The Memory Box – A Life In Letters: Short Story

I’d like to thank Alex Grey for her short story submission “The Memory Box – A Life In Letters” a touching tribute to the memories that make up a life gone by.

After a lifetime of writing technical non-fiction, Alex Grey is finally fulfilling her dream of writing poems and stories that engage the reader’s emotions. Her poems and short stories have been featured in a range of publications including Siren’s Call, Raconteur, Toasted Cheese, Short Edition and Little Old Lady Comedy.  Alex is married to her long-suffering partner of 36 years; she does not have any children but is “mum” to two fur babies – greyhounds Alex and Saffy. Her ingredients for contentment are narrowboating, greyhounds, singing and chocolate – it’s a sweet life.

This story is a fictionalised account of a remarkable life and is dedicated to Renia, Alex’s mother-in-law, whose courage and resilience has always been an inspiration.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

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The Memory Box – A Life In Letters

That day, the nursing home’s ever-cheerful Activities Leader told us to use a memory box to reminisce with our loved ones.

I groaned. I knew the Activities Leader meant well but chasing my mother’s memories had become a tedious scavenger hunt as dementia hid them in the distant recesses of her brain and destroyed the clues that might lead me to them.

“We’re going to use the alphabet to think about places that your loved ones may have visited. Remember, don’t ask them to remember…” she paused, waiting for our weak laughter, “just ask them to tell you a story about a place that begins with that letter. Take your time and see how far you get.

I sat at the table with my mother, her blue-veined hands tapping out a tune that only she could hear. She smiled at me vacantly. I knew she couldn’t remember who I was, though she seemed to acknowledge that I was benign, something simple and pleasant like the institutional tea set and the cheap biscuits. My mother devoured them greedily, like a little girl at a rival’s birthday party. The activity room had a dozen tables like ours, covered with cheerful chintz tablecloths and circled with residents and their visitors in various degrees of torpor.

My eyes met those of another woman sitting at our table; her mother slumped in a wheelchair, crooning. We smiled briefly and looked away. You’d think there would have been some spark of empathy between us, but the long goodbye we were enduring was too painful, too personal to be shared.

“OK!” trilled the Activities Leader. “Let’s make a start. As you complete each card, just drop it into their memory box.”

“Look, we’re going to put things in here today.” I said.

I rattled the vintage biscuit tin that we were using as her memory box. I remembered when she’d bought the tin as a souvenir of a rare sightseeing trip to London; we’d eaten the biscuits with ceremony every Sunday teatime for a month. The lid had a picture of the Tower of London and the crown jewels.  When it was empty, she kept her sewing things in there. Every time she reached for it to darn a jumper or patch a dress, she would rattle the tin and laugh,

“Will we find jewels in here today?”

I remember looking over her shoulder excitedly; she always hid a treasure in the tin for us – an amber bead, a tiny rag dolly or a fat toffee wrapped in shiny gold foil.

I shook my head; my mother’s sewing days were over. Today the faded and rusty-edged tin contained some trinkets and photographs from a previous memory exercise. On good days, we would take them out and she would nod, her wandering mind briefly meeting mine at a waypoint. On bad days, we drank tea and stared, the tin a bewilderment of junk between us.



I forced a smile and picked up the first alphabet card. My mother looked the other way, distracted by the conversations going on around her. I touched her hand and she frowned, unwilling to concentrate on the activity. She had always enjoyed people-watching, that was the best part of being in a nursing home, she told me, back when she had been aware of where she was.

“Look, mama.” I said, “Can you tell me a story about a place that begins with the letter A?”

She fingered the card, and then started talking. I wrote little notes on the cards – it helped me to keep track of her disjointed thoughts.

AUSTRIA: My uncle saved me from the slave farm, a miracle; I had a bath, when I was free of filth I was as light as an angel in heaven.

BELSEN: They measured me there, height, hands, head – I was judged – Aryan enough to live, but not enough to be free.

I sighed; she’d been telling us tales of her wartime enslavement all of our lives. We’d always moved her on, embarrassed, but now I was afraid that her mind would be trapped in that nightmare for the rest of her days.

“No mama, don’t think about the war, what about our lovely holidays?”

She looked rebellious, then carried on…

CHECKPOINT CHARLIE: We went to Poland with treats for my uncle hidden in the car seats; frightened, we willed the children not to betray our innocent smuggling.

DULWICH: We made our life there – our own house, large enough to last a lifetime, a green place to raise our children, respectable, rich, peaceful.

EALING: We all went there after the war; we spoke Polish and dreamed of the old country. Some sneered that it was just a new ghetto; stupid people – we had freedom, money, education. I went to college, met my Olek and made a new life.

I missed my father so much; he’d looked after Mama when she first became ill, back when we pretended that she was just tired, that it was normal to forget things from time to time. We told stories to make it alright, but it wasn’t. He died of grief and worry, leaving me with this responsibility.



I realised that I’d drifted off – I held up the F card…

FRANCE: A truckstop on the road to England; so scared; so alone, each girl so alone, together only in body and hope.

“Not the war, Mama, please…”

GHANA: Olek’s business trips, violence, distrust; I worried at home with the children; the money never came home, but Olek did. I was grateful.

HARRODS: The SALE on our doorstep, a proper sale – I bought a fur coat for a song; I was an aristocrat again.

That fur coat! I loathed it, but mama’s friends from the old country wore fur, it was what they did, a symbol of how they’re recovered from their refugee poverty. Who was I to tell her it was wrong when she was so proud? She made me try it on, said it would be a legacy for generations if I looked after it and kept it in the freezer. I cut it up and turned it into dog beds, horrible thing.

ITALY: Our first holiday after the war; We went to the eternal city. We went to St. Peter’s Square where the Holy Father prayed with us. I was so sick, I thought it was the food, but I had been blessed, with YOU my daughter, reaching for life.

Suddenly she reached for my face and looked straight into my eyes. A lump of hope leapt into my chest, I’d so longed for her to know me again.

“Mama!” I said

“Sandra.” She said, “Are you here to cut my hair?”

I turned back to the cards, trying to hide the tears in my eyes, the heat of my hope igniting my anger. She couldn’t help it. I gritted my teeth; she really couldn’t help it.

She grabbed the next card…

JAMAICA: Our first Caribbean cruise, the sun so hot, the island so green, the sky and sea so blue.

KRAKOW: We bought amber in the market, dined on Fois Gras in Wierzynek; toured the salt mines, grateful for our freedom; we bowed our heads and sobbed in Auschwitz.

We’d all sobbed there. I hadn’t wanted to go. I still wish that I’d never been there, but Mama said we must never forget. I will never forget. I hoped that she could let the camp’s silent eloquence slip away, but some experiences refused to sink into the pit of her lost memories.

LINZ: The slave market, sold into hard labour; I had a price, yet I was worth nothing.

MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: The undertaker said Olek should have a magnificent seven burial. I said yes, of course, Olek was a magnificent man, his ashes went to Brompton, where we had joined in marriage – I told him we’d meet again there.

NAZILAND: A plague of evil; they came to the house, took my father, shot him dead in the woods; my beloved daddy, his only crime was teaching the truth.

I willed her memory to reel back to happier days, before the war destroyed her childhood, even if meant that her memory of my childhood would be destroyed too.

ORATORY: Brompton, where we married; where we ate Polish doughnuts filled with rich plum curd.

POZNAN: Home with daddy and my beautiful mother; they were tall, like me. I remember servants.  My sisters played with their dollies, but I wanted to run with my brothers, mother frowned, girls don’t run; daddy laughed. It was always summer in the sunshine of his smile.

QATAR: Olek’s business went international; so glamorous; we sipped vodka in our expat compound and forgot the world.

RUSSIA: Betrayal – they destroyed the Third Reich for you, but we paid the price; the bear steals babies in the night, unseen, you didn’t know?

SEVEN SEAS: The children left home; we cruised the world. Oh, the on-board buffets, food 24 hours a day.

TULSE HILL: Olek left his soldiering behind and became an architect. How hard he worked – apprentice, partner, owner – his business was a lifeline and a legacy for our children.

UNIVERSITY: Daddy said I was too clever to be a girl; after the war, welcomed me, I became a draughtswoman, I became someone.

VICTORIA MANSIONS NURSING HOME: They said I wasn’t safe at home, I pleaded with mother to let me stay, but they took me away. They are kind here, servants bring my tea, mother stands by the desk and watches them. I clean my plate like a good girl.



I let go of a breath that I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. Moving mama into the home had been the hardest thing I’d ever done. At first, she knew where she was, visits were difficult as her eyes accused me, but we were past that now.

“You’re almost there,” said the Activities Leader.

Her voice made me jump. I had been lost in my thoughts, but I felt a touch of satisfaction when I saw how far we’d come. The other old woman at our table was fast asleep in her wheelchair; her daughter had vanished – I could hardly blame her.

I took a deep breath, willing the last of the alphabet to pass quickly.

WARSAW: We went to the old town, it was good as new, as if the war had never been, as if the past had never been torn from the future. We drank coffee in the old market square and laughed.

I flipped the X card over quickly, but mama grabbed my wrist.

XOCHIMILICO: Our first cheap package holiday to Mexico. I never knew so much colour could exist; travel, holidays, it was freedom beyond imagination.

I laughed, she was full of surprises, but I knew from her photo albums that this memory was real, unlike some of her more colourful fictions.

YESHAK: A saint’s school for my children. I wore my fur coat to the school gates so they would know we had money, that my children were not the spawn of poor immigrants; that my children belonged in England.

ZAKOPANE: My uncle’s farm in the lovely mountains; I am there now, skipping with the dogs, mother frowns, girls don’t run, but daddy smiles….

My mother dropped the last card into the box, her transparent skin luminous with joy as her face was lit by sunshine from another time, another place.

The old biscuit tin bulged with cards; her jagged memories captured by my spiky handwriting – her life in letters. Her remarkable life in letters. I kissed her forehead, promised I’d see her next week. Her carers wheeled her to the dining hall; she was already asking about pudding; she’d always had a sweet tooth.

***

To this day, I do not know who she was smiling for when she put that last card in the box.  Maybe it doesn’t matter; I know that my last smile was for her, my beloved mother…



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Patiently Waiting: A Short Story

I’d like to thank Rhona McAdam of Scotland for her short story submission “Patiently Waiting” a wistful behind-the-scenes look into the private world of a Mother and full-time carer. Based on true events.

Rhona McAdam is studying for a Degree in Creative Writing and English Literature at the Open University.  She found time to take this course and pursue her dream of writing after taking redundancy a few years ago.  She is mum to two adult children, one of them disabled and has written several short stories, including true stories about having a child with a disability. She enjoys writing crime and mystery fiction.  She also writes plays and is a member of the Citadel Arts Playwriting Group.  She lives in Edinburgh.

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog running, thank you.



Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash


Patiently Waiting

We are waiting for an ambulance.  After a week of various diagnoses my son is feeling sick, not eating, not drinking, and not taking his medicine.             

“I think you’d be better off in hospital.  Where we can find out what’s going on with you,” says Robert, his respiratory nurse. “Are you Ok with that?”

“Yeah,” Calum says.

      I look at him, long body propped up in bed, face the colour of curdled milk, and can only agree. He’s an adult now, but he needs support from me. He is disabled – not able to walk, not able to lift his arms, not able to scratch his head, not able to get out of bed without a hoist. 

      I have mixed feelings about him going to hospital.  I’m sure he has them too.  Yes, it’s the best place for him, to be monitored, tested and treated.  But hospital brings up the spectre of his ten weeks’ stay in the Sick Kids, with increasingly invasive procedures to help rid him of Pneumonia.

“There’s a place for him in the High Dependency Unit, better he’s there, they’re experts in the ventilation equipment he uses.  Good to get there during the day.”

     Of course, it’s not so simple to get to hospital; there is a layer of bureaucracy to get through.  The GP must be summoned.  When she arrives, she puts the peg like monitor on his finger, listens to his chest, takes his blood pressure.

      “Yes, oxygen saturation levels low, blood pressure low.  No problem going to hospital.  I’ll phone and get an ambulance sent.”

When she leaves, I hover by his bedside, helping him to cough (he has equipment for this – a vampiric hoover for the lungs). I glance out of the window at the sunlit street; parked cars are scattered about, plenty of room for an ambulance.   

     Two hours later, we are still waiting.  Bubbles of foam have been coming up from his chest.  This would be alarming if was you or me, but it’s the sort of cough he can have and as long as it’s white, and not yellow or green, he’s doing all right.  It’s oddly normal.

      My mobile phone chirps at me.  A voice says: “Hello, this is the ambulance service.  We are experiencing a very high demand just now.  We’ll get to you as soon as we can.  Has there been any change?”

     “No, no change,” I say. 

How bad to you need to be?

     “Phone us back if there is any worsening of his condition.”

Two hours later, we are still waiting for the ambulance.  The phone chirps again.  The conversation is repeated.  The coughing fits continue.  He’s only had a few hummingbird-like sips of fluid all day.  His medicines, in liquid form, come bubbling up as if from a blocked drain.

A further two hours pass and we are still waiting for the ambulance.  The phone chirps and I have the same scripted conversation.  Calum’s been in bed for a week; the sheets are starting to smell musty as if wet dogs have been sleeping there.  The coughing fits continue.  He’s given up on the sips of water.

    My back is getting sore, standing looking out of the window.  Why do ambulances seem to be all around when you don’t need them – their distant cries sounding from the bypass, screeching and bustling through town on a weekend?

