Week 18 Flash Fiction Challenge: Jolene


Jolene wasn’t like other girls’ mothers. When she’d pick me up from Windsor Academy, her pink Cadillac drew their notice. Safe inside silver-hued BMWs, their disapproval was a palpable thing.

Long blond hair, tanned skin, heavily mascaraed-eyes, Jolene stood out in a crowd. Men loved her flashy country-star beauty, her black fitted jeans and white cowgirl boots. Their hungry eyes followed whenever she passed by.

She and Daddy were a mismatch, Grandmother always said. Deferential in Grandmother’s presence, Jolene privately mimicked her Brahmin pretensions.

It was Grandmother who insisted I attend Windsor, saying it would soften my ‘rough’ edges. “It’s never too soon to cultivate the right people, Eleanor,” she’d say, watery blue eyes intense, “especially if you intend to go to law school.”

Law school was Grandmother’s idea, not mine. Jolene always said, “Don’t worry about it, baby girl; you’ve lots of time before you need to fight that battle. Let your grandmother have her say – for now.”

Jolene was good at postponing battles. I saw it in the way she shrugged off Daddy’s fondness for brandy, looking the other way as he stumbled from his chair in the evenings, blowing brandy-scented kisses our way.

Daddy was older than Jolene. They’d met when he was in Schuyler Falls on business. He’d sat down next to her in the hotel lounge. “Pretty as a sunny day – and just as warm,” he’d reminisce, the brandy prying open old memories. “Nearly gave your Grandmother a stroke when I brought her back to Boston.”

Daddy fought quiet battles of desperation; Jolene was his one victory.

She was the sun; Daddy and I were planets revolving around her brightness. Filling our lives with laughter, she warmed our bleak, proper house with her presence.

Fridays were special – the day servants left early. Kicking off her boots, she’d flip on the radio. Barefoot, we’d dance around the kitchen, singing old Chuck Berry songs.

I’d watch her cook. Maybelline, why can’t you be true? Shredding cabbage, making her Mama’s signature coleslaw dish, she’d wink at me. “Nothing better than my Mama’s coleslaw, baby girl. You’ll see.”

Nothing ever was.

Last night, I heard familiar singing.

Maybelline, why can’t you be true?

Rising from my bed, eagerly I floated down empty corridors, finding – finally – the kitchen.

Maybelline, why can’t you be true?

She stood at the counter, shredding cabbage.

Pretty as a sunny day – just as warm.

Seeing me, she stopped singing. “Baby girl, you okay?”

I was now.

“Listen to your Grandmother, hear? She’s difficult, but she loves you. And be kind to your Daddy. Life isn’t always what it seems. There’s happiness, honey, but you have to make it. Like we did in this kitchen. Good times, huh?”

Unable to speak, I nodded. She winked, and went back to the coleslaw. Hungrily, I reached for her – and awoke to the gritty taste of grief and hot tears on my cheeks.

Like a hymn, I silently mouthed one word: Jolene.

Author’s Note: This is written in response to Thain in Vain’s flash fiction challenge to write no more than 500 words in connection with the week 18 prompt, “Weird things remind me of her. Cabbage for instance…” 

About Kate Loveton

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time... ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?
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26 Responses to Week 18 Flash Fiction Challenge: Jolene

  1. Pingback: Flash Fiction Challenge – Week Eighteen Submissions | Thain in Vain

  2. Kate Loveton says:

    I’d like to thank all the lovely people who were kind enough to hit the “like” button on my story. I know how precious time is – and that you took some of yours to read my story and then indicate that you liked it means a lot to me. ❤

  3. Kate Loveton says:

    What a nice thing to say! You know how I admire your fiction, so thank you. 🙂

  4. Beautifully descriptive. You have a real way with words.

  5. Great story – I wanted more!

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Noelle! As for more, maybe down the road. 🙂 (By the way, did you get my email? If so, would you mind sending me a return email and letting me have your thoughts? Thanks!)

  6. Kat Dullum says:

    That was a beautiful, bittersweet story.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Kat – I love your gravitar! I bet there’s a story behind that image. Thanks very much for leaving me a comment and letting me know that you liked the story. I appreciate the kindness of people who take a moment to read my stuff and comment on it. 🙂

      • Kat Dullum says:

        Thanks, Kate! That is a photograph of my grandparents in 1920. My grandma is my inspiration for most of my writing. Much like Jolene, she comes to me in my dreams and tells me stories. I hope she likes what I write. If she doesn’t, I’m sure she will find a way to tell me. 🙂

  7. Another great story from the Schuyler Falls series!

    I love how you took this week’s prompt and crafted this bittersweet story from it. I love the use of cabbage in the coleslaw as a way to evoke a memory. I get the feeling that there is much more to come in the story of Jolene and her ‘baby girl’….

    Excellent stuff! ❤

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Heather. I actually came up with three different takes on this story, and settled on ‘Jolene’ because I saw her so clearly. I’m so glad you liked it! ❤

      • I did enjoy it very much. A unique take on the ‘cabbage’ prompt!

        When the muse speaks (as it did with Jolene) you have no choice but to listen and let them guide you. After all, you don’t want Rhet Butler appearing in your shower again.

        Or maybe you do….. 😎

  8. A touching story about family. Even though Jolene was “pretty as a sunny day – just as warm,” her time in this world would be powerful yet short. I like how you incorporated cabbage into the story. Great work, Kate! TiV

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, TiV! You gave us an interesting prompt to work with – and the participants came up with some ingenious ‘answers’ to it! I appreciate the kind words. 🙂

  9. naomiharvey says:

    This is fab! I love the way the dream is a message. Lovely emotional piece.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Naomi. Yes, I think the dream was a message to Jolene’s daughter; maybe a message for us all. It’s important to look for and make one’s own happiness – and not allow others to dampen our hopes and enjoyment. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  10. Wow, this was fantastic!

  11. Oh – you are good!

  12. Okay, this Jolene is my mother. Goodness! A fine story, Kate.

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