The Mockingbird

Day 1 of the February Flash Fiction Challenge. Today’s prompt is to write a story with no dialogue.

The old man sat on a bumpy stone wall overlooking the harbor and watched the men and women docking their sailboats. Wood gleamed in the morning sun and brightly-colored sails caught the eyes of the other onlookers. Each had their favorite team but everyone knew who would win: the gallant Flaming Dragon and its bold red and gold sails. Thanks to the deep pockets of city’s wealthiest citizens, there were rarely any other victors. 

Amidst the happy chitter-chatter from the crowd, the man frowned. He had vivid memories of the first time he watched the races because he had been a contestant himself. He was a teenager then, strong and full of energy. He and his father had built their boat by hand and his sisters stitched together layers of flour sacks. It wasn’t a spectacular boat but it was solid and when it caught the wind just right, it was fast.

The old man eased off the wall with a sigh and made to turn back to his shop, ready to forget the races entirely. An angry exclamation made him stop and turn around. He followed the gaze of other onlookers to a white tent where a red-haired teenage girl towered over a determined race official, yelling at him and pointing at the group of people behind and a drab sailboat with no dock, presumably her team and boat. They were a scraggly-looking bunch, the girl included, and he was sure a few of them hadn’t slept under a roof for quite some time. He could only make out a few words of their heated argument but it sounded as if the girl’s team was being denied entry to the race because they lacked a financial supporter to pay the entry fee. 

The old man waved a tired arm at the scene. He wasn’t surprised; nothing had changed at the races since he had competed. Every year he thought he was sure he would at least place but defeat eventually dampened his hope until he bitterly gave up four decades ago. He hobbled his way back to his shop and went about his day but the more he tried to forget the scene from the harbor, the more it nagged at the back of his mind.

As he seeped in his bitterness, lost in thought as he stared at a long shadow on the street outside his shop, he almost missed the flash of the girl’s red hair is she pounded angrily past the window. Before he knew what he was doing, he brought himself out of his reverie and stormed out the door after her, as fast as his old legs could carry him. Perhaps it was mere stubbornness or a glimmer of that hope that he thought had vanished long ago, but he had an idea.

After he had finally caught her and told her his plan, he found he was smiling for the first time in days.

The next morning—the day of the races—he watched with satisfaction when the girl’s team sauntered up to the official and dropped a heavy bag of coins onto his table. The old man wasn’t worried about the small dent it made in his savings; the look on the official’s face more than enough made up for it. 

The girl and her team brought their gray sailboat—The Mockingbird—out to the starting line with the other boats. It was a piecemeal boat, made from a scrap of ship here and an old building beam there. The gray sail was a hodgepodge of discarded sails from merchant ships, all dirtied and stained from years of use. Together they made a calico of grays, browns, and off-whites, and it flitted about like the wings of its namesake. She was a strong boat, as was her crew, headed up by the towering red-headed girl. 

The gun flared and the harbor was a rainbow of colors but no one paid much attention to the spectacular display as a small, drab sailboat made its way to the front of the race. At first the onlookers booed and hissed—how dare this little sailboat defeat their favorite teams!—but soon people began cheering. An underdog was making its way to chase the tail of the Flaming Dragon. Would this really be the year history was made?

With a mere ten yards left to the finish line, the crowd was wild. Some say they were yelling so strongly they actually made the wind shift in The Mockingbird’s direction. Others say the red-haired girl was a dragon herself and could sail with the power of a hundred sailors. For the old man, he didn’t care what pushed that gray boat over the finish line in front of the Flaming Dragon, but he knew it was the best money he had ever spent. 

Published by Leah Abbey

I write about nature, parenting, and fiction from my home in the San Diego area. I try to keep this blog updated at least weekly. If you haven't heard from me in a while, it's probably because I've been working on my novel. (Or, just trying to stay sane while my three-year-old runs over his baby sister with a toy school bus.)

One thought on “The Mockingbird

  1. This short story offers a lot in such few words … visually and emotionally … contrasting the old man’s memories of his youth and strength, and his attraction to the ragtag group with their drab sailboat “of tossed-off junk”… to the stacked odds of the colorful sails, glamour and riches of the wealthy establishment. I love the title of the sailboat, Mockingbird, because it reveals the play of mockery, coming from both sides. In this case, the tables are turned by the revival of energy from the old man, and the energy of belief from the scraggly “no name, discards of society” team, ignited by the girl and her flame of red hair. As always, in the underdog hero, it’s the little things that count, that tap into the real power to change the world.


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