Water: A Short Story for World Mental Health Day

I would like to thank Paula Andrews from the UK for her short story submission ‘Water’. A relatable fictional story, based on true events, reflecting the inner world of a mother suffering from mental health issues.

Around the world it’s World Mental Health Day today (or yesterday for us Aussies!) and where I live in QLD, it’s mental health week. I believe depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are a a bigger part of many people’s lives than we know or can even fathom. Motherhood in particular can be an emotionally draining rollercoaster at times and many of us can suffer in silence for years, believing that no-one understands or could ever help us out of the dark abyss that threatens to steal every moment that was meant for joy.

But there are people who understand, those who have been there, those who are still there and those who may be there in the future. There’s no easy cure for mental illness but there is help. If you suffer from depression, anxiety or any other mental illnesses, please seek help through your local helpline. If your in Australia, Lifeline is a great resource if you’d like someone to talk to. Their number is 13 11 14.

Don’t suffer alone. From someone who has been there ‘there is a light at the end of the tunnel.’

Paula Andrews was born in Yorkshire (origin: England) and has lived in Scotland for 29 years. She is married to a Glaswegian and has two grown-up children (21 and 19 years) both born in Glasgow. She worked as a midwife for twenty-two years; having owned her own craft business, has taught arts and crafts to blind people and has been writing seriously for around eight years. She published her debut novel for teenagers (and adults) early this year, just before lockdown commenced! It is a time-travel ghost story called Oranges and Lemons, crossing modern day with the 1860s.

Paula tells us “I have had work published in Aquila magazine, Scribble magazine and Scottish Memories magazine and have taken first place and other placings across various genres in writing competitions at the Scottish Association of Writers and within my own writers’ group, Strathkelvin Writers’ Group. I have a website and blog dedicated to my writing, which can be found at www.paulaandrews.co.uk“.

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.



Photo by Blanche Peulot on Unsplash

WATER

She hangs the small pink mac on its peg; she knows it’s the right one from the picture card on the wall, displaying a solitary polar bear. Ellie runs away from her. Excited. She’s running towards her favourite thing at the crèche: the water tray. She’ll pour and splash for as long as they’ll let her. A water baby. Like her. Solitary. Like her, too. They’ve identified this as being problematic, on several occasions, in reproachful tones, which annoys her.

            “She needs to play with the other children. And share. Can you work on this at home?”

            Suzie sees her daughter skip through the swing doors without looking back and feels a stab of sadness in the bottom of her chest. Little Ellie is happy yet surprisingly tuned in to her mother’s mood. Suzie knows Ellie doesn’t believe her when she says:

            “I’m fine, Ellie.”

            Because Ellie asks. Often.

            “Are you sad, Mummy?”

            “No, I’m not sad, baby.” Usually, those five words are all she can manage. It feels to Suzie, the less she speaks, the less she lies.

            Sam is at school. Two years Ellie’s senior. They say he’s an old man in a wee boy’s body. My fault, Suzie thinks. She sees it as a negative trait. Another solitary child. How could they be anything else when she’s that way? She should’ve taken him to more classes; art, gymnastics, Little Nature Lovers, everything time would allow, maybe. Well, money wasn’t really an issue. But money hadn’t magically cloaked him with an aura of cordiality at toddler group twice a week. She’d felt bemused when she’d watched him choose his play space: always a couple of metres away from the other children. He’d selected his toy and carried it off, looking back at the group; seeming to measure with his footsteps as he walked. Content with his chosen spot, he’d settled and played with that one toy for the entire session.

            Nevertheless, school seems to be changing him. She feels a detached satisfaction when she watches him run up to his friend, Leo, in the playground each morning.  

            On this morning, she drives home, barely observing the traffic, not using her mirrors. Staring ahead, feeling still but heavy; calm but sad. Sadder than she can even think about. There is no sound inside the car. Her senses seem flattened. Squashed between two heavy mattresses.

            At home, she fumbles with the house keys. For a minute she can’t remember which is the right one. It annoys her. She sighs and lets her arms drop by her sides. She sighs again and a wave of melancholy washes up from her tummy to her scalp and she’s glad of it. A feeling, however bad. Something that makes her real; not some automaton stumbling through this interminable cycle of life: feeding children; a spousal ‘have a good day’ on John’s way out the door each morning; school run; tidying up; washing pots; laundry; two pocket-money hours in the village bookshop every day; and sleeping, but never properly. The keys drop from her limp hand and when she bends to pick them up her knees are wobbling and she nearly keels over.

            She gets inside and sees so many obstacles. Slippers, a bouncy ball, John’s trainers, the tools he fixed the waggly door handle with last night; Ellie’s teddy lies forlornly on the stairs. She relates to the teddy: bedraggled, her clothes slightly askew like its ribbon, her hair and nails a bit grubby like its fur. She could lie beside it at an angle on the stairs and she wouldn’t care. She’d lie there all day. She’d stay there when the phone rang. She’d listen to the message on the answerphone:

            “Mrs Peters, Ellie’s here, waiting to be picked up. Can you call the crèche as soon as you get this message?”

            She wouldn’t move. Not during the message. Not after the message. Perhaps the teddy would turn and look at her, accusingly. Perhaps he’d growl and say:

            “Aren’t you going to answer that? That’s my Ellie you’re neglecting.”

