Thursday, March 18, 2021

It Started With A Glance In the Mirror (Word-Prompt Fiction)

A long time ago, I regularly participated in a word prompt challenge, as some readers here may remember.

Delores of Under the Porch Light used to offer a weekly writing prompt called Words for Wednesday, and encouraged others to use it to write something creative.  Unfortunately, Delores began to have computer issues, and could no longer provide the weekly prompts. Elephant’s Child took over for a while, and then she organized volunteers to share the responsibility.


Today, I once again participated in that challenge. The prompts for this week were provided by Hilary Melton-Butcher, but posted yesterday on the website Elephant’s ChildI encourage you to go to the comments there and read the other stories writers have posted. 

I used the entire list of word prompts to create this story: wafer, haggard, procession, juniper, drips, disdainful, stream, weed, chalk, treasure

Where would these words have taken your imagination?

Some low-growing juniper that needs to be pruned or removed.

It Started With a Glance in the Mirror

Julie stared at the mirror and sighed. Who was this haggard woman staring back at her, anyway? She needed to find a way out of the slump she’d been in ever since she left her job. “I need sunshine,” she decided.

“I know, I know,” she said to her reflection in the mirror. “Getting a tan isn't good for my skin. But it will help me feel healthy and pretty. That seems like a priority right now.”

Wandering into the kitchen, Julie poured herself a cup of coffee. With no energy to make a proper breakfast, she grabbed a box of vanilla wafers from the cupboard. She placed her mug and the box on the table in the breakfast nook. She went to the front door and grabbed the newspaper from the stoop before sitting down at the table.

Munching on a wafer, she turned to the classified section of the paper and perused it. 

“Ha,” she exclaimed loudly, after a minute of reading. “This is just what I need... a job I’m sure I can do, and it’s outside work, so I will get a tan.” 

She picked up the phone and dialed the listed number.


Julie stared at the procession of potted plants laid out in neat rows along the hospital walkways. They expect her to plant all of those by lunchtime? 

“Oh, goodness,” she thought. “I certainly hope I don’t get fired on my first day!” 

She loaded as many of the plants as she could onto a wheeled cart and took them over to one of the soil beds near the hospital entrance. The other gardener had already tilled it. She eyeballed where the plants would look best, picked up a spade, and started digging.


Tired, but feeling accomplished, Julie was proud all the plants assigned to her were neatly in the ground. She and Sam, the other gardener, were sitting at a picnic table eating sandwiches for lunch. Julie assumed the hospital had kindly placed the table there for visitors and possibly for patients who were well enough to venture outside for a bit. She realized the garden might help brighten an otherwise dismal day for some people who came here.

A minute later, her good mood deflated as Sam told her what her tasks would be that afternoon.

“All the old juniper bushes need to be torn out. Make sure you dig up all the roots. When you finish with that, add drips to all the flowers you just planted.”

“OH, MY,” thought Julie. “Removing those bushes sounds like scratchy and backbreaking work.”

 Hesitantly, she said, “Sam, I’ve never worked with a drip irrigation system. Can you explain how to add the drips?”

Sam regarded her with a disdainful expression. “How'd you get this job, anyway? I’ll show you, but I don’t think you have any actual experience as a gardener, do you?”

Julie gave him a rueful smile. “Nope, not much. I guess I just interview well… and I’m a hard worker and a quick learner. I can do this stuff, I promise.”

Sam's expression softened. “Well, you worked really hard this morning, so I believe you,” he said. “Tell you what. You dig out the juniper, and I’ll do all the drips. It will take more time to teach you which flow rate to put on each plant than if I do it all myself. After we finish all that, together we can weed and water the flower beds by the Emergency entrance.”

“Oh Sam, thanks!” Julie gathered up her sandwich wrapper and the peel from her orange. She dumped them in a trash can and put on her gardening gloves.

“Hey, where are you going? We still have 15 minutes left of our lunch break,” said Sam.

"It’s ok. You finish your break, Sam. It's going to be hard to get those bushes out, so I better get started right away.”


Directing the gentle stream of water from the hose towards each plant, Julie found it comical how dirty she had become. This whole adventure started with concern about her haggard appearance; now she was as grubby as a street urchin! But she was sure after today she would have a tan—hopefully not a sunburn, as she had reapplied sunscreen several times.

 As she watered, Julie noticed visitors to the hospital as they came and went. She saw several children who looked sad. She realized that because of hospital policy they had to wait outside, usually with an adult, but some older ones were alone.

“It'd be nice if those kids had something to take their mind off their worries while they wait,” she thought.

