Contest #246 shortlist ⭐️

18 comments

Fiction Sad Drama

This story contains sensitive content

The bright sun in my face, the flowers bordering the sidewalk, the birds chittering at me, all fall in stark contrast to the morbid thoughts chasing each other through my mind. It’s been less than an hour since my life, my future, came to a crashing halt, and I am struggling to understand how the world around me seems to still be carrying on like nothing has changed.

It’s a six-minute walk from where I sat inside on the paper-covered table to the playground outside where my husband is waiting for me. Six minutes to think of any way at all to cushion the blow. How to tell him without destroying him as utterly as the words destroyed me.

I see Peter first, the chubby toddler bent over double, hands busy in some game that only he knows. Raj is standing behind him and as a rock dislodged by my foot clatters across the sidewalk, his eyes snap up to fix on me. He watches me intently and I can tell that he is searching my face for news. I try to keep my face inscrutable as I approach.

“How did it go?” Raj’s voice is hushed but urgent as I walk toward him.

I give a noncommittal shrug. I’ve thought it through from every angle on the six-minute walk here, and still haven’t come up with a way to tell him. Instead, I squat down next to Peter to see what he is doing. He has a stick clutched in his little fist and he is using it to scribble something in the dirt. “What are you drawing?” His brow is furrowed in concentration and he only scribbles harder in response. “That’s a nice picture,” I say, wondering if he is actually trying to draw something or just moving the dirt around.

I feel Raj move closer, feel his hand brush my shoulder. “Tell me about it, please. I’ve been worried. I wish I could have been in there with you.”

I stand up reluctantly, my eyes still focused on Peter. “I don’t know how to-”

“Let’s sit.” Raj guides me a little way across the playground to a rickety old set of swings. He helps me down onto the taller of the two swings, as though I’m not capable anymore of sitting on a moving target alone, then he sinks down onto the second, slightly lower swing. Peter stays where he is, intent on his stick, which he is now using to dig a little hole in the dirt. It crosses my mind that I should tell him to stop, but I can’t bring myself to spoil his fun.

“You’re scaring me,” Raj says.

I tear my eyes away from Peter and force myself to meet my husband’s gaze. Something in me cracks and for the first time since the morning, I feel tears welling in my eyes. I turn away and blink hard, trying to clear them. Tears won’t help anything. “I don’t want to let you down.” My voice betrays me when it cracks. I swallow hard.

“You could never,” Raj says, but I can hear the fear in his voice. I don’t have to look in his eyes to know what he is feeling.

Peter has stood up now and the game changes from digging to collecting a pile of dirt. I scuff my feet in the patch of dirt beneath me, sending the swing into a gentle back and forth. The chain squeaks against the metal frame each time I pass Raj. I watch Peter shape his mound of dirt into a little volcano, then stab his stick right into the top so it stands up straight, reaching for the blue sky above. I ache to scoop him up in my arms, to love him the way only a mother could-

Raj gives the dirt a little kick and with a screech disproportionate to the gentle rocking movement created, his swing propels forward into the same slow rhythm as mine. He reaches out to brush his fingers against my arm and I drag my feet through the dirt to bring my swing to a halt. Raj does the same, and his fingers move to caress my belly. He is lower than me, being on the shorter swing, and his hand is reaching up to me. I look down to him and see the thinning of his hair on the top of his scalp. I’m not used to seeing him at this angle, from above. His hair has gotten thinner since I’ve last noticed. Is it the stress? Or are we just getting old?

Raj’s hand is gentle, but I can sense tension through his touch. The tension that has been building ever since I woke up and felt that something had changed. Since I called the doctor and insisted that I go alone, while he watched Peter.

“Did we lose him?” Raj’s blunt question makes my heart contract. I feel physical pain wrapping around my chest, forcing the air out of my lungs. I can barely bring myself to nod. I know what he really means. Not we, but you. It was me. I lost him.

“I should have been there. You never should have had to go alone.” He’s focusing on the small things, the superficial things that don’t matter now.

I shake my head, but don’t dare speak. I am worried the sob building in my chest, constricting my throat, will escape if I try to say anything.

