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General

Outside, the rain showers from the gray, brooding sky. Droplets pelt the grass, the rotting roof. They create watery little pits in the dirt driveway. They patter against the window pane beside Deliah’s bed, the roar muting her labored breathing, censoring her daughter’s ears from the sound. As Deliah breathes, her ridged, white chest rises and falls, pulling the skin of her collarbone taut, as though the bone might burst through the flesh. And all the better. Her nightgown is stiff over her tiny frame; there is simply not enough flesh for it to caress softly, and so it hangs, rigid and shapeless at the same time. 

“My girl,” her voice is a whisper, “Are you still there?”

Lillian sits at her bedside, on a wooden chair with loose legs. They wobble as she leans in, takes her mother’s hand, “I’m here, mama.” 

Deliah closes her eyes. The rain keeps falling.

Life has eroded Deliah’s independence, chipped at it little by little. Now it is nothing more than dust. Lily, however, still sees her mother as she once was—a scarlet-haired, freckle-faced woman who pranced through life four feet and 11 inches from the ground. Her strength was too potent for her to be any taller. Her strength vibrated in each of her cells. Her strength emboldened her to be the mother that braved a brutal divorce, who clawed her way out of the grave of poverty. There was a time when this room was Lily’s; when she sat beside this window and played with dolls Deliah had made with yarn and buttons and old socks. She and her mother were their own little family. Anything Deliah wanted done, she did herself, with the grace of someone much more fortunate than her. 

Slowly, though, her upright posture wilted. Thick, smooth skin thinned and crumbled like leaves. The lines on her face—crevices grooved by experience, like how ocean waves swirl beautiful patterns into seashells—were not the same as this crumbling. Deliah spent days in bed, shackled by fatigue and a vague ache in her bones. The hollows of her skull deepened, blue veins spiderwebbed across her eyelids, her limbs. It was too late by the time anyone realized what was going on. It was too late when Lily came to check on her mother. 

“Mama?” 

“Lily.”

“I think it’s time.” 

“Don’t go. Don’t leave me here.” 

At first, Deliah thought she only had the flu. Just a little more rest, she’d thought, and I’ll be back to normal. But a month passed, and soon, her housebound, bedbound state became normal. Days without eating, drinking, even. Over a thousand miles north, Lily was shuffling from the office to kids’ soccer games to dance practices, from cousins’ birthday parties to family gatherings. At the gatherings, while everyone ate dinner, there was always an empty chair. To Lily, the chair was a reminder: check on mother. But the hustle and bustle would always pull her back in, the riptide of life, so strong and consuming that when caught in it, one loses sight of the fact that it is part of a much vaster ocean. 

A babysitter was contacted. She’d take the kids to their soccer practices, read them their bedtime stories. It was the only way Lily could visit. Lily set out, traveling twenty three hours on four tires and a squealing old engine, she made her way down the coast. Remembered the winding dirt road. Parked, exhausted and famished, in the patchy, dusty yard of her mother’s wooden shack.

She found Deliah in bed. Lips that used to be blush were white, cracked, dry. Her skin was the color of old newspaper, and just as thin, and hanging off the bone--if she lifted a glass of water, Lily was sure her forearm would snap. But she had brought her water, and Deliah, trembling, sipped it. Her knobby, long fingers curled around the cup while her neck pulled and strained. Lily felt her eyes swelling, her throat tightening. There, there, Deliah pet her daughter’s long hair, Don’t you cry, baby. Don’t cry for your old mom. 

A gust of wind sends the rain pounding sideways into the window.

“I’m so sorry, mama. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m not…” she chokes, gasps. A glaze over her sharp blue eyes. She breathes for a few moments, and, when able, “I’m not ready yet.” 

“I should have been there for you.”

“You are.”

“I…” Lily sniffles, pulls the bottom of her blouse to her wet cheeks. She gives Deliah’s hand a quick, tight squeeze and gazes up, out the window, biting her lip hard. 

“It hurts,” Deliah rasps. 

“Breathe, mama. You’ve gotta let go.” 

Despite Deliah’s protests, Lily brought her mother to the doctor. The cancer had already spread and multiplied. She was ordered to make her mom's last few days comfortable. 

