26 comments

Fiction Sad Drama

My daughter found a hat in one of the boxes collecting dust underneath my bed yesterday. Out of boredom, she had asked me if she could “investigate” the contents of this unknown space, a place in the house that she had not yet explored. If it had been December, I would have quickly said no, frightened by the possibility that the truth of Santa’s workshop would be revealed at too early an age. But in the middle of fall, the thought of purchasing presents and stowing them away felt distant and hidden. I had been busy with other things, perhaps talking to my uncle on the phone for too long, or scrolling undecidedly through expensive floral arrangements online, or writing the longest paragraph a person will ever write. Whatever it was, I’d needed her to be entertained. So, without much consideration, I said yes.


“As long as you put everything back when you’re done,” I added my default condition, to which she agreed to cheerfully.


It wasn’t until this morning that I’d discovered exactly what she had found, and that she had not put everything back. I was rushing from the bedroom into the kitchen, one-handedly shoving earrings into an earlobe while returning my coffee mug to the sink, when I noticed a familiar hat on her head. It wasn’t the usual baseball cap or beanie that her father and I left lying around the house. This was different, made of wool felt and aged several decades, but I’d recognized it instantly.


The beret was much too large for my daughter’s head. It slumped over her eyes, leaving just the brim of her nose and her lips visible. Her dark brown hair hung flatly from the gaping sides of the hat, making her head look much smaller. She sat there beneath the shade of her umbrella, chewing loudly and reading the back of a cereal box, wildly unaware that I had stopped to stare at her obscure appearance.


Maybe if she had been a child who had shown interest in wearing things like hats or bows or headbands on her head, I would have continued walking by without a second thought. Maybe I wouldn’t even have noticed the aged, grey lump that covered her like a queen’s crown atop a princess’s head. But then again, it had been so long since I had seen the frumpy cap, and I had only ever seen one other person in the world wearing it.


I’m about to release a breathy laugh – she really does look a little ridiculous in it, even if it is adorable – when I hone in on the front of the cereal box she has in her hand. She’s tilting it towards me as her eyes trail lower down the back. She must hear my breath catch, a whisper of a gasp, because it is then she finally notices me.


Whether she is confused by whatever facial expression I have on, or she really thinks there’s nothing novel about her wearing a hat on her head, I’m not sure. In her newly evolved five-year-old-turned-teenager voice, she says, “What?”


But my mind is on a journey. It is seeking something it hasn’t had to retrieve in years, swimming through a host of blurry, watered-down memories.


Through distant eyes, I manage: “Where did you get that cereal box from?” I know I had not purchased it, had not thought about the cereal in years. And surely, she hadn’t learned to take herself to the store, though she had witnessed me on more than one occasion order from Instacart online. I had more faith in her technological capabilities than her machine operating ones, but why that cereal?


“Dad went grocery shopping this week, remember?” She says plainly. “It was in the pantry.”


The week of days before now cartwheel through my mind like muted tumbleweeds: the relief I felt when Grant agreed to take care of groceries and meals and laundry while I managed other things; then, the realization that it was he who brought the cereal into the house. In a flash, I remember long ago sharing the story with him and consider his compassionate intentions.


My daughter continues chewing beneath the brim of the beret, and I can hear the loud crunching of almond clusters defeated by her molars. It is that sound coupled with that hat that take me back to my mother’s table. The oilcloth covering the table is decorated with roosters, and at the center, there are rooster-shaped salt and pepper shakers and a pile of paper napkins. At the end of the table, my father sits with his book and bowl, a cereal box standing off to the side. Morning light pools in from the bay window, and I rub my eyes, groaning the way sleepy toddlers groan.


“Good morning, sleepyhead!” my father cheers. His smile is welcoming, wide and genuine. It’s my favorite thing to wake up to. That, and –


“Want some breakfast?” My father shakes the box in my direction, wiggling his eyebrows to the rhythm of his offer.


When I nod, he jumps from his seat and grabs me a bowl from the cabinets that are too high for me to reach. I choose a seat next to my father’s and watch as the flakes and nuts and oat clusters leave the box like a waterfall into my bowl. As he pours the milk, he tells me to say “when” once he’s poured enough, and I do. I hear the clink of my spoon as it settles against my ceramic bowl.


“Dad?” I ask.


“Hmmm?” He puts a finger on a word in his book and looks up at me.


“Why do we call this “Dad’s Cereal’?” I’m getting better at reading, and there is no word on this cereal box that says “dad.”


