Contest #108 winner 🏆

121 comments

Sad Fiction

(TW: child loss)


One is black.


My therapist suggested this activity, which I think is a waste of time. I'm not really very artistic.


Allie was. I was surprised by how well she could color, for her age, I mean. She didn't just scribble, she chose her colors carefully, she stayed in the lines, she even shaded, sometimes. She wasn't a savant but her pictures were better than other four-year-old kids'. Oh, how I loved her pictures.


Making this picture of my own is neither creative nor productive, but I must admit it is oddly satisfying. And it gives me something to do in church, when I don’t want to talk to the people sitting next to me. I look like I’m focused, and they leave me alone, and when I hear someone in class share a myopic story about how they prayed and God helped them find their car keys, I just search for another One and keep my head down. Color in the circle, or the rectangle, or the triangle. Find the next segment. Try not to think about a loving, all-seeing, all-knowing God who would descend from His throne divine to help someone find their car keys, but allow my preschooler to suffer and die from an incurable childhood cancer.


One is black. It outlines everything. I do One first.


I think of her at the strangest moments. Like when I’m filling a bag of oatmeal from the bulk bin dispenser, and I remember her at age two, slipping away from me at Kroger and making her way to that same aisle which must have looked like a free candy dispensary. When I found her, she was full of chocolate covered raisins and peach rings. I was full of embarrassment and confusion over the predicament, so I just hoisted her atop my pregnant belly, handed a confused cashier a twenty and left.


The memory is so real and vivid that I turn to the shopping cart to retell it to her, and I remember she’s gone. There’s just the one sister now, a lone mitten without a mate, sitting in the cart, staring toward the school supplies and nibbling a thumbnail nervously. I don’t tell her the story. We don’t talk about Allie much. Even though my therapist says we should.


Two is brown. It brings to life the little doe, sitting in the forest, only it leaves behind the white spots and underbelly. Two is the dirt beneath the grass. Two are the trees.


Kendra is at the dentist. She’s gotten four fillings in the past month, but one of them just won’t stay in. Dentist said something about tight contacts, small mouth, I don’t know, all I know is a few hours after she gets home the thing has popped right out again. I made Darrin take her. I can’t go to the dentist anymore. I can’t stand to see the scrubs and the implements. No amount of color-by-number can soothe that anxiety.


Meanwhile, I'm staring at the dining room table, hoping a fully prepared meal might miraculously appear there.


Two years ago, it seemed this table was, indeed, a purveyor of magically prepared meals. It was covered with homemade bread, cookies, and, mostly c,asseroles. My mother-in-law stacked those in the fridge and put whatever was closest at hand into the oven at 350 degrees. I put it on my fork and into my mouth mechanically, without tasting, because you still have to do mundane things, like feed yourself. You still have to do them, even when your child is dead.


You still have to feed yourself and your family years later, too. But the table isn't magic anymore.


Three is green. Grass and leaves.


I cry when I begin three, seeing the grass shoots come up from the dirt. I never knew grass could hurt, but it does, when you realize that time has passed, and grass is growing over your daughter’s grave, even though it feels like just yesterday that it was a fresh mound. Wasn't it just last week she was healthy, three-and-a-half, zooming down a twirly slide? Wasn't it just last month that she held her new baby sister on her lap, pointing out the tiny facial features with a chubby finger?


Except it wasn't. That new baby is about to start preschool. In three days Kendra will be as old as Allie was when she died. And I’m terrified of what that means.


Four is pink. Delicate pink flowers. Just starting to bloom.


What happens when your youngest child grows older than your oldest child? There’s no answer in a parenting book for that question. It isn’t supposed to happen. We held space for Allie, but now I worry, somehow the space is gone. Like the white in my picture, which is rapidly disappearing. People assume, without asking, that Kendra is an only child. My mom has stopped saying Allie's name, for some reason. She's just...disappearing, and I wonder whether she left a trace in the world. But inside of me there's still a grave, six feet deep, and it will never be filled in.


Kendra starts preschool today. She’s nervous, but I know she’ll do great. She needs to be with other kids her age, it will be good for her.


