Contest #155 shortlist ⭐️

26 comments

Fiction American Happy

 The porch swing extends effortlessly and smooth, her feet just reaching over the withering edge of the deck boards, only to make its way backward with a crackling, obnoxious squeak. Her love, her very own Mr. Fix It, long since gone, spent many evenings oiling, adjusting, replacing rusted pieces, but the swing never recovered, the squealing never ceased. As with so many things that annoy the young, she had learned over time not to mind the sound. It took on a nostalgic quality. With each squeal, with each backward swing, she can see him, sweat lining his collar, his brow furrowed with confusion, with exasperation that the swing continued to defy him and now, in the early morning sunshine, it makes her smile.

On any regular Friday morning, she would be sitting here in preparation to welcome Joy, her home aide, who would bring an enormous cup of coffee and the morning paper. She liked hearing about Joy’s young children- their report cards, sporting events, summer activities- returning her to a time of life that felt eternally sweet, like the sun was always shining. But Joy also smelled a bit unpleasant and would plop her heavy frame onto the porch swing roughly, without regard for its memories. She felt sorry for the many faceless people all caught up in this global emergency but it was a little relieving Joy wouldn’t be over to disrespect the swing today.

One of the kids had installed a home phone with extra large buttons and a deafening ring that could probably be heard two houses over. She could hear it yelling now from the sideboard in the dining room as though it were inches from her ears which were less than functional these days. She chuckled, imagining what that ridiculous phone must sound like to people with regular hearing. Of course it was kind of the kids to think of her, to want to ensure she did not miss their Sunday night phone calls. They were just too young still to understand one of the most pleasant parts of getting old. The quiet.

But since its Friday morning, this call wouldn’t be one of the kids. Most likely it was the home aide office reaching out again to assure her they were doing everything they could do find more resources (that she hadn’t asked for), someone to drop off groceries or pre-made meals. Someone to come sweep up dust and cobwebs and check to make sure she hadn’t died. The caller would remind her the importance of staying at home, “even though we know it must get terribly lonely, its necessary right now, for the health of a woman your age.”

The truth is, she really isn’t worried about it. It’s all swings and roundabouts. If she fell down and whacked her head getting out the tub, sure it would probably hurt, but she’d lay there thankful for all the work it took for her Love to get that porcelain monstrosity, that claw-footed beauty into the bathroom it was clearly oversized for. She’d feel the warm splashes from when the kids were just babies, laughing and screaming with the excitement of tubby time, rubber duckies and plastic cups bouncing all over the wet tile.

Maybe her heart would suddenly seize up out here on the porch swing and sure, the neighbors would probably find her balled up in an embarrassing position on the deck boards, her mouth hung open grotesquely, one slipper fallen off into the mud. But how nice it would be to go out, right here in the breeze, the monarchs circling overhead just as they had so many days of iced tea and lawn games and late sun sets with the happy voices of her Loves around her. It would be poetic, really, leaving her heart right here on the porch swing.

Or, if what they are calling a Pandemic continued, just as others before it had descended hideously and then retracted slowly into history like a sea monster returning to the depths after destroying the beach, the food resources might never come. Especially if she continues to ignore the phone. If that happens, she thinks, when the kids come to take care of the old house, they wont have to clean out the fridge or wash up any dishes. She could wither away at the empty dining room table, with its ancient scratches and dings and faded crayon marks, remembering four decades of Thanksgivings, Easter dinners that got better and better over time, the kids kicking one another under the table, her Love slicing the ham. Joy would read her obituary or some reader submission from a neighbor about her death and the atrocities of elder neglect in her morning paper, giant brew in hand, and she would probably be all wound up about it. But it wouldn’t really be so bad.

Of course, she had always considered eating to be one of her favorite activities. She might be starving at the beautiful old table with the beautiful old memories and suddenly decide she was craving a nice chicken salad and couldn’t go without it a moment longer. She could make slow progress down to the corner store, leaving a trail of tennis ball fuzz from her walker stuck in the tar like a map back home, and make it to the deli where Beth would whip up a pair of her favorite sandwiches, one for now, one for tomorrow. Maybe Beth, who had a warm smile but was a very close talker, would ask how things were going and tell her a funny story inches from her nose. Unknowingly, she could give her the sickness. All the same, it would be nice to have one last conversation with Beth. She’s always been such a good girl.

It might be okay, she thinks, to know the end is coming even if you don’t feel very good for awhile. She could curl up in bed, among the quilts she made as a younger woman with agile hands from her mother’s treasured fabric collection and listen to the birds through the big open window. She could hear, as she faded away, the children playing across the street and think of so many weekend morning snuggles with her babies, the sleepless nights and midnight feedings that gave way to pillow fights and breakfasts in bed, giggles under the covers and tears against the pillow cases. This spot she would lie in as she left this world for the next was the same place she and her Love would rest their exhausted bodies after a hard day’s work. The place the whole family would find comfort in whenever sick or sad. The place her beautiful babies were made.

