44 comments

Nov 28, 2020

Sad Coming of Age Contemporary

"Mom, can I go over to Jaime's house after school today?" Daniel asked at age six, standing on his tiptoes on the counter as he pulled down a box of cereal.

"No," she answered immediately, taking the box from him. "Get down. You're going to fall and crack your head open. Get down, I said!"

He got down reluctantly.

"I just want to play a little, Mom," he said. "For an hour? Jaime said his mom would have snacks."

"I said no and I mean no."

"Why not?"

Marjorie sighed and put her hands on her hips. The skin under her eyes was grey, her face lined, her hair tied back in a tired ponytail. "Friends will always leave you, Danny. Best to keep to yourself. You can always trust yourself."

If he were older and wiser, Daniel would have responded with, Sometimes you can't.

And that's why you need friends, his father would have added.

Instead, he turned and walked away. Upstairs he would change into his uniform, comb his straw-colored hair, gather his books into his ragged backpack. He'd go and wait for the bus, which always brought others: bullies and never friends.




"Mom, I'm going to stay half an hour after school today and look at the science fair," Daniel said at age ten. He straightened his backpack in the mirror and ducked when his mother came forward with a comb.

"No, you're not. You're coming straight home."

"Please, Mom! They're taking them down after today and I want to see where mine placed. I might've won!"

"You're going to let ambition get to your head, Daniel," Marjorie said impatiently, grabbing him by the shoulder and holding him in place so she could comb his hair. "You'll turn out puffed up and prideful and I didn't raise you that way."

If he were older and wiser, Daniel would have responded with, A little ambition is a good thing, Mom.

And if he were alive, his father would have added, It makes a person's heart a little stronger. Makes someone wiser.

But instead, Daniel put his head down, went outside, and waited for the bus. Which brought him to people he dreaded.




"Mom, Jaime's having a birthday party at his house. Can I go?" Daniel asked, age sixteen. He had just surpassed his mother in height and was very conscious of that fact. But they both knew who was taller, in the sense of who was boss. He dared not talk back to her.

Sometimes, alone at night, he wondered how tall his dad had been.

"Of course not."

"Mom, please. It's a sleepover but I'd come home at ten."

"Ten? Daniel, how'd you think I raised you? Ten's an unholy hour. Is it a co-ed sleepover?"

He nodded dumbly.

She rocked back on her heels, against the stove, in satisfaction. "I thought so. I don't want you associating with people who party like that. Who knows what happens at parties like that? You're not to go to Jaime's house again."

"Mom!"

"You heard me. Not even for homework. I can't stop your friendship in school but I can by God stop him from turning you into another good-for-nothing partying teen. You're better than that."

"I guess you'd say that fun's overrated?"

"Friendships are overrated. So's fun. It only weakens you for the grim reality of life."

If Daniel were older and wiser he would have responded with, So let me see the grim reality of life, Mom. Otherwise I'm unprepared.

If Marjorie's husband were alive he would have added, It's good to let him see both the good and the bad of life, hon. He'll grow up a pessimist if he doesn't. Let him grow.

But instead, Daniel put his hands in his pockets and went to call Jaime to tell him he couldn't come. And to wish him a happy birthday.




"Mom, I've applied to Humboldt -- guess what! Jaime and I both got in!" Daniel, age eighteen, sat on the floor with a sandwich while his mother made worried notes in her checkbook.

"Did you get a scholarship?"

His shoulders sagged. "Full ride. Science and tech. Is that all you care about?"

"Don't talk to me like that. Where is Humboldt?"

"Germany."

"Hell no, kid. You're going here, in Spain."

"Mom! I've got a good scholarship in Germany -- where else am I supposed to go?"

"Complutense has a good financial aid program. Apply there."

"No."

She stopped scribbling in her checkbook and stared at him. "Yes you are."

"No."

"Daniel! What do you think I've been trying to do your whole life?"

"Keep me in a cage."