Five is orange. It highlights the undersides of the leaves. Orange tulips.


I sit on the floor in the girls’ room, coloring, imagining that Kendra is probably coloring too. I am obsolete, an adult who spends her hours shading in shapes, following a prescribed pattern to make mass-produced art. I am a thirty-year-old empty nester, a geriatric. Only that can’t be true, because I have a four-year-old. Two of them, actually.


My therapist says I should think about getting a job. I want to tell her I have my hands full, but that would be a lie. I wish I had my hands full. Instead, I spend my precious alone hours wishing I wasn’t alone. I color. I long to be needed, even if that need is to hold my baby girl’s hair while she vomits bile, again and again. To stay awake, all night, because she can only fall asleep sitting on my lap. To watch her breathing get slower and slower because I was the one who pushed her into this world, and I needed to be the one to hold her hand when she was pulled out.


Six is yellow. The last color. It’s mostly sunshine.


It was sunny, the day we buried Allie. The preacher said some bullshit about it being Allie smiling down on us, but I couldn’t believe it. It just felt cruel, that good weather still existed. That the sun could shine down and warm me, but its warmth would never again reach her, because she was too far underground to feel it. She was cold. She would always be cold.


But, and I know it’s really trite to say this, the sun kept coming up. The Earth kept spinning even though my beautiful, artistic, vivacious daughter was no longer on it. And the sun keeps coming up, and coming up, and soon I will have lived more revolutions on Earth since she left than I did while she was here, and entertaining that thought is like touching a hot stove and I can’t do it.


I don’t want to finish. I want to leave these white spaces, glaringly obvious to show that we aren’t complete without her. That we never will be.


So, I leave the Six blank. 


August 23, 2021 23:13

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121 comments

A.Dot Ram
14:49 Sep 03, 2021

Rachel, congratulations! I read this last night and thought it felt like a winner, so I'm thrilled to see it recognized. All of the emotional reactions from the narrator felt spot on and authentic, and filtering the experience through the coloring exercise was a masterful touch. It organized the thoughts so well and gave it the hypnotic quality--she's still a bit numb in a daze. It was just so good.

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15:02 Sep 03, 2021

Thank you! I was really crossing my fingers I had something special here but trying not to get my hopes up. Your comment means so much to me.

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A.Dot Ram
15:12 Sep 03, 2021

It definitely is special. I love it when inspiration and effort align and result in a story that grabs readers like this.

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Danny Trevino
00:01 Aug 30, 2021

Great story! Tearjerker (can I admit this in public)? I absolutely love the thoughts of the main character when she is questioning G-d’s decision to help one find their keys yet allow a child to perish in a horrible and painful way, leaving the parents to suffer for a lifetime after. The car keys are quite important! As a parent, I have had to keep my kids out of the bulk aisles that we frequent, because, in their infinite wisdom, those shops keep the candy at a child’s level! This is so realistic; I can visualize the entire scene. I think ...

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04:57 Aug 30, 2021

Thanks for the read and your thoughts, Danny! I'm of the opinion that anyone who reads has good critiques to share. And thankfully, this is not a story that's in any way true of my own experience.

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Gilbert Parker
17:33 Sep 03, 2021

Thank you so much for your story. It's very powerful and emotional. Since it is not from your own experience (and thank God for that), that makes the story more compelling and interesting. Tells me what a gifted and creative writer you are. I look for to more of your writings.

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05:30 Sep 06, 2021

Thank you, Gilbert!

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Danny Trevino
17:58 Sep 03, 2021

Congratulations! Your's was my favorite this week! Really a great job!

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05:31 Sep 06, 2021

You read and commented before it was cool! :) Thanks!

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Danny Trevino
15:53 Sep 08, 2021

Truly great story, it was a pleasure!

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23:15 Sep 07, 2021

I don't know if my comment came through or not, I came back to edit it so I could add to it and it isn't here. I need you to know I have been there, although in a different way. My little girl wasn't as old. I know this is fiction, but it is so accurate. Every thought, every emotion, it is so accurate. It has been 15 years now for me. Every day, you fight to regain a piece of yourself, and even the faith you had before experiencing something like this. What you wrote is cathartic for people like me. Despite being someone who has written sinc...