            But instead of lying beside the teddy, she opens the kitchen door. In here, it’s clean and tidy. She filled the dishwasher and wiped the surfaces before the school run. She walks to the sink and turns on the cold tap. The sound of water settles her; it makes her feel clean and refreshed. She runs a bowlful and presses her hands to the bottom. She feels scratch lines radiating across the grey plastic. The dripping tap plinks as she examines her fingernails which are not grubby after all; she just feels that they are. It is so difficult to keep anything clean: the children, the house, herself. Everything feels messy, cluttered, disorganised; her thoughts, muddled; her sleep, disjointed and broken. A miniature bubble forms on the back of one hand then dashes to the surface and pops. I’m going to do that, she thinks. Rise up, all of a sudden and…burst. Unless…unless…


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            Her nose prickles and a tear forms in the corner of her right eye and swells rapidly, building into something monstrous like a tsunami. It’s still there, threatening to spill over. The left eye is starting too. Funny how tears form in one eye first. She looks out of the window into the garden but everything is dull and blurry. Like her sense of place. She can’t distil her purpose into anything meaningful. She can’t see the way forward to the bright future of fulfilment. She can’t battle herway out of the black mire she’s trying to wade through.

            John will know what to do. John, ever loving, ever kind, ever thoughtful, ever, ever, ever, so much it suffocates her sometimes.

            Please phone, John. Tell me what to do.

            But John will ask if she’s taking her medicine and she’ll have to lie. Because the medicine makes her sooo tired.

            John is busy; always in meetings. Please phone, John, she urges. She needs to hear his voice but the phone doesn’t ring and Suzie doesn’t move. Her hands are getting chilled; the ache is rising to her wrists. She looks at the ugly blue pipe of a vein with its jagged junctions. She lifts her hands out of the water and lets them drip on the floor. She looks around the kitchen. It’s a good kitchen. The children’s drawings are stuck neatly in a grid pattern on one wall and she hears Ellie’s voice:

            “Mummy, I’ve painted the sea for you. Because you love the sea, don’t you, Mummy?”

            The painting didn’t really look like the sea. It was a dark mass of flaking black, navy and grey with a swish of ultramarine at the edges where the colours hadn’t merged.

            When the phone did ring, it wasn’t John. It was the school, with their usual opening message.

            “It’s Carol Brown from the school office. Don’t worry, Mrs Peters, there’s nothing the matter with Sam. I’m just calling to check if you have Ellie’s birth certificate. We don’t seem to have received it when you brought her for enrolment. Do you think you could bring it in and we’ll copy it?”

            “Yes, yes, okay, I can do that,” Suzie mumbles, dabbing her eyes. Her voice sounds stilted. She clears her throat with a cough then puts the phone down.

            Did she say birth certificate? Or baptismal certificate? Birth, baptism, both connected with water and the flow of liquid.

            “Water. I need water,” she says. This time her voice is clear and Suzie thinks it sounds loud and intrusive in the house. She tries it again. Just one word.

            “Water.” She remembers she hasn’t spoken out loud for some time. Breakfast this morning had been hurried, the children both chattering and clattering. John had been in a hurry too.

            “Early meeting,” he’d said, kissing her on the cheek and striding, carelessly, obliviously, thoughtlessly to the door. “See you tonight, honey. Bye, kids.”

            The sound of her voice seems to spur Suzie into action. She looks at the clock. Nine-thirty. If she leaves right away, she’ll have time to get back.

            She has purpose now and it feels good. Everything here reminds her how crowded her life is. On the stairs, Mum’s gloves, left by mistake. On the spare bed, a tote containing John’s sister’s birthday present. Ellie’s room, stuffed full with bags; Ellie loves bags. She is always playing weird, solitary games which involve going on a trip and her bags contain random objects. Suzie picks one up. Green sparkly backpack, covered in sequins which are always littering the house, turning up in the strangest places: in John’s socks, trapped between the dinner plates, stuck on the outside of a jam jar in the fridge. Inside the bag are a wooden train (pilfered from Sam), a fabric flower, scrunched paper, a toy banana and a single stripy sock stuffed with plastic animals. God knows what flight of imagination this cornucopia of Ellie’s means. Only Ellie knows that.

            She moves to Sam’s room. His is more orderly: space books stacked on his chest of drawers; a picture he’s doing of a comic-book hero; his pencils; an Edinburgh Castle ornament that Mum bought him. His dressing gown is a big lump like some strange creature on the carpet. Suzie leaves it there.

            In her own room, John’s running kit makes a similar heap: he’d been out before work this morning. His jeans sprawl across the chair. On his bedside table are a collection of small toys waiting to be mended. From her own side of the bed, a mental health magazine lectures, soundlessly. He’d bought it for her. She doesn’t want it; its just being there makes her feel awful.

            People want to intrude in her life all the time.

            “I’m only trying to help, Suzie,” Mum said, impatiently, last week. “Because I love you. I think you should go and see Someone.”

            Suzie isn’t sure who Someone is but she doesn’t want to see them, whatever flavour of psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor they are.

            She thinks of her brother, saying:

            “Come to mine for a couple of days, Suzie. We’ll go out. Have a laugh. You can kip on my settee.”

            The thought of going to Dublin is intolerable even though it’s kind of him to offer. Suzie can’t imagine anything worse for someone who already feels hemmed in. A few years ago, she’d have jumped at the idea. But now, it’s impossible. She’d suffocate.