    But we are still waiting.  The phone chirps again.  It is evening now; the sunset is blazing off the windows of the bungalow opposite, making shadows gather in the corners of Calum’s bedroom, my focus still switching between his face and the street outside.

     “Hello this is the ambulance service.  We are experiencing an unusually high demand-“

     “Have you any idea when one will come?”

“No sorry, no idea.   But let us know if your son’s condition worsens.”

      It’s only September.  What will it be like, trying to get to hospital in the winter?

      My stomach is swirling with hunger.  I don’t want to start eating, in case the ambulance arrives – it surely can’t be long now – and it seems unthinking to eat a sandwich in front of him, because how must he be feeling?  He’s not eaten for a week, and he wasn’t eating very much before that. 



Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

Two hours later, the phone chirps again. 

“Hello, this is the ambulance service, we are still experiencing a very high demand.  Is there any change in his condition?”

     I don’t want to exaggerate.  After all I’ve seen him worse than this – hard to believe – bringing up waves of yellow gunk from his lungs (secretions, they call it).  In the intensive care department, lights low, machines beeping, wires attached, the tube down the throat ventilator, then the really bad one, the one that shook him at the same time.

“Yes, he does seem worse now, he’s very white, he’s breathing fast and his heart is racing.  And he’s had no drinks or medicine all day.”

“Ok, we’ll prioritise this call.”

It’s dark outside now, but the curtains remain watchfully open, and at last we see the blue light of the ambulance.  It parks outside, and two paramedics bustle in, all efficiency and kindness.

“What’s the problem?” one asks as she clips on a finger probe.

     I answer for him as I can see from his face that he is past speaking. “Breathless, coughing, being sick, not eating, not drinking, urine and chest infections,” I chant.       

They get a tank of oxygen, and fiddle around with a tube to get it through his ventilator.  We have a sign on the wall – Do NOT give oxygen without ventilation to this patient.   The ventilator whooshes and swooshes like Darth Vader in Star Wars (one of his favourite films).  I often wake up and listen for the reassuring noise in the middle of the night – he is still breathing.  A blood pressure cuff is squeezing his famine thin arm.

“Is his blood pressure usually this low?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “Well it’s maybe just lack of fluids.  Let’s get him to hospital.”

      A trolley from the ambulance is clanked in and manoeuvred round his equipment.  He has an electric wheelchair, hospital style bed, ventilator, spare ventilator, cough assist machine, nebuliser, suction machine – the machines have multiplied over the years. 

     “He has a bed in the High Dependency Unit at the Western General,” I say. “Or at least he had, eight hours ago.”

     A look passes between the two women. “We’re really meant to take him to the Royal Infirmary if it’s a priority call,” one of them says.

     It’s not the fault of the paramedics.  There is no point getting angry at them, or the people on the phone.  It won’t help.  But what do you have to do to travel four miles to a hospital? 

The other paramedic must see the look on my face. “I’m sure we can manage that, we’ll take you to the receiving unit at the Western, not sure we can take you direct to the HDU.”

    “That’s fine.”  Relieved to be heading off at last.  To the right hospital.

We wobble along quiet midnight streets.  When we get there, the hospital is not busy; guilt creeps in – have we beaten a commuter like rush of non-urgent cases?

A nurse takes him into a searingly lit cubicle, scented with disinfectant.  I repeat my incantation. “Breathless, coughing, being sick, not eating, not drinking, urine and chest infections.”

She hooks him up to a monitor.  A Doctor comes in; she is pale with dark shadows under her eyes.  She rummages for a vein, puts a cannula in and draws blood from his arm.  The same incantation of symptoms.  An additional chant of his medication.  Colymycin, Mucodyne, Azithromycin, Amytriptiline.  I am fluent in the language of his illness. She orders a chest X-Ray.  We wait.

Time takes on a different dimension when we enter the bright rabbit hole of the hospital.  It seems suspended, controlled by the needs of other patients.  I want to complain about the long day we’ve had, but I can’t.  Because what sort of a day has the Doctor had?   She looks like she’s had an even longer one.



A bag of fluid is hung, it starts to drip down, and some pink returns to his cheeks.  Another Doctor arrives.  I chant the same symptoms, the same medication.  He’ll send someone to get him transferred upstairs soon.  We are creeping closer to the hospital bed which has hovered like a mirage in front of us for the last ten hours.

We finally get to the High Dependency Unit at three thirty in the morning. It’s an hour later by the time I leave and look for the exit down an endless corridor – deserted, silent apart from a sucking noise from the ceiling.  I calculate how much sleep I could reasonably have before returning in the morning.       

The next morning there is a bag of neon yellow urine hanging beside his bed.  “That’s some infection,” the nurse comments. Bottles of H20, plasters, scissors, tape and syringes are lined up on the unit under the window.  The small room, glass walled at the front, is permeated by the tang of hand sanitiser.

“How was your night?” I ask.

     “OK. Can you put the TV on?”

     I fiddle about with the TV on the wall; find the switch hidden round the back.  The remote control isn’t working, and we are stuck with horse racing.   There are many sports he likes: football, tennis, rugby, wrestling,  but horse racing’s not one of them.  He rolls his eyes and sends me to find out if the nurse can fix the controller.  He must be feeling better.  The consultant comes on his ward round and he explains that the sickness was a reaction to the antibiotic for the urine infection. Things are looking up.

Two days later I walk up the long corridor, buzz for entry to the unit, use the hand sanitiser and turn the corner to his room. 

“He’s had a bad night, lots of coughing,” says the nurse.

I can see from the froth in his mouth that he needs to cough more.  He groans after I use the cough assist machine.

“What’s the matter?”

Calum’s not a complainer. He likes to chat; he’ll chat all day about films and TV shows, but he shuts down when he’s upset. I have to quarry past his facial expression to get to the problem.

“Sore chest.”

“Ok, let’s see if the nurse can get you something for that.”

The nurse gets a Doctor to prescribe pain relief.  A plate of pureed food arrives, looking like scoops of different ice creams, except they smell of chicken, potato and carrot. He is coughing so much he can only manage a few mouthfuls of food.  And I’m not sure he hasn’t coughed them straight up again.   I ask the nurse when the Consultant will come on his ward round.

“He’d normally be here by now.  What are your concerns?”

  “His cough, it’s much worse today than when he came in, and his chest is really sore – that’s not usual for him.”

“Ok, I’ll see what I can find out, but it’s only to be expected with Pneumonia.”

I look at my son.   His face mirrors mine.  Not Pneumonia.  We’ve been there before.

The Consultant is only at room two.  My son is in room eleven.  So we wait for the Consultant.  He comes at tea time, still trying to complete his mid-morning ward round.  I know from conversations overheard in the waiting room – “didn’t see the car coming”, “not long passed her test”, “induced coma” – (the reasons for the delay) that my son could be worse off.

