Prompt: A Lady’s Engagement

Posted February 7, 2012 by Amber in Writing / 7 Comments


“Why, there you are sugarplum!  Have you been sitting here all this time?”

Anna looked over her shoulder at the maid waddling down to her in a homespun dress and her hair falling down in strings around her copper face.  She smiled and fluttered her fan, enjoying the small breeze as a respite from the dry summer heat.  “You can tell Mama I’ll be right up, Martha.”

Martha sat her aching bones down on the crooked wooden bench, which groaned considerably under her weight.  “You know, if I didn’t know you better, I’d say something was eating at you.”

She fluttered her lacy fan again, but stared off over the cotton fields.  The slow, sticky day left a salty smell in the air.  Martha wasn’t one to surrender, and Anna knew that, so she waited for the nosy maid to start poking her nose around.  Anna didn’t mind that so much – seemed Martha cared more than her mother.  The old woman stared at her with round coffee eyes, and Anna looked down and away, pretending, as she always did, to be uncomfortable and ashamed of her petty secrets.  She traced circles on her soft brown dress and listened to the crinoline crinkle beneath it.  Martha slapped her hands on her stained apron and stood up, shaking her head.

“If you want to keep Mister Hartford waiting all day, that’s your business, but I don’t care much to listen to your mother go on about the lemonade that she and I both know that I got up with the dawn squeezing lemons for.”

“I’ll be along in a minute, Martha.”

The maid shook her head again, and waddled up the hill towards the house, grumbling something under her breath that Anna didn’t care to listen to.  If Mister Hartford was willing to wait two more years to marry her after their engagement, he could wait another ten minutes.

A crow cried overhead, and Anna fluttered her fan and stared and the fluffy white clouds.  A lady would take her time.


The prompt:  Write a piece of creative non-fiction in which turns of phrase, dialect, slang, or colloquialisms feature prominently.  Choose ONE moment and explode it. Please, no laundry lists of phrases. This is a memoir, not the urban dictionary.   Let’s keep it to 400 words.

Author’s Note: I have always been struck by the prominence of the Southern accent, as in the Southern States of the United States of America.  Growing it in New England, we grow accustomed to hearing people speak a certain way – we have your Hartfordians, the Boston (“Bahstin”) people, New Yorkers (“Yahkahs”), and so forth.  In a very non-diverse setting as southern New Hampshire, a genuine southern accent is rare, but I have always enjoyed it.  There is something about the sound of the voice that automatically links the mind to the idea of Southern hospitality.  So inspired by that, as well as the image above, this short story is about a girl in the early 1900s whose family is somewhat stuck in the past, and is her mother’s hope of bringing the family to fame and fortune.  This moment, in Anna’s mind, is before she meets her unsuspecting suitor.  I’d like to try and make this a running story, so please let me know any nitpicky detail that is off, and could use improvement.

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7 responses to “Prompt: A Lady’s Engagement

  1. I just moved to New York from Florida- northern Florida. Southern accents are thick there, glued by the drawls of southern Georgia. A “chile” is most never a “child” there. Great job.

  2. You’re so right. There is such resonance and beauty in the Southern dialect. This flows, thick and tasty, like molasses.

    A nitpicky note: if you’re going to link up with RemembeRED, it needs to be non-fiction—memoir.

    This piece, being fiction, would be perfect for our Friday link-up or for the weekend linky.

  3. I think there is something historic about a Southern accent, which is totally reflected by your setting here, and a suggestion of a very different culture and lifestyle with its exotic prononciations. 🙂

  4. It’s so interesting to see how automatically we gravitate toward Southern when we think colloquialisms and accents.

    BTW, this was a great unexpected finish.

  5. I’m a sucker for period pieces. This was lovely. The “slow, sticky day” conjures up a delightfully tangible image. I’m captured and would definitely read more, so as a running piece, this works for me.

    Suggestions: dry heat doesn’t fit with the sticky day, but a dry breeze could provide relief from the humid southern summer. And although I love the line, since this is from Anna’s POV, she wouldn’t know that Martha’s bones were aching

    This was elegantly delivered. Well done!

  6. Love the story and could continue reading. I’d only assume though that Martha wasn’t so proper and may sound like this, “You know, chile, if I didn’t know you bettah, I’d say something was eatin’ at you.”

    keep Mista Hartford waitin’ all day…