"Raise you right! Every time, every friend you've ever made, I've reminded you what life has shoved down my throat all my life: Friends betray you. Ambition wounds you. Life hurts the whole time. I've tried to show you -- prepare you -- life! For life!"

He stood, sandwich unfinished and dripping mustard, and said, "You've kept me alone all my life, not a friend, no one. You hate me. Well, so be it. I hate you too."

"Don't you walk away from me, young man!" she shouted, standing.

He rounded. "I'm leaving! You've got your wish."

Daniel ran upstairs, shoved clothes and money into his backpack, threw on his shoes, slammed the front door. Marjorie stood, empty checkbook in hand, watching the glass vibrate in the front door.

If Daniel had been older and wiser, he would have returned, and said to her, Mom, I'm sorry.

And if he were alive, Daniel's dad would have said, Let him go, Marje. You've done what you could.

Instead, the house was empty and silent.




"Hi, this is Daniel," Daniel's voice said, age twenty-four.

"Hi, Dan," Marjorie said quietly. "I was calling just to say hello and to ask -- "

"Mom," Daniel said patiently, anger buried in his quiet voice. "There's a reason I haven't called in six years. I love you. Please don't call me again."

"I -- oh!" she gasped as Daniel hung up.

If she were older and wiser, she would have called right back and said, I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you.

Instead, she blinked back tears, shoved her phone into her pocket, and said nothing. Around her, the kitchen was dark and cold and lonely.




"Hi, you've reached Daniel," Daniel's voice said, age twenty-six. "Leave a message and I'll call you back. Thanks!"

Beep.

"Hi, Dan," Marjorie said quietly. Around her, the hotel room was cold and quiet. She wondered where he was. He'd graduated from Humboldt four years earlier, and she knew that he was living somewhere in England. But that was all. "I -- just wanted to wish you a happy birthday."

She paused. Outside the window, a tiny shrike bird lighted on the sill, wings outstretched. A larger shrike, its mother, lighted next to it and began to pester it, beating it over the head with its wings and letting out shrill, sharp screeches. Marjorie burst into crazed laughter.

Then she got a hold of herself. "Listen, Daniel. Um... I'm sorry. I'm -- proud of you."

She blinked away tears.

"I was wrong. I was too overprotective, and I'm sorry. It's my fault we're apart like this."

She sniffed and looked around the room.

"Please give me a call, Daniel. I love you. Bye."

She hung up.

If she were older and wiser, Marjorie would have said on the phone, I was wrong about the friends, the ambition, life. Are you ruined because of me?

And if he were alive, her husband would have said, He isn't. He's all the better because of what you've done.

You've done better than I ever could.

"I was just trying my best," she told the room and herself. "I don't even know where he lives."

She choked back a sob and looked sadly at the cold hotel room.




"It's Mom," Daniel told Clare later that day, listening to the voicemail. He sat at the sunny kitchen table, watching a starling peck at rotten apples on the ground.

"Oh. How's she?"

"She sounds okay. She says happy birthday."

"That's sweet. You should call her back." Clare leaned over Daniel and put put her chin on top of his head.

He thought, If I were a wiser man I'd call her back --

"Daniel," Clare said.

Daniel set his phone down on the table, hesitated, and then picked it up.

He looked at Clare.

She nodded.

Then, sighing, Daniel dialed the number, waited, and said, "Mom? Hi."

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

44 comments

Waverley Stark
09:31 Nov 29, 2020

This is a very cute story. Sad and nice at the same time. I like the repetition throughout; it makes it seem like a poem or a song or something. Feedback: I think that there needs to be more growth with Marjorie. You see her being harsh and angry, and then suddenly feeling bad for everything with the reader not seeing her thought process. Other than that, very good. You've done an amazing job! :)

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
23:05 Nov 29, 2020

Hi Waverley! Long time no "see." Thanks for dropping by. I haven't gotten around to editing this yet, but I'll definitely be working on Marjorie. Maybe a transition section where she calls for the first time and he turns her away, and she's hurt but starts to change her mind.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
12:15 Nov 29, 2020

Wow. Love and sparkles love and sparkles! 💕✨ This one was truly awesome. I felt the sadness without even having to think about it. The emotions are clear and raw and real. Beautiful work. Cannot say how much I loved this. As for critiques? I see some others down below talking about structure and Marjorie’s character development being a little weak, but I think it’s not unrealistic at all. She does experience a full turn around, but it’s not abrupt, and it’s inferred that many years have passed, allowing her to ‘soak in the situation...

