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Contemporary Fiction

Trisha watched the tail lights pull away, her smile pasted on her face, arm waving with encouragement as her daughter, Izzy, drove away with a fully laden car and trailer. Izzy and her partner Kate had finally, after saving for most of the year, put a deposit down on a unit, and today was handover. They couldn’t wait to move into their new home. In the darkest corner of her heart, Trisha was a bit old-fashioned. She would have loved to have seen Izzy settle down with a nice boy, have the big wedding and maybe, at sometime in the future, produce grandchildren for her to spoil. But the future doesn’t always go to plan, that was something she had learned long ago. Kate was lovely and Izzy was happy, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

A verse of Metallica’s song ran through her mind .

Open mind for a different view

And nothing else matters.

Funny how the lyrics just popped into her head. She hadn’t listened to Metallica in such a long time, not since her high school days when she had hung around with Lucas, the long-haired, scruffy around the edges, electric guitar playing bad-boy. He’d been a metal-head, and she’d dated him for nearly a year, much to her parents’ dismay.

Once the tail lights were out of sight, Trisha dropped her hand and the happy smile. It was time to face her own future. She was fifty, well she would be fifty-one in four days, but for now, she was fifty, and for the first time in her life, she faced the future alone. An empty family home surrounded her in memories, echoing with remembered life.

Alone was a good thing, she told herself as she set the kettle to boil. Her mother had always said, “In times of stress, have a cuppa.” Tea was soothing and the ritual of making it could be quite therapeutic. Boil the kettle, steep the tea, add milk and sugar, sit and enjoy. The routine was familiar and grounding.

Sitting at the table, its large oval surface empty, Trisha took stock of her situation. Photos of the kids sat in their frames on the sideboard, Izzy on her high school graduation day, Patrick with his Master’s degree, cap and gown, smiling with pride. God, she was proud of both of them, happy they were off on this journey of life with a good start, exciting prospects, and a future of endless possibilities.

Missing from the photo collection was her ex-husband, Andrew. He’d said adieu, arrivederci, adios and every other articulation of goodbye ten years ago. Apparently, Andrew couldn’t deal with having a son who was gay, because within a month of Patrick coming out, her husband had walked away, straight into the arms of another woman. What Andrew thought of having a daughter who was also gay, Trisha didn’t know. She’d not spoken with him in years. Hopefully, he was still happy with his thirty-something replacement and her three perfect children. Trisha mentally slapped herself. That sounded bitter, and she was long past bitter. She never thought about Andrew and his defection, or hardly ever, or at least not consciously.

She was unsure how long she just sat there, but the teapot was empty and cold and the afternoon was slowly falling into evening, building shadows in the corners of the room. For the very first time in her life, she was alone, and she didn’t know just quite who she was, what her new identity was to be. For years she had defined herself by her role—daughter, wife, mother. Now who was she?

“Who the hell am I?” she asked the empty room. “I’m a sad old woman drinking tea, for God’s sake!” She dumped the cup of lukewarm tea into the sink and pulled out from the fridge an open bottle of wine that she’d used in the carbonara last night. If she was going to feel sorry for herself, she may as well have fun doing it. She bluetoothed the speakers to play from her phone and scrolled through Spotify looking for inspiration, music to make her feel something other than this sadness. With the lyrics of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’ still rolling about in her head, she found the ‘Black’ album and cued the song. The distinctive acoustic guitar intro filled the room. She sipped her wine and closed her eyes. Oh, to be seventeen again! What would she do differently if she could go back to a time when this was the music she listened to, a time before Andrew, when anything was possible? Before the song finished, she quickly scrolled through suggestions finding something new.

You want it all, but you can’t have it,

it’s in your face but you can’t grab it!

The distinct voice of the lead singer of Faith No More wailed from the speakers. ‘Epic’ had spent weeks at number one when she was in high school. She laughed as she bungled the rap part. She could never remember the words, but she could wail the sung lines in her best nasal tone. She did want it all, and time had proven that she couldn’t have it, whatever ‘it’ was.

What is it?

It’s it!

She sang the repetitive outro with gusto, enjoying the percussive effect of the consonants on her slightly buzzed lips. She was breathless when the song finished, as she had been jumping about in her own imaginary mosh pit. The randomised play list began the very familiar ‘woah, woe, woe woe-woe’, in a deep male synthesised voice.

“Yes!” she cried with an air-fist-bump, and she woed along with Jon Bon Jovi as he sang ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’. She had no idea what Gina and Tommy had, but they had each other “and that’s a lot for love”.