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05:03 Sep 11, 2021

It did! :)

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Ray Weeks
04:07 Sep 07, 2021

Amazing writing, heartbreaking story. Just incredible skill.

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15:10 Sep 13, 2021

Thank you, Ray!

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Yves. ♙
22:53 Sep 03, 2021

This is the first piece I've read since the fee came into being, and I was very curious to see how/whether quality had improved across submissions (one of the goals of putting a small barrier in the way). It certainly seems like it has! This is a piece that reads so strongly, to the point that I almost can't believe you wrote and edited it in a week. That pain is so real, and even as someone who is fortunate enough not to have any of these experiences, it rang true to me. The color-by-numbers theme, too, is so clever and well-utilized here; ...

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17:45 Sep 04, 2021

I'm floored, Yves. Thank you for your kind comment! I had no idea what to write this week, honestly, so I set a timer for three minutes and listed everything I could think of that fit the prompt, then chose my favorites (death, color by number, filling a bag at the bulk bin, a dental filling, filling a grave) and then just tried to mash them all together. The color by number just happened to work really well as an organizing backdrop. I'm glad it rang true for you and am truly honored you want to share it!

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Yves. ♙
06:27 Sep 05, 2021

That's crazy! I was actually wondering if this was somehow something you had saved up; it's that polished. Major round of applause!!

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Stella Neale
22:28 Sep 03, 2021

It felt so real as I read it, I was convinced it was not fiction. I could visualise the colours, the moments of each part- watching her vomit, holding her so she could sleep, being at the dentist - each part vivid and believable. As a nurse and mother I could relate. Congratulations on your win. It’s well deserved.

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05:32 Sep 06, 2021

Thank you, Stella! I'm glad it rang true, it's always very nerve-wracking to tell a story that is not strictly my own!

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Zahra Naazir
08:01 Aug 31, 2021

Gaaaahhhh! This hurts. My daughter came by and I grabbed her, squeezed her and said 'mummy loves you'. You're such a great story teller it makes people literally get up and do something about what they've read. I love the the fact that all this reflection was brought about by mere colouring. Other parts about the second child's age being the same and questioning how a parent handles that. It really does make one die a little inside. Damn.. you're so good! Best of luck. I hope you win.

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21:42 Sep 01, 2021

Aw, that was a super nice comment! Thank you so much, and thanks for reading!

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Robin Owens
18:20 Aug 29, 2021

Wow, wow. Beautiful and honest and captures so many moments and feelings of grief. My daughter turns 5 tomorrow. Thank you for writing this.

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05:16 Aug 30, 2021

Thanks for the read!

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Book Dragon
16:28 Sep 08, 2021

This is some really good writing! I love the way you have expressed the speakers feelings! This brought tears to my eyes... Congrats!!!

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05:15 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for reading and for commenting! If I made you cry, I did my job. :)

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05:31 Sep 08, 2021

wow...you gave me goosebumps..so painful

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05:15 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for reading and commenting, Shrestha.

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M. J. Riv
02:12 Sep 08, 2021

Congratulations Rachel- Beautifully done. Very powerful and the metaphor of the artwork is brilliant. The colors a life creates and the absence as well.

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05:02 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for the read and the comment. "The colors a life creates and the absence as well." I love that!

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22:57 Sep 07, 2021

Ummm...this is fiction? I do get how a writer with an empathetic heart can write the emotions of others without having been there but this is so damn accurate. My story is different and I can't write it, even after 15 years of losing Grace. My story was different, nonetheless you captured the feeling I was too close to and have never been able to put into words. When the pain is that close and that deep, you just can't. I have been writing since I was a kid and I am about to be 52. I had those thoughts, those emotions, and I am in tears, won...

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05:05 Sep 11, 2021

So sorry you have had to experience this. I think in some ways it is easier to write something you imagine than something you live, and in some ways harder (because I don't want to seem like an imposter or that I'm preying on someone else's misfortune, you know?) Your comment is so kind, I'm blown away. While this exact scenario hasn't happened to me, it's informed by the experiences of those I've known who have lost children (and I always cringe when I hear the lost car keys story, with my friends and family in mind!)

