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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A New Promise: Short Story

I’d like to thank Sharon Kretschmer of South Australia for her story submission ‘A New Promise’. A touching work of fiction, based on true events.

Sharon Kretschmer is a born and bred South Australian, recently embracing both a tree change and becoming an empty nester in the beautiful wine region of the Barossa Valley. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Post-Graduate Museum Studies, reflecting her love for both writing and tangible and intangible heritage. You can often find her exploring pioneer cemeteries in search of inspiration.

Her stories have been featured in the anthologies ‘A Flash of Brilliance’ and ‘Tales from the Upper Room’, and have also been published by Haunted Waters Press, Two Sisters Publishing, 101 Words and Beyond Words Literary Magazine. The NSW Department for Education has also published several of her works for children in quarterly statewide publications.

When not writing, Sharon enjoys spending time with her two daughters, two sons, and one son-in-law, as well as a spoilt Border Terrier named Bee.

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog going, thank you.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

A New Promise

It takes two hours to travel by bus between Kiev and my hometown of Hlevakha. In those two hours, images flash past the window like a film reel. The weathered Beech and Oak trees roll past the window, forming a continual stream of browns and greys. The farmers in the distance, toiling in the black soil, shirt sleeves rolled up in summer, their heads covered with knitted caps in winter. One can see the rural history of Ukraine in the ancient farmhouses and sheds which appear, nestled in a valley or high on a hill. There were not many tourists that travelled this path. And yet my village was becoming filled with strangers from other countries. They just hadn’t been born yet.

Hlevakha is a small village, populated by generations of the same families. I was born here, and no doubt I will die here. My life has been the same as my mother’s, and her mother’s before. That was until the summer just past, when my husband Yakiv sat across from me after a dinner of borscht and unfolded a grimy flyer from the pocket of his chequered shirt. I was trying to keep my son Marko still, as he squirmed in his highchair. I had been trying unsuccessfully to wipe purple stains from his lips. Yakiv cleared his throat and pushed the paper across the knotted wood of the table.

“Read this Sofiy.”

I unfolded the piece of paper to reveal an advert for surrogate mothers. It was from a business called ‘New Promises’ in Kiev. I’d looked up sharply at Yakiv, confused by what he meant in showing it to me. His chair scraped against the concrete floor as he pushed it back hurriedly and came around behind me.

“Read it.”

My eyes skimmed over the words. Help couples from around the world; set yourself up for life; every expense paid;15,000 euros compensation. 15,000 euros! I pulled my eyes away from the words and stared at Yakiv.

“Tak Sofiy, tak! 15,000! That’s 395,000 hryvnia! Just think what we can do with the money. Put some aside for Marko’s education, build an extension on the khata! What do you think Sofiy? Would you do it?”

It was the easiest decision I ever made.

The first visit to the clinic had been more gruelling than I expected. I’d caught the early morning bus, waving goodbye to Yakiv and Marko. My stomach churned as the bus rumbled over the country roads towards Kiev. Yakiv was anxious, now the decision had been made, to start the process. I was surprised when I entered the small waiting room to find several other young women already there. I guess I wasn’t the only girl wanting to make money from rich Americans, or Europeans, or wherever they came from. I sat in a small room with five other women. I wondered what would happen, not fully understanding the reason for this visit. A girl from Kiev with bright red hair, has a cousin who had been through the process. There will be a questionnaire, discussions with a psychologist, and a physical examination. My hands are shaking, so to keep them busy I take out the form, signed by Yakiv, giving his consent for the process. I wonder if the other husbands have been as quick to sign as he has been, but I am too shy to ask.


Mum Life Stories: Micro-Fiction, Vol 1

Two hours later I am back on the bus, heading home. I had passed the test with flying colours, they explained. They were certain I would be called back very soon to meet with prospective parents. They gave me a bottle of vitamin tablets to start taking, to prepare my body for the pregnancy. The doctor said make sure I take one twice a day. I feel elated, but also scared. but know Yakiv will be very happy.

