The Red and Black Boa

Submitted into Contest #192 in response to: Write about someone finding a treasure in an unexpected place.... view prompt

59 comments

Creative Nonfiction Sad Happy

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.


The red and black boa startled me. I gasped in surprise. I never thought I'd find this! It was exactly what I needed for that feathery costume I wanted to make for my 6-year-old grand-daughter. But who had put the boa in this old basement trunk? My mother? When would she have worn it? And why? 


Though mom had often dreamed of being on stage, I knew she’d had never stepped foot on one. Yet, this red and black boa was just the kind of thing a dancer or performer would wear. For a second, I closed my eyes envisioning mom dancing around beneath red and green spotlights, tossing her golden hair and smiling becomingly. Ah, she was singing too! Her rich, melodious voice rang out across the theatre. The audience was mesmerized and mom knew it. She was in her element, confident, beautiful, happy! They had come to see her, only her, and she was giving them everything they craved and more. 


I opened my eyes again and the heart-warming vision faded. As nice as it was, I knew it had never happened. I picked up the soft boa. Little red and black feathers loosened and floated gently down onto the dirty concrete basement floor. The boa was old. The more I touched it, the more feathers dislodged themselves. It most definitely hadn't been my grandmother's either. She was long dead and had never left Poland. But mom had. When WW2 ended, dad had brought her and me, just a baby, to Australia to begin a new life. 


“Australia is a land of milk and honey,” my father had told her. “We will have a good life in this country. There is nothing for us in Poland. Nothing!”


But for mom, that sunburnt country and her new life with a husband she didn't love, and a baby she never wanted, was anything but milk and honey. 


As a 13-year-old child in Poland, before the German soldiers had snatched her away in the night to work in the prison camps, mom had loved to dance. She was a natural, with rhythm in every part of her body. But after she married dad, whenever she danced with him, her movements were stiff, unnatural in case she stepped on his toes: 


“Watch what you’re doing you stupid cow. The man leads, not the woman!”


She had loved to sing too. Occasionally, she even sang to me, but as the years went by, the music went out of her heart.


“Mama, would you sing me a song please? I love listening to you sing…”


“I don’t feel like it Jadzia. I’m too tired. Leave me alone.” 


But there was one song that lit up mom’s eyes when it came on the radio. It was that old classic, “Smile” from the Charlie Chaplin movie, Modern Times. When Mom heard that, I’d catch her humming along to the words that reminded her to smile even though her heart was aching. And, from the look on her face most of the time, her heart ached too often.


As mom drew closer to her last days on earth, she would tune into AM 740, the “old people’s station” as she called it and her eyes still lit up when Nat King Cole came on and reminded her to "SMILE". After all, mom knew a lot about smiling: she'd been practising since the first time Dad slapped her face when she was 18 and told her to smile when he was talking to her. She’d smiled when he commanded her to kneel down and kiss his little finger. She had thought he was kidding so she smiled, even laughed. But he wasn't kidding. He’d wiped the smile off her face with a kick in her swollen pregnant belly. She’d smiled when she served him the dinner she'd taken hours to prepare and he spat it at her asking what kind of garbage was she feeding him? She’d smiled as he took her paycheques and gave her a $1 a week allowance for being a good wife. And she’d even smiled when he called her a filthy whore and a stupid bitch with nothing between her ears. Only a smile and complete subservience was acceptable.


I looked again now at that red and black feather boa in the trunk. How did it get there? It must have been mom's but why on earth did she have it? When did she buy it and why? 


‘Of course!’ I said out loud to no-one. “That’s it!”


After dad had passed away, mom started to live...never quite the way she wanted to since, after all, she was now far too old for dancing and singing on a stage. But at last she was free to go where she wanted and spend what she wanted. No more $1, $5, or $10 allowances generously doled out to her by the man who had ruled her life and controlled the purse strings for over 50 years. 