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Rie Sanders
19:12 Sep 07, 2021

This story is brilliant. I loved the way the number-coloring paced the story. The feelings described seemed very true-to-life.

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05:05 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you, Rie! The numbers really did help with the flow, I think without them it would have seemed so disjointed. Happy accident!

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Thalia Umbay
16:25 Sep 07, 2021

mm just mmm i like that there's really no backround you fill it in as you read justmmmmmm everything

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05:06 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you Thalia! It does kind of just jump right in and reveal itself as it goes along, doesn't it?

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16:38 Sep 06, 2021

Its beautifully depicted. The way you used the colours to explain the Mother's emotions is absolutely brilliant. The story feels relatable for anyone who has ever lost a loved one. Great work.

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05:06 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for your read and your comment. I'm so glad it was relatable to many!

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Aman Fatima
04:40 Sep 06, 2021

its a great story, everything felt so real, the emotions and the grief. It was just amazing reading it.

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05:06 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you, Aman!

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Shelley Blevins
18:56 Sep 05, 2021

I love your story. I, too, understand the pain from losing a child. My son was older, at 26. My granddaughter was 5 when she was murdered. Pain from losing our children/ grandchildren can not compare to any other kind of loss in my opinion. It's been 8 years since I lost my son and 12 years since I lost my granddaughter, who was also my son's first child. You have a way with words. I'm still trying to share my story with writing, but it never comes out the way I want. Many prayers to you. The journey is long and I am as healed as I'll ...

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19:14 Sep 05, 2021

Oh Shelley, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. I haven't personally experienced the loss of a child, this work is just from my imagination. I do have a cousin whose son was born a few months after my youngest, and he passed away a year ago. I always think of him whenever I look at Asher and wonder at what a devastating experience that grief must be. I hope you find a measure of healing and comfort every day, even now, so many years later.

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Saja Henrick
18:41 Sep 05, 2021

Rachel, your story really touched me. I nearly lost my daughter and this spoke to me. In addition, my son's best friend died at the hand of mental illness. In other words, your writing hit a nerve and rang authentic. I'm still dazed by the mom's challenge to move on (grief takes more time than society allows). The way you organize the story unfolding one color at a time, with the details of her loss and her grief in between, is brilliant. Thank you so much for your writing.

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05:07 Sep 11, 2021

"Grief takes more time than society allows." Absolutely! As does getting back to real life after having a baby, dealing with trauma...so many things. I'm glad you found this to be authentic. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

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Shea West
13:31 Sep 05, 2021

I've been trying to get to this for the past few days, and I suppose early morning on a Sunday is the best time for it. I find it brilliant that you used the color by number here as part of the prompt. As coloring is often lauded as a child's activity, but as of recently also an adult activity to soothe anxiety or a use mind. There is something so tragically beautiful about how you used the coloring in that way. To stay connected to Allie. I work with families, and sometimes there is loss and the primal urge to stay connected to the child a...

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05:09 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for reading and commenting Shea! I was happy with the length too. Initially I wrote it, and it was so short, I thought, certainly there are many more aspects of this mother's grief I should add in!? So I toyed with describing her relationship with her husband and a few other things, but ultimately felt it was better as just a snapshot of some feelings in a brief window of time than trying to attempt to be the entire picture of grief, if you know what I mean.

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Shea West
05:12 Sep 11, 2021

I know exactly what you mean. I work as a Doula. I see these snippets of grief often- so it felt very real to me.

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05:22 Sep 11, 2021

Oh yes, I remember reading that in your bio. I'd love to hear your input on my piece "You Can Sleep In Your Own Bed." Coincidentally, it also uses numbers in a top ten list...but I just think you might find it interesting because of your profession. :) Other than changing the name it's essentially the nonfiction account of my son's birth.

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Santina Forlenza
12:41 Sep 05, 2021

Wonderful! The narrative structure gives so much to a story which is a masterpiece itself. Congratulations Rachel.

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05:09 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for reading and for commenting, Santina!

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