It is a little over two weeks later that I journey back to the clinic, passing by the Motherland Monument. I think how apt that Ukrainian women are becoming birth mothers to children around the world. This time I am taken straight away to a bright and sunny interview room with windows looking onto a courtyard. In the center of the courtyard stood an old pear tree, it’s leaves glossy and green. A large clock ticked on whitewashed walls. Two other girls were waiting, one in jeans and a white shirt, her face carefully made up, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. The other looked older and was dressed as if for a business meeting. Her stockinged feet were crossed at the ankle, sensible black pumps on her feet. She smoothed her woolen black skirt across her knees, a striped blue shirt and black jacket finished the ensemble. I tucked my limp brown hair behind my ears, and looked down at my green serge dress, and wondered what chance I had of being the chosen one.

All three of us jumped when the door opened. The head of the clinic, Sergie Anatov, entered and ushered in a man and two women. He introduced the couple as Mark and Jody, the second woman was named Svetlana, and she would be our interpreter. I studied the couple. The woman, Jody, appeared more nervous than I. I guessed she was maybe late thirties. She had short blond hair cut into a bob, and thick glasses framed her large blue eyes. She wore a lavender shirt with white trousers, a heavy gold necklace and matching earrings. She smelled delicious when she walked past me, a whiff of citrus and rose. Mark was stocky, with dark wavy hair. I would say he was older than Jody, probably in his forties. He had cream trousers and a navy-blue shirt. He too smelled delicious; his scent reminding me of the fresh pine needles which lay on the forest floor just beyond my village.

The interview went in a blur. There were many questions directed to the three of us, as well as individual questions. I couldn’t place the accents of Mark and Jody. It wasn’t one I was familiar with. One question they asked was how I spent my days. They seemed pleased when Svetlana interpreted my answer. I work in the fields, helping my husband with our small farm, or I am looking after my two-year-old son. I watched as Jody smiled and nodded at Mark. Perhaps they thought the fresh air would be good for their baby. The interview ended, and I was about to follow the other two women out the door when Jody gently reached out and touched my arm. She said something to me, and I looked to Svetlana to explain what had been said. Svetlana smiled at me.

“Jody said she can’t thank you enough for the gift you are giving them. They choose you.”

The process was quickly completed. Jody and Mark had already been to the IVF clinic attached to New Promises clinic, the embryos ready for implantation. I discovered they were from Sydney, in Australia. I found a map and looked to see where it was. Such a long, long, way from Kiev. Jody had suffered many miscarriages, her specialist in Sydney convincing them their only hope for a child of their own would be surrogacy. It made me both nervous and excited to be the one to help them realize their dream. Of course, the money that I would earn was also cause for excitement. I knew that my body would embrace their child, after all, Marko had come along so quickly and with no problems. The small embryo nestled into the warmth of my body and began to grow.

Jody begins sending me emails as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed. She organizes Skype sessions with me, anxious to see her growing child, to know it is safe in its Ukrainian home. At first it is easy to detach from this child. But as I began to feel the weight of her, for I feel sure it is a girl, to feel her squirm in my body, I begin to try and imagine what she will look like, what sort of life she will lead. Will she have Jody’s big blue eyes? Mark’s wavy dark hair, or the straight fairness of Jody? I sing lullabies to Marko, traditional Ukrainian songs like Brother Ivan and The Dream Passes By The Window, and the baby will roll and stretch. Sometimes I wonder, will she miss me? Will she wonder, where is the woman who sang me songs? Whose heartbeat lulled me to sleep? I wonder if when she is older, she will smell a Vareniki dumpling, and wonder why her mouth waters? I wonder how much of me, of my life, is imprinting itself on this little one. Although we share no DNA, I am nurturing her, providing sustenance and warmth. I remember how Marko reacted to my voice when he was a newborn. How he turned his head, and watched me with sombre brown eyes. This little one will have none of that. She will be given to people whose voices will sound as foreign to her as they were to me.



As the date nears, I see a fear in Jody’s eyes when we Skype. Mark often joins in, asking about my health, my life, how I am finding the appointments in Kiev. I tell them that at thirty-six weeks I will be moving to Kiev. New Promises has an apartment where I will live until the baby is born. Jody nods her head, but her unease is palpable. I realize the enormity of her fears. How does she even know that I carry their baby? Mistakes can be made. What if I decide I want the baby? If I run away, and she never sees me again. Of course, I know that I would never do such a thing, but Jody, Jody doesn’t know me at all. And now the end game is closing in, I can only imagine what doubts creep into her head, when she is over 14,000 kilometers away from her child.

