17 comments

Sad Contemporary

I’m alive as a gentle breeze that pulls strands of hair across her face and ruffles the flowers in her hands. I coax out the sun from behind a cloud and touch her softly on the shoulder. I want to tell her that everything will be okay, but I can’t - not anymore. So I settle for caressing her cheek with the wind. 


I know my wife well enough to understand what it means when her lips press together and the creases form on her forehead. She’s ruminating again. She’s thinking back to the day when I doubled over in pain and staggered to the bathroom, when the toilet bowl turned red. She nearly crashed on the way to the hospital and just about carried me inside, but to her it wasn’t enough. She wishes she’d seen it earlier. She wishes she’d done more. For a moment I’m not a breeze but a gust that catches her tears as they fall. You did everything you could, love.


I’m alive in the smell of my car; I think it’s sweet that my mum’s been the only one driving it since I left. She hasn’t taken down the mint-scented air freshener that she always used to complain about. I'm still alive in the way she grips the steering wheel one-handed, and I’m the Darth Vader bobble-head on the dashboard that nods continuously as if the dark side approves of her self-incriminating thoughts. I’m there as rain pattering on the windows, and I'm the squeak of the wipers swatting it away.


She can’t bear the quiet so she flips on the radio. She thinks about the time months ago when I told her I was constipated and she was sure she knew best. Remember Grandma’s pumpkin soup recipe? That should do the trick, dear. Don’t waste your or the doctor’s time. She thinks about the homemade baby food she’d given me when I was born prematurely, and she wonders if breastfeeding me was a mistake. She worries if it happened because of the supplements she gave me in childhood. She wishes she’d asked why my weight was dropping, that she’d not assumed it was another one of my diet fads. She wishes she’d done more than feed me all of my favourite food so I would gain it all back. I try to shake Darth Vader’s head but the silly toy can only nod. It wasn’t your fault, mum. 


I’m alive as the music blaring through the headphones I bought my son for his birthday. I’m the click of his mouse, the clack of his keyboard; I’m his memories of learning how to use a computer for the first time. I’m alive in his Facebook profile photo, standing proudly at his side when he won the junior science fair. I’m alive when he looks in the mirror and sees my crooked grin and my broad shoulders and, unfortunately, my ginger mop of hair. 


He can’t look at himself anymore because his hair reminds him of how I lost all of mine. He’s still growing it out for charity and tells himself he’ll just know when it’s long enough, even though he reached his donation goal months ago. He stops going to the gym, since lifting weights reminds him of watching me waste away into nothing. By the end he could see the ribs jutting out from my chest and the shoulders he used to sit on as a child could hardly bear the weight of each breath. He stops drinking with his friends - from fear he’ll get drunk and throw up - because nothing was worse than watching me vomit after every miserable cycle of chemo. But I’m there as each strand of curly hair on his head. I’m part of you, son. 


I’m alive when I hug my daughter through the teddy bear she holds close to her chest. I’m the Dad-sized stick-figure that she draws holding her little stick-figure hand. I’m still there on the other side when she has a nightmare and crawls into bed next to her mother, and I drop her off to kindergarten every morning even if she can’t see where I am. I’m the warmth of the fireplace, and the glow that fills the room, and I’m the voice that narrates We’re Going on a Bear Hunt! in her head, complete with sound effects.


My bright-eyed little girl is a silent child now. She was so thoughtful, so creative, always asking questions and yearning to know everything about everything. What’s cancer, Daddy? she’d asked; it had taken her months to understand the answer. A day finally came when she stood by my bed clutching her teddy, watching the final gasps of air rasp through my lips, and it dawned on her that cancer was the thing that took her Daddy away and made sure he would never come back. And no matter how many times she’s told that sometimes bad things happen to good people for no reason and only because they’re unlucky, she decides that she can answer any question for herself if she just watches and waits. And so she keeps quiet. Be yourself again, honey.


I’m alive in the way my dog’s ears prick up when he hears a car drive past our house. I’m alive each time he waits by the door waiting for me to sweep in and rub behind his ears and ask him if he was a good boy today. I still run beside him on the beach and I still shield my face when he shakes off the water, even if I can’t feel it anymore. I’m there when he sleeps with his nose buried in my old hoodie. And I’m alive when he sits by my empty chair at the dining table where he used to ask me for scraps of roast beef. You’re such a good boy. 


