Contest #108 winner 🏆

162 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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162 comments

Linda Gruenberg
17:22 Sep 03, 2021

Congratulations. Powerful story.

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05:13 Sep 11, 2021

Thanks, Linda.

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Atharv Mallick
17:17 Sep 03, 2021

Congratulations on the win! The line about your second child getting older than your oldest is really the highlight of the story for me. The thought that some 'deadline' to move on is approaching while your pain still feels fresh is really heartbreaking. The paint by numbers approach to the structure and the starkness of the prose really elevates the emotion of the story. And the end of the story, with the narrator's defiance, is simply beautiful and gut-wrenching. Superb story!

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05:15 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for reading and commenting, Atharv. My cousin lost an infant son last year, and I've learned how painful many tiny anniversaries can be...the first birthday he missed, the holidays spent without him, when they'd lived longer without him than with him, etc.

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16:48 Sep 03, 2021

Excellent! Showing inner feelings without going on and on. Also loved the color theme which brought back memories.

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17:37 Sep 04, 2021

Thanks for the read and the comment, Ramona! I'm glad you felt it was the right length. I played with expanding it, but ultimately came back to just touching on each thing briefly.

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Michelle Gregory
16:04 Sep 03, 2021

You did such a beautiful job of carrying us through mom’s emotional journey. A thoughtful and heart wrenching read. Well done!

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17:39 Sep 04, 2021

Thank you, Michelle! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Angela Guthrie
14:52 Sep 03, 2021

Poignant!

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17:39 Sep 04, 2021

Thank you for reading, Angela!

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K. Antonio
14:44 Sep 03, 2021

This is STUNNING! I had to read this twice. It was great. The title, the introduction using color by numbers, the introspection. Wow! I loved the creative (and tear-jerking) take on the prompt too! Congrats on the win, Rachel!

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14:44 Sep 03, 2021

Wow, I'm blushing. Thank you!

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Andrea Magee
19:14 Aug 30, 2021

Amazing story....you are a very talented writer.

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21:42 Sep 01, 2021

Thank you for your comment, and thanks for reading, Andrea!

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15:33 Aug 30, 2021

Bloody hell, Rachel. This was outstanding! Hit me like a two-tonne truck. Pretty goddamn flawless, in my eyes, I wouldn't change a thing. I only spotted one typo, though — "c,asseroles". A superb piece of writing, you really reached inside and squeezed my heart.

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21:43 Sep 01, 2021

Ah, darn that errant comma! This comment is by far one of the most complimentary things anyone has ever said to me about my writing. Can't thank you enough!

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Beth Jackson
19:01 Aug 29, 2021

Wow, what a beautiful piece. The emotion was so real. I’m off to hug my kids a little tighter…

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05:16 Aug 30, 2021

Thanks for the read, Beth!

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Yomiya Liyue
11:17 Feb 04, 2022

you should make this an actual book! I would definitely buy it, and it would gain you more notice for your amazing stories!<3

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00:10 Feb 15, 2022

Wow, that's high praise, thank you! A book feels so daunting right now, but someday. Although I don't know if I could expand this story because it is so. stinking. sad!

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19:48 Dec 22, 2021

I just read this today and so sorry I waited so long! This was so touching in so many ways. I love the connection between the colour by numbers, how the green of the grass affected her, leaving the six blank. Six being how old Allie would be? I was never able to have children so I don't have the pain of losing one, but you made this story so real. Congratulations on your win-a little late.

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22:45 Jan 10, 2022

Thanks for reading Maureen! I never even connected that indeed, Allie would have been six at that time, so that's actually a fun Easter egg you noticed and brought to my attention!

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17:40 Jan 11, 2022

Easier to see when you're not in the middle of it :) I'm usually surprised when someone points out a plot note I hadn't seen myself.

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Aimee Reider
05:05 Dec 14, 2021

This will stay with me forever. Thank you for sharing your heartbreak with us. This is the clear winner. I'm sorry for your loss.

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22:45 Jan 10, 2022

Thank you, Aimee. I'm relieved to say that this is just a work of fiction- my worst nightmare, but not a true account of my own personal loss.

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Ezra Bicknell
17:34 Dec 09, 2021

You hit every mark I could have asked for in this type of story. I recently lost a close family friend, and this story is just absolutely brilliant. It's quite sad but it's remarkable.

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22:46 Jan 10, 2022

I'm glad it rang true to you, Ezra. It is so sad, my own husband could only proofread it a few times before he said he had to stop!

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Kaitlyn Isaacs
19:12 Dec 07, 2021

Wow, this was so vividly described- yet not in over-exaggerated detail. The ability to capture a reader's sense of feeling shines through the entire work. On point for sure!

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22:46 Jan 10, 2022

Thanks, Kaitlyn! I appreciate the comment.

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Graham Kinross
00:19 Nov 20, 2021

Wow. I feel bad for the second daughter. The mother has every right to be destroyed but the living daughter is losing out on her mother for as long as the grief dominates her life. Tragic.

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22:47 Jan 10, 2022

I agree- poor Kendra is a little lost in the background of grief right now. Thanks for reading.

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Graham Kinross
00:00 Jan 11, 2022

No problem. This was great.

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Dave Bolin
16:36 Nov 11, 2021

Heartbreaking and beautiful.

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22:47 Jan 10, 2022

Thank you, Dave!

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Emrys Oak
01:33 Oct 26, 2021

Only one sentence to describe how I felt after reading that, Welp, I just died. Yup, that's it.

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22:47 Jan 10, 2022

Thanks for reading, Sierra! It's a hard one, for sure.

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Mohamad Mashnok
11:31 Oct 22, 2021

One of the best short stories ever. Love your writings❤️

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22:00 Oct 22, 2021

Thank you, Mohamad, you are too kind!

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Cookie Carla🍪
16:00 Oct 20, 2021

I love how fluid this story is. You had me pulled in from the first line to the last. I really felt the emotion and it took me on a wave throughout the whole story. Your emotions that you built up to the end was amazing. This definitely deserved to win. Congratulations!!

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22:53 Oct 20, 2021

Thank you, Cookie Carla! Such nice words. :)

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Parker M
01:31 Oct 16, 2021

An emotional story that brings to life the pain of losing a child, especially from something as horrible as cancer. I liked the sort of symbolism that came with each color, and especially the ending where she didn't color in the sixth color for fear of losing the white. Congrats on your win, you really deserved it!

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22:39 Oct 18, 2021

Thank you, Parker!

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