I hug Marko tightly, his small legs wrapped around my swollen belly.

“Promise you will bring him to see me at least once?” I say to Yakiv. He promises me, and whispers in my ear, It will soon be over.

The apartment is small, and there are already two other women living in the room. There is a wooden bed, a sofa bed, and a mattress on the floor. A kitchenette with gas cooktop and a chipped enamel sink, sit below the small window which looks out onto a busy thoroughfare. A place my case down on the worn floral carpet.

“Dobryj den,” I say, “I’m Sophiy.”

“Dobryj den,” they reply. “I’m Anna and this is Katya. Sorry, but the mattress is for you. I have a week to go, and Katya is due in two weeks. Once I’m gone you two can shift up one.”

The days are long and slow waiting for the baby to arrive. I take walks in Shevchenko Park, following the trails between the fig and birch trees. I watch the families, thinking of my little Marko. I watch the young couples, their lives unimpeded by the worries of life. I wonder if they too will go down a similar path as Yakiv and me. Jody and Mark flew in from Sydney at thirty-seven weeks. We met a couple of times in a small cafe around the corner from their hotel. They have employed an interpreter for their time in Kiev. Jody tells me about Sydney, about their home and that they live only five minutes from the ocean. She says the little one will be a ‘beach baby’ as they will teach the baby to swim from an early age. I don’t know how to swim. I’ve never seen the beach. I subconsciously rub my belly as she talks to me. Jody reaches over and places her hand over mine.

“May I?” she asks.

I take my hand away and she gently strokes the skin surrounding her child. She whispers words I don’t understand, but I know that they are words of love. I see Mark reach into his upper pocket, pulling out a handkerchief and placing it on Jody’s lap. It is only then I realize Jody is crying silent tears.

In the end she decides to come early, at thirty-eight weeks and two days. Jody and Mark are in the labour room, dressed in the same blue scrubs as the nursing staff. They wait nervously to one side of the room, looking anxiously at me as I moan and push and scream their child out of my body. I saw Jody make to come to me, perhaps to hold my hand or speak words of encouragement. But one of the nurses lies a hand across her arm and shakes a silent no.

And then she is there. The doctor holds her up, squirming in his hands, her hair slicked down with blood and fluid. She opens her mouth and yells a protest, like the mew of a kitten. My heart is full. Full of love for this little girl. I watch Jody and Mark stand over the baby, watch as they wipe away the remnants of what remained from her attachment to me. Jody surprises me by remaining dry-eyed, although the joy which emanates from her is catching. Mark is sobbing great tears which he cannot contain. The nurse wraps her in a blanket and passes her to Jody, who cradles her as if she is the most precious thing in the world. And she is. To them. Jody comes over to me.

“Would you like to hold her?” she asks.

I shake my head no. But I am happy that she offers. I have heard stories of new parents simply walking out and ignoring the birth mother after delivery. I look into the baby’s big blue eyes and smile. They are definitely mother and daughter.

“Her name is Isabella Sophia. And she will know about you, Sophiy. She will know what a gift you have given to us.”

I nod my head, too tired and too emotional to speak.

Jody promises to send me photos of Isabella, and she has kept her promise. She sends me a message every few months, which is more than enough for me. I am busy with Marko and organizing furniture for the extension we’ve completed on our khata. Other young mothers in Hlevakha have followed my lead. There are several who are already pregnant, and more who are in the process of becoming so. I know for some, my story will fill them with hope, for others disgust. I am not sure, even now, how I feel.


Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog. If you’d like to submit a story for consideration to publish, please visit our submissions page. 

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The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

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



Mum Life Stories: Micro-Fiction, Volume One. BUY NOW!

Today is the day! The day time itself stood still with bated breath, anticipating the greatest moment in history. The day every mother and child has yearned for throughout the centuries. The day we are marvelously blessed with the accumulation of all our hopes and dreams wrapped up in a stunning (and superbly designed) ode to Mothers everywhere. The day that will go down in Wikipedia as the greatest moment of all time – greater than the construction of the pyramids, the writing of the constitution, the end of world hunger (yet to happen), and the liberation of chickens (free-range all the way!) – the day that the greatest book on earth was launched for sale. The book entitled ‘Mum Life Stories: Micro-Fiction, Volume One.’