Peter has grown bored of his game. Leaving the stick in the pile of dirt, he runs across the playground to the slide. I watch him haul himself up the little ladder, tumble onto the platform at the top, then stand and look in excited anticipation at the slide. I think about how impossibly tall it must look in his three-year-old mind. For the first time, he seems to remember Raj and I are there. He looks around, eyes searching, until he spots us on the swings. “Look! Watch me!” he calls, and I can’t help but soften at his lilting voice, the “W” instead of “L” in look. As soon as Peter is sure we are both watching, he gives himself a big push down the slide, landing with a gleeful squeal in the dirt at the bottom.

“Great job,” Raj calls, but I can hear in his voice that his thoughts are somewhere else. As Peter runs back around to the ladder, Raj says to me, “How are you feeling? You’re not in any pain?”

I remind myself that he is in as much pain as I am before answering. “No.”

Raj pulls his hand back from my abdomen, then walks his feet back as far as they can reach before picking them up and letting his momentum push him up into the air. I watch, wondering if he is trying to get away from me. Away from the pain of it all. Peter goes down the slide three more times, his shrieks of joy getting louder and louder each time. I think that he probably wants attention. That I should go play with him. But I can’t bring myself to move.

As Raj’s swing slows and comes even with mine again, I say, “The doctor said we could try again. But he doesn’t think next time, if we ever get a next time, would go any differently.”

“Maybe there was something we could have done differently. Maybe different vitamins, or a different diet, or-”

I cut him off. “No. Nothing could have changed it.” I feel blamed. Ashamed that I failed him.

We fall back into silence except for the squeak of the swing as I walk my feet forward and back, pacing without really moving. I want to run away, to run off somewhere new where I don’t feel the pain anymore, but I’m stuck right where I am, trapped in these feelings. Trapped in this body that betrayed me.

Peter is running to the ladder for the slide again. He climbs up onto the first rung, to the second, and I watch as though in slow motion as his little fingers slide off and he tumbles back to the ground. There’s a protracted silence before his wail pierces the air. His cry jerks me back into reality and I jump up and rush to his side. I scoop him up into my arms and cradle him against my body. “It’s okay,” I say, rubbing his back to soothe him.

“Is he alright?” Raj asks, and I realize he has run across the playground after me. He walks around to comfort Peter as well, and we stand there together- me holding Peter, Raj wrapping his arms tightly around both of us, and for a moment, it feels like everything will be okay. It’s just the three of us against the world.

And then Peter, in a quiet voice strangled by his tears, says, “I want my mommy!”

A little piece of me, the piece of me that had allowed myself to pretend for just a moment that we were a little family, shatters. “I know, sweetie. You’re okay, though.” I break away from Raj to set Peter down on the ground. “Where does it hurt?” Peter points to the back of his leg and I see a little scratch from where he had landed. “It’ll be okay,” I say. “I bet a band-aid would make it feel better. Should we go home and get a band-aid?”

But Peter is still crying for his mommy, and I know that the level of comforted provided by an aunt just isn’t the same as a mother’s hug. “She’ll be back this afternoon, remember?” But there’s no reasoning with a three-year-old, and Peter only cries harder.

“Look, she won’t be back for a few more hours, but why don’t we give her a call?” Raj said. “Her flight boards in…” he checked his watch, “…less than an hour, so she’s probably just sitting in the airport, right?”

The idea of talking to his mother quiets Peter down right away, and he watches me pull my phone out and dial my sister’s number. Her voice is bright and cheerful when she picks up and hears her son’s voice. “Mommy!”

“Petey! I miss you so much sweetheart!”

Peter seems immediately cured, his fall on the playground instantly forgotten at the sound of his mother’s voice. I listen to their conversation- Peter prattling on in his toddler way, filling his mom in on everything that’s happened in the past two days since she left for her business trip, even though they just had a video call last night before bed. Raj slips his hand into mine, squeezing it gently as we listen to Peter’s excited, babbling conversation.

It only takes him a few minutes to run out of chatter and after a hasty goodbye, Peter goes back to playing with his stick, right where he left it in the pile of dirt. Raj and I return to our seats on the swings as my sister fills us in on the details of her flight. “You’ll still be free to pick me up when I get in?” Raj reassures her we’ll be there, and she says, “Okay, great. I can’t wait to see you guys. I have some exciting news!” There’s a pause and then, “Okay, okay, I was going to wait to tell you in person, I really should wait, but- Pete can’t hear me, right?”