Mom’s old friends, the “girls” from the factory began urging her to come out with them. She was hesitant at first, but after a few trips with them to the local casino, mom started smiling again. Really smiling…from the heart. 


“I had such a nice time with the girls, Jadzia. I played on the pokies, had a fantastic buffet lunch, even a glass of wine.” 


She giggled…almost like she’d done something naughty…and I shared her girlish giggles. I could almost see my young mother again, and my heart filled with joy at her renaissance as she recounted her indulgence in the simple pleasures other women took for granted. For the first time in over 50 years, she was truly enjoying herself. 


She’d also come home from an entire week away with bags of "stuff" that she'd purchased when the “girls” took her shopping. Neither she, nor any of us needed what she purchased, but she bought things just because she liked them and thought we might like them too. One week it was a ceramic doll for my adult daughter who'd long ago stopped collecting ceramic dolls. Next time it was an infant's crocheted cap and scarf, but there were no longer any infants in our small family. Another time, she carted home two sets of satin sheets for her own bed, but complained crankily that 


“…they’re too slippery to sleep on! I’ll fall out of bed!”


And she did that more than once too when the chemo treatments started. 


Every shopping trip resulted in another pair of shoes that were pretty, but pinched her swollen feet; or a pair of slacks that looked exactly like the ones she'd purchased on a previous trip but the elasticized waistband on those had been “too tight” and the legs too long for her 4'10" frame. She'd spend a week cutting and hemming the slacks by hand, her eyes blurry with cataracts, while she simultaneously watched old videos with Jeanette McDonald or Jane Powell or Carmen Miranda singing and dancing on the big screen. And she'd smile, living the life she had so wanted through these beautiful women of film. 


The red and black boa. Yes, I remembered it now. Mom had bought that for Victoria, my younger daughter, the one who did grow up to become the singer/dancer mom so wanted to be. She had thought Victoria might be able to use it in one of her shows, and even if she couldn't, well it was pretty, wasn't it? And besides, now, with “him” gone, she could buy whatever she wanted, right? So why not! There was no-one to tell her it was useless, to berate her for spending hard-earned money, or to ask her why on earth she'd want this or that silly thing. All that mattered was that it was pretty… and she liked it. That’s all. Simple. And it made her smile. 


I put the boa back in the trunk and closed the lid. I'd have to find something else to use for that costume. Even though mom was gone, I wasn't ready to see something that had made mom smile used frivolously, even if it was falling apart and useless. 


After all, what was useless about something that made a mother smile? I’d found a treasure and as far as I was concerned, that red and black boa was priceless. 


April 03, 2023 20:23

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59 comments

Rebecca Miles
16:44 Apr 12, 2023

Ah Viga, I am rooting for you this week. If this shortlists at least, it will be a win for all women who endure, endure and then finally break free and enjoy the Renaissance of their lives with a smile on their face. It was harrowing, but always hopeful. My daughter got a feather boa to go see her beloved Harry Styles in concert. Every time it moults in her bedroom (often!)I pick up the little light feathers, an airborne sprinkling of joy- music, dancing, the good times. This was written with beautiful effortless; the words are your own and...

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Viga Boland
17:21 Apr 12, 2023

Thanks for those lovely words Rebecca. I felt this was one of my best, though a couple of comments gave me pause 😂 i’m at the point now that if this one isn’t good enough to short list, I don’t really think I have anything else… at least not tucked in my archives. Sure that should be a trigger for me to start writing some new stuff, but it takes a really terrific prompt to fire up the aging synapses LOL. As good as you and I think this one is, I noticed when the stories went up on Saturday morning, it was one of the first that got “approve...

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J. S. Bailey
22:23 Jun 01, 2023

Great title, intriguing image of a red and black snake until immediately the real meaning is revealed. And what a story that lies beneath. A couple of small things I noticed... 'The red and black boa started me' - playing off the idea of the snake, perfect. However, you follow it up with 'I gasped in surprise' - you've already said that when it 'startled' you. So just a little repetition there. Another thing was the title of the Chaplin movie - Titles should generally be italicised. That's really me nitpicking though. Beautifully written...

