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

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

162 comments

Jordan Duff
22:29 Oct 12, 2021

I was holding my breath the entire time. So heart-breaking! Amazing work.

Reply

22:35 Oct 18, 2021

Thanks for reading and commenting, Jordan!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Dallas A
18:49 Sep 30, 2021

The way that the coloring sheet progresses the narrative is truly masterful. I was hooked the second I began reading because of how intelligently you weave the coloring as a coping mechanism with the telling of the mother's grief. The resolution was pure art, how you don't allow her to color in the last number because it is symbolic of the hole Allie's death left in the world. Great story.

Reply

04:02 Oct 04, 2021

Thank you, Dallas!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Sativa Schilber
15:30 Sep 23, 2021

This was an amazing piece to read. You wrote it really well. While it was sad and lonely, you conveyed strong emotions in your writing. Without a doubt one of the best stories I have read on here. I hope with all my heart that nothing in this story was true. If it is, I am sorry.

Reply

04:04 Oct 04, 2021

I really am so tickled when people say that, thank you so much. Thankfully, none of this story is true to my personal life experience.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Antonio Jimenez
23:02 Sep 22, 2021

Wow! Honestly one of the best stories I have read on Reedsy. Not lying one bit. I literally have no complaints. The pacing, the descriptions, the flashbacks…it was all perfect. Honestly, I sometimes cringe at the winners but this was a 100% well-deserved win. Congrats! Would love for you to check out my profile. Just published my first story in months and am needing some feedback. Thanks!

Reply

04:03 Oct 04, 2021

That is such a nice thing to say, I'm floored. I have to agree with you- I've read some truly astounding phenomenal winning stories, and then every now and then I scratch my head. 😆

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Carla Ward
14:53 Sep 17, 2021

This reminded me of a loss which reverberated down the years in my family and marked my mother and grandparents and my aunt. My mother's older sister died at three when Mom was just a newborn. My grandmother went into a depression so deep she could not care for my mother for her first year and my great grandmother took care of her, instead. I remember hearing stories of my long dead toddler aunt when I was a girl. They mourned her loss, even my mother who had no memory of her and my aunt, who was born two years later and was named for her....

Reply

22:41 Sep 19, 2021

Thanks for sharing, Carla. It's so interesting how these things impact people down the line, I've often thought about the siblings born after a death, too. My great grandfather's death impacted my family for generations and my great grandmother had a different way of dealing with her grief. I wrote a slightly fictionalized account of her story, Princess Otilia and the Terrible Idea, that you might like.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Julia Townson
23:21 Sep 10, 2021

Awesome work. I love it. Very inspirational!! I'm new to this so it's always exciting to read other people's work :)

Reply

05:16 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you, Julia! I just discovered Reedsy in December and it is such a fun community. So many great authors to learn and grow from!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
22:43 Sep 10, 2021

proud of ya, rachel. :)

Reply

05:16 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you, Kate!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jessika Simmons
12:39 Sep 10, 2021

I like the storey

Reply

05:16 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Jessika!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Eliyas Shiek
23:00 Sep 08, 2021

Wow. The way you slid through the story, with colors as landmarks is just so unique. The sadness, the emotion... A deserved win, this is. Great job, Rachel.

Reply

05:17 Sep 11, 2021

Thanks so much, Eliyas. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Asia W
22:08 Mar 05, 2024

This is such a fabulous story Rachel, I found it through the Bennington website. So terrible that someone tried to pass off your work as their own however I'm so grateful that it led me here because this is truly a gorgeous story.

Reply

17:01 May 15, 2024

Thank you! I'm glad Bennington pointed you here and corrected their error- it took a shamefully long time for them to do so.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Atharv Mallick
17:40 Oct 05, 2022

Hey Rachel I believe someone has plagiarised your story word for word and entered it in the Young Writers Awards. I recently came across it while browsing through a list of writing competitions and it struck me as very familiar. Here is the link so you can go check for yourself: https://www.bennington.edu/events/young-writers-awards It's the third place fiction winner for the year 2021-2022.

Reply

18:20 Oct 05, 2022

Wooooowww. Thank you for letting me know, I will definitely be following up about that. That's so wild.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

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