            She tries to swallow then she forces her voice through the lump in her throat.

            “I need space. Don’t they understand? More space than they can give me. I’m a solitary person and I need to be alone. At least for a while until I can think and concentrate. I need to be away from here, away from all the noise and the mess and the confusion and all those voices and demands and opinions.” Her throat aches.        

            She leaves her phone on the kitchen table. When she starts the car, she isn’t sure where she’ll go. First, she’ll drive. Then she’ll keep driving. She needs to get far away.

            At four o’clock, she reaches a suitable place and she sits on the beach and listens to the sea. She’s free. She feels light. The freezing wind blows through her hair and her thoughts become clear. I’m solitary and free, like a polar bear. She thinks of Ellie’s peg at the crèche.

            Ellie, she thinks. Ellie and Sam. Someone’s children.

            She takes off her shoes and socks and leaves them on the beach. She needs to feel the water, bathe her toes. It’s cold. It’s good. It’s strong. It isn’t enough. She lifts her feet, one, then the other. They suck out of their sandy sockets. She wades forwards. A water baby. Like Ellie. Solitary too. Just like Ellie.



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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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The Beauty of Hands: A Micro Story

 I’d like to thank Jennifer Blanke of the US for her micro story submission ‘The Beauty of Hands’. A touching true story about the symbiotic relationship between hands and the life we lead.

Jennifer Blanke has a BS in Elementary Education and is a mother, teacher, and writer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently working on her Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree at Lindenwood University and is an editorial assistant for The Lindenwood Review.

This will be her first published piece, so it’s an honour to have it on my little blog!

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 running, thank you!


Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

The Beauty of Hands

           My dying grandmother’s delicate hands lay in mine, her fingers curled in the fetal position, like a chipmunk nestled snugly, taking cover from the frigid night.

            I’ve never liked my hands. They’re not elegant, or feminine, or what any girl would wish her hands to be. Palming a basketball wasn’t that amazing when it didn’t transfer to the agile footwork needed to keep me off the bench. I’ve squeezed my big-boned hand through a bracelet, only to panic when I couldn’t remove it. As I comforted my grandmother in her final hours, I glanced down at my large, clunky, masculine hands holding her dainty ones. Visible veins tiring of pumping blood showed through her gossamer skin. My eyes traced the vessels that had carried ninety-six years of life and I was transported to the davenport in the front room of the two-story on Locust Avenue.

            We sat side-by-side at the metal tray tables eating snacks from little bowls, each with a deck of cards in hand, playing solitaire. We worked crosswords and word searches for hours while watching a marathon of game shows. Puzzles were next and I smiled as her hand passed me the final piece to complete the beautiful countryside landscape. Her hands gave.

            Descending the cellar stairs together to get cans from storage, she’d walk ahead of me, her hand smothering mine to the railing, while saying, Now, Jenny, hold on. As if I could let go under her grip. She’d reach for the dusty pull string of the single bulb and leave a gray streak as her fingers gently brushed her black trousers. As the light cast a ghostly glow on the dirt floor, I’d run up the stairs, leaving her to defend herself against the shadow monsters. Her hands protected.

            When Morris the cat appeared on her back porch, she filled the Cool Whip container with water and the Country Crock with kibble every morning and night. When he brought friends, her hands coaxed them closer with food in one palm and stroked soft fur with the other. She made a blanket bed for Morris and the females. I think she was hoping for a litter so she would always have a feline friend. Her hands cared.

            When her epileptic son passed away long before his time and hers, the hands that spent a lifetime preparing food, folding clothes, cleaning house, and providing companionship, knew not what to do. Every moment of every day was spent taking care of his needs. Her family was her life and she would have to find something to fill her days. Her hands loved.

            When Alzheimer’s consumed my granddad’s body and she could no longer take care of him, her hands signed the forms admitting him into the assisted care facility. She visited daily, bringing him the paper and his favorite candy. She remained by his side until he passed even after he forgot the voices of his children, the faces of his grandkids, and her name. Her hands grieved.

            The static hum of the fluorescent lights and the scent of antiseptic and death assailed my senses pulling me away from the flow of memories. The wrinkled hands that I held mirrored an entire lifetime. Her gracious hands saw the best and the worst and they were ready to finally rest.     I blinked away the stream of tears and saw my hands reflected in hers. They looked so lovely in her light. My gentle hands stroked my tiny newborn’s brow as she nursed. They carried my strong-willed toddler to the time-out chair. My hands stirred cumin into my family’s favorite chili. They held my love’s hands, tucked safely in his strength. I saw my own devoted hands paying the bills, handing over the car keys, comforting my disappointed daughter, and welcoming my oldest home after a difficult first year of college.

            Giving, protecting, caring, loving, grieving. It was then that I saw: my hands were just like hers.



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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All the Better to Save You: A Micro Story

I’d like to thank Adele Evershed for her micro-story submission ‘All the Better to Save You’, a touching and emotionally raw story based on true events.

Adele tells us that she is a native of Wales transplanted to Connecticut, and is teacher and mother of four. When her daughter left for college she was left with her three soccer mad sons and husband and so she started to dabble with storytelling as a way to maintain her sanity. Adele has had work or will be having work published in ‘Reflex Fiction’, ‘Everyday Fiction’, ‘FlashFiction Journal’ and ‘Three Drops from a Cauldron’. She was a recent semi-finalist in the London Independent Story Prize Competition for her story about the challenges of aging.