My father chuckles, beaming at me. “Well, darling, it’s because this is my favorite cereal.”


I still hear my father’s ghastly laugh echoing in the distance, and for a brief moment, I wonder if my daughter can hear her grandfather as clearly as I do. As sonorous as his laugh was for me as a child, it seems impossible that she could be deaf to it. But when I regain my focus on her, her expressionless face tells me she is not caught between past and present, as I am now. She just looks at me quizzically and says, “Why are you staring at me like that?”


Before the hat, before the cereal, we were running late. I would have been running around the house, room to room, forgetting something here, grabbing something there. I would have been nagging her to hurry up and get ready to leave. I still have to fix my hair, put on make-up, make her lunch, and the list goes on, knowing it won’t end once she’s at school. There’s so much to do before my father’s memorial service in two days. It would be easy to tell my daughter to eat quickly, to take off that hat and put on her school clothes, to rush through this moment so another could take its place.


“Mind if I have a bowl with you?” I jerk my head towards the box.


Aloof to my intentions, my daughter just shrugs, “Sure,” and continues scanning the back of the box. 


When I join her at the table with my bowl, my senses are heightened: the sounds of the cereal and milk mixing together are crisp; the comfortable silence of two people sitting peacefully at the table is soft. It’s all too familiar and yet, it feels foreign, distant, and hazy. All the mundane movements seem to slow down as past and present collide, blending into whatever this moment is.


Lifting the spoonful to my mouth, I catch sight of the figure next to me wearing a grey beret. And for a brief, fleeting second, there we are, a little girl and her father eating their favorite cereal before school. 

December 15, 2023 17:57

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26 comments

David Cantwell
23:22 Jan 05, 2024

What a great piece. Thanks.

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AnneMarie Miles
01:03 Jan 06, 2024

Thanks for reading, David. This one has a special place in my heart.

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Noa Garcia
14:45 Dec 20, 2023

This was such a nostalgic piece, really. Brought me back to being seven the world being fascinating and funny and things just being simple. Loved the use of the prompt! (Also found it funny how many people did interpret this as a fantasy time-travel type of prompt. I, like you, saw it more as a nostalgia prompt when first reading, really.) Loved reading!

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AnneMarie Miles
16:31 Dec 22, 2023

Thanks for reading, Noa! I'm so happy to hear the nostalgia was so clear and that it had the power to transport you back to being seven - think that was my favorite childhood age :) And yes! I'm not a big fantasy writer so literal time travel was never really in the cards for me, lol. Thanks again!

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Rebecca Detti
19:26 Dec 19, 2023

I loved this AnneMarie. It is often the really small details that then evoke such vivid memories of someone gone. Really lovely story thank you for sharing and look forward to reading more of your stories.

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AnneMarie Miles
16:37 Dec 22, 2023

Thank you so much, Rebecca!

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Kailani B.
20:12 Dec 18, 2023

That cereal sounds like Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds, which used to be a staple in my family. Thanks for the lovely story!

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AnneMarie Miles
20:23 Dec 18, 2023

That's the one! Yum! 🥣

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E. B. Bullet
03:40 Dec 18, 2023

OhhhhhH LMAO I'm a tad slow on the uptake because I was wondering if the hat was actually magical and was struggling to wrap my head around what was happening. I think that's mostly a fault of mine, and expecting the prompt to be literal. That said, I'm so pleasantly surprised to see where you've taken this! It's a soft slowdown of appreciating the moment of someone else, which really is time travel in a way! This is very sweet. I think maybe there's a little bit of word clutter though. I think the moments would have had more impact if th...

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AnneMarie Miles
14:00 Dec 18, 2023

Hi EB! I'm not a big fantasy writer so when I read the prompt, literal time travel barely even crossed my mind! Thanks for picking up on the word clutter - if you're got specific areas that seemed chunky, please let me know. I've been working on precision in my stories, trying to say less with more. I'm a chronic over-writer and my usual form is poetry, so the switch between the two has been interesting. But I know I can over-embelish at times! Thanks for reading!

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E. B. Bullet
18:23 Dec 18, 2023

Oh okay, let's see The Santas workshop bit, perhaps. It adds a little characterization, but not enough for the space it takes up imo The "Maybe if she had been a child who had shown interest in wearing things like hats or bows or headbands on her head, I would have continued walking by without a second thought" part also takes a bit of space without saying too much. I think I understand what you were going for, but it's a tad too explainey in my eyes. Also! "In her newly evolved five-year-old-turned-teenager voice, she says, 'What?'" Thi...