This Friday morning, on the persistently creaky porch swing, she comes back to herself from the tidal wave of memories. She’s pretty sure today isn’t the day, if one can sense those things. In her experience, death isn’t usually very pretty. By nature it looks horrid, smells disgusting, and leaves behind a wake of responsibility taken on with wide spread grief. But maybe, she thinks, if you live well enough, you no longer hear the creaking, you just feel the sun on your face. Swings and roundabouts. 

July 20, 2022 16:44

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26 comments

Raluca .
14:20 Aug 01, 2022

There's that psychological state of mind of generally old people that can either look like this peaceful acceptance of death or as a general frustration with life and fear of death. I think you did the first perspective justice with your story. Some proper writing in this story!

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Molly Barlow
02:25 Aug 04, 2022

I appreciate that!

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Anne Zubrick
17:01 Nov 18, 2022

I was glad the women had so many happy memories with her on the swing. It helped her to not be alone. Death can be on the mind but it surly would be nice if you could go with out pain and bad smells. You gave me a good feeling about a person with life well spent and I truly hope we can all feel that way in the end.

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Adrian Elliott
16:14 Sep 30, 2022

that is a good story

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Kevin Broccoli
17:34 Aug 05, 2022

This is such a special piece. I love shining a light on characters who otherwise might find themselves without a voice. Well done.

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Molly Barlow
04:47 Aug 07, 2022

Thank you, Kevin Broccoli! I love that too and so appreciate your work. I find myself now frequently saying "I'm a blender. I'm made to blend." Its really applicable to so many situations.

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Tommy Goround
22:39 Aug 03, 2022

Salut Molly. Thank you for writing such a happy story. It is also an adventure. The poor man had to fight that chair for years. Clapping

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Molly Barlow
02:24 Aug 04, 2022

Ha! True, maybe a little less happy from his perspective. Then again, maybe not :) Thank you for reading!

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Amanda Lieser
23:14 Aug 02, 2022

Hi Molly! Oh gosh! What a wonderful way to respond to the prompt. It instantly made me want to call my grandmother up. I love how this narrator remained positive during such a difficult time in our shared history. I also love how you wove the beauty of her life in between the moments she was currently living. It made her seem so approachable and loves me. Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Molly Barlow
02:22 Aug 04, 2022

Thank you so much! Flattered and honored by your review and so appreciate you taking time with it!

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:49 Aug 01, 2022

To think it's your first work spokes volume. The language is easier to follow and the work flowed well. Welcome to the show.

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Molly Barlow
02:24 Aug 04, 2022

Thank you!

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:50 Aug 05, 2022

My pleasure.

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Avery Mossop
21:38 Jul 29, 2022

This was beautiful! So many great details that brought such a clear image to mind. The trail of tennis ball fuzz. The table with its old crayon marks. Her reminiscing was so relatable. Sad but peaceful. Thanks for sharing!

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Molly Barlow
02:26 Aug 04, 2022

Thank you for reading!

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L. E. Scott
17:44 Jul 29, 2022

Very good first submission, congratulations on being shortlisted, hope to see more from you.

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Molly Barlow
02:27 Aug 04, 2022

Thanks so much. More to come for sure! Love your work

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L. E. Scott
03:20 Aug 04, 2022

Really? Which ones have you read?

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Molly Barlow
04:35 Aug 07, 2022

Admittedly, not as many as I'd like or plan to. I read, I believe it was called Broken? The winner (congrats). And Paul & Carla. Honestly, I say 'Love your work' in the sense that I was unreasonably emotional to both of them. I just love the depth of character and horrible relatability. Reading them was somehow the worst and best part of my day... equates to really skillful writing to me.

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L. E. Scott
05:04 Aug 07, 2022

Thank you. I'm thinking of publishing a collection. Hopefully enough other people agree with you to make it worthwhile.

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Graham Kinross
15:23 Jul 28, 2022

Like others have said, this is almost paradoxically optimistic in its view of death. I guess it’s about being done. Not having nothing to love for but having no regrets. That’s really nice.

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Molly Barlow
15:34 Jul 28, 2022

Thank you! That's the far-fetched dream :)

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Maxwell Taylor
14:55 Jul 28, 2022

It's not often that you find a story that portrays the inevitability of death in such a beautiful way. Wonderfully written. I look forward to reading your next work :)

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Molly Barlow
15:33 Jul 28, 2022

Thank you, Maxwell!

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14:54 Jul 24, 2022

A wonderful nostalgic story that feels like a warm cozy blanket on a cool night. I really like how you wove her memories into her day as she reflected on her life and the current state of the world. It flowed naturally and I could see the moments in my mind. Well done!! A great use of the prompt. Like the ups and downs of life :)

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Molly Barlow
15:35 Jul 28, 2022

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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