It’s nine o’clock, toddlers rain from the sky, Mother punches her card and clocks in.

She sips a coffee she bought from the corner store though the company offers it for free to all employees. But Mother doesn’t like to get coffee from the lounge. Mother doesn’t like the lounge at all.

“She calls herself Mother? Oh my god… that’s so pretentious!” Tracey, the new hire, says after being informed by the gossip circle.

“I know! On my vacation months, I go to the cruise line, right? There’s a bunch of cute bartenders, one of them is like, the best one around, you know? You know what he calls himself?” This is said by Camille, aka “The Nanny”.

The gossip circle giggles and goads her to go on.

“He calls himself Daryll.”

The circle explodes into laughter as they look at each other approvingly.

“I mean, he doesn’t call himself “The Bartender”, no! He’s just Daryll.”

But what they’ll never understand is that Mother can never be just Daryll. Mother is Mother because she isn’t anyone, anywhere else. 

The buzzer sounds across the company building and the pockets of gossip disperse and make their way to the elevators. Mother is crammed in with Todd “The Sergeant”, Maria “The Nun”, and the other workers dressed in business casual with their fun nicknames. At orientation, they were all told to come up with a nickname that describes their parental style. It was like a game to everyone, who giggled and laughed at each other’s names, becoming caricatures for a few minutes as they leaned into their title for dramatic effect. But when Mother was asked her nickname, she insisted they just call her Mother. It was a joke for a few seconds until they all learned she was serious, and suddenly she wasn’t one of them.

The elevator dings at the twelfth floor and the crowd of blazers, slacks, flats, cardigans, pencil skirts, and fun earrings move to the floor-to-ceiling window with the sigh of a new work period.

The toddlers spin and flap through the air in a mass of flabby skin. They thunk off of the rounded, padded roof and fall into funnels to be sorted to their caretaker. 

Each caretaker drudges along to their homeroom to meet their new aides, or greet returning ones and give a quick spiel on the goals for the month and whatnot. But Mother goes to her homeroom and greets no one, for she has no aides. She closes the door behind her and finally lets out her breath. Color returns to her skin as she takes in a rejuvenating sigh. She is alone at last, free from judging eyes. She tells herself they don’t get to her, but at night all she sees are those insider eyes looking out. But here it doesn’t matter. In here, she is free to be who she was called to be. Free to be Mother. 

In the homeroom, Mother enters her private quarters where she keeps a mirror. She sits on the velvet stool and stares. Through it, Mother sees the child neglected and lonely and tells this child with hair like soft rose buds that she’ll fix everything. This month will be the month she fixes everything.

It is the first of the month, and Toddlers are led into their homerooms.

A smile like warm honey appears on Mother’s face. Her skin glows like peach cobbler, and her hair like soft rose petals crowns her forehead and drapes her shoulders. She opens her arms—slowly, as not to spook the twelve new arrivals—and says, “Hello, my children. Welcome to your new home. I am Mother, and I will take care of you.”

She knows they won’t remember at this stage the exact words she speaks, but they’ll soak her in like dried moss being watered. They’ll be filled with the absorbed feelings from Mother’s hand so gently on their backs, her calm voice comforting them when they cry, her fingers through their hair. The toddler’s minds are filled with nothing until they meet Mother. This is the greatest blessing. She fills their mouths with home-cooked stew, she has them spin around her as they giggle in the multicolored, padded playroom; her sweeping violet dress captivating their little minds. Each one has a uniqueness behind their eyes, a portal to who they are and what they’ll become that only Mother can see. One with a dented cheek and black hair tugs at her dress with a contracting hand so Mother squeezes it and the child smiles. Another one with a face covered in freckles and hair like brown moss atop their head looks at the back of Mother pleadingly. She senses the gaze and turns, telling the child to come near for a hug.

She loves this part, but what she loves even more is that it isn’t her favorite part.

It is the ninth of the month, and the six-year-olds wake up for


Mother hasn’t left her homeroom in nine days. When she puts the children to sleep, she occasionally peers out the door to the hall and sees the others stagger out in a daze, pulled to the coffee maker, their children left with their aides. She smirks at them, but then scowls. She used to feel for the children put under anyone else’s care, for she knew they wouldn’t be as loved as hers. But now she has closed her heart to them, and it opens only for her own. 