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AnneMarie Miles
21:24 Dec 18, 2023

Thank you for such thorough feedback, EB! I know it takes time to write these detailed comments so I really appreciate yours. :) I *almost* left out the Santa's workshop line, but it's too much on my mind right now. I decided to keep it for two reasons: 1. It speaks to the kind of mother the narrator is; she's distracted and cluttered, but she cares deeply about her daughter and wants to protect her innocence (as she is probably doing regarding her grandfather's death). It also quickly indicates that her daughter is still young enough to be...

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Hannah Lynn
16:01 Dec 17, 2023

I love your take on this prompt so simple and powerful. It actually brought me back to my childhood when I sat at the dining room table reading the back of the cereal box. Amazing how something small can take us back to the past.

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AnneMarie Miles
16:33 Dec 17, 2023

Thanks, Hannah! I'd hoped readers would feel the nostalgia I felt around reading the back of a cereal box. One of my favorite childhood memories. :)

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Nina H
15:13 Dec 17, 2023

1. Congrats on ANOTHER shortlist last week! 💃🏼💃🏼 there we are dancing again!!! ✨🌟✨ 2. I love this. The memories of the past and being in the present. Appreciating the little things, and how they are really big things after all. Thanks for sharing this heart warming story!!

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AnneMarie Miles
16:36 Dec 17, 2023

Aw, thanks Nina! I definitely did a little happy dance :) Glad you enjoyed this one! I think grief is one of those unfortunate things that puts everything else into perspective. Thanks for reading :)

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Marty B
08:42 Dec 17, 2023

I remember a saying, there is no past, there is no future, all there is, is right now. 'It’s all too familiar and yet, it feels foreign, distant, and hazy.' When we spend too much time in the past, or what is coming next, we can miss all the wonders of right now, especially connecting with family. Thanks!

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AnneMarie Miles
16:38 Dec 17, 2023

I've heard that saying, too, and despite what my battles with anxiety and occasional depression might say, I tend to agree with it! Thanks for reading, Marty!

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James Lane
16:15 Dec 16, 2023

I would write an in-depth comment, but I have to go talk to my Dad. "There’s so much to do before my father’s memorial service in two days." So much emotion packed into a little straightforward sentence. Though it comes from the expertly crafted build-up. I really enjoyed this story, and the message of 'slow down and enjoy the times with your loved ones'

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AnneMarie Miles
20:43 Dec 18, 2023

Thank you for the kind words, James! It was my first time utilizing a progressive disburdenment technique so I'm glad the build up worked. Hope you had a good talk with your dad :)

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15:30 Dec 16, 2023

A creative way to write a nugget of nostalgia for a father who's passed away. It's often a lot of little mundane details we remember more than anything else. The mention of a beret gave us a nice hint this was in the past without telling us. Also a nice parallel between the old generation and the new generation.

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AnneMarie Miles
15:38 Dec 16, 2023

Thanks, Scott! I think it's interesting how we learn to associate things with people and experiences, even the smallest details. For me, the beret and cereal come from real life - my father loves his beret! The parallel between generations is always influenced by our past experiences and in moments like these, I think that's a beautiful thing. Thanks for reading!

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Mary Bendickson
12:00 Dec 16, 2023

Another in depth look at ordinary things in extraordinary ways. I always love Michaels right on takes on stories.

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AnneMarie Miles
15:34 Dec 16, 2023

Thanks, Mary, and I totally agree. I love hearing Michal's thoughts.

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Dec 15, 2023

A special moment, outside of time, joining three generations together. On the surface it's a story of loss, and dealing with that loss, and how family connections can help us through it. That's a fine premise for a story, and a million stories could explore it and still be original. I like the secondary theme to this though, too. “to rush through this moment so another could take its place” stresses the point. We live so much life trying to run from now into the next thing. I love the sense of calm the cereal scene brings, and how it shows...

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AnneMarie Miles
03:43 Dec 16, 2023

Thanks for the thoughtful feedback, Michal, and for being the first to jump in the comments. I think you are right about the secondary theme regarding presence. I like to think the mother's father noticed how overwhelmed the mother was getting and sort of used the daughter to remind her of those valuable "right now" moments. It's clearly a cherished memory the mother has with her father, and it's both sad that it's passed - she'll never have breakfast with him again - but it's also an opportunity to honor his memory by reliving it with her...

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