What Pegman Saw: The narrow path

Image: Google Street View

Adam stood at the boundary between wadi and desert, one boot dipping into the gritty sand, the other in the grass.

The view summed up his family.

There was the desert, the grey gold dunes, the lush but hardy date palms, that blend of beauty and toughness – that was his Saudi wife, Cala.

Then there was the agricultural land. The swathes of emerald grass, the sorghum and millet sprouting in the fields, the non-native trees that were scorched by the sun but wouldn’t survive at all without the wadi. That was him.

And the narrow path between them both, that was their daughter Bibi. She had a fall of black hair like her mother, his snub nose – though the crease between her eyes was all her own.

He wondered how long she could walk the narrow path between the two worlds.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Wadi ad-Dawasir in Saudi Arabia. See here to join in.

Writing Prompts: What Pegman Saw

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What Pegman Saw is a great writing prompt, unique as far as I’m aware in that it uses Google Street View as a starting point.

The curators (Josh and Karen) suggest a venue each week but it’s up to the individual to choose a specific image to use as inspiration.

Why not give it a go here.

Today Pegman hitches up his camel for a trip deep into the Saudi Arabian desert, an oasis known as Wadi ad-Dawasir. There is no street view, but more than a few photospheres. Feel free to wander until you find something that appeals to you, then write up to 150 words about it. Sharing, reading, and commenting is the meat of a photo prompt, so please participate. If you enjoy yourself, please encourage others to join this community.

What Pegman Saw: Flash

Image: Google Street View

It was a forsaken place. Ten miles of scrub and baked grit between us and the nearest city, a scouring wind that carried nothing but silence. A stack of weathered concrete blocks had been dumped by the roadside, their hollows a haven for scorpions and vipers.

‘What do you think?’ Sol rested a boot on one of the blocks, slapped dust from his trousers. ‘Got some of the materials already. From the previous build, you know.’ He stared out over the site, hat flapping in his hand.

A heat haze of desperation rose off him. He stank of it. I would never have got the call if he hadn’t tried every other option first, not with our shared history.

He flashed me a grin, that might once have charmed, but I now saw it for what it was – flash.

I shrugged. ‘Nothing for me here,’ I said.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Hadera, Israel. See here to join in.

What Pegman Saw: Blackbirding

Image: Googgle Street View

Solomon crouched to the last snare. This was often the best place – dense shrubs in the lea of a tumbledown wall, the sound of waves crackling over the shingle beach below.

The blackbird eyed him. It lay on its side as if tipped by the wind, exhausted from fighting the snare. A young cock, strong, clean feathers. The scales on its left leg were torn away, bloodied, the foot nearly off where the wire had pulled tight.

The sun was almost up, the world all greys, the blackbird a scrap of night with a golden beak.

Solomon enclosed it in his hand, rubbing the soft head with his thumb. The bird was too tired to fight, breaths coming fast and shallow.

He’d always liked blackbirds – smart, handsome, harmless.

The neck broke easily with a twist of his fingers. He tossed the corpse into the sea.

Poor eating on a blackbird.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview. This week we are in Vanuatu in the Solomon Islands.

On reading the history of the islands, I found they were a target for slavers seeking labour for sugar plantations. This practice was called ‘blackbirding’.

What Pegman Saw: Pegged

Image: Google Street View

It took me a while to find the right place.

The path was still there but narrowed in places where trees had encroached, wider where some had been felled.

The fence was new to me – a relatively recent addition. So like my father to erect a fence around his wife’s grave, possessive of her even in death.

I think that was what made me most angry, the fact that even now he’d pegged her in, limited her to a little patch of scrubby earth under the yews. When I was growing up, he’d contained her with a scowl at her evening classes, a tut at outings with friends, until the time away from him dwindled just as she did. Now all he had to use was cheap cedar panels.

It only took twenty minutes to kick it down.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View. This week we visit Santo Tomas in Spain. Have look round and join in here.

What Pegman Saw: The pact

I’m on the roof, the constellation of street lights and advertising signs gradually losing its brilliance to the sunrise. The sky is every shade of bruise, the volume turning up on the traffic, down on birdsong.

“What do you say?”

He’s been silent so long, I almost forgot he’s sitting beside me. But he’s always known when to whisper, when to roar.

My throat is dry and I wonder if we’ve been here mere hours or whether he made the world turn slower, just for me.