Too much? You’re probably right, but within the exclusive world of the Mum Life Stories Community, this release deserves as grand an entrance as any writer can conjure up. It truly is the culmination of 2 and a half years of consistent passion and dedication to an online presence that lays tribute to all the amazing mothers out there, who have influenced us and made an impact on our lives. There is nothing ordinary about the life of a Mother (and yes I use a capital letter where there shouldn’t be one, because it deserves one) or the stories that shine through from a life lived in complete devotement to one’s progeny. And these stories, real or imagined, make for a fantastic read!

So it is with great excitement and without further ado (yes ado is the correct word as Adieu means goodbye) that I present to you the very first volume of the Mum Life Stories: Micro-Fiction Anthology.

Please note, the featured image is just a mock-up, the book will be a paperback, not a hardcover. It looks pretty good as a hardcover though, I must say!

A massive thank you goes to all the writers who contributed to this anthology by being shortlisted through the 6 rounds of our Micro-Fiction Writing Competitions. You are a truly talented bunch of people who deserve to be immortalized in print. May your future endeavours be even more rewarded and acknowledged for the brilliance they are!

Where to buy!

The book is available on Amazon in paperback and Ebook version by clicking the book cover below (select your own country below or in the header of the amazon site). Prices will vary depending on your country and the current exchange rates. If you’d like to know how we will be allocating profits from sales, click HERE.

If you have any issues ordering a paperback copy, please email me at mumlifestories@gmail.com and I will make sure you get a copy.

Don’t forget $1 AUD from every book sold will go to our friends in Uganda, to help support the important work they do in their orphanage.

Photo Credit: Marcelo Silva on Unsplash

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog going, thank you.

Who’s our charity?

Some of you may remember one particular ‘Mum Life Success Story’ back in October 2019 entitled ‘From Poverty to Provider‘ about an amazing woman and her husband in Uganda, who devote their entire lives to housing, feeding and educating, many, many, orphaned and abandoned children. This couple have been a true inspiration to me about what real love and sacrifice is. They live in one of the poorest nations of the world and fight everyday for their safety and survival, yet they put the needs of others ahead of their own, every single day. You can read more about their story HERE and visit the website of their not-for-profit ministry HERE, or follow them on Facebook HERE.

$1 AUD from every sale of the anthology (paperback or eBook) will go towards changing the life of these children that deserve to live a safe and healthy life, free from poverty and oppression. Future anthologies will also include this promise, so every single sale counts.

Why it’s important to help spread the word

There are a few reasons why I need your help to get the word out there about our awesome anthology.

  1. The more people who hear about it, the more people will buy it (this is the most obvious point)
  2. The more people who buy it, the more our friends in Uganda receive to help support their orphanage (see details below).
  3. The more copies we sell, the more money we have to give to the winners in the next round of competitions.
  4. Last but not least the more copies we sell, the more people get to read your amazing stories and follow your journey as writers.

How to help!

There are a few ways to help spread the word, some are obvious and some not so much.

  1. Tell people about it and direct them to this post or to the menu tab (coming soon) entitled ‘Book Shop’.
  2. Share this post on social media (see social media buttons in the footer of this post). If you’re on wordpress, you can also reblog if you like.
  3. Go to our social media pages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and like, comment and tag your friends! You can also retweet or share those posts.
  4. If you’re a blogger, and you’re interested in a free digital copy in exchange for a review on your blog, please contact me at mumlifestories@gmail.com
  5. If your on our email list, you will receive an email today as well, with a graphic you can use on instagram, please tag us @mumlifestories and use #MLSmicrofictionvol1
  6. Buy copies for your friends and family as gifts, etc

Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog. If you’d like to submit a story for consideration of publication, please visit our submissions page. 

Sign up HERE, or fill in the form below to be added to our email list and you will receive a notification when future competitions begin.  You will also receive all the latest news, stories and promos (including giveaways and writing competitions) as well as a FREE Ebook exclusive to our email subscribers.

Alternatively, go to our COMPETITIONS page for info on the latest competitions!