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
23:07 Nov 29, 2020

💕✨ Shocking. Thanks! I'll work a little on Marjorie, maybe add a scene between the last and second to last to help along that transition. I like your analogy of soaking. How's your book coming along? I haven't checked it in a while.

Reply

00:58 Nov 30, 2020

My book honestly hasn't changed much--I've been unable to use my computer for the last week. Right now I'm actually working on adding a whole new chapter in between the second and third. I realized that it needed something else, so I'm gonna try to crank that out in the next few days. I also have more reading time, so I'm gonna try and get through SoTI soon. :)

Reply

Amaya Macaulay
00:41 Dec 01, 2020

what's SoTI? sorry for butting in lol

Reply

01:36 Dec 01, 2020

Just ask Zilla. ;)

Reply

Amaya Macaulay
01:37 Dec 01, 2020

haha okay :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Zilla Babbitt
15:22 Dec 01, 2020

Sounds great! It's always good to take a short break and then look at what you already have :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
Amaya Macaulay
01:37 Dec 01, 2020

what's SoTI? asked Leo but he said to ask youuu loll

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
02:05 Dec 01, 2020

My novel, "Soul of the Inca." I asked Leo to beta read for it, and I'm beta reading his book in exchange.

Reply

Amaya Macaulay
02:07 Dec 01, 2020

ohhh that's so cool! are you reading it on reedsy editor? oh, that reminds me: i meant to ask you what type of stuff reedsy editor. why is it better than, say, google docs? also HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO WRITE SO MUCH OMGGG. serious question

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
15:24 Dec 01, 2020

I've actually never used Reedsy editor before. I think B.W.'s using it, though. You could ask her. And, heh, about that. I really need to work on that novella. I'm halfway through reading the first draft for the first time and editing and I've petered off. I need to do it this week...

Reply

Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
23:01 Dec 03, 2020

I know you're editing this later, so I won't critique it until after it's done. But still, even like this, I am shaken. It hit me right there, in that dark little space in my heart. I'm remembering my childhood days and seriously, I relate to Dan so so much it hurts. The late father's appearance is perfection, too. I love this. Good job, Zilla. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies

Heyyyyyyyy Zilla! I’m bored so...SUP?

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
23:04 Nov 29, 2020

Howdy! I'm catching up on Reedsy after a weekend absent, and also typing up a story for tomorrow. How are you?

Reply

Hiya! Haha, cool. Welll, I just got back the airport after visiting my grandparents (now I’m showered and in PJs), so I have to cram in all the rest of asynchronous Monday work into the next few hours. I have a sci-fi story due by 4 pm (40 min) soooo I hafta finished that. (I might post it on Reedsy after, not because it’s relevant but so I can get feedback.)

Reply

Show 0 replies

Love the bio, Zil :D

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
Maya W.
02:54 Nov 29, 2020

Hey Zilla! Nice work here. I really enjoyed the repetition, especially at the end. I would have liked to see more of Daniel's inner world, though, besides the repetition. That's pretty much my only critique, though. Nice work! I literally just posted a story that I'm pretty proud of, so if you wouldn't mind giving it a read, I'd really appreciate it!