“No, it’s just the two of us,” Raj says, and she hurries on.

“I just can’t wait any longer. Peter is going to have a little sister! I only just realized, but I’m actually a few months along, already. I just couldn’t wait all the way through the flight until I told you guys.”

Raj’s face has gone pale, but I manage to croak, “That’s amazing.” I know they’ve been trying for close to a year, now. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to me. I try to force a smile onto my face to make the words sound sincere, but I can’t make it come. “Fantastic news. That’s wonderful.”

“How exciting is this?” my sister prattles on. “She’ll be so close in age to your little boy! I bet they’ll be best friends!”

I can’t bring myself to respond. Raj has regained his composure by now and I let him take over, doing his best to say our congratulations for the both of us. She doesn’t need to know, yet. We’ll let her focus on her happy news, for now. As she carries on, talking about play dates and the kids doing summer camps together, Raj and I sit together, still swinging gently back and forth, feeling completely isolated from the world, together. 

After what feels an eternity, Raj hangs up and turns to look at me. I see my own heartache reflected back in his eyes. “We’ll be okay,” he murmurs, slipping his hand up and around my back. He kicks his feet into the dirt again, sending both swings higher as we gaze out over the playground, both slightly comforted in that we at least have each other. The two swings move together, sharing the same rhythm, bringing us both aloft then plummeting back to the ground in unison, and I wonder why I still feel so alone.

April 19, 2024 18:17

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18 comments

Kristi Gott
21:08 Apr 26, 2024

Very powerful and emotional. Told with vivid sensory details. Congratulations!

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Heather Eldridge
13:53 Apr 27, 2024

Thank you!!

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Ryne Wemhoff
18:53 Apr 26, 2024

This was heartbreaking and beautiful! The buildup had me on the edge of my seat the whole time--the sadness continued to come in waves as more information was (masterfully) divulged. Thank you!!

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Heather Eldridge
14:23 Apr 27, 2024

Thank you! I'm happy to hear I was able to keep you on the edge of your seat!

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Mary Bendickson
16:30 Apr 26, 2024

You led the way. Had me wondering why so much sadness when they were already a solid family. Then - Bam! Congrats 🎉 on the shortlist.

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Heather Eldridge
14:24 Apr 27, 2024

Thank you, Mary!

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Story Time
04:42 Apr 30, 2024

I thought your attention to detail was impeccable. Really well done.

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Heather Eldridge
23:56 Apr 30, 2024

Thank you!

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Samara Minnow
12:46 Apr 27, 2024

Heart-breaking. Very emotional. It all felt incredibly real - I had a lump in my throat when I realised what had happened. Congratulations on the well-deserved shortlist.

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Heather Eldridge
14:24 Apr 27, 2024

Thank you- glad my story could evoke so much emotion!

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Jennifer Luckett
22:17 Apr 26, 2024

Great, so moving and with great sensory details. Congrats on the ShortList!

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Heather Eldridge
14:24 Apr 27, 2024

Thank you, Jennifer!

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Alexis Araneta
16:07 Apr 24, 2024

Heather, what a piece. To discuss such a heartbreaking topic as pregnancy loss in a playground was a masterstroke. Wow ! The flow was really smooth, great use of detail. You feel every single emotion from the characters. Splendid work !

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Heather Eldridge
17:00 Apr 25, 2024

Thank you! I'm glad you liked that juxtaposition of the setting to the plot.

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David Sweet
00:16 Apr 21, 2024

Amazing! Such a complex and complicated topic told so well. How you were able to include the swings of the prompt into such an adult story, then the gut-punch that she was Peter's aunt. Great reveal. The flow of the story was spot-on. Fantastic job. Thanks so much for sharing such an emotional tale.

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Heather Eldridge
13:08 Apr 22, 2024

Thank you so much for the feedback! I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

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David Sweet
21:22 Apr 26, 2024

Congrats on the shortlist! Well-deserved.

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Heather Eldridge
14:24 Apr 27, 2024

Thanks, David!

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