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Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

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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Featured Mockup Image by Vectorium – www.freepik.comMockup

Anthology Release Date

I’m very excited to announce that after weeks and weeks of editing, formatting and creating, the very first Mum Life Stories Anthology is done and ready to be released. My fingers are still tingling from a copious amount of typing and I am feeling that adrenalin rush that comes from accomplishing an end goal, mixed with a little anxiety at all the thoughts rushing through my brain. Did I do it right? I hope I didn’t miss anything. Will people like it? What if no one does? Will people buy it? Will anyone do a bad review? Is the release date too soon? Do I know enough about marketing to get eyes on it? etc etc. Not sure if any of you know this (or if it isn’t half obvious), but this is the very first book I have published and I am more than a little nervous about it.

Please note, the featured image is just a mock-up, the book will be a paperback, not a hardcover. It looks pretty good as a hardcover though, I must say!

When, when, when?

That said…my excitement outways my nerves, so much that I decided instead of waiting a week or two to launch the book, I would do it in just 4 days. That’s right, the official release will be this Monday the 8th of February.

I will post the link to ‘buy the book’ on Monday with some instructions on how you can help spread the word. Email subscribers will get a special email with images they can download and use on social media. If your not already on our mailing list, be sure to sign up HERE if you’d like to be a part of the campaign.

Here’s a sneak peak at the book jacket (P.S. I designed it myself):

Photo Credit: Marcelo Silva on Unsplash

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog going, thank you

Why it’s important to help spread the word

There are a few reasons why I need your help to get the word out there about our awesome anthology.

  1. The more people who hear about it, the more people will buy it (this is the most obvious point)
  2. The more people who buy it, the more our friends in Uganda receive to help support their orphanage (see details below).
  3. The more copies we sell, the more money we have to give to the winners in the next round of competitions.
  4. Last but not least the more copies we sell, the more people get to read your amazing stories and follow your journey as writers.

What are the profits used for?

In case you’re wondering where the money from the sale of these books goes too, there are actually a lot of places. So in the duty of full-disclosure I’ve included some points from our competition terms and conditions (and then some), to help explain.

  1. Cost of ‘printing’ for paperback and ‘delivery’ for eBook (About 20% of the book price).
  2. Amazon commission (Can be up to 60% of profits) – they take a percentage of the sale price which can differ greatly between countries.
  3. $1AUD of each sale (paperback and eBook) goes to our chosen charity in Uganda (see below).
  4. Admin costs, including advertising, printed copies for winners, as well as postage fees, etc.
  5. The next competitions prize pool (How much we make will determine whether it can be increased or not).
  6. Reimbursement to founder of the previous competitions prize monies (This will be last on the list).

So as you can see, there are a lot of costs involved in producing an anthology (most of which will not be covered through sales), and that does not include payment for the huge amount of work that goes into making it happen. At this point in time, all that work is done for the pure joy of it, and it’s so worth it to see the end product and hear the happiness it brings to all those involved.

Who’s our charity?

Some of you may remember one particular ‘Mum Life Success Story’ back in October 2019 entitled ‘From Poverty to Provider‘ about an amazing woman and her husband in Uganda, who devote their entire lives to housing, feeding and educating, many, many, orphaned and abandoned children. This couple have been a true inspiration to me about what real love and sacrifice is. They live in one of the poorest nations of the world and fight everyday for their safety and survival, yet they put the needs of others ahead of their own, every single day. You can read more about their story HERE and visit the website of their not-for-profit ministry HERE, or follow them on Facebook HERE.

$1 AUD from every sale of the anthology (paperback or eBook) will go towards changing the life of these children that deserve to live a safe and healthy life, free from poverty and oppression. Future anthologies will also include this promise, so every single sale counts.

Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog. If you’d like to submit a story for consideration of publication, please visit our submissions page. 

Sign up HERE, or fill in the form below to be added to our email list and you will receive a notification when future competitions begin.  You will also receive all the latest news, stories and promos (including giveaways and competitions) as well as a FREE Ebook exclusive to our email subscribers.

Alternatively, go to our COMPETITIONS page for info on the latest competitions!


Get your FREE Ebook

Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

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

ebook button

Featured Image: Mockup psd created by yeven_popov – www.freepik.com

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

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission (at no extra charge to you) should you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog running, thank you.


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.


Waterproof Kindle Oasis 8GB E-reader,

Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog, if you’d like to submit a story for consideration to be published, please visit our submissions page.

