When Baba died, my grandfather started climbing the mountain. He left their restaurant business to my mother; after a while people began to notice Baba’s rakia never ran out. They said it was a miracle, praying for blessings with each shot. My mother served Baba’s rakia with dried blueberries. Sweetness made the burn easier to swallow. My grandfather avoided the fuss. No one asked where he went every day. People respected his mourning. I did too, but I respected my curiosity more. One day I followed him up the mountain. By the time I reached the top my lungs and legs were burning. There was a small clearing with a tiny shack made of rough-sawn wood. A ribbon of smoke curled steadily from a little chimney. The door was made of a curtain I recognised, one of Baba’s summer dresses. It was drawn, revealing inside a fire lit under a rakia boiler, surrounded by baskets of fresh blueberries. I could hear my grandfather speaking to someone. My skin prickled. Half of me wanted to leave then, but the other half pushed on. In the cover of the trees I crept around the side of the clearing. My grandfather was in a small orchard thick with blueberry bushes. A donkey stood beside him. He chattered nonsense as he filled the baskets on the donkey’s back. Occasionally he fed it blueberries. It licked his arm in response. Oh Violeta, he laughed. My heart hammered at the sound of my grandmother’s name. I backed away, into the shadows of the woods. I never told a soul what I’d seen. That night I helped my mother in the restaurant, serving people asking for Baba’s blessing. I set down shots of her rakia with pots of dried blueberries. They help to swallow the burn.
A photo. | A story. | A tiny tale.
Tiny Tales is a project I created using Instagram to combine visual storytelling with bite-sized fiction.
This is how it works: I choose a photo that I’ve taken on my travels and subvert my memory of it by writing a short story of an alternate memory it might have in a fictional life.
For example, the first bluebell woodland I saw in bloom in England is the place young love stays unrequited.
A dress made of paper I swooned over at an art exhibition is a woman’s protest, and farewell.
A donkey I became best friends with in a Bulgarian village is an old man’s dead lover.
The stories range in length. All are less than 500 words. Each one is a flash of what might have been. They are a photo, a story, a tiny tale.
Want to give it a try?
Pick a photo from your camera roll, or even an analog album (oh, the magic!) and imagine what other story it might tell than the one you know.
If you’re on Instagram and feel like sharing the story of your photo, mention @hollygoeslightly and hashtag #tellingtinytales – I’d so love to see your tiny tale and share them here.