My daughter visits, and I go to the canteen.  I walk past phlegm green walls (doubt you’d get that description on a Farrow and Ball paint chart) with wooden bumpers full of crevasses gouged out by years of flowing beds. Past a flock of smokers wearing dressing gowns, huddled outside the front door, underneath the ‘No Smoking’ signs.  More people in dressing gowns (at least stick some leggings and a sweatshirt on) perch in the café with their visitors.   Into my coffee I pray, let’s not go here again, let the antibiotics work, let this not be the end.  The phrase ‘life limiting condition’ is lurking in the back of my mind.  When Calum was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, life expectancy was eighteen years old.  He is now twenty seven.  I promise I’ll never be grumpy with him again.



But the intravenous antibiotics work, the waves of mucus recede, the fluid drains away from  his lungs, his heart medicine is increased and a tube is passed up his nose so he can get some nutrition.  A week later a permanent feeding tube is installed in his stomach.  He is sedated, but awake during the procedure, and he tells me what happened. 

“Just like when they do brain surgery on Grey’s Anatomy. I could see what they were doing on the screen.”

My daughter thinks the bottle of food hanging above his bed looks like pancake mix.  She is correct, but it must be doing him good because the chat continues non-stop.

Finally, it is time to go home.  I join the queue for the disabled parking spaces.  They are guarded by a barrier, and like hospital beds, someone needs to vacate a space before another car can get in.  I get to the front of the queue and park on the stop line.  There’s a gap before the barrier to leave space for ambulances to exit.  I read a book on my phone.  I wait for an hour.  An hour and a half. There’s no point getting grumpy.   Then two cars drive past me, right up to the barrier, blocking the ambulance exit.  What?  Can’t they read the signs?  I’m not putting up with this. The stress of waiting, patiently, for three weeks, is about to burst, Alien-like, from my chest. So much for never being grumpy again.  The first woman pretends she has done nothing wrong. 

“That guy,” she says, “said you’d just been sitting in your car for an hour.”

  I look round at a translucent-skinned man, cackling and coughing over his joke.  I finally understand road rage.  I resist pulling the woman out of the window of her car, and point out that I’ve been sitting in my car for an hour, because I am in a queue.  For the car park.  Which the sign says is full. 

The woman in the second car says she didn’t realise, was just trying to pick up her Dad.  I say I’m picking up my son.   I want to say I bet he’s worse than your Dad, but realise we’re all in the same situation.  These people have frustrations and worries I know nothing about.  The second woman reverses back behind my car.

The first is allowed through the barrier. Then told to re-join the back of the queue.  Serves her right.  But I need to concentrate on being grateful my son is getting home. 

And at home I even manage to be less grumpy, most of the time, despite the frequent requests for help with his Xbox wrestling game. As we return to our normal routine of ignoring his condition as much as possible, I think about how the National Health Service is stuck together with patience stretched like old fitted bed sheets.

Of course, that was before the virus struck, before the hospitals were full, before people were fighting over tinned tomatoes and toilet rolls, and before we applauded every night for the nurses and doctors.  It would be good to think we’d get a more responsive Health Service after all this.


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With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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Fractured: A Flash Fiction Story

I’d like to thank Alison Ogilvie-Holme of Canada for her flash fiction submission “Fractured”, a poignant, sentimental story of love and loss.

Alison Ogilvie-Holme is a mother of identical twin daughters who are now six years old. She lives in Brockville, ON, Canada, and began writing and submitting stories over a year ago. Many of her stories involve different aspects of motherhood, particularly the challenging parts. She is drawn to exploring characters who are perfectly flawed (much like herself). Her words have appeared on such sites as Down in the Dirt, Ink Pantry,  and Fat Cat Magazine, among others. When not writing or playing referee to her daughters, Alison enjoys taking long naps.

“Often, it seems that society has a cookie-cutter image of a what a ‘good’ Mum should look like, act like, and think like. In admitting our flaws and uncertainties to one another, I believe that the act of mothering becomes more authentic. We are all individuals, and therefore, mother our children differently, to the very best of our abilities.” ~ Alison

This story was previously published in the Fairy Tale Issue of The Writers’ Cafe.

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog running, thank you.



Photo by Danielle Dolson on Unsplash

Fractured

“And they lived happily ever after. The end.”

Annabeth shuts the book and leans over Iris, placing a kiss on top of her damp forehead. She is running a fever and will surely wake up overnight when the medication wears off. It pricks Annabeth’s conscience to know that Iris will cry out for “Daddy” until she remembers that he no longer lives here. Norah, on the other hand, has always been partial to her mother.

But lately her daughter is holding a grudge. She kisses Norah’s cheek and notes with frustration that she too is becoming hot to the touch. Another day off work is not an option. Should she call Jack? He would drop everything and come home in a heartbeat.

After turning off the light, she sits down in the rocking chair. She is bone tired. Rain pelts the window and she listens to the rhythm of water tap-dancing on glass; fluid but fierce. Slowly, Annabeth feels herself drifting away from reality. Deep within the recesses of memory, a narrative takes shape.

Once upon a time there was a little girl with corkscrew curls and a smile as bright as the star atop a Christmas tree. Her parents called her names like Princess, Angel, and Baby Doll. More than anything in the world, the little girl loved to sit on her father’s lap and play the piano while they sang together in harmony.

Time passed and the little girl was replaced by a burgeoning young woman. The parents noticed that she seldom played the piano or sang anymore. Her bright smile had started to dim, like a dark day in the month of January.

”What has changed, princess, to make you so sad?!” the father asked.

“Everything!’ she replied ‘You lied to me. I am not beautiful or talented or special. I am nothing!”

“I wish you could see what I see.” her mother whispered.



Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

Eventually, the young woman found her way back to the piano. She pounded her truth into the ivory keys as her voice exploded with raw, unfiltered emotion which could not be contained in a pretty little music box. Word of her abilities spread throughout the land, and soon, people gathered from far and wide to watch her perform.

At a recital one evening, she spotted a young gentleman sitting in the back row. Throughout the performance, her eyes kept searching for him as if pulled by an invisible compass. Disappointment gripped her when she looked up to discover the empty chair. After her closing number, she darted to the dressing room at once and there he was, waiting.

“Hello…My name is Jack. I think you have an amazing gift.”

He was beautiful, she realized up close, far more beautiful than she would ever be. In that moment, she understood with absolute certainty that she would follow him anywhere. They soon became inseparable and wed within the year. When the young woman learned of her pregnancy, she was overcome with sudden emotion.

“Whatever is wrong?” asked Jack, taking her hand.

“What if the baby comes between us?” she sobbed.

“Nonsense! This baby will bring us even closer together. Trust me.”

The birth of Norah was just as Jack had predicted. She was a delightful baby; full of smiles and giggles and playful mischief. Norah had inherited her father’s gentle disposition, making her a very easy child to love.