*TRIGGER WARNING: This story mentions miscarriage.


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All the Better to Save You

She sat on the too small chair and pressed her knees into the dough of her stomach. With her acrylic nails she chipped away at the dry drops of red paint like fallen petals strewn over the tabletop. The kids had been copying an amaryllis; it’s long lines and limited palette made it perfect for a three year old to attempt. The paintings hung gaily above her head in direct contradiction to her mood.

Lorna tipped her head forward so her long wavy hair could act like a curtain as a squall of tears engulfed her. It didn’t seem fair having to spend her days coddling other people’s children when she seemed unable to have any of her own. She had spent the weekend before last with her legs pressed together, reaching towards heaven in a gross approximation of prayer to try and keep hold of the life inside her. It hadn’t worked and when she got to the hospital she was told her pregnancy had been a blighted ovum. It almost sounded like poetry. This time she had got to eleven weeks before she miscarried and so she had been starting to feel tendrils of hope that this was the one. Now those had been yanked up by the root.

Lorna uncurled from the chair and went to wash her face at the too small sink. Moving around her classroom she always felt like a giant, in the outside world. Being only five foot she was more like Thumbelina. Lorna had always loved fairy tales and it was this desire to linger passed childhood in the stories of the Brothers Grimm that drew her into teaching in the first place. As she looked in the tiny mirror, her face was distorted and she felt like one of the coffee-filter snowflakes that were stuck to the window. She was made up of all that was not there. The diamond or triangular holes-babies she never held or even named, the white paper remnants-the scraps of herself left behind after each disappointment.

Lorna caught up her hair and twisted it into a tight bun on top of her head; she liked the way it added inches to her height. She practiced her yoga breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth and for good measure threw in the mantra from the last class she had gone to, “I change my thoughts; I change my world!”

As she peeled off the glitter-heavy snowflakes and posted them into cubbies she imagined herself keeping the next baby. She would hide him under the arch of her eyebrow and nurse his heart with her own. She would fix him to the roots of her hair and let it grow until it touched the ground, she would weave him into the lifeline on her hands and fill her mouth with his name. And she thought, “Because this is my fairy-tale we will both live happily ever after!”

Kindle Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash


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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Waving Goodbye: A True Story

I would like to thank Alice Horibe of the US for her ‘true’ micro story submission “Waving Goodbye”, a sweet tale of memories and nostalgia.

Alice is a mother of three grown sons and she has one grandson. She tells us “when I was a young, I recall wishing for the wisdom of my older peers. I realize now that wisdom is simply paying attention to the world around you over many years. I appreciate the opportunity to share these observations, and find great joy in writing them down.”

You can find this and many other stories on Alice’s blog at www.alicehoribe.wordpress.com



Waving Goodbye

I was never a fan of scary rides, yet I looked forward to my summertime visits to Elitch Gardens.  This was not your average amusement park.  Founded in the 1890’s they prided themselves on the beauty of their flowers as much as the variety of games and rides.  Nobu and I went every summer from the time we were dating through the 1990’s when it was torn down.

            We would follow the same route through the park, admiring the giant hanging baskets, the aroma mingling with the smell of popping corn, the taste of warm, pink cotton candy and the sounds of happy squealing ebbing and flowing as the rides went up and down.  Even the most remote corner pulsated with fun.

            What had always been a pleasant excursion took on a new dimension when our son Neil was three.  That was the year we discovered Kiddie Land.  It was largely hidden from the rest of the park, encircled by large trees. But once within there were so many colorful, child-sized activities to keep their young audience busy!

            Neil rode the airplanes first, hoping to snag the red one, pulling the lever that controlled the gentle sloping of his craft.  Next came the race cars, always the orange one.

            I liked the boats.  Neil would dutifully give the attendant his two tickets and bound off, leaping in the sea craft, grasping the steering wheel in one hand, the cord to the bell in the other.

            The ride would start it’s slow, predetermined route and Neil and I would wave like mad to each other, him clanging the bell and me saying, “Goodbye, see you soon.”

            The boat would dip behind the thick bushes and my son would disappear.  I’d quickly shift left, waiting to catch that first glimpse of him as he came back, our eyes locking at the same moment.  He’d start clanging with renewed vigor, both of us waving, “Hello!  Hello!”


          


 

Neil and I did this every summer until he was old enough to go on the regular rides with his dad.  By then, Evan was three and I would stay in Kiddie Land, meeting up with the others for lunch and games.

            Once–just once–I became distracted by the mom standing next to me and didn’t wave “Hello” as Evan rounded the bend.  His shoulders slumped as he stopped ringing the bell.  He looked so sad.  I made up for it by hopping a bit from one foot to the other the next time he completed the circle, calling loudly, “Hello Evan.  Hello!”

            Soon enough it was Evan’s time to go off with Nobu and Neil while I went with Andrew to that secluded corner.  I was content.

            One year when Andrew got in the boat I couldn’t help but notice his knees were folded up near his chin and he had to scooch to fit in the seat.

            I knew that this was to be my last time in Kiddie Land.