She has learned that the one with black hair and a dented cheek loves to give the other children hugs, and so Mother encourages him to do so. She notices the freckled child hovers around the stove when she cooks, so she invites them to help with breakfasts. She knows how the other caretakers operate, how their children are told to sit in a circle while food is being made, how the children are snapped at if they aren’t sitting still or if they make too much noise. She laughs at their methods. Her home is always filled with the stomping of little feet, with the shouts of tiny voices. The others used to knock on her door now and again with a pep-talk ready on how better to control her kids, but the last person to do it got the door slammed in his face. She does not control; she only gives.

It is the fifteenth of the month, the nine-year-olds gather around for a game.

They are more active, more loud, more mean, but what Mother loves most of all is that they have begun to talk, to really form into little words the oddities of the world. Through this, they begin to show Mother their souls, and Mother in turn drops herself into them.

Mother’s voice has gotten scratchier, her hair slowly fading in luster, her walk eerily less stable. This is all part of the life, the sacrifice she is willing to endure.

After game time, some will wander off to run around in the expanded playroom, some will go and rest in the hammock room, some go to the learning center to scratch their curious minds. But some stay and gather around Mother. She hasn’t asked them to, they just go to her as if she were the largest star in the galaxy, and they, tiny planets pulled into her orbit. They sit and they talk, and Mother listens intensely.

“What happens if a dog and a human have a baby?” asks one with a lisp and a crescent face. 

Mother smiles. She sees through the mirror a child being called stupid, that a question like that ought never have been asked. But Mother knows the child is just curious, and so says, “A human cannot have a baby with a dog, different species cannot breed.” The child smiles with satisfaction at the answer, and Mother continues with a playful smile, “But what do you think it would look like?”

The children’s faces light up with imagination as they all spew their creations at her. Her smile is soft, and the child through the mirror rests.

It is the eighteenth of the month, and the ten-year-olds shake by Mother’s door.

Thunder cracks through the night, and sounds of frightened children from other homerooms warp through the halls. But Mother’s children do not scream. 

She is in the middle of their bunkroom, her white nightdress blossoming around her as if she has melted into the floor. The children have surrounded her, the ones most frightened she has taken into her arms as she hums a quiet lullaby. This thunderstorm is a blessing, and she is thankful that she has been granted one at this stage. The children now are proud, do not like to be babied or be shown they are dependent on someone else. But when it is the middle of the night, and the darkness is filled with the ghastly boom of thunder, they are not ashamed to cling to Mother. They are shameless in their need for her. She holds them tight, holds them as if they might walk away if she doesn’t wrap her arms around them tight enough. 

Their bodies are warm around her, their shivering has stopped. She lets her energy be sucked away, lets them feed off of her until they are comforted and full. She gives them more of herself and smiles as she slips away. This is her favorite part.

It is the twenty-third of the month, and the teenagers fidget by the door.

They are thirteen, the age they meet the others. Mother hates this part. Hates it because her children, her creations, her portraits are off to mingle with the others. She imagines them being tainted, like a perfect painting being splattered with someone else’s unskilled brush. But Mother also secretly loves this part. Loves it because her creations shine the brightest and everyone knows it. They have a wisdom in their eyes that the other children don’t have; a glint from their nurtured soul. They’re still awkward, stiff, and a little rude, but they have her inside of them, fragments of Mother she has dropped in their well. 

She enters the community room and watches her children ineptly converse with the kids from the other homerooms. She watches the other children intensely, watching their little movements, the twitches of their fingers, the way they stutter when they talk, a shuffling of feet, a nervous giggle, a tuft of hair pulled behind an ear, the way a small smile grows on their face as they find company with another soul. Suddenly she doesn’t ache for them as much. She can’t see that glint in their eyes like the one in her own children, but she doesn’t see a bleakness in them like the kind from the child in the mirror.  

As she stands and watches, the other caretakers eye her with worry. Perhaps it’s the way she stands with a slight tilt in the corner of the community room or her frazzled hair and dark eyes that make the others stand an uncomfortable distance away from her, Mother never knows. Because Mother never notices these things about herself. Because through the mirror, the child has become bright, the child is safe and happy. The child has a mother.