She glanced around, hoping to see a swing-set or a sandbox on the grounds, but there was none. Just one picnic table and long sidewalks, winding from the parking lots through the garden beds, toward the hospital entrance doors.


Immediately after her day of work, Julie washed her hands and face in the bathroom off the hospital lobby and asked the receptionist if she could speak with a hospital administrator. 

As she entered the office of a woman dressed in the neat blue suit, Julie ruefully glancing down at her filthy jeans and sweatshirt and apologized for her appearance.

“No worries at all,” said the woman. “My name is Marilyn Downy. How can I help you?”

“Actually, I am wondering if I can help you,” said Julie. “Your gardening company hired me to help plant and weed your hospital grounds today, and I noticed a number of sad and bored-looking children waiting near the entrance. I’m wondering if your hospital would consider implementing a small idea of mine, to cheer them up.”

Receiving an interested half-nod from Maria, she continued, “Would it be possible to paint some hopscotch squares on a few of your sidewalks and provide chalk for the children to do temporary drawings while they wait? I’d happily volunteer to help with this and could even set up a treasure hunt for the older kids. Maybe your hospital could provide a small prize, to be claimed at the front desk by any child who finds the last clue, directing them where to claim it. What do you think?”

Marilyn replied, “It sounds like a great plan. We have been concentrating on improving the ambiance of our grounds for adults, but really haven't focused on the needs of children. Your ideas seem like they would be feasible to implement.”

Marilyn studied Julie thoughtfully for a moment.

She said, “You know, you've given me an idea. We have always employed a patient representative, but I think we should create a part-time position for an employee devoted to the needs of all the children who are patients or family members of our patients here."

"That's a wonderful idea," Julie interrupted eagerly. 

"I'm glad you think so," Maria continued, "Your passion and ideas impress me. Would you be willing to interview for the position once we create it?”

Glancing at her scratched arms and dirty fingernails, Julie knew being a full-time gardener was not really for her. Working to bring children comfort, however, would put a smile on her face every day. 

“It’s difficult to look haggard when you are happy,” Julie thought.

“Would I?” asked Julie. “Why, I would love to apply!” 


Please keep social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands, get vaccinated, and stay healthy!
This post contains affiliate links. The opinions expressed, however, are entirely my own.


  1. I love this - and this is a position that so many hospitals need. Mind you it would also be helpful in a huge number of other areas. I think that the law courts would/could also benefit.
    I am thrilled that you have joined us again.

    1. I'm thrilled Words for Wednesday remains ongoing! Sorry for the delayed posting of your comment and my response. I've had so much spam I have to filter comments now :(

  2. Isn't it amazing where stepping out and trying something new can take you. Well written!

    1. Thanks for commenting and I agree with the benefits of trying something new. Although, if Sam had been less understanding, Julie may have been in a bit of a pickle!

  3. Hi Susan - excellent ... loved the story and the concept ... brought peace and happiness to my morning - thanks for drafting such a wonderful read from the words I gave EC for this week's prompts. Brilliant and hope to see you for other entries ... I'm off to EC's blog to catch up ... have a happy weekend - all the best - Hilary

    1. Thank you Hilary, for this comment and especially for your excellent choice of words. I love they took on different meanings in different writer's stories!

  4. I love that story and the idea for children. Very creative.

    1. Thanks Rebecca. Now maybe I should pitch the idea to my local hospital. If Julie could do it, maybe I should too! ;)

  5. Love what you did with your word prompts and I have to admit, your character's idea is excellent.

    1. Thanks Karen. I like the idea too, but probably can't take credit for it. That really must go to the provider of the word prompts (Hilary Melton-Butcher) or the character herself. The word prompts just carried the plot along, and when I began writing I had no agenda to make hospital grounds a better place!

  6. This is awesome, Susan!
    And feeling, as I do, that nothing is more important than children, you had my undivided attention! Well done!

    1. Probably ever since waiting eagerly outside the hospital to meet my sister (4 years younger), I've thought about the kids not allowed by some hopital rules to visit the patients inside. I guess that subconscious concern revealed itself in the story!

  7. Replies
    1. Thanks - I find word prompts are the best way to spark my creativity. Otherwise, sometimes I just find it hard to start filling blank page!

  8. I worked with the elderly for many years. The facility where I worked between 2004 and 2015 was better than most at providing enjoyable activities for the residents, and I do think that it made a difference.

    1. I agree. My senior year as a nursing major, one of my tasks was to work with elderly in a day treatment program. I remember thinking that if I hadn't chosen nursing, rec therapy would have been a good choice.


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