Memorable writing that sparks imagination. Lean in. Hear the writer’s voice on the page.


by Nona Smith

We held our wine glasses up and tapped their rims together. Clink.

          “Do you know why that’s done?” Claudia asked.

          “I have no idea,” I said.

          “The French began the custom centuries ago. It’s to make us appreciative of all five of our senses.”

Claudia had a treasure trove of that kind of information.

 “Ahhh, les Francais; ils savent tout,” she added.

          She spoke three languages fluently and had enough vocabulary in others to find bathrooms in foreign countries and order wine in restaurants. Born in Germany and well-travelled, Claudia had European sensibilities and a sophisticated sense of style. Her hair was cut by a Sassoon-trained stylist, she wore only Italian-made shoes, and the walls of her dining room were painted Chinese red, seasons before that trend appeared in Architectural Digest. She owned a few expensive, elegant gold pieces, but most of her jewelry was purchased during her travels from local artisans or at art fairs at home. It was this we bonded over.

          On her first day working as a travel agent at Trips Out Travel, I admired her earrings: thumb-nail size, straight-back chairs, crafted from black metal. Definitely not gold, but certainly expensive. Something she might have found in a museum gift shop.

          My compliment caused her to tuck a strand of red hair behind her ear and caress her earlobe. “I found them in Taormina. I had to sort through all that cameo crap they sell there before I found anything interesting.”

          Claudia had opinions. Very firm opinions. About food and clothing and what was worth spending money on. Her generous smile drew people to her; her sharp tongue sent them away. She possessed a quirky, wicked sense of humor and had a flare for the dramatic. She’d once been married and had a son Adam she adored, but when I met her, Claudia was living alone in a one-bedroom gem of a house secreted into the Berkeley hills. She took her cockapoo Milo, a yappy attention-grabbing dog, with her almost everywhere. And Claudia was devoted to the game of What If… What if you weren’t a travel agent; what else would you be? What if you didn’t live in this country; where else would you like to live? What if you knew how to play a musical instrument; which one would it be?

          Milo was not with us the afternoon we dined at our favorite dim sum restaurant in the City. We’d already polished off a bamboo steaming-basket of shrimp dumplings and a platter of al dente Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce when Claudia nodded to the waitress rolling another dim sum-laden trolley towards us. “We’ll have the shu mai and the pork buns,” she said with authority.

          We held our wine glasses up and tapped their rims together. Clink.

          “What if,” Claudia began, “you were on Death Row and going to order your last meal; what would it be?”

          I don’t recall what I answered, but Claudia’s answer came quickly and definitively. She waved her chopsticks over the bountiful table. “This is what I would order.”

          Late the next morning, Adam called. “It’s bad news. It’s Mom. She died yesterday.”

          “Oh, Adam,” I said. Tears sprang to my eyes.

          He continued to speak, “… alone in the house … Milo was with her … brain aneurism …”

          I heard his words, vaguely, but the picture in my mind was of Claudia, her chopsticks held aloft, pronouncing the dim sum her last meal of choice.

“Claudia” by Nona Smith is one of the featured pieces at the Artists’ Co-op of Mendocino, Traditional and Contemporary Fine Arts 2021 Ekphrasis X Exhibition, where writing is paired with visual arts. You can see the artwork inspired by “Claudia” and the other winning entries at 2021 Ekphrasis X Exhibition.

Ekphrasis: Art describing other art. Writing is paired with visual arts.

Nona Smith is the author of Stuffed: Emptying the Hoarder’s Nest and numerous short stories, humorous personal essays, and bad poetry. She was a long-time board member of the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference and currently sits on the board of the Writers of the Mendocino Coast and is editor of the club’s annual anthology. Nona lives with her patient husband Art and two demanding cats.

Her writing is featured in many anthologies including The Write Spot: Musings and Ravings From a Pandemic Year. Available at Gallery Books in Mendocino, Rebound Books in Mill Valley, Book Passage in Corte Madera, at Amazon, and through your local bookseller.

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