“All of it?” I say.

I can smell him, the sun and the city heat peeling scent from his body, sending it into the world.

“All of it,” he says.

I reach for what I’m about to give up, but feel nothing. Who knows what it is to have a soul until it’s lost.

With my last breath I say, “I’ll take it.”

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we’re in Xinhua, China. See here to join in.

What Pegman Saw: The grieving widow

The room was unassuming, the furnishings plain but clean, old but well kept, very much like the landlady, Mrs Hollis.

‘A month’s rent in advance,’ she said. ‘No lady visitors in the rooms, please. We’ve had unpleasant moments. In the past.’

My gaze lingered over the sloped ceiling, the low window that looked over a square of clipped lawn, gaudy sentries of begonias and geraniums.

I paused, feeling her watching me, enjoying her confidence shift into uncertainty.

‘Is everything to your satisfaction?’

‘Everything, Mrs Hollis? No, not everything. But the room? Yes.’

A little sigh escaped her and I felt glad I’d made her wait for my approval.

‘May I ask, is there a Mr Hollis?’

‘He passed.’ She shook her bowed head. Not a bad imitation of a grieving widow, though I’ve seen better.

I turned my attention to the shadow behind the door.

Mr Hollis, I presume.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its inspiration. This week we visit Delaware.

I tried to be inspired by the location itself, read about Maryland and Delaware and this house – Great Oak Manor – that has been host to John F. Kennedy and Ernest Hemmingway in its time.

I’m afraid, though, my mind is too tied up with ghosts to shake them off and Mr Hollis jumped out at me at the last moment.

What Pegman Saw: Her past beyond the curtain

Image: Google Street View

Mila peered through the mesh of net curtains, frustrated by the hazy view. If she pushed them aside she might see better, but then she risked being seen and the very thought made her forehead damp with anxiety.

‘Jaap?’ she called behind her.

A pan clattered in the kitchen out back. Jaap’s way of telling her he was too busy to come running.

‘Jaap, that child’s in the street again,’ she called.

A boy of around seven or eight years of age. Dusty red and blue striped tee shirt, skinny legs poking from wide shorts, the knees sticking out like knots in lengths of string. He’d come every day for a week, stood in the middle of the dirt road for an hour before leaving.

A cupboard door slammed. ‘What do you want me to do about it?’

‘Tell me it’s not him,’ she muttered.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting off point. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

What Pegman Saw: As the tanks rolled in again

Aliena stared through the window to the street below.

‘Yes, yes, I know,’ she said, absentmindedly stroking her cat, Mika. ‘We should have left months ago.’

Pulling at the balding, leathery ears, she smiled. She’d so loved Mika that when he’d died her husband, Dimi, had the creature stuffed. How long ago? Too long to remember.

A tank rumbled past, shaking the glass. Wehrmacht. Once it had been Soviets, later the Poles. She and Dimi had watched it all from this same tiny window.

Before that, when they were a young married couple, it was the Cupid bronze in the communal garden that had drawn them to the place. ‘Keeping guard,’ Dimi had said. ‘A good omen.’ He’d smiled, kissed her.

‘Where are your omens now, old man?’ she said.

But she spoke only to the air and to a stuffed cat.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Minsk, Belarus. See here to join in.

Minsk has been at the centre of various conflicts for centuries, overrun by various nations. I saw the Cupid statue, that little window overlooking it and wondered what they’d both seen over the years.

See here to read more about the history of Minsk.

What Pegman Saw: The Desert Kin

Image: Google Street View

The shack had been the post office of a mining town, now deserted. Sunbleached boards across the windows, tiles missing from the roof like a reptile shedding scales.

‘This it?’ Roddy’s usual cocky smile had slipped as we’d driven further into the desert. Now he was a fifteen-year-old boy again, arms tight folded, fear skulking behind his eyes.

‘It’s okay, kid,’ I said, smiling. ‘Soon have a fire going. Go fetch the bedrolls from the pickup, would you?’

I scanned the plain, the distant ridge of smoke grey hills. At least we’d see someone coming. Any vehicle would kick up a dust trail and as long as we were vigilant –

Something cold brushed the back of my hand. Instinct made me look, but there was nothing. Of course not. You don’t see the Desert Kin. Not unless they want you to.

‘Roddy, I’ll take first watch,’ I called.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Cloverdale, New Mexico. See here to join in.