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Viga Boland
15:01 Jun 02, 2023

Hi J.S. Nice to meet you. From your description, you are ripe and ready for the Reedsy community. So welcome! Thanks for your suggestions on improving my writing. Well noted. As I’m planning to use this story for an upcoming publication, your timing couldn’t be better. As for the “creative non-fiction” tag, you have correctly deduced the mother in this story is mine. The “creative” part of the story is finding the boa. The non-fiction is the mother I knew and loved. Everything written about her here happened. Thanks for reading.

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J. S. Bailey
11:46 Jun 06, 2023

Hey Viga, thank you for welcoming me in. Please, leave a link when your publication is released, I would love to check it out. The best writing is usually pulled from different parts of life and I love the sprinkle of fiction with the boa, it really ties everything together. Beautiful work.

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C Turner
23:35 Apr 21, 2023

Lovely story structure. The historical moments and mentions of singers and actresses gave it a nice bit of setting.

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Viga Boland
02:11 Apr 22, 2023

Thanks for reading and commenting.

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Hope Linter
20:53 Apr 21, 2023

I read this before, but had to rush out the door at that time, but now I'm back. Thank you for this achingly sad and yet triumphant story. I loved grounding the narrative with the boa. I liked that artistry and a flair for the dramatic run through the three generations of women.

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Viga Boland
23:08 Apr 21, 2023

Thanks for returning to the Boa Hope. It, along with HOPSCOTCH will be the last serious story from me for a while. A bit of upheaval on the home front is going to impede my writing time for the next little while.

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Hope Linter
17:26 Apr 23, 2023

I'm sorry to hear that, Viga. You'll be missed. I hope the upheaval settles soon enough, and you can get back to writing. Take Care

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Amanda Lieser
14:23 Apr 13, 2023

Hello! This is another great piece examining the power of the mother daughter relationship from you. I loved the way this story held onto the symbol of the boa while slowly unfolding what it really means for these characters. I also loved that they are polish, my beloved husband is. This was a great story!!

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Viga Boland
14:57 Apr 13, 2023

Your husband is Polish? I wouldn’t have picked Lieser as a Polish name…or did you not take his name. I shouldn’t be surprised though as my birth surname was Kubala. Doesn’t sound Polish either. Amanda, my sincerest thanks, not just for reading this story and your kind comments on it, but for reading several of my pieces in succession. I feel so honoured that someone would do that for me who is actually rather insecure about her writing when comparing herself to other Reedsy writers, like you. Thanks so much.

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Kathryn Kahn
18:59 Apr 12, 2023

There are many sad things in this story, but it feels triumphant, too. The way the mom lived with abuse for so many years is common, sadly. But the way her spirit turned when she was finally free was a pleasure to read about. I loved the mom for her ability to enthusiastically pursue pleasure, even though her earlier life would have killed that desire in so many people.

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Viga Boland
19:07 Apr 12, 2023

Thanks so much for reading this and leaving me your thoughts. It’s great to get “likes” on Reedsy, but one learns so much about what readers took away from the story in their comments. I really appreciate you taking time to share your thoughts.

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Aeris Walker
19:30 Apr 11, 2023

Hi Viga, I browsed some of your memoirs available on Amazon and just from some of the descriptions and titles, I can see how you could have written several volumes about the man in this story… I always enjoy reading peoples’ non-fiction tales on here, but the backstory behind the significance of the boa is just heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing it; it made me pause and think about how we never really know what some people have suffered. ❤️

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Viga Boland
22:29 Apr 11, 2023

I think of that daily. As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, as I healed I became so much more acutely aware of the masks we all wear and how many are suffering behind those brave faces we put on just to live through another day. Thanks for reading this story Aeris and for visiting my Amazon page. I’m honoured you would go to that trouble. 🙏

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Stevie Burges
08:34 Apr 11, 2023