The others will never understand this sacrifice. She will look out the far window some days and see them on their vacation months enjoying the nearby beach, or mingling at a bar without a care for anyone else. She despises them in these moments. They have so much to give, and yet there they are filling up only themselves. She tries to imagine herself out there under the sun or with a crowd, but it's impossible. She doesn’t know what to do on a warm beach, how to act with a refreshing drink in her hand surrounded by bubbly strangers. She wouldn’t know how to speak to a trusted ear if she had one to utter to. So Mother doesn’t take the vacation months. Mother is happy to give up herself every month to the children that need her, to the child in the mirror.

It is the twenty-sixth of the month, and the sixteen-year-olds think they’re sneaky.

They creep out of the door that’s supposed to stay locked but is sometimes left open, and go see the friends they made in other homerooms. Mother watches them and smiles. Policy states no child should leave their homeroom unsupervised, but Mother is confident in the abilities of her children. At this stage, the fragments within them have coalesced into a nascent core, the only thing they need now is experience to bind it all together. She floats around the homeroom, checking on the teens who have stayed in and are asleep; they don’t even notice her standing there, hovering over their sleeping bodies like a ghost. 

Mother glides to the unlocked door and cracks it open. She hears the quiet giggles of the teenagers mingling under the lowlight. She feels her core inside of them, feels them being formed, made into a perfect portrait. She takes in a deep breath and the air whooshes inside her body with no resistance like wind through an empty tunnel. The breath makes her dizzy. There’s nothing inside her for it to latch on to. She feels her face and it’s cold. She smiles. 

It is the thirty-first of the month. The young adults are lined in the hall.

Their bodies are nervous, but their souls are ready. The boy with the dented face gives the girl next to him a hug goodbye. The freckled child had baked for everyone and they had a last chat over warm cookies and milk. The one with a lisp and crescent face wonders aloud what the cosmos will look like, and a few others join in to imagine the great beyond. These are the things Mother has taught them.

It is just before midnight and Mother is hollow. The children do not wish her goodbye, for they aren’t really leaving her. She is within them, and she knows they love her. She has given herself unto them. And isn’t that the greatest blessing? To die so that she may become immortal. To live forever for the child in the mirror. 

The clock strikes midnight, and the homeroom is dazzled with beams of red and blue, diamonds of orange and green. The light sparkles in the air, and each child grabs out to one. The light opens up, and they are taken to the cosmos. Her soul erupts with ecstasy as suddenly their futures flash before Mother and all of the great things they will do because of her. With twelve flashes of brilliant

light, Mother is alone; Mother is strewn across the cosmos. 

It is the first of the month, toddlers rain from the sky, mother punches her card, and clocks in.

March 01, 2024 19:51

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


Madeline Honig
22:25 Mar 09, 2024

Very creative and a such great idea for the prompt!


John Paul Myers
17:30 Mar 15, 2024

Thank you!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
23:36 Mar 04, 2024

Beautiful story, JP. I enjoyed it immensely.


John Paul Myers
17:08 Mar 05, 2024

Thank you so much! It makes me very happy that you enjoyed it!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Alexis Araneta
18:26 Mar 02, 2024

Brilliantly creative, JP ! I love the very vivid imagery you used in this story. The flow is also very smooth. Like I mentioned in another story I read today, parenthood isn't for everyone because you must be willing to invest a huge part of yourself in the kids. At the same time, though, I know I am not Mother. I can not be just mother. I suppose I'm too career oriented to give myself up like that. Great world building here. Great job !


John Paul Myers
19:08 Mar 02, 2024

Thank you so much, I'm really glad you enjoyed it! I wanted to show in this story how much of yourself needs to be given up when children are entrusted into your care, but at the same time, how easy it is to confuse selflessness with self-destruction. Thanks for the comment and the read!


Alexis Araneta
23:06 Mar 02, 2024

If this wins, I wouldn't be surprised. So good !


John Paul Myers
03:51 Mar 03, 2024

Thank you! :) That means so much!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.