            The thick canopy of foliage barely masked the oppressive August heat, the humidity mixing with the already thick air as it rose in visible waves from the concrete to the sky.  The world took on the appearance of a mirage.  I had left my drink on a park bench and I could feel the creeping effects of dehydration.

            The ride started and I began my ritual of “Goodbye, see you soon,” trying to ignore my light-headedness.  The children started to move.

            Suddenly, I saw Neil at three waving goodbye, then Evan and now Andrew, the illusion of being left behind so real I clutched the back of the park bench, tears and sweat leaving my cheeks chapped.

            Today they are all grown up, the illusion a reality.  I have waved goodbye at schools and airports, first apartments and visits home for the holidays.

            Even now, as they drive off with their own families, I keep waving long after they’ve disappeared just in case they turn around to see if I’m still watching. 



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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Troops 123’s Annual Popcorn Fundraiser: A True Story

I’d like to thank Margaret Koger of the US for her true story submission “Troop 123’s Annual Popcorn Fundraiser”, a sentimental tale about the joys of grandparent duties.

Margaret is a retired school media specialist with a writing habit living in Boise, Idaho. She says she writes in hopes of adding small strands of connective tissue to our shared web of life. Most of her recent publications include poetry and short stories published locally and online. One of her favourites can be found at https://www.idahomagazine.com/contests/fiction-writing-winners/christmas-in-central-cove-2015-first-place-adult-division/.

Margaret tells us “My memoir recounts the days I spent helping my grandson earn money for his Boy Scout activities and for the troop he belonged to–actually Troop 123. Of all that I did for my grandson as he went through the teen years, this was the best. I stood in the background watching him walk door-to-door for his fundraiser–how he presented his invitation to buy and how people reacted. Truly a Grand Mum experience and an honor to write about.”

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 help me keep this page running, thank you!

Photo Credit: Sophie Dale on Unsplash


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Troop 123

Troop 123’s Annual Popcorn Fundraiser

When I arrive at my grandson’s home, Ramsey enters the living room dressed in his uniform: tan shirt, red tie, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) tie clasp, green khaki shorts, and a worn, billed cap with its official logo. ‘Ah’ I think ‘shorts’. It’s October, the poplar leaves are turning color and there is an abundance of crisp air circulating at ground level. Never mind, I have my coat, hat, and gloves and I’m ready to walk with him as he rings doorbells and makes his pitch, trying to raise enough money to pay for next summer’s scouting activities.

He positions himself in front of each door, his sales placard front, and center, his legs spread a bit as if the opening of the door could blow him away. “Hi, I’m Ramsey and I’m here for our annual Troop 123 fundraiser. This year we have our one pound white cheddar, our …

In the short ride to Cobbler’s Creek where we’ve sold popcorn for the last four years, I have a chance to talk with the eighth-grader. I tell him the stories of his infant times when I took care of him while his mother worked. He’s fifteen now,  six foot two, recumbent where he’s seated in my little Subaru like a willowy sapling bent down and ready to spring up when released. I turn the radio on and we discuss music, the “Okay” radio station because it plays everything. “Really I like 80’s and 90’s music.”

I’m sure I’ll recognize and enjoy some of the popular songs from these two “long ago” decades so I say, “Yes,” even though I’ve become a classical music fan, mostly listening to CDs from the late 19th and the early 20th Century.

“So much of the new rap is nothing but a joke.” he adds.

I think of one reason he loves music so much. Band is his favorite subject where he specializes in percussion: drums, xylophone, cymbals, and so on. His junior high music teacher leads an after school jazz band where he gets a couple of extra hours of rhythm twice a week. “Why you love music so much?” I ask. “Well, when you were a baby, I played a symphony for you every day. Every day the same symphony, written by a Scottish musician named Bantok, celebrating the Hebrides Islands off the northeast coast of Scotland. I’d hold you to my chest and we’d dance around the living room. It helps with brain development so I gave it a try.”


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Echo Dot (3rd Gen) – Smart Speaker with Alexa


Photo by Lazar Gugleta on Unsplash

A song by Sam Cook comes on the radio: “She was only sixteen, only sixteen/ I loved her so/ But she was too young to fall in love/ And I was too young to know.”

“I heard this song in Portugal last month,” I say. “You used to love it!”

“I still like it, it’s just not one of my favorites now,” he answers.

Other days we talk more about school, his friends, my activities, and his family—even about my teenage years—revealing how the angst of being a teenager continues with many of the same challenges in discovering one’s identity. After ten or fifteen minutes of driving, we arrive and park. It’s time.

With Ramsey, even selling popcorn is rhythmic. Beyond the ring of the doorbell, the wait, more waiting, the sometimes appearance of a person, managing the door, the screen door, the dog, and the all-important pitch. For a couple of hours in the evening, after the workers arrive home and settle in and even during dinnertime, people will answer the door and buy popcorn although we get plenty of unanswered doorbells and “not interested” responses.

Others don’t want popcorn, but they donate cash, anywhere from a couple of bucks to $10 or even $20. One evening as we looped back from a culdesac a woman came out of a house where no one answered the doorbell. In bare feet, she crossed the street to hand Ramsey a $20 bill. “We don’t want the sweets, but I wanted to help you guys out,” she said.

Older people like to draw Ramsey out. “How long have you been in scouts?” “What does the money you raise go for?” “My husband was in scouts and both my boys.” One remarkable young man says, “I see the order form hasn’t changed since I was selling!”

