Trying to Help

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Write about a character with an unreliable memory.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction Sad

“Sweetie.” I heard her say, just barely. “Sweetie, get up, you’re going to be late!”

My eyes flew open and I bolted upright in bed, tossing the covers off myself. My mother was standing in the doorway, fully dressed for the day. Wondering how I could have overslept, I looked over at my clock. 

“Mom.” I said softly, trying to keep my voice cool, but unintentionally filling it with ice instead. “It is 4:30 in the morning. I don’t have to be up for another two hours.”

“Is it really only 4:30?” She asked with her mouth agape.

“Yes, Mother. Please go to bed.”

“Are you sure, look at how bright it is outside?” She implored. She shuffled over to my window and pulled the curtains open, causing me to shield my eyes.

“Mom it’s summer!” I said, unable to contain my frustration. “The sun rises at like 4 a.m. every day! I’m extremely tired, please go to bed!” With that I threw myself back into bed and pulled the covers up over my eyes, feeling like a teenager throwing a tantrum again. 

“I’m sorry!” She said. “I thought it was later because of how bright it is outside, I was just trying to help.” There was a half a minute of silence, before I heard her mumble a pathetic “Are you upset with me?”

I tucked my head under my pillow to try and block what was saying out, and hoped that she would get the hint.

“Cindy?” She said again. A moment later I felt her bony hand shaking my shoulder. “Cindy I’m sorry, want me to make breakfast?”

Throwing off the covers for the second time that morning, I sat up and said a very stern “You can not use the stove! Don’t even think about touching it! If you’re hungry make some toast for yourself or something, but please leave so that I can get some sleep!” 

I stared daggers at her as she slowly walked away, mumbling excuses and apologies all the while. By the time I got up to close the door behind her, I was too angry to sleep anymore. It didn’t seem like it would have mattered, though, because with the amount of noise I heard coming from the kitchen a minute later, and then from the living room when the TV was turned on full blast shortly after that, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyway.

Giving up, I decided to start my day. I took a long, hot shower, blow dried my hair, dressed for work, and even put a tiny bit of eyeliner on in an effort to kill time. It was only 5:20 when I got done though, and I didn’t even need to leave for work until 7:30. I definitely didn’t want to go out to the living room and listen to whatever garbage my mom had on the TV, so instead I sat on my bed with my laptop to scroll through the news and go over the presentation I had to give today at 11:00.

I finally emerged from the master bedroom with 20 minutes until I had to leave for work. I walked into the kitchen to get my mother’s morning pills, and found her asleep on the couch with half eaten toast getting cold on the plate that was resting on her lap. 

“Mom!” I said, bringing four pills and a glass of water over to her. “Mom, wake up.” I shut the screaming television off, and she slowly blinked awake. “I’m going to work soon. Here are your pills. The neighbor will be over to give you your other medicine at lunch time, okay?” She took the pills all in one gulp, and drained half the cup of water to wash them down. 

“Why can’t Astrid do it?” She asked when she was finished.

“What?” I said.

“I wish Astrid would do it. The neighbor's daughter is always trying to steal from me, and last time she came over she put something funny in my drink.”

I took a very deep breath, trying to regain even an ounce of the patience that I had slowly been losing over the past 4 years. “Mom! We already talked about this! Their names are Rebecca and Erin! Erin never put anything in your drink, and she never stole anything from us. She is afraid to come over here anymore anyway after how you yelled at her the last time, so it will just be Rebecca!”

“I still don’t understand why Astrid can’t do it.” She said with a huff.

“Astrid doesn’t live here anymore, remember?” I said, grabbing the plate off her lap and walking away. “We divorced like 5 months ago.”

“Oh that’s right.” She said. “Also, I made you breakfast!” My mother was proudly pointing to the plate of jellied toast at the table.

“Did you make this when you left my room this morning?” I asked her.

“Yes, I felt bad for waking you up.” She responded.

“Mom,” I said, “I have to throw this away. It’s bread, and it’s been sitting out uncovered for over two hours now. Please just stop trying to help.”

Not wanting to hear whatever apologies she was going to make, I quickly grabbed my purse and stormed out of the house. 

Work went relatively smoothly. I barely had to read my notes at all while giving my presentation because of all the extra time I had to prepare earlier. By the end of the day, I had mostly cooled down from the interruption of my sleep that morning, although the knowledge that there was nothing really that I could do to keep it from happening again kept surfacing in the back of my mind.

I didn’t always get so angry so quickly. When my mom moved into my home 4 years ago, I had seemingly endless patience. Her memory lapses, the circular conversations, and random, constantly changing phobias broke my heart. Slowly, however, the anger started to replace the sadness, and resentment took over for patience. Even guilt became ever more present, surfacing frequently during quiet moments for reasons that I wasn’t completely able to understand.