Hi, Viga My only disappointment in the story was the fact that the boa didn't find its way around 'dad's' neck whilst mum pulled very tight. Sorry about that, Viga, but the dreadful man was so well written I just wanted to dish out something nasty to him. A lovely/sad story. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

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Viga Boland
12:48 Apr 11, 2023

Thanks for reading this Stevie and letting me know how you feel about that man who was my father LOL. He was the subject of my published memoir, aptly titled “No Tears for my Father”. 😂😩

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Stevie Burges
14:39 Apr 11, 2023

I am so sorry Viga. I thought I had checked to see if it wasn't true, but it is in fact creative non-fiction - silly me. My apologies. It is always OK what we want to say about our own family, but never ok for a stranger to comment on our families. But my excuse is that your description of him hardly made him loveable. It is a sad tale but good such pleasant thoughts of your mum.

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Viga Boland
18:21 Apr 11, 2023

Oh good heavens Stevie. No apology necessary. I didn’t have to mention that was my dad. I told the world about him in my memoir. He was not a nice man in many respects. You haven’t offended me in any way hon. Check the emojis I used above. Tells you I’m laughing 😉😂

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Rita Kimak
21:03 Apr 10, 2023

Such a sad story. I really connected to the song “smile”, AM radio and Nat King Cole… they brought to mind my own mom who just recently passed. I’m so glad I got to hear that kind of music!! Thank you for allowing me to remember. Hope you can read my story.

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Viga Boland
21:36 Apr 10, 2023

Hi Rita! Nice to meet you and of course I’ll read your story. That’s how we support each other here at Reedsy, along with Following others and hoping they’ll follow us back. I appreciate your comments on my story more than you know, especially since another writer questioned the relevance of including that wonderful and famous old song, along with NKC and AM radio in this piece. I understood where the writer was coming from and respected the thoughts aired, but your saying what you did, makes me believe I did the right thing after all. So ...

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Joe Sauers
06:24 Apr 10, 2023

Hi Viga, this is a beautiful, bittersweet recounting of a mother’s life. Very powerful and subtle in the same turn. I think the references are more got than not, if you take my meaning. Well done. 😁

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Viga Boland
13:28 Apr 10, 2023

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. As for “ I think the references are more got than not, if you take my meaning”, if you’re referring to what I think you are, double thanks for the support. 🙏

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Russell Mickler
14:31 Apr 09, 2023

Hey there, Viga - I really liked the opening to this piece, where your narrator discovers the boa and takes us back in time to imagine her mom on stage. It was good imagery … I’ll give you my honest critique about a section of this piece. There are references in this piece to artifacts from a bygone era; most may not even understand what AM radio is, Charlie Chaplin, Nat King Cole, or can relate to the WWII exodus from Europe. There’s an ear that’s attuned to these ideas … I’ve enough gray hair to _know_ of these things albeit I never li...

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Viga Boland
16:10 Apr 09, 2023

Hi Russell! Thanks for your very astute, and may I say, analytical critique of this piece. I truly appreciate your observations, even if I don’t agree on the irrelevance of AM radio (which is what my car radio dial is set on right now) 😂 along with references to Nat King Cole, Charlie Chaplin etc. You might take note of the genre of this story: it’s creative non-fiction. The “creative” bit is finding the boa in a trunk. The rest is the true story of my mother’s life. Mom always loved the song “Smile” and her reaction to it is an indelib...

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Helen A Smith
14:01 Apr 09, 2023

I love this poignant, hear-stopping story Viga. It made me want to cry at the injustice of it all. The mother was such a beautiful woman and she was so badly abused by her bully of a husband. So many people end up in this tragic cycle. You portrayed her lost dreams so well. A high point of sorts was achieved when she achieved some kind of freedom and piece and was released by his death. Very sad.

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Viga Boland
15:37 Apr 09, 2023

Thanks Helen. If you noticed the genre for this piece, creative non-fiction, this is, except for the boa LOL, a true story about my mother. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on it. Much appreciated.