“You again!” one woman exclaims. Each year she’s reported on the health of her husband, a former Eagle Scout and WWII Medal of Honor winner. Last fall she thought they’d have to move because he couldn’t climb the stairs. Then, last summer he died—and she still doesn’t know how much she’ll receive in benefits—she’ll have to pass on buying this time. “You may have read about it in the paper. He was ninety-two,” she says. “It was time. I’m ready too, I’m eighty-eight, and I’m tired.”

“So sorry,” we reply. “So sorry.”

This year, for the first time, several people have insisted we both come inside, “You too,” they say as they wave for me to come in. For some, it’s a change that quiets the dog, for others, it’s about hospitality. “I won’t bite,” says the owner of Jana’s Haircutting Store. Another woman is watching Ken Burns Viet Nam program on public television. “It’s so awful,” she cries. “We didn’t know and those protesters did!”

“Did you say when the delivery will be?” an older buyer asks. “Just before Thanksgiving,” Ramsey assures her.

“That’s such a long time from now! We’ll forget we ordered the popcorn,” she exclaims.

“Well, we have to have a lot of time to sell,” Ramsey replies.

And I know he’s thinking of all the streets we walk, up and down, offering the caramel corn and yogurt pretzels that many people are wary of—giving up sugar, not eating corn, bad for our health—and how they often buy anyway. Who can resist a six-foot-two beanpole with short hair and a face reddened by the chill holding such luscious illustrations of popcorn?

“I’ll be using whatever I buy as gifts,” one buyer says and she orders large bags so she won’t be tempted to open them for her own use. It was as we left her house that Ramsey said, “Sell now, sneeze later. I just found out I’m allergic to cats!”

Since seventy-three percent of the sales apply to camping fees, troop activities, and funding for the national organization, each sale is really a donation. But I know the sugary temptations increase the buyer’s desire to help. Ramsey and his brother Riley have sold enough popcorn in the past to completely fund their camp excursions, as well as adding to troop funds, which earns them praise for being role models to younger scouts.

But I think the contact with people in their homes and the push of learning to talk with strangers has been the most invaluable part of the activity for the boys. As cute little guys, when they rang the doorbell, lots of people were charmed into buying. Now it often takes a man answering the door. He may have a hard time saying no to the gangly eighth-grader who prompts memories of his own youth when growing up was so hard to do.

Selling popcorn door to door wasn’t anything I ever expected to be a part of; however, as I stand on the sidewalk holding the order sheet and pen at the ready, I’m eager to smile and wave to whoever opens the door—yes, he has an adult with him and she’s glad to be here.


Thanks

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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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A Mother’s Rites: A Short Story

I’m very honoured to present this short story, from a writer who has had many writings published in many reputable places. I’d like to thank Steve Carr for his submission “A Mother’s Rites”, a touching short story based on true events, about a Mother’s journey of love and remembrance. Originally published in Wagon Magazine in 2017.

Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 400 short stories published internationally in print and in online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies, since June, 2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories published, including Sand, Rain, Heat, The Tales of Talker Knock , 50 Short Stories: The Very Best of Steve Carr, LGBTQ: 33 Stories, and The Theory of Existence: 50 Short Stories.

His paranormal/horror novel Redbird was released in November, 2019. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. and last but definitely not least, he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, twice. He has also written a guide book to getting your short stories published (see it at the end of this post).

His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com / or you can find him on Facebook or Twitter @carrsteven960



This page contains an affiliate link 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 page running, thank you.

A Mother's Rites

Photo credits: Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

A Mother’s Rites

Thursday before the last weekend in August, hot wind perfumed with the drying golden grass that covers most of the roadside mounds of heated earth, blows in through the open windows. The rush of wind fills the car’s interior. Harriet’s normal speed on this stretch of interstate headed east, and she knows it well, having traveled it often throughout the years. Dying quick deaths, bugs splatter on the windshield leaving blotches and streaks. His face stuck out of the back window, long ears dancing about his head, tongue extended lapping in the scents of summer decay, Lucky wags his tail, a satisfied partner to the viewing of the open countryside being passed at seventy miles per hour.

At the turnoff to Wasta the car is slowed and here Harriet turns and decreases the car’s speed to forty miles per hour and then decreases it even more as she enters the small town. Wasta has changed very little over the years. A few ramshackle buildings line what could be called the downtown area. At fifteen miles per hour she cruises through Wasta and continues out of this throwback to dreams that never happened of becoming a traveler’s stop, usurped by the clever marketing of ice water offered in nearby Wall.

Outside of Wasta a few houses stand along the road she takes, it being an unlikely and almost desolate environment in which to encourage homesteading. It leads to the dried muddy banks of the Cheyenne River where dead trees submerged each spring in the yearly floods remain rotting in place.

Here, she puts her foot on the brake pedal and the car comes to a stop alongside a rusty barbed wire fence, a boundary marker for some land owner protecting his wasteland from – what? Harriet gets out of the car and then lets Lucky out. The dog runs off toward the river, his barks muted by the silence that hangs over this place like a death shroud. Harriet steps over some fallen fence wire and treads across the gray cracked earth, headed toward the river.