In a couple of years, the young woman learned that she was expecting again. As if on cue, she began to cry and reached for Jack’s hand.

“What is it, darling?”

“What if I cannot love this baby as much as Norah?” she sobbed.

“Nonsense! You will love them both, differently but equally. I promise.”

Nine months later, Iris charged into their lives. She filled every inch of space with limitless curiosity and determination, forever reaching out to touch the world and squeeze it in her pudgy, little hand. They instantly fell in love with her.

By the time the young woman learned of her third pregnancy, a newfound calm had settled in. For she now understood that a new baby is always a new beginning, a chance to love again.

On the day that Elliot was born, the nurses placed him in his mother’s arms to let her cradle him once before saying goodbye. Annabeth wanted to cry, to scream at the top of her lungs and breathe life back into her beautiful baby boy. But somehow, she had lost her voice and all her tears had dried up. Not even Jack could save her now.

Annabeth awakens and slips out of the room, making her way into her own bed. Somehow, the girls have managed to sleep for hours without interruption. Perhaps a night’s rest will help to fight off infection, eliminating any need to phone Jack. Relief is tempered with mild regret. How she would love an excuse to hear his voice right about now. Instead, her mind returns to Elliot in short order.

Although her son is never far from thought, something feels different tonight. The memory seems sharper, more focused, as though she held him only moments before. Grief washes over her afresh. Tears that have lain dormant for the past year come rushing to the surface at alarming speed. She surrenders to an emotional tsunami, her body wracked with waves of bittersweet sorrow.

At last, she is able to cry for Elliot and the life he never lived, for her daughters who prayed for a baby brother and then stopped praying altogether, for Jack, the eternal optimist turned cautious realist. And finally, Annabeth weeps for herself – a mother learning to navigate the lonely culture of loss.

    



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What The Looking Glass Reflects: A Flash Fiction Story

I’d like to thank Leah Holbrook Sackett for her flash fiction submission “What The Looking Glass Reflects”, a melodramatic tale with an intriguing atmosphere. Reflective and relatable, yet fantastical and surreptitious.

Leah is an adjunct lecturer in the English department at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.  This is also where she earned her M.F.A. Her short stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. Leah’s debut book of short stories “Swimming Middle River” was recently released by REaDLips Press.

Learn about Leah’s published fiction at LeahHolbrookSackett.website

Follow her on Twitter: @LeahSackett

Facebook: @alicewonderland.leah  

Instagram: @alicewonderland.leah

LinkedIn: @LeahSackett


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Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction by Nancy Stohlman

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

What The Looking Glass Reflects

Carol liked to stand in corners when she was anxious. It calmed her down to tighten her focus on a dried drip of paint, the seam in wallpaper, or a crack in the wall of the visiting Professor’s house. Her husband was a professor of History at Sweetgum University. The booming emptiness of the house, like a quarry, played on Carol’s nerves. It reminded her of the children she could not have to fill the large house. Her body was not agreeable to the arrangement of keeping a tenant for more than 3 months. This, too, made her anxious. If she were to dwell on the idea of a baby too long, it required a Xanax and a corner to calm her down.

Staring into the back of William’s head while watching a loud Sunday football game was also a trigger. Around 4:30 in the afternoon, each day, that was a trigger. The upside was she had tried many corners in the house and had a rating system based on her sense of urgency. The corner in the small dark dining room with light filtering through the blinds was one of her favorites. She liked this one because she could look askance out the window as if cheating at some game. She also liked the lovely wisteria color paint that deepened and lightened based on the time of day. The corners became her friends, and she talked to them. Softly, of course, lest Will catches her again.

The first time Will caught Carol standing in a corner was in the bedroom with the blue scrollwork wallpaper. It was just outdated long enough to be trendy with that shabby chic look. She liked to trace the scrollwork with her fingertips. Caught-up in a particular favorite curly-que, she did not hear Will coming. Carol stopped her whispering and froze. She could feel Will staring at her back. With a great effort that made her eyes sting, she turned to him and said, “It is just the most lovely design.” Will agreed and ushered her from the room. The next morning the corner was filled with a large, gilded full-length mirror made from Sweetgum. She must have spent one too many times in the corner. She wondered how Will got it into the room while she slept, her head hammered from that one glass of wine. The mirror was enormous with a giltwood frame from floor to ceiling. It was carved with five-point star leaves. Her anger with Will for filling her corner was ebbing.

Perhaps a mirror makes a better coping mechanism. This mirror may be just the therapy Carol needed. Sure, it was just another crutch, but you need a crutch sometimes. She climbed out of bed and followed the details of the carvings. She smiled, a little smile though it was, at herself with the glow of her face in the flattering daylight. With the heat of the day on her face, Carol climbed back into bed and was soon napping. She woke from lilting, little giggles. Of course, no one was there, but a single gold stud earring and her wooden knitting needles were resting on the bedclothes. It was as if someone had gone about snatching her things just to return them as gifts.

As late afternoon set in, Carol sat in bed with a book and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. She must have dozed off because she woke with her hand in a puddle of melted ice cream and the pint on the floor. It was growing dark. Moonlight was on the heels of the fading day. It filtered through the window, creating little dancing lights upon the looking glass. It was almost as if there was movement inside. Quietly, she tiptoed to the mirror. It was swimming like water, and a small chubby face and arm reached out of the glass beckoning Carol to enter. Carol froze in awe at the visage of a cherub, a baby in the looking-glass. Inviting her into an orchard of Sweetgums. Abruptly, she heard Will enter with the dull thud of the front door. When Carol turned back to the mirror, it was solid. “NO,” she cried and slammed the palm of her hand against the mirror. There was a heart-breaking crack that ran through the mirror and disappeared in ripples of reflection. With bloody palm and bare feet, Carol entered the looking glass. Will ran up the stairs to his wife’s cry of “NO.” The room was empty. No one was home.

    


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With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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Chocolate in Summer: A Short Story.

I’d like to thank Lindsay Bamfield of Australia for her short story submission “Chocolate in Summer”, a touching story about the complex relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law. It was originally published in a small anthology in the UK called Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol 2.

Lindsay Bamfield relocated from UK to Australia in 2019. Her mother was Australian and she has always been in touch with this aspect of her heritage. Lindsay is a mother and is now grandmother to an Australian. She has written a number of short stories and flash fiction and non-fiction articles. She has been published in Hysteria 6 AnthologyStories for Homes 2, Reflex FictionGreenacre Writers AnthologyMslexia, Writers’ News and Writing Magazine as well as on a number of literary websites

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Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction (Buy it Now)

Chocolate in Summer

Seated at the grand piano, Margot became the woman she might have been rather than the one she was. Gone was the carping woman craving her headache pills; in her place was a maestro.

‘Oh, how wonderful. You’ll have some help,’ people cooed when I muttered through clenched teeth that my mother-in-law was coming to stay. How they thought it was helpful to be driving over a hundred and fifty miles to the airport, with a two-month old breastfeeding baby in tow, I couldn’t imagine.

