get down on her knees and begin to weed madly, that he would not allow my uniqueness to be pulled up, ripped out like weeds mother tossed away in the dark, far corner of the garden.
I returned to the cottage many times where I learned to cultivate the art of existing in every moment. Of being there. Completely. Without fear. Without hesitation or reservation. She taught me to listen to pain with warm hands, to breathe in the hurt and exhale the suffering, to rock the monsters to sleep so they awakened transformed as the teachers they really are. That is when I knew I would be a physician. I knew by the time I was ten that I would not be able to completely chase away all the pain of every broken winged bird or every child I would minister to, but I hoped, and still hope, I could at least smooth the sharp, cutting edges.
Jacqueline Marie Briggs was born in Elkhart, Indiana, in 1954, the daughter and granddaughter of railroad engineers. She married at 17 and moved to central British Columbia and 160 acres of wilderness but later returned to the United States and completed a bachelor’s degree in History.
She lived and worked in Zimbabwe as a diplomatic spouse and Peace Corps Administrator for three years (1991 -1993) and have travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. She later moved to Germany before leaving the diplomatic life for Portland, Oregon. For the past twelve years she has lived in Portland, working as a teacher, a data and business systems analyst, and an Information technology supervisor.
Jacqueline has been involved in a writing community around the world, studying with Thom De Fesi in Bonn, Germany, Diana Abu-Jaber (Writer-in-Residence at Portland State University) and Merrdawn Duckler (Senior Fellow at Portland’s Attic Institute of Arts and Letters).
She is a member of the Willamette Writers Association and has an excerpt of her as-of-yet unpublished novel, The Crooked Boy, in the latest issue of the Timberline Review (Issue 7).