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
23:06 Nov 29, 2020

Thank you Maya! I'll work on that. I'm catching up on Reedsy stories; I have a few I've agreed to read, some stories of those I follow, and then I'll get to yours :)

Reply

Maya W.
23:11 Nov 29, 2020

Alright!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Zilla Babbitt
21:15 Nov 28, 2020

Not done yet with this. I suggest reading "Moon Watch" (contest 3) as it conveys emotions and the style of writing I'm trying here, a bit better. I'll edit this over the weekend. Thanks to Tyler Runde and R.K. for encouraging me :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
The Girl
15:24 Dec 05, 2020

I think the word for this story is kaleidoscopic. It is a complex tale with emotions running high. I could see Daniel growing right in front of me,resenting his mother and moving further away from her.

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
19:46 Dec 05, 2020

Yay! Thank you :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
A. S.
03:04 Dec 02, 2020

Wow. Just wow. My first thought with this was how bad I felt for your main character. With every excuse his mother gave and everything she denied him, I wanted to cry for him a little bit more. I agree with some of the other comments about showing more growth in Majorie, but even without that growth, it hits in a deep place. Great job establishing your characters! Would you be willing to read through one of my new stories? Your feedback is always appreciated!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Amaya Macaulay
00:50 Nov 30, 2020

Hey I feel so so terrible, i got you all excited about the 200 story that i was gonna write for you, but i actually think that I can't do it. I'm so so so sorry

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
02:06 Dec 01, 2020

Hey, no worries 😘

Reply

Amaya Macaulay
02:07 Dec 01, 2020

<3

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Scout Tahoe
15:44 Nov 29, 2020

Fits the prompt, nicely written, organized, sad... This seems like the story for me. :) Really, it hits us in a spot that hurts. And I’m glad you decided to write this. I was thinking, along with Waverley, that to make us as readers cry over this masterpiece, you need to add a little more with Majorie. Perhaps times when she is kinder to Daniel or doubting her own judgement, because the transition from overprotective Majorie to apologetic, sad Majorie was quick and startling. Anyways, great job.

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
02:06 Dec 01, 2020

Thank you, Scout! I'll be editing tomorrow and I'll take all this into consideration :)

Reply

Scout Tahoe
02:24 Dec 01, 2020

You're welcome. So glad to help.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Louise Legrand
07:15 Dec 10, 2020

I really liked how you set out this story. It works on many levels but I especially like the way you have a repeating dialogue, that also progresses the story and makes us think about the bigger picture and those previous relationships.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Paige Winters
21:26 Dec 08, 2020

Amazing job. This really captures the relationship between the two, though I agree with Waverley Stark that there should be more character growth in Marjorie. I love how you write. Can't wait for the next story!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Piper H
03:27 Dec 07, 2020

Sad, but cute. I loved the mood of the story and the quick, easy pace.

Reply

Show 0 replies
F. A.
09:49 Dec 06, 2020

This is such a great story, Zilla! You know, sometimes I get lost in sad stories. They take away my thoughts, and feelings too. And they're the kind I love :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Rachel Sundar
00:12 Dec 06, 2020

Love this story! Really sweet and fun to read!

Reply

Show 0 replies
H.l Whitlock
08:54 Dec 09, 2020

Great story, love this submission! The repetition gave the story a little bit of an ominous feel to me. Can't tell if I'm relieved or not that nothing horrible happened to the son or the mother. Enjoyed the story and liked the dynamic between the characters. Well done

Reply

Show 0 replies
Nashira Jaci
23:41 Dec 08, 2020

This is amazing honestly!

Reply

Show 0 replies
11:08 Dec 08, 2020

Kept me engaged till the end; made me feel and think throughout it. Thank you for the lovely read :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
21:21 Jan 19, 2021

Beautiful. 👍 I almost cried and I never cry while watching sad movies.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Sia Sharma
09:28 Nov 30, 2020

Sad, meaningful and lovely! Fits the prompt, perfectly!! Even though, it was unedited, it was wonderful! Who knows the places You'll go!

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
02:06 Dec 01, 2020

Aw, thanks, Sia 🤩

Reply

Sia Sharma
02:33 Dec 01, 2020

:)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply