Contest #94 shortlist ⭐️

19 comments

Contemporary Sad Drama

I bury my toes in the sand of Ryde Beach. The layers move from dry and cosy to damp and cloying as my feet undulate like worms. I don’t like the look of them anymore – pale and crusty from years indoors. Years of hospitals. Years of waiting rooms.

No one moves to the Isle of Wight to sit inside. That’s what Mum would have said. She used to like the sun on her feet. I remember she would always slip her shoes off when I took her for her walks here, in the early days, before everything.

“Wash between your toes,” she always muttered to me when I copied her, throwing my shoes aside.

“It’s just fluff from my socks, Mum,” I had protested. Fifty-eight and still a child to her. Always a child to her.

“Clean body, clean mind,” she had often replied, ignoring me.

Why didn’t I treasure her more when she was here? Why didn’t I take note of the tiny things that made her my Mum?

She was ruled by routine, even after all the kids had left and Dad had died.

Up at 6am.

All Bran with UHT and a sprinkle of Splenda.

An hour’s walk until 8am.

Two pieces of brown toast and marmalade.

A cup of tea and the news.

A phone call with her sister.

Clean the kitchen – she was forever cleaning the kitchen. “I want to see my face in it,” she’d say to me. Her reflection was important to her. Hair spray and a brooch for every blood test.

Ryvita and smoked salmon for lunch, almost every day of her life. An apple before her teeth started to fall out.

Two hours in the garden unless it was snowing. Rain, wind and sleet didn’t deter her.

Clean the kitchen again.

Tea and cake with me, although she never ate the cake. Her eyes would call me greedy as I cut myself a slice.

Hours of conversation about everything and nothing. Anger at my life choices. Love mixed with scorn.

Dinner like a pauper, that’s what she would say. Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper. She got it from her mother, she’d always say with a bittersweet chuckle. It always stumped me that someone who died four decades earlier could have such an impact on person’s habits, how they can live again in someone else’s mundanity.

That was stupid of me. I have my own lost person now. You never stop trying to live up to their expectations, no matter how grown you are.

I shake the sand out of my toes, grimacing at the abrasiveness against my toenails and reluctantly put on socks.

I used to think of hospitals as scary places, full of death. That’s what I used to think about when I made the 30 minute drive from my home in Ventnor to St. Mary’s Hospital on the other side of the island, the deaths.

How many people gone by the time I’ve parked? How many families grieving that still had a family member this morning?

“She had a good morning,” the nurse says to me as I walk with her from reception. “She ate her breakfast, which is great, and she took all of her tablets.”

“Mm,” I reply, eyes on the door ahead.

“And she was telling me about your son – Harry?”

“Mm, Harry,” I reply with a short nod and a flash of a smile.

“She’s so proud that he got into Cambridge, isn’t that wonderful news?”

Harry graduated years ago. That was two children ago. Two wives ago. Two Toyotas ago. Still, my heart glows every time she tells someone that story.

“Mm,” I smile, wondering if my cheeks will burst before I reach the double doors that feel so far away.

She remembered Harry last time he visited, although she was a little afraid of his kids. They were loud, it was understandable, and yet I was still disappointed in her. I felt guilty for thinking that. How dare I feel let down, when she has no way to hold me up?

“Should I bring you both some tea and cake?” The nurse asks as we finally reach the doors.

“That would be nice,” I say, knowing full well that neither of us will eat it.

“Knock, knock Florence,” the nurse says, peering round the threshold to Mum’s room with the sort of over the top smile you only ever see on children’s TV presenters.

“Good, the cleaner’s finally here,” Mum grumbles, “This floor needs a bloody good mopping,” she says to me, all fire and indignation.

The nurse gives me a sympathetic look and asserts, “It’s your daughter, Elinor.”

“Elinor?” She says, no glimmer of me left in her eyes. I’m a trespasser. I always am.

She hasn’t remembered me for the past 345 days. I didn’t want to keep count, but I couldn’t help it.

The first time that I was a stranger to her was a Tuesday. Rainy. Seagulls screaming their protests outside the window. Victoria sponge that day. I used to eat it back then.

“When’s Harry going to visit me?” She had asked. He hadn’t been for a few months. The trip was long and his wife was pregnant again.

“Soon,” I’d answered.

“I don’t need you to keep coming here,” she had said. “Not every day.”

“Right,” I’d replied, painting over my hurt with a frown. I’d pretty practiced at it now, the mask. That’s what she would have expected from me. Stiff upper lip, Elinor. Stiff eyebrows and stiff heart too.

“It’s a long drive for you, and I like my space,” she had said.

“Of course,” I had said.

“I like my own company,” she added, slurping her tea matter-of-factly. “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone…”

Another saying she lived by, even when Dad was alive. No one ever quite lived up to her standards, certainly not the love of her life.

“Glad to hear you’ll be okay without me,” I replied. She rolled her eyes, but didn’t say anything.

Now, 345 days later, she’s propped up by her pillows, staring forward, barely aware of me. It is better that way than the alternative – fear, anger, confusion. Sometimes she thinks I’m someone else – an old friend, an old enemy, her mother. I try to play along normally, to keep her calm, to accept her version of reality.

She doesn’t want me to challenge it.

“Mum? It’s me,” I say, hoping my voice will trigger her memory, but it doesn’t.

She looks me up and down, trying to make sense of me, and eventually leans back with a sigh.

“Did you forget your mop?” She says.

“Yes, I’ll go and get it in a moment,” I say, “I’m just going to sit here for a moment to rest my legs.”

“Why should you rest?” She snipes. “You’ve done nothing all day.”

That’s a spark of the old her. Everyone did nothing in her eyes. No one worked as hard as she did - a midwife in post-war Britain, at the height of the baby boom.

“You’re right,” I say, if only to make her feel powerful for a moment.

I stand up and walk around the room. There are cards on magnetised board behind her head. At first they were “Get Well Soon” and now they’re “Thinking of You”. Everyone knows she can’t get well at all.

As I walk around the edge of the bed I see her file has been left open. Her temperature is taken daily, a precaution against infection.

I turn the page and my heart stops.

Black letters, ink smudged carelessly like it was stamped in a hurry.

Do Not Resuscitate.

“Mum, what’s this?” I ask frantically, showing her the form.

“Stop asking me questions,” she mutters.

“Please, Mum – look,” I say, holding it out to her. She’s not there, I can tell by the way she purposefully ignores the form and looks me in the eye.

“When I was your age I had three grandchildren on my knee and I was still working 40 hours a week. Your generation doesn’t know you’re born, standing about all day.”

I have to remind myself she’s more fragile than her thorns make her look so that I don’t lash out. There are years of words here, words that would dissolve her, and reform me.

The nurse arrives with our cake.

“DNR?” I ask her, “Why does her form say DNR?”

“Oh…” the nurse says, putting the plates down and peering at the form as I hold it out. “Florence – er, Mrs. Miles – spoke to the doctor a few weeks ago about it. That was her decision.”

“I have power of attorney,” I say, eyes flashing with what should be anger, but it’s just electric panic. “How did this happen?”

“The doctor must have assessed that she was lucid enough to make the decision.”

“Lucid enough?” I hiss, pulling the nurse outside of Mum’s room, “She thinks I’m the cleaner! How can she possibly be lucid enough to make this decision?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know,” the nurse flounders, and I feel a pang of pity for her. I’m taking out my frustration on the wrong person. “I’ll get the doctor,” she adds, hurrying down the corridor.

I return to the room.

“Elinor?” Mum says, “What’s going on?”

“I…” I stutter.

345 days. I want to say ‘it’s nice to see you, Mum’. I want to hug her. But I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m furious with her. And I don’t know how long I have her for. This day, this minute, this moment.

“Did you tell the doctor you don’t want to be resuscitated?” I ask, my attempt to avoid sounding accusatory coming off as patronising instead.

“Don’t take that tone with me,” she says, and for once I agree with her. “What’s it to you?”

She’s gone again.

I try to imagine what Mum would have replied.

“Yes, I did,” she would have said. “It’s my choice.”

“But why, Mum? Do you want to die?” I would have asked.

“If it’s my time, it’s my time,” she would have said.

I sit back down in the armchair and lean forward with an exasperated sigh.

“What it’s to me?” I say, shaking my head. “I’m your only child, Mum. It’s everything to me.”

She looks at me and for a second I think she’s about to say my name again.

Her eyes crease just as they did once before.

I was caught stealing once. Just a chocolate bar. I did it for that feeling that I craved – knowing there would be consequences. I wanted punishment. I wanted my parents to look at me with disappointment, because at least they’d be looking at me.

Dad had been livid.

“A thief? A common thief? What do you think will become of you? Do you not appreciate this house? The clothes on your back? The jobs we work to keep you fed? You’re no daughter of mine.”

I stood, nodding sadly, taking my verbal lashing graciously, waiting for the deliciousness of Mum’s anger. She always did anger skilfully. Dad was a butcher’s knife, Mum was a razor.

But there was only silence.

I looked up, trying to keep my eyes that humble shade of blue I needed to wear in this moment, but curious as to why the fire hadn’t started yet.

She was smirking.

It was a face of two halves – thundering eyebrows and a cracked cheek smile – but it was unmistakable.

She looked proud.

That’s what I see in her now. The look just between us. The one Dad didn’t see. The moment I had first known she wasn’t all explosions and dread.

She opens her mouth, closes it again and looks away.

“Aren’t you supposed to be mopping the floor?”

May 21, 2021 23:03

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19 comments

05:47 Jun 01, 2021

I love mother-daughter stories! This is heart-wrenching. I love the details and the imagery. Nicely done, congrats on the shortlist!

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T. C. Emerys
17:38 Jun 09, 2021

Thank you very much!! I love mother-daughter stories too or sister-sister stories. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! If you'd like to read more of my writing, please check out my short story collection The Weight of Rain: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08LL6WQST/

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22:32 Jun 09, 2021

I'll look into that! And I'd appreciate any feedback on my work as well.

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T. C. Emerys
16:24 Jun 30, 2021

Of course, sorry, I don't check this account very often!

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T. C. Emerys
16:24 Jun 30, 2021

Of course, sorry, I don't check this account very often!

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T. C. Emerys
16:24 Jun 30, 2021

Of course, sorry, I don't check this account very often!

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William Richards
09:33 May 30, 2021

Really good. I enjoyed that a lot. The description of her mum's routine was great. That moment when she was naughty and they had a conspiratorial moment. I'm writing a resthome story for the next prompt, hope it's half as good as this one

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T. C. Emerys
17:39 Jun 09, 2021

Thank you for your kind words William and all best wishes for your resthome story! Which prompt is that for, I'll keep an eye out for it! If you'd like to read more of my writing, please check out my short story collection The Weight of Rain: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08LL6WQST/

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Nooi Lili
00:57 May 29, 2021

So good to read. Fine, sad and detailed.

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T. C. Emerys
17:40 Jun 09, 2021

Thank you very much Nooi! I really appreciate your kind comment. If you'd like to read more of my writing, please check out my short story collection The Weight of Rain: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08LL6WQST/

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Sherly Fuentes
19:22 May 26, 2021

Beautifully tragic, in a brilliant kind of way.

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T. C. Emerys
17:40 Jun 09, 2021

Thank you Sherly, that means a lot! If you'd like to read more of my writing, please check out my short story collection The Weight of Rain: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08LL6WQST/

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Maisy Osbon
08:48 May 24, 2021

SO GOOD!!!!

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T. C. Emerys
17:40 Jun 09, 2021

Thanks lovely, I loved yours too <3

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Miriam Ngatia
21:39 Jun 03, 2021

So good!

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T. C. Emerys
17:40 Jun 09, 2021

Thank you Miriam! If you'd like to read more of my writing, please check out my short story collection The Weight of Rain: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08LL6WQST/

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Lilia May
23:53 Jun 02, 2021

Absolutely beautiful

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T. C. Emerys
17:41 Jun 09, 2021

Thank you Lilia, that's really kind of you! If you'd like to read more of my writing, please check out my short story collection The Weight of Rain: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08LL6WQST/

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