Whoa, we’re halfway there

Whoa oh, livin’ on a prayer!

Trisha wailed the lyrics at the top of her lungs, uncaring if the neighbours heard her dreadful caterwauling. The almost empty bottle of wine became a microphone, her living room a stage. She was halfway there. Half her life gone, poured out in service to others, now there was only half left and she had no idea what to do with it… unlike the bottle of wine, she thought, as she poured out the last glass during the guitar solo. A half empty bottle of wine was an invitation to drink more, a half lived, half over, half used up, chewed up and spat out life was an invitation to what? A pity party?

The iconic electric guitar solo by Slash erupted from her speakers and Trisha exploded with full air guitar complete with a lip-snarl and tongue poking through teeth. Everyone knows you can’t perform an air guitar solo without the accompanying grimace. As Axl Rose from the Gunner’s sang the first line, she was right there alongside him, her off key wailing loud and proud.

She’s got a smile that it seems to me

Reminds me of childhood memories…

She’d forgotten how much she loved this song heedless of the lyrics. It made her blood pump in a way she hadn’t felt in so long, and she posed and postured on her living-room stage.

Whoa, oh, oh…Sweet child o’ mine.

It was the ending of the song that spoke to her and she sang along in her best Axl impression, head banging with uninhibited frenzy.

Where do we go?

Where do we go now?

The randomiser played a second Guns ‘n’ Roses song in a row and she let out an excited cry as soon as she heard the opening notes. ‘November Rain’. This was her anthem when Lucas dumped her all those years ago. She had sung this song into her tear stained pillow nightly, now the words spoke to her again.

Sometimes I need some time on my own.” She sang along with the lyrics, sometimes messing up and mumbling through the words. She loved this song, and she moshed and head banged her way into the climactic ending chanting loudly.

Don’t ya think that you need somebody?…

You’re not the only one!”

She didn’t hear the front door open, nor was she aware of the figures that stopped in the hallway, mouths hanging open.

“Mum?” The voice was shocked enough to penetrate her wine fueled dancing and chanting, and Trisha whipped around, almost stumbling as she tried desperately to gather her composure. She scrambled for her phone and shut the music down. “We thought you might want to share some dinner,” Izzy said as she raised a bag of Chinese takeout.

“We did try to call, but… well… it seems you were busy,” Kate explained with a laugh.

Trisha felt her face heat up as she looked around her dimly lit living room. The empty wine bottle and glass lay toppled on the table. A few cushions had been tossed to the floor in her enthusiasm and she could feel herself warm and sweaty from her aerobic exercise.

“I was…” Trisha waved her hands ineffectually as she tried to come up with a satisfactory explanation.

“You were enjoying your time alone,” Izzy said. “It’s fine, we get it, but would you like some Chinese food to go with your wine?”

Enjoying her time alone? Was that what she was doing? She wasn’t moping or indulging in a pity party?

“Thank you, I would love some. I don’t suppose you brought more wine? I seem to have none left.”

Kate, ever practical, lifted a Dan Murphy’s paper bag. Trisha knew that she loved that girl. “Let’s eat.”

June 05, 2023 03:36

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37 comments

Amanda Lieser
04:24 Jun 24, 2023

Hi Michelle, Oh my goodness! I recently re-discovered some old music from when I was younger, an early teenager, and it absolutely took me back. I love that music has that power and I think that you did an amazing job of capturing that feeling within the story. Instantly, as soon as you named the first lyric, I was sincerely hoping that we were going to get more specific lyrics and shout outs to songs. When I’m writing, I find that I’m typically listening to a soundtrack and I love that you let us in on the soundtrack you picked for this pie...

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Michelle Oliver
06:14 Jun 24, 2023

Thanks for reading it, and I agree with you about the power of music to take us back to another version of ourselves. I think sometimes it’s a version of ourselves that we forget about as we get older.

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Lyle Closs
07:02 Jun 15, 2023

Nice story, well told.

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Michelle Oliver
11:08 Jun 15, 2023

Thank you for reading it.

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Rebecca Miles
06:42 Jun 14, 2023

Thank you for taking this reader on a nostalgia trip with all those songs; it felt like slipping back into my teenage years. I was the Guns n Roses fan, my brother Metallica. Observing Trisha rock out once more, I had to rein in the urge to cue a playlist ( it's 8am here in Germany so I definitely can't reopen a bottle of wine!) But what really moves is the immersive character and context building, early on. The quiet reflections prompted by the house leaving of the daughter are thoughtfully rendered and juxtapose so well with the cathartic ...