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01:23 Apr 09, 2023

I love this, I can see the feather boa and the feathers floating off of it. I truly relate to so many parts of this story and I'm happy it had a happy ending. "But there was one song that lit up mom’s eyes when it came on the radio. It was that old classic, “Smile” from the Charlie Chaplin movie, Modern Times." This song is so lovely, but always makes me sad. A perfect choice. xo

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Viga Boland
15:34 Apr 09, 2023

Thanks Patricia. I’m so pleased you understood the significance of using that old standard in this story. I suspect younger writers might not relate to the importance of that old song to my mom’s life, but the way mom responded to “Smile” when it came over the radio is indelibly imprinted on my mind. Thanks for commenting and liking my story.

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15:45 Apr 09, 2023

I can hear Nat KCole singing it = in my head. Nice.

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Viga Boland
16:15 Apr 09, 2023

Funny you should say that Patricia. Check out the latest feedback I got on this story questioning the relevance of including it in this piece.

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Nona Yobis
22:31 Apr 08, 2023

Absolutely beautiful story, Viga. You allowed the reader to really feel for, and also feel alongside, the mother. It was such a satisfying ending, to know that she'd been free to be herself after her abuser passed.

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Viga Boland
15:30 Apr 09, 2023

Thank you Nona. I am glad you “felt” this story. It is, after all, creative non-fiction written about my mother and very special to me.

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RJ Holmquist
19:58 Apr 07, 2023

What a poignant depiction of a sad life. I was glad that after so many years of abuse, she still had the will to pursue what she thought was beautiful, and that she passed that on to her grand daughters instead of all the trauma. Well done!

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Viga Boland
21:06 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks RJ. Appreciate you reading this and leaving me with your positive thoughts on character and story. I just hope that other readers … and maybe judges (?) will like this one or I’m going to revive my bickering banter series as I think I’m out of my league here on Reedsy 😂

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Irene Duchess
21:54 Apr 06, 2023

Another great read, Viga! Thanks for writing. :)

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Viga Boland
22:06 Apr 06, 2023

Thanks for reading it.

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Irene Duchess
22:54 Apr 06, 2023

:)

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KT George
15:19 Apr 06, 2023

You captured the prompt brilliantly, Viga. A priceless treasure indeed. What a heartbreaking story that all too many women share from that era. You squeezed so much life into your mom's character in such a short time I felt like I knew her by the end. Great job.

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Viga Boland
15:45 Apr 06, 2023

Thanks KT. Yes, this is one of my all-time favourite creative non-fiction pieces. I hope others on Reedsy will enjoy it too. Sadly, my bickering Banters haven’t tripped my funny side lately with all the family trauma, and now, this past week, thanks to three days of rain causing flooding in our basement. As you know from one of my earlier Banter funnies, I’ve been trying to talk hubby into packing things up and moving while we still can. Now, we are both aching all over from running up and downstairs to the basement, dry vacuuming up the wa...

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Alexey Williams
05:27 Apr 06, 2023

This story really drips with life, and there's a sincerity here that makes the story memorable and notable in my opinion. I really appreciate you posting. Thanks for sharing. :)

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Viga Boland
13:54 Apr 06, 2023

Thanks for the kind words Alexey. Will visit your page shortly too. Always nice to meet others here.

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Darryl Roberts
01:16 Apr 05, 2023

Depressing, but with a ray of hope. How many tyrannical petty men have ruined families. This makes me thankful for my own upbringing. Good story.

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Viga Boland
20:12 Apr 05, 2023

How lucky you are Darryl to have enjoyed a nice upbringing. How many of us can say that? Thanks for reading and commenting.

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Mary Bendickson
18:04 Apr 04, 2023

Bet if I were a betting person your two from last week may be shortlisted. You deserve it.

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Viga Boland
18:11 Apr 04, 2023

Ah…you have way more faith in me…and the Reedsy judging system…than I do. But thanks for thinking that Mary.

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