It was as though Deliah was now that sparkle-eyed, stubborn child—the one who fell out of an old pine tree and broke her arm. When Lily was ten years old, she loved to climb trees. But one day, she made the mistake of putting all ninety pounds of her weight on a flimsy branch. She was carefully stepping, shaking, reaching for a higher, sturdier one when suddenly—snap—she went hurtling toward the earth. Landed on her arm, fractured the bone. She came back from the hospital with a cast on her right. The morning after her hospital visit, she went outside and strolled up to that towering pine, determined to conquer it. Her mother burst through the back door, hollering, Lillian Rose Patson, if you start climbing that tree again, Lord help me! 

Now here they are. With Lily ordering her mother to stay in bed, fixing her meals, helping her eat. And Deliah obstinately fighting, insisting, over and over, I’m gonna beat this. I’m gonna beat this. But Lily knows the truth, just like Deliah knew that ten-year-old Lily wouldn’t be climbing anymore trees. 

Lily manages to smile, “Remember when I broke my arm?”

The corners of her lips turn up, ever slightly. 

“I don’t want you to be in pain anymore,” tears pour down her daughter’s face. Her cheeks are red, her nose is running. Sniffles and smothered sounds escape from somewhere deep within her. She leans down, carefully, as though she might crumple, and plants a kiss on Deliah’s cheek. 

Deliah says nothing. Her breathing slows, slows, softens. Her grasp on Lily’s hand loosens. It’s only sprinkling outside now, with the yellow afternoon sun emerging through the clouds. Birds chirp and twitter. Her eyelids flutter and close. Her chest stops moving, her lips part, and there is a new kind of silence. 

There had to have been just a little give, a softening of her grip on life itself, in order for her to pass. At least, in Lily’s eyes, that’s what must've happened.

Deliah was cremated, her ashes released into the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Florida. The wind carried her, dusted her over the sparkling blue water. To allow the wind to carry, to let loose ashes to the wind, to let them float along the surface of a rippling sea… It was what her mother wanted. No need for a headstone. That was how Deliah Patson carried herself—with willful floating, blowing, rippling with all the power of the ocean. All the unspoken glory. 

Lily’s youngest daughter, Amelia, turned sixteen five years after her grandmother’s passing. It was a mix of anxiety and excitement when she got her license. Beaming, she came home from her driving test with proof of a passing grade and a print-out of the laminated card that would come in the mail soon. In her eagerness, she took her mother’s old engine out for a spin, up and down winding back country roads, past farmhouses and fields of long grass. She had the windows rolled down, the fresh air weaving through her blonde hair. The speedometer climbed higher and higher. The road continued to wind. It was a bright, blue and yellow day, and everything glowed with the vibrancy and vitality of youth. 

Amelia didn’t crash the car. When the rain began to fall, she rolled up the windows, shivered, and parked under a bridge. It poured so hard, it looked like two waterfalls were flowing from either side of the bridge, the water splashing into the road and rushing downhill like a river. But underneath, Amelia and her zippy engine stayed put. And when the rain stopped, the sun came back out, and she was tired so she drove home slowly. She pulled into the driveway to find her mother sitting on the porch swing, her eyes red and puffy and damp. She stretched her long arms around Amelia and held her tight.


May 28, 2020 20:59

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10 comments

Verda H
09:23 Jun 03, 2020

It was a great read :)

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Abigail Mitchell
15:12 Jun 03, 2020

Thank you for your comment!

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15:33 Jun 23, 2020

This story was great, and I loved the ending! I would love to read more of your works! :) Keep writing! -Brooke

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Abigail Mitchell
15:07 Jun 24, 2020

Thank you very much for your comment :)

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15:34 Jun 24, 2020

My pleasure! :)

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Roland Aucoin
00:56 Jun 04, 2020

What a wonderful story. I'm not sure if I would call the emotions weaving their way in your story subtle or 'weaving'. It was such an easy read. Great Writing, Abigail.

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Abigail Mitchell
01:03 Jun 05, 2020

Thank you very much, Roland!

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Daryl Gravesande
02:49 Jun 03, 2020

I think this is the start of a VERY good short story writing career! I love this story; The characters felt so genuine, the plot was so intriguing and the message of it all! *tears up* Soooo beautiful! You did a MUCH better job creating a dynamic between kid and parent and I love your style! Can't wait to read more of your stories!

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Abigail Mitchell
15:12 Jun 03, 2020

Thank you, it really means a lot. :)

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Daryl Gravesande
16:02 Jun 03, 2020

No prob!

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