   She spent the entire six weeks moaning. The bedroom was too hot, too cold, the baby cried, my cooking was terrible, I didn’t iron Patrick’s shirts properly.

   ‘She’s asking for Gentleman’s Relish,’ I said to Patrick. ‘What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of it.’

   ‘Oh yes, she used to love it on toast,’ he said, frowning over our bank statement. ‘She used to put a little jar of it in my school tuck box every term. I’d sell it to one of the older boys because I hated it, and bought sweets from the tuck shop with the money. She never packed sweets. You can probably get it at Fortnum’s.’

   ‘Are you insane? Do you really expect me to high-tail it to London to get a jar of something for her bloody toast?’

   But make the journey I did, for Margot must be appeased, although nothing would ever make me good enough for her son.

‘Have you put Toby’s name down for Patrick’s prep school yet?’ she asked one Sunday lunchtime while I was clearing the table.

   ‘Margot, he’s barely three months old,’ I said. ‘Rather premature, don’t you think?’

   ‘These good schools are subscribed years in advance,’ she said curtly.

   ‘Besides which,’ I said, ‘I do not intend for my son to be sent away to school, even if we could afford it, which we can’t.’

   ‘Patrick, surely you can’t want your son educated in a state school?’

   ‘I rather think I do, Mother,’ he replied. ‘I have no wish to put Toby through what I endured.’

   I didn’t hear the end of that conversation because Toby began to wail, much to my relief.  I hurried off to placate my son who would not be sent away at the tender age of eight when, I hoped, he would still be wanting a story, a teddy snuggled into his bed and a goodnight kiss.

Each year, two months of summer were utter misery. As he grew older, even Toby began to dread the visit from Grandma: her headaches that demanded his utter silence; the outings that were curtailed because she felt unwell; the meals that must be just so.

   ‘Give me a hand,’ Patrick yelled down the stairs one Saturday before the impending visit. ‘I need you to hold the ladder. It’s wobbling.’ I switched off the iron, glad to have respite from squirting steam over the curtains from the spare room, Margot’s room, and plodded up the stairs, pushing my damp hair behind my ears. 

   I held the ladder while Patrick inexpertly painted the room in his mother’s favourite colour.

   ‘She’ll like this,’ he said as he rolled the paint on. ‘She found the greens too bright.’ He was being tactful; ‘nauseous’ was the word she’d used. My carefully chosen two-tone green room disappeared under a coat of magnolia-meets-mushroom. The curtains would look quite wrong now but at least they would be dust and crease-free.

A month later, I heaved Margot’s luggage up to the room. She was already lying on the bed in the delicate pose of a dying martyr.

   ‘Pull the curtains,’ she ordered. ‘There’s too much sun. Where are my pills, I think a headache is coming on.’

   ‘Do you like the new colour?’ I asked as I slid the curtains closed, banishing the few rays of sun to have graced our summer that year.

   ‘It’ll do.’

   ‘I’ve made your favourite cake so pop down for tea when you’re ready.’

   ‘I couldn’t possibly eat cake. My digestion. Some cucumber sandwiches, I think.’

   ‘I’m afraid I don’t have any cucumber. How about tomato?’

   ‘Tomato? With my delicate stomach? Good gracious girl, you should know this by now. Just run out and fetch a cucumber. It’s hardly too much to ask.’

It was when we visited my new neighbour who had invited us for coffee, that the ground shifted. Standing in their airy living room was a grand piano. Enormous, shiny and proud, it took up most of the space. Margot drifted towards it and trailed her fingers on the keys.

   ‘Do try it, if you’d like to,’ trilled the neighbour.

   To my astonishment, Margot seated herself on the padded stool and began to play. Music rippled from beneath her fingers as effortlessly as breeze on water.

   That was the day I first saw her smile.

‘I’ve bought Mother a piano. She’ll like that,’ said Patrick a couple of weeks before the visit the following year. ‘It’s only an upright, because the living room won’t take a grand.’

   Nor would our fragile bank account. I said nothing for I knew he would trot out his mantra: ‘don’t be too hard on her, she had a difficult time bringing me up on her own…’ and I would have to refrain from reminding him that he spent term-time at boarding school and many of his holidays at his aunt’s house.


  

The Almost Mothers by Laura Besley

I picked Margot up at the airport and drove the weary miles home. Toby sat meekly in the back, listening to her interminable moaning. The car was stifling and hot because the fan no longer worked. Her damn piano had taken the last of our spare cash, so the fan would stay broken. I opened the window but she complained about the draught. We sweltered in silence.

   ‘Did you bring me a present?’ asked Toby when we reached home.

   ‘Little boys who ask, don’t get,’ was her reply. His face crumpled. Later, she relented and handed him a package. His excitement was palpable only to disappear on looking at the gift.

   ‘What is it, Grandma?’

   ‘It belonged to your grandfather. Now let your mother put it away safely until you grow up. It’s an heirloom and very valuable so you must treasure it.’

‘She gave him a tie-pin,’ I hissed at Patrick, when we were in bed. ‘Who gives a six- year-old a tie-pin?’

   ‘She means well, don’t be hard on her,’ was all he would say. I turned away from him dreading the next six weeks.

   But that summer Margot played her piano, and I saw a different woman. She taught Toby a few simple tunes and to her delight, he showed aptitude for her talent which had evidently skipped a generation. Their heads bent over the keys, she demonstrated a patience I could never have guessed at. The music allowed the time to pass more quickly and sometimes she smiled. Her pills remained unopened.

   ‘Toby is shaping up nicely,’ she said at dinner on the last evening of her visit. ‘You must arrange professional lessons for him.’

   Thinking of the red figure on our latest bank statement, my lips tightened, but I said nothing.

   ‘This casserole is very good,’ she went on. ‘Is it from the recipe book I gave you?’

   ‘No, it’s based on one from my mother.’

   ‘Oh. Well, even so, it’s very nice. You’re learning.’

When Patrick died in a car crash, she came immediately I contacted her.

   ‘I’ll make my own way from the airport, you don’t need…’ she left the sentence unfinished.

   As we met on the doorstep neither of us spoke but we understood that for the first time we shared Patrick without being rivals.

   ‘It was an accident, wasn’t it?’ she said the evening after the funeral when everybody had left.

   ‘Yes, of course, I explained–’

   ‘What I mean is,’ she interrupted, ‘it wasn’t like his father? An accident that wasn’t quite as accidental as it appeared.’ Her voice was quiet.

   For a moment I wondered if she was trying to tell me that she had pulled the trigger when Robert died in a shooting accident.