If you’d like to keep up to date with all the latest stories, news, promos (including writing competitions and giveaways) plus receive a FREE Ebook, sign up to our mailing list here or fill in the form below.


Get your FREE Ebook

Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

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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Betsy’s Bungalow Bazaar: A Micro Story.

I’d like to thank Alex Grey of the UK for her second submission “Betsy’s Bungalow Bazaar”, a charming, nostalgic micro story .

After a lifetime of writing technical non-fiction, Alex Grey is fulfilling her dream of writing poems and stories that engage the reader’s emotions. Her poems and short stories have been published by a number of ezines including Siren’s Call, Raconteur, Toasted Cheese and Little Old Lady Comedy. One of her comic poems is also available via a worldwide network of public fiction dispensers managed by publisher Short Edition. Alex’s ingredients for contentment are narrowboating, greyhounds, singing and chocolate – it’s a sweet life.

You can read more of Alex’s stories on her blog HERE or read her first story submission to MLS “Knitting for Leo”.

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission (at no extra charge to you) should you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog running, thank you.


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

Betsy’s Bungalow Bazaar

The air was thick with dust as Betsy’s neighbours rummaged through the clutter in the fusty bungalow. They ignored the dreary sandwiches and orange squash on the kitchen table.  

Donna sat in her late mother’s armchair.

Betsy had taken in the town’s cast-offs for decades, tutting at the excessive amount of stuff that people wasted. People flocked to leave things with her. Betty diligently sorted it – clothes, china, cutlery, books…some items were donated to charity; others recycled, but far too many stayed.

“It all got a bit much for her.” said Great-auntie Grace.

Donna nodded again; Grace’s mastery of understatement was astounding.

Every surface was covered with piles of bric-a-brac – a thousand thoughtless gifts dumped on Betsy’s doorstep – cross-eyed love bears, silvered plates etched with sentimental clichés, celebrity memoirs, unread and useless. Each item became a treasure in Betsy’s bazaar, acquiring a mythical value as she evaluated which causes might deserve a donation from her hoard.

Betsy had resisted her daughter’s efforts to clear the house; the forced disposal of even the tiniest gewgaw caused her immense distress. Donna gave up, helpless to save her mother from succumbing to the disordered squalor.

Donna found it hard to accept the shambles that her mother had lived in, recalling how hard Betsy had worked to clear her mum’s house. Nana Edith had memorably hoarded bags of sugar, bars of Sunlight soap and ten thousand pounds, the old bank notes curled into chipped teapots on the dresser. Donna was terrified that she would inherit the hoarding gene and ruin her own uncluttered home.

The day after her mum died, Donna decided to break with tradition. Instead of hiring the village hall, she would hold her mother’s wake in the littered bungalow. She posted invitations in the town’s shop windows – “To celebrate Betty’s life, a wake for all the neighbours who sustained her. Please take a trinket to remember her by.”

Hundreds had come, some greedy, offering desultory condolences while eyeing up the goods; others grieved and shared stories about the knick-knacks that they had chosen. Donna spoke of the amber-stoppered hatpin that she had chosen as her solitary memento. She recounted how, every December, she and her mother would sit by a roaring fire, savouring an exotic treat – a pomegranate. They had taken turns to pick out the seeds using the hatpin – the light of the flames making the translucent seeds glow like rubies.

Donna looked up – a scuffle had broken out. Great-auntie Grace emerged triumphant with a dented biscuit tin in her hands.

“Here, this is yours.”

Donna opened the tin to reveal hundreds of buttons; on the top was a gold silk button that she recognised from her own wedding dress.

“Why?”

“This was her memory box.” said Grace, “Your great-grandmother kept a button from every fancy bit of clothing the family ever wore, from christening gowns to army uniforms to funeral suits. Your grandma and your mum did the same. This is your legacy.”

Donna ran her fingers through the buttons; they were warm and comforting. The pearl, nacre, and plastic caught the light like jewels. She imagined the rusty tin in her ultra-modern house – there might be a good spot for it…


Waterproof Kindle Oasis 8GB E-reader,

Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog, if you’d like to submit a story for consideration to be published, please visit our submissions page.

If you’d like to keep up to date with all the latest stories, news, promos (including writing competitions and giveaways) plus receive a FREE Ebook, sign up to our mailing list here or fill in the form below.


Get your FREE Ebook

Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

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

ebook button