Wanting to capitalize on my current relatively calm attitude, I hurried home to get some dinner started. 

“I did the dishes!” My mother yelled over the noise coming from the television as soon as I got the door open. She didn’t look to have moved from the spot she was sitting in that morning, but the water in the kitchen sink that was running full blast while she watched TV indicated that she had indeed been up and moving.

“Oh yeah.” I said, walking to the kitchen to shut the water off. “I can tell.”

“The neighbor came by, earlier!” She said as I grabbed the soap and grime covered stack of dishes my mother had just cleaned, and moved them back into the sink.

“Did you guys do anything?”

“She brought me over a sandwich and we ate lunch together!”

“That sounds really nice!” I said. 

I heard the TV click off, and enjoyed a second of quiet.

“I told her that I would make lunch for tomorrow. I feel bad that she is always doing so much for me. Can you make something for us to eat together?” She asked.

“Well,” I said. “I’ll be making some pasta for dinner, you can offer her some leftovers if you’d like.”

“I don’t want to give her left overs!” She said. “Can’t you make us something fresh to eat tomorrow?”

“No, mom!” I answered, louder than I had meant to. I began loading the dishes into the dishwasher to distract myself. Regaining my calm, I gently said “I have a job, and I’ll be at work tomorrow. If you want her to eat food from this house, it will have to be something that I prepared in advance.”

“Well.” She responded, crossing her arms. I looked over at her and saw that her back was now to me. As I put a pot on the stove to boil, I heard “I just thought it would be nice if I could actually do something to help her for once since she helps me out all the time! I already told her that I would, anyway!!”

“Mom, stop!” I shouted. “Rebecca isn’t doing this out of charity, she is doing it because I pay her to. She knows you can’t use the kitchen, too, so she also knows that if she eats home made food over here that it isn’t YOU doing something to help her. It is ME doing something to help her. Besides, this morning you didn’t even want her to come!”

“Fine!” She yelled. She stood herself up and shuffled off to her room, slamming the door when she finally got there. It was a gesture that would have been more effective if she could have done it without taking longer than a minute.

I collapsed onto a chair and put my head down on the table. I knew why she was like this, but knowing and understanding the reason didn’t help make it any less frustrating. It certainly didn’t give me any special ability to react to the situation any better. No matter how sorry I felt, no matter how many times we went through this exact same situation, and no matter how guilty I knew I would feel afterwards, I still got just as angry.

The water had started to boil, so I opened a box of pasta, and cracked open a can of tomatoes for the sauce. As mad as I was, I had to admit that it is much nicer cooking in peace and quiet with my mother in her room. That didn’t make it right, though. Sighing, I made my way down the hall.

*knock knock*

“What!” I heard from inside the room.

“Can I open the door?” I asked.

“What do you want?” She came back with.

I opened the door and peeked in. My mother was lying on her twin bed on top of the tangled sheets, staring angrily at the ceiling fan.

“I need your help.” I told her.

She sat up, quicker than I would have imagined that she could have.

“The pasta is boiling, and I need to start on the sauce.” I told her. “Could you please set the table for me? I could really use your help in the kitchen!”

She looked at me in silence for a few seconds, and I wondered if I needed to repeat myself. Before I made my request a second time, though, she nodded her head and started to rise.

As we ate dinner together, she told me about the gift she wanted to buy her church friend for her birthday this weekend, and I told her about the joke my boss had made at work earlier today. We both finished our plates in good humor, and at that moment things seemed like they could even be normal. When I went to portion out some pasta into tupperware containers for our lunches tomorrow, my mom reminded me to make one for Rebecca. 

“I can at least microwave it for her!” she said, with a big grin.

“She will be really grateful to not have to make lunch tomorrow.” I told her, smiling. “You’re being a really big help!”

April 06, 2022 02:32

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Tanja Riley
04:56 Apr 12, 2022

Indeed the "sad" tag was not at all inappropriate for this story. It's an honest, slice of life portrayal of a different, difficult kind of life, but one that I'm sure many readers who have to take care of relatives with health issues can relate to. Poor mom, she's just trying to help. I saw on your profile that you appreciate concrit. There's not much criticism to offer here, maybe an opinion. Perhaps the ending could be a bit more impactful? Truth be told the way this story was going, I was expecting the ending to be tragic. I'm not disapp...


C N Dakus
18:06 Apr 12, 2022

Thank you so much for your comment! This story draws heavily from my own experiences, and I know it’s something that almost everyone will have to go through in some capacity in their lives. As to the ending, I totally know what you mean! I haven’t written a lot of short stories, but finding a good ending is probably the most difficult part for me in the few that I’ve written. I should probably make finding an impactful ending a more crucial part of my brainstorming process! Thank you so much for offering that constructive criticism, and I’m...


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