No grass or weed or wildflower grows along the river bank, only varying hues of dried red mud provide color. The river is barely a stream that moves slowly on its way to wherever it is destined to end. The water is brackish and unappealing, only tempting to Lucky who bounces over it and through it with abundant energy. On the opposite bank a lone cow, head bent and moving slowly, makes its way upriver. Lucky seems unimpressed with it and continues his frolic to and fro across the Cheyenne.                         

Harriet’s son, Jeffrey, thought this place magical, the name Cheyenne bringing to mind the days when the Sioux Indians roamed these parts in search of the great herds of buffalo, a place where movies were made to recall the glorified struggles between land seeking settlers and the noble Indian. Here he had searched the ground for arrowheads, never finding one but always hopeful. Lucky was his companion, sticking near him awaiting a friendly pat on the head or encouragement to join him and run along the muddy river until both were coated with thick globs of wet soil.


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Kindle Paperwhite Waterproof


Inhaling, the air here was dense with the almost fetid odor of lifelessness, that and the drying cow pies that dotted the ground like drying black pimples. Harriet too is entranced by this place. She had happened on it quite by accident one summer when Jeffrey was very young and inspired by him being enamored with its other-worldly quality, they had returned every year at the same time, finding nothing changed, nothing new except an occasional fallen tree or the carcass of a dead cow. While all else seemed altered by time, this small stretch along the Cheyenne River never did.

Lucky responds to her whistle, rushing to her side, his fur matted with mud, his eyes bright and if it is possible for a dog, full of joy. She leads him back to the car and there she opens a large thermos of cold water and douses him with it and rubs the mud and grime off of him. He is cleaner but not entirely free of the evidence of the excursion. She opens the back door and he leaps onto the seat. She takes her place behind the wheel, starts the car and turns back toward Wasta and back to the interstate.

Fifteen minutes later she pulls into Wall, stops at the corner convenience store and fills her gas tank, refills the thermos from a faucet extending out from a wall outside the store, then heads into town. Cars line the main street, parked at angles on each side of a median strip. Storefronts on each side of the street, most built or remodeled to look like a nineteenth century western town, are crowded with tourists gaping in the windows at shelves upon shelves of western and frontier souvenirs.

Harriet pulls off on a side street, finds a shady spot to park the car, rolls down the window to give Lucky some air in the late afternoon heat, and fills his water dish and sits it on the floor in the back. He knows the routine and doesn’t complain other than to look longingly at Harriet as she closes the door and heads toward Wall Drug Store.

Glaringly commercial, overstocked with cheap trinkets, it is room upon room attached to make a good-sized mall of useless paraphernalia for a town of less than 900 people, and crowded it has come a long way since its inception as a simple place for people to stop and get a free glass of ice water. She knows her way to the cafeteria and without stopping to look at Indian headdresses or plastic colt 45s as Harriet might have done had Jeffrey been along, she goes straight to the counter and in quick fashion given the length of the line that was ahead of her, orders a buffalo burger and fries and a diet Coke. She takes her tray with her order number on a small placard placed on it and goes into the large dining room. Surrounded by dark paneled walls covered with original works of western art, she takes a seat at a long table in the center of the cafeteria, in between a hodgepodge of men, women and children noisily living up the experience of being in this amusement park that has no rides other than a horse that requires a quarter to make it buck for a minute or two while a child sits on it.

The food arrives quickly, delivered by one of the students from a nearby college hired for the summer to supplement the workforce that Wall and the surrounding area was lacking. Of three places in this journey, this was Jeffrey’s second favorite, owing to its stacks of useless junk and lack of shame in providing nothing authentic other than the paintings on the wall, which he had studied as carefully as possible, reveling in those that were of mountain men, stallions on their hind legs, Indians on snowy plains and ragged buffalo in raging stampedes. Harriet eats only half of the burger and few of the fries, wrapping them in a napkin to be carried to Lucky. She stops at the counter again and buys two of Wall’s cake donuts, considered by Jeffrey to be the best donuts in the world, bar none. She leaves the drugstore through a different door than the one she came in by and makes her way down the street to a very wagging-tailed dog pleased with his treat which he devours almost as soon as it is offered to him.

At the end of the street and before leaving Wall is the only local grocery store, a small mom and pop place with five aisles that provides the basics for the locals and anything that someone who intends to camp at the nearby Badlands National Park would need. Harriet buys coal for a grill, two bags of ice and a variety of smaller items and some Slim Jims for Lucky. She leaves the store carrying two bags, one with the ice, the other with the remaining items. At the car she opens the trunk and moves aside the folded up tent, a shovel, and a small cardboard box with the top neatly taped closed and lifted out the ice chest and places it on the ground. In goes the ice, several bottles of orange juice, a pack of hot dogs and a package of bologna. She repacks the trunk and sets off again, leaving Wall.

From Wall to the entrance of the Badlands National Park it is only a few miles, and the famous rock formations begin a few miles beyond the turnoff past the entrance, the right handed turnoff that Harriet takes after buying a pass to allow her to camp until Sunday. Small gray clouds of dirt and gravel kick up behind her as she drives slowly past a broad stretch of prairie on the right and a ridge overlooking a deep valley with rolling hills of rock and stretches of barren land and yellow prairie grass to the right. Even before arriving at it, the wooden signs with silver lettering directs her toward the prairie dog town straight ahead. Cars are parked on each side of the road, with people milling about
with cameras pointed at the prairie dogs who stand at alert on their hind legs atop their mounds a hundred feet from the edge of the road, or they dash in and out of the hundred or so holes that beneath constitute their habitats. Harriet drives by the parked cars and the prairie dogs very slowly, swallowing hard against the rush of emotion that is overtaking her. Beyond there she picks up speed and takes the turns and stretches of straight flat unfinished road all the way to the campgrounds barely noticing how little anything has changed, after all it had only been a year since the last time she and Jeffrey had been there.