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Michelle Oliver
09:27 Jun 14, 2023

Thanks Rebecca. You have hit the nail on the head here, I really hate the frumpy, floundering menopausal woman image. I really believe the soundtracks we lay down in out youth are the ones that help us cope with all the changes and challenges of our lives as adults. Rocking out and getting back in touch with who you are, not who society says you are is the theme here. No pity party, no wallowing in greyed out grief, just taking a moment to feel the ‘real’ you, the person you are inside.

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Ellen Neuborne
02:31 Jun 14, 2023

The empty nester sound track! I really enjoyed this. Nice use of lyrics and realistic relationships.

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Michelle Oliver
09:28 Jun 14, 2023

Thanks for reading this Ellen. Glad you enjoyed it.

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Marty B
05:30 Jun 12, 2023

Oh- this sounds like something I would do- I love the songs, and the wine :)

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Michelle Oliver
08:54 Jun 12, 2023

Thanks for reading and happy that you enjoyed it!

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Sherry Bazley
02:25 Jun 12, 2023

Hi, Michelle. I could identify with your main character. You described her so well, a now-single mother whose last chick has flown the nest, feeling a little sad and sorry (for herself?) dancing around her livingroom, buzzing higher than a bee on her bottle of wine. The musical concert you created by quoting lyrics from Hits-of-the-90's was a delightful thing. Thank you for sharing !

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Michelle Oliver
08:55 Jun 12, 2023

Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for reading.

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Helen A Smith
13:12 Jun 11, 2023

Oh no Michelle! You’ve got me singing loads of these lyrics in my head after reading this! At least Trisha was able to see that being alone in her family home had an enjoyable side and that she was in a time of transition. Her life was far from over. Who knows what life will bring next, except it’s unpredictable. A fun read.

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Michelle Oliver
13:19 Jun 11, 2023

Thanks for reading. Those songs are pure gold, so much fun to dance around the living room to. They were stuck in my head for days after I wrote it. A time of transition is what the story was about, a rediscovering of who you are once all the expectations are stripped away.

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Chris Miller
00:03 Jun 11, 2023

Hi Michelle, Really enjoyed the embedded lyrics and references. "... bungled the rap part." Is that a Mr Bungle reference? Is Izzy named after Izzy Stradlin? For me the the title immediately evokes Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere, by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - "breathing tea and biscuits and the serenity prayer", until she grabs the wine and rocks! Sometimes only G n' R will do (Paradise City). Thanks for sharing.

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Michelle Oliver
00:16 Jun 11, 2023

Hey Chris thanks for reading it. Funny how different people read different things into the story. Everyone has their own soundtracks of youth to build their memories on. I wasn’t even thinking of nick cave, but yeah, it sure fits.

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Susan Catucci
23:36 Jun 10, 2023

That's my sort of 'pity party', Michelle - I mean, if exercise releases all the dopamine we need at times to right ourselves, well, what's so wrong getting there with a backbeat and some liquid courage? Bravo, Trisha (and don't worry about the kids; they'll understand and thank you some day. . .) Wonderful read, Michelle. The musical score was sterling! Enjoyed every word.

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Michelle Oliver
00:09 Jun 11, 2023

Thanks for giving it a read. Funny how he music of our youth is what we turn to when we need that dopamine hit.

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Lily Finch
17:23 Jun 10, 2023

The character is so familiar somehow. It seems that this kind of mother finds herself similar to many mothers who are left alone and find them with time on their hands. Loving themselves and jamming out to music with wine sounds like a perfect night. When the kids arrive with Chinese food and wine it makes it all that more special. LF6 Thanks for the good read.

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Michelle Oliver
23:27 Jun 10, 2023

Thanks for reading this Lily. I was hoping that the concept of rediscovering who you are when the ‘others’ are gone would resonate with everyone. For so long we identify ourselves by our relationship with others, and forget to nurture the relationship with ourselves.

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Lily Finch
01:11 Jun 11, 2023

I hear you, and you are so right. LF6

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14:49 Jun 09, 2023

This was a great read, I could sing along with most of song lyrics and remember the great times back in the 90s! The twist at the end, of having very understanding children, really turned this around into something positive and cozy.

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Michelle Oliver
14:58 Jun 09, 2023

Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for reading it.

