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Contemporary Sad Fiction

I hear the alarm buzzing and groan as I flail at it. After a few attempts I manage to hit the button to get it to shut up, but my bed is warm. I know I shouldn’t, but I pull my arm back under and curl up in the duvet, just relaxing for a few minutes.

“Bloody Mondays,” I mumble. I often talk to myself, just for the sake of hearing a voice, and if I get into a conversation it stops me from drifting off again.

Rolling over I blink at the ceiling. “Wait. Is it Monday? Or Tuesday? What happened yesterday?”

The answer to that is nothing, which is why I have no idea what day it is. Every days is the damn same.

It starts with checking the bed. Each morning, before I’ve even cleared the sleep from my eyes, I pad down the corridor and knock at my mother’s door. Sometimes she’s awake, sometimes she isn’t, but I go in anyway and check to see if she’s wet the bed. It’s a job I’ve learnt to do the hard way, but the joys of doing it that early is that I’m not awake enough to worry. And if she has, so I have to change and wash everything, including her, then I don’t have to worry about wasting a clean set of clothes.

The best days are the ones were she’s still asleep and dry. On those days I sneak downstairs and read, although I can’t have a cup of tea at that time. The kettle wakes her up, and if she’s sleeping then the doctors said to let her sleep.

But not for too long. Letting her sleep too long is just asking for more work, so even on the good days I have to start by wrestling her awake, setting me up as the villain for the day. Not that she’ll remember for long, but it sits with me all day.

This morning though the warm hug of my bed is too tempting, and I steal another few minutes. I can already hear the anger building from future-me, as she has to wash all the bedding or scrub the carpet again, but present-me is telling her where she can go. Just another minute, that’s all I want.

I yawn and give a little squeak. It’s getting harder to keep my eyes open, and I know that if I stay here I’ll fall asleep again. The best thing to do would be to get up. That would be the sensible, grown-up course of action. The responsible thing.

I’m sick of being responsible.

“Keep talking,” I say. “Stay awake. Have your cake and eat it, come on.” But it’s still first thing, and I can’t think of anything to talk to myself about. Out of other options I swing back to the question of the day, literally. “Monday or Tuesday? Monday or Tuesday?”

The era of on-demand TV doesn’t give me any clues, nor do the rolling news channels. Everything we watched yesterday was the same as the stuff we watched the day before, and the same as the stuff we’ll watch today. We didn’t get a food delivery, so it definitely couldn’t be Thursday. How long is it since our last food delivery? Four days, or five? Or only three perhaps. How much milk do we have left?

When I was younger, my mum used to make me pancakes for my birthday, or for her birthday, or if it was too wet to do anything else at the weekend. I loved it, and it made me feel more special than all the presents she bought me, especially when she drew smiley faces on them in maple syrup. Now though, with our swapped roles, I wonder if she did it out of boredom instead. Perhaps that’s what I should do, a different breakfast for each day of the week. That way I’d never lose track.

Thinking about the time before my mother’s incidents always makes me sad, and the last thing I want to do is start wallowing in self-pity. As I drag myself up and shiver from the chill of my bedroom I mull over what else I could cook for breakfast. Porridge, pancakes, a fry up, oh and what about kedgeree–

“Stop that.” It’s just more day-dreaming, and I know where that leads. Lots of plans, lots of smiles as I imagine everything I’m going to do. Then all it takes is for my mum to have one bad day, and it all goes out the window. I don’t have time to make exotic breakfasts each day, let alone the energy. Just stick with the cereal, and be happy with it.

But all morning, as I get Mum ready and settled for the day I can’t stop thinking about her pancakes. It doesn’t help that it’s one of her bad days; she won’t watch TV quietly, she won’t eat her food, and she keeps groaning. I run my hand over her head, over the bits that broke, and keep breaking, but not even that soothes her. She was so tough, but not even she could stand up to everything her body had to go through. By mid-morning I give up.

“Come on, Mum,” I say when she throws her blanket off her for the hundredth time. “Shall we make pancakes?”