An oval-shaped space the size of several football fields bordered on one side by a wall of rock and a stretch of land cut through by a dry creek bed on the other, the campground is busy but not crowded. Harriet pulls into the closest available spot nearest an old dead tree that Jeffrey had cut his initials into, and parks the car. Keeping Lucky in the back seat, barking to be set free at last, she unpacks the trunk, sets up the tent and lays out the sleeping bags as well as the ice chest inside it. When set up she hooks Lucky’s leash to his collar and lets him out of the car and walks toward the creek bed, stopping to let him survey the myriad of scents and to relieve himself. Harriet is tired now, and she sits on a ledge of rock and watches small birds, terns or swifts, she wasn’t sure which, circling overhead, occasionally dipping down to the creek bed and scooping up something much too small to be seen by her. In the distance she hears the one bird sound she knew at some deeper level, the call of a meadowlark, his short melodic warble echoing from some nearby stretch of grass and down the creek all the way to her heart.




Saturday morning, Lucky is curled in a ball by her side and breathing heavily, Harriet awakes and sees the moving shadow on the side of the tent. She undoes the zipper on the sleeping bag and crawls to the tent door and unzips it and sticks her head out. Five feet away a large, mangy buffalo is nibbling at a small tuft of grass as its dozen or so companions do the same not much further away. Lucky is now up, attempting to push his way past her. She quickly zips up the tent door and sits back down on the sleeping bag, quietly opening the ice chest and taking out a bottle of juice and twisting off the cap and relishing the coolness of it as she drinks. Buffalo are unpredictable and dangerous, so she makes as little noise as possible, opening a package of Slim Jims from their noisy plastic wrapping with great care then feeding it to Lucky. Exactly when she falls asleep again she later does not recall, but it was near noon when she awakes in the hot tent with Lucky jumping about eager to take care of business. The buffalo are gone.

Throughout the day she takes brief walks to the creek bed, mainly to give Lucky exercise, but mainly stays near the tent sitting on an Indian blanket she had purchased at a small store in Scenic years ago, and reading Willa Cather’s “Oh, Pioneer.” She snacks on bologna sandwiches and fig Newton’s. The campers around her are cordial without being intrusive and tend to their own activities without pressing her to join them, which is exactly how she wants it to be. As evening approaches with purple skies and silvery clouds fading away in the darkness, she builds a small fire in the grill that had been built by the park service, basically a pit dug in the ground surrounded by a small circular wall of iron and topped with a grill of metal bars blackened by the fires that had been built beneath it. When darkness sets in she places two hot dogs on the grill and listens to the grease crackle as it falls into the fire. She opens a can of Lucky’s favorite dog food for him and they eat together, seated next to one another on the Indian blanket. While others in the campground are still awake, she crawls into her tent with Lucky and pulling him to her, settles into the sleeping bag and falls sound asleep.

Harriet is awake even before the Sunday morning sun rises over the campground. She lies in the sleeping bag rubbing Lucky’s ear much to his apparent delight and listening to the distant sounds of a coyote, and the nearer sounds of birds in the nearby trees giving song to the beginning of day. As light begins to creep across the tent, she hooks Lucky to his leash and takes him down to the creek bed and unhooks it, letting him run about free for nearly an hour before calling him to her side and walking him back to the campsite. Other campers are preparing to leave, with tents being taken down and folded and stacked onto car tops or in car trunks. Some weekend holdouts like her are taking it slower, fixing a final breakfast of eggs and bacon prepared in cast iron skillets placed on the grill, or heading off for a final walk down the ravines or up to the hilltop hoping for one last sighting of buffalo.  “This is it,” she says to Lucky, realizing that she had barely spoken more than those three words all weekend.

She opens the trunk of the car and takes out the shovel, then goes to the tree that had Jeffrey’s initials and at its base she begins to dig a small hole. Once she makes her way down about two feet she stops digging and sits the shovel aside. Lucky is tied to the car and is whining and straining at his leash. She pets his head and then takes the small box out of the trunk of the car and carefully peels the tape from the two flaps at its top. She lifts out a bundle, and carefully removes the bubble wrap and cotton and throws the wrapping items into the trunk. In her hands she holds a bright blue earthen jar decorated with a variety of images; footballs, cowboys, spaceships, and one of Lucky. She retrieves the two donuts from the car, then walks over to the hole and removes the lid from the jar and pours ashes from the jar into the hole. Once the jar is emptied she places the donuts on top of the ashes then replaces the dirt in the hole and pats it down. She thinks that maybe she should say a few words, but none came to mind. This is not a time for words.



A Guidebook

With his list of accomplishments, Steve Carr is one of the most qualified people on the planet to give other writers practical advice on the ins and outs of getting a short story published. His guidebook ‘Getting Your Short Stories Published’ reveals his organizing system and his methodology for approaching publishers, and is full of top tips to get your work in print. It’s a must-have for any aspiring short story writer.

You can find in on Amazon or click the book cover below.

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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