   ‘It was recorded as an accident,’ she said, ‘but Robert knew guns inside out. He’d been using them since he was a teenager on the estate. They had these shoots, pheasant, grouse, the glorious twelfth. That was common in those days. Robert was dogged by black depressions. Patrick didn’t know about them, being away at school. I tried to prevent him seeing that. I’d send him to my sister if they came on during his holidays. It was when he was away that it happened. Was Patrick ever…’

   ‘No, Margot, I never saw Patrick depressed. Sad, worried and angry sometimes, but never depressed.’

   ‘Thank God. I couldn’t tell Patrick the truth. I think some of our friends may have wondered but it remained unspoken.’

   And then Margot wept and for the first time I felt not resentment but compassion.

She stayed with Toby and me while I sorted through Patrick’s financial affairs and adjusted to a new life just as she had done so many years before. But unlike her, I had no secrets to stifle. My grief was her grief and hers mine, and there was a perceptible thaw between us.

   She told Toby about his father as a little boy, and then told us both her own story.

   ‘I was talented enough to be a concert pianist but I needed professional training,’ she explained. ‘I was to go to the Royal College, but then the war broke out and I worked for the war office.’

   ‘What about after the war?’ I asked.

   ‘We no longer had money for my training. My brothers had been killed and I had to help in the family business until I got married. Then my hands were full. You couldn’t harp on with fantasies in those days, not once you were married and had a child to look after.’

   ‘It sounds hard to have lost your dreams.’ I said.

   ‘Dreams are like chocolate in summer,’ she said shortly. ‘They melt. Besides, I still had my piano and I played at home.’

   ‘Yes, Patrick told me how you played, and that you tried to teach him.’

   ‘He didn’t have the ear,’ she said. ‘Or the patience.’

Toby took to the piano that summer and played non-stop. After Margot returned home, he continued playing and made up compositions. One he called Chocolate in Summer. ‘Because our dreams have melted too, haven’t they, Mummy?’ he said.

   Margot sent me the money to pay for his lessons.

***

Toby’s daughter is playing with his old boxes of Lego that I brought down from the loft. I have just finished decorating her cake with ‘Happy Birthday Sasha’ piped in pink icing and six pink candles. Her mother pours a glass of wine for me. Sasha’s big presents are waiting for when Toby joins us after work so he can watch her unwrap them.

   He arrives on the dot of six o’clock and swoops his daughter up into his arms, giving her a twirl, then he sits at the piano and plays ‘Happy Birthday.’

   ‘Again, Daddy!’ she laughs.

   He pays a slow, dreamy version and then a fast, silly one, delighting the birthday girl.

   I look at him, so like his father in appearance, and wonder if he would have realized his talent without his grandmother’s tutelage that terrible year.

   My heart still bursts with pride as I recall his first concert as a soloist, and wish so much that they had both lived to see it. Only Toby and I knew that beneath his jacket he wore a gold tie-pin that had belonged to the grandfather neither of us had known.

   We eat the birthday tea as Sasha tears open her presents with the enthusiasm of a happy little girl. Not an heirloom in sight.

   Afterwards, Toby sits at the piano again and plays, just as Margot had, whatever comes into his mind, as the mood takes him. He is playing ‘Chocolate in Summer.’

   I never thought I would miss her.


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My Place: Chapter 3

Well it’s been a while since I posted any story of my own let alone a chapter of my book. I must confess I’ve missed writing my own adventures and dramas and am eager to get back to it. I wrote this third chapter a little while back (ok it was almost a year ago) and it’s as far as I’ve gotten with the novel. I’m hoping that sharing this latest chapter with you will produce the inspiration and motivation I need to keep going with it. Feel free to comment below and let me know what you think.

If you haven’t read the previous chapters, you can do so by clicking on a chapter below.

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2


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Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction by Nancy Stohlman

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

CHAPTER 3

Krysta opened her heavy eyes and glanced at the clock to her right. The bright red numbers did little to warm her heart as they read 5.45am, which meant she’d had just 5 hours of sleep, AGAIN. She could have closed her eyes and slept all day if it hadn’t been for the little size fives in ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ socks, just 3 inches from her face, and the chubby little index finger poking her in the ribs.

   Drowsily, she propped herself up on both elbows. She spotted Davey to the left, asleep face down with his head hanging off the edge of the bed like a sloth on a tree branch. Dylan was perched atop both her legs, grinning from ear to ear at his accomplishment of waking up Mummy. Becky grinned back, acknowledging his achievement but not condoning his inconsiderate act. She didn’t want it to become a habit after all.

   “It’s not time for wakies yet Dylan, the sun’s still sleeping!” she said in a tone much sweeter than her mood.

   “Up” he chirped. His youthful exuberance made Krysta feel just a little sick in the stomach. Memories of her own energy where vague at best, perhaps it wasn’t even a reality but a long-ago dream. Exhaustion had become her everyday constitution. “Up, up, up” Dylan chanted, bouncing up and down on her legs as though they were nothing but lifeless twigs he was trying to snap with his bony little bottom.

   He was completely oblivious to Krysta’s zombie-like state or more than likely didn’t care, and why should he? He was 2 years old and the world was his to command how he pleased. Krysta felt envious of the care-free life her children lived. Their quest was all about exploring, playing, learning, adventuring and mischief making, while their every need was catered for by the great co-ordinator known as Mummy. Mummy however, had gone from being able to organise grandiose weddings with ease, to barely managing to co-ordinate breakfast for her 4 fussy offspring. Hence she often wondered if she was truly qualified for this job.

   Every part of her wanted to lay back down and drift blissfully back into unconsciousness but it took only seconds before that old familiar sense of responsibility kicked in once more and she conceded. “Ok, let’s go have some brekkie.”

   Dylan squealed and chuckled with delight, falling sideways as Krysta tickled him under the arms. His laughter was quickly followed by a screech of displeasure at an equally high pitch as he realised mummy could now escape his clutches and leave the bed without him, not to mention the bitter-sweet tickling would come to an abrupt end.

   Krysta swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat for a moment contemplating the task ahead. It was Wednesday, and that meant Ladies Bible stud. It also meant a 4-hour tactical mission to get herself and her 4 kids cleaned, dressed, fed, 1 child dropped off to school, a quick run to the grocery store to grab something to share for morning tea and a 20-minute drive to the church. It might sound simple and straight forward but with 4 kids nothing was ever simple or straight forward.

   Peter had left for the airport late the night before. The magazine he worked for had sent him to a writer’s conference, so Krysta was on her own for the next three days. A daunting prospect but probably a blessing in disguise in some ways. They’d spent a day in silence after her rant about the joys of domestic servanthood and motherly dilemmas but made up moments before he headed out the door to the awaiting taxi.

   Once upon a time they would have spent hours in respectful conversation and marital negotiations before coming to a mutually satisfying conclusion with both parties making apologies for their role in the argument before “making up” for hours (sometimes all night) in the seclusion of the bedroom. These days they were lucky if the argument was even addressed let-alone reconciled and “making up” often consisted of an agreed upon cease-fire and an all-too-often rain-checked quickie in the bathroom, as it was the only room in the house with a lock on the door.