She freezes, and for one stupid moment I think perhaps she’s going to respond. I know I shouldn’t still do this to myself, but if I don’t have the hope what have I got?

From the kitchen I can keep an eye on her, and it’s not like she can wonder off any more. At least that’s one blessing I have; she stays where I put her, for better or worse.

In the kitchen I have some breathing room, as much as I ever do in the house. These endless days, in the same four walls… it’s suffocating.

“Come on, stay with it,” I say. “Flour, eggs, milk.” Beating the ingredients together helps me take out some of my rage, but I’m too exhausted to vent properly. Months of living the same day, without even the occasional visitors now, and I don’t have the energy to even get upset any more. I’m as numb as my mother is.

But the numbness is nice. It’s easy, even while it’s draining. I don’t have to worry about the future, I don’t have to plan anything out. I don’t have to think what we’ll do when the world goes back to normal. It’s easier not going anywhere when there’s nowhere to go. Right now I can pretend these days will last forever, that this is all that there’ll ever be and ever was.

The action of cooking pancakes is soothing, though I’m embarrassed by how many of my muscles twinge in response. Have I really done that little recently? Or that little energetically; moving my mother is slow, straining work, not the quick flick of flipping a pancake.

I stack the pancakes and as I turn back to the living room my smile drops. Back to being responsible, but I wince as I realise what I’ve done. I turn to my mother and look upset. That’s not fair on her, but I’m sure there’s enough left of her to understand that it isn’t personal. Isn't there? Damn, I’m a bad daughter.

I force the smile back as I carry the tray into the room. “Here, Mum, I made us some pancakes. I know you don’t normally eat much now, so you don’t have to force yourself, okay?” I will gladly eat the whole lot, as my jeans will all too loudly attest to.

I serve one up for Mum and start cutting it up, but she waves her hands about and starts moaning. “What’s wrong?” I ask. “Hey, it’s okay.” I try again, but she’s just as distressed. “Okay, okay. No pancakes.”

I move the knife and fork out of her reach, but honestly I’m glad that I can get on with eating my own pancakes. Terrible daughter, remember?

I’m so focused on my own food, and another stolen few minutes for myself, that I don’t notice what my mother’s doing. It’s only when there’s a clatter and she starts clapping – her slow, awkward clap, like two blindfolded toddlers playing patty-cake – that I jerk back.

“Oh no, Mum! You’ve thrown syrup everywhere.” Oh, hey, future me. I knew you’d be here to moan at me some time today. It happens every time I try and do something nice for myself, like instant karma for being a naughty child. “I knew the pancakes were a bad idea, I’m sorry Mum–”

I stop as I see what she’s done. It’s not neat, it’s badly even all on the plate, but the intention is clear. She’s drawn a smiley face on her pancake.

“Oh Mum. You remember.” It’s stupid. I’m stood here, in the middle of a house I’ve not left for months, covered in maple syrup and I’m in tears. For once though they’re not tears of rage, but pure joy. Mum looks up at me and she’s smiling, even more lopsided now than it ever was, and I think she’s crying to. It can be hard to tell, given how much her eyes water… no, those are tears. I chose to believe they’re tears.

Ignoring the maple syrup that she has managed to get everywhere, I bend down and give her a hug. “It’s okay, Mum. We’ll get through this.”

Because we’re not just living for this endless today. We’re living for the future that can be, and the past that has been.

March 13, 2021 03:34

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2 comments

15:21 Mar 26, 2021

This is beautiful , you make the reader feel deep empathy for the character. Sure not much of a story but what can you do with only 3k words very touching thanks for sharing.

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Nina Chyll
16:19 Mar 17, 2021

I think the theme is extremely difficult to write about - there's little happening in the story, on purpose of course, that's its very nature, and it takes a lot to convey that without the reader feeling left unsatisfied. There was a part of me wishing for some bigger incident to happen, or, alternatively, a little more of the internal life of the protagonist to build the tension, so that it would feel like the story does climax with the mother's sweet little moment, like it is the best we can ever hope for. That is not to say I didn't enj...

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