I’m alive in the cool evening air at my funeral; as alive as I’ve ever been. I’m alive because the people gathered there to celebrate my life, are my life. I’m alive in the words of everyone who tells stories about me, in every clap and every tear shed, and even in the casket that is lowered into the ground. 


But I know what comes after is the most difficult part. So I kiss their heads with dying orange sunlight, and I comfort them with birdsong from overhead, and I promise them I’m still alive in the feeling deep inside that they need more time to understand. It will all be okay.

January 05, 2022 10:11

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17 comments

10:14 Jan 05, 2022

This one is experimental and a work in progress currently. The prose definitely needs polishing in places. But it was fun writing something on the shorter side - I felt like this was as many words as I needed to tell the story. Would appreciate any feedback on if it works or not!

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Alex Sultan
19:16 Jan 07, 2022

While this is far from what I usually read - I'm not much of a fan of these kinds of stories - I can say you wrote it very well! You have a really unique/poetic style that's captivating to read. Sentences like 'I’m the click of his mouse, the clack of his keyboard; I’m his memories of learning how to use a computer for the first time.' Using the semicolon for the emphasis is impressive - I don't see this often. My favourite part was the paragraph for the dog. Something about animals usually gets everyone in sad stories. I'm a bit lost for f...

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23:21 Jan 08, 2022

Cheers Alex, really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment and the kind words! Totally understand that it's not everyone's cup of tea lol. Looking forward to your next adventure with Naomi and Vali!

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Jon Casper
23:23 Jan 05, 2022

My goodness, what a moving story. Something about the dog part really skewered me. I would say it not only works, but works extremely well. I'm not sure whether the prose needs polishing, but I recognize that perfectionism would make you think so. I'm sure if you do edit, it will only get better, if that's possible. Another amazing achievement for you. Bravo!

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01:13 Jan 06, 2022

Thank you Jon, I'm so glad you liked it. This was a bit difficult to write at times for the reasons you mention! Hope you've had a wonderful New Year so far!

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Keya Jadav
19:06 Jan 05, 2022

This really touched me to the core. The emotions have been presented so beautifully in front of the readers. Some things could be really hard to deal with but it's really amazing how you rode through each member and stitched the threads of memories the protagonist had with them. Great read!

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21:49 Jan 05, 2022

Thank you Keya, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

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Sharon Harris
22:13 Jan 13, 2022

You are a very courageous writer. I wasn't sure what I’d let myself in for there, I’m the sort that can’t even watch Bambi. But I needn’t have worried. Yes, the dog finished me off but there was a beauty and kindness about this that was positive and touching. I love the thought that loved ones are still around us and the paragraph about the son was amazingly clever. I take my hat off to you, well done.

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07:12 Jan 16, 2022

Thank you Sharon, appreciate your kind words. :)

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Rebecca Loften
16:49 Jan 11, 2022

I thought this was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

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05:14 Jan 12, 2022

And thank you Rebecca for reading. Much appreciated. :)

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Daniel Hafertepe
21:39 Jan 09, 2022

Hello Kind Stranger. I am new to Reedsy (American audience) and promised myself to only write honest reviews. Please accept, reject, or consider these notes. First impression: I struggled with the beginning of the story. I actually had to read the first sentence three times to orient myself. I looked for the story goal, and then conflict and couldn't find them. So I looked for theme. (I define theme as that message that is not written into the story, but a message a reader takes away from a story after they set it down.) For your sto...

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10:35 Jan 10, 2022

Thank you Dan for the comprehensive feedback! This is one of the reasons I write on Reedsy! I hear you about story conflict, etc. It's usually an important component of my writing but this piece was me trying something different from what I usually do. I aim to branch out further in the future! With the sentence lengths and compounding, I've already noted some of the issues with my prose that I'm trying to work on! Thanks for being specific, it's so helpful. :) Very astute observation about the story length (I realised that as well). The ...

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18:47 Jan 09, 2022

Such a touching story! You captured so beautifully how people linger even after they have passed on. Excellent writing as well.

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10:24 Jan 10, 2022

Thank you Susannah! Much appreciated. :)

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Shaivi S.
00:08 Jan 09, 2022

Wow Shuvayon-It's a great story! What lures me in is definitely your authoring style: Elegiac and poetic. You capture a character's sorrow flawlessly. I loved how the tale unfurls slowly, keeping the readers going. Not all pressure and despondency is tipped into the bowl at once. It's rolled out at the perfect pace. Marvelous story!

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02:18 Jan 09, 2022

Thank you for reading and for the kind comment Sana. :) Really appreciate it!

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