   Krysta hoped that the old saying was true, that absence really did make the heart grow fonder and that the time apart would reinforce their affections for one another. She tried to ignore the emotional boxing match raging inside her, heading into its 100th round with romantic longing on one side and resentment on the other. She wanted to miss him, to forge bravely into the next few days as a warrior mum, diligently doing her duty without a single complaint, but jealousy hung over her head like a dark storm cloud ready to pour out it’s deluge at the first thunderclap.

    She hadn’t slept through a single night or had one solitary day to herself in 4 years. In fact, the only so-called “me time” she received was the 20 minutes a day she spent in the shower, and she had to get up half an hour before everyone else to get that. It looked like today would be a ‘dry-shampoo, and ten tonnes of deodorant’ kind of day.

   Peter spent all day most days sitting at a desk, doing what he loved and every Saturday he spent 5 hours playing basketball and hanging out with the guys at the bar afterward, and now, he would be getting 3 whole days away from the chaos that was their family, doing what he loved, and three whole nights alone to be his own person. Krysta felt like everything always went his way, like he managed to find that perfect balance of work, play and family life and it was beyond unfair. Why was it that having kids changed her life so much more dramatically than it changed his?


The Almost Mothers by Laura Besley

***

    Aiming to be at the church 20 minutes early, Krysta congratulated herself as she pulled into the car park just 5 minutes late. It was her personal best, so far. Granted, she’d only been attending for a few months, but it irked her that she always lost a good ten minutes or more of sanity time every week because she couldn’t quite manage to get there on time, no matter how hard she endeavoured.

   Krysta glanced at the packet of Tim Tams resting on the passenger seat beside her. She wondered if they’d be an acceptable contribution. She always intended to try and find time the day before to create some decadent, delicious and elaborately decorated sugar-filled treat that would impress even the fussiest of stay-at-home chefs, but so far she’d never managed to fit it into her hectic schedule.

   Five minutes later, Krysta had managed to masterfully assemble the double seated pram and secure two squirming toddlers into its confines. She grabbed the nappy bag and Tim Tams from the front of the car, placing them both in the basket beneath the pram seats and reached out for Chloe’s hand.

   “Chloe” she called out in concern as her hand met only the air. She looked toward the building to see Chloe running toward it across the full carpark, her straight dark locks bouncing in time with her hurried steps. “Chloe, stop” she shouted. Chloe halted right in the middle of the carpark, spinning around to look at Krysta innocently, her hand to her mouth as she realised her error. She knew she wasn’t to run off on her own, Krysta always insisted that she hold her hand or hold onto the pram when they were out and about, for safety. 

   Krysta turned her head as she heard the sound of tyres over gravel and observed a 4WD heading their way. With fear giving rise to her Mumma bear instincts she took off with stealth like speed, pushing the pram over to where Chloe stood motionless. She grabbed her tiny hand and pulled her toward the main entrance of the building where she parked the pram, flicking on the break.

   Bending down so her face was level with her daughters she very sternly reprimanded her. “Don’t you ever run off like that again, do you hear me?”

   “Yes mummy” Chloe responded quietly, a quiver on her bottom lip and tears forming in her teddy bear brown eyes.

   “How many times have I told you not to run across a road or carpark?” Krysta’s voice grew louder as she thought about what could have happened and frustration mounted as she recalled how many time’s they’d been through this.

   “I…I’m sorryyyyyy” Chloe stuttered and began to wail, tears cascading down her chubby little cheeks as she squeezed her eyes shut.

   Krysta’s tone softened as her anger defused like cold water thrown on a flame “you could have been hit by that car and then we’d have lost you. I don’t want to lose you Chloe.” Her heart overflowed with empathy and remorse as her daughter threw her tiny arms around her waist and sobbed into her torso, her warm tears soaking through her pale pink cotton shirt onto the wrinkly tiger-striped skin of her overstretched stomach.

   Krysta squeezed Chloe tight in empathy and gently unwrapped her arms from around her middle. She took a tissue from the nappy bag and wiped the wetness from her tear-stained face. “Just remember next time ok?” Krysta smiled forgivingly as Chloe’s sobs subsided and she swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. Why was it that she always ended up feeling like a villain when she had to scold her child? Wasn’t it what mothers were supposed to do? How could her child learn what was acceptable behaviour if all she ever did was speak softly but assertively like all those ‘positive parenting’ courses dictated? Krysta knew she needed to teach her child to be obedient, but the pain she sensed in her child’s reaction always forced her to hate the person she’d just been, the person who caused that pain in her child.

   Krysta took a deep breath and mentally prepared herself to move forward. “Come on, let’s get you to the playroom so you can have fun with the other kids.” Krysta unlocked the pram and skilfully held open the tinted glass door as she pushed the pram through with her free hand, Chloe following close at her heels. They were met by a sea of faces that had turned in their seats to look at them as they noisily entered. Krysta felt her face flush with embarrassment as she realized she’d forgotten that the front entrance led directly into the main auditorium where the welcome portion of the bible study had just come to a close. 

   She swallowed in regret at the revelation they had more than likely heard the whole incident, given there was a mere glass panel between the room and the outside of the building. Davey gave a loud moan in protest of being indoors again, which echoed around the high-ceilinged room and forced everyone to turn and glare once more. Krysta could feel a hundred eyes piercing her back as she awkwardly tried to manoeuvre the pram through the narrow door into the foyer that separated the kitchen and café area from the playroom. The back wheel caught on the door frame and Krysta had to back it up and push forward twice before it finally went through.

   She heard the worship music start up as the door swung shut behind her with a thud, rattling the windowed wall encasing it. She didn’t even dare look back to see the reaction her clumsy exit had incited. Ignorance would work better to rescue her quickly fading resolve to enjoy what was left of her child-free time. She signed them in at the little table outside the playroom and waved goodbye to two excited children as each bolted toward their toy of choice. Dylan had to be pried off her neck by the volunteers who assured Krysta that he would be fine and would for-sure stop howling the minute she left the room. Krysta had little faith in that, but ordered herself to drop the guilt as she rushed out the door with a dozen “sorry Dylan”s.

   She took a deep breath, relaxing on the exhale and closed her eyes for a moment, contemplating how heavenly it would be to find a quiet corner to curl up and take a nap in. The thought was soon dashed however as her practical mindset took charge of her wandering ideas and chastised her for even thinking about skipping the study and taking advantage of the church’s hospitality. 

   “This is not a day care centre Krysta” she berated herself “these people volunteer their time so you can enhance your spiritual life not so you can shirk your responsibilities.” She rolled her eyes at her own harshness and walked casually and quietly back through the glass doors to the main auditorium, slipping casually into a seat in the back row as the last song came to an end.


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