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Peter Wyatt
19:53 Jun 08, 2023

I love the song choices. I was surprised at the emotions I felt even just reading the lyrics to those songs. I was coming of age around that time and those songs really impacted my life in ways I didn’t think about until just now. Great story!

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Michelle Oliver
22:34 Jun 08, 2023

Music is very powerful and has such an impact on our emotional wellbeing. Like I said before I believe the reason we listen so intensely to music in our youth, is to have that soundtrack in our memories. It brings us back to who we really are inside the ageing shell we carry. I think any child of the 80s is going to resonate with these songs, whether they like the bands or not. Thanks for reading and leaving a response.

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Chris Campbell
08:01 Jun 08, 2023

Michelle, I think we've all let loose in the living room when on our own. I know I've danced around a few coffee tables, sober and not so. When the music takes hold, it can be so therapeutic. In the case of Trisha, she needed that time to dance out the cobwebs of her not so accomplished life. Perhaps, a few more sessions with Bon Jovi and Axl may inspire her to greatness. I liked the song choices. Well done.

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Michelle Oliver
10:11 Jun 08, 2023

Thanks for giving it a read. I’m glad that you enjoyed the soundtrack of Trisha’s life. Dancing out the cobwebs is an important part of getting your life together in my opinion and truly underrated!

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Michał Przywara
21:00 Jun 07, 2023

Heh :) While it's a serious question that Trisha wrestles with, the story is nevertheless pretty funny. That's largely due to her cutting loose and enjoying herself, even if she didn't immediately recognize it. The premise is an excellent take on the prompt. It naturally brings to mind bands and musicians, especially considering the theme this week, but families absolutely fit too. That's a very universal problem. "For years she had defined herself by her role—daughter, wife, mother. Now who was she?" Yes, good. "wine fulled" fueled? f...

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Michelle Oliver
22:46 Jun 07, 2023

Thanks for the pick up, Michal. No matter how many times I re-read and run through a spell checker, these silly error still slip past me. Will fix that fulled to fuelled right now! The music of our youth, right. It’s powerful, even the music that we used to heal our pain, like those big break up anthems that we used to help us wallow in our youthful misery. I really believe that music is a big part of our culture and can have the power to affect us emotionally. The reason we listen so intensely to music when we were young, is to lay down th...

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Michał Przywara
01:47 Jun 08, 2023

I don't know, that does sound pretty reasonable to me :) I hadn't ever though of it like that, but sure - music is like a lifeline to better memories.

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Wally Schmidt
15:35 Jun 05, 2023

I really liked the way you added a soundtrack to this piece. It made it feel like I was watching and listening and not just reading. Kudos to you for being able to write like that. I had to laugh at the line “Who the hell am I?” she asked the empty room. “I’m a sad old woman drinking tea, for God’s sake!” because even though it is a question I could have easily asked myself at one point in my life, the older I get, the more I aspire to this. It doesn't see like such bad thing to have reached this stage of life and only worry about your tea g...

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Michelle Oliver
22:48 Jun 05, 2023

Thanks again for reading this story. I was trying to connect with my inner, repressed bogan and thinking that inside all of us as we age is that young person we once were. If all the expectations and responsibilities are stripped away, that inner person is who we are.

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Wally Schmidt
22:56 Jun 05, 2023

That's actually a really lovely sentiment.

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Mary Bendickson
13:16 Jun 05, 2023

Of course another Michelle masterpiece that covered everything oh so completely!!!🥳Way to rock on.

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Michelle Oliver
13:30 Jun 05, 2023

Thanks Mary. I enjoyed reminiscing over some old ‘80s hair metal bands. Some of those songs are pure ear worms and get stuck right in my brain. Thanks for reading.

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Delbert Griffith
12:51 Jun 15, 2023

This is a terrific tale, Michelle, with a timeless theme: rebirth. It could have been a biblical allegory about Jesus' life: moving on (after his death) to a new phase in His life. It could have been a modern mythological tale: Odysseus returning home after several adventures (and if raising kids and going through a divorce aren't adventures, I don't know what is). It could be a modern fable with a moral at the end: dance like no one is looking, sing like no one is listening. Favorite line: "Kate, ever practical, lifted a Dan Murphy’s paper...

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Michelle Oliver
14:53 Jun 15, 2023

Thanks for reading this. Yes a modern fable with a timeless moral -Be true to yourself. Maybe not rebirth so much as rediscovering who you are and have always been.

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